In the early Church in Jerusalem, adults who wanted to be Baptised were Baptised first and then in what was called the ‘Mystagogia’ had it all explained to them. They had the most of their instruction afterwards. I think that probably seems a bit strange to most of us. How can you make a decision about something so important if you don’t really know or understand what it is that you are making a decision about? Perhaps that question sums up the dilemma of the modern mind. Ever since the so called ‘Enlightenment’ our minds have become darkened by the search for truth. The truth is out there and we either have to find it to be sure of the choice we make, or we admit that we will never find the truth and so our choices are always going to be flawed, they are always going to be fluid as we discover more of the truth. Life is really just one big hypothesis and faith is no more than one person’s idea of how to fit life together. Sadly that means that traditional institutions like marriage or vocation to the priesthood and religious life are not for ever; our choice of them can change as we discover more of the truth about life. Perhaps it is this whole approach to life that makes life so fluid and all our choices fluid. That is the problem because we need certainty, we can’t live without it and if we can’t experience it somewhere, we keep looking elsewhere.
The early Church had a different approach; at least in theory. They began from an experience, and tried to understand that experience. They began from the experience of belief and tried to understand it. They began from truth as something given to them in that experience of faith, and tried to understand what it meant. Some people may remember the old approach to learning the catechism in school where you learned things by rote. You didn’t understand what they meant, but you learned them and as you grew older you began to understand something of what it all meant. You were given the truth first and hopefully at some point in the course of life you would understand it. Now the approach is more inspired by the enlightenment approach to education. You are taught the meaning of things so that you can come to an understanding of the truth. But the truth is out there somewhere and it seems few actually get to it because there are too many questions before you get to it and the truth just seems to big to understand. The old way left you with the truth which sometimes you didn’t understand, the new way leaves you understanding many things but without any truth to hold onto.
Christ’s Baptism gave him a truth to hold onto – you are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you. We all need a truth to hold onto in life. It’s time that helps us understand that truth we have already got hold of. Truth is a gift that we discover has been given to us. It’s not something we can find out there by searching for it. We have to hold it before we can understand it.
I don’t think we can turn the clock back to pre-enlightenment days. We can’t undo the whole scientific approach to reality and we shouldn’t try to because that too is part of helping us understand what truth is. But maybe we should be more willing to trust and believe in someone, in a person, in God and in Christ. Maybe our search, rather than being a search for the truth, should be to understand the truth we have already been given in Christ.