Pastor’s Perspective – June 12, 2022

* Thank you Deacon Francis!

As Deacon Francis King transitions to “senior deacon” status, I want to thank him for saying “Yes” to the call to being a deacon for the Church, for the many Christian Service and prayer initiatives he has shepherded over these last fifteen years, for his care and attention to visiting those who were ill, and his faithful service at the altar. Thank you, Deacon Francis!

The good news? We are not saying “Goodbye” to him. He is still “our” deacon. He will still be helping at Masses and involved in the parish. He just will not have official responsibilities. His schedule will be on his own terms, giving him time to write some books—a passion he has been wanting to devote more time to—and to spend more time with his family, children, and grandchildren. Deacon Francis, may you know God’s blessings in abundance in this new phase of life and ministry! One more thank you, to Lucy King. No married deacon is able to do what they do without the support of their spouse. Thank you, Lucy for supporting Francis in his vocation and for letting us disrupt your lives over these years by agreeing to have him available for all the service he has provided to us!

* Feast of the Most Holy Trinity

Pope Francis and Bartholomew, the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople have agreed to a joint gathering in Nicea in 2025 on the 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicea, the first ecumenical council and one accepted by nearly every Christian Church as definitive for properly understanding the Christian doctrine on the Trinity. That council marked a creedal agreement about how to most truthfully name and speak about God. It responded to the conundrum of how God is most certainly and definitively only one God and yet Jesus the Son (and the Holy Spirit) must also be “one in being” with the Father, fully God and yet distinct from the Father. To address that seeming paradox, they even coined a new word—homoousios (“one in being”)—which has been translated in our current English version of the Creed as “consubstantial with.”

The Council of Nicea was responding to what came to be called the Arian heresy (named after Arius, a priest from the Church in Alexandria), which desired to protect the oneness of God by rooting that oneness in the mystery of the Father. In Arian thinking, Son and Spirit could be called divine but not in the same way as the Father. They could be called eternal but not without some “beginning” in the Father. On the other side, defending the full divinity of Jesus the Son (and the Holy Spirit) was Athanasius and others who insisted that unless Jesus was truly one in being with God the Father and therefore “of the same substance” (understood not as materiality but what gives a reality its fullest meaning) as the Father, then Jesus could not be the Savior for humanity. Humanity cannot save itself. We need the grace of divine help. Inspired Scripture clearly insists that Jesus is such a Savior and so he must be fully God, even if we cannot understand fully the mystery of one God, three distinct persons.

In the end the doctrine of God as Holy Trinity means that God is able to be fully and completely God (completely Other than us) and yet include us fully in God’s embrace. Our communion with God is not imaginary or made up by us. It is real and it is initiated by God. On this feast of the Holy Trinity, may the Father’s absolute and unshakeable love ground us. May the Son’s redeeming and healing love free us. May the Spirit’s creative and relentless love strengthen and inspire us.

* My Vocation Story (continued)

Last weekend, throughout the Archdiocese of Detroit, we launched a “Year of Prayer for Priestly Vocations.” I have been sharing my vocation story, beginning with the May 9th bulletin. I will conclude the series next week and collate them into one article and make it available on the website under the “Pastor’s Perspectives Archives.”

In the fourth year at Orchard Lake, the diocese decided to close St. John’s Seminary in Plymouth, consolidating both college and graduate schools at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit. I was asked to be part of the seminary faculty at Sacred Heart. In planning the transition, the “powers that be” insisted that seminarians be taught theology differently than lay students. It was a decision I again had to bring to prayer and discernment. Saying yes to that arrangement would guarantee me a long-term assignment in teaching theology, which I truly loved doing. Not accepting that arrangement would mean possibly no more ability to teach at the graduate level. Diocesan priests spend their lives interacting with lay pastoral staff. It is an asset to learn moral and systematic theology alongside those not preparing for priesthood. It would hurt formation to priesthood, I believed, to isolate seminarians in their theology classes. The end result: I would not be joining the faculty of the new seminary, rather going back into full-time parish ministry, this time as a first-time pastor, at (continued on page 4)

Christ the Good Shepherd Parish, Lincoln Park. Over the years I still found some outlets to teach formal theology–Orchard Lake, Marygrove College, Assumption University, and Siena Heights University. But my heart and life would remain connected to full-time parish ministry—something I have never regretted.

Christ the Good Shepherd Parish was a lot of work, but a joy. It so happened that day one of showing up, the parish had no money in the bank and a number of bills due. The first few months were spent deciding which bills to pay and which to put off till we had money. The previous pastor had taken the bookkeeper and housekeeper and maintenance man to his new parish and so there was a lot of hiring to be done immediately. The associate pastor was on a six-week sabbatical in Poland. I had to figure out how to cover the six weekend Masses without him. I was also informed that there were a number of crises at Aquinas Catholic High School, which, by the way, “you are responsible for solving, even though we never told you that before you accepted the job! “

Looking back, I am not sure how I survived that first year of being a pastor, but at thirty-six years of age, I was game. What parishes have going for them are the people of all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life. Bringing them together in prayer and worship, consulting their wisdom when important decisions have to be made, being open with them about what needs to be done, showing love and care to them—they always seem to come through. The parish members of Christ the Good Shepherd came through with flying colors, including—eventually—expanding parish staff, building a gathering area, an office area, and eventually an Activities Center with a cafeteria, full kitchen and gymnasium, renovating the church interior, developing parish commissions and a pastoral council, closing and selling Aquinas High School, reducing the number of Masses on a weekend from six to three and going from a two-priest parish to a one-priest parish, and much more. I am forever grateful for all the people of Christ the Good Shepherd. I was truly blessed in this my first assignment as a pastor.

Around year eleven at Christ the Good Shepherd, I went through a time of discernment and came to the conclusion that it would be good to make myself available for another assignment. That year there were only four openings for pastors. None seemed to fit my set of skills and interests. I began to wonder about whether I had discerned properly about moving, but I applied to be pastor of one of them. Just before the assignment was finalized, all hell broke loose in the Catholic Church in America, as the priest abuse scandal came into the open. Here in the Archdiocese of Detroit a number of pastors were removed from their parishes for past abuse. Four openings became twenty and I was asked if any of the new openings looked like one I would want to pastor. I asked for, after some prayer and discernment, and was assigned to SS. John and Paul in Washington Township, replacing someone who had been removed for abusing minors. Although that first year was quite challenging—the whole abuse scandal, people and staff a bit wary of a priest they did not know, a reigning in of expectations of building a new church, and more. The people of SS. John and Paul were a wonderful community.

My fourteen years there went by quickly. We developed a family faith formation program we named G.R.A.C.E. (Growing and Responding As Catholics Everyday), which brought hundreds of the parish together for a monthly meal and faith formation aimed at all age levels. The shared leadership nights three times a year that we have here are a borrowing from what we developed at SS. John and Paul. The parish buildings—church, modular Activities Center, offices and gym/community hall—will never win awards for beauty or elegance, but the community of parishioners, its ability to come together, its volunteer spirit (endless number of projects done by the parish members themselves rather than contracting it out), its mix of old and young, wealthy, middle class and poor, all were a tremendous blessing of which to be part.

As I neared the end of my twelve years at SS. John and Paul (generally pastors are assigned in six year blocks, renewable), I tried to discern the remainder of my priesthood. What was the best way to serve the Archdiocese? I knew I could stay very comfortable at SS. John and Paul for the remainder of my active priesthood, and that was tempting. We had accomplished a lot together, the staff was cohesive, and things were pretty well-oiled. But, I also had made a personal decision many years ago not to overstay any one place. I am a firm supporter of “term limits” for pastors. If you are doing well, then go bring those gifts to other communities. If you or the community has struggled, then let new leadership come to that community. As we were in the beginning of a large fund-raising and building project, I felt it best to see that project through, and so stayed an extra two years. As we were completing that project, my parents had just moved to a senior center in Dearborn. In praying about the best fit for my priesthood during the final active years, I wanted to be somewhat close geographically to them, in a parish that needed good administrative skills, and ideally, (continued on page 5)

one with a school. What opened up that year that fit the criteria? Only one place, St. Regis, when the Archbishop pulled Msgr. Kosanke to oversee the renewal/renovation of St. Anne’s/Holy Trinity in Detroit. And so, here I have been for these six years.

Taking a broad overview of these forty-two years of priesthood, a few things are constant. The joy of finding community not so much in whom I have lived with, but in the people of the communities I have served. The creative tension between the teaching aspect of my ministry and the pastoral aspect, with the pastoral always taking precedence and guiding my discernment. The challenge of being stretched in different ways in each of the assignments I was given.  The value of being honest with oneself and others who are involved in making decisions. Trusting the discernment which results, even if it does not lead at first to what one was expecting, and the true blessing that comes from saying yes to any authentic discernment. A few concluding thoughts next time.

Fr. Buersmeyer

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