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DEAR FATHER | The heart of Jesus is a respite for those pained by goodbyes

What is it like for a priest to be reassigned?

I was speaking recently with a younger priest about the prospect of moving from his current parish. He told me how sorry he would be to have to leave his current parish — how much he would miss his parishioners and the wonderful things that are happening there. He also told me about how difficult it might be to adjust to a new home with new people and a whole host of other new things.

Recalling numerous departures from my assignments that I loved, I told him what I tell all my brother priests at such times: If your heart is breaking, it is because you did it well. You fell in love with your people and so it hurts to leave. If it were easy, it would be because you loved little. Because you loved well, your heart is breaking.

The younger priest then told me what he had been telling some of his people recently: “Be at home in the Heart of Christ.” He mused that the Lord had brought him to a place where he had to listen to his own words and live out of them. Thank God for the wisdom of younger brothers.

We recently celebrated the feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost. The apostles might have known the acute pain of a goodbye. Jesus taught them frequently that He would send an advocate to accompany them. He spent a lot of time preparing them for this stage of transition.

It might be tempting to dismiss such promises as empty pietisms to soothe a grieving heart and that Jesus was placating His disciples by encouraging them to reminisce every now and again about their time together. You can hear such things said at funerals: “He’ll be with you in your memories,” we say as we piece together our photo albums. Honestly, though, what good is a vague reminder or a distant memory compared to the living presence of our friend? How can a fading photograph compare with a beating heart?

Jesus’ promises are not empty, though. Jesus does not offer to send His advocate as a cheap answer to deep sorrow. He promises: “Remember that I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Moreover, Jesus’ disciples believe this promise. Read the first chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. If you are looking for an account of the disciples mourning the Ascension of Jesus, you will not find one. What you will find is the disciples confidently preaching the living, breathing presence of their friend, from one community to another: “And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it” (Mark 16:20).

The good news is that there is one friend at least to whom we never need utter a word of farewell. Jesus’ heart is an open respite for His weary people, heavy-laden with the pain of many goodbyes. There will be many in the archdiocese in time to come, but we need not despair a safe haven or a secure base. We can always be at home in the heart of a friend who has never left us and never will.

Father Conor Sullivan is currently in residence at Immacolata Parish as he works for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the Vocations Office and Kenrick-Glennon Seminary as a provisionally licensed psychologist.

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