No 45 A Matter of Identity

Who am I?

Isn’t this a silly question! I know that I am myself. Not anybody else. Is this what I am? Unique. And don’t I like to be recognised as such? And to demonstrate this to myself, and usually to others as well? For, doesn’t what others think of me matter?. Especially those in my peer group. My superiors. My family. Those who might be of use to me?

I may give expression to my identity by my dress. My grooming. My speech. My gait. My affectations and idiosyncrasies. My bluster and noise. By the masks I wear? Because I need to be respected. Listened to. Understood. Or sympathised with. Without these I may feel lost. Sunk.

Apart from my personal identity, I also have a social identity. A collective identity, from which I draw something that boosts me up, gives me purpose. And so, I may belong to a group, a club, a tribe, even a pack, a team, a nation, a religion. And the list goes on. To these I tend to cling.

Did I hear you say that the important question is whether I hide from myself? From the real me? What have I to say about this? It is difficult to be frank about this.

I am told that each one of us is unique. So am I. Special. Most special in God’s eye. Beloved. Even before I was conceived or was born. Long, long before that. As the Lord has said, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. I knew you even before you were conceived (Jeremiah. 1:4-5) I chose you when I planned creation (Ephesians. 1:11-12). I accept that these are wonderful words to hear. And I ask myself whether I really appreciate their truth about my being?

My Right to Life

When did I begin? Begin to have any rights? Including an inalienable right to life? The right to be born and to be loved? The right not to be dragged out of my mother’s womb, dismembered, aborted from the sanctuary where I was given life and took form?

The world today is wishy-washy about the subject. Even medical opinion. Today, there is widespread opinion which would have us believe that human life begins x days, or y weeks, or x + y + z weeks after conception. Others say, at the time of birth. Yet others say that the embryo is just a thing. With no rights at all. This allows many to persuade themselves that people or the state have the right to end a particular pregnancy, for whatever reason is regarded as justifying termination. And that it is not gravely wrong or sinful to do so. Freedom of choice is the term used in polite circles. That abortion on demand is OK. Abortion as a means of birth control.

The Catholic Church however teaches that human life commences at the moment of conception, and the Church continually places this sublime truth before us. Lord, You created my inmost self, knit me together in my mother’s womb. You knew me through and through. My being held no secrets from you, when I was being formed in secret, textured in the depths of the earth. Your eyes could see my embryo. (Take a look at Psalm 139:13-16 in the New Jerusalem Bible).

Pope Benedict Teaches

On the 28 December 2005, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, at his General Audience, Pope Benedict XVI, reflected on this Psalm and pointed out that here the omniscient and omnipotent God, the Lord of being and history, asks us to focus on the loftiest, most marvellous reality of the entire universe: the one whose being is described as a “wonder” of God Who turns his loving gaze upon the human being, whose full and complete beginning is reflected upon. Who is still an “unformed substance” in his mother’s womb: the Hebrew term used has been understood by several biblical experts as referring to an “embryo”, described in that term as a small, oval, curled-up reality, but on which God has already turned his benevolent and loving. “Your hands have formed me and fashioned me. Remember that you fashioned me from clay…! Did you not pour me out as milk and thicken me like cheese? With skin and flesh you clothed me, with bones and sinews knit me together” (Job 10: 8-11).

God already sees the entire future of that embryo, still an unformed substance. The days which that creature will live and fill with deeds throughout his earthly existence are already written in the Lord’s book of life. So, human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognised as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life. God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men and women the noble mission of safeguarding life, and they must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves.

From the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2271- 2274).

Corollaries

1) If I am special in the eyes of God, my Lord and Father, shouldn’t I recognise that every one of us is special too, and should enjoy the same rights as I? The question is whether I respect and try to live out this conclusion, and endeavour to do to others as I would wish them to do to me? Does this principle not lie at the root of what we call justice and fair play and love of neighbour?

2) Because, first and foremost, I belong to God, my creator, Who loves me. Doesn’t my true identity and dignity come from this fact? It is from Him that I draw my strength and my hope. Not from human approval nor from the image of myself that I paint in my mind.

Prayer

May my soul magnify the Lord always and in all circumstances. May my spirit rejoice in God my Strength and my Saviour.