By Fr. Glenn Jones
Writing this column this evening, I couldn’t help but recall recordings of old radio shows: “Ladies and gentlemen … your intrepid reporter here, coming to you from the wilds of (wherever).” Looking out over nighttime Albuquerque with its city lights … well, we’re not in Los Alamos anymore, Toto.
Rather than the slow gentle traffic of Central Avenue, now is the Indianapolis I-40. People here, too, honk and wave, but the honking a bit more urgent … (“Well, pass me then, you young whippersnapper!”).
Alas … gone is the basking in the love and joy of beloved parishioners, replaced by wading … hip deep … through reams of paper—complaints, verifications of good standing … invoices here, invoices there, invoices everywhere. “Approve this” … “Answer that” … “Father, you have (yet another) meeting”. Sigh. How I took for granted my LA coyote companions … the gentle deer … the peace of the pines.
Now it’s “death by a thousand meetings” … the inevitable administrative morass of a large organization. Being lodged in a corner between two administrative assistants—my own and the Archbishop’s—simply daring to venture outside my office is crossing the kill zone between twin snipers—in this case, “Sure-Shootin’ Sandra” and “Dead-Eye Dolores”. “Look! Vicar General in the open!” And then … another hasty retreat to the office door … limping … wounded in their unerring volleys of cellulose and phone messages.
As we older folks know, one of the toughest things in life is leaving people and a place that have touched our hearts deeply—family, good friends, and, for we priests, great and beloved parishioners when we are called to change assignments. Such has been my own reflection of late, being recently reassigned from IHM, Los Alamos, to the big city of Albuquerque (I known, I know … for you New Yorkers, the “other” LA’ers, Chicagoans, etc., Albuquerque is little more than a hamlet, but not so much for an old country boy).
Now, we all naturally enjoy stability—anchors onto which to moor our psyches in the storms of life. That’s why we find ourselves musing over old photos of former haunts and family members often long gone. It’s why we visit Grandma’s old house … climb once more that favorite tree … sit in that swing that brought hours of joy. But while a child’s growth inevitably occurs both in body and mind, we adults can easily experience stagnation unless we actively embrace change. And, as anyone who hikes the mountains knows, water of a roiling mountain stream—ever subjected to the trials of rocky falls and twisting streambed—is much more pleasant than the murky stagnant pond water that knows no change … knows no adversities.
As now the former pastor (sniff, moan, weep) of Immaculate Heart of Mary, even though my heart remains perched on the rim of Acid Canyon, I yet know that change inevitably brings opportunity for growth—for self, yes, but much more so for parishioners there. Changing leadership in a parish—or in any organization—brings with a greater diversity of viewpoints, ways of thinking, new insights … growth. And positive growth is good—the Christian definition of such being a greater realization and understanding of the works of God and the salvific works of Christ. For example, in those subtleties, which Fr. Glenn only clumsily explained, Fr. John might be able to bring to the fore different analogies and a greater clarity and understanding—always the hoped-for goal of any pastor. We experience such in every walk of life—schools, labs, any kind of work. For example, it was not the professor, but rather the new teaching aide, who led me to an epiphany in understanding calculus.
Growth. A quick look at dictionary.com gives us a definition of: “…development from a simpler to a more complex state.” “Growth” implies development and improvement, while “change” not necessarily so. And yet, without change, there can be no growth, for growth necessitates change. In the big university of life, change is therefore essential. The rather worn—yet applicable nonetheless—analogy is that of the caterpillar to the butterfly. In the transformation, one may wonder if pain was involved, and yet … the result—the beauty of the growth—makes the agony worth the effort.
“‘Change: The Movie’… the ultimate in life’s cinematic horror!” Such is often the attitude, but it need not be … it should not be. When our lives’ circumstances change, it is much like a grocery store changing its products: the outer appearance may remain the same, but the quality of the product within—whether for good or for ill—changes. And each of us stock our own shelves with the good … or the bad. Therefore, rather than stocking with the cheap and easy, let us always strive for quality. With each change comes opportunity—opportunity to stretch one’s horizons, to become stronger through challenge, and to realize an expansion of one’s mind and experience. Let us always seek, then, to take every opportunity in changing for the better.
“Accept whatever is brought upon you, and in changes that humble you be patient. For gold is tested in the fire…Trust in him, and he will help you; make your ways straight, and hope in him.” (Sirach 2:4-6)
Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.