Friday, September 17, 2010

Who am I, really?

I was just thinking today about my former spiritual director, Father Jim. I met him a few years ago when I was discerning the diaconate; all inquirers were mandated to begin spiritual direction. After a year of sessions with Father, it became clear that I wasn't supposed to be a deacon (at least not in the near future). However, I continued the sessions with Father Jim because he challenged where I was going with my faith, where I was going as a writer, and most importantly where I was going as a husband and father. Jim became more than a spiritual director, he became my friend and confidante; what the Irish call Anam Cara or soul friend. He moved to a parish out east and we sort of lost touch (really ought to call him).

Fr. Jim once presented me with a small framed quote; it said simply REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE. He asked me to take it home and consider its meaning, and that we'd discuss it during our next session.

OK, so...Who am I, and why do I have to remember? I figured it would be relatively easy to come up with the right answer, doll it all up in spiritual "lingo" and present it for Fr. Jim. In fact, it was MORE than easy. I wrote a whole essay on who I was, who I saw myself to be, where I was going, etc. I was a little stuck on the whole "remembering" thing, but hell, how could I forget who I was? I had a couple of pages worth!

I went down the list with Fr. Jim the following month.

I'm a husband!
I'm a dad!
I'm a brother!
I'm a son!
I'm a friend!
I'm a religion teacher!
I'm a banker!

I went through this little exercise with confidence, embellishing each title with how important each was to myself and the people I touched.

He listened, smiling has he did so, nodding throughout. Then he broke the news,

"Tom, all those things are true. But they are not who you truly are. There is something you are that you've forgotten, in fact most of us have forgotten. It is something you have always been, something you were before you were born, something you are now, something you will always be."

I waited, puzzled...and a little hurt that I had obviously failed my assignment.

"What you need to remember...before everything, during everything, and after everything...You are the Beloved of God."

OK, so let's just break this down. When I goof off at work, I am Beloved of God? When I yell at my kids I am Beloved of God? When I enjoy some gossip about someone who doesn't deserve it, I am Beloved of God? He could love me in the rain, he could love me on the...Oh, I could go on with all of this, and the answer will be the same; Yes.

God's love for me and indeed all of us is profound as the Father's love for the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). The son screws up...big time. He squanders his inheritance (indeed in 1st century Judea, it was an insult of the highest order to request your inheritance before your father's passing) going to prostitutes, and money lenders until he winds up as a penniless working on a pig farm (another big time no-no for a Jew). He decides to go home, and beg his Father to let him stay on as a servant.

However, the son is his Father's Beloved. The Father sees him from far off...and bounds off the porch to meet him with a tender embrace. The son took a step towards his Father...and his Father rushed to meet him.

I am Beloved of God. I pretty much have not forgotten since then. Thank you Father Jim for helping me to Remember.

Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis
Daily Mass Readings
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Psalm 17:1,6-8,15
Luke 8:1-3


  1. Tom-
    Thank you for the mention and Laurie for e-mailing me
    good luck

  2. I once took a New Testament course from a professor whose specialty was the social setting at the time of the Gospels - that is, what the first people hearing Jesus' parables would have thought about them. In most cases, they would have seemed a lot stronger to them than they do to us. You brought up the idea that the prodigal son asking for his inheritance basically meant that he was saying to his father, "As far as I'm concerned, you might as well be dead." Another thing this professor talked about was the father **running** out to meet his son, when running for any reason would have been degrading and unthinkable to a self-respecting landholder of the time. The older brother doesn't come off too well, either. As the eldest son, it was his duty to be present at any gathering in his father's house, so by not going in he's making a much stronger statement than we would pick up. And, again, the father **pleading** with him is something that most men in his position would have found to be beneath them. So the father doesn't give up on either of his sons. Even when both of them - in their own ways - have disowned him, he goes far beyond what was "proper" in showing his love for them.

    If it's difficult for us to think of God loving us that much, it would have been even more difficult for Jesus' first listeners. Jesus is making a very strong statement.

    (BTW, since you mentioned it, I've always found it interesting that it's only the older son who says anything about the money being spent on "loose women" - How would he know?)