A Case of Mistaken Identity
Being a beloved son is more than enough to bring joy and inspiration
October has always been one of my favorite months. It is the month for our Blessed Mother; it means that football and hockey season are well underway; and when I was a child it especially meant that it was time for Halloween and candy.
When I was in fourth grade I was enthralled with Zorro and was excited to wear my costume and parade around the neighborhood for treats. I put on my black boots, black shirt and pants, black sombrero and mask, and left on my crusade.
However, I began to become slightly depressed when I quickly realized that no one had any idea who I was. When I rang the doorbell of my elderly next-door neighbors, they opened their door and began to laugh. “Whoa! It’s Johnny Cash!” They shouted, “Can you sing ‘Burning Ring of Fire?’” Sheepishly, I had to tell them that not only was I not Johnny Cash, but I had no idea who that was.
Things did not get any better. Two houses later, a woman opened the door and thought that I was the Hamburglar from McDonald’s. “No cheeseburgers here,” she chided. “This is the worst costume ever!”
I began to seethe. A group of my mom’s friends stopped to get a picture with me as I journeyed along, and I began to feel vindicated after such embarrassment.
However, I was still grossly misunderstood. “Father Guido Sarducci,” one of them exclaimed, “I haven’t seen that outfit in years.”
I was not amused, not in the least. As I began to make my way homeward, I could not shake the feeling as though the whole Halloween had been a waste. I can even remember thinking, “When I get home, I am burning this outfit!”
Then finally, it happened! “Hey Zorro!” A young couple exclaimed from the porch of their house, “Did you leave your horse at home?”
“Yes,” I replied, “and thank you for noticing!”
I didn’t even stop to get candy, but instead I ran home filled with joy that someone finally knew my identity.
As priests, I think that we often struggle with our identity. At times we may think that our identity derives from our work or our production, or we may identify it with a specific aspect of ministry, trait or characteristic.
I remember, as a newly ordained priest in my first assignment, that the priest I replaced was very well-liked, an excellent cook and much taller than I am. In the mail one day I received a package with size 14 shoes in them and a card from a parishioner. It read: “You have large shoes to fill and better hope you are exactly like the guy you replaced.”
Nothing like a warm welcome to boost your confidence! However, identity does not stem from others’ expectations.
There is a great quote from St. John Paul II, which I use to reflect upon my own identity and ministry: “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures. We are the sum of our Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his son Jesus.” That quote has always profoundly affected my priesthood and reminded me that even when I am misunderstood, misjudged, criticized or rejected, I am still a beloved son of the Father.
I thankfully have moved beyond the trick-or-treating days, and that was indeed the last time I ever wore that Zorro outfit, but I am happy to have traded that in for clerics. Every time I put on my clerics and seek to serve Christ, I remind myself of the need to represent him well, especially in today’s world.
Our identity as sons of the Father and in persona Christi is more than enough to bring joy and inspiration to our hearts, and it really does not matter what anyone else thinks. That is more than enough for God, and it should be enough for us. As Father Guido Sarducci would say, “That’s a the rules — you know!”
FATHER MICHAEL ACKERMAN is the director of vocations for the Diocese of Pittsburgh.