Tuesday, April 30, 2019 - Updated: 2:43 pm
The Gospel readings for this past week, the “octave of Easter,” are a joy to savor. They are the stories of how the resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples. They include the puzzled doubting Thomas (who becomes Thomas the believer who cries out, “My Lord and my God!”), the long walk to Emmaus, Mary Magdalene’s confusion that Jesus was the gardener, the great catch of fish off the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and the three repeated questions to Peter, “Do you love me?”
There really is no rhyme or reason to these disjointed stories. The men and women who followed Jesus knew he died on the cross. They never imagined he would rise from the dead in three days. They were dealing with a “new” Jesus, glorified, risen, himself and yet more than himself. The friends of the risen Jesus were dumbfounded, and if you or I had been there we probably would have been dumbfounded, too.
I have long taken consolation in the final verse of John’s Gospel: “There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.” What don’t we know about the teachings of Christ after his resurrection?
Only after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (which we will celebrate liturgically on Sunday, June 9) did the apostles and disciples begin to understand the risen Lord, how he had changed, and how they were to change, too, if they were to follow him.
Change is difficult. I have heard this repeatedly in our three parishes since Oct. 15. Parishioners miss their longtime and beloved pastors. Mass schedules change. Staffing is adjusted. Pastoral and finance councils meet together. We have begun working toward unity as one new parish community. Our local church and its faithful, led by our bishop, are working to be agents of healing and hope. Our church is changing.
For more than four years, On Mission for The Church Alive! as a planning process has been grappling with the reality and necessity of change in all 188 parishes in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, throughout six counties. I could not have imagined “parish groupings,” “multiple-parish pastorates,” “missionary discipleship,” a steep decline in active priests or the dark shadow of scandal in the church when I was ordained 40 years ago.
The ironic reality is that change is one constant in our lives. I know that some seek the church as a “no-change” zone, away from all the changes we face — aging, kids getting older, the sicknesses and deaths of loved ones, job adjustments, etc. Some changes are welcome — winning the lottery, getting a pay raise, setting a goal to lose weight and achieving it, proudly seeing kids graduate or get married, etc. But the church and the disciples of Jesus change, too.
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ points to the centrality of change (or conversion) in our lives. Conversion from sinning to developing virtuous and holy habits. Conversion from selfishly looking at only my needs to caring for the needs of people around me. Conversion from holding grudges to forgiving. Conversion from isolation to working for justice with your brothers and sisters in parishes and neighborhoods. Conversion from holding on to the past to letting go for a Spirit-filled future. Conversion means embracing Jesus’ radical challenging command to St. Peter: “Follow me.”
As I was preparing to move from my former assignment in New Castle, Lawrence County, back to Allegheny County, I often meditated on these words of the risen Lord to Peter: “Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18).
I am now older, and I go where the Lord (and the bishop!) wants me to go. With humble faith let us willingly embrace the changes the risen Lord, Jesus Christ, holds out to us, in every aspect of our lives and our church, each day and for generations to come.
Father Almade is administrator of the parish grouping that includes St. Colman in Turtle Creek, St. John Fisher in Churchill and St. Jude in Wilmerding.