Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Chesterton on New Year's Resolutions

From one of his Daily News columns:

The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. Unless a man starts on the strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterwards. Unless a man be born again, he shall by no means enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

In that last sentence, Chesterton is alluding to Jesus's statement to Nicodemus in the Gospel of St. John (John 3:3-5). Mark Brumley provides some exegesis on this passage:

The only biblical use of the term "born again" occurs in John 3:3-5--although, as we shall see, similar and related expressions such as "new birth" and "regeneration" occur elsewhere in Scripture (Titus 3:5; 1 Pet 1:3, 23). In John 3:3, Jesus tells Nicodemus, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." The Greek expression translated "born again" (gennathei anothen) also means "born from above." Jesus, it seems, makes a play on words with Nicodemus, contrasting earthly life, or what theologians would later dub natural life ("what is born of flesh"), with the new life of heaven, or what they would later call supernatural life ("what is born of Spirit").

Nicodemus' reply: "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" (John 3:4). Does he simply mistake Jesus to be speaking literally or is Nicodemus himself answering figuratively, meaning, "How can an old man learn new ways as if he were a child again?" We cannot say for sure, but in any case Jesus answers, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, `You must be born again."' (John 3:5-7).

So then the mystery is, how does one start again when one has already been "born again" in Baptism? I can't follow Chesterton's advice to get a new nose, new feet, new backbone, new ears, and new eyes! I'm stuck with the ones I've got, unless I start using them for something different. Smell new things, walk new paths, stand up for what I believe in, hear news things, see new things. 

I'm still thinking about resolutions for 2017. How about you?

In the meantime, I'm preparing for a couple of presentations--coming up fast: Thursday, January 5, I'll be speaking to the Altar Society at All Saints Catholic Church at 7 p.m.. Topic: the Three Women Martyrs of the English Reformation: Saints Margaret Clitherow, Margaret Ward, and Anne Line. Next week: Friday, January 13 at the Eighth Day Institute: "Long Live the Queen: John Henry Newman and the Place of Theology in a Liberal Arts Education"!!

Happy New Year! Merry Christmas!

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