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The First Parish

– Feast of Saint Matthias, Apostle –

‘I am giving you these commands so that you may love another.’  (John 15:17)

Our daughter has a greeting when she meets family members: “Hello, friends!” Sounds like she’s picked up the key message of today’s Gospel and indeed of the Scriptures. The Lord desires intimacy, not mere servitude: and yet there is the paradox in today’s Gospel of commanding love.

The real goal is community. This is the genius of the recent Synod, when at round tables, Cardinals and laypeople were companions. What they and we share when we practise conversation in the Spirit is the friendship Jesus commanded.

I ‘lay down my life for my friends’ in parish communities when I listen to their recount of how they were led by the Spirit in their prayer, when we discern our journey together, when we are open to God’s self-revelation and when we are impelled to mission through our participation in Eucharist.

Let us delight in today’s Gospel’s exposition of the first parish, where Jesus’ friends abide in his love, just as he ‘kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love’.

This is the dream for the parish that Pope Francis lays out in The Joy of the Gospel (n. 28): “It is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey and a centre of constant missionary outreach”.

This month, Pope Francis suggested priests ‘learn to practice the art of communal discernment, employing for this purpose the method of conversation in the Spirit…to know from within the life of God’s people’.

By Peter Webb

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