We have been looking at the topics of discipleship, vocations and transition. Primary materials have been drawn from St. John Paul II”s exhortation, I Will Give You Shepherds and The Basic Plan for the Ongoing Formation by the U.S. Bishops Conference.
Starting last week, we began looking at transitions when people move away for the first time. This includes post-graduation, a first job, moving into your first apartment, condo or home, or (for priests and religious) a first assignment . This kind of transition involves three “moments” – departing, moving, and beginning. Each moment combines tasks and challenges that are both psychological and spiritual. The psychological task is to accept and manage change. The spiritual task is to respond to God’s invitation in the change process.
Leaving With Deliberateness.
A deliberate leave-taking is a first task. It is a sign of human sensitivity not to rush off. A deliberate leave-taking can be a holy event. The farewell discourse of Jesus in John’s Gospel (Jn 14-17) tells us that. This includes several steps. First, it means taking time to say goodbye. We need to face people and to say the word that marks a change in one’s relationship with them. Often, they need to hear an assurance that there will still be a connection, not as it was but in some altered form. Adjustments to relationships need to be made. The human inclination is often to avoid painful goodbyes. Thus, friends and trusted colleagues need reassurance that they are not going to be left behind. This is a task and a challenge that needs to be faced with courage.
Another challenging task of leave-taking is to let go of past hurts or to try to heal them. Hurts have to do with unfinished business. These need to be discarded or resolved. If not, they can continue to have a negative impact even in a new situation. Every departure contains its own call to reconciliation.
Vocalizing gratitude or saying thank you is another deliberate task and challenge. It is important to allow people to say thank you to the person, couple, priest or sister. Priests need to acknowledge people who have been at the heart of their ministry. Married couples and single people should acknowledge how God’s grace worked through the lives of others. This way, people can know what their presence was to another couple, priest or religious.
Leaving with deliberateness embraces goodbyes, connections, reconciliations, and thanks. For Catholics, this is often done in some ritualized form. For priests and religious this usually includes a Mass and a party. This can also be a profound formula for laypeople. These are not pro forma events. Catholics prize rite, ritual, sacramentality, community, and tradition. Sacred ritualization of departures is an essential ingredient. It makes leave-taking whole and complete.
Tasks and challenges can be found in the very process of moving. The great challenge is to do with God’s grace and a personal sense of gracefulness. Moving with gratitude and grace begins with a sense of pace and peace. One should avoid a transition done with hurried, frantic speed. In peace and calm, people can retrieve personal, pastoral, and spiritual opportunities. Moving can be an occasion to review what has happened over the past several years. In a calm environment, change can draw us into a deep sense of recollection. It can invite us to reaffirm our commitments. This allow us to re-dedicate ourselves to our priestly ministry, our marriage, a religious order, family or friends. It allows us to realign the way we do things towards a fuller conversion of heart. Finally, a geographic move sharpens the challenge to cultivate a “missionary sense” of our life and vocation. It can encourage us to understand God’s call to a wider outreach.
Obvious tasks and challenges present themselves at the beginning of a new assignment, job, or location. This includes getting to know people. It means familiarizing yourself with local history. It encourages us to gain a sense of the culture of the new place. These are practical, necessary, and obvious tasks and challenges. Yet there are tasks and challenges of beginning anew that are more subtle.
An internal, spiritual challenge is to prayerfully reflect on one’s past experience. The ideal is to use one’s experience but not to try to repeat it. The goal is to draw on the past – but with great openness to a new future. The Church’s spiritual language talks of gifts and virtues. This includes the cultivation “wisdom” and “prudence.” These provide a larger perspective born of experience. It also allows us to form the “good habit” of doing things the right way.
The final task and challenge is an intentional, personal reinvestment in a new situation. Abraham provides an example. This involves giving oneself over to a new people. It means accepting a new set of circumstances. It offers a new call of God in an unfamiliar land.