What’s in a name? In our culture, a lot. We are encouraged to “go make a name for yourself” or to “see my name in lights”. To do so means success and accomplishment.
In contrast, as Christians we learn that to be called by name is not about fame, riches, or worldly power. To be called by name is to know God lovingly claims each one of us. As we hear in Isaiah 43:1, “I have called you by name: you are mine.”
It was on my maiden bus ride with Get on the Bus (GOTB) that I witnessed the transformative power of being called by name. After the children’s Christmas visit with their mothers at the California Institute for Women, we boarded the bus and rode to a neighboring parish, St. Thomas the Apostle. The parish’s Confirmation teens were hosting a Christmas party for the children. They served pizza, organized arts and crafts, and invited Santa to pass out gift packages for the children – ages five to seventeen.
GOTB staff made sure that each gift was personalized with age-appropriate toys, goodies and the child’s name written on the tag. The little ones, of course, were beyond thrilled as they waited for their gifts from Santa. The teens were, understandably, not as giddy and a bit indifferent.
But as soon as Santa called out each teen’s name, his/her demeanor changed. I was struck by their wide smiles. They could not hide their delight and anticipation. All of a sudden these teens became as eager and filled with awe as the young children. To be called by name transformed them, even if it was just for that moment.
Upon reflection, I remembered Isaiah 43:1. In life’s low moments, I find solace and encouragement in this passage – as it pertains to me. But on that day, I saw these words come to life for others. To call someone by name, especially in ministry, is to help God express His love for our sisters and brothers in need. It is a simple, but profound, gesture to let them know we each belong to a loving God.
“I have called you by name: you are mine.”
Arminda, her husband and their two teen sons live near Los Angeles. She previously worked in public policy. She is spending her first year as an Ignatian volunteer with Get On the Bus, a program that brings children and their caregivers from throughout the state of California to visit their mothers and fathers in prison.