Saturday, February 4, 2012

Identity

On Saturday, June 12, 2010, The Washington Post magazine ran an article on hoarding. It was written by a man who has struggled with hoarding since he was a teenager. One thing that struck me particularly about the article was this:

What's happened over the years is the stuff has somehow invaded your sense of self, your identity, because without it you feel like you don't know who you are.

This got me thinking about a bigger point, namely, identity. If someone asked you, "Who are you?" (and my mind here just jumps into Alice in Wonderland's caterpillar and poor Alice being asked to give an account of herself) how would you answer? Certainly you could give your name, but you are much more, are you not? After all, others may have the same name as you. 

The word "identity" comes from the French identite and that from the Latin identitat, which is a contraction of idem et idem, which, literally, means "same and same." Thus, the literal meaning of identity would be sameness. Applied to something and it means sameness in all that constitutes the objective reality of a thing. Applied to persons and it means the distinguishing character or personality of an individual or the sameness of essential or generic character. So, when someone asks your identity, they are asking the distinguishing character of yourself. 

Nowadays, when we hear the word "identity" it usually has the word "theft" after it and refers primarily to numbers: our birthday, social security number, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, address, telephone numbers, credit scores, etc. While I understand how the economy would regard my identity, I would hardly reduce myself to a set of numbers. Even if every one of those numbers vanished, I would not be one less bit me. 

I think there is a degree in which human nature does desire to give itself some identity, or put more simply, desires to belong, to find itself among others with whom it finds similarity of a significant degree. It is why we have clubs, groups, and team fans.

Certainly, I'm a woman, a wife and a mother. Those are all part of my identity. So is homeschool teacher. And many people would identify themselves likewise. Some would include their occupation. And somewhere on the list, many would include their religion. But I can't help but wonder how far down on the list their religion would fall.

For me, my faith would come first. I'm a Catholic wife and mother who homeschools.

Since God is our Creator and it is only in Him that we not only come to understand where we came from, it is also how we learn all that we can be. Hence, our relationship to God and our faith should come first. And I have to wonder about how many people would see it that way and, if they don't, why?

I think, for Catholics in America, a lot of it has to do with the loss of our Catholic identity over the last few decades. Catholics used to be fairly distinct. We were the ones who could pray in Latin. We were the ones with ashes on our foreheads. We were the ones who knelt in a confessional. We were the ones with crucifixes in our homes and Saints names for our children. We were the ones searching the menu for a fish option on Fridays and wearing veils at Mass. Nowadays, it is much harder to find the Catholic in a line up. If you stood 100 Americans side by side, you could probably pick out a few Muslims and a few Jews but Catholics would be trickier.

Cardinal-designate Dolan blogged about the loss of the "external markers" of our faith:

Not that these “external markers” – such as, for example, holy days, feasts, fasts, saints’ names, genuflection, holy water, candles, bowing one’s head at the Holy Names of Jesus, Ember Days, First Fridays, First Saturdays, frequent confession, parish allegiance, novenas, devotions, only to name a few other such “signs” of Catholic identity — are of the essence of the faith; or, not even to deny that excessive attention to them could cause superficiality.  No, I just asked if we have lost some spice from Catholic life with their departure, and noted that scholars of religion report that such exterior marks of membership help make a religion cohesive and attractive.
I’m just wondering if we leaders in the Church are trying to attract people by making things easier.  As one of my friends tells me, we’re too much into “Catholic lite.”  And it’s backfiring, I’m afraid.  I hear our Catholics tell me, “We don’t want Catholic lite; we want to be “lights to the world!”

Now, as he says, these markers are not the essence of our faith but they are external signs of our faith and as such serve as reminders to us and witnesses to others. They serve as psychological anchors for us reminding us of the amazing and beautiful Church to which we belong. They help strengthen our own understanding of our Catholic identity. So many of those external markers have been erased to make things "easier" for people or to make people feel more included that the Catholic can find it much easier to get lost in the crowd of inclusion or can find it so easy to not make use of or celebrate these markers that they become unrecognizable and foreign. And soon the distinctions of our Catholic faith become completely intangible.

But we are human beings and we are made of both body and soul and we are weak human beings at that. We need those physical reminders, those psychological anchors to ground our faith beyond words into action.

The human will is like any other human muscle. It needs exercise. And I cannot find it surprising that Catholics can vote for pro-abortion politicians or easily entertain divorce or do 100 other things when they have not been practicing their faith in the little things. That is what all these markers help us do: practice. You know what they say about practice. And if we aren't practicing humility genuflecting before God in the tabernacle or practicing self-control in the abstinence of meat or practicing obedience going to Mass, it should come as no surprise to anyone that a Catholic won't practice his/her faith when it comes to who to support, who to finance, and whom to vote for.

I fully realize that I am a fairly invisible speck in the world. Very, very few people listen to me and I'm not about to tell anyone why they should. But it seems to me that it is time to take back our Catholic identity. It is time Catholics stop leaving their faith at the door, dusting the ashes from their foreheads and leaving the rosaries rusty. I am tired of conformity the detriment of identity. I don't want to be "mainstream." You know what Christ said about the wide gate and the broad road. (Mt 7:13) It is time to stop apologizing for what we believe and for what is right and for what is true.

It is time to be Proud to be Catholic.



The Obama administration's recent HHS ruling should only embolden us to stand up, to stand together!

5 comments:

  1. You have been given the Liebster Blog Award! Stop by for details:
    http://liturgicaltime.blogspot.com/2012/02/liebster-award-thanks-noreen.html
    Blessings!
    ~Michelle

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  2. Very interesting Katherine. We are facing an identity crisis in the Catholic Faith. There was some disconnect that happened years ago where people of my generation were not catechized well. I thought I was until I was confronted by other Christians and I couldn't explain it. A wake up call for me so over these last 10 years, I've re-verted back to the faith and I am still learning. I'm grateful for the internet for meeting so many wonderfully like-minded Catholics. It's been a blessing for me!

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  3. Thank you Joy!
    Michelle, Thanks so much!!!
    Noreen, that is wonderful! We are all on our own personal journey and there is always more to learn but it is so wonderful to have friends along the way to share it with!

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  4. Great post! I believe that if all Catholics came back to the church the world would be a much better place. Hope one day all Christians will unite for the love of Jesus. God bless.

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