Saturday, February 1, 2014

core identity

Feast of the Presentation
1/2 February 2014
Christ the King Topeka
Daily Readings

So, who are you?  It's a simple question . . . but sometimes not simple to answer. In life sometimes the hardest thing is to keep simple things simple.  So who are you?  Do you have an identity statement?  If someone asked you to describe yourself, as simply and exactly as possible, what would you say?

In asking this question, I'm asking about your core identity.  I'm not asking about the peripherals - where you grew up, what you do for a living, what your hobbies are - etc. etc. etc.  These things are vitally important, but no, I'm not asking about those things.  I'm asking about your very core . . if you could describe who you are in one sentence, or even if a few words, what would you say?  Have you ever tried this?  My favorite identity statement of all time is the motto of the late and great John Paul II.  Talk about a guy who knew how to keep things simple . . who knew who he was at his core.  John Paul described himself in just three words.  Totus Tuus Mariae.  Totally yours Mary.  That was who John Paul was, plain and simple.  That was his life and his spirituality and his identity . . in all of his complexity as a person, he found a way to keep a simple question simple.  He could tell you who he was . .  distilled into three words.

I've tried to do this myself . .  though not as successfully as John Paul II.  It's been a good exercise.  My own identity statement has actually stayed pretty consistent over the last few years.  When people ask me who I am - who is Fr. Mitchel - I don't immediately go to my birthplace or family or education or profession or hobbies . .  although those are all significant parts of my life.  All of them are important.   But in simplicity, I just say this - I am a child of God loved by Christ where I could never love or change myself.  I could give a witness talk about how I came to this identity statement, and how hard it was to settle upon it.  Yet it's one I've stuck with for awhile, for many reasons.  That is who I am . . as simply as I can put it . .I am a child of God loved by Christ where I cannot love or change myself.  That's who I am before I'm a priest or a KU fan or a long homilist, or anything like that.

This identity that is still the core of who I am is an identity that I received 40 years ago in baptism.  My core identity was received on the day I was dedicated in the temple.  I've just now at 40 years old begun to understand what happened to me that day, and I am still growing in knowledge and in gratitude for the identity I received that day.  This year the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time is replaced by the Presentation of the Lord . . a nice surprise and privilege.  There are two traditional ends to the Christmas season - in the western Roman Catholic Church we end Christmas with the Baptism of the Lord, but in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches  Christmas lasts even longer, up until today's Feast of the Presentation.  In our tradition, we are baptized and presented to the Lord at the same time . . our baptism occurs not outside in a river like Jesus', but in the temple, where we are also dedicated.  On this occasion, we receive our deepest and most perfect identity as human persons.  We become children of God - we become those who as part of God's family in the Church are visited and known and loved by God.  The day of our baptism and presentation if it is anything is the most important day of our lives. It's either the most important or it's nothing . . baptism and presentation can't be something in between.  For on this day we make visible that we belong to God - we are consecrated to him, and most of all we proclaim that God delights in us his children.  He gets a kick out of us and the adventure of our lives, and takes an intense interest in the dignity and destiny of all his children.  So much did he love us that he sent his only begotten Son to share in everything that it means to be a human person, except sin.

The identity we received on the day of baptism and presentation is an identity that we more deeply understand as our resumes get longer and our human experiences multiply.  No matter where we go in life, and what choices we make, or what experiences come our way . . it all can be incorporated into this identity that we received in baptism.  There is room in this simple identity for every human experience . . it is the thing that as we say, is an indelible mark on the soul . . something given by God and received by us that cannot change.  We can either enter into the adventure of more deeply claiming and knowing this identity, or we can go away from it and try to become something else, but the identity itself never changes, and nothing can replace it or become more central to us.  There can never be anything more perfect or deep than belonging to God completely, and his invitation through his Son to belong to his eternal family.  That is why John Paul II's identity statement is so perfect . .Totus Tuus Mariae . . .it is about devotion and relationship and belonging . . to Christ through the intercession of his mother Mary.

Again, the identity we received in baptism is an identity that we are meant to more deeply understand and grow into, not something we move away from the further we are away from baptism.  Being baptized into Christ's death, and receiving a destiny to live with God in heaven where alone all of our desires might be fulfilled, frees us from resume building in this world, of having to earn being loved and noticed,  No, instead, we are able to focus instead on choosing death fearlessly before death chooses us, and to grow younger as we give our lives in this world away, entering into the transformation of death that leads to eternal life.  This dignity we claim in baptism thus leads into our mission in life.  Knowing who we are, and getting that right and keeping it right, shows us precisely what we are supposed to do with our lives.

Today we celebrate the Lord's entry into the temple.  This day is much more important than groundhog day or Super Bowl Sunday . . the Presentation of the Lord and his entry into his temple reminds us that it is in our churches, filled with the presence of the Lord, that we are to reclaim our true identity through an encounter with the living God.  Today we bless the candles that will be used throughout the year to remind us when we come into Church that this is a living temple - our Church houses the presence of the Lord, especially and most perfectly in the sacrament of the Eucharist, and it is in our churches where the Lord promised to be most consistently and perfectly present until he comes again in glory!  When asked our favorite places to visit in the whole world, our temple, our parish church, should always be at the top of the list.  We should be visiting our churches as often as possible, dropping by here and in our adoration chapel throughout the week, to reclaim as much as possible the dignity that we first received here at our baptism and presentation.  It is especially here that we come to meditate upon the central question we must all answer - who am I?  It is here that we first received, and will continue to receive, our core identity.  Amen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great sermon!