Written by Keith Strohm
I used to think that I had dual identities.
I heard a great deal about the importance of being a disciple from a lot of different sources. Through the grace of baptism, I was united with Christ and the Church--supernaturally empowered to learn from God, to grow in sanctifying grace and become more like Him.
And so, I heard about being a disciple, about living as a disciple, about having a "disciple's response." I grew up being comfortable with that reality. I am a follower of Christ. I "follow;" that's what I am and that's what I do.
But there was another side to my identity that I never really understood before--a side that was actually edgy and a little dangerous. Through baptism, I am not only called and empowered to follow and learn from Christ, but I have also been sent by God to do a particular work of love in the world.
I am, in other words, an apostle. One with a different office and focus than the Apostles, to be sure--but I am no less "official," no less called & gifted for my mission. I am called, not just to follow Christ, but to do what He did in the world.
I don't know about you, but when I first understood that my apostolic identity was a reality taught by the Church, I was a little uncomfortable--excited, but uncomfortable. I couldn't understand how one was supposed to act as a disciple and an apostle. I had never even heard (before encountering the Called & Gifted Workshop) the fact that I was an apostle in any parish, school, or group that I had been a part of, so how was I supposed to figure this out?
I had dual (and seemingly dueling) identities.
Until I had a conversation with a friend. I was sharing some of what I had learned through the Catherine of Siena Institute, and my friend said to me, "But isn't the most important thing in the New Testament the Great Commandment?"
And then it hit me--the lynchpin to my understanding and integrating my apostolic identity was love. I was right in the middle of reading John Paul II's Theology of the Body, and it struck me clear as day: Love always seeks the beloved. If I am called to love my God with all my heart and my neighbor as myself, then I was, by the very nature of love, called to reach out and share the gift of God with them.
The Great Commandment leads, by its essence, to the Great Commission. They were inseparable and compenetrating--like the relationship between the Old and New Testament. Disciples are, in the language of post-modern literary theory, "always already" apostles. Our identity stems not from what we do, but in who we are.
Take, for example, a newly baptized baby. Through the waters of Baptism they are grafted to the Body of Christ and empowered to become disciples. And yet, their very presence in the midst of the community serves as a call to that community, a reminder not only of their own baptismal vows, but also a sign of their own dependance upon the mercy and grace of God. These little, tiny disciples are apostles from Christ to the community--evangelizing with each breath.
Baptismal schizophrenia does not exist. We have one identity in Christ--an identity so rich that it contains multiple facets integrated within the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Whoa! God really is amazing!