Consecrated by Circumstances
On a recent flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town, the flight attendant announced that there was a medical emergency on board and she asked whether there was anyone who could assist.
I saw a woman raise her hand. She put down her magazine, unbuckled her seat belt, got up and followed the flight attendant to the front of the cabin.
While watching this scene I was reminded of an article I read some years back, which spoke of being set apart or being consecrated by circumstance or need.
What I understood from that article is that in our daily lives we may have experiences of being set apart or of being consecrated by circumstance to do something good which we did not plan to do, to be of help and to give of ourselves to others.
This consecration takes our freedom away. We are no longer free to do what we ordinarily would have done. Like the woman on the plane: she was no longer free to continue reading her magazine and enjoy her flight.
Of course, she could have decided not to raise her hand and continue reading her magazine, she was free to do that—but she would have relinquished part of her being human and the oath she took as a doctor.
At that point in time, by who she was and what she could do, she was a woman consecrated and set apart to do something good, and she was no longer free to do her own will. At that point she did not plan to be consecrated for something good, but she was consecrated by circumstance, and her own agenda was put on hold.
All of us are set apart to do God’s holy work — that’s what our baptismal consecration means. Consecration means to be set apart to be or do something holy.
Churches are consecrated, setting that space aside for a holy purpose. Altars of new churches are consecrated, setting them aside for a holy purpose. The hands of a newly-ordained priest are consecrated, setting them aside for God’s service, the holy purpose of offering the sacraments. And the baptised and the confirmed are consecrated, setting these Christians aside for a holy purpose, consecrating them for God’s service.
Not all of us remember our baptisms. We do not remember the gift which we receive through baptism. The mission we received at baptism is not part of our everyday thoughts, and we do not think about baptisms whenever we do something good or holy. But our purpose, our mission and our intention to do good and holy things flows from our baptism, because at baptism we are consecrated and set apart for this very purpose of doing good, of doing Christ’s mission. Romans 12:1–2 says: I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Many of us have the experience of being “disturbed” by someone needing our help when we really do not want it to happen. For instance, while watching television someone rings the doorbell to ask for food. This might annoy us, because it is not nice to be disturbed at such time. We then go to the window to see who it is. If we see it is someone coming for food, chances are that we might not open the door — and not because we do not have any food to offer.
It is because we are now called to step out of our enjoyment, to step out of our comfortable space, to suspend our own agenda and do something good. At this precise moment we have been called apart and such opportunities are holy encounters.
As the aircraft landed in Cape Town, all of us were asked to remain seated for another ten minutes to allow the ambulance to collect and transport the sick passenger. We all now had to suspend our own agenda.
Individually and collectively, knowingly and unknowingly, we were then all set apart to do something good.