Pastor’s Perspective- June 21, 2020 (expanded online version)

* Fathers’ Day

As we recognize and honor all our fathers this weekend, let us pray for them as well. We give God thanks for all the time and energy they sacrifice for their families.  We acknowledge their leadership and strength in forming our lives. We rejoice in their protective care for us. We entrust them to God’s loving care.

Being a father is to embrace a relationship with God who is Father of all. Dads, pray to God the Father for the wisdom, strength, and love you need each day. If there have been times and situations where you did not live out your fatherly role properly, ask for the grace of forgiveness—that your family might let go and forgive and that you might acknowledge any sin and harm done and seek forgiveness. Say yes to all the responsibility and sacrifice being a father demands.

One way to do so is to seek the intercession of St. Joseph, patron of all fathers. I remember an article in America magazine a few years ago by Tom McGrath called “A Father’s Faith.” He suggested four ways he as a father and fathers in general can draw wisdom from St. Joseph. (1) Like Joseph, “every difficult family situation is best met with compassion”. Joseph did not divorce Mary or expose her to shame because of her pregnancy but was compassionate. Fathers need to draw upon their compassion and not simply their righteous anger when dealing with difficult situations. (2) “Expect God to speak to you and be willing to listen”. Joseph seemed to take for granted that God wanted to speak to him in his dreams. Think about it. Fathers, should expect God to speak to them in various ways. We need to pay attention and be willing to listen. (3) “Practice your religion; it will help you discover who you are and why you are here.” Do not underestimate what it does for everyone in the family when a father prays, attends worship, gets involved in parish formation and outreach. (4) “We are all here to do some work”. Being a father is work and not always enjoyable.  But trust that being a father is always a work of God. 

Finally, for all our fathers who have died, may they come into a communion with the one God and Father of all and so receive full healing and joy. 

*40th Anniversary (expanded online version)

Today (Sunday) is my 40th anniversary of ordination as a priest.  On this day in 1980 Cardinal Dearden ordained me, along with several other priests, at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral.  It was his last group of ordinations, prior to retiring as archbishop of Detroit.  Cardinal Dearden was the epitome of what I would call a great priest and pastor.  He entered seminary during and was formed in the pre-Vatican II Church and embraced it fully.  In his first stint as bishop (of Pittsburgh) he was known as “Iron John,” because of his adherence to the letter of the law.  However, as he participated in all the sessions of the Second Vatican Council from 1962-1965 something in him changed. He experienced profoundly the movement of the Spirit at that council and was transformed.  Still one of the great intellects in the Church but now he became even better known for his pastoral style of consultation, dialogue, collaboration with lay men and women, and openness to exploring questions. 

That is the vision I “caught” in my seminary years and has stayed with me throughout my forty years of priesthood.  It has inspired all that I do and shaped how I am as a pastor.  It has given me the inner peace to face the challenges of being a priest over these years and to be pastor at a variety of significantly different parishes. That vision leads to a joy, as I see it fully confirmed by our current Pope, Francis, who has helped the Church realize that truth needs to proclaimed, but, as importantly, it needs to be lived in love and mercy. 

The Archdiocese of Detroit was one of the few that held a diocesan-wide Synod after the Second Vatican Council (called Synod 1969), so that the fruits of the council could shape our local parishes and the life of the local Church. It had been a momentous council, bringing the Church’s life into dialogue with the modern world, proclaiming that faith clearly but recognizing that as a Church we had been living too much in an anti-modern, anti-Protestant, fearful mode.  Taking the cue from Pope John XXIII (now St. John XXIII) and his call for ‘aggiornamento’ (renewal) and his image of throwing open the windows to let the Spirit breath fresh air into the Church, Vatican II did what many had thought impossible—move a Church that thought of itself as complete in itself and with no need of reform to become a Church that desired to listen anew to the Spirit of God. 

For the Archdiocese of Detroit, Synod 1969 was equally momentous, bringing about a large number of reforms that has shaped parish life to this day: the “Church-World-Kingdom” series that engaged thousands of adults in formation and education; requirements that parishes open up leadership to lay men and women via mandated pastoral councils and a suggested framework of Worship, Stewardship, Christian Service, and Formation Commissions, which brought tens of thousands of adult laity into roles of responsibility and consultation; hiring and encouraging the hiring of competent lay staff at parishes (men and women); openness to exploring new types of ministries such as the permanent deaconate, faith formation directors, Christian service ministers, and more; adjusting priest compensation so that it was no longer remunerated by Mass or sacramental stipends (those go to the parish) but by a basic salary; taking the Christmas collection from being the pastor’s personal benefice to using it to start a pension program for senior priests; starting an Archdiocese-wide development fund, which raised money to help struggling parishes and schools, especially in the city of Detroit, and to fund Church-sponsored initiatives of social justice; opening up the assignment of priests process so that priests could apply for parishes they thought would fit their gifts; allowing for a consultative body of priests (called back then the Priests’ Senate) long before presbyteral councils were mandated by canon law; and much more.

Why so much on Cardinal Dearden when talking about my 40th anniversary? If I had to name the consistent, driving force of my priesthood through all these forty years, it has been a commitment to the vision opened up by the Second Vatican Council, a vision I saw embraced in his leadership, even when he was castigated by various groups of Catholics, especially some who were dead-set against changing anything, others against helping anyone who was not Catholic, others outright racist.  Cardinal Dearden’s commitment to fight racism and work for justice and to give space to allow the Vatican II vision to unfold, was for me a sign of a Church that was open to the Spirit.  In many ways, with Pope Francis’ Vatican II-inspired vision for the Church, with the world reeling from massive social and economic change exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and with our archdiocese trying to harness the energy from Synod 2016 through its “unleash the gospel” initiatives, we are at the threshold of the next unfolding of that same Spirit-inspired vision. It will lead to new arrangements of parishes (called ‘families of parishes’) and new ways to live out priesthood and ministry.  But the key, for me, will be how those initiatives tap into and are inspired by the vision from Vatican II.

Having begun priestly ministry when the implementation of Synod 1969 was in full swing and now moving toward the latter years of priestly ministry as we try to implement the vision of Synod 2016, this anniversary, more than previous ones, has given me a pause to look back and re-assess, even as I look forward to many more years of priestly ministry, God willing.  It is remarkable to me that I am now just a few years shy of Cardinal Dearden’s age when he ordained me.  It goes by quickly, doesn’t it? Would I do it all again, knowing what I now know and have experienced? Yes, resoundingly yes.  Do not hesitate to encourage young men to consider priesthood. It is challenging but so rewarding, especially when one keeps in front of them an overarching vision that comes, not from oneself, but from the Spirit of God guiding the Church universal.

* Solidarity with Immigrants. Upcoming Educational Webinar

As I mentioned last week, St. Regis’ Immigration Circle of Support is allied with the wider coalition of Circles called Strangers No Longer.  That wider coalition is sponsoring a series of educational events during the summer, to help people understand more fully immigration issues and why the Catholic Church encourages all to be involved with such issues and, more importantly, with immigrants themselves.  A general overview of immigration from a Catholic perspective is available on Tuesday June 23rd at 7:00 p.m.  Full disclosure: I recorded the brief presentation on Catholic Social Teaching which you will view at the webinar.  There is a link to register on our website under News and News Briefs.

Fr. Buersmeyer

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