Through the “Bible in a Year” podcast, I’ve recently been reading Sirach – one of seven deuterocanonical books in the Catholic canon of the Old Testament not included in Protestant versions.
The book comprises the stalwart advice of a parent, Ben Sira, a Jewish scribe, to his son.
Though Sirach permeates with wisdom, it can be humbling. In Chapter 10:9, we get a solid sense of that through these words: “How can he who is dust and ashes be proud?”
Podcast guide Fr. Mike Schmitz said it’s easy for us to place ourselves at the center, forgetting that our lives are fleeting; that we are mere dust. Later, in Verse 17, we read of whole kingdoms 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, eventually, no one would remember him, just as many of us have forgotten the names of our great-great grandparents.
Eventually, our names, too, will fade out of consciousness, and no one on the earth will remember or know we ever existed. The world will move on.
Fr. Mike then shared a concept he once came across introducing the idea of “The Second Death,” or, “the last time someone utters your name.” Remembering this, he said, can keep us from pride.
Pondering the idea, I fast sensed my own littleness. In the end, I will make only a small dent on this earth, and even that will quickly dissipate.
But then I realized something else. While it’s true our names will be forgotten by those on the earth, the One who calls us each by name has an eternal memory that never fades. 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.
Having been called into existence, we 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. What hope we find here!
I also called to mind my father’s nickname for me as a little girl: “Rock.” Though it seemed only an endearing shortcut then, I now see more. Perhaps in this name, my father wanted to impart to me his desire that I be strong, at least internally, and use that strength for good, remembering, and holding fast to, the true Rock.
Our names are a huge part of our identity, and God calls us by them, summoning us to himself. On the earth, our names will become as nothing in time, but we can be assured God holds our name and our essence very close to him for all eternity.
Or, as it was put in a Lenten reflection: “We are dust, yes, but precious dust in God’s eyes.”
May we live with the realization of our fleeting nature and our eternal value, allowing each to bring us closer to our ultimate destination.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on Nov. 1, 2021.]