The question Jesus asks all of us is the key to knowing our true identity and purpose in life
By Bishop Richard F. Stika
“Today, I must stay at your house.” — Luke 19:5
Welcoming Christ. It is generally considered rude to invite oneself to another’s house. But in the case of Zacchaeus the tax collector, he received Christ into his home “with joy.”
And these are the same words Christ repeats to us every day. For by virtue of our baptism, each of us is a house of God, His holy temple (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:9,16) where Christ desires to dwell. And the more that Christ is the guest of our heart, the more we learn our true identity and purpose in life. The more we grow in friendship with Christ, the greater our joy will be.
A growing crisis. We live in a time of terrible crisis, one far worse than any other—a crisis of identity.
So many people do not know who they are and are desperately searching to discover an identity that defines who they are as a person and that gives meaning and direction to their life.
If a person does not know who they are, then neither will they know how to act, for purpose is inseparably tied to identity. At the heart of the growing turmoil in our society is a crisis of identity.
A fruitless search. The reason so many people suffer from depression and anger in our modern age, according to Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, is because people “are in a fruitless and constant search for the infinite in the finite, for God in carnality.”
Despite all the material and technological advantages of modern society, people seem more unhappy and sad than ever. And this is because we are not only a physical being, but a composite of body and soul.
What our heart truly seeks. Throughout history, the painful experience of seeking one’s identity on a merely physical and horizontal dimension is the same. More than 1,600 years ago, St. Augustine described his own painful search for identity and purpose: “I was seeking for you outside of myself, and I failed to find the God of my heart.”
Such are those who try to find their identity in something outside of themselves, for “Our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
The universal question. If we ask Jesus the question, “Who am I, Lord, and what is my purpose in life?” Jesus will answer us by asking us a question that is the very key to our identity: “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15).
It is the same question He posed to his disciples in which Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” For to the degree we seek to know who Christ truly is and desire Him to reign in our hearts is the degree we can answer the primal question, “Who am I and what must I do?”
This is why the Church, to paraphrase the Second Vatican Council, emphasizes, “It is Christ Jesus who fully reveals to us who we are and makes our supreme calling clear.”
Identity and vocation. Our first name, in truth, is “Christian” for it is our core baptismal identity. So, only by living this core identity can we give true expression to all the lesser identities reflective of our state in life—as a husband or wife, father or mother, son or daughter, doctor or mechanic, teacher or student, and the many more that are expressive of our dignity and talents.
But without a prayerful relationship with Christ, we are unable to perceive, much less truly live our vocation in life. And without a growing friendship with Christ, the weight of our vocation and our crosses eventually overwhelm us.
The need for friendship. The crisis of identity in our society also is closely related to another: loneliness, a lack of friendship.
Loneliness is a terrible thing. Reinforcing what is increasingly obvious in our society, studies reveal that more people than ever claim to have no one whom they consider a close friend, no one in their life who they feel really “knows them” as a person.
Friendship is so important that the saints remind us it is one of the very reasons why Jesus remains with us in the Eucharist—His Real Presence should be for us the experience of real friendship.
An ever-present friend. It has been the unwavering, unchanging teaching of the Church from its very beginning that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist—Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity.
Though His physical being is veiled to our eyes, He is no less present to us in the Eucharist than He was to His disciples. But with the eyes of faith, our heart recognizes Him in the Blessed Sacrament and begins to recognize Him in the poor and suffering.
Did not Jesus say to St. Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed?” (John 20:29).
Eucharistic friendship. Christ’s Real Presence calls for our presence. In this great season of Lent, try to make a habit of spending time, as often as possible, before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Confide in Him as friends do; open your heart up to Jesus—share your loneliness, your struggles, and troubles with Him.
And learn from Christ who you truly are by pondering that question of questions He asks of each of us: “Who do you say I am?”
Our joy and Christ’s. May the joy of receiving Christ into your heart in every Mass allow Christ to also rejoice as He did with Zacchaeus saying, “Today salvation has come to this house…. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19: 9-10).