“To live is to change; and to be perfect is to have changed often.”St. John Henry Newman
Life is endless change. It thrusts on us a relentless demand to adapt, as well as an invitation to grow by letting go of the familiar and confronting the unknown. Change is the constant of life in this world. While change can be an opportunity for constructive transformation, it can also crush us by stealing from us our need for stability and continuity. To live in a sea of change with no firm rock to set our anchor on is perilous.
A number of years ago, a married couple my wife and I had known for years announced they were getting divorced after the husband had admitted years of serial adultery. I remember very clearly when one of our children said to me, “Dad, if that ever happened to you and Mom, I don’t think I could handle it. It would be too much for me. Please don’t ever do that.”
Those words shook me, making me feel viscerally the gravity of our marital oath. Yet all humans fall and fail, even the best of us. So where can we sink our anchor of hope?
I also remember the day I first came across Mark Sullivan’s incisive words: “Hopelessness is not absence of hope, but attachment to a form of hope that has been lost.” Wow, that blazed light on my life. I could see what St. John of the Cross lasered in on: suffering, tragedy, hardship, disappointment, and loss all test the place of our anchor’s setting—test whether we have built our house on sand or rock.
Qoheleth, the closest we have in Scripture to a true pessimist, caught this dilemma in Ecclesiastes 3:11: “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time; also he has put eternity into man’s heart.”
Eternity. Such a profound word that stretches our imagination beyond the confines of this life. Without origin, without diminution or augmentation, without extinction. Eternity is the realm of the changeless—the “same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). How magnificent to reflect that in the midst of our ever-world of elusive change, God has implanted eternity so that we might see the world sub specie aeternitatis—“from the perspective of eternity.”
There alone with the Trinity, deep in the heart of man, is that anchor’s unfailing place. Like the god Janus, who faces two directions at once, humanity can see at once this the world of change and the unchanging God. How marvelous God chose to create us this way! Priests ministering on the borderlands of time and eternity, heaven and earth.
And yet, by doing so, God had fashioned us as wild and volatile, even contradictory beings forever in search of a resolution. And when God finally gives us One, it takes the form of an equally wild crucified and risen Lion of Judah.
I’ve said this before, but just think of it: thousands of years ago, amid a perfect, complementary creation thriving in West Africa, humanity was gifted with reason and creativity; created creatures imbued with infinite capacity, made in the image of God. Explosive! And as if that was not dangerous enough, God made it more extreme by becoming that rational mammal himself!
It’s time for change. Sell your cleverness and purchase bewilderment.
Blaise Pascal captured this wild blend vividly in his Pensées:
What a chimaera then is man, what a novelty, what a monster, what chaos, what a subject of contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, yet an imbecile earthworm; depository of truth, yet a sewer of uncertainty and error; pride and refuse of the universe. Who shall resolve this tangle?
St. Paul then gives Pascal the Untangling of this paradoxical conundrum:
Wretched man that I am!Rom. 7:24-25
Who will rescue me from this body of death?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Shout aloud those words for all to hear!
Christ in us is hope, our stability and constancy, for his mercy is everlasting. He, the Rock of Ages, has sealed himself to the human Heart. So it is there, deep within, in him, that your anchor must set hook; there where your house must be built.
The-same-yesterday-today-and-forever-Jesus-Christ has transfigured our fickle, fluctuating, inconsistent, and volatile nature. God, ever inventive, has wondrously made use of the dead wood of Calvary to fashion a majestic Tree of Life.
And it’s Evergreen.