Sunday, January 12, 2014

Who Am I?

          Victor Hugo’s Jean Valjean faced a moral dilemma.[1]  He’d been a fugitive from justice for eight years when he learned that another man named Champmathieu had been mistakenly identified as him.  Champmathieu was Valjean’s ticket to freedom.  If he were, in fact, judged to be Jean Valjean, Champmathieu would serve the rest of his life in prison, and Valjean would no longer live in fear being captured.  Valjean wrestled with what to do.  Should he turn himself in, lose everything he had and spend the rest of his life in jail, or should he remain silent and let an innocent man go to judgment in his place?  His choice would turn upon who Valjean really was.  So he asked himself, “Who am I?  Many of us, no doubt, have asked ourselves the same question in difficult times.  Returning to our baptism is a great way to find the answer.

          Today we mark the end of the Christmas season with the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord – when Jesus was made manifest to us as God’s beloved Son.  In our first reading, Isaiah prophesizes that God will send his servant who will “bring forth justice to the nations.”  And Saint Peter confirms in our second reading that this is exactly what Jesus did after his baptism.  “He went about doing good.”  So Jesus’ baptism, then, is “a manifestation of Jesus’ true identity as God’s Son and God’s faithful servant who  . . . will move inexorably toward his destiny” of doing good.”[2]  That’s what our Baptism is too.

          In our Baptism, we identify ourselves with Christ and his mission.  Just this past Wednesday, Pope Francis spoke about Baptism in his weekly catechesis.  He said that Baptism is the Sacrament that grafts us to Christ and his Church as living members . . . .  [It] aligns us with the Lord and makes us into a living sign of his presence and love.”[3]  And while I’m quoting Popes, I’ll add that Pope Benedict XVI taught that Baptism “is meant to be the concrete enactment of a conversion that gives the whole of life a new direction forever.”  So Baptism isn't just a ritualized pool party; it’s not just an occasion to declare that Jesus is our Savior.  Baptism touches the depth of our very being.  It changes us.  It identifies us with Christ and his mission forever.  It defines who we are.

Now any good moral theologian will tell you, perhaps at a cocktail party, that “who we are” directly affects “what we do,” and “what we do” affects “who we are.”  Well then, as Christians, we should “see ourselves as God’s anointed servants, filled with the Holy Spirit and equipped with every good gift in order to do God’s work.”[4]  In other words, through Christian baptism, we identify ourselves with doing good.  But we all know that there are some pretty bad Christians out there and sometimes they’re us.  Well, that’s because we still have free will.  Conforming our behavior to our Christian identity is a choice.  We’re faced with good and bad choices every day, and our choices say a lot about who we are – whether we’re true Christians, or Christians in name only.
These choices aren't always black or white either.  There’s a lot of grey out there, so it can be hard to discern between right and wrong.  Valjean had become a wealthy man, and he used that wealth to do good, sharing his prosperity with the poor.  If he turned himself in, he’d set one man free, but would abandon many others to poverty.  Facing tough choices like these, can be pretty miserable.  That’s when we need to remember our Baptism.  We need to remember that in Baptism we were claimed by Christ our Savior by the sign of his cross; we were strengthened with the oil of salvation; we received the gift of new life by water and the Holy Spirit; and we became children of the light.  In Baptism, we became identified with the Light of the World.  And in his light, we see who we really are - beloved children of God and God’s faithful servants.  In his light and with the help of his grace, we’ll choose to be a living sign of Christ’s presence and love; we’ll choose to be a light to those who live in darkness; we’ll choose to do good.  The choices we face won’t always be easy, but if we return to our baptism, we’ll “remember whose we are and how we conduct ourselves so that our true identity as believers inspires and directs all we are and all we do.”[5]

          That’s what happened with Jean Valjean.  He remembered who he was.  For as much as he wanted to continue his wonderful new life, he knew that he had a higher calling.  For as much as others saw him as a criminal, he knew that he’d made the choice long ago to do good.  He identified himself with Christ, so he had to speak up; he had to free the innocent man even though it might cost him his own freedom.  Like Valjean, with every difficult choice we face, we need to ask ourselves, “Who am I?”  Then we need to return to our Baptism for the answer.

[1] Victor Hugo, “”The Champmathieu Affair,” Les Misérables, vol. I, Book VII (Norwalk, The Easton Press, 2004) at 211-291.
[2] Graziano Marcheschi and Nancy Seitz Marcheschi, Workbook for Lectors, Gospel Readers, and Proclaimers of the Word, 2014, Year A (Chicago, Liturgy Training Publications, 2013) at 49.
[3] Pope Francis, First General Audience of 2014, Vatican City, January 8, 2014.
[4] Patricia Datchuck Sánchez, “Remembering Whose We Are,” National Catholic Reporter, vol. 50, no. 5 (December 20, 2013-January 2, 2014) at 32.
[5] Id.

1 comment:

  1. I love your writings. They help me keep things in perspective! Thank you!


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