Monday, April 15, 2019

We Dare to Say "Our Father": Claiming Your Identity as a Beloved Child of God

A Simple Question?

One of the most basic questions you can be asked in life is, “Who are you?” At first glance, this question seems so simple, but nevertheless it can be quite difficult to answer, at least in a succinct and meaningful way. “Who are you?” If someone asked you this, your immediate response would probably be, quite naturally, to state your name. Good. That’s settled. But, after all (and not to downplay the importance of names), your name is...only a name, a callsign, a way for people to distinguish from others and address you––it doesn’t get to the heart or substance of your identity. Now suppose your hypothetical inquisitor probes deeper, “No really, who are you?” At this point, assuming you’re not weirded out or convinced this person is just “trolling” you, you have a number of options as to how you can respond. For example, you could tell the person about your job or profession––what you do and where; if you’re a student, what you study and where; if you’re married and/or have children, how you’re related to So-and-so ("I'm the son/daughter/brother/sister/father/mother etc. of this person"). In whichever of these ways you choose to respond, you would begin to sketch an outline of your self-portrait. Just as important, the way you respond would tell the questioner how you see yourself, and who or what is most important in your life.

In this post, I’d like to share a few thoughts about a theme that has occupied a central place in my thoughts and prayer for several months now. At first, this theme or idea may seem simple or obvious enough, and yet, based on much of what I see, hear, watch, and read concerning our world and the Church today, I think it is significantly misunderstood and severely under-appreciated. I am speaking about our identity as Christians: the fact that we are the beloved sons and daughters of God––that you, reader, are the beloved. In contrast to this truth, which is revealed to us by Jesus Christ, there are a number of alternative definitions about who we are. These alternatives range from confusions and doubts coming from ourselves and society, to outright lies and deceptions coming from others, and ultimately, the Enemy. The extreme relevance of this theme is that, in my estimation, the vast majority of anxiety, depression, dissatisfaction, and lack of meaning or purpose that plague people today is caused by the fact that so many of us don’t know who we are. Maybe we never learned our true identity and so settled for a false one, or worse, maybe we wander through life without any clear sense of our identity, strangers to ourselves. Even for those of us who do know our true identity on some level, I would argue that all too often we do not live this truth: it is our objective truth but not yet our subjective truth; true about us, but not yet true for us. Perhaps, even as baptized and practicing Christians, we have not yet fully owned our truth, not yet fully recognized our dignity as God's beloved sons and daughters. To some extent this is understandable, because claiming this truth can be exceedingly difficult in our time and culture, bombarded as we are with so many contrasting and contradictory messages about our identity. This can be disorienting and anxiety-inducing. Which message is true? And how do I know it’s really true and not merely my subjective belief or wishful thinking? In answering these questions, it's important to note that, even if we accept and embrace our identity as God’s beloved children, this movement of the heart is not a one-time event. Instead, it is a reality about which we must be constantly reminded. Assisted by God's grace, we must claim our identity again and again, over and against the noise of a world that so often tries to convince us otherwise. That is why I wrote this reflection, in hopes that it will be a small source of consolation, coming from someone who has himself found this message consoling. As St. Paul says, God "comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Cor 1:4).

Note on the inspiration for this reflection: Besides Scripture, which is always primary, a few other resources have been particularly helpful for me in reflecting on this theme of being God's beloved child. First, there is a beautiful prayer called, "The Litany of Trust", which is the most powerful prayer I've found for claiming one's true identity as God's son or daughter. Second, there are two excellent books by 
Fr. Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved and You Are the Beloved (a set of daily meditations compiled posthumously). Finally, on a somewhat lighter note, the most recent Mumford and Sons album, Delta, features a song entitled, "Beloved". The chorus of this song includes the words, "Before you leave, you must know you are beloved." If this reflection leaves you with one insight, I hope it's just that: You are beloved. It would be a tragedy for you to come to end of your life without understanding this foundational truth, to "leave" without knowing you are the beloved.

Most Common Answers to the Question

In a powerful series of three sermons titled, “The Life of the Beloved” (based on the above-mentioned book), Fr. Henri Nouwen identified the three most common responses to the question, “Who am I?” They are:
  • I am what I do. (My job/career; my success; my contribution to my family, my community, the world, etc.)
  • I am what others say about me (My social status or reputation)
  • I am what I have. (My wealth and possessions––any worldly treasures)
I think it will be helpful to reflect on these three responses, to expose their errors and the negative consequences of adopting them. If we recognize and reject the inadequacy of these false identities, we will be more free to accept the identity that God gives us. After all, it's not as if we would ever actually declare this self-definition aloud––that would be embarrassing, because we would have to admit our shallowness and vanity. Most of the time, we are not aware that we have bought into one or more of these definitions. Therefore, as always, identifying and admitting the problem is the first step. 

"I am what I do."

Our society, and especially our economy, is fast-paced and competitive. It therefore insists strongly upon efficiency and constant progress. To meet the ever-increasing demands of these ideals, our mentality about education and formation has changed so that now what is most practical and profitable is seen as most worthwhile. Every pursuit of learning and every career path is judged against this standard. People ask themselves, "Which classes should my son take? Which sport should my daughter participate in? Which extra-curricular activities will ensure that I get into the best school? Which college major guarantees the highest paying career? Which career path promises the most raises and the greatest potential for upward mobility? Which profession is most respected and envied by others? Which will award me the most status in society?"

Of course, it is not necessarily wrong to ask some of these questions. It is quite natural and prudent to consider one's various options in life and, all things being equal, to pursue the most promising one. However, the underlying assumption that often motivates this line of questioning is: I am what I do. According to this assumption, the primary concern when considering what I should do with my life is not, “What do I really want?” or “What will bring me the most meaning or fulfillment?” but rather, “How do I want to define myself?” or “How do I want to be perceived by others?” If I don't believe that my identity is a given reality, something that I am by nature or that I receive, but instead something that I must create or earn by what I do, produce, or contribute, then I am faced with an unsolvable problem. The problem is that I could always do more, and therefore, I can never know whether or not I am good enough. This doubt about whether I have done enough could very well haunt me for the rest of my life. However, the appeal of this mindset is that I seem to be in control of my own identity and destiny, and therefore, I can claim all the credit and praise for my contributions and success. The downside, of course, is the simple fact that I am never actually and completely in control of what I do, produce, or contribute, since these things can be instantly taken away from me by any number of misfortunes: an economic crisis, accident, diagnosis––you name it. Most important, I cannot control what other people think about what I do, how they perceive my contribution. Work that is esteemed and appreciated at one time and place may be considered less important and uninteresting by people of another place or later generation. In this sense, defining myself by what I do is often a form of the next definition, "I am what others say about me".

In contrast to this scenario, consider for a moment the scene of Jesus’ baptism. The context of his baptism is that he has lived the first thirty years of his life in relative obscurity, out of the public eye and working quietly as a carpenter. As far as his teaching, miracles, and history-making acts of redemptive suffering are concerned, Jesus hasn’t really done anything at this point (that is, anything visible and recognizable to others). And yet, at the moment of his baptism, what does God the Father say in the voice from the cloud? He says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (Mt 3:17). Jesus is the beloved Son of God, not because of anything he has done, produced, or contributed, but simply because He comes from the Father and is loved by Him. This is a profound truth that applies to us as well: We are God’s beloved sons and daughters, NOT because we have done anything to earn this title, but because God created us and chose us as His own. Our sonship is gratuitous, a pure gift. Therefore, we strive to live out our identity as God’s children, not because we think we have something to prove, or because we want to “earn" the gift of being called His children, but because our love for God and neighbor is our response to the fact that God has already loved us. As St. John put it, “We love, because he first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19).

"I am what others say about me."

Some of the problems with this second definition will be clear from what has already been said. For example, we just noted that we cannot control what other people think about what we do, and the same goes for what they think about who we are. Often times, however, this obvious fact that we all know from experience does not stop us from expending a huge amount of time and energy trying to manipulate the impression others have of us (In psychology, this is called "impression management"). Perhaps the place where the temptation to manipulate our impression on others is strongest and most evident is in the world of social media. Let me be clear: I don’t want in any way to condemn social media altogether, and I recognize that there are valuable elements in it, such as increased connection and access to the lives of friends who are separated by distance and the many demands of life. However, the more time I spend on Facebook, the more I am disheartened by what I see. Besides the many depressing news stories about current events and trends in society (which admittedly are not totally new, but already existed with TV news), I also see countless posts that seem to be obvious attempts at affirmation seeking––I sometimes call this "affirmation baiting". Many types of posts, which may seem so commonplace to us today, are in reality quite novel and bizarre, if only we compare them to the way human beings communicate and share their lives together in any other social context (or, we might say, in actual social contexts). For example, in face-to-face encounters, people generally do not speak so angrily, bluntly, argumentatively, or in such self-aggrandizing ways. Also, many people, who would be too embarrassed or afraid to express their more controversial opinions in person, are, thanks to the platform provided by social media, now able to present these views to everyone. Then, since people who disagree or disapprove of a post are much more likely to ignore it rather than comment, “downvote”, or give an "angry face" reaction (gasp!), the majority of reactions are almost guaranteed to be affirming. It's a kind of vicious cycle.

For example, if a woman posts a selfie showing off a new outfit, who is going to downvote this or comment negatively, even if the outfit is trashy and makes her look desperate and devoid of self-respect? No one. Now compare this to the same woman's real-world encounters with people, in which she is forced to see and feel all the responses of other people––good and bad. I'm not saying that in-person reactions are better because they're more judgmental! However, we are social creatures who have to learn appropriate behavior in part from the reactions of others. Given the demands and pressure involved in real life interactions compared to online ones, it’s no surprise that many people, especially young people, are opting more and more for the virtual reality. It's much easier to control and manipulate, and therefore, less threatening or risk-involved. The ability to artificially filter one's interactions with others so that only the favorable messages come through is causing more and more people to become affirmation-addicted. Social media has made it possible for the definition “I am what others say about me” to become effectively, “I am what I want to hear others say about me”. I can even remove or hide the comments of others to improve my "social" experience! Hmm...I wonder if any of this is having long-term, negative effects on our self-image and our ability to engage others in an authentic way?

What is the solution to this unhappy scenario? If defining myself by what others say about me inevitably leads to an artificial existence cursed by an insatiable need for affirmation, then what is my alternative? The alternative is to listen to and believe what the Divine Other says about me: You are the beloved. In his first letter, St. John writes, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 Jn 3:1). This is the ultimate form of affirmation. Through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, and in all His words and actions, God has spoken His authoritative declaration of your identity once and for all. Jesus' willingness to share in our human nature––an unfathomable act of solidarity performed out of sheer love––has permanently elevated our status: his stooping was our exaltation, his emptying our fulfillment, his dishonor our glory, his descent our ascent.

"Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men" (Php 2:5-7).
Because of what Jesus has done, you do not need to go through life insecure and anxious, frantically grasping at things and experiences in an attempt to define yourself––you have already been defined. Nor do you need to question your worth––you are worth the Incarnation and the Cross. The same voice that spoke all Creation into being out of nothing is the voice that now affirms your identity in His Son. You don’t need to manipulate others to gain their affirmation; you don’t need to present yourself on social media in an attention-seeking way, waiting to see if you earn enough “likes” to justify your identity. People who truly know that they are loved are completely unconcerned with being "liked". They are not enslaved to the opinions of others, but instead enjoy a profound interior freedom. They cannot be offended or "triggered". St. Paul called this, “the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rm 8:21) and considered it the primary purpose of our salvation: "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1). In the movie A Man for All Seasons, St. Thomas More, responding to the insistence of others that he compromise his conscience by conforming to the status quo, says, “I do not care very much what men say of me, provided that God approves of me.”

God approves of you, if only you let Him be God and do not put other "gods" before Him. Human affirmation and love are necessary for our psychological and spiritual development, and God uses them as instruments to communicate His love for us. However, they are not ultimately what establishes our identity, and to put them before God is, frankly, idolatry. Other people can (and should) recognize and affirm your value or worth, but they cannot give it to you. The One who created you, and moreover, redeemed you, can indeed give you value. In his willingness to suffer and die for us, Jesus established our identity and our worth once and for all. You are not anonymous, undefined, or a "blank slate"; you do not need to “find yourself” or “make a name for yourself”. Your identity is: “child of God worth dying for”. In St. Paul's words, "You are not your own; you were bought with a price" (1 Cor 6:19-20).

"I am what I have."

The whole testimony of Scripture presents riches and possessions as potentially being a great risk to one’s spiritual well-being. In the Old Testament, the Psalms and the wisdom literature (e.g. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom, and Sirach) are particularly forceful in criticizing people who put their confidence in riches instead of God. The constant warning is that riches do not bring a person wisdom or lasting happiness, but instead lead to pride and a false sense of security and self-sufficiency.

“The righteous shall see, and fear,
and shall laugh at him, saying,
‘See the man who would not make God his refuge,
but trusted in the abundance of his riches,
and sought refuge in his wealth!’” (Psalm 52:6-7)

“…if riches increase, set not your heart on them” (Psalm 62:10)

“Riches do not profit in the day of wrath,
but righteousness delivers from death” (Proverbs 11:4)

“Again, I saw vanity under the sun: a person who has no one, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, ‘For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?’ This also is vanity and an unhappy business” (Ecclesiastes 4:7–8)

“…gold has ruined many,
and has perverted the minds of kings” (Sirach 8:2).

These Old Testament warnings against riches, along with numerous others that could be cited, are strong indeed. However, the strongest warnings about riches and possessions come from Jesus himself. In the parable of the sower and the seed, Jesus says, “As for what was sown among thorns, this is he who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mt 13:22). After the rich young man walks away sad in response to Jesus’ challenge to material poverty, Jesus says to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Mt 19:23-24). In the “woes” following the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus says, “But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation” (Lk 6:24). In the so-called “parable of the rich fool” (the name of which is telling enough), Jesus specifically criticizes putting faith in one's possessions. After the rich man delightfully expresses complete confidence and self-satisfaction at his superabundance of resources, Jesus quotes God as suddenly saying to him, “‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” Jesus concludes, warning, “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Lk 12:20-21). For Jesus, riches are a spiritual threat above all because they distract people from their relationship with God, who is the “one thing necessary” and “pearl of great price”. God wants to possess our hearts, which are unfortunately prone to becoming possessed by worldly treasures. But God does not share His lordship with anything or anyone, and so we must choose Him over everything else, as Jesus says, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Mt 6:24).

Being an intentional disciple of Jesus Christ is an “all or nothing” affair, he demands a singular devotion. Thus, our response to Jesus’ call, “Follow me” must be a total and immediate response, like that of the first disciples. The gospel account of their response records no words on their part, but only the statement, “And immediately they left their nets and followed him”, and regarding the second pair of disciples, “…and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and followed him. (Mk 1:18, 20). Immediately...they left. Urgency. Totality. For some disciples, the total response to Jesus will mean committing themselves to material poverty (as in the vow of poverty taken by religious priests, sisters, and brothers). This is the particular vocation to which Jesus invited the rich young man, which is why he began with the words, “If you would be perfect…” (Mt 19:21). However, while not everyone is called to such a complete renunciation of wealth and material goods, everyone is called not to define themselves by these things, and instead to recognize their dependence on God. I think all of Jesus’ teaching on the proper attitude toward riches and possessions is summarized powerfully in this one sentence: “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Lk 9:25). If I ground my identity in my wealth and material possessions, then even if I possess the entire world, I end up losing myself––I lose my identity.

Once again, we see that the alternative to defining ourselves by what we have, by the worldly treasures we store up for ourselves, is to receive our identity as a gift from God. This means being possessed by God instead of trying to possess more and more things in an effort to build myself up. Instead of trying to build a kingdom for yourself, Jesus says to “seek first [God's] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Mt 6:33). If I make God the center of my life, my highest priority, then everything else will fall into its proper place. It is only when I worship God as the "one thing necessary" that I can properly enjoy and benefit from secondary things that are unnecessary. My subjective hierarchy of values reflects the objective value and importance of things.

Becoming the Beloved

Now that we have carefully considered the problems with these three popular ways of defining ourselves, we are well-equipped to return to our initial question: Who are you? To the extent that we base our identity on what we do, what others say about us, or what we have, we will be like the "foolish man who built his house upon the sand” (Mt 7:26). Let us instead heed the words of Psalm 127, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” But how exactly do we let the Lord build our house, that is, our identity? To begin with, we must give Him permission to do this. We have to grant God complete access to our hearts and minds. This requires being honest and vulnerable, first with ourselves, then with others. Beware though, if you open yourself to God in this way, He is going to do things. His love is active, effective, and concrete; it changes us in noticeable ways, and sometimes, in uncomfortable ways. Like the complete renovation of a house, sometimes things have to be disassembled and broken before new additions can be added. This hurts. However, God knows what He is about. He is transforming our hearts, our desires and sentiments, by con-forming them to the Sacred Heart of His Son. We begin to love what Jesus loves and to hate what Jesus hates (Yes, there are some things that we should hate: disorder, sin, and evil). As St. Paul put it, "Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind." (Rom 12:2). The Greek word for conversion or repentance in Greek is metanoia, which literally means, "a change of mind". We must inevitably conform our minds to something or someone––why not conform them to Christ, who sees all things as they truly are? "We have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor 2:16).

Our ongoing process of conversion, of having our hearts and minds "changed", is what continues to build and maintain our identity as God’s beloved sons and daughters. This happens through our heart-to-heart, vulnerable engagement with Him, that is, in our private prayer, our active participation in the Liturgy, and most importantly, our devout reception the Church’s Sacraments (especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation). Cor ad cor loquitur (Heart speaks to heart). Through this exchange, we receive all the grace we need and find ourselves, slowly but surely, becoming ever more conformed to Jesus Christ, to his mind and heart, his way of thinking and loving. With our hearts conformed to Jesus, we can hear resounding in our hearts those same words of affirmation that the Father once spoke of him, “This is my beloved son/daughter, in whom I am well pleased.” Like Jesus, we do not assert our own identity, but allow God to declare our it to the world: "...the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise" (Jn 5:19). Then, through the Holy Spirit, whom we received at our Baptism, we are able to respond to the Father in gratitude, as St. Paul said, “When we cry, 'Abba! Father!' it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom 8:15-16). Because Jesus is the Son of God now become our brother in the flesh through His Incarnation, we can claim our identity as sons and daughters of God. Jesus is our access to the Father, our entry point into the Trinity, as he said, " one comes to the Father, but by me" (Jn 14:6). We are sons and daughters in the Son; He the Son by nature, we the sons and daughters by adoption. Being a child of God is a sure foundation, one that can endure all the storms of life, the attacks of the Enemy, and the doubting of our own hearts. Our identity becomes a more powerful source of joy and consolation when we actually live it out, not only in words but in actions as well.
“Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth, and reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us” (1 Jn 3:18-24).
You are the beloved. Do not be shaken or undone by the clamor of voices trying to tell you otherwise. Do not be seduced by the lies of the Evil One, who accuses you and tries to convince you that thinking you're a "child of God" is simply child-ish, wishful thinking, or too good to be true. We can ignore these lies because, by the love of Christ, "...the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God" (Rev 12:10). Ask God to banish from your heart the prideful desire to be something independent of His loving, creative will. Embrace the fact that you are the creature and God is the Creator. Allow your absolute dependence on Him to be the cause of your joy, not merely an inconvenient fact that interrupts the illusion of self-sufficiency. Be content and confident in knowing that one day you will stand before Christ, not as one who has achieved, but as one who has received. Realize that all the value and meaning of your life comes from the fact that God first loved you. You have no claim to being the beloved unless you first acknowledge God as the Lover. Own your beloved-ness by choosing to be grateful (it takes practice and doesn't happen accidentally!). Tell others the good news of their beloved-ness––after all, Jesus taught us to pray the Our Father, not the My Father.

"Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours."

Please permit me one final thought for your reflection. In Jesus' parable about the prodigal son (or "lost son"), the main character is really the father. The father's unconditional love and mercy for his sons is Jesus' most dramatic image for his Father's love for each of us. In the parable, both of sons suffer from the same mistaken assumption, which leads them down apparently opposite paths, the younger son running off on his own and the older staying home to work in his father's fields. The mistaken assumption of both sons is that they think their father's love, and therefore their sonship, is conditional––they think sonship is a prize that is earned or the just wages for work completed. The prodigal responds to this belief by simply giving up, he thinks, "Because I can never live up to my identity as my father's son, I'll just find a new identity and life elsewhere." He reveals his mistaken belief about his identity in the rehearsed confession he tries to tell his father upon his return, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son". In other words, "Sonship has to be earned, and therefore I'm clearly disqualified." The older son takes the opposite approach of the younger, but his angry complaint to his father upon his brother's return exposes the fact that his mentality is really the same: "Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!" (Lk 15:29-30). Again, the same mistaken belief: "Your love has to be earned; my sonship has to be earned." The difference is that the older son thinks, "And I have certainly earned it." The solution to the false assumption of both sons is the truth that we all must come to believe and accept: Being a son or daughter is given, NOT earned. Our heavenly Father bestows his love and mercy on us unconditionally, just like the father of the prodigal son, who said, "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours" (Lk 15:31). Jesus brought us into this kind of relationship with the Father, evidenced by his prayer, "...they are thine; all mine are thine, and thine are mine, and I am glorified in them" (Jn 17:10). We glorify our Father through Jesus our brother by embracing our identity as the Father's beloved sons and daughters. Jesus is the Son of God by nature, and by becoming our brother in the flesh, he has made us sons and daughter by grace. Therefore, our Baptism was both our rebirth and our adoption. There are two extremes concerning our identity, each of which is wrong and leads to confusion and unhappiness. The first is, "I am not worthy of my identity," and the second, "I must earn/create my own identity". Between these two extremes lies the truth revealed by Jesus: Our identity is itself a gift from God, and our proper response is gratitude and worship.

Celebrating Your Beloved-ness

Holy Week and Easter constitute the climax of the liturgical year, the celebration of the greatest Mysteries of our Christian faith. The passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (collectively known as "the Paschal Mystery) are both the cause and the supreme revelation of God's love for us. Consequently, our celebration of these events is the "prime time" for us to express our identity as Christians. Beginning with Lent, the Church asks us to prayerfully enter into a space of existential tension, which lies between the two opposing poles of our identity. On the one hand, we are fallen sinners, undeserving beggars before God who stand in absolute need of His mercy. We were reminded of this fact on Ash Wednesday, when we received ashes on our foreheads and heard either the words, "Remember man that you are dust, and to dust you shall return," or, "Repent and believe in the Gospel". On the other hand though, we are the redeemed ones, the beloved sons and daughters of God. In the words of St. John Paul II, "We are an Easter People, and Alleluia is our song!" This reality is confirmed at every Mass when the priest prays, "At the Savior's command and informed by Divine teaching, we dare to say, 'Our Father...'". This gets to the heart of what I've been trying to express in this reflection: "We dare to say." It is daring indeed to call God your Father, and to pray to Him with the confidence of a child. Perhaps the words, "Our Father" have become so familiar to us that we've forgotten just how radical they really are. According to most other religions, it is at best mistaken or foolish to call God your Father, and at worst, presumptuous or even blasphemous. In fact, the Jews who rejected and condemned Jesus shared the latter view, as we read in John's gospel, "This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but also called God his Father, making himself equal with God" (Jn 5:18). Had Jesus not revealed the Father's love for us through his death and resurrection, and given us his Holy Spirit, the view of those other religions would be entirely justified. But now we know the truth––you know the truth. Never be embarrassed to be a child, to be little, to achieve nothing and receive everything, even if this means being foolish in the eyes of the world. After all, "Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" (1 Cor 1:20). Being God's beloved child is not a question of your worthiness, but a fact of His grace, as St. Paul recognized when faced with his own unworthiness, "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain" (1 Cor 15:10). Do not let God's grace toward you be in vain!

In light of all that's been said (a lot, I know!), I humbly urge you: pray to God, your heavenly Father; ask him to help you, to give you the grace to believe, embrace, and live the truth of your beloved-ness. This is the only sure path through the confusion, storms, and deception that confront us in this life.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father, he will give it to you in my name. Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. I have said this to you in figures; the hour is coming when I shall no longer speak to you in figures but tell you plainly of the Father. In that day you will ask in my name; and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from the Father" (Jn 16:23-27).
I pray that this Holy Week and Easter will be a time of grace and spiritual growth for you, and that you may be renewed in your identity as God's beloved son or daughter. May you recognize your unique and supreme value in the eyes of God, the only Person whose opinion has eternal significance. This holy season is the privileged time each year for you to celebrate your worth, your value, your lovability. Your life is worth living because it was worth Christ dying.
"Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man—though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rom 5:7-8).

Under the Mercy,

Chris Trummer

*All Scripture quotes come from the Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition

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