Who Are You, Christian?

Guido Reni, Baptism of Christ (1623)
Guido Reni, Baptism of Christ (1623)

Who are you?

What defines you as a human being?

We live in a culture starving for an answer to this question. It’s everywhere you look.

I’m reminded of that book Eat, Pray, Love, in which a woman named Elizabeth Gilbert divorces her husband and travels around the world trying to find herself. Who are you?

Because of course, it’s not just Elizabeth Gilbert looking for herself. There’s a reason that her book stayed on the New York Times Best-Seller list for 187 weeks, over 3 ½ years. People are desperate to find themselves. Who are you?

To take another example, I once heard a priest say that the Westboro Baptist Church and gay marriage advocacy groups are two sides of the same coin, in that they both define people by their attractions and orientations. This, too, is an attempt to find yourself: I have to live this kind of lifestyle, because I need to be “true to myself.” Who are you?

But let’s not stop there. Let’s go to the biggest, perhaps least-talked-about way that we try to answer this question. “I’m a conservative,” “I’m a liberal,” Republican, Democrat, you get the point. You find some political tribe, and you let it define you, you let it shape how you view the world, and let it determine what you believe in, exalting it even above religion. This is a subtle form of idolatry, and people taking their moral formation from politicians shouldn’t be surprised if they end up spending eternity with those politicians. But again, it’s an attempt to answer the question, “Who are you?”

We are hungry for meaning and for identity, hungry to belong, desperate to find a way of expressing ourselves or discovering ourselves. And we’re right to be hungry, and we’re right to look. But we can stop looking, and we can be satisfied, because God Almighty knows who we are, and He tells us who we are. St. Paul, when he goes to Mars Hill in Athens, says to the pagans there, ‘you are God’s offspring’ (Acts 17:28-29). As it says in the Book of Genesis, God made you in His image (Gen. 1:26-27). You’re His creatures, and more than that, His children.

That’s true of all of us, regardless of religion, simply by dint of being made in His image. But it’s true in a more radical way by those of us here who have received that most incredible gift: we have Baptism.

It’s not every day that you’ll hear a Catholic say that we need to learn from Martin Luther. He got lots of things wrong, and in a way that hurt the Church. But there’s at least one thing that he got very right, and it’s a thing that so many Christians today don’t get right: he understood the power of his Baptism.  Here’s what Luther had to say in his Large Catechism:

For consider, if there were somewhere a physician who understood the art of saving men from dying, or, even though they died, of restoring them speedily to life, so that they would thereafter live forever, how the world would pour in money like snow and rain, so that because of the throng of the rich no one could find access! But here in Baptism there is brought free to every one’s door such a treasure and medicine as utterly destroys death and preserves all men alive.

That’s a beautiful way to understand Baptism. Luther goes on to suggest that when we’re struggling with sin, to respond “I am Baptized!

Why should we respond this way? Because our Baptism gives us our identity. We see this in Jesus’ own Baptism, in which God the Father reveals His Son’s identity, saying: “You are My beloved Son, with You I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).

Now, of course, that’s  true of Jesus. We know He is the Son of God. But is that true of us? Are we the beloved sons and daughters of God?

Yes! St. John says, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” And St. Paul says that “we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” As it says in the Book of Hebrews, Jesus was not “not ashamed to call [us] brethren” (Heb. 2:11).

This is the deepest answer to the question “who are you?” You are a child of God, a brother or sister of Jesus Christ. And just as some people seem to let their whole lives be dictated by their political party, we should let our lives be totally defined by this reality. Is the way that you’re living the way that a daughter or son of God ought to live? From time to time, you should ask yourself that, because that is who you are.

25 Comments

  1. Hi Joe, thanks for the great blog posts here, you’ve really helped my own conversion.

    I have the following questions on this matter:

    What of a baptized christian who commits a mortal sin? Doesn’t that identity get obscured when we fall from grace through mortal sin or apostasy, such that our identity would be a fallen child of God until we are able to have that sin forgiven in the sacrament of reconciliation? Or are you saying that person’s identity would remain the same and his being in a state of grace or not would be accidental to the person (which doesn’t seem to fit with what you’re saying here, since it would end up creating a distinction remarkably similar to the false Justification/Sanctification division in protestant theology)?

    All the same, a great reminder of who we are ontologically as conquering children of God, comforted by the Holy Spirit and the inner working of supernatural grace.

  2. “I am baptized” is an interesting reply from Fr Luther. He was a very scrupulous man when he wasn’t plucking nuns from convents to join his marital bed. Indeed, if not for his obsessive scrupulosity he may never have doubted the efficacy of the Sacraments and began the Reformation/apostasy in the first place.

    Why, pray tell, is a putatively Catholic blog quoting in any positive light the man who began the downfall of Christian order?

    1. “Why, pray tell, is a putatively Catholic blog quoting in any positive light the man who began the downfall of Christian order?”

      Because he’s right on this, and expresses himself clearly.

      Also, “putatively Catholic”? Get a grip.

    2. Luther also said, “War is the greatest plague that can afflict humanity, it destroys religion, it destroys states, it destroys families. Any scourge is preferable to it.”
      And Goebbels said, “Faith moves mountains, but only knowledge moves them to the right place.”

      A truthful saying is truthful regardless of who says it.

      1. I’ll take the truth and wisdom of King David, who was termed by God “…a man according to his own heart” (1Sam.13:13) over the opinions of Martin Luther, any day. Here’s what King David said of a similar matter proposed to him:

        “David arose in the morning, and the word of the Lord came to Gad the prophet and the seer of David, saying: [12] Go, and say to David: Thus saith the Lord: I give thee thy choice of three things, choose one of them which thou wilt, that I may do it to thee. [13] And when Gad was come to David, he told him, saying: Either seven years of famine shall come to thee in thy land: or thou shalt flee three months before thy adversaries, and they shall pursue thee: or for three days there shall be a pestilence in thy land. Now therefore deliberate, and see what answer I shall return to him that sent me. [14] And David said to Gad: I am in a great strait: but it is better that I should fall into the hands of the Lord (for his mercies are many) than into the hands of men. [15] And the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel, from the morning unto the time appointed, and there died of the people from Dan to Bersabee seventy thousand men.” (2Sam. 24:11)

        War is a terrible scourge but I highly doubt that “it destroys religion”. I think it’s probably the opposite: it scares people INTO religion. What’s the old saying: “There are no atheists in foxholes”.

        Evils and scourges are often used by God to turn His people from their own ambitions, egoism and pride, and humble them into recognizing the eternal truth that all power, life, grace and happiness come from God alone, and through Jesus Christ and the indwelling in our souls of the Holy Spirit. This realization, and in-depth understanding, is what ‘defines’ us as children of ‘Our Father who art in Heaven’.

        Martin Luther is wrong in too many things to be taken at his word as a counsellor regarding spiritual things. He is pretty much just another ‘self appointed prophet’. One of many.

        1. OK, I guess war is a greater evil than the others, due to the evil actions, and sin, of man. However, I still don’t think it destroy’s religion. Persecution usually stimulates religious activity, one way or the other, in actual practice. Pleasures, luxury and soft living is what seems to actually ‘destroy religion’, like what we see going on in the world today.

          1. I think we are on the same page, especially as regards the pernicious German monk. But if you don’t think war can destroy religion, I would like to remind you of the devastating effects of the World Wars on Europe in all respects, including religion. I can also refer you to the Coptic, Syrian, and Assyrian Christians and the effects conquests and invasions had on their churches.

          2. “Pleasures, luxury and soft living…” combined with oft-accompanying relaxed moral standards…agreed.

            One only need read the Prophets to get a sad, told-you-so of cause-and-effect when prosperity is taken as an end in itself, and unaccompanied by humility and gratitude to the Provider.

  3. Not a bad post. We have been seeing a lot of consternation in this world from people hungry for an identity or form of self-expression. Unfortunately, the dearth of good art, the machinist industrialism, the obsession with all things sexual, and the general decline of Christianity leaves the lost souls with little to grasp. It is no wonder, then, that many turn to cheap pleasures to numb the pain (masturbation and sex, drugs, playing 30+ hours of video games a week, drunkeness, endless Netflix, or even the random man who is enticed by that demonic religion of Islam) or go towards nihilism.

    As for “Gay Culture” as an identity, I will turn to a quote from a former Anglican priest I know, “Are you telling me that what you do with your penis is the most important and defining thing about you? Be a person!”

  4. See! It was not that hard to say something good about Luther. The more you read of Luther, then you may find that there are more good things you can say about him.

    I would normally be making a cheeky comment, but I feel that you got enough troubles from people not thinking you are Catholic enough because you said one nice thing about Luther. I got 99 problems, but Luther ain’t one.

    Okay, you know I cannot help myself. So I will leave with this. http://www.ncregister.com/blog/edward-pentin/lutheran-group-reportedly-given-holy-communion-in-st.-peters-basilica

  5. “It was not that hard to say something good about Luther”

    It is, however, hard to *find* something good to say about Luther. Kudos to Joe for making the effort.

    Kindness will bring us together – the way Christ intended for us all to be – a lot faster than vitriol or any form of gloating, including over ‘reputed’ events.

    1. Not as hard to find as you might think. Luther had a lot of good things to say, especially earlier in his life. This is one of Joe’s strengths — he understands protestants and is able to bring out and acknowledge the good things that they say, and show how the best of what they say, in fact, leads to the fullness of the faith.

      1. Well said Alex. This is one of Joe’s strengths. I pray we will be able to come together into the fullness of faith fully soon.

        1. Maybe we’re closer than we all may think. Times such as those in which we Christians now live, tend to have a unifying effect……

    2. “It is, however, hard to *find* something good to say about Luther”

      Below is a very scholarly Catholic biography of Luther written in 1917. People can make their own minds up concerning Luthers virtues and Chaaracter as it is filled with his own quotes. But one thing is certain, Luther is very interesting. He can easily leave you scratching your head in wonder, how anyone Christian or not, think, speak and act like he did. Luther was a very complex man. He was very different from any of the Catholics that I have ever met, and I know a lot of them, be they priests, monks, nuns or laity. I have also read the lives of approximately 50 Catholic Saints, and I can note a very big difference between Luthers’ spirituality, and theirs. But, in any case, this book provides an excellent spiritual and psychological profile of him, and using mostly his own, and his closest friends, recorded quotes and stories of him:

      https://books.google.com/books?id=LgU7AQAAMAAJ&pg=PR3&lpg=PR3&dq=LUTHER

      1. Awlms,

        These days, it is very common to hear that Luther did not intend to start his own church. What then are we to make of the Lutheran church? Neither founded by Christ nor Luther, whose children are they? It seems that in trying to salvage Luther’s theological reputation, a large Protestant sect had to be disowned and bastardized. Or is this a case of the Lutherans disowning Luther? One can never tell. I am glad Pope Francis opens his arms to them. They should not miss this chance to call him father.

        Pope Francis reminds me of the great St Francis of Assisi who appeared in history at a time when the Church was plagued with scandals and abuses. St Francis was called by God in a vision to reform the Church. He answered the call, and when he finished his reformation, his work bore much fruit. The Church remained intact and was in better shape than when he found it. The same cannot be said of Luther, Calvin, or Zwingli.

        These Protestant “reformers” left the Church in shambles, and effectively destroyed Christian unity. Five hundred years of Protestantism shows that the only game in their town is schism and dissensions. By their fruits, ye shall know them. If we use St Francis’ legacy as the standard to measure Church reform, then the so-called Protestant “Reformation” should appropriately be described as a revolution or deformation.

        1. Rico,

          I think you bring up a great point when using St. Francis as an example to compare Martin Luther to. An excellent book should be written with a title such as
          “Francis and Luther, a story of two souls”. The contrast could not be more extreme. Luther was a man with many and great fears, wherein lightening, thunder and the threat of death, lead him to even promising to join a monastery, so as to save his life. Francis, on the other hand was a man who was naturally joyful, even before his conversion, and this joyful character was manifested even when he was a prisoner of war and cast for a year into the depths of a castle dungeon. Even Francis’ fellow prisoners couldn’t understand why he was so joyful in such circumstances. Luther was absorbed in theology, and tormented over conclusions he found in theology. Francis, practiced theology in his daily life, serving lepers. weeping for sinners, and being his food from door to door, while all along proclaiming the love of Jesus to all. This is to say, Francis in general put his faith into practical use, and preached ‘peace and all good’ to all he met. Luther pretty much stayed absorbed in his own ideas and theology, and was obsessed with the many evils that he found both in himself as well as those amongst his fellow Christians. In no way might we consider Luther a ‘peace maker’, such as Francis was. Luther used very offensive and foul language. Francis was very sweet of character, such that even wild animals even were responsive to.

          Anyway, the contrast between to two is so extreme, that as I said, someone should write a book on it. But, thanks for bringing it up because both Francis and Luther are highly interesting persons, and everyone, I think, should read both. Here is a good PDF source for the Life of St. Francis, written by St. Bonaventure, for those interested:

          http://www.saintsbooks.net/books/St.%20Bonaventure%20-%20The%20Life%20of%20St.%20Francis%20of%20Assisi.pdf

          Copy and paste if the .pdf does not link.

      2. The Reformation was, in reality, a revolution. The Chuch was plagued with many evils in the 16th century, and, in that respect, the need for reform was keenly felt. However, as Tocqueville remarked, “it should not be forgotten that the same effort which makes a man violently shake off a prevailing error, commonly impels him beyond the bounds of reason; that, to dare to declare war, in however just a cause, against the opinion of one’s age and country, a violent and adventurous spirit is required, and that men of this character seldom arrive at happiness or virtue, whatever be the path they follow. And this, it may be observed by the way, is the reason why in the most necessary and righteous revolutions, it is so rare to meet with virtuous or moderate revolutionary.”

        1. But we have plenty of Saints that also caused revolutions throughout the 2000 years of Church history. This is how all of pagan Europe was converted to the Catholic Faith, by both spiritual and political revolution. With this type of ‘Catholic revolution’, the ‘peace of Christ’ was brought to the pagan nations throughout the world. Civilized society in the world was the fruit of this God loving faith, which is witnessed even to this present day.

          So, Luther indeed was a revolutionary. But He was not anything like the revolutionaries throughout the ages called ‘Catholic Saints’. The Catholic revolutionaries brought peace, unity, love and joy to the societies they affected. Luther, for the most part, brought strife, fear, disunity, war and confusion.

          As Rico noted above, just consider the great contrast between the revolutionary St. Francis, to the revolutionary Martin Luther. They’re very, very, different.

          1. I’d speculate that if Luther spent just 1 day studying the writings of St. Bonaventure, he would have been a far happier person, and would never have felt it necessary to condemn the Church in the way he did. He would have recognized that it is an overwhelming abundance of love, lived after the example of Christ, that is needed to change both the Church and the world for the better. Francis knew this, Bonaventure knew this, but Luther never seemed to grasp the concept. It’s even as St. Paul taught:

            “if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. [3] And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. [4] Charity is patient, is kind: charity envieth not, dealeth not perversely; is not puffed up; [5] Is not ambitious, seeketh not her own, is not provoked to anger, thinketh no evil;” (1 Cor.13:2)

          2. The conversion of the Roman Empire did not save it from destruction. Saints Jerome and Augustus were a witness to this. The revolution which Jesus effected was expressed by Lord Acton as follows “Now it is the great object of the Church, by keeping the two spheres permanently distinct,—by rendering to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and to God the things that are God’s—to make all absolutism, of whatever kind, impossible.” The early Christians were revolutionaries in the sense that they rejected the principal upon which the Roman Empire was founded- absolutism. Saints Francis, Dominic, John of the Cross and many others were pioneers. They blazed new trails and enriched the faith. Reform is an address to specific abuses and errors based upon principals accepted by all. Revolution introduces a speculative ideal which becomes the make and measure of all.

    3. A quote I particularly admire was not by Luther himself, but by a Lutheran theologian (whose name I forget):

      “Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”

      I remind myself of that now and again, because I am occasionally prone to traditionalist tendencies which need to be consciously curbed.

      1. That was Jaroslav Pelikan. Brilliant guy. He was well-versed on the Fathers as a Lutheran pastor, and actually ended up converting to Eastern Orthodoxy. To be deep in history, &c.

        I.X.,

        Joe

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