This weekend’s readings are all about knowing who you are. That being said, many reading this reflection may immediately react by saying that they know exactly who they are. But do you? We know the particulars of our lives, the nuances of our personalities, our successes, our weaknesses, and our personal histories. These traits define us and assist us in presenting ourselves to the world and interacting with others. But is this the end of the story? Who we really are is rooted in something we all share: baptism.
We have been baptized as servants and disciples of Jesus Christ. We share an intimate and unique relationship with our Father, a relationship that Jesus himself had. By being baptized, we have decided to put on Christ and be a light to the world. St. Paul tells us that his letter is intended for “you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy.” Therefore, in addition to all the other adjectives used to describe us, all of them fall under the one umbrella: I am a baptized servant of Jesus Christ. Our Scriptures this weekend show us that everyone has a mission to accomplish: Israel is God’s servant; Paul is an apostle, witness, and guide to the early church communities; John the Baptist points the way to the Lamb of God; and Jesus, who is the Lamb of God, is the Son of God. If everyone has a mission to accomplish, what is your mission?
St. Paul directs us to holiness. But what is this holiness of which he speaks? What does it look like? While some of that answer is found in the word “piety” and growing in our relationship with God, it is really much more than this. Holiness is really wholeness and, in terms of discipleship, means carrying on the mission of Jesus Christ, the mission of the Gospel. Our baptism is far more than just an attempt to secure a place in heaven, meriting eternal salvation. It is all about living that same radical lifestyle the One we seek to emulate lived himself.
This is no easy business and is also very risky. If we take who we are seriously, then we must stand in opposition to some popular philosophical and political views that attempt to pull us in a direction away from who we are and who we chose to be! We have a pope who embodies what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ. He has spoken on numerous occasions about the need for mercy, a nonjudgmental attitude, equity for the poor, the dignity of the immigrant, an economic system that puts individual at the center not individual gain, an end to corruption, a loving concern for our environment, and a church that acts in service of all of God’s people.
These are not always popular positions to hold but they are positions rooted in the Gospel. They are positions and ideologies that speak of who we are as baptized disciples of Jesus Christ. We are called to live radically different lives. If we simply blend in with the world, living unnoticed lives not catching anyone’s attention, then we are missing something extremely important. We do not fully understand who we are.
The Archdiocese of Newark has recently received a new archbishop and the church at large a new cardinal. Cardinal Tobin, previously Archbishop of Indianapolis, and installed as the sixth Archbishop of Newark on January 6, 2017, has an approach to the Gospel that speaks of his identity as a baptized disciple of Jesus Christ. He, too, is not afraid to act on behalf of the poor and vulnerable regardless of the unpopularity that may bring. This was evidenced recently when he chose to resettle Syrian refugees even when it went against the governor’s ban on resettling Syrian refugees in the state. Living the Gospel calls us to go against the grain. Are we willing to be who we are? In a recent reflection, Richard Rohr correctly states: “And we must be frank: in their behavior and impact upon the world, Christians are not much different than other people.” He goes on to say that “most Christians have not been taught how to plug into the ‘mind of Christ’; thus they often reflect the common mind of power, greed, and war instead.”
Our psalm response this weekend pretty much says it all: “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.” We cannot gloss over the beatitudes or pretend that Jesus really didn’t mean what he said. He was very pointed and specific with regard to what the kingdom of God is all about. Even the Hebrew Scriptures that preceded his coming speak in defense of the poor, the widow, and the alien. Right from the beginning of salvation history, it has been God’s desire that humanity set its relationships straight and bring healing and wholeness to our relationships with God, one another, ourselves, and the world. These are the realities to which the Gospel speaks. This is how the baptized Christian is called to leave her or his mark.
Those who really live the Gospel and act out a life as baptized disciples will never be popular. But they will be holy. In the end, holiness is what really matters most anyway. Integrity, justice, a sense of fairness, conviction, courage, love, faith, and hope are all some of the things that really matter. Getting ahead in worldly agendas without a true concern for one’s brothers and sisters may bring a person material wealth, but such a person will be spiritually impoverished. It is time to start from scratch, making the radical decision to live our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ. The church is quickly falling into irrelevancy. This year can be the time of restarting and rebuilding one step at a time!
As you look in the mirror tonight, ask yourself an important question: who am I?
Rev. Mark S. Suslenko
Almighty eternal God, source of all compassion,
the promise of your mercy and saving help fills our hearts with hope.
Hear the cries of the people of Syria;
bring healing to those suffering from the violence,
and comfort to those mourning the dead.
Empower and encourage Syria’s neighbors
in their care and welcome for refugees.
Convert the hearts of those who have taken up arms,
and strengthen the resolve of those committed to peace.
O God of hope and Father of mercy,
your Holy Spirit inspires us to look beyond ourselves and our own needs.
Inspire leaders to choose peace over violence
and to seek reconciliation with enemies.
Inspire the Church around the world with compassion for the people of Syria,
and fill us with hope for a future of peace built on justice for all.
We ask this through Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace and Light of the World,
who lives and reigns for ever and ever.
—A Prayer for the People of Syria from Catholics Confront Global Poverty.