This past Sunday we arrived at our church around 8 a.m., as usual. Mass doesn’t begin until 8:30, but we assemble half an hour early in the choir practice room for any last-minute practice that is needed (which is especially nice for those leading the responsorial psalm, which can be tricky). It seemed just like any other Sunday.
But it wasn’t. Minutes after arriving we learned that our dear pastor is leaving us. Our new bishop has decided that our pastor’s many talents are needed at a huge parish to our north, a parish with 1600 families and a school.
I know that our pastor is up to this challenge. He is a tireless worker, a faithful servant, a priest after Christ’s own Heart, and a dear and kind person. He will do well. But we will miss him.
In this Internet age I was able to do a bit of checking; the parish our priest is going to looks like an amazing place! And the parish where our soon-to-be new pastor is coming from is also incredible: daily Adoration, pro-life and NFP efforts, Bible study and other adult education opportunities in addition to the children’s religious education, a focus on Mass, sacraments, and prayer. There was a time in my life when news of a new pastor would have terrified me, or made me map out the distance to whatever church my former pastor was being moved to; it is new, and different, for me to have a much more trusting and hopeful attitude about what lies ahead.
I place a lot of the credit for my trust and hopefulness on our current pastor. Even when he was telling the congregation about his new assignment, he began by reading the bishop’s letter, and then saying that people have been asking him if he is excited to have this new opportunity. Well, he said, it’s not really excitement. He is sad to leave us. “But I can’t say ‘no’ to the bishop,” he said. Then he paused, and gave a characteristic grin. “Well, I could say ‘no.’ But it wouldn’t be appropriate,” he corrected himself. More than a few of us chuckled at that, recognizing ourselves and our attitudes in that very human moment.
At plenty of times in the past I’ve been willing to storm out a parish’s doors the minute some new priest arrived, without giving him a chance to settle in, or the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think that’s all that hard to understand; my formative years were the height of the Church in America’s Very Silly Season, where a pastor who “said the black and did the red” might move on and be replaced by a pastor who made things up as he went along, and skirted on the edge of outright heresy in every homily. Even today, with the best intentions in the world, I have trouble with visiting priests or the occasional times when I have to go to Mass somewhere other than my own parish, because I find myself on “heresy watch” without even intending to go there.
And it is still appropriate--it is always appropriate--to address important liturgical abuses or actual heresy by appealing to the proper authorities. But I’m talking about the knee-jerk reaction that comes from liturgical nitpicking and the spirit of suspicion that goes looking for error, and is never willing to see errors (especially minor ones) as, possibly, inadvertent mistakes instead of Signs of Father’s Real Agenda. Cultivating that spirit of suspicion is spiritual poison that can destroy one’s faith altogether if left unchecked.
I still wish our pastor didn’t have to go, because he is greatly loved and will be sadly missed. The people at his new parish are getting a real treasure, and I hope they will cherish him and work with him without that spirit of suspicion. And as I hope for them to act, so I will act as well, when our new pastor arrives. It’s a new thing for me to try to hope for the best from a new pastor instead of fearing the worst, but I think it’s a good idea.