God helps us answer the question: ‘Who am I?’

Who is God? And how does his identity impact my life? These are big questions that most of us don’t think about often, if at all. But the more we know about who God is, the more we will grow in our own identity and have a sense of purpose for our life.

The great theologian St. Thomas Aquinas observed that God reveals himself to us to allow us to reach the full potential for which he created us (Cf. Summa theologiae, I.1.1.resp.). The Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et Spes explains how this was accomplished in Jesus. “Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear” (GS, 22). Jesus also reveals the Father to us — “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14: 9) — and promises us the Holy Spirit — who “will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you” (Jn 14:26).

Hence, we are called to come to know each of the divine Persons of the Trinity in a personal way. The more we come to know Jesus as our Lord and Savior, as the one who has rescued us from sin and death, the more will we come to know the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Jesus revealed truths about the Father to us, that he is a merciful Father, as we learn in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15). His love is so strong for us that he desires to make us his home. “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn 14:26). Or as St. Paul reminds us, “…you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father’” (Romans 8:15). So, the Spirit lives in us too, and helps us especially to know the Father’s love for us as his children.

We are invited into an intimate relationship with each person of the Trinity, coming to know and receive the love each person has for us. Every disciple is invited into this communion of love and friendship with God. Only by placing our confidence and trust in each person of the Trinity, will we come to know them and enter a friendship that is to be eternal. 

But eternal life can be an abstract idea when our daily experiences are so bound by time and limits. Jesus gave us glimpses into eternity, in the parables and in his promises “to prepare a place” for us. In Matthew 13, Jesus tells the disciples seven parables about the kingdom of heaven. One group of parables describes heaven as a treasure beyond comparison that is worth sacrificing everything to obtain. The second group speaks about the fact that the Church — the kingdom of God on earth — will be composed of good and bad people, but at the end of time there will be a judgment at which the angels will separate the righteous from the wicked and cast the wicked into a fiery furnace, while the righteous will “shine like the sun” (Cf. Mt. 13:1-53).

We also receive glimpses of what heaven will be like from the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus and Mary’s Assumption, all of which demonstrate that death has been conquered for us by Christ and that God the Father will draw us to himself. The many manifestations of Mary at Guadalupe, Lourdes, Fatima and elsewhere point to the reality of eternal life, and Mary’s love for humanity as our mother.

Finally, we see that encountering and knowing the Lord can transform our ability to see, hear and sense the spiritual realities that surround us. “But blessed are your eyes,” Jesus told the disciples, “because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it” (Mt 13:16-17).

Each time we come together to celebrate the Mass, heaven and earth are joined, and with the eyes of faith we can see this reality. Vatican II reminds in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 8), “In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, a minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle; we sing a hymn to the Lord’s glory with all the warriors of the heavenly army; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Savior, Our Lord Jesus Christ, until He, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with Him in glory.”

One saint who has shown many people how this transformation can happen is St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who is famous for her Little Way to holiness. For St. Thérèse, the foundation of what God taught her was that she was little in comparison to him, that she could do very little, but that God could do anything. Because of her inability — and every person’s inability — to accomplish much, she relied on God to do the heavy lifting. She approached this effort without seeking any recognition but wishing to secretly offer her small contributions to God. At the center of St. Thérèse’s motivation for pursuing Jesus in this way was her gratitude for his love and a desire not to see one ounce of it disregarded.

“One Sunday,” she recalls, “looking at a picture of Our Lord on the Cross, I was struck by the blood flowing from one of his divine hands. I felt a pang of great sorrow when thinking this blood was falling on the ground without anyone’s hastening to gather it up. I was resolved to remain in spirit at the foot of the Cross and to receive its dew.… Oh, I don’t want this precious blood to be lost. I shall spend my life gathering it up for the good of souls.… To live from love is to dry Your Face” (Story of a Soul, p. 50). 

St. Thérèse was clearly a woman who knew that she was made for eternity and was transformed by her encounter with God. This is our calling too, and if we seek to know God and who he is, we will be similarly transformed by the realization of our eternal destiny and by the grace that he is eagerly waiting to pour out on us. 

COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”