In 1998, Walt Disney Pictures released Mulan. It was a story of a young girl in China, who is struggling to learn who she is meant to be. Early in the movie, Mulan is being presented to the town’s Matchmaker, who will determine her suitability as a potential wife. The girl is washed and dressed and covered with make-up for the big day. All the while, Mulan is not sure she wants to go through with the ritual. She sees something else for her future – even if she is not sure what that will be.
After a disastrous encounter, she returns home and looks at her reflection. Who is she? She wonders? How can she show that adequately? She sings a song whose refrain goes like this:
Who is that girl I see
Staring straight Back at me?
Why is my reflection someone I don't know?
Somehow I cannot hide
Who I am
Though I've tried
When will my reflection show
Who I am inside?
Mulan is talking about integrity – that quality where our outside fully reveals our interior conviction – who we are.
As we enter Lent, this is a fitting thing to consider for ourselves as Christians. Who are we? Do we really show who we are inside, or has that image been marred by sin, compromise and brokenness? If we worry that this is too difficult, let’s be encouraged by the fact that Jesus Himself struggled with the same questions.
After forty days of soul-searching, prayer and fasting in the desert, Jesus then encounters Satan, who tempts him. The devil, however, is motivated in his questions – and pay attention, because these are the same questions he hits us with as well.
“If you are the Son of God…”
“If you are who you say you are, then let’s see some proof.” Jesus resists these temptations, because He knows who He is and what is mission is. His time of prayer, fasting and reflection has shown Him the Father’s will for Him, and He is now ready to get to work.
Lent is seen as an active time for us who take upon ourselves works of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. However, above all it should be a time of self-reflection with God. If we are who we say we are – “Christians,” “good people,” trying to follow Jesus – then our actions, our whole lives should bear that out. Is that the case now, or do we have some work to do? Now is the time!
Some years back, the Papal Nuncio (or ambassador) to the United States was Archbishop Piero Sambi – a good and holy man, not to mention a very smart guy as well. He was asked to assess the situation of the Church in the United States, which he noted was a minority situation. He said this:
When you are a minority, as Catholics are in this culture, you need three strong principles. The first is a clear identity, a clear sense of what you are and what you want to be. As a minority, if you lack a clear identity, you're like a drop of wine in a glass of water … you'll disappear. The second thing is a strong sense of belonging. I would express it in this way: you need a community, and the community needs you. Whoever walks alone sooner or later will be lost in the desert. Third, when you are a minority, you need a deep commitment to excellence. You must excel in human qualities, in family qualities, in professional qualities, in the qualities of Christian life, in order to be a light for others. If you don't have a sense of excellence, you will be submerged by the majority.
When you have these three qualities … then you're ready to collaborate with everybody, ready to engage yourself for a better humanity and a better future."
Here, we gather as we always do to celebrate Mass – as a community of faith, centered on Jesus in the Word and the Eucharist. We belong to Christ, and we belong to one another! That is communion. Remembering who we are, then, allows us to challenge ourselves to be the best versions of ourselves we can be – to live with integrity.
In our First Reading, the Israelites are reminded how they are to approach their worship in community – aware of who they are and where they have been. “My father was a wandering Aramean…and became a great nation.” They are to always remember what God has done for them, or their worship is pointless.
As we enter this holy season of reflection, let’s take up the challenge of allowing ourselves to be our best. If we belong to Christ, allow Him to take hold of our hearts and guide us through this Lenten desert to the glory of Easter.
First, we must confront those things that keep us from fully loving God and each other. We should gather frequently as a community of faith and encourage one another with our values and the comfort of faith. Finally, we can know the great things of which we are capable, because God makes us capable of them.