Become More Like God
My grandmother used to say, “Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are.” For a long time, I didn’t know what she meant. My friends were limited to classmates, the neighbor kids, and my siblings.
I only saw my classmates at school. … So when we got together, we discussed school matters and playground politics. We complained about teachers, especially those who acted like their subject was the most important subject in the universe. We talked sports, mostly how some of us weren’t very good at it. We talked about the kids we didn’t like. We shared tips on how to steer clear of them. And we joked how someday they would pay for their crimes. My classmates had very little influence on the rest of my life. But I have found a few of them on Facebook, or they found me. It’s funny the way things turn out that you didn’t plan.
The neighbor kids I saw every afternoon after school, on the weekends, and most of the summer. We played hide and seek, and kick the can, and freeze-tag, and kickball, and some other games I can’t describe. We rode our bikes around the neighborhood on occasion. We collected fireflies in jars, and beetles in old shoe boxes. We explored empty lots overgrown with weeds and tall bushes. We handled hazardous materials, snakes, and dead things we knew our mothers would not approve. We did a lot of growing up together, but sadly, we have not kept in touch after we moved away. I’ve been back to the old neighborhood once or twice, and it’s just not the same. If I met any of them on the street today, I wouldn’t know what to say.
It has taken years to see my siblings as friends. … In those early years, I didn’t share many interests with the oldest two nor the youngest two. That left me with my sister, 14 months older, and my brother, two years younger. We played together, we argued, we laughed, we helped each other with homework, we plotted each other’s destruction on occasion, and we gave our parents grey hair and hypertension. All in all, life under the same roof taught us some really important lessons: about responsibility, faith, friendship, about what really mattered. Sometimes we were reluctant students, sometimes we were completely clueless. But everything friendships and all other relationships teach us has potential to affect and change us, for better or worse. It took me a while, but that was what my grandmother meant. “Tell me who your friends are, and I will tell you who you are.”
Jesus himself chose a few disciples to be his closest collaborators, and at first he was their teacher. He took the time and effort to get to know them, their gifts, their limits, their potential. In the end, he called them his friends. They had changed; they were forever transformed. Our friends do as much for us. If we let them, they will challenge us; they will teach us; they will help shape our thinking, our choices, our future … if we let them. We aren’t always consciously aware how our friends affect us; and they often are unaware as well. But it’s better when we are, when we can tell what friendship with them costs us, when we know the difference between who we were and who we have become because of them. It is better because we see how we are better people for the experience, that we have enriched each other, that our hearts have been stretched, that we have helped each other grow. Sometimes adversity has a way of waking us up to that reality, that we need each other. Whenever disaster strikes, we see what people are made of. Each will act according to their character, their values, their principles. Their response will force us to rethink our own character, our values, our principles, and what we need to adjust. And when we part ways, we take with us something of value that will stay with us a long time. If we reflect further on the experience of that friendship, we can continue to learn from it, we can continue to be enriched, our hearts continue to be stretched. That kind of friendship never truly ends. So when our paths cross again, we can just pick up where we left off.
When he was among them, Jesus told his friends, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” We have heard it said with some authority that everything God wants us to know can be found in the bible. Yet Jesus himself said in this passage, the Spirit of truth will show us in a future time things we do not yet know.
Our belief in the Most Holy Trinity is one such truth, that God is One, yet in God are three separate and distinct persons. It is a belief fundamental to Christianity. We proclaim it in the creed each Sunday. Our prayers are often addressed to the Father through the Son and the Holy Spirit. And when we make the Sign of the Cross, we profess faith in this holy mystery. Yes, elements of this mystery are found in the bible, as at Jesus’ baptism when the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove, and the Father’s voice was heard. Jesus spoke often about God as his Father, and the Pharisees were particularly offended when he claimed an intimate bond with God. And at the last supper, he spoke of the Holy Spirit as the Helper whom the Father would send. So, yes, sacred scripture does hint at the mystery here and there. But if it was so undeniable a truth, the early church would not have struggled so violently to define it. People were persecuted for this truth, some even spent time in prison. But few of us have ever struggled with it. The most it even made us stop and think was when the new translation of the Missal had us professing faith in “one Lord Jesus Christ, … begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father.” And some of us got all snippy because the word consubstantial just doesn’t roll off our tongues.
More important still is how our friendship with God, and our faith in Three Divine Persons in One God affects our thinking and our living. Everything we know about God is an invitation to be more like God. The book of Genesis tells how the human race was created in the image and likeness of God. And our belief in the Holy Trinity affirms the bond of love and unity between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So God’s image and likeness shines most faithfully through us when we affirm the bond of love and unity we share with friends, with family, and with community. Our struggle with the word consubstantial may not be over, but the greater challenge is in allowing our friendship with God to transform us, by striving to live that bond of love and unity with one another, after the example of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I was having an online conversation with a young man last night, on whether or not he was coming to church. He said people should have access to their cellphones during mass, that we needed a rock band, and that the priest should be the lead guitarist! I said, “You have no clue what church is all about … If you want entertainment, you can go to those other places that have all these. But if you want to go deeper, you know where to find us.” Sometimes I wonder whether we just like the idea of God, or if we really know God. If we have a friendship, a genuine relationship with God, we won’t be looking for entertainment. We would be happy just to be with our Friend. It won’t be a struggle to stay awake. We won’t be getting impatient because we have a lunch date as soon as mass is over. If we have a personal connection with God, we know why we’re here.
So don’t just put faith in God. You are created in the image and likeness of God! Become more like God!
Rolo B. Castillo © 2013