In our second reading at Mass we hear one of St. Paul’s hymns, blessing the Almighty Father and rejoicing in the gift of Christ.
In the middle of the hymn, the Apostle blesses the Father for the wisdom with which He has made known to us the mystery of His eternal will. A plan laid-out before the foundation of the world has now come to pass in the fullness of time. Christ has saved us, and we have been sealed by His Spirit.
Pope Benedict commented on this part of St. Paul’s canticle, saying:
This is the great and secret project which the Father had kept to himself since time immemorial, and which He decided to bring about and reveal in the fullness of time, through Jesus Christ.
Now, I think most of us like new things. Who doesn’t like having fresh new sheets and pillowcases on the bed? Or the smell of a brand-new car? Or the excitement of meeting a new friend? Who doesn’t enjoy traveling to see new sights?
Also, we can get invigorated by new ideas or works of art. Just when our whole scene seems boring and tedious, we hear a new voice, a previously unknown perspective, a new take on things. Praise God! As Dante put it: Truly beautiful art is the grandchild of God. Creativity ultimately comes from the Creator.
But wait. All this talk about new excitements…But aren’t we Catholics a bunch of hidebound traditionalists? Aren’t we sticks in the mud?
After all, don’t we get together regularly to read aloud from books that are older than the Great Wall of China? We profess our faith with words from the age of the Roman Emperors. And we repeat a ritual that was started before bookbinding was invented.
In the gospel reading, we hear the Lord Jesus give instructions to His Apostles. The four gospels contain a number of passages in which Christ instructs the leaders of his people about how we should operate. In one of these passages, He says: The scribe of the kingdom brings out of his storeroom treasures both new and old.
The world is old. Even a long time ago—even when the ancient Greeks built the Parthenon in Athens—the world was already old then. Even when the Egyptians built the pyramids, or when the ancient Mayans first developed their famous calendar—even then, the world was already old.
Old enough to seem worn-out. Old enough that people were eager for…something new.
That’s the irony: the human desire for something new is as old as anything on earth. Adam and Eve fell from grace, sin and death entered history, and we quickly began to hanker for something different. Sin and death get old real fast. Brother turns on brother; human pride makes it practically impossible for us to co-operate (or even understand each other); we sweat and scrabble just to eke out a living; falling into bad habits gets easy and breaking them seems impossible…O God! Help us break the cycle! Give us something new!
But: Can the smell of a new car solve this problem? A new cookie recipe? A new Justin Bieber single?
Can a new idea solve our problems? A new political arrangement? A new attitude?
There is only one human situation that has ever been absolutely new in every way. The Garden of Eden. No “baggage” of any kind. Nothing worn-out or dingy or stale. Everything brand new. Everything we could ever want or need, free of charge, at our fingertips. Landlord lays down just one little rule: Don’t disobey me.
How can we have that again? We need a new Adam. We need a new first morning of the world, with the sweet-smelling dew as fresh as it was in the springtime that didn’t have a winter before it.
From all eternity, the Lord had a plan to make the freshness of Eden last forever. Sin and death; frustration, toil, misunderstanding, injustice, deceit; presumption, folly, abuse, and cruelty: al of these He planned to bring to an end. Everything that smells old after all these countless centuries of human strain and failure, everything stale and boring and corrupt—the Lord will wash it all away.
The new and eternal Eden has come. It came in the womb of the Virgin. It filled Jerusalem with its light on Easter Sunday morning. The only truly and absolutely new thing that human history has ever seen and ever will see: it came in the fullness of time. Jesus Christ.
So we live on the watch for Him. He promised to return with the rising sun. Because we keep a vigil for Christ, we stand ever-ready to behold and appreciate every genuine creative innovation, every refreshment that the passage of time can offer our souls.
But we watch for nothing but Christ. We know that He, and He alone, can renew us. He, and He alone, makes all things new.