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Let it rip

Fr. Lou DelFra | Thursday, January 20, 2011

What’s the effect in our own lives of feeling chosen? Remember walking down your high school hallway to where the list of who made the basketball team or the Spring play was posted? Squinting over the heads of the swarm of your classmates, your heart thumping, eyes darting up and down the list. Remember the feeling you got when you saw your name?

Unfortunately, the converse is also true — all of us can remember the feeling of scanning the list once, twice, three times and feeling the dread become reality. Not getting chosen for something is one of the worst feelings in life.

Moments of being chosen, or rejected, are some of the most intense, and indelible, moments of our lives.

As we begin a new semester, the Church too begins a new cycle of readings, in which we find ourselves again at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. All four Gospels begin their account of Jesus’ public ministry by recording the same event: the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. John the Baptist immerses Jesus in the river’s waters, and as Jesus emerges, the sky opens and the Spirit descends upon him like a dove. And the voice of God is heard through the heavens, revealing Jesus for the first time publically as the Chosen One: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Remember what it was like to get picked for a study abroad program, or a graduate school, or a research grant; or someone you liked asked you on a date; or an employer said, “Congratulations, the job is yours.” You will probably remember that the reality of being chosen gives you not just an adrenaline rush that wears off the next morning, but a deep-seated confidence about yourself. Your life suddenly seems to have purpose and direction. Your identity suddenly feels much more firm and secure. Spiritually, we often say at such times that we feel blessed, that we feel God is watching over our life and taking care of us.

I think of moments of being chosen when I read the early chapters of the Gospels, beginning with Jesus’ baptism. He experiences this powerful confirmation from God of his identity: “You are my beloved.” We can try to imagine the other spiritual realities that Jesus experienced, flowing from this confirmation: “Your life is dear to me. You have a special purpose. Your life will unfold in a providential direction. I am with you.”

When you receive an endorsement like this from a booming voice thundering out of heaven, you’re feeling pretty good about your life! You can pretty much let it rip …

Which, of course, is precisely what Jesus does. From the moment of his baptism on, Jesus heads into the villages of Galilee, and unleashes the power and charisma of his newly confirmed identity — preaching, healing, cleansing lepers, challenging unjust authorities, raising the dead, casting out demons. The Kingdom of God explodes forth into the lives of the people whom Jesus encounters. And it all begins with this moment at the Jordan, this utterly convicting experience of being chosen, by God.

As we toe the line of the beginning of the Spring semester, here’s the key for us: as Christians, that is, as people in whom Jesus dwells, as people for whom, as St Paul writes, “It is no longer I that live but Christ that lives within me” — as such people, the exact same thing that was true for Jesus is now true for each of us.

What God spoke to Jesus that day — “You are my beloved, you are the one I have chosen” — God is saying to each one of us, into the deepest center of our being. “I love you, and so I choose you — to be my beloved.”

There is one thing, the Gospels suggest, that puts a confident strut in our step as we begin a new challenge, that lifts our shoulders, that makes us believe that we have an irreplaceable part to play in the world, that our lives have meaning and direction. And it turns out not to be grades, status, good looks, popularity, intelligence, interpersonal skills, a great job — or all those other things that we feel if we just had a little more of, then our lives would really start rolling.

These things have their place, but in the end, what the Gospels tell us, is that there is only one thing we need to have confidence about our life and where it’s headed.

We need to experience the voice of God, our Creator, say into the center of our being: “You are my beloved daughter; my beloved son. You are my beloved creation, chosen to live as my own image and likeness. And you will always be precisely this.”

So as a new semester begins, we pray for the same confirmation of our deepest identity — as the beloved children of God — especially in those parts of our lives where we feel far from God, or insecure, or fearful of the future. And we pray that this confirmation gives to us what it gave to Jesus — the courage, the charisma, the ambition, the love to build up the Kingdom of God, in our divinely inspired and unrepeatable way.

For nothing less than this, we have been chosen.

This week’s column is written by Fr. Lou DelFra, CSC, of Campus Ministry and the ACE Program. He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.