After Masses yesterday I was finished with my assignment here at the parish. Now I have two weeks of vacation before beginning my new assignment in Boston on August 1. It's a very odd feeling. The life of parish ministry is so such an all-encompassing structure that it feels strange to be suddenly out of it.
I have only been here for three years, but it seems like longer. Perhaps this is because one's sense of time in parish life is somewhat cyclical, and so touches eternity. Morning Prayer, Mass, Evening Prayer, supper. Sundays, weekdays, days off. Advents, Christmases, Lents, Easters, and everything in between. Other little things that cycle around, no less regular but much less important, carrying their own meaning: the quiet of Holy Saturday, the camaraderie of the exhausted on Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday, Chinese takeout on Christmas eve before heading back to church for the Mass in nocte.
We human beings strive for and desire eternity. It's why the engaged know that only the total self-giving of 'forever' will satisfy the revelation of God's love they have found in each other, and why novices look forward to their vows. It's why two kids in love can write 'together for ever' on a wall or a tree, even though they know nothing of life and commitment. It's why we make children and art. Life in cyclical time imitates eternity, and thus becomes a satisfying vehicle for grace. This is why structures like the Divine Office and the liturgical year are so important; they plan prayer and present revelation to us by arranging them in cyclical time, thereby giving us a saving taste of the nunc stans of God's own eternity.
Even the adventitious work of the parish priest proceeds according to regular patterns within which particular and individual grace comes to be revealed: The short encounters of confession, heavily scripted but full of the honest and particular intimacy of the desire for faithfulness God puts in the hearts of his saints. From the first look at a family at a wake, to the offering of the funeral Mass, to my last private prayer at the grave. From the first call from a newly engaged, through meetings and paperwork and planning, to the particular intensity of the dismissal at a nuptial Mass: "The Mass is ended; go in peace." These are the patterns and cycles in which grace is revealed and the eternity of God comes to dwell among us.
As I transition out of this life, I feel neither more nor less free. I feel a little unhinged and adrift, but not in a frightening way. The graces and the challenges will be somewhat different now, but grace is grace, and God is one.