“This was why I was made, which is an amazing thing to grasp.” Those were the words of Fr. John Riccardo, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel church in Plymouth, Michigan. He said them during an interview for his vocation story. It was as if an invisible highlighter made his words glow as he spoke them. Yes, what an amazing thing—to know why God made us.
That statement stayed with me, often returning to contemplate—what was I made for? Ultimately, I know that the value of my life will be judged to the degree that I accomplish God’s purpose.
Begin with Prayer
We cannot know ourselves except through God and we cannot know God except through prayer, according to Fr. Jacque Philippe a retreat master and author. His books on prayer and spirituality are printed in 18 languages and have sold over 500,000 copies.
“One of the fruits of prayer is that it gives us a progressively deeper knowledge of God and ourselves,” he writes in his newest book, Thirsting for Prayer. “Prayer introduces us little by little into a real knowledge of God.” He clarifies that it is not a distant God we come to know through God, but a personal one. “The main aim of this personal revelation of God, the essential fruit of prayer, is to know him as Father,” he writes. “Through Christ, in the light of the Holy Spirit, God.”
This knowledge of God was announced by the prophet Isaiah: ‘The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Is 11:9).
“God is known in his greatness, his transcendence, his majesty, and his infinite power, but at the same time in his tenderness, his nearness, his gentleness, his endless mercy,” Fr. Philippe writes. “This knowledge is not confined to the intellect but is a living experience of the whole of our being.”
Knowing God to Know Ourselves
Our deepest identity, Fr. Philippe says, is how we appear to our heavenly Father. He explains: “We human beings can only know ourselves truly in the light of God. Everything we may learn about ourselves by human means (experience of life, psychology, human sciences) is not to be despised, obviously. But that provides only a limited and partial knowledge of our being.”
There are two parts to this knowing. The first has to do with our sin. “Face to face with him, there is no longer any possible room for lies; no evasion, no excuse, no mask,” he writes. But being laid bare, God shows us our sin while revealing his forgiveness and mercy at the same time, he explains. And it is only through the recognition of our sin and God’s merciful forgiveness that we can be truly healed and become God’s children.
According to Fr. Philippe, God loves us as we are, with an absolutely unconditional love, and it is this love that gives us our deepest identity. From that position, we can accept God’s love and come to know our true identity.
Beyond our sin, Fr. Philippe explains that there is something within each of us that is absolutely pure and intact: the love that God has for us personally, as our Creator and Father. “This is the whole basis of our identity, the inalienable fact that each is a beloved child of God. Reaching this point by means of faith is precisely what opens up and guarantees the possibility of the path of conversion and purification, which we cannot afford not to find.”
Accessing the Deepest Part
All men and women are in search of their identity, at the deepest level. “Sometimes we ask ourselves that question in anguish halfway through our lives,” Fr. Philippe notes. “We have tried to construct a personality for ourselves…And yet a part of us is still empty, unsatisfied, perplexed: Who am I really? Does what I have lived through up till now really express what I am?”
It is accessing the deepest part of ourselves that we ultimately seek, explains Fr. Philippe. “That deepest part comes to light only in the encounter with God, which strips us of everything artificial in our identity to bring us to what we really are, at the heart of our personhood. Our true identity is not so much a reality to be constructed as a gift to be received. It is not about achieving, but letting ourselves be begotten.”
In our journey to know God, he says we are called to discover progressively the unique love and the call God has for each of us. “This is what the Father’s love brings about,” he writes. “Each of us can experience that in his eyes we are loved, chosen by God, in an extremely personal way.”
The challenge then becomes, to respond. Fr. Philippe quotes Scripture:
“You shall be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord will give” (Is 62:2).
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it” (Rev 2:17).
“Thinking of words like these, realizing that we will never outdo all those who have gone before us in love, we feel how poor we are,” Fr. Philippe says. “Yet such desires are not in vain but can be fulfilled in every individual’s life…. we can give God (and also give our brothers and sisters, the Church, and the world) a love that nobody has ever yet given them.…In God’s heart, in the mystery of the Church, each of us has a unique place, a unique and irreplaceable role, a fruitfulness that is all our own and cannot be taken on by anyone else.”
Rather than feeling insecure about our call and being, Fr. Philippe says we can find comfort and direction through prayer. “Receiving this double certainty as the fruit of prayer—the certainty of being uniquely loved and the certainty of being able (in spite of our weakness and limitations) to love uniquely—is a very precious gift indeed. It is this that constitutes the deepest, most solid core of our identity.”
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