“90% of life is just showing up” according to Woody Allen. 90% of life is receiving rather than taking, accepting things as they are rather than manipulating them into what we think we want. We are in fact made; we do not make ourselves. We can shape ourselves to some degree through ars and techne, but the human essence cannot be “remade.” The older I get the more I realize how little my essential personality has changed since I was a boy. Contemporary theories about sexuality, in particular, miss this fundamental reality of the human person.
Sexuality is a “given,” not a “taken,” and in that way not unlike death. To “take” one’s own life is a final act of despair, and to “take” one’s sexuality into my one’s hands (or the hands of a paid surgeon) is a desperate refusal of a gift. Life, and the sexuality so essential to that life, is a “given,” and we are happiest when we are able to receive gifts. Confusion and trauma can make it very difficult to receive such an essential gift, but refusing it, in the end, only leads to more confusion and trauma.
On Saturday I assisted my Archbishop in confirming 32 young people. The candidates approached the prelate’s chair, one by one with their sponsors, first the boys, and then the girls. Each candidate knelt while the sponsor bowed with his or her hand on his or her candidate’s shoulder. The sponsor handed me a card with the confirmation name written on it, precisely in Latin (in the vocative case), below which was written the candidate’s given names. The candidate, himself or herself, chooses his or her confirmation name, but then it is translated into Latin, the sacred language of the Church. So “Joseph” becomes Iosephe, “Athanasius” becomes Athanasi, and “Francis” becomes Francisci.
I was quite moved to receive these cards and listen to the Archbishop quietly pronounce each sacred name as he anointed each candidate’s forehead with sacred chrism. Accipe signaculum doni Spiritus Sancti. Francisci, signo te signo crucis et confirmo te Christmate salutis: in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.
Watching these young people receive the sacramental completion of their baptism was akin to witnessing a childbirth. Each young person knelt, serenely, to receive the new name and the holy oil. Each accepted with joy what was given to him or her, even the little slap on the cheek delivered after the words pax tecum. “In the world you will have trouble,” the Lord told his disciples. “But take courage, I have overcome the world…. My peace I give to you.”
In the Mass, the priest lifts up the bread and says the words of Christ: accipe and manducate, which are mistranslated “take and eat.” The Latin word accipe means “receive,” not “take.” Receive my body as a gift. Receive your body as a gift. Life is about receiving gifts and giving gifts, not about taking, manipulating, controlling, and fabricating. To some degree an intelligent person takes and works with his or her “hands” (“mani-pulates”), but he or she does so deftly, delicately, and with a healthy sense of humility. Life’s deepest reality, and its deepest joy, is to realize what we have been given, and to share what we have received, with our fellow pilgrims.