COVID-19: A pastor’s perspective: Moving Forward with Ministry
These past two months have brought many of our lives to a grinding halt like a moving train suddenly stopped on the tracks. Due to the stay-at-home orders, school and church buildings are closed, businesses are shuttered, airport runways have become parking lots for aircraft and, if people are working, most of them are doing it from the comforts of home.
In the midst of this stoppage, however, life goes on. I live at a very busy intersection. I continue to hear the persistent sound of traffic, along with the occasional muffled voices of pedestrians walking on the sidewalk. Indeed, life continues to unfold.
The other day, I gave a presentation via Zoom to the four men from our diocese that were ordained to the priesthood nearly a year ago. The vicar of clergy asked me to speak with these men about resources for priestly ministry. I have great respect for these young priests who have had to already weather some challenging storms beginning with the aftermath of the Pennsylvania grand jury report of 2018, the ongoing mergers of parishes and closures and regionalization of schools and now a pandemic. In spite of it all, these men are courageously moving forward in their life and ministry.
I began the presentation by sharing a true story from a priest friend of mine who was ordained not too long ago. When he arrived at his first assignment, he attended a parish gathering. A parishioner approached him and placed two big shoes on a table and said, “Son, you have huge shoes to fill.”
The man was not referring to the shoes of Jesus, but rather the previous parochial vicar who was a big man and wore large shoes. He was also gregarious, energetic and much beloved. I will never forget how devastated my friend was upon hearing this assessment. It became paralyzing.
As diocesan priests, we not only aspire to follow Jesus, but by virtue of the fact that our vocation is to the diocese and at the discretion of the bishop based on the needs of the Church we inevitably end up following someone.
When these moments occur in our lives there are three things we must always do. First, we should strive to the best of our ability to affirm the efforts of our predecessor who is a brother priest. Second, we need to resist the very human temptation to compare because, as the saying goes, “If you compare, you will despair.” Priesthood is never meant to be a competition but a shared commitment in the name of Jesus Christ for the good of the Church.
Finally, the most important thing we can do in times of transition is to trust in our goodness, walk in our own shoes and follow in the footprints of Jesus. In other words, we simply need to be ourselves and, at the same time, conform to God’s plan. While there may be stoppages in our lives, we must never stop walking in our shoes and following in the footprints of Jesus.
FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 15 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. Follow and like The Priest magazine on Facebook.