Spirituality of the Readings
Called by Name
We now begin what the Church calls “Ordinary Time.” Christmas season is over, and we begin to see Jesus at work.
We begin with a significant story, found in the First Reading for Sunday.
A young man named Samuel is sleeping in the temple, as he was allowed to do. He wakes up instantly when he hears his name spoken out loud. He cries out, “Here I am!” and runs to his master, Eli, who is sleeping in another place in the temple. “You called me, what do you want?”
“I didn’t call you,” Eli rasps. “Go back to sleep.”
But the same thing happened again. Samuel runs to Eli, with the same result.
On the third time, the old man at last understands. Wisely, he says “Samuel if this happens again, say these words: ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’”
So Samuel goes back to sleep. He hears his name called again, “Samuel, Samuel”! Following instructions he says, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening!” God speaks, and Samuel grows up accompanied by the Lord’s presence.
Another naming is represented in the Gospel. John the Baptist points to Jesus, who is waiting for two particular men to notice him and get interested. They start to follow and Jesus says bluntly, “What are you looking for?”
There are several layers to this question. The plain meaning is, “What’s up? Why are you following me?” But the depth charge is there too, the same one that finally shook Samuel loose: “Are you seeking God? Is that your hunger? Is there something about me that answers the deep desire of your heart?”
They stammer some kind of reply. “Well, uh, well, um, where, where are you staying?” Jesus replies as he does to you and me:
“Come and see.”
They do go and see, spending the day with him. One of them, Andrew, runs to get his brother Simon, shouting, “we have found the Messiah!” They run back to Jesus and the most important event in Simon’s life takes place: Jesus gives him the name Cephas, a new deep identity for him. The word Cephas’ base meaning is “the rock.” Jesus must have seen innermost stability in him.
Peter could never have become fully himself if someone had not called his name all the way to its depths. The same goes for Samuel. God can call any of us by a name that reaches all the way down into our souls, to a place that we do not even know about! Our job is hear and to grow.
Must it always be God or Jesus who calls our name in order for us to become ourselves? Couldn’t a psychologist do it, or a spouse, or a dear friend who believes in us? Yes, of course, each of these know us and beckon us to be ourselves.
But only God can know our very deepest desires, and only God can satisfy the desire that is most precious of all in us: the reaching out for a person we want most and for whose sake we love others.
Do you sense in your insides a kind voice whispering such an invitation, calling you by your real name, calling you to be an partner of the Christ of God?
John Foley, SJ
**From Saint Louis University