Who Am I? Asked in Light of the Two Standards

This is a guest post by Michelle Francl-Donnay for Week Five of An Ignatian Prayer Adventure.desk and sandals - images for the Two Standards

What do I want to be? Who do I want to be? If my students could have read my thought bubbles this last week, I’m certain many of them would have been startled. Uh, don’t you know by now? I know that I am, to their eyes, old enough to be a grandmother— if not theirs, someone’s. Old enough, they must think, to be certain what and who I am.

True enough. Barring disaster, the broad outlines are unlikely to change. I am a wife and mother. A teacher, scientist, and writer. My life is settled, grace-filled, and often awash in joy.

Yet I understand that none of this truly defines who I am, for I have met disaster of a magnitude that can upend the seemingly settled, unravel the most carefully laid plans, and strip away even the most cherished of my extrinsic identities. When I was a young professor, I left for work one morning married, only to return home two days later a widow.

So I found the meditation on the Two Standards a potent reminder of where my identity is rooted, of where I stand regardless of the external conditions of my life: poverty, health, frustration, happiness, or rending grief.

I’m going to admit that I don’t see Satan on a throne of fire surrounded by angels gone bad and the occasional orc (despite having watched The Lord of the Rings this week). Instead I see the master of evil sitting alone behind a gleaming and elegant desk, all steel and glass, the whole world splayed out below. Dispatches glide across the desk; well-dressed minions come and go. “What have you done for me lately?” he inquires.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the plain is gathered an unlikely crew. Suits and pearls mingle with torn jeans and ratty sandals. There is no long chain of command separating them from Christ. He is right there among them, up to his elbows in the mess, laughing as they work, holding them tenderly when they fall. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Who I am depends not on what I can or cannot do, but on this loving God I labor with and who labors within me.

At one level, the choice is glaringly obvious. Who would pick evil, even slickly packaged evil? But at least for me, the Two Standards sharpens my eye for the small ways in which I let the external facets of my life not only define, but drive me.

What am I at this moment? Wife, mother, teacher, writer. In the next? I know better than to try to predict. Who do I want to be? Christ’s, in whom I live and move and have my being.

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Michelle Francl-Donnay
Michelle Francl-Donnay is the mother of two 20-something sons, a professor of chemistry, an adjunct scholar at the Vatican Observatory, and a regular contributor to Philadelphia Archdiocese’s CatholicPhilly.com, where she writes about the joys and struggles of trying to live a contemplative life in the midst of everyday chaos. Michelle blogs at Quantum Theology.


  1. All the books and movies about “selling your soul” end badly. That should be caution enough. Really scary if you see it on the big screen!
    I think I’d like the warmth of any room I could share with Jesus. With Him all things are possible.

      • I walked down (and up!) the Exorcist steps in Georgetown on Sunday – but haven’t seen the movie. I have to admit such things give me nightmares (my imagination needs no cinematic help!), I would love to have your equanimity in this, Linda!

        • Agree! I avoid those movies and books like the plague. I got fooled into seeing one or two when I was younger. Couldn’t sleep! I was always afraid of the dark as a kid and that didn’t help.
          I try to always “keep it light!”
          BTW, keeping the thought that He is here always helps. It is wet and rainy in NY and it would be nice to invite Him in.

          • Yes the tales of real as in nonfiction demonic manifestation really scares me and I sure am glad He is around and much much bigger than anything out there.
            Sometimes I think He puts me to sleep while I read junk to get me to see what a time waster it is, like Ignatius did.

        • I read True Ghost Stories (ya okay yawn) constantly and fall asleep just as constantly. The idea of some wandering wraith peeking through ancient curtains makes me laugh but I enjoy it like some folk like Star Trek or Dallas. I admit that when I run across a story where there is an actual demonic manifestation I do get truly soul scared. Those things are not to be messed with.

  2. Okay I haven’t even had my first coffee and here’s a new and startling image unto my eyes — your image of Satan at his desk asking what I’ve done for him today.
    Yikes. What a soul shattering shock.
    Love it.

    • Linda, And now I’m having a hard time looking at the glass table in my office without seeing Satan in a Savile Row suit….maybe I should have tried to imagine orcs?

        • Tolkien and Lord of the Rings! When I made the Exercises the first time, my director wryly noted that many people found the images of the Lord of the Rings colored these meditations (God uses what we have, and not many of us have seen medieval battles, but more have read/seen Tolkien’s tales), and reminded me to be open to whatever set of images proved to be useful (orcs or no).

          • Narnia flavored my experience with the Two Standards, so I understand that the Lord of the Rings may be helpful imagery for Tolkien fans.


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