I think the reading from Isaiah today may have been somewhat startling to some of us:
Thus says the LORD, who opens a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters,
Who leads out chariots and horsemen, a powerful army, Till they lie prostrate together, never to rise, snuffed out and quenched like a wick.
Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not;
See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers.
Wild beasts honor me, jackals and ostriches, For I put water in the desert and rivers in the wasteland for my chosen people to drink,
The people whom I formed for myself, that they might announce my praise. Isa 43:16-21
Startling, because most of us are familiar with another version of this proclamation:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. “He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. Rev 21: 3-7
Wow! The “new thing” proclaimed in Revelation was actually harkening back to the “new thing” announced in Isaiah many centuries before! Indeed, “there is nothing new under the sun,” as King Solomon warned us.
Well, there is and there isn’t.
Consider the story told by our new Papa:
He described how during the conclave he was comforted by his friend, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, as the votes were going his way and it seemed “a bit dangerous” that he would reach the two-thirds necessary to be elected.
When the threshold was reached, applause erupted in the frescoed Sistine Chapel.
“He (Hummes) hugged me. He kissed me. He said, `Don’t forget about the poor!‘” Francis recalled.
“And those words came to me: The poor. The poor. Then right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of all the wars as the votes were being counted, until the end. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi.”
Compare this now with the story told by St. Paul:
Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain. But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised…. But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do.
Nice to know that the successors to the apostles are cut from the same cloth as they were, and are of the same mind! Not a surprise though, really – God is indeed doing a new thing in His Church in every generation, and yet that “new thing” runs always along predictable lines. Like my garden – we are blessed with a profusion of daffodils, hyacinths and the like in the garden outside my window, a delight to see. I never tire of looking out at all the new flowers! And yet, while each of those flowers is indeed new, the fact that I have flowers in my garden is not new – it happens at this time every year. And it is in this continuity that we Catholics find our security as well as the freedom to innovate, to grow and develop, always adhering to the original pattern laid out long ago.
This, of course, is our major difficulty with Protestant doctrines – they are “new things,” novelties, ways of understanding Scripture that have no precedent before the time of the Reformation. It is as if two-headed dogfish began sprouting in my garden this spring. I would not be oohing and ahhing – I would be feverishly googling the number for Hazmat.
New things in the Catholic Church have Biblical and historical precedents, which is why we can state categorically to non-Catholics (and to liberal Catholics) that, no, Pope Francis will not be ordaining women or condoning homosexual acts. Newness can be expected, yes, and yet continuity. Spring is the season of newness, and yet Spring itself is not new. We await it after every winter. Newness and rejuvenation are to be expected, not feared, in a Catholic context, because the God who has ordered the seasons has ordered the steps of the Church.
Lord Jesus, send forth your Spirit! Renew the face of the earth!
On the memorial of St. Patrick of Ireland
Deo omnis gloria!
Photo credit: Narcissus jonquilla L. Real Jardín Botánico, Madrid, España, by Cillas