Saturday, January 7, 2017

A sense of belonging

The 'Thinking Anew' column in today's Irish Times.

Michael Commane
Most of us wish to be wanted and liked. We want people to appreciate us. It's not a matter of craving for appreciation and affection. It makes life so much more tolerable when we fit in, when we know that we are respected and that we have a specific and special role to play.

Everyone has his/her own niche role. It's the sort of thing that enhances our personalities.

Have you ever noticed after a major sporting event when the leading sportsperson is being interviewed she or he will always stress that it was the role the team played that brought them victory. It is never a one-person effort. And the more successful the sportsperson is, the more emphasis they will place on the team effort. 

Every time the Dublin football team won a game last year, manager Jim Gavin went out of his way to stress that it was a team effort. And so too with one of the world's great horse racing trainers Aidan O'Brien, he always talks about his team after a racing victory.

It's a cliche to quote John Donne's line that no man is an island. But like all cliches, it's a truth that stares us in the face and we are simply being nonsensical if we don't subscribe to it.

It's important to belong. I have never been so struck by that idea as I have in the last few months since taking up a job as a hospital chaplain. To watch how the staff work as a team, everyone with a specific role and every job feeds in to improving the well-being of the patient. It is amazing watching it all work every day. And then to see how family and friends come to visit the sick: every single person is different and yet every person has his or her loving and unique gift to give to the person in the bed. It all comes in so many different shapes and forms. Indeed, there is no set 'formula' But watching it work is honestly astonishing.

Michael Harding in this paper last Saturday wrote a piece about watching people say good bye at Knock Airport: "The last moment of physical intimacy is always a miracle. To breathe in love for a second and then hold it for another year as if each year were an eternity." That same love, greatly magnified, can be seen every day in hospitals around the country.

Tomorrow's liturgy celebrates the Baptism of the Lord. It's the marking out, or the beginning of Jesus' public ministry.

As John baptises Jesus, a voice from heaven cries out: "This is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him." (Matthew 3: 17) What confidence it must be for the newly baptised person to know that God's favour rests on him.

Baptism begins the process of Christian initiation.

What it must be like to know that the favour of those closest to us rests with us. When we know that people place their genuine favour and love and trust with us it surely gives us that great impetus to do the right thing, to do good, to respond to their goodness with like-minded behaviour.

As Christians we believe that all our good actions are in some extraordinary way raised to a new reality.

It's a matter of seeing the love of God in all the good human acts that take place every day right in front of our eyes. Those acts of love and kindness are made so explicit and clear, every day around the beds of the sick and dying. You can't miss them in those contexts but they happen everywhere. It's for us to open our eyes to see them.

Remember, the favour of the Lord rests with us. The grace of Baptism enhances all our good deeds.

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