Memorial of Saint Gregory the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church
Nostalgia is a term often used to describe sentimental longing or wistful affection for a past time or state of being. It is a powerful inner resource and can be at work within each of us, often shaping our sense of what has occurred in our past or transporting memories of the past into our present consciousness.
The term has roots in Greek and is roughly translated to “homecoming” and “pain”. Nostalgia utilises our capacity for memory and in a certain sense brings some situations to life again often leading to feelings of happiness, joy and appreciate of love and gifts given to us by others who are dear to us. But as the definition suggests, there can be pain in nostalgia moments too as many memoires whilst happy in essence, might also be about people or relationships we have lost over time, and this can cause some sadness.
There are echoes of ‘nostalgia’ in the responses of the scribes and pharisees as they listen to Jesus’ teaching in our gospel text today. But it is tending towards a nostalgia that contains rather than frees one. They hark back to the past and adopt an attitude that Jesus describes as a preference for the old over the new – “And no one who has been drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”
Yet Jesus came amongst us precisely to announce the good news of our liberation and salvation and integral to this message was ‘the new’. New images of God, new teachings to set us free, new boundaries created, a new law to surpass all before it and a new and vital revelation of the nature of God and of our future in God. Such new life needed new expression – new symbols, new visions and new practices. His message was new and was not to be contained or defined in any one system or collection of laws. Rather his message was dynamic and needed to be contained in a community of believers living and witnessing in the world under the auspices of the ‘reign of God’ (often referred to as the “kingdom of God’). Jesus placed great emphasis on his followers on their formation and on their ability and faithfulness to continue his mission after his passion, death and resurrection We have now inherited this mantle of witness.
Thus, our mission today is to keep alive his vision and message. In this task nostalgia for the past has a place, but not one that dominates or overly directs our thoughts and practices
Covid-19 has added complexity to our societies and tested us as individuals, families and communities. Perhaps it also pushes us subtlety in the direction of nostalgia in that many discussions and conversations tinged with phrases like ‘getting back to normal’ or speak of a ‘return to what we once had’. Certainly, let us hope that we regain freedoms, but let us note too that life in every dimension including our life as faith communities, will also be irrevocably new and different after this past eighteen months. In life as in discipleship, let us not one tear pieces from a new cloak to patch an old one or pour new wine into old wineskins.
Fr. Denis Travers, C.P., is a member of Holy Spirit Province, Australia.