This article was originally published in the June edition of the Melbourne Catholic Magazine.
‘Behold, I make all things new!’ (Rev 21:5). These are the dramatic words of God in the Book of Revelation. They exemplify the Christian vision of God redeeming and perfecting all things, for their good, in love!
How do we know that God is doing this? Because, as Pope Francis proclaims:
Christ is alive! He is our hope, and in a wonderful way he brings youth to our world, and everything he touches becomes young, new, full of life. The very first words, then, that I would like to say to every … Christian are these: Christ is alive and he wants you to be alive! (Christus Vivit §1)
In Jesus’ Resurrection, God has done the impossible: God has brought life out of death, love out of hate, good out of evil, communion out of exclusion, peace out of violence.
God has done the impossible in the Resurrection through a radical and unfathomable love. God is always giving that same radical love to us, even and especially when we feel entrapped in our lives. In Christ, God is present to us in an intimate way:
He is in you, he is with you and he never abandons you. However far you may wander, he is always there, the Risen One. He calls you and he waits for you to return to him and start over again. When you feel you are growing old out of sorrow, resentment or fear, doubt or failure, he will always be there to restore your strength and your hope. (Christus Vivit §2)
God’s love is never old, but is always renewing, inspiring, uplifting, comforting and redeeming. The Church lives out of this limitless love. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, God gives youthfulness to the Church. But what is this gift?
In the Holy Spirit, God gives his own life of love to renew the Church. God does not give us his seconds. God is welcoming and integrating us into his very own infinite, eternal and unconditional life of love!
In the Holy Spirit, the Church is enabled to inhabit an ever-expanding spirit of receptivity, relationality and hopefulness. Our hearts are expanded and our minds are enlivened by the experience of heavenly love. We are renewed and perfected at a fundamental level in our own lives and relationships.
Yet, at this time, the Church seems old—wounded and worn-out by the sins of her past and present, especially by the grave failures and evils of the child sexual abuse crisis. Pope Francis addresses this point:
[The Church’s] long history is not without its shadows. Our sins are before the eyes of everyone; they appear all too clearly in the lines on the age-old face of the Church, our Mother and Teacher. For two thousand years she has advanced on her pilgrim way, sharing ‘the joys and the hopes, the grief and anguish’ of all humanity. She has made this journey as she is, without cosmetic surgery of any kind. She is not afraid to reveal the sins of her members, which some try at times to hide, before the burning light of the word of the Gospel, which cleanses and purifies. Nor does she stop reciting each day, in shame: ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, in your kindness … my sin is always before me’ (Ps 51:3,5). Still, let us never forget that we must not abandon our Mother when she is wounded, but stand beside her, so that she can summon up all her strength and all her ability to begin ever anew. (Christus Vivit §101)
The Church is on a journey, just as Jesus journeyed through Galilee to Jerusalem. As Jesus was celebrated and wounded, revered and killed, the Church shares the sin and pain of the world, and we should not hide that pain or sinfulness. We should offer it to God’s mercy, so it can be transformed into humility and reconciliation.
On the other hand, the Church has demonstrated revolutionary love throughout her history. The Church has contributed to the world in remarkable ways, such as by creating hospitals, social welfare services and schools for the poor. The Church remains the biggest non-government charitable organisation globally.
Regardless of these achievements, the Church has shown what love for the least means in practice. It means more than providing resources (though it involves this!)—it means entering into deep relationship with the poor and most vulnerable, who should be at the centre of our community. Jean Vanier, who died recently, exemplified this Christian sensibility in his L’Arche movement.
The Church, in this sense, is the antithesis of a cult of youth, which vainly embraces appearances and superficialities, and never challenges or goes deeper.
In the Church, God’s love offers every person the fundamental motivation to live a full life and give of themselves to others, even to death. It renews us, even in the most desolate circumstances, because we know God is with us—and will always be. God is looking after us and bringing us to him. This does not mean that God protects us from all of life’s difficulties, but that God enables us to face them—with him and his Church—in the solidarity of love.
This solidarity of love will be fully realised in the new heaven and earth, which is characterised by God’s unmediated presence. According to the vision of the Book of Revelation, God is coming to dwell with his people eternally.
In this unshakable hope in God’s promise (already shown in the Resurrection), God renews his Church to live his love even now—to open wide his embrace as his agents in the world. In this, God asks us to open new horizons—to have the eyes of youth to love a world that is wounded but capable of so much:
Jesus, himself eternally young, wants to give us hearts that are ever young. God’s word asks us to ‘cast out the old leaven that you may be fresh dough’ (1 Cor 5:7). Saint Paul invites us to strip ourselves of the ‘old self’ and to put on a ‘young’ self (Col 3:9–10). In explaining what it means to put on that youthfulness ‘which is being renewed’ (v. 10), he mentions ‘compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving each other if anyone has a complaint against another’ (Col 3:12–13). In a word, true youth means having a heart capable of loving, whereas everything that separates us from others makes the soul grow old. And so he concludes:‘above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony’ (Col 3:14). (Christus Vivit §13)
Dr Joel Hodge is Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology at the Australian Catholic University (Melbourne) and National Course Coordinator for Undergraduate Theology Degrees and Short Courses.