“I, ___, take you, ___, to be my …” I, Sister ___, make to God in your hands, Reverend Sister ____, Prioress General, the simple vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience …”
Summer is the season of weddings, ordinations, and professions of vows. It is a season of names. At each of these ceremonies, persons are called by name to the altar. They name themselves and the one, or One, to whom they give themselves.
What’s in a name? In his beautiful meditations on baptism, written in preparation for the Jubilee in 2000, Fr. Guillaume de Menthière points out that the name given us in that sacrament is the sign that God wishes an individual relationship with each one of us. He knows you. He knows me. Through and through. Better than we know ourselves. Before we knew ourselves. And knowing us, He loves us.
In the Bible, God calls someone’s name for various reasons. Sometimes, He wishes to reveal Himself. He cries in the night to a young prophet-to-be as yet unfamiliar with His voice: “Samuel!” (1 Sam 3:6). He summons from the burning bush: “Moses! My name is He-who-is, and I am the God who frees from slavery!” (Ex 3:4).
Sometimes, He wishes to reveal us to ourselves. “Martha, Martha,” He murmurs soothingly, chidingly (Lk 10:41). “I am the One Thing Necessary. All your serving — do you do it for Me or for yourself, to feel hospitable and competent?”
Sometimes, He calls to free us from our bonds: “Lazarus, come out!” (Jn 11:43). He raises the dead man, as He wishes to raise us from our sins in the sacrament of confession.
Sometimes, He names to console. “Mary” (Jn 20:16). The Magdalene has been searching and searching, in tears and distress, for her beloved Master. Now He says to her, as He said to another sinful woman, “I am He, the one who is speaking with you.” He is there beside her; He is not dead; He is He-who-is, who will never die, who will never abandon her — or us.
Responding to the Apostles’ excitement at experiencing His power channeled through them, Jesus, the model teacher, acknowledges the relative merit of their comments but directs them higher: “Behold, I have given you the power ‘to tread upon …’ the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Lk 10:20). We, too, are to rejoice that our names have been written in heaven. God knows us and wants us there. The vocation He has chosen for me on earth prepares me for my ultimate vocation: ecstatic, unending union with the Only Necessary Thing, with the Beloved.
By knowing, listening for, and responding to His voice ever more generously in this life, we will hear one day what St. Teresa of Avila heard in prayer. She began speaking to Him using her religious name: “Here I am, Lord, Teresa of Jesus.” “And I,” He responded, “am Jesus of Teresa.”
Sr. Maria Veritas Marks is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.