Identity is something that is at the heart of being human.
For example, having a strong sense of one’s family roots and history is something that people consider very important. This is evident in the growing popularity of online services such as ancestry.com, whereby people can find out more about their family history and connect with relatives that they thought didn’t exist. The reason why family identity is important, I think, is that it gives us a sense of who we are in the world, and how we are to act. It also reveals our interconnectedness across time.
In addition to family identity, gender identity has assumed centre stage in the current social and political climate. In some cases, gender identity is viewed as the sole determinant of who one is and how one is act in the world. Sadly, some today lack a strong sense of familial and/or gender identity and seek, instead, to identify primarily with material things or passing trends.
While family identity, gender identity and socio-political trends shape who we are and how we act in the world, I would posit that there is something deeper to us all than these forms of identity. This “something deeper” is the spiritual identity that connects us to each other.
French theologian, scientist and Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, once said that we are “spiritual beings having a human experience”—that it is our spiritual nature that is most fundamental to human identity.
In this week’s Gospel, I believe that Jesus reminds us of this. When Jesus asks Simon Peter: “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter responds, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Simon Peter rightly identifies that it is the spiritual dimension of Jesus that is most fundamental to his nature.
In the current world where human identity has become such a contested and confusing space, perhaps we can learn something from today’s Gospel. I wonder what would happen if when people asked us who we are, rather than responding with descriptions of familial or gender identity, we responded with descriptors that foreground our spiritual identity.
That is to say, if we responded with “I am compassion, mercy and love.” Perhaps this would help to dismiss as relatively inconsequential the things that divide us and help us to reclaim the one thing that unites us—that we are all spiritual beings made in God’s image and that, at our core, we are instantiations of the divine.