Support Your New Parish Priests

David Oatney Blog: Life at 25

427px-Priests_romeIt may very well be a sight for sore eyes to see a post here at Life At 25, especially since we haven’t posted anything since the feast of the Annunciation of the Lord. If you have been a regular reader on this blog over the preceding months and years and you read that post, you know that I am now a new father, and so you can probably imagine that the care of my little baby girl has taken up a great deal of the time I would otherwise be inclined to spend researching and writing entries for this blog. However, just because time is at a premium now does not mean that Life At 25 is coming to an end, far from it. It does mean that my life has, by the goodness of the Lord, changed forever, and Life At 25 henceforth may reflect that reality.

Things are changing in our diocese as well, as Bishop Stika has, relatively recently,a priest-collar announced the list of priest parochial reassignments for 2015 which will take effect July 1st. This year’s list isn’t as extensive as last year’s rather lengthy one, which was one of Life At 25‘s most well-read posts, but it comes just as our diocese prepares in a matter of weeks to ordain yet four more priests for the service of the People of God in East Tennessee, and these new priests themselves have need of assignments.

collarBoth life and the Church are filled with change. The wonderful thing about the Church is that it is ever-changing and ever new, if we might paraphrase St. Augustine. It has certainly been an adjustment as the gift of a baby daughter has markedly changed nearly everything about the lives of my wife and myself, though I wouldn’t change one second of it. Riley is daily making me a better person and a better servant. I even believe that, God willing, she will make me a better deacon.  There is no denying, however, that children bring change into a person’s life. Similarly, the introduction of a new pastor can bring major change and adjustment to our spiritual lives as well. Inevitably, I will hear from friends and acquaintances about new pastors, and very often it is with the grumble that Father Newpriest doesn’t do things the way that Father Oldhat did them. In saying what I am about to say, I want to underscore that it is my opinion, though I do believe that many priests and not a few deacons and even laypeople may agree with what I am about to write.

ChrismMass_DOK poster_3973Having been in parishes during times of pastoral transition, I feel compelled by the Holy Spirit to share with those who may soon be getting a new parish priest or parochial vicar that this change isn’t any easier for Father Newpriest than it is for you. Your new priest deserves your prayers and support, rather than your complaints about the way that they do things compared with your previous shepherd. They are not that person, they are who they are, and God has put them in our parishes and our paths. We are obliged, I believe, to support them.

This doesn’t mean following along like a robot or agreeing with absolutely everything they do, but it does mean accepting that the authority to make the changes they may or may not choose to make ultimately belongs to them and that they do have the authority to make these changes. Yes, I’ve had new pastors in previous parishes in which I’ve been a member who have made changes that I did not agree with, but I’ve never had a new parish priest who made changes without a reason, usually a good one. Often I find that if it’s a change that I don’t agree with, I’m not inclined to listen to the reason, and I think most people are the same way. That is not an indictment against a priest making such changes, but against us who have refused to listen to our priests. May God forgive us for our insolence and stubbornness.

It is also important to remember that priests are not perfect people, they do make mistakes and they are sinners like the rest of us. This is very important because I can promise you that there is no magic pill that someone who has received the sacrament of Holy Orders takes in order to keep them from making mistakes, acting too hastily, acting with selfishness, or without thinking of how something may be perceived. We are all guilty of these things in our own lives. Our priests are not any different then we are in that respect. Sometimes I get the impression that because I am in formation for the diaconate that some folks mistakenly believe that I am somehow holier than they are. I can assure you that this isn’t the case. It is true that people who are ordained, as well as those who are preparing for ordination, are often held to a higher standard not only by others, but also by the Church. That is as it should be, because the person who is going to spend their life in service to the Church is literally someone who is sacrificing the things of this world in many ways for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Even Saint Paul makes it clear that deacons, priests, and bishops are not simply held to the same standards as “everybody else.” (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1-13) I am continually reminded of this reality in the context of my own formation.

It is precisely for this reason that our priests, deacons, and bishops need our prayers and our help as opposed to our pushback. Remember that entering a new environment isn’t any easier for them, and that is especially true for those priests who will come in to new parishes where there has been one pastor of long standing with one way of doing things.

If your parish will soon have a new parish priest, try offering words of encouragement to that man. Let him know you are praying for him, and try asking how you can help. If he seems like he’s very alone, it could be that your new priest does indeed feel that way. Reach out to him instead of reacting negatively to any changes that he might make, and if you do have something critical to say that might be good input, I will only speak from personal experience: Start by genuinely asking why, rather than making assumptions about the reason.

And do pray for your new priests, and do it daily and often. Offer rosaries for your priests, and say prayers for them as a family. They need prayer warriors, and they need us.