This reduction in priestly presence from one full-time priest to one half-time priest at St. Mary’s will, obviously, mean some initial changes in what priests can do. This is not something that only I will face, nor that only St. Mary’s or St. Joe’s will face, it is something that will be unfolding throughout the Archdiocese at around the same time. Looking ahead then, it means that there will be some changes that Catholics will have to start to get used to as they interact with their priests and I wanted to take a few moments to lay out some of what those changes may look like while we are embarking on a new model of parish relationships as well as the way priests minister in those parishes. While we cannot fully know what that will look like there are some things we can anticipate as we move forward.
The most important change that we will need to face is simply a result of one priest being shared by two parishes. This means that the priest will have to be selective as to where he spends his time and energy and what he is involved with and what he cannot be involved with. While we like the priest to be present for as much as possible, it will have to be kept in mind that he is also being shared with another parish which also has its specific needs and requirements. It is hard to anticipate what this will look like fully, but it means, most likely, that the priest will have to say “no” to things that in the past he was able to say “yes” to. It will be imperative for the priest to view all that needs to be done and to choose to invest in what is clearly the role of the priest, what is most likely to produce the most fruit and what is the most important demand in that moment.
Due to the fact that the priest will have to be discerning and selective of what he is able to commit to, it also means a corresponding understanding on the part of parishioners. Just because a priest has to decline an invitation or cannot be present for something does not mean that he is uninterested, or finds it unimportant – it does mean, however, that he is trying to give what he can to things that he must do, either because of the nature of what must be done (i.e., things only a priest can do) or the pressing nature of something else (such as a funeral or attending a person who is dying). This will require both parishioners, as well as the priest, to rely on the work of the Parish Staff to handle things which, perhaps in the past, were handled by the priest.
As the transition unfolds for one priest to serve both St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s what things will look like will become more clear and more concrete, however, it’s good to think, even now, of the nature of the priesthood and what a priest is called to do and to understand when he has to choose between needs and wants.
There is always trepidation and nervousness in going into change and, thankfully, we’ll be given notice of when this change will take place and continue to talk about it as it gets closer and, hopefully, while the changes will be real and some may require a period of adjustment, we can approach these plans and changes with a spirit of hope and in looking forward to the new things that the Holy Spirit will bring about in and through the Archdiocesan Planning Process.