4th Sunday of Easter

A couple of weeks ago, as is pretty common in my life, I found myself back in the hospital for an ethics consultation with a patient from another parish. He was facing some difficult medical choices and wanted some ethical input and so I was sent to meet with him. I walked into the patient’s room and I introduced myself as I always do, “hi my name is Fr. Peter Fonseca.” The person looked at me and said “who are you.” So again, I gave my name and the patient looked at me again and said “who are you.” This patient was not senile, there were no memory issues, etc. so I said, well I’m an ethicist and I’m here to have a conversation with you about some of the medical choices you are preparing to make. The man looked at me again and said “who are you.” I had no idea what he was asking, so when I don’t know what to do, I throw the question back at you, so I said to him “who are you.” He responded quickly “I am a Son of God” and it totally framed the entire conversation from then on.

Who are you? Perhaps the most important question, all of us have to answer. Unfortunately, so often in the world, when we ask who are you, we define ourselves by what we do. We define ourselves as a teacher, a doctor, a parent, etc. Those are all true statements, but is that the fullness of who you are? Did you hear St. John in today’s second reading? He reminds us that we are God’s children. Not because of anything we have done, but because God has decided that we will be His children. In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that He is the good shepherd who will lay down His life for the sheep. Fast forward a couple of chapters in John’s gospel and what does Jesus do? He lays down His life on the cross.

My friends, do we have the humility to accept the fact, that we are God’s children; that we are His sons and we are His daughters? Because if we can acknowledge that, our outlook on life changes. If we can honestly acknowledge that we are sons and daughters of God, it not only changes our relationship with God, it changes our relationship with one another (after all if I am child of God then so are you and the way I treat you, ought to reflect that) but it even changes our own relationship with ourselves.  

How many people in this world are chasing things to do or material possessions because it helps to define who they are. If we can actually acknowledge and believe that we are children of God, then we realize that we are enough. That there is nothing we can do that can make us something else. We can have the freedom to stop chasing all those things the world promises will make us happy.

Most importantly, if we can acknowledge that we are sons and daughters of God it changes our relationship with Him. We begin to see Him for who he really is, our Father who loves and cares for us. You know if we define ourselves in reverse, if we allow all these things, we do to be the source of who we are, nothing in our Catholic Church makes sense. The Church only makes sense when we realize that it is who we are that defines what we should do. That it is the fact that we are children of God that should drive our action and our response to other people. If we truly know that we are God’s children, then all of the rules and all of the teachings our church has, begins to fall in place. Parents you know this better than me. Why do you have rules for your kids; because you care about them and so you set rules to keep them in line. The same is true with our Church. God gives us rules, why because we are His children and He wants us to flourish and He wants us to stay on the path of flourishing.

Every now and then there is a passage I will read that will utterly change my outlook on something. A few years ago, in graduate school, I was reading St. Thomas’ Aquinas’ understanding of sin in his work the Summa Contra Gentiles. Do you know how he defines sin? He says “God is only offended by us when we act against our own good.”[1] God doesn’t get mad when we sin because it hurts Him. No, He gets mad because it hurts us. Parents you get this. Why are you upset when your children break a rule? It is not because they break a rule, it’s because you recognize in breaking a rule your child is going off path of what is good for them.

None of that makes sense if we just define ourselves by what we do. All the rules and teachings of our church only makes sense if we actually believe that we are God’s sons and daughters. It’s the fundamental question, who are you. Do you have the humility to accept that fact, that by no choice of our own, God has decided that He wants you to be His son or daughter; that God wants you to be His child and that He was willing to die on a cross to claim you.

My friends, if we truly believe that our outlook on life will never be the same. So let me ask you the same question that was asked to me a few weeks ago in the hospital. “Who are you?” Do you have the courage and humility not to say what you do, but rather who you are, a child of God? And if you can accept that then there is only one step left and that is to live as though we really are God’s children.

[1]    St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles 3.122

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