(DT 4:1-2,6-8; JAS 1:17-18, 21b-22,27; MK 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Before sharing with you about today readings, may I have a question for you all? Well, you will have a couple of seconds to think and to answer my question. Now, please close your eyes first and listen... My question for you is “WHO ARE YOU?” “WHO ARE YOU?” and “WHO ARE YOU?”
All right, open your eyes and please keep your answers in mind and then you can compare yours with my answer when my talking finished. I ask you this question because today I would like to share with you about a problem existing in our modern society: “IDENTITY CRISIS.”
You may wonder: “What is that?”, “What is “IDENTITY CRISIS?” According to the Cambridge Dictionary, an identity crisis is “a feeling that you are not sure of who you are or what you should do.” At the definition, it sounds like: an identity crisis is just a feeling of confusion of a person. For many people, if it is just a feeling, it can be listed as a psychological problem and should not take much of our attention. However, there is much more to think and to discuss about this problem that urges me to bring it up today.
As you know, in May 24, 2015, Pope Francis promulgated an encyclical letter named “Laudato Si”. This title is in ancient Italian language which can be translated into English as “Praised be to you, my Lord!” In this encyclical letter, Pope Francis encourages Christians to listen both to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor in order to come up with solutions for environmental and social problems around the world. By sharing his concerns about these problems, Pope Francis also warns the world, and of course, each one of us, about an identity crisis, and he invites all of us to pause a moment in our busy life, to reflect on who we really are as God intended us to be, and to turn back to that original identity.
According to Pope Francis, the identity crisis of human is not only a feeling that man is not sure of who he is or what he should do but also a state of being when man denied his original identity and chose another identity that is against his original identity that God granted to him from the beginning. It means that instead of recognizing and worshipping God, human idolize other things to be their gods. This is certainly not a new phenomenon because it had happened throughout the history of God’s chosen People. It was started with Adam and Eve in the Eden Garden when they attempted to turn themselves to be like God so that they do not have to obey their Creator anymore. When they forgot what they were created for, they did not know who they are. Besides, I guess all of us still remember what was reported in the Book of Exodus chapter 32 verse 4 when the Israelites made a golden calf and worshiped it as their God at the bottom of Sinai Mountain even though God just brought them out of Egypt with His powerful hands.
Nowadays, many people are still making different kinds of golden calves to worship as their gods. Can you name some of them? Money, power, science, and even Satan… You may know that, in America, there is a group of people who worship Satan and promote evil deeds for others. And not so far away, right in our Vietnamese society, we can witness all kinds of violence happening everywhere. Have we ever wondered why people are becoming less and less kind to each other? It seems like people worship hatred and violence in our society.
How about us? Let’s get back to your answer for the question: “Who are you?” I am sure that many of you would identify yourself as Christian. And yes, that is so true. If not, you would not be sitting in this chapel. But, what exactly is our Christian identity? What makes us different from others? In one of his homily last month, Pope Francis states that, “Christians are not people who follow a particular philosophy, but rather those who remain faithful to this God-given identity as the anointed ones who let the Spirit into their hearts.” The beauty of this identity, he said, can be seen through the way we bear witness to the world. But he warned of several ways in which this witness can be weakened or watered down. This happens when we do not live according to our faith. When we put God aside and put ourselves or other things in the place of God in our life.
Dear my brothers and sisters,
In the Gospel today, Jesus condemned the Pharisees as “hypocrites”. Why did Jesus condemn them? They always appealed as the best law keepers in Israel community. They would rather die than violate any laws of Moses even a minor one. So, why they are condemned? It is because they lost their identity. Instead of being God’s son and daughters, they made themselves slaves of the Laws. They followed and forced other people to keep every single rule or tradition just to show that they are good. They even threw away, or let say they forgot the root of every law intended by God which is Love. Many times, Jesus reminded them about this essence of the law as he states: “The first commandment is this: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” However, since the Pharisees put Laws as the center of everything, God has no place in their lives and so does his voice.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Though the words of condemnation that Jesus has for the Pharisees today, we are also reminded to think about our identity and to give answer to the question that whether we are living according to who God wants us to be or we are choosing to be something else. The one thing that helps us to know if we are living our Christian identity is Love.
As we learn from Jesus that The Law of Love perfects the Mosaic Law and directs all other commands. That means we always need to ask ourselves when we keep rules or do certain things. For example, “Do we love when we come to church? Do we love when we give something to the poor?” etc. The law of love is to will the good of the other.
We all know that the law of love is a daily struggle or a multi-times-a-day struggle. But, Jesus Christ gives each of us an everyday hope. He will help us anytime, despite our weakness, the weakness of not wanting to do what he wants.
As we continue our Eucharistic celebration, let us ask Jesus for the gift of grace to live our Christian identity in our daily choices.
May God bless you all. Amen.
Fr. John Nguyễn Thiên Minh, O.P.