God Only Knows

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” 
― Corrie ten Boom

It’s the last day for Jennifer Fulwiler’s 7 for 7 Challenge, and I was stumped when it came to a topic today. Until I went to Mass, that is.

It’s been less than a year since I wrote about our priest being transferred away. It was a really difficult thing; it happened at a time when transfers almost never happen (it was effective in January), and it was after only three years as our pastor. I wrote at the time:

Of course, Catholics know that their priests can be transferred at any time. The six years is just a guideline, and if the bishop has need for a priest in a different area, men will be shuffled about to meet the needs as they come up. Such is our case. The pastor of a very large parish must leave his parish (for reasons unknown to us), and there’s domino effect that comes down to our beloved priest being pulled to attend to another parish – larger than ours, with a K-8 school! What a blessing for those families to have someone as orthodox as our priest to minister to them. He’s also one of the assistants to the vicar for vocations, and with a school to watch over, I can imagine a sudden burst of vocations coming from far southwest Virginia in a few years.

But this doesn’t make it any easier, or help us avoid the tears that have fallen and will fall in the next couple of months. And while Father let us know that he knows our new pastor – knows him to be a good, orthodox man who loves Holy Mother Church and is a good preacher to boot! – it doesn’t make it easier to say goodbye.

I’ve told my girls before, and I reminded them this weekend, that a priest’s life is not his own. He is not our priest, but God’s. And God needs him at this parish.

And, though it still won’t stop our tears, we know that we must trust in God’s providence. We must trust in His plan, even when we don’t understand it or, as a friend said to me, we see it like looking through a pinhole at the world. We must bend our will to His, and pray for the strength to always accept His will.

At the beginning of our calendar year, our new priest came to us. Father is older and we knew he had some health issues, but he is brilliant. He used to be a law professor, and his homilies are just amazing. He is a good and holy man, and he celebrates the Mass with reverence and love.

But his health caught up with him mid-May and he was admitted to the hospital for a couple of weeks while doctors performed tests to discover the root of his problems. Finally, after a month of visiting priests (thank God for all the priests who come on short notice to fill in!), he wrote a letter to be read at Mass so we could know what was happening.

Heart disease, which had gone undetected. Father’s doctors told him he could not go back to work for at least a month, and then they’d reassess to see how he was doing. And so, since May, we have had a string of different priests coming to us, bringing us Christ Himself, hearing Confessions on Saturday afternoons, teaching us in their homilies.

Today, we learned more. Once again, Father (who has been well enough only to go to the office for an hour or two each day) wrote to us and updated us on his health. He thanked us for his prayers, and then gave the big news.

He’s unable to continue as a pastor, and between him, the bishop, and his doctors, has decided he must retire from active ministry. We’re blessed in two ways this weekend, though, and these two things give me great comfort.

First of all, we are getting a new priest! Praise be to God, we are going to have a new pastor, even in a diocese that is not overflowing with priests right now. Our new pastor is from Nigeria and has been serving the Diocese of Tucson most recently. I’m relieved that Father will now be able to get the rest he needs, and that we will still have a full-time pastor. Thank God for the overflow of vocations in Africa!

Second, Father will be staying on as a priest in residence, helping as his health allows him. This means we’ll have more than one priest to help us. It’s hard for people in larger cities or in more Catholic areas of the country (like the northeast) to understand just what a blessing it will be to have two priests, even if one is not in full-time ministry.

There are some people who are upset about how things have happened in the last few years, and it’s hard to blame them. It’s not usual for a priest to be somewhere only three years, or to be transferred in the middle of a year, or for the new pastor to only be active in the parish for a few months before he must step down. But God has provided for us! I know Bishop Di Lorenzo would not have done any of these things if he could have avoided it, and I know he is making the best of a difficult situation. 

Some people are also curious about our new priest, and want to learn something about him ahead of time. Is he orthodox? Does he celebrate Mass reverently? What are some of his homilies? I know I’ve been guilty of looking up priests and scoping them out, trying to gauge whether or not he is going to be “my kind of priest.” But I realize that, really, what we need to do here is to continue to trust God and our bishop. God’s plans are not our own, and our bishop has been striving for nearly ten years to be a good shepherd to our diocese and all the people in it. He won’t be able to please everyone. But he wants, above all, to please God.

I’ll be praying for us all in the coming weeks – our new priest is due to arrive in August – and for our priests and bishops. None of them have an easy vocation, and they need all the prayers they can get. None of us can see much through the pinhole, but we can learn to trust God and His plans.