You know … as is often said, we never know how much we value something—whether it be persons, places or things—until we lose them. And as I am on the verge of departing LA, I am finding the bite of the “sweet sorrow” of good-bye much more bitter than sweet … especially as I am bound for bureaucratic wilds of the Archdiocesan chancery—to become an “admin pogue”, as we Marine combat arms types derisively termed the administration folks (and yet ran to them whenever we had a paperwork problem! “Puh-LEEEASSE fix my pay!” (grovel, grovel)). I dated a disbursing warrant officer back then and she always had guffaw-worthy tales to tell (“An irate colonel came in today … left with tail between his legs like a whipped pup…”)
Okay … back on point. Yes, we don’t know how much we value things until we lose them. For instance, the staff at my parish was so gracious as to arrange a little farewell potluck last Thursday evening inviting our parishioners. In such moments one realizes the strength of the bonds of affection and friendship … and, for we ministers, the paternal/maternal depths of love for those who have been under our spiritual guidance … in our spiritual charge.
Yet … always there is the call of duty. Upon ordination, we diocesan priests in the Catholic Church make two public, formal and binding vows: that of celibacy (in order to dedicate ourselves solely to the service of Christ, His disciples and the world; see 1 Corinthians 7), and obedience to our bishop—in our local case, to the archbishop of the archdiocese, whomever is appointed to that position (not binding if requested to sin, of course; always obedience to God first and foremost). It is a traditional belief that God’s will is manifest in the (valid) will of the bishop, and so when the Archbishop asked me to come work at the chancery (archdiocesan headquarters), as much as the thought of leaving IHM/LA stung, it seemed wrong to refuse.
I’m a movie guy, and while scripts are written by screenwriters and not great philosophers, there ARE very often pearls of wisdom one can latch onto … quotes that stick. One of those for me is from the Lord of the Rings, when the sullen steward of the kingdom of Gondor, Denethor, challenges his son Faramir to go to battle in defense of the kingdom: “Is there a captain here who will do his lord’s will?” While the movie situation was tragic, I find myself returning to that phrase in times of difficult pastoral choices.
It is not so much the will of a bishop that priests hope to follow faithfully and unerringly, but rather the will of Our Lord through him. As you know by the news of the day, many do NOT do so … even traitorously violating the trust given them. Such are the situations into which I will be wading, and hoping to have a part in correcting … wishing that we had not seen such horrors. But, again … the wisdom of Tolkien via the wizard Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us…” … paralleling another favorite inspiring movie quote, this time from “The Kingdom of Heaven”: “What man IS a man who does not make the world better?” And, again from LOTR:
Sam: It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened…But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding on to, Sam?
Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for!
Finally, as I’ve mentioned in a previous column, the Post editor has asked that I continue writing these columns from afar, and I will try to do so if there remains any interest from Post readers, and if duties allow for the time. Regardless, dear friends … thank you all for the kind comments you’ve relayed over these last two years of columns, and for the kindnesses shown me in my little-over five years in LA. Please keep me in your prayers now and then, as you will certainly be in mine.
One of the things they tell us in seminary is that your first parish is the hardest to leave, but I find that departing IHM and LA is as difficult as when I left that first … feeling acutely Jesus’ own declaration: “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Mark 3:34-35) And … gazing over the canyon watching the new snowfall dust the pines this morning, sadness at the impending departure becomes increasingly intense.
Yes … value the blessings that you have. And yet … the tocsin sounds … duty calls … and as was the cry in the persecutions in Mexico: “All for glory of God!” So … au revoir, hasta la vista, arrivederci, auf wiedersehen, do svidaniya … Semper Fi … and bon voyage!!