It's hard to believe that is has been exactly one month since I landed at Rome's Fiumicino Airport to begin this new adventure and new ministry in and for the Church. As I was praying before Mass this morning, several thoughts come to mind...
It has been a transition not without a few tears. It has been very difficult to leave family, friends, brother priests, parish and parishioners. However modern technology has made that easier - I can easily see and talk to my mom on a regular basis - which makes it seem as if we are actually visiting together. It's a great help!
It is strange not being a pastor in a parish. I have been the main celebrant at Mass once in the past month and preached twice. That's quite different from 3-4 Masses on a Sunday at St. Francis Xavier (and it makes me pray all the more for Fr. Richards, especially, and all my brother priests who, in order to provide the faithful with the opportunity to attend Mass, celebrate several - even many - Masses in one day).
As Fr. Andres told me when I met him at the Nunciature in Rwanda last November, it is important that every day I place my "job" in its proper context - remembering that what I do is for the upbuilding of the Church - especially in the Holy Land (the Patriarchate of Jerusalem). If I don't keep that perspective, my life could easily become just a job - and I would lose my priestly identity. So daily prayer is even more vital than ever.
I am remembering what my spiritual director told me before I left: that I was to be sure to use this time as a kind of sabbatical - taking time for rest and prayer. I've been doing that. Extra prayer is easy - as I can, at any moment, walk 20 feet to the chapel in our apartment and spend some time with the Lord in the Eucharist. And I've been enjoying a break. Yes, I've work to do, but the workload is light compared to the extreme and constant demands of parish life and administration. (One nice this is that there are no evening meetings - except for dinner.) I know and am fully aware that once school starts in October, I'll be plenty busy - so I'm enjoying the time now.
I have marveled at the fraternity that we American priests share IMMEDIATELY. Just last evening the Cardinal was reflecting on this fact. Here in Rome there seems to be very little fraternity amongst the clergy. But we American priests seek out that fraternity and offer that kind and brotherly welcome immediately (and I have experienced that from every American priest I have met over the past month). Some have reflected that this is because of our own unique "American experience" - coming from different ethnic backgrounds, different perspectives, different cultures..." The priestly fraternity I have found here has been a great comfort and consolation.
I marvel at the Universal Church - gathered around the Holy Father. I have been VERY blessed to have arrived just prior to Holy Week - which meant the many services presided over by the Holy Father, Pope Francis. I have been privileged to attend many events with the Holy Father in just one month: an Episcopal ordination; Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square; the Chrism Mass; Good Friday Liturgy of the Lord's Passion; several general audiences; the funeral for a Cardinal (where the Holy Father presided over the Rites of Commendation); the Vigil for the Feast of Divine Mercy (which the Holy Father attended); Mass in St. Peter's square for Divine Mercy Sunday - I've been so blessed.
- All of this has also helped me to grow in my filial devotion to our Holy Father. To see him close up - to watch the tenderness and devotion with which he reverences the altar; touches an image of the Blessed Mother; holds up the Sacred Host and Precious Chalice... So many little ways that we can see his true love and devotion to Christ, Our Lady, and the Church.
- I see the Universal Church present - people from every country, from every continent, speaking every language - yet all united in one Faith. It is a great reminder of the universal nature of Christ's mission.
These are just some of my thoughts and reflections on this past month. All is well. I am happy. I continue to be firmly convinced that this is God's plan for me right now - to be here engaged in this new type of ministry and service.
I thank all of you who have been following me on this journey. I thank you for your prayers and words and cards and emails of support. It has all been very been helpful to me.
This next week begins some new experiences as I attend my first meeting of the Grand Magisterium (basically the governing board for the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem) and travel with the Cardinal to my first Investiture in the Archdiocese of Olomouc in the Czech Republic. If I don't have the opportunity to write before that trip, I'll be sure to take lots of pictures and share my weekend experience.
God bless you all. Know that I pray for you - and ask that you continue to pray for me.