Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A Rose by Any Other Name

The last few days I've talked about what Ordinary Time is (this post) and how that it begins to order our lives toward Christ (this post.)  That's what our liturgy is about.  The liturgical year is ordered in a way to bring the Christian's prayer life into a basic rhythm, that is to bring it rhythm with Christ.  We've seen in the previous two days the story of Hannah and the birth of her son Samuel.  Today we find the continuance of that story in our first reading.   Hannah had given her child back to God, she ordered her life, every part of it, even her children toward God.  So much so that she brought him to the temple to serve God from a young age.  Today that sounds odd.   Our modern sensibilities think it strange to give a child up, so much so that there is a negative connotation even on adoption.   We need to work on that. Adoption can be a beautiful and much needed way of respecting the life that God has entrusted in our hands.  What Hannah did was not only honorable, it is commendable, as any mother or father of a child called to the vocation of Priesthood can attest to.

Samuel is being trained by Eli in the temple.  Eli has gotten is now old, frail, and blind.  Samuel hears someone calling his name and runs to Eli.  Three times this happen, each time with Eli telling him it was not he who was calling him.  Through discernment, Eli is able to help Samuel realize that God is calling him.  So Samuel goes back to his room and waits for God to call him.  He does, and it begins a relationship with God that changed history. 

What do we learn from this encounter?  We learn first and foremost that God calls us by an individual name.  He knows us personally.  He is not a distant, transcendent God that is not involved in our lives.  Isaiah says it like this, "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine." (Isaiah 43:1)  You and I are unique.  No one else can ever replace us.  The catechism says it in such a beautiful way:

God calls each one by name. Everyone's name is sacred. The name is the icon of the person. It demands respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it. (CCC 2158)

Let that sink in for a moment.  Each of us is made in God's image.  Each of us has a name, a label.  Everyone's name is sacred.  Wow.  As a man who was raised in the South, I remember growing up how important a name was.  Even to this day I get furious when someone lies about me.  There are a lot of things that I can handle with grace and humility... but lying?  Dragging someone's name through the mud is a horrible thing.  You are taking that unique individual and attempting to turn them into something they are not.  Taking their label, the one God called them by.. the name He chose through their parents. A sacred icon of the individual... could you imagine how politics would change if we actually lived this teaching of our Church?

Then we come to the Gospel reading.  What does this event here seem to do with Eli and Samuel? Remember, Ordinary time is all about ordering our life toward Christ.  That means when we read the gospel we should be thinking: Ok God you called me by name.  You love me for who I am.  I am unique and made in your image.  I have a dignity and should be respected by all.  How can I draw closer to you? The answer is in the life of Christ. 

A friend and I were just talking about what it means to be human.  For some, human existence is only here.  Only now.  For the Christian existence extends beyond the mere temporal realm and into eternity.  Well, how then can we know what a human is like if we only experience the now?  Through the one human who has experienced both.   In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  That Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  That Word is Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is the fullness of revelation, because he is the fullness of humanity.  Not just the humanity we know and experience, but the way humanity should be.   The way it was before the fall in the Garden of Eden.  It is through Jesus that we see what our potential truly is, and in being more like Him that we become the fully unique individual that God has created us to be.

You see, concupiscence keeps us from being that person whom God is calling to. Grace allows us to grow into this person.  God loves us just as we are, that is true.  He loves us too much to leave us there.  In Jesus we see a man who heals.  A man who lifts up.  A man who gives of himself in serving the poor and the sick.  In the Gospel he is busy on a Saturday, when most people are sitting around and relaxing, He is going into the homes and making the world a better place.  That is our first example, and a profound one.  It's not enough to just go to Church.   It's not enough to just go and preach or listen.  It requires taking that Sacramental Presence of Christ out into the world and giving of your self to those in need.

Then we see another example.  Jesus goes out alone in the middle of the night hours and begins to pray.  He takes time off to spend time with the Father.  Silence.  One on one time.  Our soul needs and craves this time with God.  We need to take time throughout the day to pray.   Time to reorient, to order our day toward Christ.  That's what is so beautiful about the Liturgy of the Hours.. it reminds us to stop at Morning, Midmorning, Midday, Midafternoon, Evening, and Nighttime to spend time with the Scriptures.  These rhythms are intended to nourish continual prayer(CCC 2698).  To lead the Christian to pray at all times without ceasing.  Just like a habit takes time to form, by praying every day at regular intervals  we draw our soul into singing praise to God continually. 

That's the goal isn't it?  To become so much like Christ that we can receive the grace he pleaded for us when he prayed:

And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. . (John 17:11-12)

That brings me to my final point for this post.  You and I have a unique name, a beautiful and dignified name.  We also bear the name of Christian.  Our actions, our words, our sins.... they all show the world who we are.  The name Christian shows who we should be.  Are you living up to it?  It is a Sacred Name.   A name that demands respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it.  Are you dragging it through the mud?  Or are you trying to display that dignity for others to see?  Not out of any sort of false piety or egotism.. but rather out of the humility of knowing that you are not worthy of that name.. but God loved you enough to bestow it on you through His son.

His servant and yours,

"I must decrease, He must increase."