People change … which isn’t a bad thing necessarily. But at some point along the way to maturity, every person needs to acknowledge who they are, determine whether or not that’s who they want to be, then make the necessary adjustments. Nobody can make us the people we become without our permission, without our being complicit in the process. Of course at first we don’t know about that rule, that fact of life, that we have a say, that we have a right, that we ultimately get to decide who we want to be. So we start off by depending on others to tell us who we are and making us into the people they think we should be.
Parents are responsible for dressing their babies and toddlers. They dress them in miniature football uniforms and miniature superhero costumes and miniature wedding dresses and an endless variety of miniature outfits. They think it’s cute. But seriously, as teenagers we dreaded the embarrassment of seeing our baby pictures displayed at the senior dinner for all the faculty, our classmates, and their parents to see. Those pictures may have been of us, but those people weren’t us. And we just can’t understand how anyone can really have known us when we were young, when that was all before we even knew who we were. How can anyone know you when you didn’t even know you? They can tell you who they want you to be, which is a starting point. But growth means movement away from that starting point. We discover what we like. We find our passion. We become awesome and amazing people. When we know who we have become, we can actually measure the distance we’ve traveled. We are no longer the same person. We know a thing or two now. And we know we’ve only just begun.
Families will pass on their values and traditions whether they mean to or not. All that awesome ethnic cooking and those obscure Christmas morning rituals are meant to be passed on, the ever-so-subtle prejudices and snarky bless-your-hearts not so much. Religious institutions and faith communities will pass on their values and traditions too, those they profess out loud, but also unfortunately those they tend to disregard in practice. These can include popular prayers and catchy songs, church jargon and secret handshakes that distinguish specific religious brands. But wounds are not easily healed and fears not easily dismissed, especially those that involve outsiders, malcontents, radicals, heretics, and troublemakers. Nations and cultures too will parade their values and traditions with lavish and lively pageantry as much as their budget will allow. But they will quietly dismiss their unresolved internal conflicts, their autocratic dynasties, and their continuing repression of marginalized communities.
The community of believers gathered by the carpenter-turned-itinerant preacher Jesus Christ and established on the rock that is Simon Peter the Galilean fisherman two millennia ago now extends to every nation, culture, people, and tongue. We make up a diverse collection of saints and sinners, soldiers and slaves, celebrities and outcasts, and everything in between who call upon the same God and Father, and long for the same eternal inheritance. We proclaim and preach the same Divine Word and listen for the promptings of the same Holy Spirit. We celebrate our achievements that proclaim the greatness of God while we do battle with the forces of selfishness and darkness and death. It has been a remarkable journey, at times inspiring, at times awkward. It belongs to all of us, warts and all. But our participation and contribution is unique and personal. As well, our accountability.
As true sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, we have occasionally walked along the path of selfishness and disobedience. We have at times turned away from God’s original design for his created universe to live in mutual respect and harmony. We have put greater credence on passing fads and appearances and perishable material possessions and vicious petty rivalries. Yet God remains patient and merciful, ever calling us to repentance, giving us opportunity to do better, extending the grace we need to advance his kingdom.
From God’s promise of a Redeemer to our first parents in the garden, of a woman and her offspring who will strike the serpent and restore creation to glory, to Jesus on the cross giving us his own mother to be our mother, God affirms for us the vindication of justice and the restoration of integrity. We may not have known about that rule, that fact of life, that we have a say, that we have a right, that we ultimately get to decide who we want to be. Our faith teaches us that we are beloved children of the one ever-merciful God and Father, sisters and brothers of the one ever-loving Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and of one another, and bearers of the one ever-glorious Holy Spirit. We might occasionally find within us inclinations toward selfishness and disobedience. But we also have power and potential to realize a more awesome and amazing destiny and grow into awesome and amazing people. Growth means movement away from our starting point. We discover what we like. We find our passion. We become awesome and amazing people. When we know who we have become, we can actually measure the distance we’ve traveled. We are no longer the same person. We know a thing or two now. And we know we’ve only just begun.
Today the Richmond Diocese brings our Bicentennial celebration to a close. It wasn’t much of a celebration, what with COVID and every unimagined catastrophe heaped upon us this past year. We didn’t get much of a chance to shed light on the journey of generations of Catholic faithful before us. We weren’t able to gather and celebrate with liturgy and community the wondrous expressions among us of God’s love. We may have even failed to notice the quiet achievements of perseverance and faithful discipleship. But we will have other opportunities in safer times. If we are mindful of our dignity as God’s people, every moment is such an opportunity.
This week we witness the passing of the torch of civic leadership in our country. The Richmond Diocese is 201 years old. America is slightly older at 244. But their story is our story; their struggle our struggle; their hopes and destiny our hopes and destiny. We will need great courage and integrity to look back upon our journey, confess our selfishness, our ever-so-subtle prejudices and snarky bless-your-hearts, rediscover our shared heritage, recommit to reforging the bonds of trust and community, to binding the wounds inflicted by hatred and intolerance, to upholding the values and traditions that define our national identity in genuine mutual respect and love of liberty and justice. A bright future yet awaits us if we but nurture the conviction that the best is yet to come.
Rolo B Castillo © 2021