By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
With the image of the Good Shepherd before us in the center of the Easter season, and with his voice resounding in our hearts and minds, let us commend to our crucified and risen Lord the priests of our diocese who strive to follow in his footsteps, especially those who are anticipating changes in the time ahead.
In particular, we ask God’s blessing upon Deacon Andrew Bowden whom I will be ordaining to the priesthood of Jesus Christ for the Diocese of Jackson this Saturday, May 14 at our Cathedral of Saint Peter the Apostle.
Over last weekend on the fourth Sunday of Easter which is always dedicated to the Good Shepherd, a cohort of our priests addressed their congregations to inform them that they would be transferred to shepherd other flocks in the Diocese of Jackson who are in need of a pastor due to retirements or departures.
Some are packing up and physically leaving after assorted lengths of time, while others are remaining in place but are generously stretching themselves to shepherd additional parish communities. As many know, significant changes in life are not easy and require considerable time and energy.
Last weekend with the image of the Good Shepherd before me I reflected upon the transitions in my life as a priest over the past 45 years and could recall the feelings that coursed through me during assignment changes, even after many years.
There is a dying that occurs with every change to what was, and so too with a priest when he leaves one parish where he knows many by name and whose voices echo with the memories of pastoral experiences of birth and death, and every stage in between. The unknown that awaits can evoke anxious feelings and uncertainty.
I remember one change in assignment where the people gave me a great send-off one evening, and on the next morning the altar server at Mass in the new parish looked at me curiously and asked, “and what’s your name again?” I smiled inwardly in that moment and said, “yes, it’s a new day.”
It is the cycle of dying and rising that we experience in the death and resurrection of the Good Shepherd. For the transferred priest there could be grieving in the separation, and yet a change in a parochial assignment opens the door to new life in the shepherding of individuals, families and communities of faith whom the Lord entrusts to us.
With each “letting-go” and departure new life awaits. Still, it is not easy, and it takes time for everyone to adjust, the new pastor and people, in order to establish relationships of trust, respect and love.
May our prayer rise up to heaven for all of our priests whom the Lord calls to serve as good shepherds.
St. Peter exhorted the pastoral leaders of his day with the following words: “Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly — not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God.” (1Peter 5:2)
In whatever parish and circumstances our priests and pastoral leaders find ourselves, may we serve with the heart and mind of Jesus Christ.
The voice of the Lord is for all of the baptized.