Catechesis, Spirituality

Day One: Joyful Identity

*This year I wrote the Life Teen summer camp programming. I decided not to just write out the talks for the speakers, nor to just bullet point the main ideas, but to basically write a pamphlet on each topic and let the speaker develop his/her own ideas on the topic. So, here is what each host will have to work with this summer.

 

Explanation of the Theme Radiant Joy

Radiant Joy- The joy we have in the holy spirit needs to be lived out in our lives, we need to radiate the love of the Father. How can we go through life without smiles on our faces when we have so great a gift in Christ Jesus?! St Benedict, in the Rule, used to say that the monk ought always to be smiling because he is aware of Christ’s grace in his life.

Yet, when you look in our parishes, you don’t see people who are radiating joy. You often see men and women who are bored and tired. You see teens who are distracted and adults who have disconnected. And of those who do believe, who know the gift of Jesus in the Mass and are excited about it, they don’t let it show. They do not radiate the love of the Father. This week is about discovering that Joy and about Radiating it, sharing it, giving it away.

This week is for those who are eager to know Christ and get to Heaven, but want to take that next step in Jesus Christ. Oftentimes, we teachers go out into the world or in our youth groups, give our awesome talks, and then move on. We leave people saying “Yes” to Jesus, but are left alone to figure it all out. We don’t want you to get excited about a talk, and forget the Lord at the center of that talk. We want relationship, not just fancy-pants rhetoric.

We are going to break open your heart so that others might see that radiating joy and fall in love with the Father. That is the focus of this theme of Radiant Joy.

 

How These Topics Unfold

God is the goal. Union with God for all eternity is the destination, the end that never ends. But before you start walking on your journey, you gotta know where you are going. You need to know the destination.

There is an old Yiddish proverb that is perfect for this discussion: If you don’t know where you are going, then any road will take you there. If we do not understand our purpose, our goal, end, or destination, then we will be aimless. Then it will be easy to be confused and frustrated with life, to be fearful and anxious about life, to be regretful about a life not lived.

So before we figure out how to live, we need to know what we are living for. We need to actually talk about Heaven and about Hell. Both are real. One or the other waits for each one of us.

But before we know the destination, or how to walk it, we need to know one prior and crucially important thing first: who am I? Who am I, really? Who am I, deep down, in the most center place in my heart?

 

The Subject of My  Own Life

We need to focus on the “I” that is the subject of this journey. Who am I and what am I? If we don’t answer these questions, then “where am I going and how do I get there?” just don’t matter. We need to stop and really dig down deep into these questions. You and I need to think about this stuff, using the gifts of our own brains that God gave to us, so that in prayer we can wrestle with these big issues. These are the fundamental questions of our Identity: Who am I? Who should I be? Who am I becoming?

Before we dive into Identity...

First, answers to these questions cannot be given to you by anyone else. They are your questions that only you can answer, and it will take you a long time to get anything close to a complete answer. Others can help, support, and guide, but can never answer. This is for you to discover yourself.

Second, know that there are many voices in competition with your own in saying who you are/should be. Many voices in your life come from good places. Some of those voices come from bad places. And some are just noise, like advertising, trying to tell you who you should be, not for your own good, but for their profit. But even the good voices, like those of your friends, need to be, from time to time, pushed aside so that you can still recognize the sound of your own voice.

Mass, Retreats, silent prayer, meditation are all ways that we get quiet enough to hear God speak and to hear our own voices as well. Too much noise, not enough silence, causes us to lose ourselves.

Playing our Role in the Theodrama

Hans Urs von Balthasar: “For a human person to be fulfilled he has to accept the role (mission) in which God has cast him and play it with his whole being.” We need to accept the role that is given to us by God, the Divine Author, and do so with our whole being in order to find happiness and fulfillment. Playing these roles half-heartedly does not lead to happiness. Faking life, taking shortcuts, never leads to a joyful life.

An actor on a stage embodies this idea of both identity and mission in the notion of the role that he plays. A role is an identity and a purpose. Your identity, your vocation, and your mission are all a part of the same answer. Simon’s mission changed when his identity was changed to Peter by Christ.

Your role is not my role, but that does not mean our roles cancel each other out. It always means that if you refuse to play your role, no one else will. The part of “you” was assigned by God for you and you alone. This uniqueness is part of the glory of being a human person. It is also a part of the danger of being a human person. The temptation here is to define ourselves according to the opinions of others, or by the roles other people play, instead of fully playing our own role.

Knowing your role can only come from looking at Christ. You discover your role in Christ. To find your true self you have to let go of your self and ‘enter into Christ’ passing through His wounded side in order to enter his sacred heart. He, not I, must be my center. All that is central to him must become my center. And once you have that center, then the joy and the peace of Christ doesn’t just fill your heart, but it radiates outward to others.

 

Four Points to Remember When Figuring Yourself Out

I said earlier that no one can tell you who you are, save Christ. Only you, in prayer, can discover the reality about your truest self. Remember these four categories when you do this work.

First: You are a Creature.

You did not create yourself. You did not give God input on who you should be, nor did you tell your pro-creating parents the type of life and circumstances you want to be brought into the world in. God alone is Creator. We are all creatures. We do not get to dictate the terms of the life we were given. So, either we can accept the life that was given to us, or we can reject them, get angry about them and become bitter or pitiful. No one ever found happiness by completely hating his/her own life, or self. Think about that for a while. Life is either a gift to be received and appreciated, or a punishment to be endured.

Second: You are a Creature Made in the Image of God.

“Image and likeness” is a common Christian phrase. You are made to reflect God. The animals were not made in the image of God, which is why they are not rational. It means that God made you for Himself, for eternity. Even though we are creatures, we are the only creatures that He made to be united forever with the Creator. This has some major consequences.

It first means we are capable of receiving God. St. Augustine said it best: “You have made us for Yourself; and so our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” Because we have built into our nature the capability to receive God, anything less than God simply will no do. It also means that we were created to be able to Know God (intellect) and to Love God (will) in freedom. And finally, being made in the “Image of God” as a human person means we reflect God in our bodies as well as our souls. Our bodies are meant for receiving God and living in loving union with Him and His saints forever.

Third: You, a Creature in His Image, are Wounded by Sin.

Original Sin by our first parents, and Actual Sins that we have committed show us just how deep our brokenness runs. We are capable of receiving God Himself, but we too often love ourselves more. We were given the gifts of Reason and Freedom, but we abuse them to follow what feels good rather than what is good. Our intellects are darkened. Our wills are weakened. Our spirit and our flesh no longer are in agreement. We are disjointed. Our lives are characterized by being distracted from distraction by other distractions. We think they make us happy. They do not last. We bring this brokenness into every aspect of our lives and relationships. We are even alienated from and hurt those we love.

Fourth: You, a Creature Made in the Image of God, Wounded by Sin, are now Redeemed by the Son.

The woundedness of sin did not destroy the Image of God in our human nature, we are still capable of receiving God. So God came up with another plan, called redemption. Jesus Christ came into this world to obliterate the evil inside of us, to heal the wound found deep in our hearts by receiving the wound inside his own sacred heart. He bought us back with the price of his life. God became our pricetag, showing us both how much we are worth, and how dearly our sins cost us.

When you ask yourself, Who am I? you cannot find an answer separate from Christ. Scripture says He is the “Image of the Invisible God”. He is the Image. We are just in the Image. We are creatures. He is Creator-become-a-creature. Christ revealed to humanity God’s identity (Trinity of life-giving love), but also showed us our own selves. Only by seeking the answer outside of my self can I discover my truest, most authentic voice. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ in me.”

This means that we are not defined by our past, but by the Father’s love for us. We are a new creation, no longer under Adam’s sin. Now, we are liberated from the moment those Baptismal waters hit our foreheads from sin, darkness and death. We are free in Christ Jesus. The greatest gift that the Son of the Father has given us is to show us how to become sons and daughters again. Heaven, not earth or the Holy Land, is our true home. The morality of the Gospel is not one of law, but of family. Jesus shows us how to live as children of the Father, teaches how to be brothers and sisters to one another, and then gives us His Holy Spirit to adopt us into the Family of God! This is Good News indeed!

 

Conclusion to Identity.

Seek in the Cross the answer Who am I and Who should I become? He is the answer to everything. Sin corrupted our creatureliness, and distorted how we image God. The Good News, the cause of our hope and the reason for our Joy, is that God the Son Himself chose to destroy the sin and reinsert us into the heart of the Father.

So who are you in the middle of this divine plan of redeeming the whole world? What role is God the Father assigning to you that will give you purpose as well as joy in this life? How is God calling your name to be His light in the darkness, radiating that Joy that only He can give?

Tomorrow we talk about the destination: Heaven or Hell. The rest of the week we will look at Christ, at Who He is and what He did, and see in His Sacred Heart our place, our purpose, our identity.