Sunday, 26 June 2016 10:34

Orlando and the real meaning of identity

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In recent days, we have read and heard plenty of commentary about the mass shooting in Orlando, Fla. We also contemplate the killing of a member of the British Parliament prior to a referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain part of the European Union.

Swirling around these devastating events are a series of questions about how human beings identify other human beings, and about how we self-identify.

In recent days, we have read and heard plenty of commentary about the mass shooting in Orlando, Fla. We also contemplate the killing of a member of the British Parliament prior to a referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain part of the European Union.

Swirling around these devastating events are a series of questions about how human beings identify other human beings, and about how we self-identify.

We Catholic Christians, having just heard last weekend the words of St. Paul in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” continue to offer the hope that the upholding of human dignity is not a futile errand.

Paul is not saying that there are no distinctions among human beings. Nationalities and philosophies of life are noteworthy because of the differences they demonstrate. Slave versus free — an imposed, arbitrary distinction — has been a most painful acting-out of a human tendency toward domination, against which the Christian ethos has rebelled over the centuries, with varying degrees of success. The complementarity of male and female is necessary for the survival of humanity.

But first, we human beings must consider that we have a common origin in God; that we are all sinners; and that in the Son of God Incarnate, all human beings have received an astonishing affirmation of our worth as God’s children.

Our identity as Catholic Christians is to be found in the fact that we are recipients of a gift which we have not earned and could never earn; that the gift of salvation is the cause of our joy; and that, as we have been loved personally by Jesus Christ, we are to give personally of ourselves so that we might pass on this gift of utter peace.

This is a far cry from today’s “identity politics” by which we tend to divide ourselves up into interest groups and breed intolerance for those on the “outside.”

After outbursts of violence, we ruminate upon the mental health of those who have so acted, and wonder how to address problems deep within their psyches. Mental illness remains a “taboo” topic; we who have so suffered must be more forthcoming about our experiences. For if we share our common human experience, we can develop a sense of ease with one another and make it “safe” for the troubled to emerge from the state of being “locked up” inside oneself.

We are told that “a good guy with a gun” will protect us from “a bad guy with a gun.” What if we were to repent of all aggression, whether with weapons or words or attitudes? Our expression “cutting words” is entirely apt. Can we see how wounded we are as we perpetuate a world of “us” and “them”? Can we listen and find out who people really are, instead of hugging to ourselves the prejudices which impede us from exploring reality?

The Son of God has bonded himself to human existence as it is. St. Paul, at Romans 5:8, points out that Jesus’ work of salvation was carried out “while we were still sinners.” Fellow sinners, our task is obvious. We must love people as Jesus has loved us, thereby discovering how human beings can be transformed.

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