Remember who you are

This article was posted on: March 15, 2022

My father once told me about a family friend who always reminded her children on their way out the door “Remember who you are.” I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit these past few years. Even before the very pointed discussions around the coronavirus pandemic, even before the 2016 presidential election campaign, civility has been a much-talked-about issue in our society.

Over the last several years we have lost the ability, as a society, to disagree with one another without being disagreeable. Those with whom we disagree are no longer people of good will with whom we simply disagree, they are labeled “evil,” enemies of democracy and even enemies of the true Faith. Indeed, if a politician is too friendly with another politician from across the aisle they are labeled “not pure enough,” and are sure to be targeted by people of their own party in the next primary.

It is unfortunate that this is not just an issue of political or general discourse, these issues appear in our Christian community as well. We, who have identified ourselves with Christ and His Church, can too often come across with an attitude of entitlement, expecting price breaks or freebies because we’re a church. Some have even been known to game the rules of a system in a way that cheats the retailer or manufacturer.

From Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (1891), to Pope St. John Paul the Great’s Centesimo Ano (1991), to Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti (2020), we are reminded over and over again in Catholic social teaching that each person in our economic life, indeed all relationships, must be treated with a dignity that recognizes and promotes their humanity. We must never forget that each human being, made in the image and likeness of God, is possessed of an innate desire to find meaning, personal growth, satisfaction and joy in their work and other economic, political and social relationships.

As Christians, that is, those who carry the name of Christ, we are called in a particular way to give witness to the dignity of each human person not just by being nice, polite or even compassionate, we are called to exhibit a real LOVE for those with whom we interact each day, regardless of the capacity in which that interaction occurs.

This might seem like a very strange concept, even to us. We live in a world that often rebels against taking the feelings of others into account, especially in economic or political spheres. We can feel justified in putting our own wants or agenda in first place, especially when we feel that it is for a greater good. And yet, it is precisely in these “everyday” situations that we are called to preach the Gospel through our actions and words by putting the personhood of the other in that first place.

Oddly enough, I’ve found that nearly all people have the capacity to show compassion for another, that is unless they are true sociopaths. Some of the greatest criminal actors in history have shown at least a glimpse of real humanity in their interactions with family and friends. In almost every instance, what undoes them is an agenda which must be served even above those same family and friends.

What is our agenda as Christians? It is to “love God above all things, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.” At least, that is the agenda enjoined on each Christian at baptism. Whether or not we live by that is a matter of how successful our Christian formation has been and continues to be.

Our mission to love, which is at the center of our Christian identity, is also revealed as the key to that much discussed desire for civility in our public discourse and interpersonal relationships. We have an opportunity, each and every day, to show that our Faith makes a real difference in our world.

Will we take advantage of the opportunity presented to us to really live our Faith in Jesus Christ? That is the challenge. Our holy Mother, the Church, gives us the tools to successfully meet that challenge. It begins with putting Christ at the center of each relationship and interaction—no matter how trivial or fraught with economic or political consequence. Meeting that challenge is supported by our daily prayer and the sacramental life, especially frequent confession and reception of the Eucharist.

Of course, in the final analysis, it can also be as simple as looking in the mirror before beginning our daily activities and saying to the one looking back at us—“Remember who you are.”

Father Michael Klos
Pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Cashton, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish on St. Mary’s Ridge and St. Augustine of Hippo Parish in Norwalk
Published in the March 2022 Issue of Catholic Life Magazine

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