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from the Secretary General

Sincerely Yours

by Robert L. Stern

Have you ever been in a situation where someone else has mistaken your identity? For example:

“Nice to see you again.”

“Excuse me, who are you?”

“Don’t you remember? We met at Tom and Amelia’s house a few months ago.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know them. You must be mixing me up with somebody else.”

It’s somewhat awkward if you are mistaken for someone else, but it’s a much more serious matter if you mistake your own identity, if you don’t know really who and what you are.

The mores of modern society tend to confuse the best of us, especially those that put such an emphasis on self-fulfillment. An old, popular song sums up this point of view: “Whether I’m right, or whether I’m wrong, I gotta be me, I gotta be me.”

But, am I the be-all and the end-all of my existence? Is all that really matters me? Is my life just for me?

In a few short and beautiful words, St. Paul wrote to the Romans about their fundamental identity: “None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”

If we really know ourselves, we know that we are creatures, yearning to fulfill the designs of our creator. For St. Augustine, this realization was the turning point of his life. In the beginning of his autobiography, he cries to the Lord, “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.’

Our challenge, then, is to be who we really are and are meant to be. Shakespeare expressed it well in Hamlet, “This above all: to thine own self be true...” St. John the Evangelist spelt out the implications of it, “...we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.”

Notice St. John says “we.” We are the Lord’s. We are his sons and daughters, and so brother and sisters — one family.

Larger families — clans, ethnic groups and nations — also need to know who they truly are. They, too, can suffer from mistaken identity. Sometimes others mistake their identity and worth, and sometimes they mistake their identity themselves. They, too, may live confused, with a similar song, “Whether we’re right, or whether we’re wrong, we gotta be us.”

But, each of them is the Lord’s and a part of his entire human family.

It’s painful to see people who speak as though they know who they really are, who talk of God, and yet who are contradicted by their actions. Jesus named such people “hypocrites,” describing them with Isaiah’s words, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

It is even more painful to witness families, clans, ethnic groups and nations who claim to know who they are, who invoke God, and yet whose actions speak the opposite.

Paradoxically, in that region of the world where God uniquely intervened in human history, where Judaism, Christianity and Islam began, this hypocrisy is blatant.

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Tags: Cultural Identity War