There I was, strangely child-less for an evening, sitting in the pew, awaiting the start of a parish wide meeting with our local vicariate bishop and team of priests. It had been announced that our parish would be re-assigning our current pastor, as well as receiving a new pastor this summer. We had been informed that we could come to this meeting and have our voices heard in regards to this whole reassignment. Now, I had never been to this kind of parish wide meeting, and I was curious what all was about to unfold.
See, our pastor is quite beloved. He connects with the kids of the parish, as well as the teens, just as well as with the older folks. Somehow he crosses generational gaps and appeals to a wide variety of demographics. Early on, I noticed about him, was his sense of charity ….how he said something so gently, but firmly that the message was thought-provoking and effective. He has a sincere love for Christ in the Eucharist, that it has permeated our entire parish.
We’ve loved our pastor too, for quite a while, having baptized two of our children, heard three kid’s first Confessions, Two 1st Holy Communions and a host of many other significant spiritual milestones for our family.
So back to the pew. They began with prayer, and instruction on how this night would go. Those parishioners who wanted to speak should come to the front, use the mic, and express a few thoughts on what a new pastor of our parish should know, what are our strengths as a parish and what are our weaknesses as a parish. The instructions were clear.
People who love their shepherd didn’t come to give critique. They came to lobby to keep our favorite priest. Grown men and women expressed themselves, some most clearly, with passion and fervor, others with sobs and tears, but all had a similar message, “Don’t take my priest.” “Give him another extension” (he has had two already).
As I witnessed impassioned plea after pea, two hours long, I began to form tears in my own eyes too, not for the man we were about to lose, but in gratitude for the man God has made our pastor into. He touched people’s lives. He connected. He represented the truth for people in his congregation, and they felt close to him, they respected him, they loved him. So many stepped up to the mic to address a fully packed church, recounting the many reasons they love him, and why he should stay.
I was moved. One vocation to the priesthood, had such an impact on so many. The outpouring of emotion was palpable. It filled the church. He had brought God to these people, He was another Christ for his sheep.
At the end of the meeting, our bishop stood up and addressed the crowd, giving praise to God for having used such a worthy instrument to spread the Gospel. Before finishing his prayer, he gave us some advice, “Go easy on your new pastor, you’ll know his name in one day, it will take weeks or months to learn over 2000 of yours.”
Walking out of our church, I found myself walking in time with another parishioner. He leaned in to tell me something while holding the door open for me. He said, “Well, that was a wasted night.”
I gave him a surprised look and answered, “No, I don’ t think so.”
He said angrily, “Well the bishop said it in the end. He’s leaving us.”
I nodded, for sure we knew that. What I didn’t expect was the whole congregation coming to battle this reassignment, thinking they could change God’s will with the outpouring of anger or sadness. Even weeks after this meeting, our pastor has made it clear he accepts the will of God in this transfer, and rebuked efforts of his congregation to fight a battle for him to stay.
I went home and contemplated why I didn’t come to church with these exact feelings, why didn’t I want to fight for our pastor to stay? I loved him for the exact reasons that were explained by others this night. I would love to see him stay on….and then I took a step back.
Priests in our Catholic Church believe that they are married to the Church. Their bride is the Church. If their bride says that the will of God is to be moved to another parish in the Archdiocese, then there is an acceptance and joy that comes with fulfilling the Will of God.
Just as if my husband determined that it is God’s will that we move to another city, a new job or any other significant change in life, I would follow. I am married to him. A priest takes a vow of obedience. A married couple does the same. Should it be the will of God, then we obey. There is a peace that can come from this vow. We are assured that we are following God’s plan for us and our lives. No matter the state in life, married, single, priest, nun we are all called to live as our pastor has….to bring others to the truth of the Gospel and to Christ in the Eucharist.
We are all called to do this, in whatever state we find ourselves. It may not be behind the podium with a microphone, it might be quietly in our homes, forming the next generations of the Church.
So I, too, will miss our pastor. That I know for sure. What I wish my fellow parishioner could see was that our priests don’t marry their parishioners, nor obey them. They are submissive to The Catholic Church. They have handed over their lives, spiritually, physically, emotionally, and yes, literally. They aren’t ours to keep or dismiss at our whim. They have a calling to follow, and with the Holy Spirit alive and well, it just might blow those we love to new places.
God has claimed each and every one of us to be moved from one place to another when He calls for it. Our emotions are involved, of course. It is only natural to feel attached to the one who brought us closer to God. Do we wonder if we will lose our faith if one man isn’t there at the pulpit? Is our faith dependent on one person?
Once again, I am reminded of why I have loved our pastor for many years. He has always pointed to God as the one to adore, the one to praise, the one to love. He has taught us over the years, he has prepared us for this, by pointing always to Christ in the Eucharist…that He is the only constant, the only one who will never leave us. If our parish has truly listened to the homilies over the years, we’d see, we are more ready than ever to move into a new chapter, with a new pastor to deliver the same message, pointing to God, to love Him more, to act on that Love, and to follow more closely the teachings of Jesus Christ.
It isn’t easy to separate the man from the message. The message is powerful. It changes lives. Sometimes, we give credit to the man, instead of the One who originally gave us the message in the first place. Let us this Easter season, find God in the Resurrection, the anchor of our Faith.
Copyright 2012 Sahmatwork