HOW WE SEE OURSELVES DETERMINES HOW WE RELATE WITH OTHERS
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ GALATIANS 2:1-2.7-14; LUKE 11:1-4 ]
There is a close relationship between ‘being’ and ‘doing’. What we do is determined by who we are. Identity therefore presupposes mission. Otherwise, what we do will lack direction. The corollary of this principle is that how we see ourselves will determine how we conduct ourselves. Knowing one’s identity will influence the way we behave and conduct ourselves with others. If we see ourselves as a Catholic, then in all that we do, we are mindful of our identity as a Catholic. If we are conscious of our identity as a child of God, then we will relate with God as a child to his Father.
However, the danger is that today we underscore what we do rather than who we are. We find our identity through our functions. We see ourselves as a PhD degree holder. We see ourselves as a CEO, manager, leader etc. We give more emphasis to the role that we have been bestowed than to our identity. As a consequence, we find our self-esteem through the different roles we play at home, at work, in Church or in the community we belong. As such, we tend to relate to others according to the role we play. Consciousness of one’s role will influence the way we relate with others. If I see myself as a teacher, then I regard you as a student. If I see myself principally as a medical doctor, then I regard you as my patient.
Vice versa, how we view a person in his or her office will determine our relationship with him or her as well. If we see someone as a man of God, then we will trust that person and become receptive to his or her guidance. But if we see a person as our superior, then we hold the person with respect and with a certain amount of fear because of his authority. So how we see a person will determine very much our sentiments towards that person. If you are a doctor, hopefully when you return home, your children will see you as their daddy or mummy. Or, if you are a judge and you come back to your family after work, hopefully you will forget your role as a judge and simply be a father or mother.
It is therefore important that we do not allow our function or role in life to determine how we behave. Functions and roles do not last. We can change functions and roles but identity is something more permanent and lasting. Our happiness in life cannot be dependent on our functions as sooner or later, we would have to give up our office and positions in life. But the position of a father or mother remains forever. This is a permanent identity. Similarly, our identity as the child of God remains forever and will never change in time.
Identity is a constant but not our roles. Persons cannot be reduced to functions. We are loved for who we are, not what we do. This explains why the Church defends the dignity of every human person regardless of his or her contribution to society, whether it is a defenceless embryo, a disadvantaged child or a cancer patient. They are all deserving of our love and care simply because they bear the image of God. A person is not a thing but a creature of God.
We must imitate the example of St Paul. Why was St Paul so concerned for the gentiles? He received the divine revelation to proclaim Christ to the gentiles. His mission was also to proclaim God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ to all of humanity. He made no discrimination between gentiles and Jews because they all belonged to the one Father. In the understanding of St Paul, we are Christians and therefore adopted sons and daughters in Christ. As such, Christians are not bound to Jewish laws and practices, especially those concerned with Jewish dietary regulations and other customary practices e.g. circumcision. Such customs cannot be binding for the Christians. What are binding would be the moral laws including the Ten Commandments which are different from cultural practices.
After meeting the Centurion, Cornelius, St Peter declared, “God has no favorites.” However, under pressure, St Peter did not abide by his conviction for fear of offending his fellow Jews. Thus St Paul admonished St Peter for being inconsistent in his conduct with the gentiles. He forgot their identity as children of the same Father. Hence, He gave in to the pressure of Jewish customs by not eating with the Gentiles. St Paul could love all as his brothers only because he experienced God as the Father of all humanity. With the death of Christ, St Paul saw all as his brothers and sisters, regardless of race and status.
Similarly, Jesus took upon our infirmity and our body to feel our humanity in His incarnation, but especially in His passion and death on the cross. He assumed all our sins in Himself and identified Himself with us in our sinfulness. His solidarity with us makes Him the just and merciful judge. If Jesus does not condemn us in our sinfulness but justifies us instead, it is because Jesus is so identified with us in our humanity except sin. Nevertheless, He too was tempted like us. His identification with us even led Him to address us as His brothers. The letter of Hebrews states in no uncertain terms, “He openly calls them brothers.” (Heb 4:12)
In order to recover our true identity as the brother of Jesus and the adopted son of the Father, we must come to recognize God as our Father. Who, then, can show us the face of the Father if not Jesus Himself? Jesus was one with the Father. He knew the Father intimately. That was why He had the heart and compassion of the Father. Indeed, the disciples saw how intimate Jesus was with His Father when He was praying that they asked Him to teach them to relate to God as their Father the way Jesus did.
To know the Father we must enter into the mind and heart of Jesus’ prayer. We must first experience our sonship before we can identify with the Fatherhood of God. When Jesus told us to call God, “Father”, He was speaking of a childlike trust in Him. He invites us to enter into the same spirit and confidence He had in His relationship with the Father. If Jesus could live a life of love and freedom, it was because of His consciousness of His identity as the unique Son of the Father. His role and mission sprang from this consciousness of His divine sonship. He knew that His mission was to reveal the face of His Father. Being true to His identity was to be true to His Mission and vice versa because in Jesus, identity and mission were identical.
We must be conscious of our identity as God’s adopted sons and daughters if we are to relate with the Father in a childlike faith. Our attitude towards God is captured in the Lord’s Prayer. And so when we pray “may your name be held holy”, we are asking in the first place that the Father be true to His name by bestowing us His love and providential care. In the second place, we are saying that we desire to reflect Him in our lives so that by our lives, all will know that God is our Father. Every child sees His Father as His mentor. When we pray, “your kingdom come”, we are asking that we be open to whatever He wants to give us. Like a child, we want to be open to what God wants to give us. Most of all, we want God to rule our lives and we want our lives to be governed by the values of the kingdom. When we pray, “give us each day our daily bread”, we pray with faith that the Father will provide us our needs, especially the Bread of Life and the Eucharist. And when we pray, “forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive each one who is in debt to us” we are praying that we be like the Father, always forgiving and that unity among ourselves is the desire of our heavenly Father. And finally when we pray, “And do not put us to the test” we are praying that the Father will preserve us from all evil because He is faithful to us and that He will not allow Satan to overcome us. Indeed, if we know the Father’s love personally, then we can act and live as a true son or daughter to the Father, a brother and sister to each other.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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