Father Chet, February 1, 1975 (republished Feb. 1, 2021)
We live in an age characterized by patterns of change that surround us like overlapping, concentric circles. Human nature and human planning (economic, social, political, educational, and religious) are unable to adjust quickly enough to the fantastic increase in the rate of change in every area of human experience. Therefore, at present there is a conservative trend against change and an attempt to hold the status quo. Actually, this would seem to be a period of leveling off in order for our intellect, our human psyche, our human engineering and planning to catch up with the gigantic progress experienced by the whole human race during the past 30 years or more.
The more we know about the causes, origins, and consequences of change, the better we can control and direct the changes we experience. We especially need to identify the relationships between changes in the different areas of life. What is the connection between changes in the secular fields and those in the religious areas of life? The fact that almost every area of life today is going through a period of rapid change indicates that there must be a close relationship between changes in these diverse fields. If so, it is essential that we try to grasp an overall view of the pattern of changes. Otherwise, we waste our time and energy trying to control change in one area while ignoring the countless changes occurring in other areas. Such a short-sighted response to change is as foolish as trying to stop or control an individual hole in the dike while the waters of change continue to pour out of a thousand other holes.
We should not submit blindly to change. Certainly, it is not a matter of change for the sake of change. Change in itself is neither good nor bad; it’s rightness or wrongness depends upon the reasons for and the consequences of each modification. Frequently, there are both bad and good results. In such instances, the pros and cons need to be weighed carefully and a prudent decision made concerning the advisability or non-advisability for making the alteration. Only when the good resulting outweighs the harm should the change be approved.
Relationship of Knowledge to Freedom and Authority
The world is experiencing great changes in its attitudes toward freedom and authority. Regardless of where we study those attitudes today, compared to former generations, we find a real revolution in regard to the personal use of freedom and the exercise of authority. A citation of a few of these areas demonstrate the point just made: relationships between children and parents; students and teachers; among races and ethnicities; women’s role in society; the role of the citizen in government and governmental processes; and the role of the clergy and laity in the institutional church. What frequently is not realized is that the changing patterns of freedom and authority are due in a great measure to greater knowledge on the part of those who were previously content or forced to remain subject to authority.
Knowledge is basic to any sustained use of human power. As long as we remain in the darkness of ignorance we are helpless to defend ourselves against those who have more knowledge. Monarchial and authoritarian forms of government, at least in theory, assume that the king or the leader knows better than ordinary citizens what is best for the country. (This is how Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933. He claimed to know how to rescue Germany from the repeated economic crises the country had been suffering.) We are willing to allow others to make decisions for us mainly because we are convinced that they know more than we do and so know what is best for us. Once we become convinced that we share the same knowledge as our leaders, we begin to insist that we share in any decision-making which involves ourselves or our loved ones. Democracy, self-government, collegiality – assume that all members of the group have the same knowledge available as that possessed by the leaders.
Change and New Knowledge
Traditionally, in sacred Scripture, Satan and evil are associated with darkness and blindness – in other words, with ignorance and lack of knowledge. On the other hand, God is associated with light and the ability to see and know. Jesus Christ called himself the light of the world. He urged his followers to leave the region of darkness and become a light not only for themselves but also for others. Jesus declared that only evil persons love the darkness and fear the light. Not only did he encourage all people to come to the light and to increase their knowledge; he declared, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8, 32)
Granted, then, the relationship of freedom and authority to knowledge, we can easily discern the basic cause of the immense change in freedom and authority in today’s world: more accessible new knowledge. Not only are many elite members of society able to possess this new knowledge, widespread advances in communication and education are enabling the whole world to attain almost instantaneous knowledge of the events as they occur in any corner of the globe.
Resistance to Change
There are many reasons why people resist change: temperament, emotional insecurity, bad experiences with change in the past, and a distorted education concerning the values of the old over the new. Often the organs of change within one’s nature have become atrophied through lack of use. We become set in our ways, and as a result stop growing and changing. The longer one remains stuck in a rut of routine, the more difficult it is to break out of this shell and face the challenge of change and conversion. All of us are to some extent naturally slothful, some more so than others. The longer the time since the last major change in our life, the greater the effort required for a change which challenges us. Besides physical arteriosclerosis, there is mental or emotional hardening toward change.
An alteration in our ways of thinking and acting requires an honest rechecking of our old assumptions and the development of a new pattern of faith and hope. When we are young, before our convictions have stabilized, we usually are willing to give a good amount of time and energy to checking and proving the premises upon which we are building our life. Having done this once, most people are reluctant to reopen the question again.
Loss and Fear
Another cause of the resistance to change is the threat of the loss of the strong self-identity at which so many people have arrived. In a time of swift and dramatic change, such as we are now experiencing, many of the old moorings of our faith and trust in God and ourselves are being swept away or seen in danger of being lost. If we allow ourselves to acknowledge that our past and present faith and identity have been based on assumptions which may not totally be totally correct, and now need to be changed, our whole self – identity becomes threatened.
Still another reason for resistance to change is the fear that all the energy and sacrifices expended in carrying out old moral principles and articles of faith will have been wasted and in vain. Such a conclusion is anything but true. Nothing done for the love of God is ever wasted or useless. The inner growth in virtue and goodness which has resulted from our efforts to follow our conscience is a permanent possession which will remain with us for all eternity.
Actually, the swiftness of changes in this period of history requires an almost constant reopening of the foundations of our belief and hope. This situation of change becomes quite threatening unless we maintain a deep faith and security in the goodness and faithfulness of God, in the basic goodness of the world as the creation of God, and in our ability to find the truth and to make the right decisions concerning life.
Resilience and Change
Regardless of how glum our present position, a positive attitude can be developed based on the basic goodness and order of God’s creation and God’s power and love. God has promised never to abandon us, but to intervene on our behalf whenever we need him, and especially when we call upon him in prayer. The history of God’s interventions in the past should help us to bolster our hopes in regard to the possibility of his interventions in the present and in the future. God can always be counted upon to be faithful to his promises.
Besides faith and hope in God, we need to adopt a strong conviction of our own real worth. Regardless of how many changes have occurred, regardless of how mistaken we may discover our former convictions have been, the real worth of our life is determined by certain immutable principles: (1) the sincerity of our good intentions, (2) the willingness and energy with which we have endeavored to form and follow a right conscience, and (3) the intensity with which we have tried to carry out the two great commandments of love: to love God with all our heart and soul, and to love and serve others as best we can.
The Biblical Plea for Conversion and Change of Heart
The combined voices of the Bible, including the voices of Jesus Christ, are a solemn plea not to resist change, but to experience it within our hearts and lives constantly. God urges us ever forward and toward greater heights of holiness. The insistence of Jesus and the inspired authors of the Bible is that the present world is still imperfect and must experience many and drastic changes before it becomes God’s kingdom. The constant appeal of the Bible to the hearts of the people for conversion indicates that these changes will not be forced upon us, but will happen only if we freely respond to God’s calls. We are constantly reminded that the ultimate establishment of God’s kingdom on earth will be due partially to man’s doing as well as to God’s wise and loving intervention of Grace.