[Acts 2:14a, 36b-41; Psalm 23; 1Peter 2:20b-25; John 10:1-10]
I notice that our candidates for Confirmation are all wearing name tags. That’s for my benefit. I have not yet met most of you, and I do not know your names. I’m pretty sure, though, that you don’t wear name tags at home, or when you are hanging out with your friends. They know who you are. They not only know your name; they also know you.
There is someone else who doesn’t need you to wear a name tag, someone who knows you better even than your parents or friends, who, in fact, knows you better than you know yourself. I’m talking about Jesus, of course. He knows your name, he knows all about your life, and he loves you more than you could ever imagine. Please keep this always in mind: Jesus knows me and he loves me.
Now, to get our attention, people who know us will call us by our names. Maybe you will be called by name because it is time to put down the video game or come in from outside and sit down for supper. Teachers will call you by name to give an answer in class or come forward to receive something. Usually, it is a really nice thing to be called by name, because it means that I’m noticed; I’m not just somebody that nobody knows, but I am a someone who matters and has something to contribute to the world. Of course, there are times when being called by name is not so great, like being called by name to the principal’s office, but it is generally good because it means that I am known and am being singled out for some purpose.
When we listen to the Gospel reading for this mass, we hear that Jesus calls each of us by name. That means he is zeroing in on each of us; that there is something particular he has in mind for the one he calls. The imagery Jesus uses in the Gospel today is that of a shepherd caring for his sheep. It is one of the best-known images Jesus uses to describe his love for us all and his desire to care for us, seek us out when we are lost, carry us when we cannot look after ourselves, and lead us through this life on earth towards eternal life in heaven. In the passage, Jesus says he knows his sheep and calls each of them by name. So, what does he have in mind for us?
The first time Jesus called us by name was at our Baptism. At that moment, the priest or deacon, acting in the person of Jesus, pronounced our name and said “I baptize you, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The purpose of that calling by name was to free us from sin, make us God’s adopted son or daughter and a member of His Church, and enable us to live by grace a holy way of life.
Today is another moment of calling by name. As I confer Confirmation, I will speak your name, and say, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Through these words and the anointing with oil, Jesus calls you by name, singles you out, and gives you his very own Spirit for the beautiful purpose of being his witness in the world. Witness means pointing others to Jesus. That is very important for all people, but especially now among your peers. You know, as I do, that young people today suffer a lot of anxiety and worry, because what they often hear is not being called by name but being called names. There is a lot of name-calling that happens in our world today among people of all ages. It causes hurt and sometimes despair, and creates division. The mission of Christians is to tell people Jesus never calls them names but always calls them by name, to tell people, in other words, that in the eyes of Jesus they are loved, cherished, and valued. The more we can point people to Jesus, and encourage them to hear him call them by name, the more we will help them overcome the serious damage caused by the various forms of name-calling rampant in our day.
There is one final instance of being called by name that I invite not only you, our Confirmation candidates, but also everyone to think about. I’m referring here to the call from the Lord to each of us to exercise in a specific way the general Christian call to love one another as he has loved us. Jesus calls each of his disciples by name to a particular form of loving discipleship: the priesthood, consecrated life, Christian marriage, or the single life. Every year, the Church refers to this Fourth Sunday of the Easter season as “Good Shepherd Sunday”. On this day, when we recall how the Lord refers to himself as the Good Shepherd, who calls us by name and leads us, the Church asks us all to have our hearts open and ready to follow the Lord in the way of life to which he summons us. Jesus has a wonderful purpose in mind for each and every one of us. I promise you: nothing will make you happier than hearing the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, call you by name and following wherever he leads you.
So, as you come forward to be anointed with sacred Chrism, pray that the Holy Spirit will make you effective witnesses to Jesus in our world, and pray, too, for hearts that are always open to hear and respond to the particular way of discipleship to which Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calls you.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Saint Joseph Basilica
April 30th, 2023