Christ’s new year resolution: ‘I make all things new’

| January 2, 2014

Piche_officialArchbishop John Nienstedt announced Dec. 17 that he would not write his column for The Catholic Spirit while St. Paul Police investigate an allegation that he inappropriately touched a male minor — an allegation the archbishop emphatically denies. Bishop Lee Piché, auxiliary bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, offers the following guest column for this issue.

We have all had the experience of starting over. Sometimes that is a good thing, and sometimes not.

When we have put in long hours on a project or chore and the results are not turning out as we would like, we sometimes have to “start all over again,” which is frustrating. This is the kind of starting over that we would consider not good, because it feels like a waste of time.

But there is another kind of starting over when we have failed in our efforts and someone gives us a second chance. That is the kind of new beginning that we regard as a blessing — sometimes unde­s­erved, but always welcome.

At the beginning of a new calendar year, many people make resolutions. Perhaps you are one of those persons. I am making a number of resolutions myself, because I live every day in hope that, with God’s grace, I can change for the better. The start of a new year seems like a natural time to get serious about a new beginning, a fresh start.

In his apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” Pope Francis writes about the “eternal newness” of the Gospel. He says: “Every form of authentic evangelization is always ‘new.’” The newness comes not from new methods or strategies for evangelization, but from Christ himself, who is “forever young and a constant source of newness.”

The pope writes: “The real newness is the newness which God himself mysteriously brings about and inspires, provokes, guides and accompanies in a thousand ways. The life of the Church should always reveal clearly that God takes the initiative, that ‘he has loved us first’ (1 John 4:19) and that he alone gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7).”

Such a perspective is particularly important during times of trial. Pope Francis acknowledges that there have been times when “the Christian message has known periods of darkness and ecclesial weakness.” We are going through such a period in our local Church, with the resurfacing of allegations of clergy misconduct and the loss of trust in leadership. The weakness of some is a scandal for many.

In spite of these things, our Holy Father reminds us that the Gospel message itself “will never grow old.” It contains within itself the source of all renewal: Christ, who is “the beginning and the end” (Revelation 21:6). For this reason, even when the task of proclaiming Christ becomes more difficult owing to the weaknesses of the human witnesses, the conviction that God loved us first and that God gives the growth “enables us to maintain a spirit of joy in the midst of a task so demanding and challenging that it engages our entire life” (EG, n. 11).

One reaction to the current scandal, or more specifically to the efforts that we are now making toward greater transparency and accountability, is a clearly negative evaluation. Some have remarked that we have obviously made no progress whatsoever in these matters. It’s as though we have had to start all over again.

But there is another way to view the current crisis. The shock and the dismay that comes from each newly disclosed chapter of failure has brought on a feeling of weariness in many. But it also has made it clear that we must make new efforts to right the wrongs of the past and to advance the cause of safety for the future. The inspiration for our efforts must not come from a fear of failure or from the dread of further disclosure, but from our confidence in Christ, who is the ever-faithful shepherd of his Church.

Making all things new

For more than 2,000 years, God has made use of weak and inept instruments to spread the Good News of salvation and to build his kingdom. It is precisely when humans are at their worst that the glory of God begins to shine more brightly, for at such times any success in our labors must be credited to the working of the Holy Spirit.

There is a poignant scene in the film “The Passion of the Christ” when Jesus meets his mother Mary while he is carrying his cross. Jesus has just fallen. He is barely recognizable because of his bruised and bloodied face. His mother kneels beside him. She is stricken with horror at his appearance, her heart pierced by the sword of sorrow. Yet in that moment he says quietly to her: “See, mother, I make all things new.”

Those words of Christ are taken from Sacred Scripture, but from a very different scene. They are spoken by the victorious Christ, who is the center of the book of Revelation, at the moment of the summation of all things and the final judgment of the world. “The one who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new. . . . I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end’” (Revelation 21:5,6).

In the film, whoever decided to place those same words on the lips of Christ in his passion, just moments before his crucifixion — the epitome of human failure — should be credited with a stroke of genius. For it was precisely in the humiliation of his rejection, condemnation, suffering and death that Christ renewed the face of the earth. He took to himself the ugliness of human sin, the burden of guilt, the anger, the shame, the pain and immense sadness, the despair. He carried it to Calvary and defeated it by his love.

This truth assures us that there is no human iniquity that is beyond the reach of God’s redemptive love. We may not be able to fix our huge problem as quickly and efficiently as we wish we could, but in time God’s merciful love can bring healing and life from the brokenness of sin, if we make room in our minds and hearts for the Lord to act.

It is the personal, intense, and infinite love of the crucified and risen Christ that makes a new beginning possible. In this new year, Christ’s own resolution is the same as it has been from the days of his sojourn among sinners: “Behold, I make all things new.” We do not do this; Christ does it. He does it in and through us if we will allow him, or in spite of us if we do not.

My first new year’s resolution this year is to place all my trust in the Lord, and to keep doing so when I am tempted to become discouraged. My second resolution is to make room for his mercy by offering him a contrite heart, and by expressing again and again both to God and to my brothers and sisters my sorrow for my own failures, and my hope for a new beginning.

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