Jesus told his disciples to “Go out to all the world and announce the Good News.” (Mk. 16:15) While every Christian has that responsibility this mandate to “go out” is particularly pertinent to those whom Jesus calls to serve his people as priests. There are many different ways that priests live out this vocation, but whether they are religious or diocesan priests you will find that, with the exception of priests who serve in monasteries, all priests are called to be ready to move from place to place for the sake of the Gospel.
As Jesus moved about there were some places that did not want to receive him. He often went anyway. There were other places that saw his wonders and experienced his love and begged him to stay. To them Jesus explained that he needed to continue on. In many ways that dynamic has not changed today. There are priests who go to a particular place and sometimes they are not well received. This could be due to the priest’s own idiosyncrasies (I suspect we all have them). Or it could simply be that we human beings are just averse to change, even if the change could be for the better. There are also priests who come to a community, accomplish many good things and become beloved by those whom they serve. In those cases the community may resist that pastor’s call to another place. They very understandably want to keep the priest for themselves.
In my life as a priest I always found moving difficult. After some years of service I would come to feel like I was truly a part of the parish family. I could look out at the congregation on a Sunday and recognize so many faces of people whom I had the privilege of accompanying through moments of great joy and sorrow. I would look around and say to myself, “There are the Smith’s with their new baby whom I baptized. There’s Mary, whom I anointed a few weeks ago in the hospital. There is Juan and Lupe, with their children. I remember their wedding. There is Jose whose wife died last year. I had the opportunity to walk with them from the time she was diagnosed with cancer until God called her home.”
Especially as a celibate person I found my family in the parish community where I served. Departing was never easy for me and the people certainly expressed that it was difficult for them. Still, accepting a new assignment was important for me in my vocation and in my spiritual walk. It was an opportunity for me to make concrete my promise to be at the Lord’s disposal and to go wherever I was sent. It was a reminder to me that in this life I have no lasting home. We are all just passing through. It was also an experience of freedom. The obedience I had promised on the day of my ordination meant that I did not have to be burdened with deciding God’s will for my life in regard to my service. I trusted that the Holy Spirit was guiding my pilgrimage in far better ways than I could have planned for myself.
Here in this diocese there have been relatively few changes of priests in recent years. I suspect many of us, both priests and laity, have become pretty settled with the way things are. But change is inevitable. There are some parish openings, most notably the Cathedral and St. Theresa in Presidio, that badly need to be filled. When openings such as these are filled it inevitably leaves other openings. We will have one ordination in December, for which we are very grateful to God, Deacon Allen Oluoch. He will need a first assignment.
I have formed a personnel board made up of priests of the diocese. They are: Msgr. David Fierro, Fr. John Telles, Fr. Frank Lopez, Fr. Saul Pacheco, Fr. Joe Molina and Fr. Tony Celino. I am working with them to find the best ways to fill the needs that lie before us. And we are praying earnestly to the Holy Spirit for guidance.
Please join us in prayer. When the new assignments come out I ask you to do your best to be supportive of those priests who may be moving. Let them know how much you love them, but don’t cling to them. That would only make it more difficult for them. Please welcome the priests who come to your community. Let them know that with you they will find new family members who will love and support them as they do their best to be a sign of Christ in your midst.