Finding Your True Self

Scripture (Luke 18: 9-14)

Jesus addressed this parable
to those who were convinced of their own righteousness
and despised everyone else.
“Two people went up to the temple area to pray;
one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,
‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity —
greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week,
and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
But the tax collector stood off at a distance
and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but beat his breast and prayed,
‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former;
for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”


Who are you? I am a










fan of U2

and sports. 

I enjoy reading and writing poetry.  I am silly and intense. I am passionate and emotional.  I can get angry and have always had a temper.  Sometimes my thoughts will not quit and are more than I can handle.  I can be dark, depressed, anxious, self-loathing, negative and hopeful.  I hold grudges longer than I should.  I am the founder of a new non-profit that is trying to make its way with a mission to provide opportunities for people to change the world and themselves through service.   

Yet, none of this is who I am.  Christian mystics such as Trappist monk Thomas Merton speak about a false self.  The false self are those external aspects that others easily see such as our job, emotions, passions, roles or positions.  You can know everything I listed above, but that does not mean you know who I am.  For some the false self emerges from emotional trauma.  It is an identity we create to protect ourselves from pain, humiliation and rejection.  Richard Rohr says that the true self is who we are when we strip away everything.  Stop for a moment and try to imagine- what if you were unemployed, not married or not a parent, or a friend.  Try to think beyond your emotions.  Remove it all.  What would be left?  An exercise such as this demands regular and authentic reflection.  It is when we move past our ego that we are able to discover our true selves.  W. B. Yeats wrote, “I am looking for the face I had before the world was made.”

The “false self’ of the Pharisee in this story is on full display.  He is a person Jesus refers to as one who is convinced of his own righteous and despises others.  In the parable, the Pharisee takes up “his position” and then offers a prayer of arrogant piety.   His worth and value is based on viewing himself as better than the rest of humanity.  He is so disgusted by false selves of others he has lost any awareness of his own.  In contrast stands the tax collector who prays from his true self and asks: “O God be merciful to me a sinner.”  It is by stripping away the external façade that the tax collector realizes his true self.  He knows that nothing on the outside matters.  When all is stripped away, and he owns his need for mercy, he is exalted.  On our own we are nothing and yet because God has chosen us we become everything.



  • What external façade or elements of a false self, do you adopt to protect yourself?
  • How would you describe your true self? 
  • Who do you allow to see it? When are you the Pharisee in this story?  When are you the tax collector
We have the choice of two identities: the external mask which seems to be real...and the hidden, inner person who seems to us to be nothing, but who can give himself eternally to the truth in whom he subsists.
— Thomas Merton
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These Lenten reflections are written by friends of 12plus1, Inc.  Discovery House a service-based gap year experience for participants ages 18-20 will begin August 2018.  Please share this information with an individuals who may want to participate or support this new ministry.


FAST:  Put aside the façade that protects you from knowing and revealing your authentic identity.   

PRAY:  O God Be Merciful to Me A Sinner.   

GIVE: attention to someone who is struggling emotionally, physically or spiritually.


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Joe Nettesheim is the Founder and Director of 12plus1.  He has been involved in Church ministry since 1991.  Besides 12plus1 he also teaches at Dominican High School and Cardinal Stritch University St. Clare Center for Catholic Life.  Joe is an avid fan of U2, Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Bucks, Brewers and Marquette University basketball.  He is married to Maribeth.  Their blended family consists of 5 children, 2 sons-in-law, 6 grandchildren and TS Eliot, the golden doodle puppy.