1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21
Galatians 5:1, 13-18
June is a time of transition for dioceses throughout the country. The newly ordained receive their first assignments, and pastors announce their retirements. In the process, parishes lose their beloved pastors. It is a painful experience. However, we understand that priests are ordained to serve the whole diocese, not just our individual parish. So, we say our tearful goodbyes and welcome our new pastor.
In my parish, we have experienced much transition over the past eight years. Our pastor of 15 years suddenly passed away in 2012. Since then, we have had two administrators and one pastor. Now, we are entering a collaborative with two other parishes, sharing a pastor and assistant. Many parishioners question why this is necessary. Others have left the parish for one with a more convenient Mass schedule. All are feeling bereaved that our parish will not be the same.
This Sunday’s Gospel speaks to the challenges my parish and others throughout the country face dealing with a shortage of priests and declining Mass attendance.
Jesus says, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” Jesus was homeless. Many of us who have had our parishes closed or merged also have a sense of homelessness. The places where we were baptized, confirmed, and married no longer exist. The Mass schedules we had built our weekends around are now changed. It can be disorienting and dismaying.
Like the second and third people who approach Jesus, we want to look back. We celebrate all the priests who sacrificed to build up our parish. We remember countless parishioners who gave their time and money to support it. We acknowledge all the good that was done. We want to go back to the way we were. But it just isn’t possible. Those days are gone.
Jesus’ words, though harsh, are also fitting. “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” and “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” It is good for us to honor our sacred past. However, Jesus does not want us to be stuck in our nostalgia. As a Church, we need to move forward and embrace the challenges that lie ahead of us. That requires conversion.
In the past, we have treated our parishes like convenience stores. Like the Dunkin’ Donuts on every corner, parishes were there for people to get their needs met and then move along. We were spending more time raising money than raising consciences.
To meet the challenges of the present, we cannot be stuck in the past. If we are to go out and proclaim the kingdom, we cannot be just maintaining buildings. Like Jesus, we need to be on the move — not just catering to those who come to us but going out to those on the fringes of our society. And, like Jesus, we have to accept that many won’t be willing to make the changes needed to take that long journey. While we want to be sensitive, we cannot let them hold us back.
My home parish was founded to serve the needs of Portuguese immigrants. The building is meant to represent the ships that Portuguese explorers used to discover new lands. In this time of transition, we, like our ancestors, are called to leave the safety of our home port and bring the Gospel into the world. That is true for the whole Church which, as the Barque of St. Peter, is called by Jesus to go out into the deep — resisting the temptation to enshrine the past so that we can evangelize the present.
Douglas Sousa, S.T.L.