Ever since paying closer attention to Sirach several years back, I’ve come to embrace it as one of my favorite books of the Bible. Its wide wisdom permeates the heart.
But like all good wisdom, it can be humbling, as I was reminded recently while reading Sirach with Fr. Mike Schmitz and Ascension’s “Bible in a Year” podcast community.
Fr. Mike explained the context of Sirach as “a father trying to teach his son how to walk wisely in this world.” And in Chapter 10:9, we get a solid sense of the need for humility: “How can he who is dust and ashes be proud?” It doesn’t get much more pointed than that! “We can place ourselves at the center,” Fr. Mike offered, forgetting that, in actuality, “I am dust.”
Later, in Verse 17, we read of whole kingdoms being removed and the memory of them being extinguished from the face of the earth. Fr. Mike recalled here a conversation he once had with his spiritual director, who told him that no one would remember him after he died; that he wasn’t Thomas Aquinas.
“How many of us can remember the names of our great-grandparents, or a great-uncle or aunt?” Fr. Mike asked. Eventually, our names will fade out of consciousness, and no one on the earth will remember or know we ever existed. Even the greatest of earthly names will be nothing. The world will move on.
It is a sobering thought, right? Healthy, but humbling.
Fr. Mike then shared a concept from a reflection he once read that introduced the idea of “The Second Death,” which is, in essence, “the last time someone utters your name,” adding, “It’s good to know that…it keeps us away from pride.”
Pondering this, I deeply sensed the littleness of myself, and loss. But quickly, another thought emerged. While it’s true that our names will be forgotten by those on the earth, the One who calls us by name has an eternal memory that never fades. Indeed, God holds us and our names near always, and if we reach the ultimate goal of eternal life with Him, we will hear our name called by Him forever. Our worth and existence can never be erased from God’s mind.
It’s like the Resurrection, which conquered death. Life eternal means we cannot be extinguished; not by God, anyway. That brings me great hope.
While I considered how God calls us by name, another memory surfaced: the nickname my father gave me in childhood: “Rock.” At the time, I thought of it only as an endearing shortcut for my name, Roxane. But later in life, I found more to ponder in it. It seemed that in some way, my father wanted to impart to me his desire that I be strong, at least internally, and use that strength for the good, always remembering, and holding fast to, the true Rock.
Our names are a huge part of our identity, and God calls us by them, individually, uniquely summoning us to himself. On the earth, our names will become as nothing in time, but we can rest assured that God holds our names and our essence very close to him for all eternity. As it was put in a Lenten reflection: “We are dust, yes, but precious dust in God’s eyes.”
May we live with both the realization of our fleeting nature and our eternal value, allowing each to bring us closer to our ultimate destination, by God’s grace.
Q: What does your name mean? What does it mean to you?