I've now been at St. Therese Parish for around 10 days as pastor, and I’m still getting to know the lay of the land.
Last week, I had mentioned that first and foremost, I’m beginning my ministry at the place I am most familiar with and for what I was ordained to do. As a priest, my familiar territory is the altar, the Holy Mass and especially the sacraments of confession and anointing of the sick.
As I explained to the parish staff, and as some are getting to know, I admit that I am not a multitasker. I take one step at a time.
For me, it’s like crossing a river using stepping stones. One little step at a time, but being careful where I am putting my foot, gently testing each stone to find out if it is secure, can it take my weight, do I need to replace one of the stones, or maybe, if I can’t, do I dare jump over one to land on another? And if I do so, will it be strong and secure enough or will I lose my balance and fall in. Slow and steady wins the race. One step at a time.
And that is why I take great encouragement from the Gospel we have listened to. When the Lord summoned the Twelve Apostles, the first priests and pastors of the Church, the first thing He gave them was authority over unclean spirits who want us to lose our balance.
An unclean spirit has its origin from the devil, who seldom likes to get his own hands dirty but who often prefers to create an unhealthy environment in which the germs and virus of sin and division can slowly build up over time.
We can continually wash ourselves of our sins through the sacrament of confession, but don’t let it be like a hand sanitizer. But there is always a need for a deep cleansing of our souls and the environment around us, so that the unclean spirits can not find a home or a breeding ground in a dark place. That is why, the first thing the apostles were instructed to do, was to drive out the demons into the light and bring healing to wounded souls.
Our Lord instructed the Apostles to take nothing for the journey except a walking stick— no food, no luggage, no money. Go back to that image of the stepping stones. If I try to cross to the other side on my first attempt carrying all my provisions, not knowing what I’m stepping on I risk losing my balance and everything in my pockets and backpack is ruined.
But a walking stick will be helpful. It will help me keep my balance and I can use it to test the next stepping stone to see if it is secure enough for me to put my foot on it firmly and securely. But again, I have to be careful. Some of the stones across the river might be sharp or jagged. I don’t want to step on them with my bare feet. So I’m grateful the Lord instructed His Apostles to wear sandals!
It’s a reminder to us all, that when we presume there is stability and when everything looks fine, be it regarding our spiritual or physical health, our families, community, parish and Church, even our nation, all it takes is one simple slip or a flash-flood, and everything goes downstream with disastrous consequences.
And we have been through, even literally, one hell of a storm this past year. Not only have many of our well tested stepping stones from one side to another been dislodged, bridges that had once allowed a movement of people, ministries and communities to interact with each other, have also been affected by “unclean spirits” that has plagued us in many ways, messed with us, particularly our minds.
That’s why, I am very conscious of my role as a “bridge builder”. During my first week here, I have made myself available to you after Mass. I have met individually with the parish staff, I have met the parishioners who had served on the parish council, those who had served on the parish finance council, I have sat down with the parish school principal, and met with the parish Knights of Columbus. I have talked with many of you who have been engaged in so many parish ministries in the past. I have also toured the local parks and neighborhoods and interacted with the locals. So as the bridge builder, figuring out how to join all the dots together like stepping stones, or a flow chart, will demand time and patience if I’m to guide the parish in the right direction.
Notice from the Gospel, Our Lord didn’t send everyone at one time out on their mission. He sent out His Apostles first, to explore the way forward, almost like a reconnaissance mission, maybe in the same way, while preparing to enter into the Promised Land, Moses sent out scouts to find the best way to get there, survey the land, and prepare the people to eventually take ownership of this new land when they arrived.
We are not yet there. So, back to those stepping stones. Allow me to test them out, step by step. Maybe some of them will have to be replaced, or repositioned, or maybe the river has changed its course and we have to seek a new way to cross from one side to another.
But with Christ as the sure and steady foundation stone, His blessed mother to hold our hand, and St. Therese to show us her “little and simple way”, I have faith and confidence. But I pray for courage. One step at a time, or as the old song goes, “one day at a time, sweet Jesus”.
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time