The work of being all things to all...

Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible. To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.
1 Cor 9:22-23

These are St. Paul's words from this past Sunday's Mass second scripture. I admire Paul's efforts to be all things to all peoples and envy whatever success he enjoyed in this regard. His words are particularly pointed for me as I near the 15th anniversary of my ministry in Concord. Although that span of time has been scarred by the sexual abuse crisis in the archdiocese and the reconfiguration and closing of beloved parishes, these years have yet been happy ones in my 36 years as a preacher of the gospel.

I know many if not not most of my own limitations so I'm very much aware that I'm not all things to all people. And as the years go by I wonder just how long one pastor can freshly supply the needs of his people and successfully respond to the pastoral demands of the same community.

No, I'm not thinking of leaving Concord but I know that in October 2010 my first six year term as pastor of Holy Family Parish will be completed and I'll need think about a second six year term. If nothing else, such markers give me pause - and the opportunity to evaluate the fruitfulness of my work. Whether I remain in Concord or move, my assignment in 2010 will likely be the one from which I retire: now there's a thought to chew on...

As parishes close, merge and collaborate, increasingly large numbers of Catholics will be ministered to by a decreasingly small pool of priests. Pastors will need to be more things to more people. Of course this reality is accompanied by an increase in lay ministers in parish life but the point at which most Catholics are actively gathered - Sunday Mass - will still find them recipients of ministry from one man and one man's preaching. Although a deacon will sometimes share that preaching ministry, it will still be one or two men through whom the gospel message is heralded each week in each community.

As I say, it gives one pause...