Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:18-19a)
Do you remember the Renew program?
In many dioceses, including our own, Renew convened small groups for prayer, faith-sharing, and catechesis in the 1980s. A later generation was conducted about 20 years ago, Renew: Why Catholic? In many parishes, bonds were formed around Renew and some groups still meet today. God was doing something new. This Scripture from Isaiah has special memories for me. I was a seminarian working in maintenance at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary during the summer months. The rector was part of the Renew team in the Diocese of Winona and one day asked me to suggest a Bible passage for their materials. The Holy Spirit led me to Isaiah and this passage, and I still find it profoundly hopeful. God continues to do something new: do we not perceive it?
In a culture where novelty, innovation, fresh ideas and “disruption” are valued, the tradition and outward “sameness” of the Church’s life can seem boring, archaic, irrelevant. But perhaps we can understand this differently against the turmoil of our times with war in Ukraine and fears of escalation; COVID; the political scene; the economy and the uncertainties all of these things bring. Maybe we can see that “sameness” as stability, a point of reference, something solid and reliable amid the many disruptions of the day. God is always doing something new, as the work of salvation takes place in each life and each day. Christ’s merciful love is fresh and new moment by moment. This is our faith: not simply remembering what once was, but what now is, the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit that makes the Church ever young and ever new, adapting to the times but with the timeless gifts of the Scriptures, sacraments, and our communion rooted in faith, hope, and charity.
Isaiah is not asking us to forget the mysteries we celebrate, especially in Holy Week: the Passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Rather, the prophet tells us not to treat these realities as something restricted to the past, memories of important things that once were but now are no more. Instead, they are made ever new in every place, every generation, every life.
Every time we come to confession, it is a new work of mercy. Every time we pray, it is a new conversation with the eternal God. Every time we receive the Eucharist, it is another entry of God’s love into the world, the Body of Christ given to the Body of Christ to advance the Kingdom of God, “on earth as it is in heaven.” Every time we do a work of mercy and kindness for another, a new passage is inscribed in the Book of Life, as the Book of Revelation suggests.
Those saving moments of the past give us the pattern and context for God’s action today. But they are not lost in some dim memories of “once upon a time.” They are new, alive, current, today. What new thing is God doing in your life? Isaiah would still ask us: do you perceive it?