A few months ago, we saw nature begin the transition from dull and slumbering to lush and vibrant. For eons, the same pattern has been followed year after year as trees, flowers, and animals roll through the changes in their lives. Our Catholic faith offers many examples of transition; the Transfiguration, the Crucifixion, Pentecost. Each of these moments in the Church’s history were moments where the disciples were moved from the NOW to the NOT YET, trusting God as their guide. Countless movies and novels also focus on the idea of
transitions. Richard Donner’s “The Goonies” comes to mind as a movie where life’s transitions are faced with fear for the future and what it will hold. Slowly, as the goonies trust in their leaders and those that have gone before them, they grow in excitement as possibilities that were not imagined before begin to reveal themselves, resulting in a fabulous treasure.

Transitions are not easy, they require that we work towards them and grow along the way. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has said, “Th e ways of the Lord are not easy, but we were not created for an easy life, but for great things, for goodness.”

A. What are transitions?

Transitions are different from changes. Changes are external events that can have an affect on our behavior, they tend to come on quickly. Transitions are internal, they are the psychological, emotional, and spiritual processes that may accompany changes and these often take more time to resolve. During this time of year, many of you have received new assignments or will be taking on new roles. These changes will find you newly ordained, at new parishes, in new offices, learning the faces and lives of new parishioners. Some of these changes will have been sought out, some will be unexpected. You may accept this change as part of your vocations, or vow of obedience, that does not mean that the changes will not be challenging. Being in control allows us to feel safe and secure.

Change and the accompanying transitions remind us that we are sometimes vulnerable. Aft er all the changes take place is when the transitions will begin. Struggling to let go of your old parish, having uncertainties about your new parish. Wondering if you’ll live up to a beloved pastor. Discerning what to do in retirement. The questions that we ponder in transitions do not arise to be quickly glanced at and ignored.

It is our chance to adapt and become better priests and people by incorporating these transitions into who we are. In doing so, we bring value to ourselves and also to those that are served by our vocations, helping them learn to transition as well. As Blessed John Henry Newman said, “To live is to change; to be perfect is to have changed often.”

B. Ways to have successful transitions.

A key to a successful transition is to remember that you are not merely rearranging the furniture but completely renovating. Sometimes from the ground up. The work of change and transition is both external and internal. Humbling ourselves to God and ceding control to Him will make all transitions easier. Below are three stages of transition to consider, adapted from William Bridges, author of “Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes” (Da Capo Press).

Stage One: Letting go.

  • Recognize the ambiguous nature of “letting go.” Change is neither all fun nor all painful. To say “goodbye” is both sad and freeing.
  • Identify the subjective losses. We may experience less independence, security or control. To have to follow another person’s lead may wound our pride. Sometimes the subjective loss is more painful than the loss of a position or title.
  • Appreciate the grieving process. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grieving — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — offer a helpful model for dealing with significant loss. Experiencing grief is not an overreaction.
  • Reflect on our personal style of coping with endings. Do we stop abruptly and avoid saying goodbye? Our responses tend to be influenced by our experience with previous endings or how our families coped with loss, yet these may not be healthy for us.
  • Recognize internal resistance. We may avoid goodbyes or drag out an ending for unconscious reasons. Speaking with a spiritual director or participating in healthy goodbye rituals — such as celebrations of what has been, prayer services and a review of life — can be quite healing.

Stage Two: Confusion and Distress

  • Surrender and patience: Do not be afraid of emptiness, and do not struggle to escape it. Say “yes” to reality. Be patient and go with the flow.
  • Resist the temptation to blame, project or objectify: Try to avoid getting into thinking that others are doing this to make you suffer, but rather that we are all suffering together, trying to find our way.
  • Treat the past with respect.
  • Reflect on spiritual memorials, experiences in which you absolutely knew God was present in your ministry to others.
  • Affirm and encourage others. Share how you feel. Others will be relieved to know they are not the only ones struggling.

Stage Three: Just do it.

  • Do not hesitate by considering every possible option, but push forward. Complete tasks that you have been avoiding: visiting the new parish, school, or meeting with the parish finance council chairperson.
  • Identify yourself with goals. Take on everything with an attitude of “I can do this.”
  • Don’t second-guess yourself. Resist the little voice that tells you to take some other road. Our first guesses are almost always on target. Don’t worry if it takes time to feel comfortable and sure about your decisions. “Give it a year” is excellent advice to the newly ordained or to the new pastor. It is still good advice for the priest in transition.
  • Focus on specific, concrete goals. Work toward small successes. Take things gradually, and within a year the progress will be evident.
  • Be gentle with yourself.
  • Above all, be thankful.

C. The process of leaving an old parish.

This reflection contributed by Holy Family Counseling Center counselor Dale Brewer, MS, LAPC

How to Say Goodbye

I would like to offer for this quarter’s article an antidotal piece of guidance given to me by my Postulant Director when I was in formation with the Franciscan Friars. As a religious in priestly formation, we move around a lot: our postulant year was in Boston, MA, our novitiate year was in Burlington, WI, and our temporary profession was spent in Rome, Italy, and during the summer we would spend time in different parishes throughout the Americas. Towards the end of my first year with the friars as we got ready to transition to being novices in WI, our Postulant Director offered us this prayer exercise that would change the way I would approach transition for the rest of my life. He recommended that two weeks before we had to leave to start going through the house, our offices, prayer spaces, places of community, and hang out spots, reflecting on the memories we had of being in those spaces. He told us to invite God into those memories, thanking Him for the gift of the good times and people He had put in our lives during this time. The Director invited us to bring any possible painful memories to the Lord asking for His grace and mercy, to go forward and bring healing to us and to those we may have hurt. However, he mentioned most importantly we reflect on how the Lord invited us to grow in those spaces, and to acknowledge growth that did occur, thanking Him for the opportunity. The prayer was to be concluded with “I surrender all of these moments to You Lord, both good and bad, I give You thanks for the opportunity You gave me here in (blank space), I ask You to prepare me to trust You as I move on to new opportunities to love, serve, and grow with You.”

This prayer has helped me tremendously as I try to bring closure for when I move from one chapter of my life to another. It allowed me to acknowledge that all is a gift from the Lord, and to relish in that gift while being attentive to areas in my life where I need to continue to invite the Lord’s grace to transform my heart. It allowed me to recognize how with the Lord, I had grown over that time period, which allowed me to savor the beauty and wonder of that space, and most importantly prepare my heart to trust Him that He will be there
with me at the next interval, to bring new moments of joy, mercy, and growth.

Please join us for a video conference on Wednesday, August 10th, 2022, from 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm where a member of Holy Family Counseling Center Good Shepherd’s Wellness Council will facilitate discussion on this month’s content. These sessions will be nonintrusive and will simply be an opportunity for brother priests to discuss and ask questions. To sign up and receive a link for next week’s call, please email goodshepherds@holyfamilycounselingcenter.com. Our facilitator will email you a link to the call the morning of the meeting. 

We are here to serve your needs. We welcome your feedback and suggestions at this secure email address: goodshepherds@holyfamilycounselingcenter.com.

All correspondence will be received by a member of our Good Shepherd’s Wellness Council team and will be held in the strictest confidence. We will use this information to provide future content for the newsletter.

Provided by the therapists of Holy Family Counseling Center. This newsletter and follow up video conference are meant as a resource to assist our beloved clergy to maintain their emotional health and holiness as servant leaders of the Church. Our sincere and prayerful desire is to assist our priests to stay happy, healthy, and holy.

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