June 29, 2010

Emptiness and Silence

When people ask me about what I have found to be most challenging in the parish ministry, I usually tell them that it's the hours. Not that the work is overwhelming by volume--it more often overwhelms by variety--but that it is arranged in ways I had to get used to. The parish priesthood is often a kind of bi-phasic work; the most intense parts of the day are the early morning and the evening. Regular Masses and funerals fill up the mornings, while the evenings are spent in committee meetings, pastoral counseling, parish council, marriage preparation, RCIA, etc.

As I continue in my transitional moment, most of the evening stuff has come to an end. All of my couples are married, my catechumens initiated. I have terminated with those folks with whom I had been meeting for spiritual direction. The Parish Council and its committees are in summer recess.

And so I find myself at six or six-thirty these days, looking out upon empty evenings for the first time in years. It's a little jarring. I've started to walk the parish boundaries during this time, trying to simply pray in gratitude for the faith and goodness of the people. There's an emptiness, a sort of grief in it, a little death as everything quiets down to silence. But silence is always an invitation to contemplation, and I try to see my retreat from full-time ministry in this light. To get reacquainted with the emptiness and silence at the Heart of it all. As I am called to move on, may I be grateful for what has been and be able to let go in peace.

[Contemplation is] a terrible breaking and burning of idols, a purification of the sanctuary, so that no graven thing may occupy the place that God has commanded be left empty: the center, the existential altar which simply "is." (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 13)

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