John the Evangelist says to us that “one of those who followed Jesus was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter.” The other disciple remains unnamed. This is a curious fact, unless we consider that it is probably John himself. Throughout his Gospel, as we said, John refuses to give his own name, though his identity becomes more and more clear as the Gospel progresses, until we encounter him, the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” leaning against the Lord’s breast at the Last Supper and abiding at the foot of the Cross with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and the other women (cf. Jn 13:23; 19:26).
Why does he not give his name? The first answer to that question is simply that he does. He says what is most important about himself, he reveals the deepest truth about who he is: he is one who is loved by God. He is God’s beloved. The second reason he doesn’t give his name is a beautiful blossoming from the first: he calls himself the “disciple whom Jesus loved” precisely to invite us to place ourselves in the same position. The love that John received is not given to him alone, but to every person. The love that he has received opens his eyes to see every person enveloped and bathed within its light. We only need to open ourselves to this love, as John did, to open ourselves to welcome this gift, to be willing to draw near to the Lord who invites us—and we will experience the same healing and life-giving mystery.
There is something very beautiful here. In this intimate and personal place where I know myself to be loved by God, in my unrepeatable and unique encounter with God, I simultaneously draw near to every other person. In this reality of being loved—yes, loved by God as if I were the only person ever to exist—I come to know and experience both my own authentic uniqueness as a child of God and, in the same moment, I discover the place where I am truly closest to every other person. In the mystery of childhood, I experience both the depth of my solitude with the Lord and the depth of communion with all of his children, my brothers and sisters, within the love that binds us all together.
There is another person in the Gospel whose name John never gives: the Mother of Jesus. She appears at crucial moments in the unfolding of the life of Jesus, as we will see, but she is always called simply “the Mother of Jesus,” or, from the mouth of Christ himself, “Woman”(2:4; 19: Why does John not call her “Mary?” It seems to be for much the same reason as he does not give his own name. She is the Woman at the foot of the Cross of Jesus, the one whose very presence invites us to be where she is. The presence of both John and Mary in their intimacy with the Son of God, an intimacy that becomes compassion when the Lord walks the way of suffering—a compassion that allows a yet deeper intimacy still—this presence is an invitation for all of us.
But that is not all. Mary and John cannot be reduced to mere “archetypes,” as if in loving them and drawing them to himself God swallows up their individuality. No, that is most definitely not the case. The love of God never dispenses with the individual, with what is unique and unrepeatable about each person, even in their concrete and limited humanity, but rather affirms this very individuality. Indeed, God alone truly sees the beauty impressed upon every atom, every single fiber of each person whom he has created—and in gazing upon us, he loves us, and in loving us he affirms and accepts us, and in accepting us he sets us free as the children of God whom he has created us to be.
Each one of us is, therefore, such a profound mystery that God alone truly knows our name. When he looks upon us, he sees our truth, and he speaks within our heart the truth of who we are: You are my beloved child. Yes, we hear the words echoing within us: “I have called you by name, you are mine. … You are precious in my eyes…and I love you” (Isaiah 43:1, 4). This very gaze and word of God, indeed, makes us who we are. What is required of us is simply that we accept this gift, that we welcome the love given to us by God, that we allow ourselves to be loved. But accepting this love is not merely some passive attitude which allows love to “wash over” us without really penetrating into our being and liberating us from all that hinders us from living to the full the truth of childhood. Rather, it is a fully active and alert welcoming, by which, in letting myself be looked upon by the One who is Love, I allow myself to be truly conformed to the beauty that God sees, a beauty often trapped and stifled through sin and fear.
Mary, for her part, never knew sin, and so her welcoming of the word of God that came to her was perfectly free and unreserved, not knowing the slightest shadow of resistance. Still, she was subject to all the human and creaturely limitations that we are, and she too had to trust, she too had to face fear and uncertainty with filial boldness and humble faith. Living in the depths of her own truth as a daughter of God, however, she was able to surpass and transform every difficulty through the radiant simplicity of love, through her wholehearted welcoming of the love that came to her unceasingly from God.
Finally, precisely in and through her filial receptivity, her perfect daughterhood, she also allowed herself to truly be a bride, espoused to the God who descended upon her to unite her to himself. And, knowing this love so intimately, she freely became a mother, the Mother of the Son of God, while remaining always both a child and a bride.
The Church herself expresses this truth in the Preface for the Mass of the Immaculate Conception. We see the beautiful cord that ties together her daughterhood (conception) with her motherhood and with the spousal mystery that she most intimately lived:
For you preserved the most Blessed Virgin Mary
from all stain of original sin,
so that in her, endowed with the rich fullness of your grace,
you might prepare a worthy Mother of your Son
and signify the beginning of the Church,
his beautiful Bride without spot or wrinkle.
To conclude this reflection, let us take another glance at the mystery of Mary’s “name.” This name that God alone knows is precisely the name given by his love for her—it is simply the name “beloved,” as it is indeed for each and every one of us. This is how Pope Benedict XVI expressed this beautiful mystery, explaining the Angel Gabriel’s words to Mary at the Annunciation: “Hail, full of grace.”
From generation to generation, the wonder evoked by this ineffable mystery never ceases. St Augustine imagines a dialogue between himself and the Angel of the Annunciation, in which he asks: “Tell me, O Angel, why did this happen in Mary?” The answer, says the Messenger, is contained in the very words of the greeting: “Hail, full of grace” (cf. Sermo 291:6).
In fact, the Angel, “appearing to her”, does not call her by her earthly name, Mary, but by her divine name, as she has always been seen and characterized by God: “Full of grace—gratia plena”, which in the original Greek is kekaritomene [κεχαριτωμένη], “full of grace”, and the grace is none other than the love of God; thus, in the end, we can translate this word: “beloved” of God (cf. Lk 1:28). …
It is a title expressed in passive form, but this “passivity” of Mary, who has always been and is for ever “loved” by the Lord, implies her free consent, her personal and original response: in being loved, in receiving the gift of God, Mary is fully active, because she accepts with personal generosity the wave of God’s love poured out upon her. In this too, she is the perfect disciple of her Son, who realizes the fullness of his freedom and thus exercises this freedom through obedience to the Father. (Homily, March 25, 2006)