Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
It’s the heart of summer! We think of summer as a time of greater freedom. This week’s readings (the 15th week in Ordinary Time) provide interesting thoughts that can deepen our sense of what freedom means.
For example, we hear about God’s call to Moses from the midst of the burning bush. In that episode (Exodus 3:1-6, 9-12), God reveals His name to Moses. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about the revelation of God’s name:
“God revealed Himself to His people Israel by making His name known to them. A name expresses a person’s essence and identity and the meaning of this person’s life. God has a name; He is not an anonymous force. To disclose one’s name is to make oneself know to others; in a way it is to hand oneself over by becoming accessible, capable of being known more intimately and addressed personally” (CCC 203).
God is freeing the Israelites from Egypt. At the same time, He’s also inviting them into the intimacy of knowing His name. Israel will be most truly free when they maintain that intimacy with God.
Both Scripture and the Catechism echo this theme with respect to the name of Jesus. Joseph is told to name His foster son Jesus, “because He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Once again, the Catechism picks up on the theme of “the name”:
“Jesus means in Hebrew ‘God saves.’ At the annunciation, the angel Gabriel gave Him the name Jesus as His proper name, which expresses both His identity and His mission. Since God alone can forgive sins, it is God who, in Jesus His eternal Son made man, ‘will save His people from their sins’” (CCC 430).
We are most free when we stay in relationship with Jesus, because He makes us free of our sins.
When God gives someone a name in the Bible (think of Abraham, Israel, Peter), God gives them their deepest identity and also their mission. They are most free when they’re true to that identity and mission. The same is true of each of us.
So the prophet Isaiah says: “Hear me, O coastlands, listen, O distant people: the Lord called me from birth. From my mother’s womb He gave me my name” (Isaiah 49:1). Notice that this name is given by God prior to and distinct from being named by his parents.
The Book of Revelation also refers to people finding their name: “Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the victor I shall give … a white amulet upon which is inscribed a new name, which no one knows except the one who receives it” (Revelation 2:17). This name, according to the Catechism, is the God-given identity of the person. Referring to this passage from Revelation, the Catechism says:
“To live in heaven is ‘to be with Christ.’ The elect live ‘in Christ,’ but they retain, or rather find, their true identity, their own name” (CCC 1025).
Spiritually, each of us receives a name from God. When we know that name we know the identity God gives us, and the mission God gives us. Knowing our God-given identity and mission offers us a deeper kind of freedom. We’re free from the world’s expectations, and free for our God-given identity and mission.
The notion of “name” is an intriguing theological theme. It’s also a great spiritual challenge. Are we using our freedom in these summer months to deepen our God-given identity and mission?