Just recently I came across a holy card that was printed to commemorate my installation as Pastor of Saint James Parish in Seaford on September 17, 2000. That Sunday was also the feast of Saint Robert Bellarmine, my patron Saint.
The card brought back many memories of the kindnesses of so many in that parish that I received them and in the whole decade of my pastorate at Saint James.
It also brought to mind a lesson I learned when I was made a pastor: the unexpected power and impact of my words.
For the 22 years, I was a curate, an associate pastor, in three parishes I said a lot of words: in sermons, lectures, letters, conversations, expressions of opinion, etc. While perhaps valuable to some, and to me, my words in those three parishes had a rather limited impact, particularly among the Parish Staff. The reason was simple and rather human: I wasn’t the “boss.” My words were simply my opinion, the pastor’s words and opinions were “law” and policy, NOT mine.
When I got to Saint James Parish, I found things had changed.
Over 22 years I was used to speculating, “thinking out loud”, “bloviating” to no real effect.
Now, several pairs of ears were actually listening to everything I said and were quick to take every expression of opinion, impression, speculation I let fall and turn it into ” the Pastor says..etc..etc..”
I’d found that suddenly every word, no matter the context, in some minds was “law.”
I had to learn the value of my words and the value of discretion. I found that I could no longer “ramble” or “shoot the breeze” in front of people who were more than willing to turn my words into policy and law.
I owed it to my people to measure my words, stay silent more often than I used to, and take into account the impact my words would have because of my position.
This is not only true of parish pastors.
I suspect it is true of those even at the highest levels of office.
October 1, 2013.
St. Therese of Lisieux.