In my early twenties, I was just beginning what I thought would be a career in public relations. I was working for a small firm in the Washington, DC suburbs. Without understanding the reason why, because I had convinced myself that this is what I wanted to do with my life, I became unproductive and unhappy at work. I thought I could work myself out of the slump, but the more I worked and the more energy I put into the job, the more burned out I felt. My boss, who was a good man, one day took me aside, and told me he thought I was better suited for a different kind of work. It was a very nice way of letting me know he was letting me go. I was crushed, but at the same time felt that a great weight was lifted from my shoulders. In a town and a social scene where one’s identity and worth was tied to what you do or who you work for, as an unemployed young adult fired from his first job, I felt lost and confused – uncertain about who I was and what I was meant to do with my life. It was a time of great darkness and gloom. I started seeing a counselor. Seeing how I was becoming obsessed and anxious about finding another job, she suggested, to give myself a little break from the job-hunt, that I volunteer someplace just one day a week. She gave no specific suggestions. A few blocks from my apartment was a soup kitchen and homeless shelter. I would walk past it as I was going to and from work just about every day, but I had never given much notice to the place. It was called “Christ’s House.” I decided, simply because it was convenient to where I lived, to stop in to see if there were any volunteer opportunities available. So one day a week, I began to help out. I served meals, hung out with the men, and even gave a little seminar one afternoon on how to balance a checkbook and make a personal budget. I was surprised how much I liked the work and enjoyed being with the other people involved in this “social work.” I couldn’t explain it intellectually – it didn’t fit the image I had formed for myself and my future, but my heart became alive in this place. This was totally unforeseen and unexpected. I began to wake up to what I was made for – what constitutes us as human beings – that we are made for love. Reflecting back on this experience, it was probably the first time in my life that I actually did charitable work. I wasn’t doing it to fulfill “service hours” or to pad my resume or because my company or friends were doing it. I was giving of myself freely, with no strings attached – not trying to get anything from it in exchange. What surprised me was that something was happening in me and to me in this place and within this community. I was being changed, and it was not coming from myself or my thoughts or ideas. As Isaiah says in the first reading, a light was breaking forth like the dawn – something new was being born. A light was rising for me in the darkness, and I was able to see more clearly. My wound was being healed. I didn’t know any of the details at that point, but I knew my destiny was somehow connected to this experience. I had to follow it, and because this was not of my own making, I had to ask God what this meant and what I was supposed to do. I was asking for help, not to fulfill my plan, but that God’s plan be revealed to me. I was not in any way actively thinking about a vocation to the priesthood, but when the priesthood was presented to me – when I heard “the call”, it was like God said, “Here I am.” It was a grace to know personally, in my experience, that I was wanted, chosen, and loved by God when I thought I had nothing to offer.
The wound that we all have (and this goes back to the Original Sin), is that we don’t know the Father. We don’t know our identity as beloved sons and daughters. We think our identity is rooted in what we do or can achieve. Instead, my identity and certainty come from an awareness that my life is a gift, born of love – that I belong to the Father – that I am a son (or daughter) of God. The “mystery of God” that St. Paul proclaimed – was that God communicates this identity to us through his presence in the Christian community. This isn’t communicated with an argument or a sublime teaching with “persuasive words of wisdom” but through a “demonstration of Spirit and power” – how the Risen Christ through the Holy Spirit works through our weakness. He works through a human encounter of love and mercy. Paul witnessed constantly to how the Lord changed him. Paul comes in weakness and fear and much trembling because the Lord chose him, this great sinner, to do this work. Paul sees in himself and the Christian community the continuation of God’s work of salvation through the love of Christ outpoured on the Cross. Paul says, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” It is through being loved freely and loving freely, that God is made known – that we become identified with Jesus, the Son of God, and know ourselves as sons and daughters of the Father. This doesn’t happen through a lesson or a teaching or having the right attitude or conviction, but through a concrete experience of love. “Salt” brings out the flavor or enhances the taste of something else. A light is turned on so that something else can be seen. The disciple can’t be for himself. The charity of the disciple – their good deeds – become a witness – something that is seen – that reveals the presence of the Father.
We’ve been given a new life in baptism. A light is lit for each one of us. In baptism, God the Father, choses us as his beloved sons and daughters, the original wound is healed, and we share in the mission of Christ. May we become aware of our identity in Christ – that our life is given – and that is what we have in common with each other. We are one in Christ. We have a common Father. We are brothers and sisters united in one family. Therefore, what happens to you matters to me and affects me. That awareness necessarily changes the way we treat each other. How is the Lord inviting you to share the light of his love? We don’t discover our full identity in Christ until we do.