A number of years ago, John Glenn wrote a book describing the early days of the American space program. He, along with his fellow astronauts, went through challenging physical and psychological training. One day they were given a sheet of paper with one question, “who are you?” There were twenty blanks that needed to be filled. Glenn and the others thought this would be easy to finish. At first the answers came quickly. But it became more difficult as they went further down the list. More time to think and reflect was needed to fill in all the blanks. The question led them to peel layer off of layer and come to the core of their lives, the most essential part of who they were.
If you were given that question, what would your answers be? What words would you use to describe yourself? Would any of your answers be “a Catholic,” “a follower of Christ,” or “a member of the Church?” If those answers were truly meant, then they would be apparent in actions and a lifestyle. Self-identity is vitally important. How an individual sees him or herself will determine, to a good extent, how they live. Change a person’s identity or self-understand and a way of living becomes different. That is what makes the temptation of the serpent in the Garden of Eden so deadly.
“You can become like gods.” You are no longer humans, created and given life by God and totally dependent on Him for everything. No, you can become a god and have the world revolve around you. As a god you determine what is right or wrong. As a god you can use others and creation for your own pleasure, and once used, toss it away without a second thought or concern. The temptation was so good and appealing that Adam and Eve grabbed it. But like any temptation it was an illusion and a lie. Their eyes were opened and they were filled with shame because they were naked. Not the feeling you would expect from a god. They hid themselves from the true God who asked, “Where are you?” Why would a god have to hide if he or she was so powerful? If they were so sure of what was right or wrong, why didn’t they take responsibility for eating the fruit God had told them not to consume? Their true identities were lost and so was everything they once enjoyed.
That original sin and temptation still touches every human being today. Self-centeredness, pride, a fluid morality, a license to do whatever a person wants, whenever they want to do it is very strong in today’s world. There can be a sense of entitlement and expectation where people exist to be used to satisfy a need. There are times when that ancient temptation, “you can become gods,” turns tragic and deadly. The world has experienced gulags, concentration camps, ethnic cleansing, bigotry, abortion and so many other evils because a group has determined what is right or wrong, who shall live and who shall die.
In such a world, it is vitally important that the Christian holds fast to his or her identity. Lent offers the opportunity to renew or recover the identity of who we really are, given in the waters of Baptism by God. These forty days can be used to fast from anything that would weaken that identity and lead to a weakening of living our discipleship to Christ. We need to fast so we can hunger and seek the things of God who will fill us with His life. The believer needs to abstain from needless activities that keep us from prayer and the growth in relationship with God that prayer offers. It is a time to be set free in the sacrament of Reconciliation of anything that we have allowed to rob or weaken within us the identity given us by God.
How you live, how you respond to others, what you desire and cherish, all answer the question, “who are you.” We need these forty days to take seriously the call Christ has given us, to live it well and so say, this is who I really am – a disciple of the Lord.