Seeking the Authentic Self by Julie A. Ferraro

We all tend to fashion a god who fits our falsity.

David G. Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself

Recently, I participated in a five-week book discussion group dealing with David G. Benner’s The Gift of Being Yourself, facilitated by my dear friend Sister Caryn Crook, OSF. Caryn is the vocation director for the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities, based near Syracuse, New York. She established a House of Discernment in Millvale (a section of Pittsburgh) a few years ago.

In between caring for my grandchildren and figuring out where I could next use my talents to be of service, I spent six months in that intentional community. Discernment, after all, takes many forms in life and may have nothing to do with a religious vocation (but it’s nice if it does).

Caryn chose Benner’s book for her 2024 discussion group, ever though it was published 20 years ago. It may, from my reading, be even more pertinent today than it was when it was written.

Throughout my more than six decades on this planet, it has puzzled me why human beings impose human traits on God. The writings of the biblical books did it, and the trend continues in this 21st century. I’m referring primarily to hatred of others. The psalms—prayed in many monasteries, convents, chapels, and rectories each day as part of the Liturgy of the Hours—contain many references to God hating the enemies of the psalmist, of punishing the sins of those enemies. My skin crawls at such references.

In these modern times, Christian nationalists are expressing sentiments no different than the psalmists. They believe—erroneously—that anyone who doesn’t hold the same views as they do are wrong, are sinners, and deserve punishment.

Thus, my opening quote.

These misguided folks are creating a god to fit their skewed views about their fellow human beings. As Benner writes in his book, they may think they “know” God, but they have only acquired limited information about God, based on their own particular prejudices. This shallow attitude does a grave disservice to humanity, and to them as individuals.

It’s not enough, after all, to claim to be Christian, to be seen kneeling in prayer in a church (see Matt 6:1-4). Following the example of Jesus means taking his words to heart, loving the neighbor—every person around the globe—as oneself. It doesn’t mean harassing those who think or act differently, denying others their basic human rights, dignity, and respect.

The sad thing is, these people don’t have sufficient self-knowledge to even love themselves. As Benner explains, the only way to find God is to find one’s authentic self, and vice versa. He even quotes Thomas Merton: “If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him.” So, this is not a new concept.

Yet even a considerable number of bishops in the church have fashioned their god according to their own shortcomings. Take the recent statement by the bishops of Africa refusing to bless same-sex couples, despite Pope Francis’s declaration in Fiducia Supplicans that this is permissible. Rather than reflect the merciful face of God to those who are marginalized and derided for their lifestyle, they want to cut them off from God’s love because they are viewed as “sinners.”

For crying out loud, aren’t we ALL sinners? Can any individual, from the humblest teenager in the pew to the cardinals with their flowing robes and red hats, honestly state they are totally without sin? How dare they, then, deny other human beings—fellow sinners—the grace of a blessing?

If being a sinner is the rationale for denying someone a blessing, then none of us should receive a blessing.

Pope Francis has it right, after all. He sees, he knows, that God is merciful and loving because he has experienced God’s love and mercy throughout his life, a point Benner makes in his book. Those who have never experienced God’s love and mercy in a totally personal way cannot share that view of God with others, or with their own self. Having fashioned a god who sanctions their biases and hatred, they seek to divide rather than unify, to destroy rather than build.

Instead, it would be much better for everyone if these people would stop and really think about their actions and how they don’t fit with Jesus’s message of love, tolerance, and forgiveness. Then, maybe, they would stop trying to impose their antiquated notions on an entire country by meddling in politics to pass laws restricting access to health care, fomenting violence, and preaching hatred.

If nothing else, they can jump on a used-book website and order a copy of The Gift of Being Yourself. It’s less than 120 pages and the contents might help them discover their own need for becoming what Benner terms the “self-in-Christ.” ♦

Julie A. Ferraro has been a journalist for over 30 years, covering diverse beats for secular newspapers as well as writing for many Catholic publications. A mother and grandmother, she currently lives in Idaho. Her column, “God ‘n Life,” appears regularly in Today’s American Catholic.

Image: Girolamo dai Libri, Manuscript Illumination with David in Prayer in an Initial M, from a Psalter, 1501–2.

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