These weeks of wishing one another “happy New Year” have gotten me pondering what “newness” really is. The word “new” calls to mind a scene in The Passion of the Christ, an unforgettable re-setting of Revelation 21:5, “I make all things new,” within the context of the Way of the Cross. Reaching the limit of His strength, Christ stumbles and falls, the cross landing heavily upon His bruised back. Mary forces her way through the crowd and flings herself down beside her Son. Looking into her eyes, Christ responds, “See, Mother, I make all things new.” And, unsteadily, but with unmistakable determination, He struggles to His feet and staggers onward.

This scene can teach us a valuable message — and not just for 2021. It is a message of challenge and joy: Christ is the only true Newness.

This message is a challenge, because it overturns our illusions of control and power. In the Hebrew Bible, the verb for “create,” as used, for example, in Genesis, is reserved to God alone, because only God can create what is truly new. The Hebrew uses a different verb to describe humans making something. New things occur through God’s agency: Creation — of the world and of each immortal human soul, the Incarnation, redemption. Some have suggested that COVID-19 is the opportunity humanity needed to create a new world order; but while we are always called to use our God-given inventiveness to ameliorate the world’s inequities, it is pure hubris to think that we can do this without God, or that such a project will be complete before Christ’s return in glory at the end of time.

Some have suggested that COVID-19 is the opportunity humanity needed to create a new world order; but while we are always called to use our God-given inventiveness to ameliorate the world’s inequities, it is pure hubris to think that we can do this without God, or that such a project will be complete before Christ’s return in glory at the end of time.

And yet Christ as Newness is also a message of joy. Consider the collect for Dec. 30: “Grant, we pray, almighty God, that the newness of the Nativity in the flesh of your Only Begotten Son may set us free, for ancient servitude holds us bound beneath the yoke of sin.” Or this prayer from Mass, appropriate for any saint: “Most merciful God, who were pleased to create in blessed N. the New Man in your image, the old having passed away, graciously grant, we pray, that, renewed like him we may offer you the acceptable sacrifice of conciliation.” God ardently desires to make each of us new, and He will do it, if we ask Him and if we cooperate with His grace. Catholicism has always maintained the liberating truth that original sin only wounded, not utterly corrupted, human nature and that grace heals humans from within, forming them into the image of their loving Redeemer.

The most luminous example of this newness is Mary, whose divine motherhood we celebrate each year on Jan. 1. Georges Bernanos described Our Lady as “younger than sin.” Sin ages us; it destroys people and relationships. But God is more powerful than sin. He can make us new. Let us go to Confession and, with His help, resolve to have a truly happy and truly new year!

Sr. Maria Veritas Marks is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.