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Deacon McNeil: ‘Parting is such sweet sorrow’ when priests leave parishes

When Shakespeare wrote, “Parting is such sweet sorrow” for that gripping first balcony scene in “Romeo and Juliet,” he was referring to the simultaneous pain of parting and the joyous anticipation of a future reunion.

Many parents, teachers and parishioners can relate.

Letting go of their elementary school, high school or college graduate is no easy thing for a parent. But it’s the child seeking his or her potential who can bring about a special kind of anticipation in any parent.

The same can be said for teachers. After the end of every long school year, there’s a ritual letting go. Teachers prop open the front doors of the school to make room for excited students to pass through, wishing them a happy and safe summer as they race by. 

Some students slow down long enough to get a final hug, gleeful for how they might return – wiser and more mature, perhaps? – at summer’s end. 

In a way, Shakespeare’s aphorism also holds true for parishioners whose pastors and associate pastors are departing for new assignments.

We have a tendency to cling to our beloved parish priests. We want to keep them for ourselves. 

We can be as possessive as the parent of a kindergartner on the first day of school, embracing their child for an agonizing amount of time, until a teacher’s aide is forced to intervene and gently peel the parent’s fingers from the child’s fragile shoulders.

For those losing a beloved priest this summer, look for the sweetness in this parting.

God gifted your parish with a sacred minister who has witnessed many of the significant moments in your life. 

He’s shared your joys, administered the sacraments, and inspired the Word of God to live and move in you. He may have supported you through tragedy and provided valuable counsel when you were up against insurmountable odds. 

So it’s natural to want your parish priest to remain part of the family.

But keep this in mind: Our holiest priests never really uproot and leave us high and dry. Rather, they take up permanent residence in our hearts.

Consider yourself better for the time you had with your parish priest who’s being reassigned. Now it’s time for the church to gift another parish with his presence. 

Parting, of course, can bring about the sorrow Shakespeare writes about. The sweetness is in the knowledge that others will receive from him the same graces you received. 

Sweeter still is the unexpected future meeting when your former associate pastor is now a new or seasoned pastor doing great things at another parish.

You’ll be able to say, “I knew him when.”

Until then, you’re responsible for keeping his “fire” burning in your parish and in the world around you. 

Be a good steward of his flame. 

Deacon Tim McNeil is chancellor and director of communications for the Archdiocese of Omaha.

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