If I say to you, “Tell me something about yourself”, what would your answer be? Well, it might be: “Mind your own business!” But if you are happy to play along, how would you respond?
It’s the question of identity. Do you start with your name? Your nationality? Your job? Do you show them your Facebook feed or your Instagram account? Is this you? Is there more? Let me tell you two stories, one very ancient and one very recent.
St Ignatius of Loyola was a Spanish soldier whose only interest was in winning fame and fortune. He had huge ambition and a fierce temper. In one battle his leg was shattered by a cannon ball. It was a horrific injury, and he spent months recovering. He started to reflect on his life for the very first time.
He read about the lives of the Christian saints, and he felt that his own life, in comparison, had so little meaning. They seemed to have found a great treasure, a secret, that made life truly worthwhile.
Ignatius decided to follow their example, and to follow Jesus Christ, and found a happiness he had never known before. At that moment his life truly began. The turning point came when he left his sword – the symbol of all his worldly ambition – in a monastery outside Barcelona and walked away a free man.
Another story. Very recently I heard a young woman speak about her time at university. At the end of her first year, she was utterly miserable. Everyone had told her that these would be the best years of her life. It hadn’t come true yet. She was trapped (these are her words) in an endless cycle of boring lectures, binge-watching Netflix through the afternoon, and soul-destroying nights out in club-land. It certainly wasn’t making her happy.
One day she felt drawn to visit a church. As she sat there, she felt very clearly that Jesus was present with her in that moment. She had an overwhelming sense that she was loved by God. She felt her insecurities fall away. She could be herself. She didn’t have to pretend anymore. It was so moving to hear her tell this story. She said that the peace she experienced hadn’t left her since.
This young woman, and St Ignatius, lived in very different times and had very different experiences. But they both discovered a deeper truth about their identity, that comes through knowing the love of Jesus Christ.
It’s to discover that you, personally, are loved by God. That you are his beloved son or daughter. That your life has meaning and purpose, even if you can’t see the whole picture yet.
It’s to be honest about your mistakes, your sins, the things you have done wrong. And to know that you can say sorry to God, and receive his forgiveness. So many of us feel trapped by the mistakes we have made; we even feel condemned. It is such a gift to know that Jesus wants to forgive us, and that with his help we can make a new start.
It’s to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God comes into our hearts and changes us from the inside. He gives us the ability, the power, to do things that simply wouldn’t be possible through our own efforts alone. He helps us to believe, to hope, to love. He gives us the gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control; the gifts of wisdom, understanding, courage. Amazing gifts.
Our deepest identity is actually to live a life of holiness, to be a saint. The saints are just ordinary people like you and me, but they have come to know God’s love for them in Jesus Christ, and want to love him in return. They have learnt to love deeply, truly, passionately, joyfully, often at great cost.
But they are the happiest people on earth. That’s an identity worth living for.
Questions for reflection
What would you like to achieve in life?
What would you like to be remembered for?
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
This blog is extracted from SYCAMORE: The Catholic Faith Explained. In SYCAMORE you will find answers to the most common questions about life and faith, whether you want to deepen the faith you already have or are exploring the faith for the first time.
To learn more about the Catholic faith in an approachable way, or for help passing it on to others, get your copy of SYCAMORE today.