I Have Called You By Name

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Jesus spent the entire night in prayer to God. When it was day, he summoned his disciples. He chose from among them the Twelve, whom he also names apostles.

Luke 6: 12-13

Today is the Feast of Saints Simon and Jude. Thus, we read in the gospel Luke’s version of Jesus’ choosing of the Apostles. In Luke’s gospel, to be called an apostle is to be one whom Jesus is “sending with a commission” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, p. 103). As the gospel tells it, Jesus calls each of those whom he is commissioning by name. One cannot help but recall the words of Isaiah:

But now, thus says the Lord your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. (Isaiah 43: 1-2)

Ernest Becker wrote that it is not so much death that we fear but insignificance. There is within us a constant battle between an aggrandizing self-inflation, on the one hand, and a profound, and often near despairing, fear of insignificance on the other. From the perspective of faith, however, we are reminded that our true significance lies in the fact that we are personally addressed by God. We, as much as the Apostles whom Jesus designates, are commissioned with a life call and life task.

The choosing of the twelve is an invitation to be still and listen to our name as God in Jesus speaks it to us. As Isaiah says, it is our Creator, the one whom formed us, who truly knows our name. In truth,  this is both the name that we use and express in our lives as well as a name that we do not recognize. It is this conflict that can make it difficult for us to still ourselves so that we can experience being addressed.

We fear being insignificant because we do not live in attunement to the voice which is constantly addressing us by name. Often in life, instead of living in consonance with that name which is a word of love and a unique commission and task, we dissonantly pursue that which will give us standing in terms of the values of our world. To be still and attend to the voice of the One who calls our name is difficult because before we can hear that voice we first need to sit through the frustrations, angers, and resentments that are born of our failed efforts to give ourselves significance. To pray, as Jesus did before any significant decision, is to enter the school of trust. It is to wait and to live through all those thoughts and feelings that make it difficult for us to believe that we are God’s, that when we pass through the waters, God will be with us, that the rivers will not drown us or the flames burn us. It is to love enough to trust that beneath all that rages in us is the “still, small, voice” (1 Kings 19:12) that speaks our name and that commissions us to do the small but vital task that is uniquely ours.

I look upon myself as a weak little bird, with only a light down as covering. I am not an eagle, but I have only an eagle’s eyes and heart. In spite of my extreme littleness, I still dare to gaze upon the Divine Sun, the Sun of Love, and my heart feels within it all the aspirations of an Eagle.

The little bird wills to fly toward the bright Sun that attracts its eye, imitating its brothers, the eagles, whom it sees climbing up toward the Divine Furnace of the Holy Trinity. But alas! the only thing it can do is raise its little wings; to fly is not within its little power. . . .

O Jesus, up until the present moment I can understand Your love for the little bird because it has not strayed far from You. But I know and so do You that very often the imperfect little creature, while remaining in its place (that is, under the Sun’s rays), allows itself to be somewhat distracted from its sole occupation. It picks up a piece of grain on the right or on the left; it chases after a little worm; then coming upon a little pool of water, it wets its feathers, still hardly formed. It sees an attractive flower and its little mind is occupied with this floor. In a word, being unable to soar like the eagles, the poor little bird is taken up with the trifles of earth.

And yet after all these misdeeds, instead of going and hiding away in a corner, to weep over its misery and to die of sorrow, the little bird turns toward its beloved Sun, presenting its wet wings to its beneficent rays. It cries like a swallow and in its sweet song it recounts in detail all its infidelities, thinking in the boldness of its full trust that it will acquire in even greater fullness the love of Him who came to call not the just but sinners. And even if the Adorable Star remains deaf to the plaintive chirping of the little creature, even if it remains hidden, well, the little one will remain wet, accepting its numbness from the cold and rejoicing in its suffering which it knows it deserves.

Thérèse of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, Ch. 9  

 

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