One of the most poignant discourses in the Acts of the Apostles is Paul’s farewell speech at Miletus (20:17-35), where he takes leave of the presbyters of Ephesus. Indeed, he says that he must go: “Now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem” (20:22). His future is uncertain, even tenuous: “What will happen to me there I do not know, except that in one city after another the holy Spirit has been warning me that imprisonment and hardships await me” (20:22-23). His faith and sense of mission carry him through the transition: “Yet I consider life of no importance to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear witness to the gospel of God’s grace” (20:24).
Paul’s experience resonates with that of priests changing assignments. It elicits emotions with married couples when they move to a new house/apartment/condo/domicile for the first time. It resonates with parents when they have their first child. It is familiar with people when they have to change jobs for the first time.
People frequently experience uncertainty about “the next move.” Finally, like Paul’s departure, this “first move” contains significant spiritual and religious possibilities. Thus, this time of change offers formational opportunities. It is an occasion when people can open themselves to God’s transforming action within them.
The next section will describe the event of this change of assignments, job, living location (or all of them at the same time). Next week we will look at the tasks and challenges that accompany such changes. A final section will explore the spiritual dimensions of this experience under the themes of temptation, grace, and discernment.
What is the event? Transitions occur in every stage of life. Age and experience may shape the way one meets the prospect and challenge of change. Basic dynamics remain the same. Nevertheless, the first time you have to move into a new house/condo/apartment, the first time you have to change job or assignment, that first child has special significance and poignancy.
This change is emotionally costly and often painful. The timing often seems sudden and capricious. Many aspects of “the move” are often outside of the control of the person. Changes are caused by decisions of bosses, companies, bishops. Economic forces, biology, medical conditions or educational pathways can be behind that initial move. They can cause an entire range of emotions such as fear, confusion, resentment, and anger.
At the same time, it can yield immense gains and effect an infusion of new life. It is a time of opportunity. It includes an opportunity to allow the event to “form” us spiritually, emotionally, professionally and vocationally. In other words, the event of transition can be a holy moment. This prospect echoes the many biblical stories of movement and relocation. One example is the story of Abraham’s journey to a new land. Another is the nation of Israel’s liberating journey of Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. The journey of Jesus to Jerusalem is a third example. The missionary journeys of St. Paul can also be added to the list. All of these journeys are formative and transformative.
The biblical journeys of faith and the experience of priests’ transitions share common moments: departing, moving, beginning. There is closure that includes leave-taking and the actual departure. Moving or being in movement both from and towards is proper to the transition. Finally, after the arrival, the re-initiation to mission, vocation, ministry and life can begin.
The change signals an opportunity to revisit and deepen the integration of priestly identity of what it means to be a husband or wife, father or mother, colleague or friend. Fundamental questions arise. If these questions are not brought out and addressed, unresolved issues can linger – sometimes for years. In addition, if we did not build some type of “formational framework” to address this initial move, what will we do when another move or change occurs in our life? It’s definitely going to happen. How can we allow God to use such moments?
Formation homework: Think of a time when a significance change or move occurred in your life.
- What was “the event?”
- How did you react?
- How did you feel?
- What did you do to address the situation?
Superimpose the following questions on that experience and see what emotions arise.
- “Who I am?”
- “What am I?”
- “What do I really want?”
- “What am I called to do for the sake of the mission, the marriage, the community, the company, the family?”
Bring those feelings and insights to God. See what God does.