Ever Faithful, Ever Evolving
This is the season of major transitions in many people’s lives. High schools and universities across the land are holding graduations. Confirmations, ordinations, and weddings are being celebrated. Contracts are being negotiated and signed. Families are moving, and settling in. And there is naturally much excitement and jubilation, as well as apprehension and uncertainty about both endings and beginnings. Now endings and beginnings always go hand in hand. We leave some things behind as we embrace new adventures. And as hard as we work to prepare for new adventures, there will always be uncertainty and apprehension about what we do not know. We get comfortable with our old digs. We know what we have, and what we don’t want to give up—old routines, familiar surroundings, familiar faces, comfortable behavior patterns. Practically nobody likes the idea of growing older, although preschoolers might. I suppose when you aren’t leaving much behind, the adventures up ahead will always be more attractive and appealing.
So we prepare. We learn the skills we think we need to succeed in the world. But we soon realize a lot of what we learn in school will be outdated the day we set foot in the real world. And what we learn will never be as important as how we learn, because we will always be learning. We remain students and transform into professionals who are constantly updating, constantly learning on the job. We can expect situations and experiences we never imagined as students. But if we learned the truly important stuff, the essential principles of our trade, the true methods of assessing situations, and going about finding solutions, there will never be a challenge we cannot face.
Take parenthood for instance. I am not a parent, so I am just guessing. But I have parents, and siblings and friends who are parents. So just maybe, I will get some things right. When a couple discovers they have a little one on the way, there is excitement and there is apprehension. This is a major life-changer. They will take parenting classes. They will ask their parents and married friends a million questions. They will get ten million answers. But in the end, they will have to figure it out themselves. They will strive to go with their best judgment. They will misread all the signs. They will come to the wrong conclusions. They will make mistakes. And just when they think they know what they are doing, there is another one on the way. Eventually they discover that everything they learned from handling the first one will not apply here. It can be scary, but they are up for the challenge. Actually, they get better at it. And when the fourth one comes along, it won’t faze them that the child is eating off the floor, running around the house naked, or torturing the cat. They also soon learn what to get excited about and what not to. So they decide to have three more children. I know things.
Human life is constantly evolving. And so must everything affected by it. We are always exploring new ways to make living and learning more effective and efficient. Some of the issues we have confronted in our day, our parents and grandparents never had to. And some that our children will confront, we will never encounter ourselves. But a few basic principles and truths will guide us. Most everything else comes and goes.
When Jesus informed his apostles of his coming departure from them, his focus was the excitement of the adventure ahead. Instead his apostles were more concerned about being on their own and not knowing what to do in his absence. So Jesus had to remind them that they would do just fine, if only they keep their essential connection to him. “Where I am going, you know the way … I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will also know my Father. From now on, you do know him and have seen him … The Father who dwells in me is doing his works … Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these.” Essentially, stick with Jesus. You’ll do just fine.
A few years later, a community had formed around the same apostles who were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ own ministry, his passion, death, and resurrection, and had been empowered by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They were faced with a challenge that Jesus never explicitly prepared them for. Confidently, they listened to the community and proposed a solution, while remaining faithful to the essential principles of Christian discipleship handed down to them. If they had rigidly resisted the new challenge and refused to address it, they would never be able to meet the needs that would continue to surface with the generations to come. And if their common life had failed to evolve, they would have to send people away, and themselves fade into irrelevance.
Over many generations since the early church, the community of Christian believers has had to face new and interesting challenges that come with a constantly evolving human society. And with each challenge, the church has herself had to evolve, although not always as swiftly or as drastically as some might prefer.
When the question first arose about Christians who had renounced their faith in the face of persecution seeking to return to the fold, some categorically refused to find a way. But the mercy of God prevailed, and the church found a way to restore them to full and active participation in the sacramental life of God’s people. When the question arose about the validity of sacraments celebrated by priests and bishops who fell from favor or walked away from their ministry, the church recognized the efficacy of God’s grace independent of imperfect human agents. And so we never have to doubt a sacrament celebrated in good faith. When the question arose about cremation and whether or not the previously non-Christian practice changed our belief in the resurrection, the church declared there was no automatic connection, but that cremated remains should be accorded the same honor and respect as non-cremated remains. Now some questions can be addressed by pastors. Some are reserved to bishops. And some are reserved to the Holy Father. But if we are truly committed to discerning the mind of Jesus in any time and place where the church wishes to remain relevant, there are essential principles that will guide us … as well as new adventures we will never be afraid to embrace.
As members of God’s holy people, we are “living stones … built into a spiritual house … (and) a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ … (We) are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that (we) may announce the praises’ of him who called (us) out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
Rolo B Castillo © 2014