On my birthday four weeks ago, I received a lovely card from a dear friend, a mother of many children. Rather than congratulating me, she thanked my parents for bringing me to birth, for baptizing and educating me in the faith, and giving another priest to the Church. It is healthy to think of one’s parents rather than one’s self on a birthday, lest we become discouraged over the insignificance of our lives. Of ourselves, we are indeed insignificant, and we are tempted to ask: Does anyone know or love me? Has my life meant anything to anyone? My parents know and love me, and my life has significance simply because of them.
But we are tempted to want more than our parents’ love. They have to love us, after all. We want to earn love. We want to captivate, to purchase, to own love. But as I grow older, I see that no “purchased” love lasts. Only received love lasts, that which we receive from God, and which he imparts to our parents to give to their children. In the end, only the gift remains.
Sr. Wendy Beckett, the renowned art critic and spiritual writer, wrote that we all carry a stick and a begging purse. Our life’s project is to throw both away. The begging purse wheedles to be known and loved. I used to plead with kids on the playground, “I’ll be your best friend if you play with me….” The stick aggressively defends us against insignificance. We wave it at those who do not pay attention to us, and even threaten those who do not pay us their love. I used to threaten kids on the playground, “I won’t be your friend anymore if you don’t play with me.”
Only a ready knowledge of God’s love, learned over many years, can cast the stick and purse away. This New Year, I desire to know for certain that the world cannot give meaning to my existence. It’s “God or Nothing” (I highly recommend the recent book published under that title). This year, if I can only cast the world aside will I be capable of receiving all.
If I am listening, I often hear God speaking to me personally when I pray the breviary. So it was this morning, when he tenderly reminded me of his gift 54 years ago: “In baptism you were not only buried with him but also raised to live with him,” St. Paul wrote in the first reading. “Continue to live in Christ Jesus the Lord, in the spirit in which you received him. Be rooted in him, and built up in him .…”
May God grant that I can believe in my baptism this year! Christ alone gives significance to our lives. If we know Him, we know ourselves, and we can cast the stick and purse from us. We can be forever free of this world’s empty promises.