I read this great book by James Martin, SJ and I wish to share it with you. His book titled ‘Becoming Who You Are’ gives its reader insights on living the “True Self” from Thomas Merton and other saints. In this book Martin, SJ immediately sets the pace by quoting the most famous phrase the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, wrote in his book New Seeds of Contemplation. “For me to be a saint means to be myself, therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is, in fact, the problem, of finding out who I am and discovering my true self.” This quote gives us a clear image of who the True Self is and how significant this is in living a whole life.
What is interesting is the fact that Merton, in his constant search for his “True Self”, questioned his monastic vocation as much as he embraced it. He desired solitude as much as he craved attention and affection from his brothers. He sought intimacy with others as much as he treasured his chastity. He battled with his religious superiors as much as he hoped to follow his vow of obedience. Most of all, he wished for fame and influence as much as he saw that humility was the foundation for healthy monastic life.
In his writings Merton makes us ask the question; “Why do we have to spend our lives striving to be something we would never want to be if we only knew what we wanted? Why do we waste our time doing things which, if we only stopped to think about them, are just the opposite of what we were made for?”
Therefore before coming to know the true self, one must confront the false self that one has usually spent a lifetime constructing and nourishing.
In his book New Seeds of Contemplation, Merton wrote: “Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: the false self.” Merton identifies the false self as the person that we wish to present to the world, and the person we want the whole world to revolve around.
God desires for us to be the persons we were created to be: to be simply and purely ourselves, and in this state to love God, and let ourselves be loved by God. It is a double journey: finding God means allowing ourselves to be found by God; finding our True Selves means allowing God to find and reveal our True Selves to us.
James Martin, SJ says that for many, the road to self-acceptance can be arduous. For instance, those of ethnic minorities, with physical disabilities, or with painful family backgrounds may find the temptation to compare overwhelming. Still, the journey is an essential one in the spiritual life. Many gay men and lesbians, for example, have told him that a foundational part of their own spiritual development has been accepting themselves as gay men and women; that is, this is the way that God has made them. Coming to accept themselves in this way, and more importantly, allowing God to love them as they are, not as they might wish they could be, or how society might want them to be, is an important step in one’s relationship with God. God loves us as we are because we are as God made us. “For I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” says Psalm 139. I think that this is something of what the psalmist may have meant.
Merton wrote that the quest for the true self is part of the quest to let God know you as you are. One is freed from this spiritual prison not only by reflecting more realistically on the sometimes painful lot of others, as well as accompanying them into their suffering but also by reflecting on the blessings in our own lives. In other words, by engaging in the practice of gratitude. The gift and talents and natural desires that had been placed in us by God were valued by others and needed to be valued by us.
God has made each of us uniquely ourselves, and holiness consists of discovering the true self, the person we are before God, accepting that person, and becoming a saint in the process. Everyone’s true self is a unique creation of God’s, and the way to sanctity is to become the unique self that God wishes us to be.
The earliest example of the variety of ways to be Christian is found in the call of the First Disciples. For example, scripture scholar William Barclay in his Daily study Bible series offered some provocative insights on why Jesus of Nazareth might have chosen fishermen among his first disciples. Good fishermen are patient, they are brave, they are persevering, they know how to fit the bait to the fish, they know how to stay out of sight, and so on; all good qualities for a disciple, too. What about everyone else? Why would Jesus call, say a tax collector and a religious zealot, and among his wider circle of disciples, notorious sinners? One reason may have been that Jesus saw each disciple’s ability to contribute something unique to the community. The unity of the church, both then and now, encompasses diversity.
Mother Teresa catches this insight in her most famous saying: “You can do something I cannot do. I can do something you cannot do. Together let us do something beautiful for God.” God awakens our vocations primarily through our desires. A man and a woman, for example, come together in love out of desire and so discover their vocation as a married couple.
Therefore we can conclude that “Holiness is not the luxury of a few. It is everyone’s duty: yours and mine”, and the path of Holiness is a continual growth that is a journey towards God. Finding God means allowing ourselves to be found by God. And finding our True Selves means allowing God to find and reveal our True Selves to us.
PS: You can find this great book “Becoming Who You Are” By James Martin SJ on Amazon.