My priest chose Epiphany to share he is retiring in 6 months due to health reasons. He told me yesterday after I made confession. To be honest, I was a little bit at a loss for words. I said something about praying for him and gave him a quick hug. Oddly, I wished him a happy new year. Perhaps it doesn't feel particularly happy.
This morning, our associate priest joined Fr. as the celebrant. I understood immediately that this was a way to reassure the congregation that all will be ok. Fr. shared about his retirement and health concerns as part of a beautiful homily on the light that Christ brings into the world... and how Jesus is with us despite life's difficulties. I wept through the whole thing. Once the announcement was made, I could hear others sniffling and blowing noses. This is a parish that LOVES their priest. During the peace, many around me were in tears.
I have learned in my life that brevity in a relationship is not necessarily relevant to it's intensity. In this last year, I have been deeply touched by the pastoral care and guidance I have received from Fr. both in and out of the confessional. We met weekly for some months leading up to my confirmation. He has been a gentle teacher. In just the last few months, he confirmed me, officiated my church wedding with Nguyen, heard my confessions and taught me how to use the breviary. He was there through all the grueling and painful aspects of my conversion, and for all the joy and wonder, too. And most of all, he has fed me the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ.
I am sad that he is leaving the parish, and doubly so for his health situation, but I am sure that his ministry will not be over. He is a man who has much to give. In some way, I hope that this retirement will offer him the opportunity to follow his ministerial bliss, so to speak. I suspect teaching and spiritual direction will figure prominently. And I trust that we will stay in touch in one way or another. In the mean time, I will be praying for him. And thanking God that he invited me into his church shepherded by Fr. Friedrichs.