Crisis of Identity

     I don’t know about you but it seems to me that today more and more our world is quickly going to shambles. In our country nearly 50 percent of first marriages end in divorce (and that number shoots to 67% for the second and 73% for the third.)[1] 16,799 people were murdered in our country last year and over 8% of the labor force in our country is out of work. Yet even as our world seems to be falling apart around us we continue to put on a fake smile and go on with life pretending that everything is going just fine. Well IT IS NOT FINE. WE HAVE A PROBLEM.

     People pretend things are okay in our society in an attempt to numb the pain from the disaster that is our world. Last year America spent more than 10 billion dollars on cosmetic procedures and the porn industry rose to almost a 14 billion dollar a year industry all over 39,000 people committed suicide in our country.[2] People are turning anywhere they can to try to find happiness, often turning to passing pleasures like pornography and cosmetic procedures to numb our pain and as we see by the huge amount of people committing suicide the method of the world has proven a failure.

     Last year a high school student asked me if I had ever seen the show Dr. 90210. I don’t know if any of you have seen it but I logged onto Netflix, started watching, and was appalled to watch woman after woman come into the doctors and request breast augmentation and tummy tucks all because they felt it would give them self confidence and self worth. You, and I like those patients on Dr. 90210 and like all people are seeking a deep peace and joy. Before we can find this peace we must know who we are, what our identity is. I believe this is the heart of the problem. WE HAVE AN IDENTITY CRISIS. We place are identity in passing things because we don’t actually know what our identity is.

Let me pose the question to you. What is your identity?

     We often place our identity in all the wrong places. In fact we often place our identity in places we don’t even realize we are placing it. When we say we need the perfect model body we place our identity in our bodies. When we say we must become the CEO or get all A’s on every exam we take or make millions of dollars we are placing our identity in our success. (Now don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with working hard to get straight A’s or to become the CEO or to work out to have a healthy body but when that becomes our purpose in life we have lost our identity.) When we place our identity in these things we are trying to create our identity; after all it is the American way. We pull ourselves up by our bootstraps; if we want something bad enough and are willing to work hard enough for it we can have it because after all we are Americans. The reality is this American dream is a lie. We don’t create our identity rather we receive it as a gift from God and are called to embrace it realizing God knows us even better than we do and only wants what is best for us.

     I have found one of the easiest and most eye opening ways to see that you and I cannot create our identity is to go to the beginning and end of our life. If we look at the beginning and end of our life from a purely secular view we would say we came from just a set of particles and return to a set of particle. If this is true that we are just some composition of matter that happens to be formed together by chance then we should put our identity in ourselves because after all that is all there is. But now if we look at the beginning and end of our life through our Christian lenses we see that we come from God who created us and are returning to Him. If we stop and recall that our life is a pilgrimage coming from God and returning to Him we realize that our true identity can only come from God.

     You and I were created out of love by God. We are not accidents. God wills for us to be here and it is in this supreme love of God that you and I will find our true identity. At our baptism we were called into the body of Christ. We are claimed for Christ. We have become heirs to the kingdom of God. We are not servants but rather children of God.

     At Jesus’ baptism the heavens opened and Jesus said, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” Likewise God the Father looks down on us and says “This is my beloved son or daughter with who I am well pleased.” My brothers and sisters we are beloved sons and daughters of God the Father. THIS IS OUR TRUE IDENTITY. It is in this and only in this supreme love of God that you and I will find true peace and joy, that we find who we really are, our identity.

     When I first realized I was a beloved son I knew it was true but did not know how to accept it. My mind was clearly aware that God called me to be His son but my heart was not in a place to receive that gift. Our world is so messed up we have forgotten how to receive. We live in the American Dream “if you want something go get it.” We don’t live in a world where receiving things is looked upon too favorable. Yet we cannot go and get our identity. It is freely given to us by God the Father, we need to accept it rather than earn it.

     This is the crisis of our world. We all want to feel the love but we think we have to go out and earn it. So we go out and we try to buy it in all kinds of ways, but the truth is it is already given to us by the Father we just have to stop doing and receive. We can try all we want to create that love but it will only be a passing love. Pope Benedict said it best when he said “Love finds its guarantee ultimately only in him who is essentially love: he who not only has love but is love.”[3] My friends only He who is love can satisfy our deepest yearnings for love and He who is love is reaching out for us and wants us to simply grab a hold of him. When we go out and try to create that peace we become workaholics, or addicts to drugs and sex, or worse we end up committing suicide and if we are spared these we become cynical or just deep down unhappy because we can never find that true peace unless we are willing to receive it from the Father.

     Many of us desire to live our life as a beloved son or daughter of the Father but don’t know how or if we don’t have the desire we would if only we understood what it means to be a beloved son or daughter. In many ways being that beloved son or daughter is like ridding in the car with God. I don’t know if you have a really close relationship with your father or if you have very close friends but if you do you may have had an experience where just being with someone is enough.

     You and I need to be with God everywhere we go. The silence at first may be odd but our Father loves us so much and all He wants is to be in that car with us. To see this we need look no further than the crucifix. When I look at Christ hanging there and imagine the torments he went through for me I cannot help but feel loved. To look at Christ suffering and realize the Father sent His Son, Christ to this earth to suffer that horrific death for me immediately puts into perspective how much the Father loves me. Once I have entered into that realization of love I immediately desire to thank the Father for that gift. If God was willing to send His only Son into the world to die for me what else would He not provide for me that I need?

     After coming to a realization of His great love for me I desire to enter into a relationship with Him. Just contemplating Christ’s death on the cross draws me into the desire to be in the closest relationship I can be with the Father, that of the son He calls me to be. I cannot think of a deeper connection then that between a father or mother and a son or daughter.

     If you are anything like me you are at the point where you want God to ride in the car with you but you want to drive the car. In everyday life I don’t like to be the passenger. When I go out with my friends I always want to drive because I like to have the control. Just as I like to drive when I am with my friends I like to drive the car I like to drive the car in my relationship with God. I like to have God besides me so He can protect me, give me gifts and so I can turn the wheel over to Him when the storms come or when the road gets rough. What is wrong with this picture? Well what am I doing driving the car when God who is perfect and thus is the better driver is sitting right beside me.  When you and I agree to get in the car with the Father we have taken the first step but we soon recognize that we are driving and if we ever recognize this, we need a Chinese fire drill. We need to get out and give the wheel over to the Father.

     All of us need to learn and be reminded of what the bible makes very clear. “Without me you can do nothing.”[4] While it is hard for us to imagine it is true without God you and I can do nothing. We are so small that if God simply ceased to think about us for a second we would cease to exist. When we step back to look at our world we realize we are only a spec in this vast universe. This image of us as a spec in the universe reminds us just how helpless we are without God and how much he loves us to allow us to achieve all that we do. If we realize that without God, who loves us more than we can imagine, we can do nothing, allowing ourselves to be in the passenger seat is easy. The problem is we often don’t realize the necessity of God and believe we can do it ourselves.

     Often you and I surrender only when things get difficult. God wants more. God wants us to surrender everything to His will the good, the bad, and the in between. This is not easy because we have an interior desire to do things ourselves, to live that American dream. But that American dream is a lie.

     Even after seeing how God has worked wonders in my life I still frequently put confidence in myself. I think one of the reasons for this is because I don’t want to be let down and I know others can let us down. It is part of the human condition that human beings let us down, but just as others let us down, we are also humans and let ourselves down, so why not put your confidence in the Father who is perfect who cannot let you down. It may not be the outcome that you envisioned but since He loves us unconditionally He cannot let us down if we just surrender to Him. If you are anything like me it is only easy to let God drive that car when things look dreadful. Friends, God is like a river that wishes to take us down the river to heaven guiding us along the way. Unfortunately we often remain like the little child who is standing on the banks too scared to jump in. WE NEED TO JUMP INTO THE RIVER AND LET THE FATHER TAKE US.

     Jumping in to the river or letting the Father drive the car is not easy. If we are going to enter into a relationship with the Father we have to take time daily to spend with Him. The highlight of my day comes first thing in the morning. I wake up early and get to the chapel to spend an hour with God and then follow that hour with mass. It is in this hour of prayer that I find the greatest peace. I find that peace amidst often a very crazy schedule not because of anything I am doing but rather because I am coming to my father who looks at me and says I This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased. Sure I don’t always feel like going to the chapel and at times it is not all calm in my time of prayer but I know the Father is their constantly loving me and I need to spend time returning that love. Now it is not enough to spend time with him in the morning and forget about Him throughout the day. No I constantly must take small moments and at the very minimum recognize him at work in my life. Now everyone must appropriate prayer into their life in a way that suites their life style. To beginners I say pray as you can, not as you can’t. Do not be afraid to go to your priest and ask to meet with him. He will be happy to guide you in your life of prayer.

     I know you will find that as you spend more and more time in prayer you will find yourself falling more and more in love with the God. As we begin to fall more and more in love with God our identity as His son or daughter becomes more and more real. As we continue to see ourselves as the beloved son or daughter our outlook on life changes. As we begin to fully integrate that identity in our lives our life changes forever. We begin to get out of the driver seat and allow the Father to drive. We live our lives recognizing that the Father, who loves us as his son is at work in our lives and provided that we are cooperating with that grace at work in us we can be sure we are doing the will of the Father.

     When we see ourselves all the time as beloved Sons of the Father we will begin to experience an interior peace. Even when we are mad, upset or bad things happen to us we turn to the Father and not to passing pleasures. We will desire to run to our Father with our pains and sorrows rather than to pornography, cosmetic surgery or whatever your vice is. When presented with the temptation to sin we will not give into the sin nor will we run from it as though we are running from the wrath of God, but rather we will desire to avoid the evil because it hurts our Father. This does not mean that I always succeed in realizing my identity. Like you I often fall into sin. But when I finally re-realize my identity as a son of the Father I run back to the Father and am received just as the younger son in the prodigal son ran back to his Father and was welcomed back with open arms.

     Friends we have enough problems in this world, we don’t need to add to them. If we are to be the light to the nations that will bring change in our society we must let the light of Christ shine through us because our own self-created light is not strong enough. If we are going to change the world we need to start with ourselves. We need to live out our identity as beloved sons and daughters of the Father. When we live out that identity we will radiate God’s love and the world will be attracted to us and then the world will be change.

     Realizing and living out our lives as daughters and sons of the Father will affect more people than just us. How can you love your spouse if you first have not experienced love? How can you be a loving mother or father to your son or daughter if you first have not experienced what it is to be a beloved son or daughter of the Father? It is only when we realize that we are sons and daughters that we see each other as brothers and sisters and then and only then can we treat others with the respect they need. I bet if everyone saw themselves as a beloved son or daughter of God and thus brothers and sisters with each other it would be hard to rape the other, it would be hard to look at a man or woman with lust and we would do what we could for the betterment of the other. See the effect an understanding of our identity can have?

[1] http://www.divorcestatistics.org

[2] http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/suicide.htm

[3] Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. Theological Highlights of Vatican II.  New York: Paulist Press (1966) pg 235.

[4] Jn 15:5

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