Follow Us On

The mystery of the name: as you live, you are known – 2

> The mystery of the name: as you live, you are known – 2

1. The name in the dream at the age of Nine

Hearing a word that comes from outside. At the beginning of the dream, there is a theophany: a venerable man appears, in virile age, nobly clothed in a white mantle, with a luminous face that could not look at him. The voice that calls Giovannino (he called me by name) comes from outside and with a command (he ordered me), to understand life as a dream to be realised (self-realisation as today’s culture understands it). No one gives himself a name but receives it. I do not call myself. In the name is written the vocation and in it is included the method (not with blows but with meekness and charity), the mission/end (to gain these friends of yours), the content (instruction on sin and virtue).
Know the identity of those who speak to you. Who are you? The question about the identity of the mysterious character concerns us all. “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks his disciples. Mary wonders what the meaning of such a greeting was. It is impossible to escape such a question in order to give an answer of meaning to one’s life. One does not belong to ADMA without asking Jesus and without receiving from Him the answer, “the Son of Mary”. In Don Bosco’s experience, the knowledge of Jesus comes through Mary. In the millenary experience of the Church, Mary’s womb which generated Jesus continues to form Him in the minds and hearts of those who believe in Him.
Don’t be in a hurry. It is not uncommon to come across wanting everything and now, to have a desire and see it already fulfilled. Yet, this is not the way of education, God’s pedagogy. It is enough to read the letter to the Hebrews to understand that God’s action passes through correction, education, patience. It takes a long time. Our Lady says to John: “in due time you will understand everything”. The understanding of the dream for Don Bosco happened in Rome in the Sacred Heart Basilica on 16th May 1887: “That morning, Don Bosco wanted to go down to the church to celebrate at the altar of Mary Help of Christians. No less than fifteen times, during the Holy Eucharist, he stopped, seized with strong emotion and shedding tears. Fr. Viglietti, who was assisting him, had to direct him from time to time so that he could go on. […] Who would not have wanted to know what was the cause of such emotion? Fr. Viglietti, when he saw him return to his usual calm, asked him. He replied: ‘I had before my eyes the scene when I dreamt of the Congregation when I was ten years old. I could see and hear my mother and brothers questioning the dream…- Our Lady had told him then: ‘In due time you will understand everything’ – Sixty-two years of hard work, sacrifices and struggles had now passed since that day, and a sudden flash of lightning revealed to him, in the erection of the Church of the Sacred Heart in Rome, the crowning of the mission that had mysteriously overshadowed him at the beginning of his life.
From the Becchi of Castelnuovo to the See of the Vicar of Jesus Christ, how long and arduous had been the journey! He felt at that point that his personal work was coming to an end, blessed Divine Providence with tears in his eyes, and looked up confidently to the sojourn of eternal peace in God’s bosom’ (MB, XVIII, 340-341). Often God’s ways seem so tortuous, so different from how we would have traced them, yet the patience that comes from faith is the only way to see the divine plan realised.
Making peace with one’s family history. Giovannino shares the dream with his family the next morning. It is amusing to listen to the reactions of his siblings ‘who laughed’, his mother and grandmother: ‘keeper of goats, sheep or other animals’, ‘who knows, maybe he will become a priest’, ‘leader of brigands’, ‘you mustn’t worry about dreams’. He was of his grandmother’s opinion at the time, and in the original manuscript it is emphasised, precisely to reinforce the idea that it seemed such an impossible thing to achieve, that it was better to concentrate on the present, to live the everyday, to be concrete in the peasant life to be carried on with focus. I invite you to read between the lines the relationships within the Bosco family: there had been the serious loss of the father and yet there had been no lack of dialogue, everyone could express themselves freely and their identity was respected and valued, relational difficulties and differences of opinion were addressed in truth and resolved even through painful choices of estrangement (cf. Cascina Moglia). The balancing and wise presence of the mother guaranteed a serene, though challenging, growth of relationships. How important it is to reread one’s own family history, to make peace with the relational wounds we may have suffered from our parents, siblings, other relatives! Our personal balance and our response to what the Lord is asking us to do depends on it. The worst attitude would be to flee from this reality or to pretend that there are no difficulties: such a position would impede the healthy development of our vocation and mission.

2. The inheritance of the name

The son is given a name. In the name, there is all its singularity and uniqueness. Maria Zambrano writes: “Nothing is more decisive in a life than one’s origins. That is why a father represents much more than a man who begot us. He gives us a name. As long as our individual life lasts, we are marked by this name and thanks to this we are someone well-defined. Our individuality, so concrete, is linked to the name we receive from our father, for us a seal, a distinguishing mark. To have a name is to have a clear origin, to belong to a lineage, to have a destiny, to feel called by unmistakable voices, to feel bound and obliged. Having a name, we feel that in each of our actions, we bring into play the whole inheritance that binds us. We feel responsible for things that, if they were ours, would not press us and, instead, press us much more than those that directly affect us. It is the burden, the call of those who called themselves like us, living continuity that forms real history; we are heirs, we are always continuators.
Nothing began with us. The name gives us concretely, without abstract considerations, the historical responsibility that belongs to everyone, not only to those who occupy a high, leading position. We are all, in one way or another, responsible for history, custodians of continuity. Historical responsibility in the face of something that is more difficult to name: the awareness of our limitedness, of having been generated; humility in the face of origin (M. Zambrano, Towards a Knowledge of the Soul, 118).

3. The story of Nathanael (Jn 1:45-51)

Background: Nathanael, also called Bartholomew, is one of the twelve apostles of Jesus. At the beginning of John’s Gospel, the story of his vocation is told, the way the Lord called him. He is a very pleasant character and has to do with the theme of the name and the gradual understanding of it in one’s life. One day Philip tells his friend Nathanael that he has met Jesus of Nazareth and that He is the Messiah of whom Moses spoke in the Law and the Prophets. Nathanael’s reaction expresses his scepticism: the Messiah cannot have his home in an insignificant village like Nazareth. We are faced with the usual scandal that all those who have not yet come to faith raise before the person of God who becomes man like us. We are faced with the evangelical logic of the humble sign from which comes the greatest good, which is hidden from the man who considers himself secure in this world. Philip does not attempt to clarify or resolve his companion’s doubt, but seeks to invite him to a personal experience with the Master, the same one he had previously lived and which changed his life. Only faith is capable of overcoming the motives of scandal and human self-sufficiency. And Jesus actually arouses it in every man who listens to his word, as Nathanael did, who agreed to accept the mystery that Philip proposed to him with the simple invitation: Come and see (v.46).
The encounter. Nathanael’s readiness to meet Jesus, a sign of his sincere search and his desire to come to the truth, is recognised by the one who reads the heart of man. And Jesus, seeing him on his way, willing and open, anticipates and greets him as an authentic representative of Israel, a man in whom there is no duplicity of life and who confesses his own poverty before God. Jesus, in this future disciple of his, considers one of the ‘remnant’, of the true people of God, precisely because he knows Jesus by seeing him. The disciple, astonished by Jesus’ words about him, asks the Master how he can know him. The expression: “How do you know me?” reveals the divine origin of the person of Jesus, the supernatural knowledge he has of the secrets of men. Jesus knows Nathanael well because he knows every man and knows what is in the depths of each one. Precisely this Jesus gives Nathanael yet another proof to reveal to him the knowledge of his person: he saw him while he was under the fig tree. The fact is a clear allusion to Nathanael’s knowledge of the Jewish traditions about the Messiah and the love he had for the Scriptures, as the rabbis used to read and comment on the Torah under the tree. There, too, the disciple was accompanied and sustained by God’s loving gaze. Nathanael surrenders before the evidence and recognises in Jesus the Messiah and confesses: “You are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel” (v. 49).
The promise: With his testimony of human faith in the Messiah, Nathanael is open to a further revelation of Jesus. And the evangelist, by putting the promise on Jesus’ lips: “You will see greater things than these” (v. 50), emphasises that the disciple’s initial faith will be strengthened by further signs of Jesus’ ministerial activity, which manifest the glory of the Son of Man. The revelation, which Christ promises the disciple, already finds a clear and solemn affirmation in v. 51: “Truly, truly, I say unto you, you shall see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man”. Detached from the singular context of the passage, the “you shall see” contains a great prophecy about the manifestation of Jesus’ glory, which extends throughout the whole of his life until his return to the Father. The verse is the summit towards which the whole pericope tends in a crescendo movement towards the person of Jesus. At the beginning, a small group of people are searching for Jesus and, in order to understand who he is, they try to establish a comparison with the Baptist (1:19-34). Subsequently, the disciples reflect on Jesus and confess him under various titles: Lamb of God (v.36), Rabbi (v.38), Messiah (v.41), the one whom Moses wrote in the law and the prophets (v.45), Son of God and King of Israel (v.49). Finally, to the man’s efforts to understand who Jesus is, Jesus himself gives an answer that serves to correct and complete the various comprehensions. The disciples did not err in their presentation of the Master, but always placed him in the context of Israel’s messianic hopes. Jesus goes beyond this hope, uses apocalyptic language and speaks of the continuous revelation of the Father, of a movement of angels ascending and descending, recalling the scene in Jacob, in which the patriarch dreamt of seeing a ladder resting on the earth, as the summit reached heaven; and upon it, behold, the angels of God ascending and descending (Gen 28:12). The ascending and descending is a reminder of the human and divine reality of Jesus. Although he is among men, he is in communion with the Father and fulfils his function as a revealer, because he is the ‘place’ where the Father’s world is reflected. For the evangelist, every true Israelite stands before the ‘house of God’ and the ‘gate of heaven’, prefigured by the historical person of Jesus, where the mystery of the ‘Son of Man’ is contemplated. The man Jesus is the Son of man, he is the incarnate Logos and the man glorified by the resurrection, who reveals the Father with authority. At the end of this first itinerary of faith of the disciples, we can see how John put terminology on their lips concerning the deepening of the mystery of the person of Jesus, which, in fact, took place throughout the whole earthly affair with the Lord until his resurrection.

4. For the concreteness of the journey

What John Bosco experienced in his dream and understood at the end of his life and what Jesus revealed to Nathanael and read in the light of his resurrection show us that the mystery of the name and meaning of life is understood from the end. Just as the meaning of a film cannot be deduced from the opening scene, but only from the final one, in the same way from the moment that ‘we are time’, the dynamics of a life are understood gradually and in a constant process of growth. From an educational point of view, the human virtue most frequently mentioned in the New Testament and consequent to being time is patience or perseverance (upomonè), particularly suited to living more like sowers than harvesters, more like farmers than shopkeepers.  The term (upo=under and minus=to stay) literally indicates Mary’s attitude of ‘staying under the cross’, of being submissive to the Father’s will. Thus, as in the dream, Mary will reveal to us the name of her Son in the interweaving of her and our history.

Related Posts