It is true, yes, I will be leaving our parish in August of this year. There is still a lot of work and preparation for the one who will come to be the next Pastor.
Someone said to me, “You look happy” as they responded to my decision to say “yes” when my Provincial asked me if I would consider leaving Holy Cross-Immaculate Heart of Mary, after so many years of service here, to carry on the work of leadership training. I said to the young person, “No, I think what I feel is more a sense of gratefulness and relief that our Province of Claretians are concerned with the mission with which we are entrusted.” And the mission is to share what we have learned together about Church and work for justice in our Church. I was asked to help accompany laity and work to create some pilot projects of leadership in California and in Chicago. I will live, at least for a time, in Los Angeles to work with the priests and laity while continuing to encourage the teams in Chicago.
Any change is not easy, and this change is challenging. Whether we like it or not, change is bound to happen if we want to live the mission of Jesus. Just read how the scriptures come alive in these weeks as we listen to how the disciples are responding to Jesus’ call to serve others. As with any change we are asked to make a choice: “yes” or “no”. Either choice has consequences. How do you decide?
Years ago, I was asked if my work was complete and if I would be willing to leave. I said “no.” But this time when I was asked it was connected to “us” and the need of the larger Church. Since I believe very much in the capability of our parish leaders and those working to carry out the mission, those who have taught me to be more trusting and willing to give, I said “yes.”
For me, choices are made in light of the action of community and family life. It is a little scary to live the mission in another part of the world I do not know, but the image my friends and Gospel co-workers have used in these weeks have helped me better to understand the “yes”. One image was around the experience of family: “It is difficult for a parent when a child announces they are getting married and will be leaving the home. There are so many good memories and so much life has been shared. Feelings are definitely mixed. It is not exactly about being happy or sad… but maybe about being proud and grateful.” Another shared image that reflects on empowering leadership: “This feels like all these years we have been in a class learning together, and now we must take the test. I hate tests!” Another image: “We are in the place of the transfiguration and want to stay in the light and goodness of Jesus, but he tells us ‘No, we are going to Jerusalem.’” Another image from scripture: “You are salt of the earth!” An image from our own tradition: “Our Lady of Guadalupe sent Juan Diego to build the church.”
After I told the staff and Parish Council, I listened to much gratitude expressed by others. There was also a genuine acknowledgment by them that our leadership will respond generously and not let what is valued in our parish mission and community die. These expressions will guide me and encourage others with great hope. A friend told me yesterday, the hope of our people is why violence, poverty and injustice will not triumph in the end.
Fr. Bruce Wellems, CMF