There was an audible gasp among “the regulars” at the conclusion of 6:30 Mass on Monday morning.
Fr. Tom, our celebrant—and beloved pastor of 19 years, announced that he’d be moving to a new assignment come June.
On one level, it was not an enormous surprise: Fr. Tom has reached the age where he is the last among his ordination class to still be serving as a pastor. And here at St. Joe’s, he has served in that role for one of the largest parishes in the Archdiocese. So he’s certainly earned the chance to step back from the grind of so grand and demanding a responsibility.
On another level, the gasp pretty much said it all: He’s been an amazing leader here for nearly two decades…and will leave very large shoes to fill.
It’s hard to imagine that our parish life… community life… spiritual life… won’t change when his boisterous laugh and courageous, inviting spirit are no longer part of the everyday fabric. And the prospect of change inevitably opens the door to fear.
It’s important that we notice this, it seems to me. Spiritual energy is about to be unleashed in our midst, and it presents us with a choice: We can focus on the fact that routines are about to be disrupted…and that patterns of power and influence will shift. Or we can choose to embrace the words of our parish mission statement: ‘A Christ-centered parish, engaging, connecting and empowering God’s people.’
‘Christ-centered’. Not ‘Fr. Tom-centered’.
With Fr. Tom pulling up stakes, our Easter season now draws to a close…offering something like an invitation to become what we say we are. Offering a chance to grow, as God’s people, under new leadership—but ever rooted in Christ.
As we sort through all the changes in the coming weeks and months, we might do well to chew on the words of scripture proclaimed at Mass this Sunday. In the second reading, we hear from St. Peter—who provides an exhortation that’s remarkably similar to our mission statement:
Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation
to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope…
It is Christ who empowers us. Christ who connects us. Christ, who has been with us in the person of Fr. Tom all these years. And Christ, who is with us still – in the person of the pastor we are about to meet. We can be sure of that, because it is the promise Christ himself makes in this week’s gospel:
I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
In a little while the world will no longer see me,
but you will see me, because I live and you will live.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.