Our parish had a visiting priest a couple of months ago. He’s a terrific young man, whose native language is Spanish, but he speaks English quite well. In fact, he often tutors seminarians from Spanish-speaking countries, helping them to learn English.
During a homily, he mentioned to us that one seminarian was trying to learn the Our Father prayer in English. This is how he recited that prayer: “Our Father, who art in Heaven, how do you know my name?”
The whole congregation laughed at the cute mistake, of course. But after Mass, I was thinking about it, and I came to the conclusion that the young Spanish seminarian’s mistake is actually a fabulous prayer. We all should say to God on a regular basis, “Hey Lord, how DO you know my name?”
It’s mind boggling, when you think about it. There are almost eight billion people alive on earth right now, and since human beings first appeared on this planet, it is estimated that a total of 108 billion people have lived. Let me spell that out for you with numbers: 108,000,000,000. That’s one-zero-eight, comma, zero-zero-zero, comma, zero-zero-zero, comma, zero-zero-zero! One hundred eight billion, with a “B”! That’s a lot of people. And you thought your morning commute to work was crowded.
Our Christian faith tells us that God, the almighty Creator, breathed an eternal soul into each and every one of those people, and He knows each and every one of them by name. That includes you. That includes me.
This raises two questions. First, HOW can God do that? I mean, how can one Person, regardless of how supernatural and almighty He might be, keep track of that many souls? It makes your head spin.
The second question is more important: WHY does God do that? Why does God care enough to go to all the trouble of knowing about and caring for each and every one of the 108 billion people who have ever lived?
There’s only one answer: love. Love is why God cares. Love is why God knows our name.
When we ask God, “How do you know my name?” we’re not simply referring to our name-name, such as Bill or Bob, Sally or Sue. We mean our identity, who we are, our very soul, the essence of our very being. In ancient times, a name meant so much more than just a verbal noise that identified one person compared to others in the neighborhood. Remember that old expression, “Don’t tarnish your good name”? That kind of reflects the importance of a person’s name.
God knows our name, meaning He knows us intimately. He knows us and He loves us. So, when we offer up a prayer saying, “Our Father who art in Heaven, how do you know my name?” we are expressing wonder at the fact that out of 108 billion souls who have ever lived, the Creator of the Universe knows us personally, individually, intimately. That is a great comfort, especially nowadays in our cold, cruel, impersonal culture.
When we offer that prayer, since it’s in the form of a question, we are in a sense pleading for the Divine Being not to lose sight of us. We’re desperately asking that He continues to know us and care for us.
The Good News of the Gospel is that God does indeed know us and care for us. Our lives have meaning and purpose. We did not accidentally appear on the pale blue dot in a far corner of the Universe, spend a few decades struggling to survive, and then die and cease to exist.
We were created for a purpose, and our souls will live forever. If we accept God’s love and put our faith in Him, then forever will be in His glorious presence. If we reject Him, well, then forever will not be so pleasant.
Our Father, who art in Heaven, how do you know my name? HOW does He know all of our names? I can’t even fathom it. WHY does He know our names? Because of pure love.