|St. Paul, the Apostle|
I'm grateful that my heart is crushed. As I was looking out into the congregation today, I saw a couple of young men who I think might have vocations to the priesthood. If they do, I hope that someday, they love a people so much that their hearts feel crushed by leaving them. Priesthood is a fatherhood and fathers ought to be attached to their families.
Today I felt that attachment in all sorts of ways. Some were on the amusing side. At one Mass, two young children--a brother and sister--came up to communion with their parents. The children are not old enough to receive. They looked up at me and each said, "I will miss you Father Barnes." Yeah, I'll miss them too.
After another Mass, surrounded by all sorts of crying parishioners, a little boy came running up to me and opened his hand excitedly. "Look what came out during Mass!!" He was holding his tooth. I'll miss him.
After another Mass, a woman in her nineties came out. She was crying and so to comfort her I said, "Well, we still have three months together." She looked so happy and said, "Oh good, there's still hope." I said, "No, no. I'm definitely leaving in three months." She replied, "No, I meant there's hope I could die before you leave because I want you to say my Funeral Mass." I'll miss her.
Pastors being attached to their flock is the way it is supposed to be. The longer I've been a priest, the more I find myself attached to the Apostle Paul. He really teaches us how to be pastors. He encourages, corrects, admonishes, teaches, and suffers for the sake of his flock. And, even in today's reading from Philippians, he acknowledges that he sometimes writes to them in tears. So many times, when I read different letters from St. Paul, I think, "Yes, that's my experience!" His letters strengthen me and instruct me on what it means to be a pastor.
I've received messages from all sorts of brother priests conveying to me their fraternity. I even got one letter today that took two thousand years to reach me. Today, we heard from St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians and when the lector read a particular line, my heart was really struck. Beautifully, a woman in the pews must have had the sense that what was just read was exactly what was in my heart because she looked over at me with a knowing smile. It was at the end of the reading. St. Paul wrote, "Therefore my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord." Yes, these people are my joy and my crown and I love them--and even though still with them, I already long for them! And, what I most want for them is that they stand firm in the Lord.
The fact is, if a priest falls in love with his people, he will likely suffer because of them. He might suffer when one of them goes astray, when one gets ill, when one dies, when a family breaks up, and when he has to leave them. But, boy am I glad that I fell in love with these people. In this moment, every ounce of sorrow that afflicts my heart only reinforces in me the conviction that these people are my joy and my crown.