I’ve been making preparations for my move to my new parish since my post that included my letter to St. Stephen Parish announcing my transfer to St. Mary in Trenton. I’ve been packing possessions in boxes. I’ve visited the parish in Trenton a couple of times to see my new home and meet with some parish leaders to learn about the parish.
What I’ve also noticed is that even though I’m still pastor of St. Stephen, psychologically I’ve been “disengaging” from the parish’s life in some ways. I go to meetings but, frankly, struggle with maintaining interest. Ultimately, the decisions being discussed will be carried out by my successor. In my mind I’m beginning to think more about my life in the future as pastor of this new parish I’m being sent to. Who are these people I’m going to serve? What are their needs? How is the parish living it’s mission and how will I help it further its living of the gospel in Trenton? How will I make the rectory my home instead of my predecessor? It’s a disorienting feeling for a pastor; to be here but already having one foot in the new there.
I was sharing this feeling of disorientation with the pastoral council and finance council of St. Stephen who were meeting last week in joint session. I had invited my successor at St. Stephen to attend the meeting so that he might listen to the concerns of the parishioners about the new arrangement of sharing a pastor with another parish. I also wanted him to hear how the parish strove to discern the will of the Holy Spirit and carry it out faithful to our mission and vision statements. Mostly, Fr. Schultz and I wanted the parish to know that we were on the same page about the future of St. Stephen and our desire for a seamless, smooth transition.
One of the members of the Pastoral Council, who happens to be the director of the Office of Worship for the Diocese of Belleville, had a name for what I have been experiencing, “You’re experiencing a kind of Advent!” Normally we think of Advent taking place in December in the four weeks before Christmas. Liturgical Advent is a time for the church to recall that humanity spent millennia waiting for a savior who appeared enfleshed among us incarnate of the Virgin Mary. It reminds us that we await the day when Christ shall come again in Glory to establish the fullness of the Kingdom of God. As Christians we are always in a kind of Advent, always a little disoriented even when the calendar says it’s summer or Easter season. While living here in this present day we are waiting for the Lord Jesus to come and inaugurate a new day when time ceases and the right order (justice) of God is established permanently. In fact when we participate in the Eucharist we are literally standing on a threshold between here and there, now and then.
My experience of leaving one parish and moving to a new one has the feel of Advent. The life I have known at St. Stephen has been good, just as life for Christians is good in this world. But like Christians know “We Are Not Home Yet” and we are destined for another home Christ has prepared for us. Each time we move to a new home, location, job or stage of life the experience can be for the Christian a reminder that we are in between the present we know and a new life that will be revealed in the future. Life can be very pleasant and good, here, in this world but how much more wonderful is our future in the place Christ has prepared for us by his death and resurrection that he will come to take us home to.
As we go through the experience of change we might be disoriented, or anxious. Perhaps we should remember the words of Jesus, again in the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” (John 14:2) As another saying I’ve heard goes, “Do not worry about the future. God is already there!”
It’s interesting that while going through my possessions as part of the process of packing for the move, I found some notes and reflections I wrote to help me process my anxiety about my move in 1998 from St. Boniface and St. Pius V Parishes were I was pastor before I came to St. Stephen. I was concerned about not knowing anyone, being responsible for a larger parish and a Catholic school. Would I be accepted by the people? Would I like the parish? 13 years later I can honestly say my experience at St. Stephen has been positive, even beyond my expectations. I am going to find it very difficult to leave my current parish. The life enriching experience and the negation of my fears expressed in my notes to myself before arriving at St. Stephen by my positive experience of 13 years teaches me that I should not worry about my future in Trenton. It will be good. Advent waiting leads to a new, better order of life for those willing to believe that God comes to us in the flesh and raises human flesh to the divine life when we unite ourselves to Christ and his victory over death. And so will be our “final transfer” from here to there, from the experience of this world to our “transitus” to life in the fullness of the Kingdom of God. Jesus is faithful. He has shown us the way.
I just wish he’d help me pack my belongings and mystically transport them from here (Caseyville) to there (Trenton) like he seemed to be able to move from one place to another after his resurrection. Guess I’ll have to wait, some more, for that new day’s reality when space and time are transcended and we can be wherever without the need of moving vans in the resurrected body.