Musings on change

'To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often' (Blessed John Henry Newman)
'Change and decay in all around I see
O thou who changest not, abide with me' (Henry Lyte)

Even though the Greek philosopher Heraclitus expounds that nothing is permanent except change, the reality is that when faced with change some people instinctively recoil, while others may automatically embrace the opportunity. As the Catholic Church in the English speaking world moves to adopt a new translation of the Mass of the Roman Rite, reactions vary across a broad spectrum. There are those who see the new translation as something to be grasped; for others something new is different and therefore unsettling. In the hymn 'Abide with me' it is the changeless that is seen as ultimately of value. In contrast the quotation from Newman suggests that not to change is to stagnate and even - as the Letter of the Hebrews suggests (Heb 8.13) - to cease to exist: 'what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away'. In such a case seeking to stay the same can be a deliberate choice of opting for the death of that which one wants to preserve - a paradox perhaps.

Often when the word 'change' is used it can be used pejoratively; talk of 'change for change's sake' carries that connotation. While there might be great consolation in the idea of the unchangeable, something which is fixed: as witnessed by such phrases as 'the deposit of faith', 'the rule of Holy Scripture', 'the faith of the Councils and the Creeds'; the reality is otherwise. Life is of its nature dynamic, not static, and accordingly all that relates to life has a dynamism built into it. Heraclitus' sentiment of the permanence of change is endorsed by the experience of human existence.
Change can be disconcerting, unsettling or threatening. That is quite normal and such can be an appropriate response. However, it is mistaken to assume that the alternative to adopting change is simply to stay the same - that may well be a false presumption. It may well be that the choice is between choosing to change in order to express continuity, while refusing to change may well be to choose to be unfaithful to that continuity. Such was the principle that lay behind the numerous 'changes' that stemmed from the Second Vatican Council. In Gaudet Mater Ecclesia opening the Council, Pope John XXIII stressed that while the truths of the faith did not change, the ways in which they were expressed had to be reformulated and changed in order to address the world. What followed was a profound ecclesial exercise under the guidance of the Spirit precisely in discerning where change was helpful, appropriate and indeed necessary; in order to be faithful to what is unchangeable.

One of the great arguments behind the new translation is precisely that being faithful to the past (tradition) means changing what we have and adopting something different. In that sense there is a truth in the old (and cynical) adage - plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose (the more things change, the more they stay the same).

The Christian faith is lived under the call to change: the word 'repent' means literally to change your mind. Christians are called to change to become like little children and so enter the kingdom (Mt 18.3). Such change for the individual believer is only done authentically through discernment, prayer and faith; those same principles guide the Teaching Church in her task of leading God's faithful people through change and continuity, until the final and ultimate change: Lord for your faithful people life is changed not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies
in death, we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven.'
(Preface 1 of Christian Death)