Just over sixty years ago, good Pope John XXIII announced that there would be a Second Vatican Council. It was to renew how the Church announced her teaching to the world. Although some misunderstood the nature of that renewal, there were many wonderful fruits of genuine renewal which came, and are still coming, from the Council. Not least was the great movement of spiritual renewal, seen in things like the charismatic renewal and many new lay movements of spirituality. In our own diocese, in the 1980’s, Bishop Taylor introduced the Renew movement which brought great hope and encouragement to many in the diocesan Church.
Renewal is something which is and ought to be an ongoing part of the life of the Church at all levels, from parish to Vatican offices. Last year, St. Mary’s experienced the grace of renewal through the parish mission which Father Eamonn organized shortly before he retired. I am sure there are rich graces from those days still alive and flourishing in many of you.
Our second reading today talks of a new heaven and a new earth. It describes Jesus as saying, “behold, I make all things new.” These words point to the definitive renewal of the whole of creation at the end of time when there will be no more chance for anything to decay or get old or need renewing again.
The renewal of the world and of the Church comes from the new and everlasting covenant sealed in the blood of Jesus. By it, the Holy Spirit, God’s power of renewal, was unleashed upon the world and especially upon humanity. The Spirit is unleashed in and through each of us to the degree we obey what Jesus calls the new commandment of love in today’s Gospel. Just as the ten commandments accompanied the old covenant of Moses, so the new commandment of love goes with the new and eternal covenant of Jesus. The power to obey and live the new commandment comes from the Spirit. If we let him, the Spirit empowers us to love one another as Jesus has loved us. If we do that, then others will sense and perceive Christ in us, they will know that we are his disciples, that we belong to him. Their own renewal could well depend on our witness to Jesus.
This means that the powers of death and destruction, of conflict and strife, which we feel and see around us so strongly in our times are, in the end, doomed to fail. No matter how permanent and overwhelming they may seem, and no matter how much real damage they do (and it is much), the winning power is the power of the new commandment, the new covenant and of the One who will make all things new.
Evil is overcome by good, not more evil. Hatred is overcome by love, not more hatred. In the midst of the mess and storm, patient and faithful acts of love already sow the seeds of renewal. The parable of Jesus concerning the evil man who sows darnel among the wheat is now reversed: for our acts of love sow wheat among the darnel. When we see more selfishness around us, let us insist on being selfless; when we see and hear that fewer people are praying or coming to Mass, let us insist more in praying and worshipping; when we see people entranced by the dogma of self-will, let us insist all the more on obeying the will of God. At the harvest, the power of love will triumph in splendour, the darnel will disintegrate.
This requires of us hope and perseverance. We need to take fresh heart every day from the power of the One who renews all things. The apostles in the first reading gave fresh heart to the communities they visited. We should give fresh heart to one another every day drawing on the hope we have of certain victory in Jesus. Every day, as long as each today lasts, we show love by encouraging one another. To give fresh heart is to impart a renewal of confidence to those nearest and dearest to us, to those we come across. We have to watch that we don’t weigh one another down by chronic pessimism, always seeing the worst and spreading our heaviness of heart to others. We can contaminate the atmosphere around us by harping criticism, chronic complaining and unloving conversation. Of course, neither do we want unrealistic optimism, as if there were no difficulties or problems to face. Christian hope sees the difficulties and admits them, but at the same time it can find joy in trusting that, as Julian of Norwich put it, all shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of thing shall be well.
And because we know and trust the One who will make all things well and new, our hope brings perseverance, a kind of dogged stubbornness in moving along the path of hope. If we rely only on ourselves to persevere, it won’t work. If we root our perseverance in Jesus, the definitive Victor over all adversity, then it will work. Think how Jesus himself persevered in the face of disappointment, rejection, hostility, denial and betrayal. He knew all this would be thrown at him, but he trusted that the Father would rescue him from it. He knew that he had to endure it in order to bring about the new heavens and the new earth in his resurrection from the dead. Because of the joy which lay ahead in the future, he despised the ignominy of the Cross, and persevered. We, too, are not to forget the joy of our own resurrection which lies ahead; as long as we don’t, we can walk firmly in the footsteps of Jesus to Calvary and to heaven and despise the ignominy of the suffering we now go through.
To help us trace the footsteps of Jesus, to sustain us in our hope and perseverance, to keep alive and fresh the love of the new commandment in us, Jesus gives us the bread and wine of the new and everlasting covenant. The Eucharist deep within the soul of each of us is like the sun shining and filling us with divine light; it also gives us the heat and energy of the divine life and the divine love. The Eucharist is a permanent furnace from which the power and energy of the Holy Spirit springs and gushes forth within us. It is in the Eucharist that the Risen Christ himself dwells with us and feeds our prayer life, our virtues, our desire for God and the things of God. The Eucharist is the secret source and mainstay of the renewal of our humanity, of the Church and of the world. Through the Eucharist, Jesus makes us new and makes all things new.
I was born the year Pope John announced Vatican II, and at 61 I am beginning to feel the pinch. The truth is that, whatever our number of years, the Resurrection of Jesus and the sacraments of eternal life are preparing us to share in his eternal youth. So, in a very real sense, as we get older in years, we are actually getting younger in eternity. Behold, he makes us all new – yes, but also younger, and indeed eternal, so that we can assume our full place as citizens in the new and eternal Jerusalem.