|Icon of Christ the Bridegroom|
This deterioration of the importance of the stability of pastors is often defended by rather banal discussions of " new blood," or "new ideas." At times there are attempts to overly spiritualize it by saying, "Well, this is part of the life of a priest." But we should not be so quick to do that. Before knowing how to act, we should first know who we are.
In the life of the Church, the pastor is not a mere extension of the bishop. He is an intimate cooperator of the bishop and he exercises his priestly office only under the authority of the bishop. And, in this sense, every priest should have the pastoral concern of the whole diocese at heart. If the bishop needs a particular pastor to move for the good of souls, then a good priest is willing to do so. In this way,priests should always be willing to exercise missionary zeal in caring for the whole Church, even beyond the boundaries of his particular diocese. But, at the same time, a pastor exercises his office in his own right. In other words, the pastor does not represent the bishop in his parish. The pastor exercises the pastoral office under the bishop and dependent upon the bishop, but the pastor represents the person of Christ, the Good Shepherd in his parish. The pastor is shepherd, bridegroom, and father.
As a shepherd, he is called not only to lead and to lay down his life for the sheep, but he is also called to know the sheep. Knowing the flock takes time--a long time. The sheep also need time to know the shepherd, to know the voice of the Good Shepherd through him, and to follow him. Parishes aren't corporations. Things take time. It took St. John Vianney over forty years!
As a bridegroom, the pastor lives Christ's spousal relationship with the Church. He is with his people in good times and in bad, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health. The stability of pastors is a necessary condition for living this spousal relationship. Without this stability, it can seem as though pastors are always on the lookout for the next best parish.
As a father, stability is important because fatherhood is a stable presence in the lives of people. To say, "Well, all priests are fathers" would do a disservice to the theological foundation of the office of pastor. In the Canon of the Mass, even though we pray for all bishops, we pray for our own bishop by name. He is not simply just one among the many bishops. Specificity matters. Similarly, the people of a parish have been given a father in the person of their pastor. Moving him, while sometimes necessary, ought to be done with serious consideration. "Is this so important that the father of these people should be taken from them?" If the answer is, "yes," then there's no doubt that the pastor ought to move. But that question ought to be asked.
There are always going to be good reasons to move a pastor. The argument for stability is not an
argument for leaving an unhappy pastor in a difficult assignment or for leaving an ineffective pastor in a parish. Rather, the argument for stability concerns the very identity of the pastor himself and his place within the ecclesial communion and in the life of a parish.