Growing up can be an exciting and scary experience, exciting in its newness, scary in that we don’t really know what’s up ahead. I remember the excitement of going to school for the first time when I was five. Mom would come back from shopping for school supplies, and she would lay everything on the dining room table—the new pens and pencils, rulers, notebooks, book covers, erasers, and pencil cases. It was exciting because there was that distinct feel and smell of new stuff. Even more exciting was that I would soon be joining my older siblings out in the world for the first time. I could finally have the things they had—teachers, classmates, homework, report cards. I truly had no clue what lay ahead. On the other hand, mom knew, yet she didn’t stop me. When I finally did get in line at the sound of the bell on that first day of school, and I glanced back to find her, it hit me when I saw her walking away. I realized it was a set-up. Some of the other kids started crying. Not me. And there would be no going back.
Mom was really doing me a favor, I realized later, nudging me forward, encouraging me to grow up. I remember the little fledgling sparrows we would find under some tree in the spring when we was younger, presumably nudged out of their nests, and encouraged along by their mothers, to try out their new wings, soar through the big blue sky, and conquer the world. At first the little birds would end up in a heap on the ground, dazed and disoriented, but generally willing to get moving. Either that or they end up becoming someone’s snack.
Young people always seem to be in a hurry to grow up. They can’t wait to get going and accomplish great things. They want to stay up late, eat new and strange foods, enter the workforce, drive fast cars, live on their own, and wear clothing more appropriate for grown-ups. The want to watch grown-up movies, and listen to grown-up music. They want to use language grown-ups know not to use around children, to consume alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and other mood- and behavior-altering substances. To young people, growing up is the height of freedom, being able to do the things grown-ups do, even the things moms tell you not to do, having to make up your own rules or break those already out there, basically, living your life as you choose … well, up to a point.
Growing up means you should know better, and you should eventually become a better person. But grown-ups realize half of what they imagined about life when they were younger just isn’t true at all. You can pretend like you’re a kid again, being carefree and irresponsible, blaming other people for your mistakes, consuming lots of sugar, watching cartoons, and playing with the latest tech toys. But you can’t go back to not understanding what you now understand. Growing up usually implies increasing in knowledge, understanding, and experience. And a large part of the process of growing up involves shifting the focus of one’s priorities away from oneself. There will always be occasion and opportunity to focus on one’s own welfare. But that focus on self is truly just a means to accomplish more important ends like leaving the world a much better place than you found it.
But some young people might miss this last aspect of growing up, and turn into adults who think only of themselves, who care nothing of the world around them or other people, who seek only personal gain, and whose impact on the human family is negligible, or at the worst, destructive. And unfortunately, some of them get to pass on this selfish way of thinking and living to the next generation.
Even Jesus in understanding his role and mission in God’s plan of salvation had to make that transition from focusing on personal fulfillment to what was best for others. Earlier in the gospel, Jesus was baptized at the river Jordan by John the Baptist, and the Father’s voice was heard, “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.” The Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove, inaugurating his public ministry. And after emerging from the desert where he was tempted for 40 days, Jesus selected the first four of his disciples and invited them to become fishers of men.
Jesus was not unaware of his mission and purpose. Still, he needed his mother’s gentle nudge encouraging him on. He may have had a different timeline in mind, but she got him to push his plans forward. It was perhaps why he hesitated at first with the question, “How does this concern of yours affect me?” Perhaps he was aware of where stepping forward would take him. He knew it would put him on the road to the cross. And he was in no hurry. Still, his mother had to urge him on to grow up. Every parent knows it’s their job to successfully launch their offspring into the world. They know it’s the only way they will ever get to retire.
So how are you moving along into maturity? It doesn’t matter that you left your parents’ home a long time ago. There’s always more growing up to do. How has your focus progressed from self to others? The process of maturing is not automatic. At some point, it requires our voluntary participation. When Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana, he set foot on the path that led to his total self-surrender to the Father’s will and the sacrifice of Calvary. And even if his mother nudged him forward, eventually he had to embrace the journey and everything it implied of his own free will. If he would be successfully launched, the Son of God understood he had to play his part in the Father’s design. Each of us has a much less significant role than Jesus, but we do have a place in God’s plan. Our own willingness to embrace it hinges on our voluntary decision to set ourselves and our personal gain aside. And like Jesus, our path, too, will take us to self-surrender and the cross. It is the cost of discipleship, and so many before us throughout the history of God’s people can attest to what it means to follow in his footsteps.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul explains how we have all been given gifts by God, different kinds of gifts but all from the same source, different forms of service but all given toward the same good, different manifestations of God’s power and purpose but all meant to fulfill the same eternal design. Now we don’t always see the totality of God’s plan, so we can be hesitant to embrace what is new and different and challenging. Not all that is new is different. Not all that is different is bad. And the one constant in this world is change. What we need is a greater trust in God, that we do not travel the journey of life alone, that God walks with us. So God is at work even when we have difficulty grasping the meaning of life our lives and the world around us. Our launch is truly a success when we come to the realization we are no longer the center of the universe. We have a place in God’s plan. And God invites us to participate in its unfolding. But when we set out on the road to fulfilling God’s plan, like Jesus, we set out on the road to the cross.
Rolo B Castillo © 2016