"In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often."
These are the words of Blessed John Henry Newman speaking of the development of ideas. Over time, an idea is tested, argued, confronted, changed:
"It seems in suspense which way to go; it wavers, and at length strikes out in one definite direction. In time it enters upon strange territory; points of controversy alter their bearing." "It is elicited and expanded by trial, and battles into perfection and supremacy."
The phase is often quoted as referring to people but in context it refers to ideas - although in the sentence the Blessed Cardinal does write "to live is to change...". Certainly, it appears that our Holy Father Pope Francis does not see it as applying to people. In speaking to an audience of newly ordained bishops, among many good things he says something that caught my attention in particular as hard to understand:
“I also beg you to not let yourselves be deceived by the temptation to change the people. Love the people that God has given you, even when they will have committed great sins,”
Have I been going about my ministry with a false premise? Have I been looking at my own moral and spiritual life in the wrong way? For I am constantly praying and hoping for change for those entrusted to my pastoral care and for myself.
In fairness, I read it first on the Catholic Herald site, which only quotes selectively. The Vatican site carries it but only in Italian - and mine isn't great. Pope Francis goes on to say in reference to this something about learning the power of "vicarious substitution, which is the only root of redemption." (Imparate il potere umile ma irresistibile della sostituzione vicaria, che è la sola radice della redenzione.)
If this means offering yourself for the sins of others, as Our Lord did, then all well and good. But surely even this form of self offering implies a desire for change in the other, that your love of them will move them to change. Our Lord often seems to forgive the sinner but goes on to give instructions for them to change their ways - go and sin no more.
Or have I got it all wrong?