“Who do you say that I am?”
That question is a hard one to answer!
Nevertheless, this is also an essential one for our Christian faith because all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 16:13-16; Mark 8:27-29; Luke 9:18-20) include this interaction between the Lord Jesus Christ with St. Peter. Furthermore, it is hard because it is a twofold question that is asked by the Lord for us who are His disciples, as well as for ourselves for us to reflect on who we are.
First, let us begin with ourselves. I think we have all struggled to try to figure out who we are, asking ourselves the question of “Who do people say that I am?” We have had or are still struggling in different degrees of what it means to be ourselves instead of what we think we should be in order to fit in, be accepted, or stand out from the rest. I think we have all went through the teenager (even young adult) period where we were so self-conscious of our words and actions, trying to get attention or stand out, constantly worrying and being pressured what other people think of us, even to the point of trading and losing who we truly are in order to get acknowledged.
We can all perhaps remember that those short and temporary “acceptance” does not justify the stress of trying to keep up with a false facade or personality. Too oftentimes, people who are the sources of envy for many because they seem to have it all are some of the most unhappy and despicable people. They are often the way they are because of the exterior pressures to be someone “perfect” or widely accepted by different circles. One can hide behind the facade of perfection, to be envied and wanted, as if he or she has everything but can still be unhappy, depressed, anxious, frustrated, angry, and resentful. As a matter of fact, there is a higher percentage of unhappiness and depression among those who seem to have it all, especially those who are living as if the exterior, popular, financial, or power factors define them.
While our society is telling us that we have the power to define ourselves, our sexual attraction and gender, or our identity as we think ourselves to be, it never solves the problem that is much more deeply rooted than a social or psychological issue. I am not even going to try to analyze the validity of the different claims and their presuppositions that one somehow knows who he or she is without human errors and with perfect self-knowledge. While many behavioral scientists, sociologists, and psychologists push for greater understanding of underlying and complex psychosomatic issues behind each person, when it comes to self-identity there seems to be no real problem or consideration whether how one identifies or feels has potential psychological issues, problems, or discrepancies. Social conventions and psychological presumptions are based on one having a clear and immaculate understanding of who one is, yet ignoring family of origin issues and past matters that could affect the person’s understanding of his or herself.
Nonetheless, as Christians, our identity is not simply a human, psychological, sociological, or natural issue, it is also an ontological and soteriological one. Who we are as human beings have to be understood from our very self’s understanding and relationship with the One who created us. For us, this is not just a sociological or psychological matter, it is the matter of the heart, of who we are deep from within, especially who we are in relation to the One who created us out of love and for love. Who we are is much more than what society says or who we think we are! We are not simply products of past and present, rigid or fluid, outdated or non-binary social conventions or limitations, popular opinions, gender identity or sexual orientation. We are who we are when we are able to understand, embrace, and love ourselves in the light of His love for us.
Our world wants to deny the reality of original sin and its consequences. It does not believe that our human nature has been injured, intellect darkened, freedom affected, and especially when we have a desire to sin or seek lesser goods that are worldly or self-centered in nature. If people believe that there is nothing wrong, then everyone can believe that he or she is always right, especially the personal and psychological choice of how one wants to be or identify himself or herself. Nevertheless, we cannot deny that we all have some types of baggage and presuppositions that were created by our past and family of origin issues. We are not completely perfect or without past baggage that often hurts, distorts, confuses, or locks us up in our own fears or despair.
Therefore, it is important that we are genuine to ourselves and to others, not trying to have things be perfect in order to hide the imperfections within us. We do not have to pretend to have everything to hide the chaos inside. We do not have to be in control or put up a false perfectionism to ignore the pains, hurts, sufferings, and struggles that we are going through. This is very important and crucial in our self-understanding! We cannot be who we truly are if we are not able to embrace who we are in all of our interior, personal, or intimate “cracks” and brokenness. We have to allow ourselves to stand in front of God and to love ourselves as we are. This is extremely hard (as I have said before)! Yet, this is what it truly means to love ourselves and allowing ourselves to be loved by Him. It is love that makes us willing to be vulnerable and it is love that motivates us, to help us grow and become what He wants to break, (re)form, and (re)create in us.
None of the things of this world satisfy or could ever fill us deep from within. If we spend our lives trying to worry about who people think we are or who we want to be, we will waste so much time chasing after ever-changing matters and short-lived vanities. Our lives would better benefit if we turn the questions away from us and about us. The greatest liberation comes in the form of a personal, grace-filled, and love-based relationship with the One who created and formed us, who saved and redeemed us, and who continues to guide and sanctify us with His divine providence and grace. Therefore, it is important to hear the essential question coming from the Lord Jesus Christ, asking us, “Who do you say that I am?”
Do we know who He is? Do we know who we truly are in that relationship with Him? Do we try to become disciples of Christ Jesus, sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, and instruments of the Holy Spirit or are we trying so hard to be someone else? Are we more worried about what other people think or say who we are and need to be or are we at peace with what the Almighty says of us?
Our peace is found in the knowledge of the One who loves us, especially through the life, living example, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, who willingly died in order to redeem, save, and pay for our sins. The Lord showed us the true love of God for humanity as well of what it means to remain and be in communion with Him who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, sharing the taste of that very self-giving, total, sacrificial, and genuine Trinitarian love (in our limited and finite ability). In the words of so many saints, to know and to love Jesus with our whole heart is to be immersed, grounded, and nourished by the love that God has in Himself, the love that cannot be contained but outpours in acts of creation, redemption, and sanctification.
One of my favorite chapters from The Imitation of Christ is from Book 2: Chapter 8 on “The Familiar Friendship with Jesus.” As a matter of fact, I return to this chapter a lot, personally and providentially, because it grounds me in what is truly important on my walk of faith. When doubts cloud my judgment and when questions arise in my heart, the Lord always brings me back to this chapter to reaffirm what is truly important in my daily walk with Him. Even though this chapter has a lot of rich and beautiful passages, there are three that really touch my heart. I would like to share them with you now, and hopefully, you will also find some time to read the full text as a way to meditate and reflect on the immensible and everlasting friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
“When Jesus is present all things go well, and nothing seems difficult; but when Jesus is absent everything is hard. When Jesus speaks not within, our comfort is worthless; but if Jesus speaks but one word, we feel great consolation.
It is a great art to know how to converse with Jesus, and to know how to keep Jesus is great wisdom. Be humble and peaceable, and Jesus will be with you. Be devout and quiet, and Jesus will stay with you.
We ought rather to choose to have the whole world against us than to offend Jesus. Of all, therefore, that are dear to you, let Jesus always be your special beloved. Let all things be loved for Jesus’ sake, but Jesus for His own sake.”
Without a doubt, this friendship is intimately manifested and connected to the summit and foundation of our faith, the Mass. Every time we hear the words of the Eucharistic institution, “Do this in memory of me,” our memory becomes enlivened and transformed by the Eucharistic Sacrifice. This memory is not just an ordinary sense of memory as if we look at a picture and recall what happened, the Greek word anamnesis reminds us that it is the real reliving of what happened on Calvary here and now! It is like, through the sacramental grace of the Mass, being transported back to the exact moment of Christ‘s own sacrifice on the Cross.
The sacrifice of the Mass is the same sacrifice of Christ on the Cross — in an unbloodied way — reminding of who we really are and how loved we are by the Lord. In each and every Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass, we are living and transformed by the love of the Holy Trinity, which the Father handed over His Son as expiation for our sins, the Lord gave His life freely to redeem us from the slavery of evil, and the Holy Spirit received, sanctified, and moved the hearts of believers to accept this everlasting exchange of divine love. With the Mass, we can recognize the immense love of God and remember who we truly are as Christians.
We are more than what the world tells us or what sins had made us become! We are children of God the Father, disciples of Christ, and instruments of the Holy Spirit because of what the Holy Trinity has done for us. Therefore, we have the grace and ability to become what we truly are meant to be, living to the fullest ability in this world of meaningless wandering.
The life of faith will ultimately bring us to the most important understanding in this world, that no greater friendship and relationship is more important than the one with Christ Jesus. To know Him and to know ourselves in Him is the greatest knowledge, wisdom, and source of peace that nothing else can ever promised or given to us! We judge, understand, and prioritize everything in light of this everlasting love because if this one fails, everything else will fail, become hurtful, and destructive. If you and I understand how wonderful of a friendship we have with the Lord, we will desire and help one another, to love one another as He has loved us. Relationships become meaningful and life-giving when we challenge one another, especially ourselves, to reflect and imitate this everlasting, personal, and intimate love to others. All of us will change for the better when we truly allow the love of Christ to be enlivened in our everyday exchanges and challenges instead of only expecting others to give us what we want. Indeed, true love exists when we measure, relate, and allow them to reflect the life-giving, sacrificial, and intimate love of God for us and we for Him.