My Dear Friends in Christ
Grace and Peace to you in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ who sent his Spirit to guide and direct the Church. One of the things that priests have to learn how to both do and teach well is transitions. As you have experienced in the past few years, priests are asked to move to a new assignment quite often and, as one who has lived in five different residences in the last eight years, I can tell you that it’s a challenge. I’m hoping that I’m not going to have to make any transitions anytime soon but, as you all know, it’s not really up to me. That’s the Archbishop’s call. Part of the challenge of transitions is spatial and part of the challenge is relational. The spatial part is, in some ways, the easier to deal with. You take all your stuff and move it to a new place and try to find the best arrangement for it. In my mind, the harder transition is relational, having to say goodbye. Both Fr. Hertges and I have remarked how much we miss people in our previous assignments. We aren’t in any way discounting the new relationships we will make. In fact, we are counting on them. We are just mourning the loss of old relationships.
The readings today are all trying to deal with transitions, each in their own way. Starting from the middle and working out, in the second reading, Paul is communicating with a church he founded that has several problems transitioning away from Judaism and Roman pagan religion to Christianity. Part of the reason for this difficulty is that they have splintered into different groups. Some associate themselves just with St. Wenceslaus, others just with St. Patrick, still others just with St. Boniface…wait, I’m sorry. That’s not right. Let me try that again. Some with St. Paul, others with a fellow named Saint Appollos, and still others with St. Peter or, as St. Paul calls him, Cephas. These groups are independently developing their own traditions and may even have been formed because of the minister that came to town to baptize the people in the groups. But, ultimately, Paul worries that the divisions will not allow for the unity that needs to be a component of the church. He asks, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” The answer to all of these questions is, of course, “No”. Paul emphasizes for them that the Jesus should be the one that draws them together not “the wisdom of human eloquence.”
In the gospel, Jesus is likewise dealing with a transition. His cousin, John the Baptist, has been arrested and this indicates that it’s time for him to stand up and begin to lead. He moves out of his parents’ house and moves to the big city of Capernaum. It’s interesting to note that Jesus’ first public message is basically the same message as John the Baptist gave, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” He, then, goes on to begin recruiting help. He had to be concerned about John, but he knew that his time had come and that he needed to begin his public ministry.
I imagine each of you has had to deal with transitions in your life. It could be sickness or death of a parent and realizing you are now the one who has to be the “adult” for your family. Maybe it’s dealing with your own financial problems or health concerns. Maybe you’ve been part of a group that used to do things to help people and the group has had to face tough realities like declining membership or funding decreases because of the economy. These are difficult transitions and ones that are best met, as I imagine Jesus did in the gospel, with a great deal of prayer and discernment as to what God wants you to do next. Yet, we find hope in the first reading that Jesus, likewise, found hope in the gospel. Despite bad times in the past, eventually “The People who walked in darkness (will see) a great light…” Transitions can be difficult and frustrating and there’s always a part of us asking why we have to undergo them. Yet, if they are done well and with hope, we hope to echo the words of Isaiah the prophet, “Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness…upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shined.”