“Who do you think you are?” on TV takes a celebrity back through the generations, and there are often tears, amazement, pride, in what they discover as they delve back into the past. Lent is a time when we ask ourselves the same question. Only the difference is that we do not delve into the lives of others but our own. It might take a good deal of courage to examine our ancestors at times, but it takes a lot more to look at ourselves.
The contemplative monk Thomas Merton spoke of false selves and true selves. The false self is the one we can create because that is the person we think the world wants to see, or because we are afraid or ashamed to show the world who we really are. We can put a great deal of effort into maintaining that facade, possibly even getting into the act so far that we start to believe it is our true self.
The readings in church for Lent begin with Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. His tempter offers Jesus a set of roles that he could easily step into, but would contradict who he is called to be. All of them would be a display of power, but to accept any or all of these would be a distortion of Jesus’ true calling and his true self. The tempter offers masks that would be pleasing to the world, and to a worldly version of Jesus, but which would distort both him and his calling, and blind him to his relationship with his Father. As Thomas Merton said: “If I find God I will find myself, and if I find my true self I will find God.” The reverse is also true.
How do we begin? Perhaps simply in the tradition of St. Ignatius, just reviewing our day each night. Not in a way that makes us feel worse about ourselves, but looks at how we have been with people, how we have done or not done the things that faced us, not saying, “I have failed at this or that,” but looking at how I felt in each situation, and asking God to teach us through our experience. Where and with whom was I really myself, where had I put on a mask?