By Hilary Scheppers
“Christ calls his sheep by name and they follow him.”
This antiphon makes me think of all the times in my life in which I have been called by name. Either by someone who needed a favor or help with a task. Or possibly when I have made a rather large mistake. But no matter the reason behind the call, the calling of my name does one thing — a response of my attention.
When our name is called it’s a personal request of our attention. Our name, spoken over and over again throughout our life, is the closest naming we can get to speaking about our soul. Jesus speaks on this level.
When Jesus calls us by name, he understands the layers of who we are. Because names can be layered, a short history of our origin. Jesus understands the complexity within our name that makes up who we are.
A name can be complex. So complex that we feel overwhelmed like no one gets it; no one can understand my history or my origin. No one understands my life. No one understands who I am. But Jesus enters and he knows exactly who you are.
What Does Your Mother Call You?
When I think about Jesus calling us by our true name, I think of a scene from the book Tattoos on the Heart by Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ. The book is a reflection on the nature of God’s compassion through the stories of people affected by gang culture and violence in Los Angeles. Fr. Greg pastored a community there and started Homeboy Industries to help people who wanted to leave their gang life.
In the scene, Fr. Greg visits a detention facility to celebrate Mass and to host a meet and greet afterward in the baseball field.
One young man who is all “swagger and pose” sits down across from him. Fr. Greg asks him his name and the boy says, “SNIPER.” Fr. Greg has a feeling he didn’t pop out of his mom and she took one look at him and said sniper, so he asks again. “What’s your name?”
“Gonzalez,” the kid says. But Fr. Greg is still not satisfied. “I know the staff here will call you by your last name, but I’m not down with that. What’s your mom call you?”
“Oye mijo, but I’m looking for birth certificate here.”
The kid softens…But there is embarrassment and a newfound vulnerability.
“Napoleon,” he squeaks out, pronouncing it in Spanish.
“Wow,” Fr. Greg says, “that is a fine noble historic name. But I’m almost positive when your jefita calls you she doesn’t use the whole nine yardas. Come on mijito, what’s your mom call you?”
Fr. Greg watches the kid go to some far, distant place – a location he has not visited in some time. His voice, body language, and whole being are taking on a new shape–right before his eyes. “Sometimes,” — his voice so quiet, “sometimes… when my mom’s not mad at me… she calls me… Napito.”
From Sniper to Gonzalez, to Cabron, to Napoleon, to Napito. What is it your mom calls you?
What Do You Call Yourself?
The names from the world can get the best of us and create barriers from God — we separate ourselves from our truth. This helps us explain our poor behavior or our sin. We might even call ourselves “bad” and laugh about it. I’m so bad!
What do you call yourself? What are the names parents used to call you? Teachers? Are you careful about what you call yourself? What name do you think Jesus calls you by?
If you’re not sure, you can always look to John 15:15, “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” Jesus sees you as a friend, essentially saying that everything he has done and spoken is for our sake because he loves us.
“It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you” (John 15:16).
Peel back the layers of yourself and know that your true identity is with Christ, your friend. He will do anything for you. Will you do anything for Him?
About the author:
Hilary Scheppers is a religious poet and writer from Minnesota. She holds an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and a B.A. in Humanities/Theology from Loyola Marymount University. Her poetry and nonfiction appear or are forthcoming in Parabola, Apofenie, Breadcrumbs, and elsewhere. Her favorite bird is either the mourning dove or the oropendola.