Fr. Robert Barron is a respected theologian, author and speaker. I was privileged in seminary to have him as one of my professors. He shares a sports analogy that I have made use of a number of times because, I believe, it speaks so well.
Imagine a sporting event. It can be anything – a soccer match, a football or basketball game, a tennis match, volleyball, whatever. Now imagine all the different characters and roles of the game. Picture the players (either or a team or an individual) striving with all their ability. The athlete’s job is to play with all of ones skill. Imagine the coach or coaches on the sidelines. Their job is to direct, strategize and encourage. Imagine the umpires or referees. Their job is to call foul, to penalize and to make sure that the game is played fairly. Picture the fans and the crowd. Their job is to cheer on the team, the athlete, to enjoy the game and to have pride. These are the different roles and characters of a sporting event and we can probably easily imagine them.
There is one more role that is critical to any game yet it is easily overlooked. It is the role of the field or the court itself. Imagine a sporting event, any type of game, trying to be played without a field or court, without in or out boundaries. Players can run anywhere, shoot from anywhere. It would not work, the game would turn to chaos! It is the field or the court itself with it’s “in and out” boundaries that keep the energy of the game directed and moving! The field or court itself has a critically important role to play to any sporting event.
The analogy is this. Just as the boundaries of a sporting field or court keep the energy of the game directed and moving so the commitments we freely make in our lives keep the energy of our lives moving and directed. True, authentic and freely entered into commitments do not deny freedom, rather they fulfill our freedom! If our lives are to go anywhere then they need commitments. Without commitments it would be like playing a game without any boundaries. There may be a lot of running around and energy but it is really not going anywhere.
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord can be approached from different angles. The voice of the Father and the coming of the Spirit validates Christ as the Son of God. The humility of Christ is revealed in his willingness to be baptized by John “in order to fulfill all righteousness”. In Christ, earth and heaven are once more reconciled. All of these are true and worthy of deep reflection but what has stood out for me in my prayer over the readings this last week is Christ’s commitment to the will of the Father.
The one undergirding and guiding principle of our Lord’s life is his obedience to the will of the Father. Romano Guardini, in his book “The Lord” notes that at different times people have tried to define Christ in different terms – radical revolutionary, utopianist, anti-bourgeois romantic, mystic, itinerant preacher, social reformer. All of these definitions for Christ, contends Guardini, fall far short of the truth of who Christ is. The identity of Christ is not to be found in political or social categories but goes much deeper to the very core of the human condition. Christ is the one who perfectly chooses and follows the will of the Father in all things! Because of this Christ can never be neatly boxed into any of our human and social categories because he transcends them all! Christ is just as comfortable having dinner with tax collectors and prostitutes as he is with the righteous and the Pharisee. He is not naïve to the sins of any group but he is faithful to the will of his Father that all might be saved and have life.
Christ is defined by his commitment to the will of the Father. In our baptisms, we have been baptized into the life and death of Christ and we have also been baptized into his commitment. It is in commitment to God’s will in our life that we find life and we find purpose.
In this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. (1 Jn. 5:2-3)
Authentic and freely-entered into commitment is not opposed to freedom rather it fulfills freedom. We have been baptized into the life and death of Christ that we might share in his resurrection. We have also been baptized into his commitment. In this, life gains direction and it gains purpose which lasts even unto eternity.