Friday, October 23, 2009

Is "Busy" Bad??

No homily this week... as the following message from this week's bulletin explains to the parishioners, I am in Ottawa, doing a whole lot more than looking at the beautiful autumn colours. The "apologia" below is an effort to respond to concerns that individual parishioners express, usually unintentionally, about my busy-ness when at home, and my not-infrequent absences from the parish. Not sure how successful the letter is, but it's a sincere effort to help folks understand the fact of, and need for, my duties and activities away from the parish.

When I was a boy, I loved my father’s business trips—we always got a small gift on his return. (Many years later I learned that some of the souvenirs we received from exotic places were actually purchased much closer to home, to make the trip a little less pressured!)

I’m not so sure that the parishioners are equally pleased by my travels, or indeed by my apparent “busy-ness.” Some say “away again?” while others seem surprised that they cannot always get same-day appointments. Even the most understanding often preface a request with “I know you are awfully busy…”

Unfortunately, I cannot afford to bring souvenirs back for all of you! So I thought a few words of explanation might be helpful. A conversation today with a friend who is a doctor gave me a few thoughts about this “problem” that I’d like to share with you as I prepare for a week’s absence.

This hard-working physician told me that he will be in Victoria next week to give a talk, returning to Vancouver in time to run a course for other doctors, just before leaving on vacation. This means no office hours for a significant period, which distresses both him and his patients. But as we talked over his situation, we realized there is no “solution” to it. He is an excellent doctor because he is a constant learner; medicine in our province is better because he is a committed medical educator. Yet, if he doesn’t take time off, he will soon be a patient rather than a doctor.

There’s a parallel with my situation. As most of you know, I have spent five years studying canon law. I have an obligation to provide some return on the Church’s investment in me by assisting whenever I am asked; at the same time, I must keep up the knowledge that I have acquired by a certain amount of ongoing study.

Among the responsibilities the Archbishop has given me are membership on the College of Consultors and the Presbyteral Council, bodies that provide advice to him through regular meetings. I am also a member of the national boards of Catholic Christian Outreach and Renewal Ministries, two Catholic organizations that do much good with which I have been associated for many years.

In every way that is consistent with the Archbishop’s wishes and my own sense of responsibility to the Church at home and elsewhere, I put the parish and parishioners first. I routinely decline requests to be involved in other groups and activities that do not involve canon law. But I am convinced that my work and study outside the parish help to make me a better pastor, and better able to serve you.

“You’re soooo busy.” Yes, I am busy. But my doctor friend and I chuckled when we talked about this, wondering what people would say if I wasn’t busy... We also wondered whether parishioners would want doctors, counselors, and other helping professionals who have lots and lots of spare time—it might suggest they aren’t much in demand, which doesn’t seem like a very good sign!

Yes, I am busy. But I am busiest when seeing parishioners, attending parish meetings, and preparing and delivering homilies and talks at the parish. I always have the time to meet parishioners about any issue that concerns them, to hear confessions (scheduled and not), to anoint the sick, and to offer spiritual direction. It’s simply that arranging an appointment sometimes takes several days, especially since I have to prioritize requests according to urgency.

My latest duties takes me to Ottawa, where I will spend three days doing research at St. Paul’s University, and then attend a Catholic Christian Outreach function, before returning early next week.

When I get back on Wednesday I’ll be… busy! But happy to see you.

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