Monday, June 19, 2006

Who Are You?

As I am busy with other projects right now, my output is going to decrease a bit. So I'll be reworking and posting some things that I have written in the past. This is an article recently published in our Diocesan newspaper, the A.D. Times.


"Who are you?" There is no more loaded question in our language. The answer seems simple; but when, in practice, do we answer it so simply? When can we merely provide our name, and let that suffice? Most times, the questioner is seeking some other type of information, and we understand this from the way in which the question is put. Asked with a tone of hostility, "who are you?" might become "what are you doing here?" or "what gives you the authority to say such and such?" More commonly, posed in a jovial way, the question really means "tell me a little about yourself; where are you from; what do you do for a living?" And we answer in accord with what we infer to be the real query, and generally think no more of it. Rarely, if ever, do we stop to unpack the question. But if we think about it for more than a minute, that brief interrogation becomes rather an unsettling one. Unsettling, because we realize that, after all of the various sub-questions have been answered, and the necessary blank spaces filled; after a seemingly suitable description of heritage, place of birth, residency, occupation, and annual income; after giving name, rank, and serial number and any other encyclopedic data which one might expect to find in his or her own obituary; still, the heart of the question seems mysteriously unsolved, in want of a better answer: "Just who, really, am I?"

"Vocational discernment," which sounds like another loaded phrase, is really just about journeying closer to the answer of this life-long question. The yearning to discover more deeply one's own identity is a universal experience. As Christians, we acknowledge that our identity is linked to the Person of Jesus Christ. There can be no understanding of ourselves without consideration of our relation to Him – and the vocation to which He calls us.

Imagine, for a moment, hands and feet that could talk – in all other ways, normal hands and feet, with only the special ability to vocalize. How might they introduce themselves? In all likelihood (although I can't say for sure, having never met a talking hand or foot) they would introduce themselves in relation to the person to whom they belong. A hand would not simply say "I am hand;" nor a foot, "I am foot." Rather, they would say "I am John's hand” or “I am Jane's foot." Because the full reality of their identity – what they are and what they do - would depend upon a relationship with a body. Otherwise, they would be simply severed appendages – without aim or means of action, anonymous and dead. From the body to which they belong, members draw nourishment and the means to operate with full potency. In turn, they cooperate in providing for the needs of the whole. If they would introduce themselves without reference to whatever body gives them the means for the proper existence, they would be foully treacherous indeed, and worthy of being cut off.

My own vocational discernment, thus far, has been mostly my coming to grips with my inability to answer "who I am," without first answering "whose I am." In baptism, my identity was forever bound to Christ and His Church – He claimed me by the sign of His Cross. I am, by far, on the better end of this deal. Yet Christ, infinitely humble, wills to require something of me. This requirement is my participation as a member in His body. This participation is my vocation. He calls me, like He calls each of us, to serve in some way the needs of the whole, to do a specific service in return for the inestimable service from which I have benefited first. I answer this call, primarily, by my fidelity to the Body – by living out the personal call to holiness embodied in everyone’s specific vocation – by avoiding any vagrancy that might bring harm or pain to me or the other members. Beyond that, I have endeavored for three years at the Seminary to discern whether Christ is calling me to serve Him specifically through a life of ministerial priesthood.

Answering Christ's call – both the universal call of fidelity to His Body and the more specific call of a personal vocation – is about discovering one’s own identity. We are not dead, dismembered hands and feet. God has given us the means to identify ourselves by granting us membership in the Body of Christ. And, unlike hands and feet, He has given us the physical power to vocalize this identity.

"Who am I?" We need not trouble over the answer if we properly endeavor to discern our vocation. In so doing, we greet the other members; we trace the bloodlines to the Heart; we acknowledge the glorious Head. And so, the answer begins with a clarification upon the question: It's not who I am, but Whose?


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