Last week at this time I got a news update from the New York Times to the effect that three former Franciscan provincials or general superiors had been indicted in Pennsylvania for assignment of a known pedophile friar. This was not the branch of the Franciscan Order that I belonged to for 25 years, but all the same one of the indicted former provincials is a friend of mine, as is the present-day provincial, and over the last decade or so my old friend has pastored up the road not far from me, and I occasionally attend Mass in the Franciscan ambiance of that parish. The news was devastating to me, and I read the full grand jury report, which made me feel worse, so I sent my condolences and basically hoped for the best.
Then, on Thursday, I was asked to go to the parish to provide support for the staff and parishioners. It would be impossible to even summarize the range of emotions for all of us over that several day stretch of the weekend, which included of course the observance of Palm Sunday and the arrival of the new pastor, as well as formal notifications of the change and the removal of the sitting pastor of a decade.
If you work with the Church long enough, you will encounter about every kind of pastoral situation conceivable. And while we do our best to be prepared for every imaginable church emergency--from child abuse to hurricanes to parish closings--nothing ever unfolds in predictable fashion. I told a group of parish ministers last weekend that this was the moment when all their training and all their innate skills and all their theological studies would be put to the test, and that as they processed through the weekend they should proceed by their own best lights, which indeed they seemed to do quite well.
The Holy Spirit does not let us down. I received a full-face reminder of this fact way back in the 1970's when, as a young college chaplain, I received a call from a sheriff's office downstate. There had been a family massacre--and the only surviving member of the family was safely studying for his exams in the college dorm down the hall from my apartment. I was asked to notify him and drive him to his home town where we would meet the police and go through the crime scene. Later I would preach the homily for the family funeral. But at the end of that first day I was amazed by the composure of the student and the way he immediately took charge, as sole survivor, of a dizzying array of decisions that needed determination. I was proud of him, and late that night I left the 'community compound" to check into a Holiday Inn around midnight. Upon check-in, I realized that, unlike the student, in my haste I had forgotten to pack a bag. God saves his help for those who really it, I concluded.