By Mitch Narvasa
I recently attended an online Zoom session that focused heavily on “identity.” The presenters had us participate in an activity where we were given prompts such as, “What part of your identity is most (or least) important to you?” or “Which identity was pushed most on you as a kid?” We put our name under one of the following answers — race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, language, etc.
I answered the above questions pretty easily. Least important to me? Language. The most important? Religion. Pushed on me as a kid? Religion. (At least during my teenage years.)
Then, the following question stumped me for a while: “What identity, do you believe, gives you the most ‘privilege?’” I looked at all the different categories and had no idea which one to put my name in. After a few minutes of reflecting on it, I had my answer, and I was proud of it: Religion.
I realized that when the question was asked, I immediately took privilege as a bad thing. After thinking about it, I realized that privilege could be a great thing! In fact, most privileges should be approached with gratitude. I’m grateful for the privilege of growing up with a father and a mother. I’m grateful for the privilege of being strong and healthy.
So why did I put religion? Why do I find that gives me the most “privilege?” Well, what greater privilege do we have than to have the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the amazing, all-powerful, all knowing God, dwell in our heart? What greater privilege is there to be able to receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ who set me free from the bondage of sin? Because of my “religion,” because of my faith, I have joy, I have peace, I have hope and I have love.
It’s also my “religion,” my faith, that calls me out of myself to serve the underprivileged, those less fortunate than I am, orphans, the poor, the immigrant fleeing persecution and living in an unknown land, the imprisoned, the broken and, most especially, those who do not know the love of God. We show them the God that we worship; that he became a humble, helpless babe born in an animal stable, was a humble carpenter and most importantly identified himself with them: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).
As “identity” becomes a greater part of our culture’s conversation, let us reflect on what St. Paul said to the Galatians, who were probably having a similar conversation as us: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Our identity is not determined by how we see ourselves; our identity is rooted in how God sees us.
During this Lent, let’s all be grateful for the gifts God has given us, to give to those who have less than us, and to see how Jesus sees us, especially as he walked the way of the Cross.
(Mitchell Narvasa is the pastoral associate/discipleship & evangelization for St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf.)