My parish is losing a wonderful pastor to the summer rotation of priests around the diocese. Our pastor is a man of great faith, possesses exceptional intelligence, and is a fantastic teacher of our faith. He is everything I could ever desire a pastor to be and we will miss him dearly, but I am confident that the incoming priest will be a blessing to our lives and faith.
The transition of priests every few years is always an interesting time because change often makes us uncomfortable. Most of us like what we know and tend to gravitate to what we like. Since change usually mixes in a little bit of the unknown, we often prefer to not deal with it. Is that way of thinking just natural, childish, or distrustful? I suppose it could be any or all of those things depending on the situation, but I do believe that avoiding change for the sake of comfort may just be what Satan wishes us to do because if we are comfortable then we are probably not living to our full potential.
A muscle that is never stressed will not get stronger. A mind that is never tested will never understand more. And a faith that is not challenged will never expand.
So how does a new priest challenge our faith? He likely provides a different experience that enables us to appreciate new things and understand what we already know in different ways. It may be a very crude comparison, but if a baseball player only practices against the same pitcher all the time, he limits his ability to recognize and hit different pitches. Even if a batter practices with one of the best pitchers every day, he will still never reach his full potential because there isn’t a pitcher on the planet who is a master at every type of pitch, who can effectively change his release points, or who can rewire himself to achieve different natural tendencies. In fact, it might be such that the batter becomes so comfortable with that one great pitcher that his unchallenged weaknesses grow. Just as a baseball player must practice his craft to get better, we practice our faith to grow stronger, and our practice should challenge us.
I occasionally visit parishes in other dioceses where a pastor has been in place at the same church for 10, 12, or more years and I definitely sense something different in those parishes. Even though I may not always be able to precisely define what the strange difference is, my guess is that those parishes suffer from some kind of stagnation, just as a body lacking a particular vitamin or nutrient may suffer over time. Would I know if I don’t have any Vitamin A in my diet? If I didn’t have Vitamin A in my diet, is it possible that my eyesight could deteriorate at such a rate that I don’t notice until I am almost blind? If I did lose my eyesight, would I know it was from a lack of Vitamin A?
I am sure we all have been blessed to know and be lead in our faith by a fantastic priest. How wonderful! I’m guessing that most of us have also had occasion to know and be lead by a second inspiring priest and probably even a third, fourth and maybe more. How much more wonderful! Now imagine that we had only known that first priest, we likely would have missed out on all the marvelous things that the second priest helped us to know, recognize, and appreciate about our faith. It’s not a natural reaction for me, but we should embrace the change when priests transfer. In doing so, let’s continue to pray for those holy priests who have helped and influenced us, be thankful that other faithful Catholics will be blessed by them, and open our hearts and minds to the new holy men in our lives.