Mutatis mutandis. This Latin phrase captures where we find ourselves in our Easter journey as reflected in this Sunday’s readings. Literally, this phrase means “things having been changed that have to be changed.”
Some things we believe are immutable, that is unchanging and unchangeable, permanent and fixed. Other things we know to be adaptable to time and circumstance. They evolve, they mutate.
In the aftermath of Vatican Council II, the rule about abstaining from meat every Friday was changed to abstaining from meat on Fridays in Lent. At our dinner table, my father, a man of deep faith and who loved to pose inscrutable questions at the dinner table (to the groans of his gathered children), asked: “This week we can eat meat. Last week we could not. Those who did eat meat last week sinned. This week we do not. Will God hold accountable those who were to abstain differently than us?” Groan! But I still remember this lesson: some things—even what seemed like immutable rules in those days—actually do and need to change.
By their very nature institutions—including families, churches, businesses, and cultures—codify certain values and behaviors so that they can be passed on to the next generation. This is what we mean when saying “This is how we do things around here.” The way we do things helps define us or distinguish us from others.
We can see in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles an intense debate about circumcision. Some saw circumcision as an immutable condition of belonging to this emerging Christian community. Others, including the Apostles, disagreed and rejected that condition. In the gospel Jesus counseled his followers to keep discerning, promising that the “Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” And what was Jesus’ fundamental message? Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.
This is immutable. Most everything else, mutatis mutandis.
Robert Hotz is a consultant with American City Bureau, Inc. and was the Director of The Passion of Christ: The Love That Compels Campaign for Holy Cross Province.