Late last year, I was discussing with a friend a moral issue or, as we put it, an issue of authenticity. The classic moral question within which this issue is framed is, “Does the end justify the means?”
We were talking about a very popular figure who has gained so much fame and influence because of a highly successful project. It turns out that this project was actually the idea and brainchild of my friend’s close friend and their group. In other words, this popular figure stole the idea.
I had some dealings with him and his group prior to their “hit.” They approached me for help, and I was able to connect them with some people who gave their all-out support to them. But to make a long story short, they used us, and when they no longer had use for us, they dumped us.
This popular figure continues to enjoy the support and adulation of many. No doubt his project has helped many, but the question still begs to be answered—“Does the end justify the means?” Was his stealing the brainchild of someone and taking all the credit for it absolved by the good the project has done?
This Sunday’s Gospel gives us a reminder and a lesson in authenticity. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.” This seems to be a wisdom that is transcultural. “The apple does not fall far from the tree.” “Kung ano ang puno siya ang bunga.” Clearly this tells us that the end does not justify the means.
Authenticity does not nurture or breed fraud, and neither does it breed perfection. Remaining in Christ and Christ in us is a relationship rooted and grounded in love, Christ’s love, primarily, and because of this we are able to love in return. The Filipino word for “remaining” is more vivid, “manahan.” It connotes a sense of being rather than doing.
To remain in Christ is to be authentically who you are simply by being, and without needing to do anything. This is authenticity at its best. This is being fully integrated as a person.
There are two points we can reflect on to deepen this sense of authenticity. One, we become authentically who we are through a deep and spiritual sense of self-awareness that leads to an awareness of Christ remaining in us. Two, through this sense of Christ remaining in us we become an alter Christus, another Christ.
In the enneagram, a personality type framework very often used in spiritual formation, the general goal of the process is to move from “doing” to “being.” This is done through an awareness of one’s personality type, where one is at the present stage of one’s life and taking that journey back to “being,” one’s authentic self.
St. Ignatius of Loyola’s spirituality puts a premium on self-awareness, and many formation processes later on also emphasize the importance of self-awareness. Ignatius begins with an awareness of one’s blessings, talents and graces, the positives. Having been soaked in these, one is prepared to be aware of one’s shortcomings, weaknesses and sinfulness, the negatives.
This self-awareness leads to the awareness of God’s love, his gracious and creative love that blesses us, as the song goes, “with good things and plenty,” and his forgiving and merciful love that forgives us our sins and shortcomings.
It is in this combined self-awareness and the awareness of God’s love that lies—remains, “nananahan”—in the person. This experience allows the person to reintegrate and to choose to live out his/her mission. It is in reintegrating that the authentic self is rediscovered and a mission-inspired life is lived out.
It is in the mission-inspired life that a person bears fruit. It is here also that we become very much rooted and grounded in Christ. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.” This is the Christian, the mission-inspired life.
Persons who have lived out this mission-inspired life exude an aura of authenticity. Three persons come to mind: Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., and Pope John Paul II.
I personally saw Mother Teresa back in the ’70s. She gave a talk in the old auditorium of the Loyola School of Theology in the Ateneo de Manila Campus. Her demeanor during her talk and the open forum and her simple presence made you feel how consistent she was in what she said and what she did. Her being simply exuded her mission-inspired life.
In the early 1980s, during his last visit to the Philippines, I managed to see Fr. Arrupe, then superior-general of the Jesuits, in his Mass for the students of the Ateneo de Manila. I was then a fresh college graduate and was teaching in the high school. During his Mass in the Blue Eagle Gym, one could feel grace in his person. It seemed to me that all the talks and homilies of Fr. Arrupe that I read were personified in him.
The third experience of such a being was during the World Youth Day visit to the Philippines of Pope John Paul II in 1995. I managed to stand along the path where he passed on his way to the stage. I was a few meters away from him; though behind the security fence, I could see him up close. One was simply overwhelmed by his presence. One felt so much at peace and so much in God’s presence when you saw Pope John Paul II in person.
I think these are persons who have attained such an authenticity of self that their very being and presence give us a sense of God’s presence. The most authentic persons exude their most interior self, and there you find God remaining in them—“ang Diyos na nananahan sa kalooban nila.”
When we were studying theology, we were told that part of the Christian vocation, and in a special way the priestly vocation, is to be an alter Christus in the world, another Christ. Mother Teresa, Fr. Arrupe and JP II were all exemplary alteri Christi. They reached a level of authenticity that they truly embody what St. Paul said: “It is no longer I but Christ who lives in me.”
“I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.” The fruit is not about us. The fruit is not about the success of our works and projects per se. The fruit is bringing God, bringing Christ into the world simply by being. The fruit is our being in Christ and Christ in us. The end and the means are one and the same. Everything is grace. Everything is Christ.