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    A View from the Pew



    Within the past month, many Catholic parishes learned that their parish landscape would soon change. Pastors retired, experienced pastors replace them and assume new posts, parochial vicars become assigned as pastors or presbyters discerning changes in their own lives wane into the sunset on leave of absence. Some ordained ministers assume double duty and undertake multiple ministries, keeping multiple plates spinning all at the same time. Others leave beloved parishes and communities with heavy hearts and paid debts, and move to minister to communities with a mess on their hands that someone else created. All in all, I wonder if the church really understands what a change and a new assignment entails for a Catholic priest when the boss says ‘go.’

    I thought a lot about this within the past few months. The ‘rumor mill’ revolving around the circulating names and assignments can be uttered in the same breath as we place people on hold on our cell phones and order a latte. Wait a minute. Somebody’s life is at the center of this conversation.

    Think about it. Priests promise obedience to their bishop on the day of their ordination. If a priest is needed to serve in one or multiple capacities, a bishop can (pastorally) require them to attend to those pastoral needs and tasks as assigned. No additional benefits, salary or assisting staff need be added. More work for less time off, added responsibilities for no monetary increase. This is what we need you to do, Father. Fear not and go in peace. Some guys go willingly, some with trepidation and some with mixed emotions. But the bottom line still lies in the fact that priests new ‘assignments’ do not only involve their work; the new ‘assignment’ encompasses a priest’s entire way of being and consumes the majority of their time, efforts and abilities.

    I cannot speak for all priests. But I can tell you this from the priests who I have been fortunate enough to know and work beside: they are human beings who work relentlessly on our behalf and earnestly love the people of God. Do we ever consider that they need love, reassurance and a caring community to affirm them and their efforts? Should we turn to them in times of human troubles? Of course; good priests wouldn’t have it any other way. However, many times, those same priests get bupkis in return for their labor on our behalf. Oh sure, a small and good hearted group of people provide a spine of support for the presbyterate. That’s always been true and will continue to be so. But let’s face it: on the whole, a community shows up on the weekend, wishes Father well and thanks him for all his kind care on their behalf throughout his tenure with them with very little thought to the profound impact they might have made on him and his conflicting emotions within the impending change in his life. We move out the church door for Sunday morning brunch with the kids or stretch out to enjoy the New York Times. A priest goes back to a rectory, perhaps now his new place of residence but hardly ‘home’ for a really long time until a love exchange begins to exist between a priest and his new community.

    Is your pastor moving? Find some time to pray for him, thank him and wish him well in his new assignment. Are you welcoming a new priest? Find some time to pray for him, welcome him and make every effort to work alongside him. This is our church, together, all of us. Pray always and affirm, affirm, affirm. That’s the work of the Spirit within us and among us.

    Pentecost blessings.