The two halves of life…we become the best we can be so we can give it away
These days, many people are ambivalent about the Church: not sure if it’s worth the effort of being a faithful and faith-filled member of it. This becomes more of a question and struggle, the more economically independent and comfortable we become.
The Baptism of Jesus Christ is not just a moment to reflect on the life and progress of Jesus, but a moment to reflect on our own baptism. For some, Baptism is in – and through – the formal Church. For others, baptism is by accident and circumstances through the informal Church.
As much as some people wish to escape from the restrictions of the Church our, largely, Judeao-Christian based societies keep us close to God whether people like it or not.
Baptism is a form of consecration: simply meaning “set aside” for the good of others. For the more Church-minded people it has many other extensions to clarify understanding. But, fundamentally, Baptism is a mark of “maturity”: my life is not just about myself.
As people drift away from the formal Church, the sacraments can sound meaningless, or like magic: if I’m baptised I’ll get into Heaven. Today’s Baptism celebration of Jesus Christ is a reminder to us of our need for others and how we are needed by others.
Fr Ron Rolheiser OMI shares that St Peter’s Baptism was the conversation in John’s Gospel where Jesus asked Peter if he loves him three times and then tells him: “when you were young you did what you liked, but when you are older you will go where others take you.”
Experienced parents recognise the truth in what Jesus says to St Peter: after having children, the life of parents is no longer “free”. Their decisions are based around the needs of their children. Their free time is constantly interrupted by demands from their children.
In the same way, Baptism in the Church draws us into a “conspiracy” of community life: where we are expected to “cough up” our time, energy and resources to help others in our community.
BUT, it’s not all bad! When we are in need, the community will also “cough up” to help us. These days of bush-fires in Australia show that the informal Church is still very much alive.
The volunteer fire-fighters, the widespread donations to help victims and the volunteers, shows that Christianity is not dead, that God is very much alive.
Some people might protest and say it has nothing to do with God or the Church, but they only need to do a little bit of research to see what the world was like before Judaism & Christianity.
As one newspaper columnist wrote a few years back, most western societies hitch a free ride on the back of Christianity, while at the same time disparaging it. But that’s another story.
The adult Baptism of Jesus Christ comes at the start of His public ministry: a key point of instruction for ourselves. The split between living life for ourselves and living life for others.
A few years ago, Fr Ron Rolheiser OMI and Fr Richard Rohr OFM, gave a brilliant seminar on Adult Christianity where they managed to put a framework on our lives: we require two spiritualities for the two halves of our lives.
The first half of life requires us to build up our ego: reflected in every healthy childhood and youth stage of life: the older generation spend a lot of time helping young people develop a strong sense of pride in their abilities and helping them feel that “I am important”, “I have a purpose” and “I am good”.
The Second half of life requires us to give away our ego. Family life explains this perfectly well – which is not surprising since the family is the basic unit that forms the Church. Here we see that the important people in society – adults – become “slaves” to their children. Hopefully they say, as God said to Jesus: “You are my Daughter in whom I am well pleased” and “You are my Son in whom I am well pleased”.
The happiest older people, are those who retire into the background and provide opportunities for young people so that they can fulfill the needs of their first half of life: gaining an ego.
Baptism is the formal ceremony that helps adults understand the twofold nature of our lives: the children hear that they are the beloved. The adults hear that they are to share in the ministry of Jesus Christ as priest, prophet and King. When we are faithful, we extend Heaven to earth.
Heaven is the place where we are equally attentive to the needs of others and ourselves.
Let us pray this week that we may embrace the two halves of life with enthusiasm so that we can make Heaven a reality in our society, and drive away the demons of depression.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI