This thing called being new
“Do not be scared to begin again. Life is a series of beginnings, in-betweens and endings. No one reaches the last leg without making the first. By then, the last becomes the first leg again.” — Yago the Owl
Each year it is the same greeting: “Happy New Year!” But wait. Is life not an invisible circle, time’s inescapably spiraling web or a veritably repetitious cycle that brings us where we first took off? Take, for instance, the ritual we oblige ourselves to go through of celebrating a year’s ending and another year’s beginning. Every new year sends most everyone into misty visions: nostalgia of the year(s) past, fraught with a sense of fulfilment over some achievements of sorts, or with a measure of guilt or regret over goals only half- or partly realized and resolutions that simply tapered off even before the second “whereas”. Then we find ourselves facing again a new year to welcome with new resolutions, some rehashed out of old ones, or simply extending our hands in mock resignation because we are foreseeing similar outcomes in the days ahead. Still, others among us, however pessimistic and cynical the world around them has become, see themselves and the future with bravely bright eyes.
But is it right for anyone to unceremoniously dismiss the prospect of newness as simply an ingredient of a mindless ritual?
I say Nein, No. For us who strive to follow the Master who was born in a manger, we should rather get in touch with the why behind the pursuit of newness. And it soon will dawn on us that it has its roots in our link to him through our baptism. We have become incorporated into his Body; in effect, newness must become essential to our very system of living life. Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles says to us point-blank, as he did, to the Corinthians: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here” (2 Cor 5:17). The old creation in us is the old self too that we must constantly send packing into our yesterdays because we refuse to be immersed endlessly in slavery to sin and the dark shadows of living outside of God’s grace.
But that is not enough. We must also allow the Master to disabuse us of our fanciful thinking that newness is primarily a business of our making. The book of Revelation has the Master reminding us: “‘See, I make all things new!’ said the One sitting on the throne. And he said to me, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true” (Rev 21:5). I have wondered until now if even we in the Church have allowed the truth of these words to sink in, especially in a way that this becomes palpable in the way we carry ourselves, our visions, our missions, our every effort at evangelization. The consequences of not doing so are too blatantly clear to ignore and they abound around us: individual, communal, political, economic, social, cultural programs of change that are stuck in the gridlock of individual-collective-institutional selfishness, pride and arrogance that do not and cannot arrest crime, corruption, wars, widespread famine, terrorism, displacement and forced migrations of peoples, ecological catastrophes in forms unheard of before, trade wars, new forms of racism and bigotry in the name of national security. We could go on. The bottom-line for the believer is unmistakable: The Author of real change and renewal is seldom, if ever, allowed or even considered in the crafting, processing, managing and the directing of change. Like the proverbial spiral and endless circle, those who advocate change find themselves facing the same evils or even unleashing alternative evils in their efforts to actualize their notions of change. They conveniently ignore, not to say forget, who makes all things new.
On the other hand, Scripture reminds us what happens when the Author of newness is allowed into our life programs. Isaiah declares: “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall. But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Is 40:30-31). Pope Francis in his message for January 1, 2019 on the occasion of the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God and the World Day of Peace points to Mary as our model of someone who, in receiving and giving Jesus, has also become a source of blessing that engineers real change for us and the whole world. Real change has come upon mankind through God’s action in and through her Son and hers after her Son. “She blesses the path of every man and every woman in this year that is beginning, and which will be good precisely in the measure in which each person welcomes the goodness of God that Jesus came to bring into the world.”
Submitting ourselves to the One who makes all things new does not really mean only a passive mode to God’s action in us. In Mary we realize it signifies a hearing of the Word that is inseparable from a doing of the same Word. Again the Master himself tells us that the glory of his Mom is not only that she had given him birth and nurture, something you and I can hardly replicate. Nay, her real commonality with us, aside from a common humanity, is her discipleship. To a woman in the crowd who praised his mother by saying “blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you”, Jesus replies, “Yes, but, moreover, blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it” (Lk 11:27-28). This allows us a fuller view of the Mother of Jesus who, Jesus being God’s Son, is certainly the Mother of God.
I may be accused of trying to impose a Christian bias or mindset, if you will, on the largely secular project called newness. Perhaps. But that precisely reveals the inherent weakness of our individual (such as one’s new year’s resolutions) or collective (such as political platforms for change) efforts at newness—they are largely secular in orientation, resources and direction. The problem is not that we have had too little human effort; the problem is that even the greatest human effort is never enough. Is it too surprising that after thousands of years of human effort, nations, especially like ours, have leaders that hark back to the dark ages of strongman politics that does not hesitate to trample underfoot human dignity and human rights for the sake of social change? How explain the prevalence of leaders that are reminiscent of history’s horrific chapters of hatred, barbaric bigotry and international narcissism rather than more enlightened future civilizations of understanding, solidarity, social justice, shared prosperity and peace? What kind of newness have we come into when it translates into people alienating people who themselves desire to belong to one another? Is civilization being advanced and security truly promoted by walls of mistrust rather than by bridges of dialogue and collaboration?
The Master does not think in maxims and methodologies too complicated for the least and lost to comprehend. He has a simple recipe for our part in the pursuit of newness: “The time of fulfilment has come. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent and believe in the Good News!” (Mk 1:15).
Has he, in so doing, unwrapped for us the secret to “Happy” and “New” in every year?