U-Haul and Rent-a-Truck both love this time of the year. The Church should buy stock shares in these companies to help finance the many moves that are imminent, as July 1 is upon us and new assignments are occurring.
Packing and moving are not activities that many people relish. I have friends who work for the State Department who move every two or three years to another country. Fortunately, the government has a whole infrastructure which literally does the heavy lifting. The process relieves some burdens, but no government agency can lift the emotional toll that comes with each move. Those in the military experience the same.
People living these lives of routine flux comment that they do get used to it and that it forces them to make friends fast upon arrival at a new post because you don’t have time to cultivate friendships. Most of the people with whom they associate are all in the same boat (or should I say the same U-Haul).
Quick and frequent moves certainly help when the new assignment turns out not to be of your liking and rather difficult. It is easy to accept being there, knowing that it is only for two years and you hope for a better post next time. Counting the months down from 24 often gets you through these times, since time flies.
|The U-Haul is packed each time, but each time quite differently. The first move from seminarian to priest is full of wide-eyed emotions. Each move may include some of the
same boxed emotions, but no two priests, assignments or moves are the same. Shutterstock
The Scripture “When you leave that town, shake the dust from your feet” becomes very real when leaving particularly difficult places of your life. I once followed a pastor who had a particularly hard assignment; he could not wait until the last day. The religious community that had staffed the parish for decades was pulling out, relinquishing the parish to the Archdiocese. What we learn about physical moves like this should be carried over to other aspects of our lives such as when we try to move through and on from a particularly emotional period. How do we put something behind us?
On the other hand, the frequency of moves is difficult when, upon arrival, you know that this is going to be a great fit. The countdown and crossing off the months enhances the realization of how little time is left to get everything done that you had hoped to accomplish. The urgency of things becomes heightened; the “back burner” projects become “front burner” as you hear the clock ticking faster and the end is in sight. There is never enough time to get it all completed. Leaving becomes “more bitter than sweet” as you see what was still left to do that you had wanted to do.
Probably a lot of both sides of these emotions occur as U-Hauls pass one another on the beltways and highways of our dioceses. Some are speedily getting out of the church lot with the church in the rear view mirror and looking forward to the new venture. Others are slowly packing as each box is a reminder of what is not to be anymore. The newly ordained are packing at seminaries, and their leaving is exciting as they embark on that for which they have prepared and studied for so many years. The excitement of ordination is kept in check, though, with the pending announcement as to where all those boxes will be going. You know that the boxes are leaving the seminary, but on what shelf at what address will all those books now rest? It is not an easy time for ordinandi as the unknown location of the beginning of their priestly ministry hangs heavy over them. The speculation and the gossip of who is going where do not mitigate the anxiety. The memories of each new priest’s ordination are so recent that he still hears the words clearly, “Do you promise respect and obedience to me and to my successors?” and his response of “I do.” This beautiful and well-choreographed ritual moment is now a harsh reality as one respects and obeys the first assignment.
Leaving the second priestly assignment can be even worse than the one immediately following ordination. Parishioners can be so forgiving and understanding of a newly ordained priest. There is excitement to welcome him with his fresh enthusiasm, vigor and zeal for ministry. Everything is so new for him that the parishioners enter the newness with him and they themselves get revitalized in their faith in the process. Then, when that clock begins to tick louder as the end is nearing, a heightened anxiety could occur. There is wonderment whether this a lateral move from parochial vicar to parochial vicar or a promotion from parochial vicar to pastor. Both possibilities come with a fearful or joyous anxiety. Often first assignments could be seen as your “first love.” Parishioners fell in love with you, and you fell in love with the priesthood. One may be ordained on a particular day, but one becomes a priest over time. Moving away from your first love can be quite the challenge. There might be the fear of whether you can fall in love again, or if love can happen only once. Add to this the anxiousness of moving in general and knowing you have minimal input as to where you might be living or working for the next segment of your life. The situation can be daunting.
This feeling is certainly increased when the parochial vicar hears for the first time that he is being asked to be a pastor. The excitement, the feeling of affirmation by your superiors, the vote of confidence bestowed, all add dignity to the recently ordained priest. His peers in secular society are likewise being promoted, transferred to new positions or, on their volition, taking on new jobs and career paths. As men, there is a sense that we are programmed to ascend from the mailroom to the conference room. Through all these conflicted feelings of excitement and trepidation, each of us has walked sometime naively, but hopefully in faith — faith in God that He will continue to walk with you, faith in the Church that she is making the decision not just for herself but for you, and faith in yourself that this is where you need to be at this time.
These previous moves are all moves from one place of ministry to another place of ministry or even from one parish ministry to special ministry. An even harder move is from ministry to no ministry. Though many people, priests included, do the countdown to when they hit retirement age, the counting down is nothing compared to the arrival. The U-Haul is pulling away from the last rectory, the last pastorate, and heading to a new kind of residence. It may be a personal residence that a priest has had as a home away from home, but now it will now be the full-time home. No longer is it a place of quiet to escape the hubbub of parish life. It might now be seen as a soundless residence where the silence is deafening. Where do you go to get away from the silence? Preparing properly for this massive change is of utmost importance. Many priests in dioceses work years beyond the official retirement age. The reasons are as varied as the priests. Some may not have prepared financially and believe they need to work longer. Priests are not much different from the general society. Many people continue working because they ask themselves what they will do all day, and so they work until they drop. The saddest retirements are those that are thrust upon us by health. When we know we can no longer do the job well or an illness comes upon us that impedes our ministry. When more time is being devoted necessarily just to keep the man functioning let alone ministering, it is time to move on. But it is never easy to do so.
Our U-Haul of emotions differ with each move. The U-Haul is packed each time, but each time quite differently. The first move from seminarian to priest is full of wide-eyed emotions. Each move may include some of the same boxed emotions as the previous one, as well as different emotions. No two people, no two priests, no two assignments and no two moves are the same.
FATHER CARRION is pastor of Holy Cross, Our Lady of Good Counsel, St. Mary, Star of the Sea in Baltimore, Md., and is director of the Deacon Formation Program for the Archdiocese. firstname.lastname@example.org