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Out with the Old, In with Christ

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Feb 03, 2007

At the end of January, I changed offices. We reorganized somewhat, and the shift in responsibilities led to a regrouping of personnel. So I set up all my furniture in the new location and began to move all my papers and files. One of my tasks was to increase my storage space for new project materials by weeding out what was old and obsolete.

Accumulations from the Past

I had four large file drawers. There was a little bit of everything in these drawers, from instructions for the assembly of old bicycles to major equipment warranties; from pre-Internet news clippings to files covering old lawsuits. (Trinity Communications has been threatened with law suits several times, both civil and canonical, by those disgruntled by our Catholic positions. Happily, no suit has made it to court.) In the case of the bicycles, it was easy to determine whether to save each file. But what to do about old disputes?

Looking through all this brought my past alive. I was reminded of all kinds of things I no longer owned, and of a good number of problematic incidents I had forgotten. Like the time when GTE turned me over to its collection agents for non-payment for services I never ordered. Actually, GTE inherited my account from Centel, from whom I also hadn’t ordered the services; but the issue kept cropping up every few years as the telephone companies changed hands and reviewed their own old records. Well, we’ve outlasted both Centel and GTE. (It’s all Verizon now.)

I even found again the old programming notes and self-published manuals for software I had written and sold in the early 1990’s to make indexing easier in what was then a major desktop publishing application, Ventura Publisher. Those were the days when we were attempting to keep body and soul together by any means possible following the demise of our book publishing efforts, which was how Trinity Communications began. This time, I threw those old notes and manuals away. Why was I clinging to them?

Not a Saver

Actually, I’m not a saver. If I were, I would have had more than four file drawers to cover the past twenty-two years of office life at Trinity Communications. Generally, I’d rather give away or discard unused stuff and buy it again later if I need it. I figure the alternative is to keep it around in some musty corner where I won’t remember it anyway. That’s why old papers often remind me of things that are long gone. I also won’t let the local stores give me their special cards or key fobs, and I resolutely throw away all coupons offered by mail and email. I can’t keep track of all this stuff. I won’t have it handy when I need it anyway.

And yet, seen from a certain perspective, we are the sum total of all the experiences we've stored up over the years. There’s a great load of junk rattling around inside which colors our perceptions and influences how we think and act. For years I wouldn’t eat chocolate ice cream because I had gotten sick after eating a fudgesicle. (Very likely there was no connection.) And if some new acquaintance mentions his viewpoint on a particular issue, I can type him in a split second based on past experience, knowing instantly what he thinks about everything. I don't need to listen and, in consequence, I'm never wrong. Something deep inside pushes me this way; so maybe I really am a saver. Maybe we all are.

Examination of Conscience

My youngest child is seventeen, the last one at home, and he wants to go to confession on Saturday, so I’ll go too. Rum thing, this preparation for confession. After thirty or forty years of striving to lead a faithful Catholic life, it isn’t the specific sins that get you, it’s the attitudes. It’s how we’re set in our ways and still don’t see so many of the possibilities for loving God more fully or loving our neighbor better; we're blind to how we can do or say things differently, with greater charity. What gets in the way are all those things we haven’t thrown out when we’ve moved.

Because we’ve all moved, oh yes. Those who have been striving to follow Christ for a month, a year, ten years, a generation: we’ve all moved, and for the better. But we carry so much along when we do. All those past impressions, all those painful experiences, a little piece of every past selfishness and every mistaken judgment. And file upon file of personality quirks. It’s all hiding in the old drawers, often unexamined, never completely discarded. We don’t retain these things consciously, but we’re all savers. We throw too little away.

In with What?

Of course, we’re reluctant to throw these things out, these little pieces and past reminders of who we are. Subconsciously they mark out our turf, our space, our comfort zone. Often we feel we’ve nothing better to replace them with anyway. This is the crux of the matter. How can we be comfortable in that newly expanded, increasingly responsive, and altogether less possessive life to which Christ call us?

We understand about avoiding particular sins. We’ve learned fairly well how to replace vice with neutrality or even with virtue. But with what will we replace our old selves? To take the decisive step, we’ve got to learn how to replace old attitudes with Christ, old tendencies with Christ, old prejudices with Christ, until we are utterly transformed in Christ—until, as St. Paul counsels, we have put on Christ: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2:20)

The fundamental problem is that the spiritual life and the material life are different. When I move my office, if I throw things out, I gain more space. But in the spiritual life, when we get rid of things, our space constricts. We all know this; we've all really felt the pinch. That's because, in the spiritual life, space grows not at all by cleaning it out, but only by filling it up. In the spiritual life, space grows only by filling it up with Christ.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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