Saturday, May 24, 2014

May 25, 2014: 6th Sunday of Easter A

How well do you take changes? Are you the type that ‘rolls with the punches,’ meaning when things don’t go your way, you adapt to the changes and keep moving ahead? Several years ago, there was an enormously popular book that was given to people facing changes or transitions in their lives--for example, business folks, college and high school graduates. The book was a parable involving cheese. Four characters in the parable lived in a maze. One day they discovered in the maze a giant cheese. Two of the four characters made the cheese the center of their lives; they even move their house near it. They did not notice that the cheese became smaller and smaller to the point that none was left. The other two quickly accepted the loss of the cheese and went off into the maze in search of other sources. But the two that made the cheese the center of their lives were not able to cope with such an abrupt life-altering change. One of them eventually overcame his fear and followed the other two in search of new cheese. One remained behind, laboring under the delusion that
somehow, someway, his cheese will someday be replaced.

In the Gospel today, we are transported to the Last Supper on the night before Jesus’ death. The disciples are dealt a heavy blow as Jesus tells them that a great change is about to happen--that he was going to leave them. Jesus ensures them that he is not abandoning them, “Father will give you another Advocate to be with you always...he remains with you and will be in you...I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” At the hill of Calvary a couple of days later, it is evident that the change Jesus foreshadowed affected most of the disciples--only Blessed Mother, John, Mary Magdalene and few women were present.

Each of us too, will experience change at some point in our lives, and we will all deal with it in different ways. Some of us will never let ourselves become satisfied with the status quo and instead will constantly be on the lookout for change. Others will allow themselves to become blinded to the world around themselves while they focus on the familiar and comfortable. Then some will reluctantly move on, driven by necessity in search of something new, while others will remain behind in the hopes that their comfort will somehow be restored.

We, the Catholic faithful of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, will also experience change within the next couple of years. The current issue of the Catholic Commentator and today’s bulletin contain  articles that outlines the initiative by the Diocese to address the acute priest shortage that we are experiencing, and will worsen in the future. The number of new ordinations will not keep up with the large number of priest retirements expected in immediate years. There are currently 50 active Diocesan priests. In the next five years, 14 Diocesan priests are eligible to retire, and during that time, God willing, we will ordain 9 priests. So the during the next five years, we will have a shortfall by five priests. This shortfall would be further compounded by deaths or choosing to leave active ministry. Which parish will then not have a resident priest? This is a difficult decision that the Diocesan Task Force will need to make. 

The Diocese is trying to think outside the box to address this challenge. In the past, a priest was assigned to serve one physical church. Now, we must think out of the box; we need to consider a priest serving ‘X’ numbers of Catholics. This may result in the redistribution of the clergy, a different way of parish administration, and increased involvement of laity. 

How will you react to this change when it happens? How will our priests react to this change when it happens? For one thing, we are only in the preliminary stage of formulating a solution, so we may be looking at a couple of years before a drastic change happens. Yet we must be prepared.

How do we prepare? First, we must trust what our Advocate, the Holy Spirit, is doing through those who are entrusted with formulating a solution. Jesus promised us, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”

Second, we must pray. We must pray that young men or single men who are called by Jesus to the priesthood would answer the calling. We need to pray for their parents, for some parents are discouraging their sons from answering the call. We need to pray for our active priests, as we have been doing this past Divine Mercy Novena. As our expectations for our priests increase, these men face greater stress and pressure to do more; some may choose to leave active ministry while others become demoralized. We also need to pray that our hearts will not hold on to old traditions and ways of doing things. Do not be surprised that with the shortage of priests, that events that used to be celebrated in conjunction with mass would be celebrated without mass.

Lastly, we need to remain close to Jesus. He promised us that he will be with us always. Any change that comes our way, will not remove his presence or his closeness in our lives.

While this challenge in our Diocese may sound gloom and doom, let us rejoice in the fact the Church is not the buildings but all of us, who make up the Body of Christ. What is essential to our Church are the Eucharist and the Sacraments and those will always be provided for us.

Please ask Blessed Mother to help our parish to ponder with gratitude her Son’s Real Presence among us.