Seeking the shepherd!
In all probability your pulpit may see a new face on the first Sunday in June. For the Archdiocese of Bombay this is transfer time and even though I am not being transferred, I thought a few helpful tips for my lay brothers and sisters are in order.
The priest is a stranger to your parish community.
It may seem to you that priests ‘come and go’ (as some lay faithful love to bandy about), but they are human; flesh and blood men who have emotions and feelings. Understand that they have just been called out from a parish they may have served and loved for several years. Many of their former congregants are are now close friends and perhaps even considered family. With a stroke of the Archbishop’s pen they have to leave it all and move to a new parish. Perhaps they do it willingly, but make no mistake it weighs heavily on the heart. Now that he has arrived in your parish, the best thing you can do for this ‘stranger’ is to make him feel welcome. You don’t have to wait for Vianney Sunday to pump his hand. You can simply accost him in the sacristy and greet him if he is a bit wary to stroll with confidence in the Church compound on his first Sunday. A smile is all it takes, and for good measure throw in a word of welcome.
Remember it’s tough to start all over again
Think of when you moved jobs, when you moved homes or when you changed a mind-set. Starting over is never easy. Now that the priest has come in to your parish he needs to understand its ethos, figure out its needs, and connect with the people; the list goes on. Cut him some slack for a while. Don’t measure him up to the standards of the former priest who has just left after having been with you for five odd years. The truth is that it takes a priest almost a year to figure out the parish and another year for the parishioners to figure him out. By the time everyone has begun to trust each other and get along just fine, it’s often the end of his third year and then just when the honeymoon begins, the marching orders arrive. So don’t hang on to the side lines; make sure the ball is in play from the minute the priest arrives.
Expectations need to be realistic
So as much as we would like it, every priest does not have a mesmerising personality nor is he always going to be an articulate homilist or a financial whiz kid with great administrative skills. Priests come to the ministry with their little abilities that they offered Jesus on their ordination day. It is the Lord who uses our littleness and failings to bring about His kingdom. So don’t judge your priest on the first Sunday of June by his tenor or pitch, his presentation of self or his demeanour and disposition. Don’t condemn him at the time of the Penitential rite or nail him to the cross on the third sentence of his first homily while in your mind you are finding a tomb to bury him by the recessional hymn. Remember, all that glitters is not gold!
Seek him out first
Each time I have moved to a new parish, I stand in the Church compound especially on the first Sunday of moving in, to meet people with the hope of saying hello. I often get the distinct feeling that before the recessional hymn is sung, someone has perhaps declared that a plague has broken out in the parish, for people seem to rush home deliberately to avoid the priest. I get it that you’re shy and perhaps don’t know what to say to the priest but get this too – he is perhaps also shy and making a huge effort to shake your hand or offer a simple hello.
Leave your prejudice behind.
I have often been greeted in a new parish with a question that unconsciously betrays not merely curiosity but prejudice; “Father, where are you from?” What the question really seeks to find out is which part of India are you from? In my case, the colour of my skin can place me in several different states all at once. I really don’t get this; in fact, from merely leaving me cross at times I have reached a stage of being irritable when asked this question. Does the priest’s ancestral background determine his pastoral ministry or special attention for you? Lose your prejudice; seek to understand the man and not the village or town or state he comes from.
Don’t influence his mind.
I have noticed that often a priest is met by parishioners who seek to influence his mind no sooner than he steps in. This I suspect is done with the hope of retaining their position or belief system. The ‘concerns’ are wide ranging; from the failings or successes of the previous priest to how a group in the parish should be treated or be wary of, or what work needs to be undertaken with ‘urgency’. Give the priest time to study the parish independently. If he solicits your opinions do not be biased, but be objective. ‘Chamchagiri’ (buttering up a person) is a curse that destroys a parish and dare I say the eleventh commandment should be, “Thou shalt not be a chamcha.”
This June seek your new pastor and encourage him to smell of the sheep.
Fr Warner D’Souza