MAN ON A MISSION
When I first arrived as bishop, my Diocesan Worship Commission suggested that I not administer the sacrament of confirmation during Lent. Their reasons were liturgically and theologically sound and focused on the importance of the catechumenate during this season as well as the need for the whole Church to center its focus on the nature and meaning of the season itself. So I annually receive a seven week reprieve from confirming during Lent. Being an obsessive-compulsive type of personality and because of that aware that my schedule abhors a vacuum, I began to think of other things I might do during Lent to sort of “fill up the time and calendar.” Well, I got the idea that I would try my hand at conducting parish missions, if invited to do so by the parishes of the diocese. I have now done this for seven years.
Let me begin by noting the obvious, I am not a “mission preacher.” They are a type onto themselves in the Church and most do a very fine job at giving missions throughout the United States. They do it almost every week, except time off for vacations and respites. They integrate into their talks stories that they know will grip the attention of the congregation while supporting their central themes. Because they do it every week, it is something akin to getting out of bed each day, they just do it and don’t worry about it. Well, not so this writer. I start tomorrow night (Saturday) and I am terrified at the thought of starting another one. Even though the next two weeks will be the ninth and tenth time I have attempted to preach a mission, I am still running scared. The normal, regular things I do in my life comprise my comfort zone and stepping outside of that challenges me every year – will they like it? will I be over their heads? is what I am saying practical enough and applicable to their lives of faith? Will they come back after the first night or even after the Sunday, “you all come” homily? And, I am very aware of what I am not. I am not a mission band preacher who just packs up and moves on after the closer, but I remain as bishop and they will see me again, in this instance in both parishes, in a few weeks for confirmation. Today, I find myself asking, “why did I ever agree to do this?”
To add to my anxiety, this year I am giving three entirely different presentations from the past so there is no reaching in the file and pulling out last year’s “jewels.” Neither parish is incorporating a penance service into the three nights which has been a regular of my past experiences and one parish has appropriately asked me to delay the mission evenings one additional night, starting on Tuesday instead of Monday because of an important scheduling conflict. “Oh, my God, will they even remember on Tuesday to come?”
Friday is the day I try to take to myself. Much of it is spent in thinking about the Sunday homily or other presentations which I must make in the coming week. Tomorrow morning I have a Diocesan Pastoral Council meeting and then I start, preaching at all and celebrating seven parish week-end Masses that end on Sunday night. Truth to tell, I am taking a break from outlining the first talk from the second as I write these words. Anxiety runs high. Prayers (I leave it to you as to whom to pray for – the preacher or the preached to) are requested. I will let you know how it turns out.