Wednesday, April 23, 2008

And now I'm 33 years old

My birthday was on Monday, April 21st (Feast of St Anselm of Canterbury). I don't usually mention birthdays to others, partly because I'd feel like I'm soliciting gifts and partly because its frankly not such a big deal once you leave the nest. But this one has held a special fascination for me since I was turning 33, which is the age that tradition tells us Jesus was when he died on the cross.

I'm not sure what spiritual insight may come from this, but it has been on my mind. Here are some of the things I've noticed so far, now that I am the same age.

The first thing that occurred to me is that the Jesus I see depicted on the cross in paintings, icons, and sculpture seems a bit younger than 33 to me. He often looks more like 25 or even younger. I'm sure that part of it is the fact that he would naturally be more fit than I am, having to walk all the time and probably having a much healthier diet. But still, he usually looks younger to me. The depictions of Jesus in some Eastern icons in the Pantokrator style seem closer to the actual age. It is an older Jesus who should be depicted on the cross.

The second thing that occurred to me is that it is about this age when one one begins to notice that the body will eventually wear out. It's not that you feel old, but just that you become aware of the aging process--not as "growing up," but as "growing old." Depending upon the person, you may have a little gray here or there (I've never seen Jesus with any gray hair, but I suspect he had some). You also notice from time to time that there are some things you just couldn't do like you used to--a little more chubby, a little less agile, a few gray hairs, a wrinkle here and there, a twinge in the back, an ache in the knee, etc. This is the kind of body that was nailed on the cross.

The third thing that occurred to me is that with that growing awareness that you aren't a kid anymore, you loose that feeling of invincibility that comes with youth. Every now and then, you are given a moment of pause that you would not have had earlier. More and more, your thoughts turn to long-term and middle-aged concerns. One might expect this departing sense of youthful vigor and invincibility to leave one feeling run-down and debilitated, but this is far from the case. Youthful vigor is replaced with endurance and wisdom. Invincibility is replaced with the strength of moral courage. This is the Jesus who was nailed to the cross and bore the sins of the world.


FrGregACCA said...

Believe me, Father: you're still a kid ;-)

Happy Birthday and

Many years!

Anonymous said...

I remember as a boy singing, "When I survey the wondrous cross where the young Prince of Glory died" and thinking to myself, "Young? He was thirty-three years old!" Now a decade past that birthday, I realize the hymn gets it right.

Fr Timothy Matkin said...

As an interesting side note, the men who have played Jesus in films have been both older and younger and exactly 33.

Max von Sydow was 36 in The Greatest Story Ever Told.

Henry Ian Cusick was 36 in The Gospel of John.

Jeffrey Hunter was 35 in King of Kings.

Robert Powell was 33 in Jesus of Nazareth.

Jim Caviezel was 33 in The Passion of the Christ.

Brian Deacon was 31 in The Jesus Film.

Jeremy Sisto was 25 in Jesus.

sanctus.liberalis said...

Happy Belated Birthday. I think I hit 33 before my time. My sense of invincibility was eroded by having to make sure my life insurance policy was going to support my family just in case. My youthful vigor was chipped away by staying up with my newborn son. Strangely enough, I've always had a few grey hairs, but I probably have a few more now. Becoming, a father (not a priest) has aged me, but it's all worth it. Besides, being able to stay up to the early hours of the morning and a sometimes frightening lack of fear are overrated. :)

Anonymous said...

"The days of our age are threescore years and ten; and though men be so strong that they come to fourscore years : yet is their strength then but labour and sorrow; so soon passeth it away, and we are gone" (Psalm 90:10). That makes thirty-something middle aged. A sobering thought!

Texanglican (R.W. Foster+) said...

Happy birthday, Father!

The Bovina Bloviator said...

Happy 33rd, Father. I passed that milestone a long time ago and sad to say, that feeling of not being a kid anymore only increases; exponentially, it seems at times. As compensation, however, you will find yourself more knowledgeable as the years pass. Your brain's ability to assimilate data doesn't seem to diminish over time so keep feeding it.

While I miss that youthful of which you write, I don't miss my youthful idiocies; not that I don't revisit them from time to time, just with decreasing frequency.

God bless,

Fr Timothy Matkin said...

Thank you, Bloviator. (Bovina is a beautiful town, by the way. Maybe I'll retire there.)

Your comment led me to another thought. The New Testament describes the birth and death of Christ as occurring in "the fullness of time" (i.e., at "just the right moment" in history). Is there some analogy to his period in life in which he laid down his life--not to early, not too late; not too young, not too old; being able to empathize with all eras of human life? Just a thought.