"Pastor...what does that mean for you?"
Paul Z., a man whom I have never met, lives in Ohio. His brother-in-law is a musician I used to sing with (one of my favorite choral directors). Paul and I are brother-Christians though of different branches of the Faith. Our paths cross in cyberspace every once in a while. We greet each other with a nod or a few words.
A couple of days ago, reading that I was to become pastor again, this time in the US, he asked me about it: "what does that mean for you?" This is a question I have been thinking about a lot over the past couple of weeks. My simple answer at the time was: "I'm approaching it with a mixture of trepidation, anticipation and confidence in the Lord's wisdom, love and power." Paul's very kind response was, "...we'll pray for his wisdom, love and power...it doesn't get any better than that!" A very welcome reply!
All of St. Augustine's wonderful theological works grew out of his life as a bishop (a pastor-in-chief of a regional church [diocese]). All the things he wrote about being a bishop apply equally to being a pastor. Augustine talked a lot about the Second Coming of Christ. Mostly he preached in joyful anticipation of the Lord coming to establish his Kingdom on earth, but sometimes he spoke of the holy fear appropriate to the final judgement. He said to the people one time (and I'm paraphrasing): "When you stand before Christ, the just judge, you will have to answer only for yourself. You have responsibility for your own soul, but so do I as your bishop. Therefore, when I stand before the judgement seat, I will have to answer for myself and for you." Already I feel that responsibility; I know that I have to prepare myself well, work hard, and rely on God's grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I know that like Augustine, it will be my responsibility to lead wisely, to try to keep the parish community centered on Jesus through liturgy and all kinds of other activities, and to pray for them, to intercede for them as Augustine did for his own congregation. I have in fact already begun to pray for them.
In another place, Augustine says (again, my paraphrasing): "What I am with you consoles me; what I am for you terrifies me. With you I am a Christian. For you I am a bishop."
One thing that consoles me a lot is knowing who I have been teamed with. Jorge Luis has already been ministering in the parish for two years. He knows and loves the people there. Jim has a huge treasure-load of experience and knowledge and not only worked in the parish some years ago, but was actually ordained there. I am very thankful. And I am acutely aware that having three priests on staff at one parish in the USA in the year 2010 may strike many as being a huge luxury - the vast majority of parishes in the country are by now one-priest parishes, I am nearly certain. But we are Augustinian friars as well as Catholic priests. Living together "in harmony in one mind and one heart intent upon God" is the basis for the Rule handed down to us from Augustine - his short set of instructions for those who have come together to live the Gospel of Jesus. And it is our hope that from this Christ-centered, prayerful fraternity, will grow the spiritual energy we need to serve the wider Christian community of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish. [The sketch above is an artist's rendering of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church. I was there once for a First Mass about 35 years ago.]
That's another thing that consoles me. The parish itself! I have been told that it is a very vibrant, multi-cultural parish. I look forward to getting to know them well: the staff and volunteers who work so hard to make a parish a vibrant community, the children in the school, the man and woman in the pew who come to Mass with hearts wanting to worship, yearning to belong, desiring to be healed, and as much as possible those who because of poor health or old age cannot leave their homes.
The Augustinians have been walking with this community since 1898. I'm looking forward to being part of that community and serving them as best I/we can. I know that they will be teaching me and my fellow friars about walking with Jesus through the way they live the Gospels.
Another consolation is knowing that I have the opportunity to attend a 5-day workshop for new pastors in North Jersey in two weeks. A lot of it will be centered on the nuts-and-bolts, day-to-day matters that a Catholic pastor has to deal with in coordinating the smooth running of the parish community in cooperation with the regular staff, the generous volunteers, the parishioners, and the other priests on the team. I'm sure the workshop will help me to access many useful resources. As I noted elsewhere on this blog, the last time I was pastor it was another country, another century. So much is different here and now!
I'm also looking forward to meeting with Fr. John DelloRusso, the present pastor, along with many of the staff members next week to learn from them about the parish. John loves this community and all its members very deeply. He told me he wants to do all he can to make this a smooth transition. I value his help so much. What I learn from him next week will be extremely important for me.
Add to that the fact that I will be on a retreat based on the teachings of St. Augustine the week before I begin my new assignment. I signed up for the retreat weeks before I found out about the assignment; the timing could not be better!
So all of the above is what I mean when I say, "I'm approaching it with a mixture of trepidation, anticipation and confidence in the Lord's wisdom, love and power."
This picture of the Infant Jesus and Mary is dear to all Augustinians. It is painted on a small panel of plaster and resides in an Augustinian-staffed church in Genazzano, Italy. How the painting arrived there is a story for another time. This is a painting of Mary under the title of Our Mother of Good Counsel, patroness of the parish. Our Mother of Good Counsel is a very popular Marian devotion for many people in many countries. Especially popular among a number of recent popes! Popes often pay a prayerful visit to the church where the painting is before making a big decision. I'm pretty sure that my own devotion to her will only increase in the coming years.
Please pray for me, the other friars, and for the people of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish. Pray to Jesus. Ask Mary and any other saint you may feel close to to intercede with the Lord on our behalf.
Labels: Genazzano, John Harmless SJ, Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Rule of St. Augustine, St. Augustine, Staten Island
Friar of the Order of Saint Augustine (Augustinians). I joined the Order in 1967. Served in Japan from 1977 until 1995. From 1996 until 2008 I worked in telecom and IT, usually in software development project management. Then in May 2008 I returned to the Order. Was pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish (Staten Island, NY) from August of 2010 until June of 2016. Then Our Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Bryn Mawr, PA until June of 2021. Currently serving as assistant pastor at St. Mary's in Waterford, NY and St. Augustine's in Troy, NY. You may find random thoughts, photos, poems, essays, etc. from me here from time to time.