Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Figuring out how to say goodbye without needing to know you did a thing.

This coming Sunday morning between the 8:30 and 10:30 masses, I'll say goodbye to the people of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames. The strange thing will be hanging around for three more weeks after I've said goodbye. But, I'm sure it'll go a lot quicker than I think it will and I'll be settling into Forest City before I know it.

I really haven't had all that much to do with the party. It's my responsibility to get someone to talk at it. I'm still working on that. As I do so, the challenge that I feel is from my retreat spiritual director a couple of months ago. He said he was talking to a Protestant pastor after the death of John Paul II. The pastor said that the Catholic Church was in trouble because the next Pope would have big shoes to fill. My spiritual director immediately corrected him and said that the church hates personality. We don't like it when our popes and bishops and priests become celebrities. It distracts us from the real message of the gospel.

A lot of very good people have come up to me the past few weeks and said some really nice things. The most edifying thing they say is that they will really miss my presence to young people or my preaching or my singing or something else. And, the most difficult thing I know however is that, even though they are saying that now, in five years I will basically be totally forgotten. I'll be remembered as "that one priest...you know...the bald one." The college students will have all graduated and moved on. The residents will have either moved to a different town or found things to love about Fr. Jack. It's hard to think that I've given five years of my life to this place and will be lucky to be mentioned in a sentence about associate pastors in a forthcoming history book. 

But I guess that's the way it's supposed to be. It reminds me of a story that I heard when I was in Santa Fe New Mexico. There was a church that had a balcony that no one could get to. They figured you'd have to use a ladder since a staircase would take up too much space. The nuns prayed a novena to St. Joseph, patron saint of builders, and a stranger arrived on the ninth day and offered to build one for them. They obliged and left the stranger to his work. When completed, they had a spiral staircase with two 360 degree turns and no visible means of support. When they went to ask the stranger what it had cost to build the stairway, he had vanished. The nuns believed that St. Joseph himself came to build it. Maybe they're right. On the other hand, maybe it was just someone who realized the staircase should speak for itself and not have a builder's name attached. 

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