Last Sunday we saw in the gospel Jesus sending the Apostles on a mission to preach and to cure people. A week later we see them coming back and telling Jesus what they’ve done and taught. They must have been incredibly effective as there were so many coming and going that the Apostles had no time even to eat. Their master has to say to them to take a break as they seem to be too enthusiastic to do it on their own. When they finally go with Jesus by boat to another place, they are soon found by those in need. However this time it is Jesus taking care of them, not the Apostles; they are not mentioned as being involved in this.
For the last five years a community of the Sacred Heart Sisters, based in Inverness, have tirelessly worked in our diocese. When the time for their return eventually came it was a painful process of leaving our beautiful country and the people living here. I can understand their feelings as I have worked in five different parishes since my ordination. However I’ve taken the approach from the gospel we can notice in today’s passage: I’m only a man in the Lord’s service, but Jesus himself is the real and permanent shepherd of our souls. He’s the only one never leaving us; all others will always do so for many reasons.
Perhaps my approach might look odd to many, but my basic rule, when moving to another parish, is as if I die to the previous one. I strongly believe that Jesus will always take care of his people in the best possible way. My job is to be a hundred per cent for the new parish and the people living there, because that’s my mission for the time being. It doesn’t mean I have no friends from my previous parishes; I do have – a married couple from my second parish (I left it exactly ten years ago) is visiting me now. I’m their friend, but not their minister. They’ve got their own priests in their parish. We haven’t talked about their priests but I suppose they are different from me – not better, not worse, just different. I strongly believe that they are exactly those God wanted to give my friends at this moment of their lives.
I think it should work similarly in the opposite direction. Sometimes in a new parish people were telling me: ‘Father X was such and such… Father Z did this and that…’ To be honest it’s always a little embarrassing, because I’m Father T and currently I am where I am. Surely I’m not better than Father X and hopefully I’m not worse than Father Z. I might be perceived by someone as a challenge, by another as pain in the neck. But maybe this is exactly what God gives you for this moment in your life? I’ve always learned from other priests; in a couple of instances the reverse has been the case: what kind of priest I don’t want to be.
Don’t get me wrong: in our parish I feel embarrassingly good, overly and undeservedly appreciated. It would be a grave sin if I complained about anything or anybody. What I mean by this sermon is that we can make good use and take an advantage of every priest given to us for the time being. Our Lord sends us imperfect blokes, undertaking their mission for better or for worse. But ultimately it’s Jesus who takes care of us. And that really matters.