Remember: ‘Parting is such sweet sorrow’ when priest leaves parish

William Shakespeare was referring to the simultaneous pain of parting and pleasurable anticipation of a future meeting when he wrote, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.”

I think most parents and teachers would agree with Shakespeare.

Letting go of an elementary school, high school, or college graduate is no easy thing to do for a parent.  But it is the child’s living up to his or her potential that can cause pleasurable anticipation.

The same can be said for teachers.  After the end of a long school year, there’s a letting go that takes place.  Teacher’s prop open the front and side doors of the school building to let students through, wishing them a happy and safe summer as they rush by, hugging or patting them on the head, both crying and feeling gleeful for how they might return – wiser and more mature – at summer’s end.

Does Shakespeare’s aphorism hold true for those pastors and associate pastors departing for new assignments? I should hope so.

We tend to cling to our beloved pastors and associate pastors. We want to keep them for ourselves.  We can be as bad as the kindergartner mom who drops to her knees on the first day of school, embracing her pig-tailed and freckle face child for such a lengthy period of time that a teacher’s aide is forced to intervene and peel the mother’s fingers away from the child’s fragile shoulders.

For those of you losing a beloved priest this summer, let him go and look for the sweetness in his parting.

Think of it this way: By letting him go, you’ll be a good steward.  And God’s generosity is never outdone.

God gifted your parish with a pastor or associate pastor whose time has come to move on.  These sacred ministers shared many of the significant moments in your life.  They shared your joys, administered the sacraments, inspired the Word of God to live and move in you, supported you through tragedies and provided counsel when you faced challenges.  So it’s natural you want them to remain part of the family.

I’m one of those who truly believe that our holiest priests never really uproot and leave us empty handed; they take up permanent residence in our hearts.

You are better off because of the time you had with your parish priest who is being reassigned; however, it’s time the church gifts another parish with his presence.  That parting, of course, brings about the sorrow Shakespeare wrote about.  The sweetness is the knowledge that others are receiving the same graces you received.  Sweeter still is the unexpected meeting in the future when your associate pastor is now a full-fledged pastor and is doing great things at an archdiocesan parish.

You’ll be able to say, “I knew him when.”

Until then, you are responsible for keeping “fire” burning in your parish and in the broader world around you.  Be good stewards of his “flame.”  And if the passing and rhythm of time brings about separation anxiety, sorrow or causes you to momentarily lose your bearing; if the flame is barely a flicker or you’ve gone adrift from the path charted for you by your parish priest, remember it was Shakespeare who said, “What’s gone and what’s past help.”