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New and Old

Christmas is over and the New Year has dawned. Hopefully we are not exhausted from our Christmas celebration – the shopping, the traveling, the parties and the exchange of gifts. People are eager to dazzle their loved ones with their amazing finds. The more unusual and more novel the gifts, the better! At the same time we hear that baby-boomers are looking for retro-gifts, artifacts that will remind them of their youth and the decades that they made famous. As I was contemplating our desire for things both new and old, a news story that took place a few months ago came to mind.

A few years ago GE shut down its last factory producing electric bulbs, the kind that Thomas Alva Edison invented more than a hundred years ago. With the closing of those factory doors, an era ended and a legend faded into oblivion. People have moved on to more energy-efficient bulbs and the original filament lights are no longer in demand or in style. With this dramatic change we were once again reminded of a strategy that the marketplace efficiently employs to sell more products, namely, planned obsolescence. The electric filament lamp is going the way of 8-tracks and cassette tapes. I have over 200 audio tapes and now I do not know what to do with them.

Let me digress for a moment and share with you a favorite story about one of my favorite heroes. Before he finally hit upon the right material for the electric lamp filament, Thomas Alva Edison had to conduct over 20,000 experiments. When he finally unveiled a bulb that worked, a journalist questioned the inventor: “Mr Edison, don’t you feel discouraged that you had to conduct 20,000 experiments before you found the right stuff?” “Not at all,” insisted the phenomenal scientist, “Now I know that there are 20,000 things that do not work.” That is genius at work!

As I was feeling sad over the passing of Edison’s historic invention, I reflected on how our culture eagerly embraces change. Beneath our insatiable appetite for novelty, there is the unspoken assumption that change is always for the better, and that new things work better than old things. As a society we are young (only a couple of hundred years old) and we seem to have a natural aversion for older things. Every year we don new styles. Every few years we would like to acquire a new car. I wonder whether such fascination with the new can interfere with our faith.

Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher, said that the whole cosmos is in constant flux. We never bathe in the same river twice. He is right about that. However, life cannot go on if everything changes. We need continuity. There are certain things that cannot and must not change. We need to hold on to the core of our faith that cannot change. We need to fight the temptation of relativism and subjectivism that are so characteristic of our time. Culture critics tell us that we live in the age of postmodernism. This epoch maintains that there are no meta-narratives, no consistent, systematic worldviews. In other words, there are no absolute values or perspectives. We live in the moment and do what we decide to choose. We need to resist such a mentality. We cannot succumb to the dominant culture that insinuates that everything has to change. The Church calls on us to hold on to Tradition with a capital “T”. We must always strive to be faithful to the “Faith of our Fathers.”

At the same time the phenomenon of planned obsolescence alerts us to another important implication. If we do not respond to the needs and demands of the times, we can become obsolete. Even as we hold on to our tradition, we must be sensitive to what goes on around us. As a Church we need to embrace new things when needs require them. When a living organism refuses to change, it dies.

This is the challenge for all of us. On the one hand, we need to hold to the immutable elements of our faith. On the other we need to pay heed to the demands and needs of changing times. The temptation for us is to hold on to one and let go off the other. Some emphasize only the changeless face of the Church. Others are so enamored of change that they pay scant attention to our long history and tradition. In order to be faithful, we need to be loyal to the tradition even as we remain sensitive to the challenges of our time. We need to live in that tension.

As you read this column, we are coming to the close of the Christmas season. We are at the beginning of the New Year. Christ came to make all things new. He is also the fulfillment of God’s plan that began at the dawn of creation. He comes not to abolish the Law but to bring it to fulfillment. The gospel that He brought us does not do away with the Old Law; it challenges us to go beyond that Law. He beckons us to live out the values of the gospel. Just a couple of weeks ago we celebrated His birth. How shall we continue to welcome this Christ Child?

I pray that all of us treasure our faith and at the same time listen to the prodding of the Holy Spirit as we go where He leads us. For the Spirit renews the face of the earth and makes all things new.

Mission Statement: As children of God, living in a Catholic community of faith, we are united by the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Aware that all we have is gift and grace from our Heavenly Father, we strive to give of our time, talent and treasure to build His kingdom on earth. We live this mission, challenged by the Word, nurtured by the Sacraments, and enlivened by the Spirit, to serve our brothers and sisters in peace, justice and dignity. All are welcome on this journey.

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St. Paul of the Cross

320 South Washington Street
Park Ridge, IL 60068


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Phone: (847) 825-7605
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Mass Schedule

Monday - Friday

8:30 am - Upper Church

Saturday

4:30 pm vigil - Upper Church

Sunday

7:30 am - Upper Church
9:00 am - Holy Family Chapel
10:30 am - Upper Church