"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Monday, December 04, 2006

There are birthdays, and then there are birthdays

Today is my birthday. Mostly by choice, I haven't had a birthday party in years. Not that anybody is lining up to throw me one, mind you; I live far from my family of origin and my old friends, and have barely begun to make friends where I now live. But even though I'm sure somebody would fete me if threw out enough hints, I don't want one. That's partly because, at this stage, there's no good reason to reveal my age to those who have no particular need to know it. But it's mainly because I find in my rebirth far more cause to celebrate than in my birth. For that matter, I want to start a tradition: celebrating one's baptismal birthday, not one's natural birthday.

I know I'm swimming against the tide here. I'm quite likely to inaugurate such a tradition only for myself. The only thing people know to do with people who won't celebrate when they're supposed to is to leave them to their own presumably crabbed devices. Yet, eccentric that I am, I still insist on celebrating at the wrong time. And I think there's a very good reason for that.

C.S. Lewis once observed that much of the human race has never seen the light of day: what with failures of implantation, miscarriages, abortions, and stillbirths, many conceived children never make it alive through the birth canal. And many who do never reach an age when they can actually sin. Perhaps that's why we celebrate birthdays. We made it through the birth canal—crying, to be sure, since we all inherit some measure of realism. Yet now juxtapose a few more facts if you would. All children who die before birth are creatures of God to whom he shows his mercy forever if, in faith, we implore his mercy. As CCC §1261 indicates, we can and may hope for their salvation; if we pray earnestly and unselfishly for them, that hope is well-founded indeed. But then there are the rest of us: that portion of the human race which reaches the age of reason, and in particular that subset which attains what is considered a normal lifespan. Most of us face a deadly-earnest spiritual combat if we wish to reach our eternal home as opposed to the Infernal Kingdom. "The Kingdom of God is taken by violence." That has been my experience, which has been harder than some if easier than others. Why, then, are Christians so keen to celebrate their birthdays? It's like soldiers celebrating deployment to a combat zone. The few soldiers who celebrate don't really know what they're getting into, do they? So, how many ostensible Christians do you know who see life on this earth as a spiritual combat? I don't know many who do. They had better: if they don't, they could well end up wishing a body bag had been the end of the story.

Still, the necessary gear is available while we live. Ceteris paribus, those who are baptized are better equipped to make it than those who aren't; again ceteris paribus, those among the baptized who are in full communion with "the" Church are better equipped than those who are not; and those Catholics who have made a point of learning and practicing their faith are better off still. By the grace of God, I find myself in all three groups. That's what I find cause to celebrate. As a baptized, well-informed, and practicing Catholic, I am as well equipped to make it as can be.

Anybody want to drink to that? If you do, I'll e-mail you the date of my baptism. And hoist one for yourself on your own baptismal birthday, if you're eccentric enough to want to.
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