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.