In today’s readings for Mass, the reading from Isaiah emphasizes God’s power and generosity. Isaiah speaks for God, telling the people, “I have called you by name, giving you a title, though you knew me not. I am the Lord and there is no other. There is no Lord beside me. It is I who arm you though you know me not, so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun people may know there is none beside me. I am the Lord, there is no other.” (Is 45:4-6).
Isaiah’s words emphasize that God is actively present in the world, supporting and sustaining us, constantly laboring for our good and on our behalf, to borrow a phrase from St Ignatius of Loyola. We do not always see that the Lord is at work “behind the scenes,” but the Lord is constantly loving us generously and acting in history for our redemption and for our good. There is a mystery to how this happens, where we periodically see little glimpses of God’s action, but never the fullness of his work. We see a little and then can trust in the rest.
Isaiah also says that God calls us by name–in the context of Isaiah it seems to refer to God’s loving care of the community of Israel that could not have been a nation without him, since they were so tiny. But in the New Testament, this phrase is one that Jesus also later uses to describe individuals. In Jesus’s description of God as like a good shepherd, he knows each one of us by name, that is, individually, intimately, personally. God has an understanding of all our strengths, weaknesses, gifts and quirks. God loves us in our smallness and creatureliness. Isaiah’s point is to trust wholeheartedly in the Lord, and then everything else in our lives will fall into place. We don’t have to try to control or manage every aspect of our lives, but rather allow God to be at the center. When we know that “the Lord is God and there is no other god,” and nothing else is allowed to be a false god in our lives, then everything else falls into place.
Recognizing God’s abundant love and generosity naturally can lead us into the thanksgiving of the Psalms . St Paul also speaks of thanksgiving in the second reading. We can give thanks to God, first of all who is the source of all the good that we have received. We can also be thankful for other people in our lives (as St Paul is in his ministry) who have been participants in God’s love with us. One way to show this gratitude is to remember others who are beloved to us in prayer. Paul says we can remember their works of faith, hope, and their “labors of love and endurance” and pray for their well being.
Remembering the good gifts of God—some of which we have known through other people who have been gifts to us personally—naturally leads us into gratitude and joy. This joy gives us a place of interior abundance from which to be generous to others in our own lives.