Our identities are important to us. Who we are often influences what we do. We even take steps to showcase our identities sometimes – wearing special clothes/accessories (Liverpool jersey at a football match, anyone?), memorising mottos, or behaving in a certain way. Growing up, being a “gamer” was an important part of my identity. This “gamer” identity manifested itself through the countless hours invested in “first-person-shooters”, and a (hopefully) high level of skill. I revelled in that identity then, and was not afraid to show it in my actions.
However, sometimes, we don’t act in accordance with our identity. The Israelites identified themselves as the people of God. How could they not be? After all, they had been powerfully saved from a destiny of slavery in Egypt, led by Yahweh to a new land which was given to them and their posterity. However, the prophet Isaiah indicts their failure to act in accordance with their identity (see the rest of Is 58). What they ought to have been doing instead was to share their bread with the hungry, shelter the homeless poor, clothe the naked man and not to turn away from their own kin.
What about me as a Catholic? Jesus similarly tells me two important aspects of my identity as a disciple – salt of the earth, and light of the world. In both, we are called to have an effect on the world around us. We cannot keep the Faith to ourselves. Salt is used, whether as a preservative, a flavouring, or as a catalyst for an earthen oven. Light shines for everyone. In my identity as a disciple of Christ and a child of God, I must give of myself in good works for others, so that men, seeing our good works, may give praise to our Father in heaven (Mt 5:16).
What does Jesus mean by good works? No doubt He, as a faithful observant Jew, would have been familiar with Isaiah’s reprimand to Israel. In fact, Jesus repeats similar directions to the disciples to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned (see Mt 25: 35-36).
Now beyond this, my works must also point others to God our Father. As St Paul demonstrates, even though he was a powerful orator and religious intellectual, what he relied on to bring the faith to others was a simple proclamation of Jesus as the crucified Christ.
So, if I am not acting as I ought to, what does that mean? Maybe, like the Israelites, this dissonance indicates that I do not actually cherish or believe in my identity. Perhaps I am not sure of what I need to do in order to live out my identity.
What do I think of my identity as a beloved child of our Father and member of the Holy Catholic Church? What actions of mine showcase this identity to the world?
If I believe that I am truly loved by God, how can I not act accordingly? If I really believe the Good News and what the Church teaches, how can I keep it to myself?
Written by Vincent Ong