EVER ANCIENT, EVER NEW
Updated: Dec 10, 2020
I was eight when the towers fell, the Pentagon went up in smoke, and flight 93 went down. In the span of a single, cataclysmic morning, the world changed. Yet in the midst of the fear, the mourning, and the uncertainty, Americans rallied together. We held our families closer, we comforted neighbors we had never even spoken to, and strangers were like brothers and sisters. We came together. We prayed. We held onto hope. Together. Yet, in so many ways, it was an easy thing to do. After just a few days the danger seemed to be past and the uncertainty lay mainly overseas. We were changed, no doubt, but we adapted rather quickly to the enormity of that change, and many of us could move on with our grief and with our lives.
I was nine when the DC sniper roamed, picking people off at gas stations, parking lots, and a shopping center not three miles from my house. This was a different kind of fear. For three weeks we lived in terror that going outside or running the most everyday errand might be the last thing we did. And yet, we were in it together. This wasn’t an American crisis, but it brought our local communities together, and we remembered the bonds we had forged the year before.
Having lived through these formative experiences, I wish I could say that I feel better prepared for what we are experiencing now and for all that lies ahead. Because, this current crisis? This feels different. This isn’t the sudden shock of that Tuesday morning in September; it’s a slow-burn. The danger and the uncertainty aren’t overseas; they’re in our homes. We can go outside, but we can’t gather in-person with our friends for solace and strength. We’re in this one together, but it’s a together that requires us to be on our own. And I’m already exhausted. I’m already wishing that things could go back to the way they were. My strength is nearly spent, and my hope is wearing thin.
And then I remember that it’s not my strength that I need to rely on and it’s not my limited store of hope that will see me through.
Pope Francis preached on the calming of the storm at sea as part of a special blessing he gave to the city of Rome and to the world on March 27. In his homily he repeated, again and again, the words of Christ: “Why are you afraid? Have you yet no faith?” (Mark 4:40). Meeting us in our place of fear and pointing us towards our eternal hope, the Pope preached, “In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: [Christ] is risen and is living by our side.”
We are, after all, an Easter People. We live in the life of the resurrection, and this life is no less at work when we find ourselves in agony in the garden, at the foot of the cross, or in the midst of a global pandemic. Caught in continual crisis mode and distanced from our loved ones, we are called to “cast all our anxieties onto [Christ], for He cares for [us]” and to keep our eyes fixed on the glory of the resurrection that comes only through the suffering of the cross (1 Peter 5:7). We are an Easter People. Even as we look ahead to an Eastertide of streaming church services in our living rooms, we hold on to the hope, the joy, and the victory of the resurrection that is undaunted and untempered by any crisis. Being an Easter People also means that we are a people of transformation. The resurrection to new life in Christ calls us to die to ourselves–and to our grubby-fisted grip on the way we want things to be–and to be transformed. We are called to continuous conversion, and that’s never more true than in the midst of change and trial. St. John reminds us, “Beloved, we are now children of God, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when Christ appears, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). There is no going back to the way things were. We will be changed by this crisis, so why not allow ourselves to be changed into people more like Christ? Why shouldn’t this be the time when we seek to see Christ more as He is?
We may not be able to gather with family and friends at this time. Loved ones may not be able to embrace and mourn losses together. This time of isolation has the power to breed fear and unrest; so to fight against those forces a different kind of strength is required of us today. A different kind of trust and a different kind of hope. And yet, it is the same: it is the strength of our God, and trust in His providence, and hope in His glory, because He is “ever ancient, ever new” (St. Augustine).
Pope Francis. Homily, Urbi et Orbi Blessing, March 27, 2020. [https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2020-03/urbi-et-orbi-pope-coronavirus-prayer-blessing.html]
Augustine of Hippo. The Confessions. Book X, chapter 27 (38).