My heart broke when I read Chase Padusniak’s catfishing post and his story of being taken in by someone passing herself off as a 23-year-old single woman under the Twitter handle “That Catholic Girl.” He gave his heart to her, and it got stomped on by a woman who is actually 30 and married.
Of course, those of us who read his story were appalled. We should be. But if we practice self-reflection, we will see how much we are like this woman. We wear masks for people and lead them away from our true selves. Inside us, we all have our own little spokesperson that tells us, “Cover up. Tell no one the true you. Project an image that’s cool/believable/lovable.” It smiles and looks beautiful to the world.
These are the times we live in. No one really knows each other. Is social media the problem? They say it allows us to create personas that aren’t true to life and that we can be whoever we want to be. The social media world, they say, allows us to be very good liars.
But to place the burden of blame on social media ignores the whole history of humanity.
The truth is, we’ve always kept our real selves hidden from people and we’ve been doing it since Adam and Eve hid from the Lord in the garden. Wearing masks is second nature to us.
In my own faith, Catholicism, there are a number of them. The respectable, highly connected Catholic that usually hangs our around Notre Dame. The refined, cultural Catholic who basks in wine, cheese and our fine arts tradition. The radical social justice Catholic who live at the nearest Catholic Worker house. Even the “Sick Pilgrim” Catholic who hangs out around here. In many ways, we want to strip off our masks, but we can’t. It’s just too scary and uncomfortable.
Catfishing is deliberately lying, leading people to the image we want them to worship. Maybe we don’t all deliberately tell lies. We simply have no sense of who we really are, and what grounds our identity. We just make things up as we go along.
In a former life, I was a fake pastor. I could tell you all the right answers, pat your hand and smile. But none of it sat well. I knew I was catfishing everyone while I died inside, a little more everyday. I told lie after lie to lead people to the picture of myself that I wanted them to see. But inside, I was the rotting picture of Dorian Grey that sat in my own private attic. Now, I pass myself of as the moderately successful Catholic writer who is quirky, fun and cool. Neither of those pictures is accurate. They are distorted at the very best.
We don’t know who we are, why we are and where we are going, to paraphrase Walker Percy. But, we still know, somewhere, that we are someone. That we have name, but we just can’t remember it.And we long to know that name. We all want to know who we are. But no matter how many identities we put on, nothing seems to fit right.
When we construct our own identity, we get lost and there is no hope to figure it out on our own. The reality is, our real identity is a much deeper mystery than we can construct. St. Paul writes that our identity is now in Christ. What does that even mean? To be honest, I’m still figuring it out. Every time I go to the Eucharist, I’m reminded that Christ is the center of all reality. I embrace the fact that I’m a part of that center through uniting with Him. Whatever is His is mine. When I take his Body and Blood, it’s the beginning of the journey to find out who I am.
I’ve got no idea what that means. When I open door, ten more are revealed to explore and understand. The beauty is, I don’t lose all the information about myself when I explore my identity in Christ. Rather, new things get added on as I continue to go further into that Mystery. And I don’t lie to people, mislead or hurt them.
Because even when we find out who we are in Christ, the search for our selves doesn’t stop. It just gets more interesting. Way more interesting than putting on masks, pretending and leading people astray. We can lose ourselves in the Mystery and find ourselves again.
Even more, we can be honest about who we are, our issues and our secret things. Because they’re being burned away into something true. We can share that journey with others without feeling the need to hide or pretend we’ve got it all together. It’s just us, in our befuddled and rambling stuttering towards becoming saints.
And finding out who we all really are.