Sunday, May 11, 2014

The View

   Fourth Sunday of Easter   A 

I was quite touched when Fr. Tom asked
if he could wash my feet on Holy Thursday—
the first time, I think, in my priesthood
since, more often than not,
I’m the one on my knees doing the washing.
After we’d taken our places in front of the church
and removed our shoes and socks,
the parishioner sitting next to me scanned the room and said,
“The view is rather different from up here.”

His comment has stayed with me the last few weeks.
I couldn’t agree more!

Have you ever tried to point out something at a distance—
a building, a mountain peak, a star—
only to have the other person say
they can’t see what you’re talking about?
More often than not,
the problem is that you’re not looking from the same spot.
Even if only slightly,
you’re seeing things from a different angle,
a different perspective, a different point of view.

On this “Good Shepherd Sunday,”
I think it’s helpful for both you and I to remember
that shepherd and flock stand in different places—
we each take in a different view.
Let me start with a concrete example.
Most every member of this congregation
will see one priest at one altar in one church this weekend.
But I’ll see between 700 and 800 parishioners
at four Masses in two churches before noon today.
Multiply that by every baptism and wedding,
every anointing and funeral,
every check signed and meeting attended,
every word of counseling given and complaint received,
and I think you can begin to understand what I mean.
From where your priests—and in particular, your pastor—sits,
there’s a rather different view of life in our parishes
than the one you can get in the pews.
And this difference of perspective allows your priests
to see a wider angle, to take in a bigger picture.
Try as we might to point things out,
we don’t always succeed in helping you to see what we see.

Nonetheless, this Sunday, I’m going to try again.

From where I sit, I think we need
to make some pretty significant changes around here.
Last August, when I announced
that our four parishes would be merging into one,
I assured you that most things—
in particular, Mass schedules and use of our church buildings—
would remain unchanged, at least at the beginning,
as we transition into the new St. André Bessette Parish.
I sincerely meant what I said at that time.
But with the passage of another year,
I’m afraid the “beginning” may be shorter
than originally anticipated.
I know that some of you are seeing it, too.
At our brainstorming session not quite two weeks ago,
several folks raised concerns about our Mass times—
in particular, that they don’t fit for many working people and families. 
Of course, some of the same people were quick to add,
“…but don’t touch my Mass.”
Other parishioners suggested
that we consider closing some of our churches,
at least during the winter heating season.
(I’ve heard this idea circulating around town in recent months,
and even received an anonymous note about it in the collection. 
By the way: that’s not the most effective way to communicate.)

I’ll admit: I’ve thought some of these same things,
but not so much for reasons of job and sport schedules or fuel economy.
For one thing, seeing what I see from where I stand,
I don’t think we’re living up to our potential as a parish flock.
We’re focused more on protecting what’s within
than on reaching out to the wider community.
Our energy and efforts have been directed
toward matters of maintenance—
of looking back and hanging on to the way things were—
instead of toward matters of mission—
of moving forward and making sure
we’re where God wants us to be today.
And another thing: your shepherds are tired—
exhausted, actually.
We’ve often joked in the rectory
that we must have the youngest rectory in the country—
possibly the world!
And even we are hitting the wall.
It’s not good for us or for you that, on Sundays,
we’re always running in at the very last minute
and running back out as soon as it’s over
because of the tight schedule of so many Masses.
It breaks my heart every time someone comes up to me
and says, “Sorry to bother you, Father… 
I know you’re so busy, Father…”
You shouldn’t have to apologize
because you want to talk to your priests!
We can’t keep doing things the way we have been;
it’s simply not sustainable.

Jesus didn’t suffer that we might just scrape by;
he died that we might have life, and have it more abundantly.
We’ve been scraping by for long enough.

I don’t have any specific plan to announce to you right now.
We’re not going to rush into anything.
I will continue to work closely with Bishop LaValley,
our parish staff, and Pastoral Council.
And I’m going to have to ask you to trust me;
no longer a stranger after four years here,
I hope that at least a few of you already do.
We’ll need to take a few chances—
as Pope Francis likes to say, “make a mess.”
We’ll probably fail a few times.
I know that I won’t make everybody happy—
but I don’t really think that’s my job,
and besides, not everybody’s happy now
and some folks simply never will be.
As I’ve said to you before: there’s no standing still;
we’re either sliding back or moving ahead.

On the U.S. calendar, this Sunday, of course, is Mothers Day.
And on the Catholic calendar, this “Good Shepherd Sunday”
is the 51st World Day of Prayer for Vocations.
A neat story makes it clear just how well
these two celebrations fit together.

Pope St. Pius X died just 100 years ago.
His family was so poor that his mother
worked as a washerwoman and a school janitor
in order to raise enough money to put him though the seminary.
When he was elected pope, he was a bit uncomfortable
with all the pomp and circumstance of the office.
“Look how they’ve dressed me!” he said to a friend.
His mother was present
on the day of his coronation (as it was known then),
and kissed his large papal ring, as was the custom.
But she then presented her tiny hand with her simple wedding ring
and said, “Now kiss my ring—
for without it, you never would have received yours!”

When we think or talk about vocations,
we often focus on the differences between them.
That can lead us to think that the roles
of clergy and laity, of shepherds and sheep,
are somehow at odds
when, in fact, they’re meant to compliment each other.
In a book I’m now reading, a clever French priest jokes
that priestly celibacy and the Sacrament of Matrimony
are actually very much alike:
in celibacy, a man renounces all women,
while in marriage a man renounces all women but one!  (cf. J. Philippe)
All kidding aside…
Whether you’re single or married, divorced or widowed,
a mother or a father, ordained or in religious vows,
we’re all called to live the same mystery:
the mystery of Christ and of his Cross.
Although expressed in different ways,
it’s all about generous self-giving, about sacrificial love,
about laying down one’s life for another,
about giving flesh again to the love of God
revealed for us in Jesus, his Son.

Precisely because we stand in different places
and, therefore, take in rather different views,
we need one another.
The shepherd needs his sheep;
in fact, he’s no shepherd at all without them.
And if his sheep are intent, each one, 
on going its own way
rather than looking to the good of the flock,
he’ll be left rather weary and discouraged—
an unhealthy situation for all involved.
Likewise, the sheep need their shepherd—
to keep them together, to guide and protect them.
But if the shepherd is merely concerned
about his own comfort and gain,
or if he lacks the courage to correct or direct when needed,
or if he’s basically run ragged,
then the good of the whole flock is put at risk.
We must learn from one another.
We must support and encourage one another.
We must love one another.

Trust me: the view is rather different from up here!
And, please, trust me as I try to be a pastor—your pastor—
after the heart and mind of the Good Shepherd,
leading us into a new and more abundant life.

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