Thursday, January 2, 2014

Happy New Ear! (And Nose, and Foot, and Eye)

The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.

Unless a man starts on the strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterwards. Unless a man be born again, he shall by no means enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
G.K. Chesterton, Daily News

Reflection – This showed up on my Facebook newsfeed yesterday, and caught my eye. I have been on a bit of a Chesterton tear lately, and may just continue to be on one shortly (stay tuned to this space for further details…).

Anyhow, this struck me as a good word about New Years resolutions. Personally, I don’t do them. Can’t be bothered, and we all know that the second week of January is littered far and wide throughout the land with the failed resolutions of the first week.

But Chesterton has an awfully good point here, New Years or not. Namely, we have to commit ourselves to a program of constant change and renewal, conversion and repentance, growth and development. There is nothing more fatal to the soul and psyche than to lapse into a complacent fog, a despairing slump, to suffer not so much the dark night of the soul but the endless gloomy twilight of the mind, a condition neither of terrifying darkness nor of overpowering brilliant light, a half-measured, half-awake, half-asleep, blundering, meandering, lukewarm, careless, thoughtless, distracted, indeliberate path through life.

That is the path that will lead us to hell, more certainly than the path of conspicuous wickedness, I think. At least the energetic and enthusiastic sinner is in the battle—on the wrong side, mind you—but being in the fight there is always a chance he might get taken captive by his opponent God. As many have.

But the dozing, the dreary, the too tired to sin, too bored to repent, too lazy to think hard about things, too fearful to make any serious moral effort or commitment—this is the person who is in a dreadful spiritual situation.

And this is the one we have to watch out for. Especially as life goes on, and we have settled down to whatever vocation and commitments we have made, this abyss of mediocrity continually yawns (in more way than one) at our feet.

And so—resolutions. Be resolute! God never grows old, and the Spirit of the Lord is perpetually new, perpetually refreshed each day. We grow old, but we needn’t. I always think of Catherine Doherty, founder of Madonna House, who in her 70s began to bring forth a series of Russian words from her childhood—poustinia, sobornost, strannik, urodivoi, molchanie—that opened a whole new dimension of the MH vocation and spirituality that we poor laggards are still just unpacking some 40 years later.

We see this too in Pope Francis and yes, in Pope Emeritus Benedict, who both this past year entered uncharted territory and embraced new lives, new responsibilities, and new ways of moving with the papacy in their old age.

God is never done with any of us. The Spirit is always a-moving, always re-creating, renewing, rebirthing us. I’m not talking about things changing that cannot change—the faith God has revealed to us, or the moral law He has laid down for us—but rather that God is infinitely creative, infinitely new and wanting us to be new that way, open, growing, expanding, learning.

This is, in my view as a ‘conservative’ (although I have made it clear on this blog that I loathe all these labels), the great strength of the ‘liberal’ model—the great idea that orthodoxy and orthopraxis do not mean stagnation and complacency. Fidelity to the faith passed down by tradition and to the moral law learned at our mother’s knee does not mean that our lives are a mass of pat answers and sterile formulae.

Rather, the truth of God opens us up to a universe of perpetual mystery and wonder, perpetual expansion outward, inward, upward, into heights and depths and newness of insight and newness of action. It is the opposite of the bunker mentality and polarized camps that characterize so much of the current Catholic scene, at least in North America.

God calls us to continually grow into the universal charity and breadth of vision that He Himself enjoys. But the price of that growth is to abandon forever any complacency, any sense of having all the answers or having the whole spiritual-moral life all wrapped up in a tidy package.

So Happy New Year to you all, and Happy New Ear, New Nose, New Feet, New Soul, New You, New Me. We have nothing to fear, and everything to rejoice in, in this perpetual call to newness of life and love in 2014.

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