THE WHOLE APPLE

    There on the table is an apple. Someone comes up and says, “Oh, here's an apple! Let me tell you about it. It has two sides: an inside and an outside, and the essence is the inside, the ‘inner life’ of the apple. The outside is much less important and you cannot put much trust in it. Concentrate on the inside and you will understand all about apples.” You say, “Rubbish!” Then the person goes away and tells everyone that you are denying the existence of the insides of apples. Rubbish! You are denying the value of the distinction between insides and outsides, and that’s a different matter altogether. For apples, say human beings, and now you're talking. We did indeed put such emphasis on the inner life (we also call it the spiritual life) that we seemed to be making light of the outer life; and then when we begin to stress the importance of the outer life we appear to some to be denying the inner. It is useful, I think, to reflect on this.
     Consider infant baptism. There are some Christian groups that disagree with it, but in the Catholic Church it is the normal practice. We bring the baby along, hoping it will sleep through the whole ceremony! (To facilitate this, we even arrange to have the baptismal water at body temperature.) What is said and done there is said and done by adults; the baby is passive. But, you may ask, how could anyone become a Christian while sound asleep? And even awake, the baby couldn't care less about baptism. Now, what about his or her inner life? Well, that baby has an outside - not a very extensive one yet, but a real outside. And inside and outside, in any case, are not like two separate worlds. There is only one baby, for God’s sake, and this is it. To say that babies cannot be Christians is to say that being a Christian is a matter of thinking, consciousness, awareness, decision.... It is like saying that you cannot be a Christian while you are asleep. Consider the consequences of thinking that way. If you die in your sleep, is yours a Christian death? Or if you die in a coma, are the sacraments they administer to you futile? And what about all the times in your life you have not been fully conscious, aware, and so on (all the times you fell asleep at prayers, or when you were sick), were you a Christian then? Of course you were! And if you die in your sleep, yours is a Christian death. So if you were baptised as an infant, that was your first lesson that the Christian faith is not something of your own devising. “This is the love I mean,” wrote John, “not our love for God but God’s love for us,” and “God loved us first.”
    In fact all the sacraments, not only baptism, are seen as moments of grace (a word that means ‘gift’). Something is done for you: people pour water over you, or they rub you with oil, or feed you, or lay their hands on your head, or say words over you... (in the case of marriage it is you who say the words, but the presence of other people, to listen and watch, is regarded as essential). In other words, there is a full recognition of you as a bodily being: the Church does not see you just as an ‘inside’, an interior and solitary ghost; it sees you whole. It is obliged to tell you that God loves all of you, not just your brain-waves.
    All of this should give us some indications about prayer. I met a very earnest Christian who said he was allergic to Our Fathers and Hail Marys and Grace before and after meals. Or rather he was allergic to the way other people said them. He said that all prayer should be quiet and thoughtful, deep and heartfelt. This is a lofty ideal, and no one could ever pull it down, but I feel there has to be room for other kinds of prayer too. We are not always quiet and thoughtful, and if we prayed as if we were, it might be very forced and even hypocritical. There’s a place for what you might call encrusted prayer: prayers that have become quite habitual. We are not always tender shoots and delicately opening buds; I often feel more like a tuft of scutch-grass or a piece of dried bark. There’s a place for repetitive prayer, Hail Marys, Our Fathers and Graces, at whatever speed. There’s a place for regular prayer: prayers on a timetable, and not just when one feels ‘moved’. There’s a place for not feeling so ‘inward’ and precious all the time. In other words, there’s a place for all of us, in both senses: all of us together, and all of each person, inside and outside - the whole apple.

[Extract from I Remember Your Name in the Night: thinking about death,
Donagh O'Shea, Dominican Publications (Dublin) and Twenty-Third Publications (CT), 1997

               Donagh O'Shea

These are brief articles, one per month,
on a wide variety of topics concerning the living of the Christian life.