Every spring it seems like there are two topics that most Catholics in St. Louis talk about: “What are the Cardinals’ chances this year?” and “Do you think Father is going to be moved this year?”
The first is easy to answer. Unless the Cards manufacture runs instead of relying on the long ball, have a solid bullpen that can close out games and stay relatively healthy, our chances aren’t great this year. The second is slightly more complicated.
We must remember that diocesan priests are co-workers with the archbishop, who is responsible for the spiritual care and well-being of the entire archdiocese. At ordination, every priest promises obedience to the archbishop and his successors, placing our ministerial gifts and talents at his disposal to be used in whatever way most benefits the faithful of the archdiocese.
While there is no timeline set in stone and individual circumstances are always different, in our archdiocese priests who are associate pastors typically are at an assignment for three to five years and pastors are typically assigned to a parish or ministry for around 10 to 12 years. Archdiocesan needs, parish dynamics and the priest’s personal health all are factors that are evaluated annually.
Also, there are spiritual benefits for both the priest and the people when a priest is transferred occasionally. Like tilling the soil, transferring priests helps prevent spiritual stagnation both in his ministry and the life of the parish. It is easy for all of us to become complacent and fall into a pattern of “this is the way we’ve always done it” instead of “this is what God is calling us to do.”
It is easy over a period of time for personality cults to develop. Priests are called to be shepherds and stewards, not kings of their own little kingdoms. A parish that is dependent upon the personality of a priest is not built on solid spiritual ground. St. Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians, “I mean that each of you is saying, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:12-13)
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t appreciate the different charisms God has given to priests, but the charisms should lead us to a deeper relationship with God, not a reliance on the priest. In the humanity of the Church, the gifts, talents and personality of the priest don’t always bear good fruit in a particular parish or in a particular circumstance — moving himmay be in the best interest of all.
When a priest is transferred, the transition period is typically a time of grief in his life and the life of (we hope) many parishioners. We acknowledge the sadness that comes with saying goodbye as well as opening ourselves up to the good things God has in store in the future. Priests and parishes aren’t in a competition with one another. God designed our hearts to be able to love in addition to, not instead of. As a priest says farewell to a parish or ministry that he loves, he also prepares his heart to embrace the new parish or ministry. Likewise, as a people say goodbye to a priest they care for, they also prepare to welcome the new priest as part of their faith journey and avoid comparing the two priests.
As the Holy Spirit “tills the soil” in the archdiocese, may all of our parishes be drawn into deeper relationship with Jesus who is our Good Shepherd, and may we continue to build up His kingdom through the gifts he has bestowed on us.