April 12, 2021
Jesus is risen, alleluia!
On this third Sunday of Easter, in between Divine Mercy Sunday and Good Shepherd Sunday, I find the opportunity to update everyone on the progress of my treatment for anxiety during this leave of absence from pastoral duties. “In between,” actually, is a fitting phrase to describe where I am on this journey.
My therapy work is demanding, akin to physical exercise after an extended period of inactivity. Confronting long-established mental habits and learning how to approach my thoughts from a more emotionally disinterested perspective is a real challenge. It's basically retraining my brain from the way it has learned to operate for 40 years. Not a quick switch! My guide through this is The Mindful Catholic by Dr. Gregory Bottaro. If you know anyone looking for a Christian approach to mindfulness, this is it. An additional struggle for me is to actually do the therapy work for myself and not think about how it could benefit others, a tendency ingrained in me through seminary training and my time as a priest and pastor. Needless to say, even though I'm more than halfway through my three-month leave of absence, I've still got a considerable way to go.
So, as much as I wish I could simply say all is well, to be honest, it's not great. It took me a bit of time to just decompress from the stress I'd been under. Then, in the first week of March, Fr. DiFolco informed me that the Nativity school principal announced his retirement and a search process was beginning. Though it was necessary to inform me of this and include me in this process, the timing was less than ideal. It did not help with my being able to focus on therapy without the pressure of pastoral responsibilities. This prompted me to further lean into trust in Divine Providence, showing once again the Lord’s ability to bring good out of any circumstance.
My spiritual director has strongly encouraged me not to return too soon if I'm not ready. I've also discussed this with my therapist. In my initial conversation with the Archbishop, we acknowledged that more time might be necessary but that we'd begin with a three-month leave. Approaching the end of April, it seems an extension of leave is necessary and the Archbishop has graciously granted my two more months, so that I will return to my duties as pastor on July 1, 2021. With gratitude to Archbishop Schnurr, I also want to thank Fr. DiFolco for his willingness to remain as parochial administrator a little while longer.
At this “in between time,” I am now more deeply indebted to the Lord for His calling me to the priesthood. I've offered Mass every day in the rectory chapel. I have offered multiple Masses for Holy Trinity and Nativity parishes and parishioners. I pray for the fruitfulness of Beacons of Light as the Archdiocese approaches a period of discernment about the mission of Jesus Christ at this time and place in history. Daily I make a holy hour before the tabernacle, remembering the Lord’s promise to remain with us always in between the Ascension and His coming again in glory. As the beads of my rosary slip in between my fingers, I know Our Lady of Grace, of Perpetual Help, is pulling for me. And I certainly know without question the many prayers being offered on my behalf from all of you.
Establishing better mental health will help me become a better pastor and spiritual father for the children of God entrusted to me. Our journey together in faith, hope, and charity is a powerful motivator. As we live together this “in between time,” blessed with His Divine Mercy and seeking to follow Our Good Shepherd, it is impossible for me to thank you all enough for your kindness, your patience, and your continued support. So I will simply ask the Lord Jesus to provide what I cannot. May the peace and blessing of Almighty God be with you now and always.