In the time and age when everyone is so worried about what or how to identify themselves or to secure the freedom to do so, we find more people getting lost in trying to figure out who they truly are. I am not going into the political agenda or sociological argument of things, for I believe they are only scapegoats, distractions from the real problems, and smoke screens to hide what is really broken and wrong with our nation. However, what is interesting is that even though we have been pushing for more freedom for self-identification, more young people end up being lost, more depressed and unhappy with these (progressive) social conventions and inventions. Even though social innovations sound good, they cannot silent the real desires of the soul and its real yearning for the sense of belonging and love beyond what society, psychology, or sociology can define or given the freedom to define.
I believe we have experienced things in life that sound nice, appealing or attractive at times, but they really do not bear any life-giving, substantial, and eternal values. If those things and many contemporary trends are really substantial then we would not have a more rising number and escalation with self-harm, depression, self-loathing, and the likes. If everything our society is telling us would be able to solve everything, why is there more and newer forms of violence, harm, and injustices, all too often in countries that have more wealth, education level, or higher standards of living? Perhaps all these things are happening to tell us that what we have created for ourselves, politically or socially speaking, are not working because there are more confusions and questions about “Who am I and what I am called to be?” among our young people. Perhaps this is the sense of identity that cannot be found in humanly, socially, or politically motivated outlets, appealing statements, or ideological inventions. Perhaps this identity is not something worldly or naturally found but supernaturally given and transcendentally discovered in and through the love of the Creator. Perhaps our true identity is not found in the newness of things but in the never-changing, everlasting, and original identification of who we really are as sons and daughters of God, “male and female He created them.” (Cf. Genesis 1:27, 2:24, 5:2; Matthew 19:4; Mark 10:6 et al)
As a priest, I believe that our identity is something much different than how one can identify or say who he or she is. Our Christian faith teaches us that our identity comes from God, and unless we know who we truly are in His eyes, we will forever be lost in trying to be politically or socially correct but always ontologically incorrect. For me, the ability to define or identify one’s self does not secure happiness and the deep sense of love that can only be found in belonging to the Creator, recognizing, understanding, and embracing what God has given to us. Really! Once you hear and know what God has to say about you, nothing else in this world will suffice and satisfy. Sadly, many have not been taught how to listen and pray properly or because they are too scared to admit the divine and be humble, patient, and open themselves enough to truly understand what the Lord has to say. Yet, Saint Augustine said, “To fall in love with God is the greatest of romances; to seek Him the greatest adventure; to find Him, the greatest human achievement.”
I believe we have failed as the Church and as family members in teaching our young people how to pray. As a matter of fact, prayer is often avoided or not talked about until it is needed. Therefore, many just come to prayer to ask for something, to expect something, or to demand something in return. Many are treating prayer times as opportunities to talk and let the Lord hears what they have to say. Many are too uncomfortable with prayer, hence not knowing what to really expect. That is why many people feel awkward when they pray because they are not comfortable in opening their hearts, learning how to really spend time and “waste” time with God without treating Him like a benefactor, provider, genie, sugar daddy, or the likes. In order to know who we really are, we need to learn to know who God is so we can learn to fall in love with Him (over and over again at times since life always has unique ways of distracting or making us doubt in His loving goodness). Many will, at this time, check out and think that I am fanatical or unrealistic but this is where our main problem lies! We dismiss the opportunity to know and love God because we do not want to waste time or spend efforts in seeking spiritual matters. It is easier, of course, to stick with the comfortable or easy-to-manipulate version of the Lord so that we can get what we want. So, the real question to ask is: Am I comfortable and open myself enough to listen and learn from God by spending time and wasting time with Him on a daily basis? Not once in a while or as needed! We need to learn to spend time with God in prayer because this world is too full of contradictions, doubts, and distractions that pull us away from His loving truth.
When was the last time we actually spend the time to pray, to listen, to study the Scripture, and to allow God to speak to us? I believe we are too guilty of coming into prayer or using faith to find or justify what we want. I believe we are too prone to read the Scripture according to our liking and let our humanistic desires to belittle and make God controllable, fit into our own pocket and understanding instead of really meeting Him as He is. It is too easy to spend the time to make things right for us instead of coming to the Lord with a deep sense of wonder and awe. As with any interval training, prayer is part of the spiritual exercises that we can put into practice as we learn how to build up endurance, stretch our heart for greater love, and build up strength against evil temptations. The beginning is always hard as we need to get used to the new habit-forming routine. Even along the way, we are called to fine-tune places that have been duped, perverted, or clouded by worldly distractions or evil temptations. When one is able to spend time with God and learn how to listen to Him, one will discover a greater understanding of the love of one’s identity that comes from the loving heart of God. When He speaks to our heart, even though it might be nonverbal, our heart will recognize and understand because it was meant to tune and listen to the One that created it. It will take time to train ourselves in the beginning, slow ourselves down from the busyness of the world and tune ourselves to His divine presence each time in prayer, but we will find the restful peace in Him when we find the spiritual space and time to do so. When God really speaks and when we truly listen, our heart swells with joy without pretentions, expectations, or demands as it simply remains in the natural state of wonder and awe.
This is what truly important in the formation of our future generations. We have to learn to teach them how to slow down, listen, and love from the heart, beginning with God. So, what are we teaching and instilling within the hearts of our young people? Are we able to pray together as a family and able to pass on the value of prayer and the spiritual life to the future generations? If there is no formation of deeper and everlasting values, they will be lost in the everchanging trends of this world. If there is no sense of belonging at home, they will never understand and appreciate the value of being home and creating a home. If we do not help them understand their self-worth and dignity in God through the faith-based formation and prayer life, they will never know who they are, who to really listen to, and will ever spend their lives trying to listen to people who will seem to make them feel (temporarily) satisfied. If they do not know God, they will forever get stuck in the worldly rat race based on self-centered manipulations of others and from others. What being formed and given at home will forever change our young people! Even if they are lost for a moment, if we instill the truth, till the soil, and plant proper seeds, those potentialities will mature and lead them back home.
If we do not teach or provide opportunities for our young people to pray and seek what is deeper, everlasting, and life-giving, they will end up lost not knowing who they are, hence always worried about what they have to be. With the individualistic subjectivism of our post-modern world, a lost person is not given a real solution to seek who he or she is, it simply provides a feel-good, psychologically-soothing, or mentally-satisfying alternative by giving them a choice to define or identify whoever they want to be. It bases its argument on the freedom to choose because one naturally and intuitively know who he or she is, yet this society really has not form, teach, or show them who they truly are deep from within, only with things that seem to change by trends and “cutting edge” developments. Instead of really helping one to understand and overcome the real identity crisis, it simply creates justifications and excuses so one’s ego-based subjectivity possesses the “power” and “freedom” to do whatever it wants. Hence, that “freedom” often ends up making the person becomes “non-binary” as not to be bound by any one particular or social convention. This new-found subjective freedom and empowerment are simply a mask to cover the real identity crisis and confusion that this world cannot and really do not have the power to define.
At the end of the day, we have the ability to know deep within ourselves that there is a difference between the divinely-inspired and humanly-based satisfaction. Who we truly are is not really free for us to choose but are given to us eternally by the Creator. Who we are deep from within is dear to God because He has formed us out of love for love! Who we are called to be is grounded in the divine exchange of this unimaginable, life-giving, and sacrificial gift of love shown through the Paschal Mystery of the Lord Jesus Christ, when He freely and intimately chose to suffer (die and rise to new life) for us. This personal vocation requires an intimate listening in order to hear the name and understand the mission that He has for us through the power and working of the Holy Spirit who was sent by the Father and Son to guide us on our faith and life journey. Who we are is not just some social convention, psychological understanding, or ideological creation, for we are made by God and for His everlasting love. Our identity is found in and through God’s own Trinitarian love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit so that we, through the working of the Holy Spirit and His gifts, are able to become more Christ-like, as to be able to call out to God our Father, “Abba!” Therefore, let us spend real efforts to seek, understand, and embrace our God-given identity by falling in love with Him — each and every day — so that He lives in us just as we are in Him.