Wednesday, August 2, 2017

7 Years

Seven years ago today, I began my ministry as pastor. How well I remember that Monday morning! After saying good-bye to my predecessor as he drove off to his new assignment, I got in the car and drove to the church. Once there, I walked into my new office, closed the door, sat down at the desk. took a deep breath, and then asked myself, "Now what do I do?" I didn't have to wait too long for an answer. Actually, answers to that question quickly appeared in the form of things to be done and needs to be met, as they continually keep coming up in the regular routine of parish life.

Virtually my entire priesthood has been spent in parish work in three cities across two countries - for all of which I am genuinely grateful. As Louis Bouyer observed in his Memoirs, theological reflection requires contact with what gives it its meaning and so is best pursued within a Church ministry context, for "revealed truth is revealed to us only to lead us to salvation and lead others to it as well" [The Memoirs of Louis Bouyer (English translation 2015), pp. 102, 184].

Of course, a lot of parish life - certainly a lot of a pastor's life - seems at times only tangentially related to salvation. For example, shortly after I started my pastorate, I was informed (by people who certainly knew what they were talking about) that, while the church's ceiling was unlikely to fall down anytime soon, it would - unless replaced - do so eventually. So some months later, I called that group back together and observed that eventually was only going to get closer. And, soon enough, we had a two-part plan - first to replace the storm-damaged slate roof, and then to replace the inside ceiling. The latter job meant emptying the church and filling it with scaffolding for an entire summer and temporarily celebrating Mass downstairs in the parish hall. One day during the project, I climbed the inside scaffolding - something I doubt I would be as motivated to do today - just to say that I had seen close-up and touched one of the church's famous century-old ceiling paintings. (The three century-old ceiling paintings were also cleaned and better framed as part of the restoration, making them more accessible for hopefully at least another century of worshipers.)  Of course, the work took longer than expected, as such projects often do, and made quite a mess as long-forgotten decades of coal dust had to be dealt with. But soon enough the church had a new ceiling (and the walls a new coat of paint) even more attractive than what had been there before. 

But the heart and soul of parish life will always be what takes place underneath that ceiling in the nave and, above all, in the sanctuary and at the altar, the consistent center of our parish's liturgy and hence of its spiritual and communal life - which for these seven wonderful years I have been privileged to be a part of. 

A much younger parishioner asked me recently how it feels to get old. I can't quite recall exactly how seriously or flippantly I answered. Probably, I answered with some mixture of both - a combination which that sensitive topic encourages. At some point certainly I quoted the famous words of the psalmist: the sum of our years is seventy, or, if we are strong, eighty; and most of them are toil and trouble, for they quickly pass, and we vanish. Needless to say, I have prayed those familiar words so many times over so many years. But, now that I am merely a few months shy of 70, those words take on even more resonance.

In 1950, when he was at the age that I am now, the future Pope Saint John XXIII wrote in his Journal: "When one is nearly seventy, one cannot be sure of the future. ... So it is no use nursing any illusions: I must make myself familiar with the though of the end, not with dismay which saps the will, but with confidence which preserves our enthusiasm for living, working and serving." 

Of course, he lasted another 13 years and accomplished quite a lot in that time! I can only hope that, like him, I too may embrace whatever time may remain with what I can only hope counts as a comparable spirit of "enthusiasm for living, working and serving."

What more could one ask for?

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