Twenty-five years ago, many Catholics were disturbed by the publication of "The Catholic Priest in the United States: Psychological Investigations." Commissioned by our American bishops, this study eventually put two questions before those "responsible for the continued development of the priesthood."
1.) Do you put first priority on assisting American priests to achieve greater personal maturity and, therefore, greater effectiveness as priests?
2.) Do you rather put priority on American priests adjusting themselves to the expectations of the institutional priesthood, even at the price of not developing themselves?
Listening to Sunday's second reading (Col 3:1-5, 9-11), it's apparent that the dilemma surfaced in this study applies to more than priestly ministry.
All Christians face the same predicament: Do we revolve our lives around others' expectations of us, or do we concentrate on becoming the person God intends us to be? Paul reminds his Colossian community, "You have stripped off your old behavior with your old self, and you have put on a new self which will progress toward true knowledge the more it is renewed in the image of its creator; and in that image, there is no room for distinctions between Jew and Greek, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian and Scythian, slave and free. There is only Christ: He is everything and in everything."
We Christians believe that by dying and rising with Jesus, individuals are able to discover their true, basic personality: that part of them which underlies all the "accidents of life," the surface things on which others zero in. Where the majority of people see only "Jew or Greek, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian or Scythian, slave or free," we're called to go beyond these appearances and see an individual's "new, true self:" the self daily "renewed in the image of its creator."
@ Yet, we're constantly held back from living and experiencing our real selves. In the Gospel (Lk 12:13-21), Jesus cautions against one force which leads many away from authenticity: greed. The person in the crowd who tries to solicit Jesus' help in his financial battle with his brother doesn't get the response he expects.
"Possessions," Jesus reminds him and us, "do not guarantee life." As the rich harvester discovers, death eventually rips every bit of our hard-earned wealth from our hands. Only a fool concentrates on what doesn't last.
From the first reading (Eccl 1:2-2: 21-23), we know Jesus wasn't the first follower of God to point out the contradiction in acquiring wealth. Pious Jews had long reflected on the same set of circumstances. "For what profit," Qoheleth asks, "comes to anyone from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he had labored under the sun? All his day, sorrow and grief are his occupation; even at night, his mind is not at rest. This is vanity."
Both Qoheleth and Jesus agree: we strive after possessions not because they help us become us, but because they help us become what others expect us to be.
Unlike our bishops 25 years ago, Jesus' first disciples were given no choice. Because they had become one with Jesus in dying and rising, they, of all people, recognized the unique person hidden in each of their hearts -- a person which no one, except Jesus, had ever experienced before.
They quickly realized that every category, every surface assessment, every expectation in which others encased them, limited the unique life they shared with Jesus. Because of their dying and rising, they truly understood what "growing rich in the sight of God" was all about.
Like the authors of the priests' psychological study, our sacred authors constantly encourage us to become what God created us to be: to recognize who we are, to grow in those God-given dimensions, and to share our new-found life with others.
Jesus teaches that only our real self will last into eternity. What a waste to develop someone else's personality -- a personality which will be taken away from us before we ever take our first eternal step.