BEFORE THE CROSS | Transitions are an opportunity to embrace challenge and opportunity

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

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The Scriptures this week encourage us to think about transitions.

Jesus prepares His disciples (and us) for His Ascension. His way of being present to them is about to change. So far, He's been present to them physically and externally. After the Ascension, when He sends the Spirit, He'll be with them internally, sacramentally and mystically. That will take some getting used to, and He wants to prepare them for the transition.

Pentecost will call forth another transition. All through Jesus' ministry, the apostles were energized by their own formation — what they were receiving from Him. After the Spirit comes, they'll be energized by evangelization — what they give to others in His name. That's an important transition for them, and for us.

St. Paul makes key transitions this week, too. The first concerns strategy. In Athens, at the Areopagus, Paul proclaimed the Gospel with a perfectly crafted speech. He drew on the best in Greek culture, philosophy and poetry. And it fell completely flat. There were a few converts, to be sure. But for the most part, people scoffed at his ideas, or politely put him off for another day.

When he left Athens for Corinth, Paul changed his strategy. He stopped trying to make fancy speeches. Instead, he proclaimed the cross boldly and plainly. Writing to the Corinthians later, he stated: "I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). The change in strategy bore tremendous fruit. There were many converts in Corinth.

But Paul also needed to make a transition in audience. His proclamation of the cross was a stumbling block to the Jewish population, but was well received by the Gentiles. Since the Jewish people rejected it, he said: "From now on I will go to the Gentiles." This was a major transition in audience — and most of us are in the Church today because of it.

Transitions happen all the time: births and deaths, graduations and retirements, ordinations and changing priest assignments, parish and school mergers. Even the earth makes transitions from season to season.

Rather than just watch them happen, the Scriptures this week are encouraging us to be deliberate about transitions. There are joys and practices and patterns in our lives that are good. But sometimes they have their season, and then it's time to let them go and trade up for something deeper and richer.

With the Ascension, Jesus' disciples were called to leave something good behind — and that was hard. But they were called to leave it behind for something deeper, richer and more fruitful — and that was exciting. That was the challenge and the opportunity in the transition they were facing.

I hope that each of us will meet the challenge and seize the opportunity in every transition we're facing, too. 

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