I wanted to share with you some points from a great homily by Deacon Marek Gajdus at Our Lady of Peace in Burnham.
He told us that in the early church, baptism was a serious undertaking. Whereas nowadays parents go on a short course to make sure they are prepared for their child’s baptism, in the early church a person would spend a whole year discerning whether or not they felt they should get baptised. That wasn’t the end of the story though; if they decided to go ahead, they would be sent to live in a Christian family for four years. While there, they would work, eat, sleep, and socialise with the family. The idea was that life in the family would be a ‘school of love’. Amazingly, it was only in the last month of their life in the family that the baptismal candidate would learn the Lord’s Prayer and the creed. This totally different perspective is quite convicting for me. Do I love as well as I know the prayers and customs of Catholic sacramental life? Is love the defining feature of who I am?
Deacon Marek had a brilliant illustration of a model of effective love in a Christian community: geese. Have you ever watched geese in flight? Huge, honking arrows of geese, beating their wings furiously against the air. There are, according to Deacon Marek, five main lessons we can learn from geese. I have quoted and embellished with the Christian message Lead Like Butler: Six Principles For Values-Based Leaders, by Kent Millard and Judith Cebula (Abingdon, 2012).
1. When geese fly together, each goose provides additional lift and reduces air resistance for the goose flying behind it. Consequently, by flying together in a v-formation, scientists estimate that the whole flock can fly about 70 per cent further with the same amount of energy than if each goose flew alone. When people work together harmoniously as Christians, sharing common values and a common destination, we will arrive at the destination of Heaven quicker and easier, because we are lifted up by the energy and enthusiasm of the saints and one another.
2. When a goose drops out of the v-formation it quickly discovers that it requires a great deal more effort and energy to fly. Consequently, that goose will quickly return to the formation to take advantage of the lifting power that comes from flying together. As Christians, we can’t go it alone. We must engage with other Christians to be ‘in the world but not of the world’.
3. Geese rotate leadership. When the goose flying in the front of the formation has to expend the most energy because it is the first to break up the flow of air that provides the additional lift for all of the geese who follow behind the leader. Consequently, when the lead goose gets tired, it drops out of the front position and moves to the rear of the formation, where the resistance is lightest, and another goose moves to the leadership position. This rotation of position happens many times in the course of the long journey to warmer climates. When a church community is functioning well, various members may take the leadership role for a while because of a particular expertise or experience so that everyone has the opportunity to serve as a leader as well as a follower.
4. Geese honk at each other. They also frequently make loud honking sounds as they fly together. Scientists speculate that this honking is their way of communicating with each other during their long flight. Similarly, communication is important both within the church and as evangelisation – showing people outside the Christian community ‘the way’ by preaching the gospel and leading good lives.
5. Geese help each other. Scientists also discovered that when one goose becomes ill, is shot or injured, and drops out of the formation, two other geese will fall out of formation and remain with the weakened goose. They will stay with and protect the injured goose from predators until it is able to fly again or dies. Likewise, Christians are called to care for those in need.