Who Am I? How Am I?

“What you are is God’s gift to you,
what you become is your gift to God.”

-Hans Urs von Balthasar

Sometimes we can be bombarded by different thoughts of what we should do with our lives and with what identity should mean. But how are we supposed to know what identity actually means? Who am I? Ryan. But does that really answer the question? If somebody asks me who I am, how does telling them my name help them in discovering of my identity? “Ryan” means “little king.” I can tell you that I’m not a little king. [I do share in Christ’s mission to be priest, prophet, and king, but that is a different story.] I’m just a layperson, studying in the hopes to grow in knowledge. My name really tells me nothing of who I am, of my identity. It gives someone a name by which to call me, but the name tells nothing of identity. I go to school with several Ryans. If someone asks each of us who we are, there is no way to give a distinction in identity by giving our first name. Does that mean we’re the same person? Of course not. If we give our last name, that just tells the family from which we stem. But it really says nothing of who I am.

I keep throwing out “who I am” and identity. But still, what does that mean? Like Adam Sandler in the scene above, we are constantly given different ideas of what identity is. To some, identity stems from our name. Some people tell us it’s all about what we do, what our job/occupation is. Other people say that our identity lies within our hobbies and what we like to do for fun. Some people expect us to describe our personality when asked about our identity. At times, we let others tell us who we are. We are attacked from every side with whom others think we are and what they want us to be. We become convinced by others that we are whom they want us to be. We let others define us, define our identity. We become confused and lost, not knowing who we really are, thinking that we are who we are actually not.

The Ancient Greek Philosopher Heraclitus believed that there was nothing but change. Identity was an illusion. He stated that [Took Ping Pong break.] [10 Minutes Later] Heraclitus believed that someone could never swim in the same river twice. No one could say they have an identity. Everyone changes constantly. There is no way to address the actual being. Another Ancient Greek Philosopher, Parmenides, believed that there is no such thing as change. All that exists is a constant identity, a constant being. There is no way to address the actuality of change. Neither of them truly understood the idea of the human person. They could both grasp part of it, but there was something that both of them were missing. Heraclitus was properly answering the question of “How am I?” And Parmenides knew how to answer the question “Who am I?”

 If I want to know who I am, all I have to do is look at Scripture. In Matthew’s Gospel, when Christ is baptized, a voice from Heaven proclaims, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). When Christians are baptized, they become adopted sons and daughters of God. We who are baptized can answer the question, “Who am I?” by saying that they are a Beloved Son/Daughter of God. Our identity lies in that. That can never change; that will never change. God fully and truly loves us. No matter how someone treats you or how you view yourself, you will always have an identity as God’s Beloved Child. Identity is a static, unchanging thing. There is something about everyone that must remain constant. In order for change to occur, it must be relative to some constant. Our being finds its identity in that we are Beloved Children of God. No one can tell you otherwise. [For those people who are not baptized, they do not lack an identity. They can still proclaim that they are a part of God’s beautiful creation. The human person was the peak of creation. That creation is truly a beautiful thing. God looked at creation and saw how good it was.]

However, no man is perfect.  If someone claims to be perfect, they are a liar and, therefore, imperfect. [If someone is reading this and thinking, “Christ is a man; he’s perfect. Mary’s a human person; she’s perfect,” be quiet. You know that’s not what I mean. They are the only two human persons in all of history to have been perfect.] [I will begin referring to specifically Christians. If someone is not a Christian and would like to discuss where they come into this, let me know.] No one, by mere words or deeds, can divorce themselves from being God’s Beloved Children. At Baptism, God adopts us into His family. That is forever. We can never lose our identity in God, in Christ. None of the saints that are in Heaven led perfect lives. The band Ludo has a song called “Topeka” that has lyrics that express it perfectly.

“Every saint has a past;
Every sinner has a future.”

It wasn’t necessary to put the whole song, but it’s such a great song. What makes someone a saint or a sinner has nothing to do with identity. Who I am does not depend on what I do on the weekends. My identity is now and will forever be “a Beloved Son of God,” and I’m dang proud to say that.

But there’s part of each and every one of us that doesn’t stay constant; we are changing constantly. Well, those changing parts of us answer the question “How am I?” When someone asks you,”How are you?” people often assume they are asking of their mood (How are you doing?). In actuality, the question of “How are you?” can be answered in a multitude of ways. The word “how” is defined as what manner, extent, degree, state, condition, etc. If someone asks of a person’s state or condition, that could mean very many things. Someone could be asking about any of the things with which Adam Sandler tried to answer Jack Nicholson in the clip above. How I am is constantly changing, or at least certain aspects of how I am. Far too often, people define themselves as how they are. They use their occupation, or their hobbies, or their personality to DEFINE who they are. But they are in fault by doing so. When we identify, give identity to, ourselves by aspects of how we are, we limit ourselves; we strip ourselves of the dignity we are given by our true identity: being a Beloved Son/Daughter of God.

“How are you?”
-I’m a sinner, a Fisher of Men, a fan of music, a student at Franciscan University of Steubenville, a Catholic, and much more.

“Who are you?”
-A Beloved Son of God.

The quote at the beginning of the post can be greatly understood in the light of this understanding of who and how I am. God grants us who we are; He grants us our identity. That is His gift to us. There is no way for us to earn it. He freely gives our identity to us out of love. How we are is what we become. We are constantly in a state of becoming. In Metaphysics, this is referred to as ‘Metaphysical Time”: the difference between what I do and who I am. Who we are has a certain dignity and certain attributes. While we are always Beloved Children of God, how we are does not always perfectly align with that identity. Actually, it rarely ever does, I’d say. We are constantly working to return God’s gift to us back to Him. Part of our mission as human persons is to close the gap between who we are and how we are. If I want to be who I am, I have to rearrange HOW I am, to become WHO I am. It’s a continuous process that I don’t expect to fully complete while on Earth, but I hope to be as close to who I am as possible.

Now when someone asks you, “How are you?” if you begin to tell them about your personality, or your occupation, or other aspects of HOW you are, they will probably look at you strangely. By answering that you are doing well, you are, indeed, answering the question, just not fully. One could make the argument that you can never fully communicate that reality. And when someone asks you who you are, they might look at you with an inquisitive glare if you respond by saying that you are a Beloved Son (or Daughter) of God. Something we can never forget, however: our identity lies in that we are Beloved Sons/Daughters of God. I cannot claim to find identity in the name Ryan or the fact that I’m a student at Franciscan University. To claim that, to believe that would be to admit that I’m lost, I’m confused, and I don’t understand myself.


Duc In Altum


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