This past weekend I enjoyed the unexpected blessing of spending time with my family in Halifax. I am currently in the midst of two weeks of meetings in Ottawa for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the weekend was free. Since it is only a one and one-half hour flight to Nova Scotia from Ottawa, I decided to fly home and spend the days with my family.
Whenever we are together as a family it does not take long before we start sharing family stories. I find it very enjoyable and instructive to watch the reactions of my nieces and nephews as they listen to the accounts of their “roots”. The children range in age from eighteen to two years old. As their grandparents and parents recount episodes of past family adventures or tales about growing up, they are absolutely riveted. They miss nothing of what is said, drinking it all in, and then light up when we begin to tell stories about them. The joy that they feel, it seems to me, is twofold: it is the joy of belonging, of being a part of something bigger than themselves, part of a network of relationships, and at the same time the joy of being noticed, of having a part, of counting. Even in the midst of a large family, they are not just a member of the group; they are, within that group, a someone whose very existence is celebrated and who matters just because they exist.
Our experience of discovering our identity in the web of family relationships prepares us to receive and celebrate our deepest identity that springs from our relationship with Jesus Christ. In him our deepest “family roots” are made known and we discover the truth of ourselves. Yesterday’s Gospel from St. Luke (cf. Luke 9:18-24) records the question that Jesus posed to his disciples, and that he puts to us now: “Who do you say that I am?” The answer of all Christians is that voiced by St. Peter: Jesus is “the Christ of God”. He is the One anointed by the Holy Spirit (the word “Christ” means “anointed”). By the descent of the Holy Spirit to Mary he was conceived in his mother’s womb; in the power of the Holy Spirit he announced the good news of salvation; by that same Spirit he was raised from the dead. In all of this Jesus revealed to us and to the world the wondrous love of God. That is to say, Jesus has made known to us our deepest roots. Those roots are the love of God. In love God has fashioned us; out of that same love, God has redeemed us in his Son and adopted us as his own.
Who we are in Jesus Christ finds expression in the words of St. Paul: “In Christ Jesus you are all sons and daughters of God through faith.” (cf. Galatians 3:26-29) Through our Baptism, St. Paul tells us, we have “clothed ourselves in Christ”. This means that the gift of the Holy Spirit in that first of the sacraments brings about a living union with our Lord. Since Jesus is the one Son of God, we are, by virtue of our union with him, sons and daughters of God. Within this network of relationships in God’s family lies our deepest identity. We are the beloved of God.
Pope Benedict summarized beautifully the significance of God’s love for us. In his first homily as Pope he said: “only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.” Let us pray always for the grace to discover ever anew this beautiful truth revealed in Christ and to live joyfully from it.