We come to the end of our series Who Do You Think You Are? We started back at the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. We said then that at the baptism Jesus strongly feels that he is the Son of God, deeply beloved by him. We said that this was also our ultimate identity. We then said that this final identity is sometimes in tension, even in contradiction, with the identity we often choose for ourselves. Our identities are based on “passing things” when we are called to eternity; our identities are generally based on “partial things” when we are called to wholeness.
We also reflected on how important this sense of identity is, as it drives our actions, shapes what kinds of relationships we establish, and grounds our values (or priorities)—credit to Fr. White from Rebuilt for making this very good point. In the next installment we reflected about one of the ways in which we can fulfill our potential, which is through discipleship. And because we read in church the gospel in which Jesus enters a synagogue and finds a man possessed by demons, we reflected about our identity as a faith community, looking at some of the “demons” that may be at work in our own place.
One of the ideas that has been present in this series is that there is a dynamic sense of identity, that there is a sense of choice and progress. There is a lot of choice in how we decide to present ourselves, what identity we choose to present to others. The framework, the background, the source of our identity is what psychology calls personality. There is some choice in how we present ourselves to others, whereas personality is a set of traits, some learned and some ingrained.
Simplifying a very complex issue, personality has two components: temperament and character. The source of temperament is basically genetics. It is our basic design, the way we were made. For instance, I am my mother’s son. She normally does not filter much: what she thinks and what she says. Again, I am my mother’s son, and if you know me, you know what I am talking about. This is part of my temperament. It is really difficult to modify temperament, for many psychologists it is impossible. (I joked in church that the good looks come from my father…) The second component is character. Character is much more flexible. Its source is habit, and life experience. It is the part of our personalities that we can really change.
In this Sunday’s gospel I see three elements that could help us to modify character and grow. I see them as habits.
The first element I see is that the sign of the miracle is that the woman who has been healed immediately waited on them – in other words, she served them. Jesus’ miracles are often a restoration, a lifting up of a person. The minute a person is restored, the person “gets to work” and serves (which we have insisted is one of the things disciples do: serve.) We should get in the habit of serving. Jesus speaks about service all the time—so doing what Jesus tells us to do should be reason enough. If we need more, we also know that service helps not only those being served, but it also transforms the one serving. Service is good for you. We have insisted at Sacred Heart that one of the pillars of our vision is to provide ample opportunity for service. We have said, “Service begins here.”
The second thing I see in this gospel is that Jesus prays, and we should get in the habit of praying. However, his prayer is not (often) like our prayer. We mostly do intercessory prayer—we pray so that someone is restored to health, for instance. Or we use prayers from the rich reservoir of the church, like the Rosary. Nothing wrong with that. Or we pray for ourselves when we are in trouble, when we fear some bad thing coming our way. However, the prayer of Jesus in this gospel is a different kind of prayer, it is a prayer of discernment. Lots of people follow him, and he is healing many. But he goes to a deserted place by himself and prays before deciding what to do. (Jesus prays even when things seem to go well!)
The third element is that Jesus moves forward. Coming back from praying in solitude, Jesus states, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” For this purpose, to continue fulfilling his identity, Jesus moves forward. Even his disciples wanted him to stay there and just keep doing what he was doing. But Jesus did not settle. We come to a point in our lives where we get comfortable, or lazy, and we do not move on. We should get in the habit of never settling down. A disciple of Jesus should never feel as we have reached a place of comfort, a place to “stay.” This may sound theoretical but there are practical ways to live this out: to continue learning, reading, feeding our curiosity for things; establishing new relationships, trying new things… There are many ways to avoid this very human tendency to just settle.
We have reached the end of the series. Wrapping up, we are called to constant personal transformation. Knowing that we are the beloved children of God should give us the confidence and the strength to undertake this constant, dynamic transformation. I am not who I think I am, not who people think I am. I am not my past; I am not an addition of all my mistakes, of all my sins. I know that God loves me already. He loves me regardless of “where” I am. But all the same, He invites me to move forward, to grow, and to become the best person I can be, the best version of myself. The person, the identity, He created me to be.