"The Bane of Change"

By Fr. Kenneth M. Dos Santos, MIC
First published by Catholic Stand.

Is the desire for change always rooted in the common good and in the best interest of the individual?  Or, is this desire affected and influenced by fallen human nature, fostering mistrust in others, in previously established entities, and the proper authorities that founded and oversee these entities?

Modern psychology puts forth a critique of the basic desire to change:

You say that things could be better.  You want more.  You want to be fulfilled.  Discontent is the driving force of change.  Progress is born of agitation.  It is agitation or stagnation that leads to growth.  Your desire for change is what puts you on the path to moving forward.  The seed of progress is the need for change (Changing Our Attitude Toward Change).

In an imperfect world, there has to be room for improvement, right?  It seems obvious in this life, that many things could be improved upon.  Yet, is it sound thinking to always be seeking change, that which one desires, but does not require, in perpetuity?  Seeking additional material wealth, a better job, a better relationship or marriage, in general – indulging unchained desires that are surely affected by original sin and fallen human nature.  Without taking into account, whether the attainment of more is advantageous to the true good of the individual, the common good, or is working toward one’s ultimate fulfillment.  And finally, the heart of this theory, is that discontent is the driving force behind change.  That is, the result of change, is the seed of progress.

Within a General Audience on December 3, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the root of this conflict – original sin:

There exists an empirical aspect, that is, a reality that is concrete, visible, I would say tangible to all.  And an aspect of mystery concerning the ontological foundation of this event.  The empirical fact is that a contradiction exists in our being.  On the one hand every person knows that he must do good and intimately wants to do it.  Yet at the same time he also feels the other impulse to do the contrary, to follow the path of selfishness and violence, to do only what pleases him, while also knowing that in this way he is acting against the good, against God and against his neighbour.

If we follow this line of thought to its logical conclusion, original sin and fallen human nature influences one’s will and desires, potentially leading one toward discontent for one’s circumstances in this life.  This can drive the desire to change, and this discontent or unsettledness, can further the perception of monotony.  The idea, that much of one’s life is bogged down in repetition, and that there must be a change, so that progress be obtained.

Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen speaks of monotony in his book, Moods and Truths:

There is nothing from which the modern mind is more anxious to escape than the depressing bogey of monotony.  It hates the mere fact of repetition just as much as it loves the shock of the new.  The hatred of monotony is the explanation for many of the distorted views of life and action.

Caring for one’s children may be repetitive and monotonous, but does that necessarily mean that progress in one’s life has ceased to exist?  And, though this may be repetitive and monotonous, is it not – rewarding and essential?  The same can be said of one’s relationship or marriage, though there is an inherent repetitiveness or monotony in any relationship, does this indicate that progress is lacking?  Not at all, instead, the lens through which one forms his or her perception of life experiences must be examined.

Here, it is important that one consider distinction between worldly realities and spiritual realities.  One can certainly labor for change concerning a practical reality, that a process be improved, or made more efficient for the benefit of an individual or the common good of all.  For instance, a parent who adjusts his or her schedule at work to allot time for child care.  This change benefits the children, the parents, and civilization – provided that one’s children are raised to be moral and upstanding members of society and the world as a whole.  This manner of change is wholly within our custody as human beings, as afforded us by God Himself:

Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth (Revised Standard Version).

And, it is clear throughout history, that societies and governments have formed and flourished, to author man-made or positive laws and the practical affairs of mankind.

The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, (as it has been translated within the Divine Office), speaks of the relationship proper between creature and Creator, as well as, appropriate interpersonal relationship from one human being toward other human beings:

Man, created in God’s image, has been commissioned to master the earth and all it contains, and so rule the world in justice and holiness.  He is to acknowledge God as the creator of all, and to see himself and the whole universe in relation to God, in order that all things may be subject to man, and God’s name be an object of wonder and praise over all the earth.

This commission extends to even the most ordinary activities of everyday life.  Where men and women, in the course of gaining a livelihood for themselves and their families, offer appropriate service to society, they can be confident that their personal efforts promote the work of the Creator, confer benefit on their fellowmen, and help to realize God’s plan in history.

So far from thinking that the achievements gained by man’s abilities and strength are in opposition to God’s power, or that man with his intelligence is in some sense a rival to his Creator, Christians are, on the contrary, convinced that the triumphs of the human race are a sign of God’s greatness and the effect of his wonderful providence.

Thus, if mankind under the auspices of God, has been given the ability to manage worldly affairs, and law and order fits firmly into this category, from what origin do positive laws derive?  One must conclude, from Divine or Eternal law, that which God has given to mankind Himself – the Decalogue and Judeo-Christian moral code.

Hence, one should not begin to believe, that God has given men – any authority whatsoever – to alter or change what God has ordained in Divine or Eternal law.  And yet, through our experience of the world, we see this occurring regularly in what modern society proposes, primarily out of a loathing for monotony:

The modern mind dislikes exceedingly living according to the morality of the Ten Commandments and the Christian Law of Charity, and to escape its monotony develops new morals and prefaces to morals and, without any of the thunder and lightning of Sinai, writes for itself a new ten commandments (Moods and Truths, pg. 3)

This positive distaste for repetition so characteristic of our day alone explains the new, the constant demand for new thrills, new excitements, new psychologies, new religions, new morals, new gods, new everything to arouse the already jaded sensibilities and the soul weighted down with world ennui (Ibid., pg. 4).

To say that mankind has no relationship with God his creator, and no connection with Divine or Eternal law, is to admit that there is no proper foundation to build upon.  Positive law and morality become wholly subjective.  And, because they have become subjective – prone entirely to relativism:

The utterly disillusioned man, uprooted from the past and disinherited by tradition, is wandering about the modern Babylon, and like a man who knows not where he is going, pictures to himself a thousand destinations.  Like a drowning man who has lost his hold on final truths, he clutches first at this philosophy and that theory, only to discover them to be as helpless as straw.  He seeks refuge in a humanistic outlook, and takes pride in the progress of civilization, and yet down in his heart knows that he is confusing comfort with civilization, and change with progress (Ibid., pg. 115).

The World War, which every man feels he is still fighting, has left not only chaos, but also the uncertainty of minds confronted by chaos.  The ephemeral theorists are in the saddle; the wisdom of the centuries is crying alone in the wilderness; and the Church is ignored, for, ‘can anything of good come from Nazareth?’  A pessimistic despair, a melancholic sex-madness has made of the modern man a victim of the need to believe.  He may go on trying fool theories, and he probably will, until he returns to the father’s house which his forefathers left in the sixteenth century.  It will be only there that he will find rest, for what the modern man needs is an infusion of new blood.  He needs a cross-fertilization with eternity….(Ibid., pg. 116).

Here, one must acknowledge that there is a war raging, not just within man himself, but a spiritual war of principalities, a war through which Christ has emerged the victor:

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  Stand therefore, having fastened the belt of truth around your waist, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the Evil One.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:11-17 RSV).

Father Kenneth Dos Santos, MIC, is the author of Hagia Sophia: The Wisdom of God as Offered to the Modern World (Marian Press). 
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Photo courtesy CatholicStand.com.
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