As strange as it might sound to some in our secular age, the term “goodbye” is a contraction of “God be with ye.” I like to keep that in mind in this, my “goodbye” column, as I complete my four-year term as pastor of the South Clermont Catholic Region. My prayer is certainly that the Lord continue to be with you.
It has certainly been a tremendous privilege to serve the people of St. Mary and St. Peter. I am grateful to God and to you for having had the opportunity. I wish it could have been longer (pastors are typically appointed for at least six years, but the Beacons of Light pastoral initiative short-circuited the usual priest assignment process). The good news is that, as we enter into the new family-of-parishes (FOP) model of parish operations, the Archbishop is indicating that the pastor’s assignments will once again be for at least six years. That should provide a good long opportunity to get to know and work with Fr. Ralston. For parochial vicars (assistant priests) that is not necessarily the case. They are typically moved whenever the Archbishop sees a need. My prayer is that the parishioners will welcome Fr. Ralston as pastor and Fr. Wagner and Fr. Dorn as vicars with gratitude for their service and their priesthood, even if they are not especially happy about the pastoral initiative.
The new “Southeast-6” FOP is very fortunate to have three priests assigned for full time service and another priest serving at the seminary assigned for Sunday Mass help each weekend. That is a much better ratio of priests to parishes than many of the other FOPs have. I am sure that the good work of the parishes will continue under the new arrangement. I have certainly been impressed with the spirit of service and self-giving of our parishioners. I am always leery about making lists (because I might forget somebody who would feel overlooked), but I have benefited immensely from the hard work and sacrifices of many, many parish groups: everyone from our parish staff and deacons; funeral volunteers; wedding mentors; altar societies; men’s groups; women’s groups; parish commissions and councils; liturgical volunteers; facilities volunteers; adult faith and Bible study coordinators; youth leaders; and so many more. One thing that has especially impressed me is the spirit of volunteerism: when the grounds need tended, volunteers step forward; when we have to clean up the parish center, people give up their time to do it. By doing that, the people of South Clermont have enabled the good work of the parishes to continue even with very limited financial resources. They don’t wait for “someone else” to do the job!
We have certainly weathered some very significant challenges in the four years that I have been here: With the Covid crisis, we learned how to worship and pray when the unthinkable happened (the bishops shutting down public Masses); we learned to keep the lines of communication open when we couldn’t assemble in person; we learned how to look out for those who might otherwise have been forgotten. These were some challenges I hope I don’t have to repeat as a priest (not being able to visit those in nursing homes or hospitals comes to mind); but on the more positive side it made us priests more creative in our ministry – adding outdoor Eucharistic adoration and confessions for example. The epidemic helped make us more resilient in our faith – definitely a good thing. The good news is that our parishes have mostly bounced back to where we were before Covid as far as numbers and involvement. In that regard, we are better off than many other parishes in the Archdiocese which declined significantly in that period. Again, I think it is a mark of the strong faith and resilience of our people which will certainly carry over into the new FOP.
As far as “parting words,” I couldn’t help but notice that, in a way, I am coming “full circle” from my beginning to ending time. As soon as I arrived in July 2018, the Church was reading through one of the most important Gospel passages that we can pray and study: St. John, Chapter 6. This is often called the “Bread of Life” discourse, because it is Jesus’ own very clear and ephaptic teaching regarding how important it is to receive the Eucharistic – His Very Body and Blood – with proper love, understanding and disposition. Now, just as I am beginning to wrap up my time here, last week we celebrated the great feast of Corpus Christi – the solemn remembrance of the joy that we have in receiving this gift and its critical importance in helping us to stay on the path to Heaven.
Priests don’t (or shouldn’t) care too much about being remembered after we are gone from our parish assignments – we are just pointers to Christ and hope we can witness to Him and serve Him faithfully. But if I am remembered for one thing, I hope it is for constantly drawing attention to the holy Eucharist – especially in Mass, but also in devotion to It, such as in adoration. I hope I have in some small ways helped to create an environment of reverence to make it easier for the faithful to love and appreciate Christ’s sacrifice, gift and mystery.
I have certainly tried to attend carefully to the celebration of holy Mass, because it is of utmost importance in unifying us with each other and with Christ Himself. I have known both Fr. Ralston and Fr. Dorn from seminary days, and so personally witnessed their deep and sincere love of the Eucharist, which inspired me. I am grateful to be able to hand the parish on to priests who, I am confident, will continue to help you know the saving power of Our Eucharistic Lord.
Please keep me in your prayers as I pray for you.