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For many years now, there has been a framed prayer in the family home, taken from "The Following of Christ," written by the great spiritual author Thomas a Kempis. Many times I have walked by that prayer and glanced at it, not fully absorbing its depth of meaning. In recent years, however, as I strive to live out the beautiful gift of ordained priesthood, one phrase has caught my attention and resonated within my heart: "I rise above myself." This phrase should be at the heart of the spirituality of a diocesan priest. I rise above myself, my own needs and desires, so that I might serve Christ and his holy Church. It is a challenging but ultimately freeing command. It is what Jesus did.
In the Archdiocese of Boston, with the cardinal's acceptance and promulgation of Disciples in Mission, we have now embarked on Phase One of the process of pastoral planning. This June, 12 collaboratives will be formed from 28 parishes, presently led by 23 pastors and administrators. Although each parish will retain its canonical and financial identity, pastors, parish staffs and lay leaders, pastoral and finance councils will now be working in a more unified and collaborative manner, serving the local Church through intentional evangelization. This is an opportune moment, then, to reflect on the self-sacrificing priestly leadership of the 23 pastors and administrators who have staffed these 28 parishes.
For priests and parishioners, one of the more challenging aspects of the pastoral planning process is the necessity of the pastor of the individual parish to resign, so as to allow a new pastor to be named for the collaborative. Although there are some cases when the new pastor will come from one of the parishes within the collaborative, often the case will be that he will be a new man sent from a parish outside of the collaborative. This process is challenging because most parishioners respect and, in many cases, love their pastor as a spiritual father. As any priest knows, the more deeply you have loved your parish, the harder it is to leave. Here at the Pastoral Center, we often hear stories of gratitude and respect for the many fine priests in the Archdiocese of Boston. As a local Church, we are blessed with good and holy priests, who generously serve the needs of their parishioners with a shepherd's heart. So when a beloved pastor needs to leave, it is a difficult moment both for the parish family and for the priest himself. Yet this reality is part of our lives and who we are as diocesan priests, as we desire to serve the needs of the Archdiocese of Boston, even when it means embracing our share of the cross. The pastors and administrators of these 28 parishes have shown generous and selfless pastoral leadership in asking for their parish to be in Phase One of the pastoral plan. They have recognized the importance of the large task before us and have led by their example. Recently, both Cardinal Seán and Bishop Deeley personally expressed their gratitude to these men for their extraordinary leadership during this critical moment in our archdiocese. We, as well, should be grateful to these priests for rising above themselves and serving the greater need of pastoral planning and intentional evangelization.
My spiritual director in the seminary, a man of great practical wisdom, was fond of saying: "there is a parish out there waiting for you." While saying goodbye to a beloved parish, or pastor, is never easy, each of these men will continue to serve Christ in a new community of faith in the archdiocese, sharing the gifts and talents the Lord has given to them. They need our support. I am confident, as well, that these new 12 collaboratives will welcome their incoming pastor with graciousness and love. As priests and parishioners, together we rise above ourselves and strive, as best we can, to serve Jesus Christ, the eternal high priest.
Father Bryan K. Parrish is Assistant Vicar for Administration and Special Assistant to the Vicar General.