New assignments bring opportunity for priests and parishes they serve
As you can see from the list of clergy appointments published in this issue of the Catholic Voice, a number of our priests will be packing their belongings and moving during the next several weeks. The end of one pastoral assignment and the beginning of another one is an important moment in the life of the priest, as well as in the lives of the people he serves. We trust that in God’s providence, it is a moment of grace, to look back with thanks and to look forward with hope.
I know you join me in giving special thanks for the service of the priests retiring from full-time assignments. By now, they have spent most of their adult lives serving God and all of us in various ways. Thanks be to God, we have not seen the last of them.
Our retired priests remain as active as they can, and they are generous in helping to meet a variety of pastoral needs around the archdiocese. They help to provide daily and Sunday Masses in our parishes. They provide sacramental care in hospitals and nursing homes, serve as confessors, spiritual directors and retreat masters, and they pray and offer their lives daily in union with Christ. Don’t forget to send a retired priest a note or email, recalling how he helped lead you to Christ. He will be happy to hear from you.
At the other end of the spectrum are our newly ordained priests. On June 4, I was privileged to ordain six men to the priesthood for service in the archdiocese. I am grateful to God for calling them and grateful to them for their response to that call.
Father Andrew Roza, our vocations director, assured me of their readiness as part of the ordination ceremony. He works closely with the excellent seminaries available to us for the preparation of our priests. These men come home for ordination equipped with almost everything they need to be good priests.
What they don’t have yet is experience. Happily, there is plenty of good priestly work for them to do in our parishes. Normally, newly ordained priests are assigned to larger parishes where there are seasoned pastors and a variety of pastoral needs to be met. I have fond memories of my first assignment as a priest at St. Justin Martyr Parish in Sunset Hills, Mo.
I arrived there in June 1975, knowing not quite as much as I thought I did. The parishioners were great. They helped form me in practical ways by their faith, their friendship and their feedback into the priest that God’s people needed me to be. I am counting on those parishes who are welcoming newly ordained priests this year to do the same for them. They will be grateful, as I am, for years to come.
A number of pastors and associate pastors will begin new assignments this summer. This movement of priests is not done for the sake of change nor haphazardly. I work with a priests personnel board, chosen by their brother priests, to advise me on meeting the pastoral needs of more than 130 parishes across the wide and varied expanse of the archdiocese. Sometimes a priest moves to a new place because his normal term of service has been completed. Other times, I ask a priest to take a new assignment because of a particular need and his particular gifts or experience.
In almost every case, when I ask a priest to take on a new pastoral responsibility, we are able to meet face-to-face. I am always edified (although not surprised) when I see how willing our priests are to do what the church needs them to do. This is not because the moving is easy. They experience a real poverty of spirit when they have to leave one community and entrust themselves to another one, often within a matter of weeks. Since ordination, they know that their lives are not their own. They belong to the Lord who calls them and sends them out.
This reality of being sent is an important part of our Catholic experience. A priest does not just show up at a parish and set up shop on his own. I send him to you. In other words, he has been given a mission that is rooted in the mission given by Jesus to the apostles, to bring the Gospel to as many people as possible. The priest stands at the head of the community of the faithful in the person of Christ himself, and I ask you to accept him as a living sacrament of the Lord’s own presence with you.
Priests have different gifts. We each have our limitations, too. The Holy Spirit gives gifts to all of the baptized and brings them together for a vibrant experience of life in Christ, priests and people together. That is the Lord’s plan for those whom he has redeemed. During this Jubilee of Mercy we remember that the gift of mercy is always available in Christ.
Priests are sent as ministers of mercy to a portion of the Lord’s flock entrusted to their care. The Eucharist and the sacrament of penance would not be possible without their ministry. They are instruments of mercy, even as they receive mercy themselves. The receiving and dispensing of mercy should characterize the life of every follower of Jesus. In parishes experiencing transitions this summer, I pray that priests and people will see Jesus more clearly. He is the face of the Father’s mercy.