VERBUM DOMINI

The Self and the Savior

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Occasionally you hear someone say, “I need to find myself.” It would be a funny phrase (“well, where did you last see yourself?”) if it didn’t carry a slight tone of desperation. There is something sad about a person who is so lost or confused that they feel disassociated from themselves. Perhaps they are experiencing a lack of fulfillment, or they are often making choices against their better judgment. For the young, it may simply be a lack of experience. Whatever the reason, it is a troubling spiritual trial. It is one thing to lose your keys or your wallet. But for your very self to be hidden from you — that might take more than prayers to Saint Anthony.

John the Baptist knew who he was. In this Sunday’s gospel, he is asked repeatedly to reveal his identity. He denies that he is Christ. Is he the prophet Elijah? No. Is he some other prophet? Again, no. In frustration, the priests and Levites ask “Who are you...What do you have to say for yourself?” His response is worth noting. Finally pushed to reveal himself, John the Baptist quotes scripture: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’” To make himself known, John doesn’t give his name, he doesn’t give a professional title or indicate where he is from. Instead, he quotes the word of God. He finds his identity in a Bible verse. Answering the question, “who are you?,” it is as though he responds, “I am who God called me to be.” If John the Baptist ever needed to find himself, he would simply read the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.

During Advent, we are expecting the coming of the Lord. We are looking for him, which means he should occupy more and more of our attention. Advent should mean a simplification of our lives. By cutting away many of the non-essentials, we increase our sensitivity and eagerness for the Christ. Gradually, we come discover that he lies within us. In the poor shabby manger that is our soul, he has always been there, though hidden among the clutter. There he begins to speak to us. He was always speaking, but he’d been muffled in the mess. When we hear him, it is like John the Baptist reading Isaiah. We discover ourselves in his word. Rejoicing, we then sing the prophets song: “in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice, like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels.” When we find the Christ, we find ourselves.