What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said, "See, this is new"?
It has been already,
in the ages before us.
—Ecc 1:9-10, from the Mass Readings for Thursday of the 25th Week of the Year
We live in an age of constant innovation. The newest technologies and gadgets hit the news every week; we're constantly awaiting the next movie blockbuster, episode of our favorite television show, latest in a series of novels, the newest radio hit; we crave new soundbites from politicians and celebrities, especially if they're embarrassing or damning; and the internet is a constantly brewing stew of all things new—new social media, which we constantly scan for whatever is new in our friends and family's lives; news that seems to update more than the 24 hour news networks we thought were saturating our lives; the newest memes, the newest hot internet video clips, the newest LOLcat. NEW!
We're so used to things being new all the time, that we think of new things as old before they are. Even if you just take humanity's history within the time of Christ, 2012 years, a decent stretch of time, cars occupy only 5 percent of that time, computers 3 percent, cell phones only 2 percent, Facebook less than 1 percent. But by today's standards, these are OLD. We even have a history of looking ahead to the future, trying to guess what will be new before it's even been invented. It is more than a little twisted that by nostalgia and retro, we've even managed to make "OLD" NEW!.
King Herod was a man obsessed with novelty. Though he had captured John the Baptist for preaching against Herod, he "kept him safe" for "when he heard him, he was much perplexed; and yet he heard him gladly." John the Baptist was neat and so worth keeping around. Then it was the novelty of his step-daughter's dance that inflamed Herod's passions leading to the martyrdom of John. (Mt 6:20, 22-28). When Herod hears about Jesus, here's something new! "'Who is this about whom I hear such things' And [Herod] sought to see him." (Lk 9:7-9) But he's not looking for the Christ, but a wonderworker, a prestidigitator.
Qoheleth, the Preacher of Ecclesiastes, calls us to consider just how new all this newness is, or rather to think about where true innovation matters. When he says, ""See, this is new"? It has been already, in the ages before us." he is not claiming that all inventions existed before. He makes no bold claim that there were ancient civilizations with computers and cell phones. But he realizes and teaches that no innovation of technology or invention or literature or schooling bring us any closer to, first, The Good Life and above that Wisdom and beyond that the Eternal. Vanity of vanities! All is vanity! because none of these things affect that which never changes: human nature and God.
New technologies and sciences are fantastic, with undreamed of possibilities for healing and solving problems of famine and poverty, and the Church has called us to make use of the plethora of communication tools at our hands to preach the Gospel, (Benedict XVI, Message for 45th World Communications Day), but no technology, no insight of neuroscience or psychology or quantum physics can change that we are all Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve who have inherited Original Sin; no innovation in technology or medicine can change that it is only by the Cross that we can be redeemed and our sins forgiven.
Three areas of novelty that we as Christians have to be especially aware of because they seem like they'd be in areas we're supposed to be passionate about: prayer, the liturgy and working toward the Kingdom of God. I work in a library, and all too often there are books that come out touting the newest forms of prayer, whether from the ludicrous (using a Bible verse to gain wealth) to the dangerous (developing a mind of nothingness so that seven devils can return to find it neat and swept: Lk 11:24-26). Look to the saints and above all look to the imitation of Christ and you will learn all you need in terms of how to pray.
I don't have space to go into liturgical innovation—but let it suffice to say, I'm not talking about the Novus Ordo, which is beautiful and holy—my concern is innovation in the Mass for the sake of innovation: music with no liturgical character, changing the words of the prayers, the ugliest spaces of worship imaginable, costumes instead of vestments, etc.
|Descent of the New Jerusalem|
Ultimately, there is only one innovation, one thing new that matters; that in town of Nazareth, in the time of Caesar Julius, a man was born who had been like no other. He is the Word made Flesh, the Son of God sent by the Father for the redemption of the world. This New Man, who was the Word that was there In the Beginning (Jn 1:1), came to make all things new (Rev 21:5). By His blood shed upon the cross, we cast off the old man that belongs to our former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, to be renewed in the spirit of our minds and put on the new man, created after the likeness of God. (Eph 4:22-24). And he preached the only invention, the only news we need to know: that the Kingdom of God is nigh.
Let us pray with desire for the intercession of the Mother of God that the only innovation we long we long for is to hear God say to us "A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." (Ez 36:26) Let us be transformed so that no longer resemble God only in the image that he made us but are made new to resemble the likeness as well. Let us pray for the Grace to imitate and be unified by His Holy spirit to the New Man that we may dwell in the New Jerusalem with him for Eternity. Amen