Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Who am I?

Perhaps the worst that has been done to self-identity is how it is answered by desire.  So you are gay, straight, consumer, fashionista, careerist, seeker of happiness or pleasure, Republican, Democrat, Independent, etc... In other words, we have succumbed to the temptation to define ourselves by what we want.  Children learn to answer the parental request with the ultimate in self-identity:  "I don't want to...."  Of course they learned it from their parents and the media.  Marriage, family, work, society, citizenship, and the marketplace are all about what I want.  Nothing more and nothing less.

There is hardly anything less noble than to define yourself  by your desires.  In part this is because desire changes.  Sometimes we feel like it and sometimes we don't (whatever the "it" is).  We do not marry because we value work higher.  We do not commit because we value personal freedom more highly.  We do not stay at one job because we value personal fulfillment more than the paycheck.  We do not have children because we value career and self more than children and the sacrifice required of those who have them. What a terrible bondage it is to hitch your identity to what you do, what you want, or what desires move you! 

You can see the depth of this in the way we deal with death and the kind of funerals we have.  We do not acknowledge death but only focus on the life.  We celebrate a life well lived and we have the photos to prove it.  Instead of the old days in which a family stared into the casket and received a line of those offering condolences and sympathies, we huddle around the big flat screen TV to watch the funny, the cute, the touching pictures of what was, a distraction from the death that is.  We bring in things from home to soften the blow.  We dress the dead in their favorite football jersey or surround the casket with the trinkets of their affections.  We play music they would have listened to instead of the music of the faith because we cannot bear to deal with the reality of death.  Their lives are reduced to what they did, what they liked, and what they accomplished.  None of this either points to nor offers the promise of a future beyond the memories of the loved ones that remain.

Facebook (and all kinds of social media for that matter) has become the sacrament of our desires.  We post the major and the minor events of our lives as if talking about where we are going or what we are doing will lend nobility or eternity to who we are.  We have forsaken the friendships that might cost us something for the presumed friendships of a click of a mouse.  We talk constantly about ourselves as if the world waited with baited breath to know what we were thinking or doing this second or that.  We tweet and txt what it is that we think or feel or desire at that moment.  The more who follow us, the more significant our lives.

We have forgotten that which gives our lives meaning and defines us most of all -- we are the children of God by baptism and faith.  The freedom that Christ gives is first of all freedom from the bondage to self that sin created when we rebelled and chose our own way instead of the Lord's.  Over and over again St. Paul reminds us that we belong to Christ, we have died with Christ and rose with Him as the new people of His creation, whether we live or die we belong to Him, and we are not our own for we have been bought with a price... and I could go on...

It is not that the other things do not matter but that everything is shaped by and seen through the lens of our primal identity as the baptized children of God.  Desire is shaped by Christ.  Happiness is defined by Christ.  Pleasure is what pleases Christ.  Love is learned from Christ.  Who I am as a man or woman or husband or wife or parent or child -- all of these are shaped by Christ.  What I do is not mere personal choice but vocation and in this vocation service is the highest good (as Christ served us even to death on the cross).

Idealized self-identity is a fancy word for sin, for curved into self sinful lives.  Christ has come to set us free -- not merely from the devil, his works, and his ways but also our selves, our desires, our wants, our wishes, and our dreams. We continue to think the evils that befall us are outside of us but it is Christ who warns us of the power of unleashed desire, of want and pleasure that have no bounds in their pursuit of happiness.  We say to our children "you are special" as if saying it makes it so.  We forget to tell them of the Christ who has purchased and won them with the priceless currency of His body broken and His blood shed.  The only special worth knowing and being is the one Christ makes possible. 

We have turned worship into what we want to do and church music into what we want to hear or sing and preaching into the spiritual gobbly gook of self-actualization.  And yet we find ourselves more disappointed by life than any previous generation, more unhappy than content, and bored despite the myriad avenues of toys, technology, and distraction.  The radical truth is that you are not the center of the universe.  The radical Gospel is that Christ has made you new.  The radical result of this is that we are not disappointed.

By idealizing our sexual desires, by idealizing our wants, by making gods of happiness and pleasure, by entertaining ourselves and making everything we do be entertaining, we have become less than who we are, less than Christ has made us.  It is no wonder the world has turned away from the Church.  Who wants a pale imitation or the real thing.  The world offers us the "real" thing of lives the revolve upon the axis of desire, want, happiness, pleasure, and me.  The Church can never compete here.  But why would we?  We have truth and mercy, grace and freedom, salvation and eternity... The already dead go down into the baptismal water and rise up alive like they have never been before.  Everything changes -- desire, want, happiness, pleasure...  The one abiding identity worth having is the one none of us can seek for ourselves and only Christ can give working through His Spirit.

He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  2 Corinthians 5:15-21

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