So, your beloved parish priest of the past many years has been given a new assignment in another city, what do you do?
You may have spent years getting to know him, or you may be brand new to the parish. You may have gone through marriage prep, RCIA or the baptism of one or many children with him. He may have counseled you in tough times–the loss of a child, the loss of a spouse–and he may have been the guiding light at your children’s religious education classes. Now, the Archbishop has seen fit to uproot him and send him off to another parish an hour’s or more drive away.
First off: don’t panic.
It may seem like the worst possible thing (or the best possible thing, depending on how you feel about your priest!), but as long as you still have Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, you’re still on solid ground. The Church has existed for two millennia and counting; this one small blip in your spiritual life isn’t spelling any sort of downfall.
Jesus said He’d be with us until the end of time–so, take courage and have confidence!
Secondly, priests aren’t often given life-long assignments to parishes anymore.
There just aren’t enough priests to go around. In my diocese, priests are most commonly given a six-year term before they’re reassigned–usually to a greater role of responsibility or a larger parish (or even several parishes).
So, pray for vocations!
I read somewhere that it isn’t that God isn’t calling young men to the priesthood like He used to, but that young men often simply aren’t answering Him. Encourage and promote vocations wherever you can. Too often the reaction to discernment (the purposeful and prayerful quest for one’s own vocation) is met with disappointment, outright discouragement, or even fear by family and friends.
How often does the still, small voice within become overwhelmed by the loud noise and expectation of the world?
Back to your new priest. Once you’ve said your goodbyes and shed your tears and given your farewell gifts to the outgoing priest, what should one expect?
In our parish, we almost always are assigned a new or not-long ordained priest. We’re also attached to the local university Newman Center, and our priest is their chaplain. This leads to all sorts of worry. What will the new priest be like? What is his ‘liturgical style’? Will he be grumpy, or friendly, or will he like certain foods?
In short, the subtext to the questions are always not so much “Will he like us?” but “Will we like him?” Catholics–like most humans–have the tendency to think their particular way of doing things (I mean theirs, and not necessarily the Church’s) is the one and only way. If this priest isn’t saying the rosary 24/7 and offering every third prayer to the Blessed Virgin, can he really be a priest at all?
Nonsense, of course.
Even brand-new priests have gone through several years of seminary–including theology–and they haven’t just fallen off the turnip truck, despite what your Nan might think of his shoes. He hasn’t entered the priesthood without many years of consideration, prayer, and thought, even if he might look somewhat like a college freshman. Alternatively, in the eyes of younger parishioners, he will know a thing or two about life and how to grow closer to Jesus, even if he knows as much about Fortnite as you do.
It’s best to think of things in the light of common courtesy. Don’t expect the new priest to be exactly like the previous priest; don’t constantly tell him that Fr. So-and-so said Mass much more convincingly, and DON’T expect him to know every eccentricity and preference of the parish. Have some charity and kindness for the newcomer; expect him to be anxious about his new responsibility, as well.
To welcome him, the parish will probably form a committee; if not, introduce yourself after Mass (not before!) and invite him to dinner at his own convenience, preferably in a way that isn’t awkward. (Consider: you’re a stranger; he mightn’t be extroverted; he might have dietary issues; he might not be comfortable with every invitation.)
Be welcoming, but not pushy. It may come as a surprise, but priests are quite human after all and often have their limit of new people, places, and agendas that they can process at any one time. Think how you felt on your first day on the job–anxious, self-conscious, eager, unsure. It’s nice to know you’re wanted and that people are supporting your efforts, but it’s also nice when people respect your personal space and dignity.
Above all else, don’t assume familiarity.
You may have been best chums with the previous priest, but it doesn’t mean this one will get along with you as well, or at all. Often we expect of priests what we wouldn’t even expect of new neighbors: complete familiarity, which takes time and respect. And remember: he wants the best for you–that you are drawn always to Jesus Christ through the Sacraments and prayer, until you are with Him in heaven.
Your salvation and the love of Christ is why he became a priest; it’s why he’s now given the responsibility of shepherding your parish, and it’s the most important thing to him above all else. Try to keep that in mind when asking him to chair the garden club or have the Knights of Columbus over for cigars.
After all–for all you know, he may not smoke.