“Who are you?” It is a question – perhaps the definitive question – of identity. In The Power of Identity Manuel Castells defines identity as “people’s source of meaning and experience” (Castells 6).
On a superficial level, the identity question is one question that has many answers; it is a situational question of meaning and particular experience. For me, it depends upon where I am and what I’m doing when the question arises. This is because I, like everyone else, play many roles in my life. Husband, son, brother, uncle, professional, teacher, Catholic, friend, performer, and mentor are among them. So, when asked “Who are you?” the answer varies according to the role.
Having worked in media and in very public positions for my entire career, my name is fairly well known in my community. It still drives my sister crazy when she is too often referred to as “John Baldino’s little sister.” It has been an ongoing source of amusement in our family for many years. She finally got some gratification after she opened her ballroom dance studio. For a while she was “John Baldino’s sister who teaches dance,” but she was thrilled when I reported a shift. After performing in a production of “Nunsense,” and while mingling with the audience, I was approached by a group of girls who asked if they could get a photo with me. I was flattered. They were very excited to get a picture with “Miss Shauna’s brother.”
As comical and fun as my sister’s identity is when it relates to mine, it is still a superficial, subjective identity. It relates to her roles and mine. A further illustration of roles: When I am at a gathering of my wife’s friends and their families, I am Rachel’s husband. When I am in my Catholic education classroom at my parish I am Mr. Baldino. When I am on stage I am often John Baldino’s grandson, as my grandfather was a celebrated musician in my home town.
So, do roles definitively answer the question, “Who are you?” I do not believe so. When digging deeper into life, value, and vocation, identity becomes something much larger than roles.
In Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Jean Valjean poses the question of identity to himself, and responds, “24601.” That was his prisoner number. He had this identity forced upon him by a police investigator whose mission in life became one to hunt down Valjean for stealing food. The hunt forces Valjean to always be that criminal (Hugo 74).
A real-life prisoner – St. Maximilian Kolbe – answered the identity question simply: “A Catholic priest.” This was his response when he offered to give his live for another at Auschwitz, and the commandant of the camp asked, “Who are you?” (Treece 223). This identity was prophesized by an apparition of the Blessed Mother, and ultimately chosen by Kolbe as he dedicated his life to the service of God and His people as a Conventual Franciscan Priest (Treece 1-2).
Michael Keaton delivered the iconic line, “I’m Batman” in the Tim Burton film in which he played the title character. Batman’s alter ego Bruce Wayne made a choice to become the crime-fighting vigilante as the result of witnessing his parents’ murder when he was a boy. While this identity was a choice, it was choice made as a direct result to circumstances forced upon a young boy (Batman).
Arguably, one of the most complex identities in history is that of Jesus Christ. He has been called the son God, son of man, lamb of God, the word made flesh, and God incarnate. Knowing He was the son of God, both human and divine, He addressed the question of identity:
Now Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They said in reply, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said to him in reply, “You are the Messiah” (New American Bible. Mark 8:27-29).
This was a loaded question. Jesus was confirming that His disciples truly understood His divinity, and that He was far more than a prophet. Jesus’ identity as the Messiah was both chosen and forced upon Him. This is the complexity Christ being both human and divine, a state of being which would likely have resulted in internal conflict at times. This complexity was chosen by God. Fr. Bob Simon, Catholic priest and theologian explains, “To experience human life, God came to the world in the form of His son, the second person of the Trinity” (Simon). For Jesus as man, it was predestined by God’s choice, and announced by the angel Gabriel:
And the angel said to her (Mary) in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God (New American Bible. Luke 1:35).
True identity, not that of circumstance or situation, is either chosen or thrust upon a person, as illustrate in the examples above. As Castells says, it is something which is constructed, but not necessarily by oneself (Castells 6).
So, who am I? What identity has been constructed by me and for me? In order to fully understand my identity, it is important to recognize what, if any, commonality runs through all the roles I play. What motivates me at my very core, and drives my actions and choices? Above, I referred to roles I play in my life. Examining each of them uncovers a commonality. The roles of family have been built on faith. I am in a Christian marriage, a godfather to my nephew, and spiritual go-to for my family and friends. I was the last person to give my grandfather the Holy Eucharist before he died.
As a professional, I strive to live the example Christ and St. Francis of Assisi in how I treat colleagues, staff, and clients. I strive to see Christ in them, and be Christ to them, being forgiving and patient, but hardly to perfection. The same is true of my friendships. In addition, in true Franciscan way, I try to give without expectation of reciprocity.
I teach these values to my students, encouraging them to respect the dignity of all human life, and cherish all of God’s creation. Yes, I am a Catholic. My identity – the answer to the question, “Who are you?” – however, is more specific in the particular way I have chosen to live my faith. I am a professed member of the Secular Franciscan Order:
The Secular Franciscan Order (Ordo Fraciscanus Saecularis) is a branch of the world-wide Franciscan Family. We are single and married. We work, worship and play in the community where we live. The Order was established by St. Francis of Assisi more than 800 years ago. Our purpose is to bring the gospel to life where we live and where we work. We look for practical ways to embrace the gospel in our lives and try to help others to do likewise (“Secular”).
As a Secular Franciscan, I have promised to live my life according to the rule of the order. The rule is a part of everything I do.
The rule and life of the Secular Franciscans is this: to observe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by following the example of St. Francis of Assisi who made Christ the inspiration and the center of his life with God and people. Christ, the gift of the Father’s love, is the way to him, the truth into which the Holy Spirit leads us, and the life which he has come to give abundantly. Secular Franciscans should devote themselves especially to careful reading of the gospel, going from gospel to life and life to gospel (“Rule” 2.4).
Following this rule is no easy task, but one which drives my life. This lifestyle is an ongoing process, as no one can boast perfection. This identity is one which grew from my Catholic identity, one into which I was born. My Franciscan identity, though, was a choice. Being professed to the Order after three years of formation was a milestone along my continuing journey to answer God’s call to serve His people in a special way.
For me, becoming a Franciscan was combination of choice and predestination. Catholics believe God has a very particular vocation in mind for each of us. We are all called to serve Him and His people in special ways: As priests, religious, mothers, fathers, etc. For many years God was calling me to serve His people, but I believe he needed to spend some time with me to prepare me for what he had in mind.
In 2010, after more than a decade working in the media industry, I entered priestly formation for the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania. I spent two semesters at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Emmitsburg, Maryland, where I studied philosophy and catechism. It was also a time of spiritual counseling with two amazing priests, and deep prayer.
Most people believe men enter seminary to become priests. That is not entirely true. The first two years of seminary studies are primarily focused on discernment. God called us there, but He didn’t call us all to be priests. I spent a year having an in-depth conversation with God about my vocation, His plan for me. After that year, I understood my calling was not to the priesthood.
Though I was firm in my decision to leave seminary, I still felt a longing to serve God’s people. When I resigned from seminary formation, I sent a message to my cousin, Jerry (a priest) telling him I was leaving the seminary. Here is his reply:
Glad you are doing well. Transitions are life! I’m sure God has something particular in mind for you or He would not have gotten your attention so dramatically. Keep watching and listening (Mullally).
Jerry died unexpectedly a few months later. That message would be the last I’d ever receive from my beloved cousin.
Shortly after Jerry’s death, I learned about the Secular Franciscan Order and how its members served God and His people. As I researched and met the members, I found it to be exactly the middle-ground I was looking to find between the priestly life and my secular life.
I was able to get the formation, community, and ministry I desired, plus a formal affiliation with the Catholic Church. This affiliation offers education and credibility when I minister to God’s people, which I find myself doing more often than I ever expected.
Who am I?
I am a Franciscan.
Batman. Dir. Tim Burton. Perf. Michael Keaton. Warner Brothers, 1989. iTunes.
Castells, Manuel. The Power of Identity. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Print.
Hugo, Victor. Les Miserables. New York: Random House, 1992. Print.
Mullally, Rev. Gerald. “re: Update.” Message to the author. 18 October 2011. Email.
New American Bible, The. New York: Catholic Publishers, Inc. Print.
“Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order.” Secular Franciscan Order St. Joseph Fraternity. St. Joseph Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order. N.D. Web. swbfranciscans.com
“Secular Franciscan Order.” Secular Franciscan Order St. Joseph Fraternity. St. Joseph Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order. N.D. Web. swbfranciscans.com
Simon, MDiv, MA, Rev. Robert J. Personal Interview. 4 April 2016.
Treece, Patricia. A Man for Others: Maximilian Kolbe, the “Saint of Auschwitz.” Libertyville, IL: Marytown Press, 2013. Print.