Our parish has a very special “shepherd” in Father Brian. He brings us together like family. If you’ve followed me through my other church-related posts, you know I’m more about what’s going on around me, than I am about the rituals of the Mass. I know those more or less by heart since I was born a Catholic, more than half-a-century ago. What constantly changes, on the other hand, are the dynamics of the congregations in the churches I’ve attended.
It is my fervent belief, one which I’ve extrapolated on before, that the “sheep” in any organization behave according to the management style of the guy with the staff in his hand. Remember Moses? Granted, some follow better than others. I’m one of the peripheral “sheep,” not buying everything I’m being fed. I follow, but in my own way, in my own time. Give me a charismatic “shepherd” like Fr. Brian, and I’m on board 98%. The remaining 2% I retain on behalf of my own counsel. I think my husband and daughter are of a like mind. We don’t “bite,” when someone says “chew.” Sometimes we’re in the mood for meat, other times grain.
My perception of how well a boss is doing, is garnered from how well those he manages appear to be doing. From what I could see at Mass this morning, and truthfully at all I’ve attended, Father rallies everyone around him like a real father who cares about his children. And that’s saying a lot, since he’s only in his late 30’s!
Parishioners who left because of the “fire and brimstone” style of the previous pastor, have returned. Everyone is relaxed. Children are children, but quietly. They talk amongst themselves, or with their parents. We smile at one another, nodding our heads in acknowledgement, even toward complete strangers. Father Brian tells jokes to further a message. The responding laughter is easy, comfortable. This morning he explained that despite his wearing a purple vestment with gold trim, he was not advertising his support of the Huskies football team. From Bellingham, he neither roots for them, or WAZOO.
Then like a patriarch, Fr. Brian reminded us of those less fortunate. He spoke of the Catholic Services Society and all they do for the needy in our area, welcoming its director to address us personally. Unaware of the specific contributions made by CSS until now, our family was moved to make a donation on the spot. One recipient of the organization’s aid, Joan, wrote a letter of thanks. Explaining that she’d been poor all of her life, then finding herself pregnant at age 40, she was unsure where to turn. Thankfully CSS reached out to provide housing and food for Joan and her newborn. They provided her hope, and isn’t that what we all need to survive another day?
Looking across the aisle from where we sat, my daughter and I watched the obvious love between a mother and her daughter. Arms entwined around one another; whispers back and forth between the two; both “canoodling” as if no onelse existed. The charm of this Rockwellian scene? The mother was white; the daughter as black as night. But it didn’t seem as though either noticed the difference in their skin color. All my daughter and I could see was the extraordinary love in their eyes.
Behind this mother and daughter pair, was a family whose mom was Asian and whose dad was White. The young boy and girl were a mixture of both. I commented to my daughter that they looked to be Mongolian. Since I’m Hawaiian-Chinese, I’m very conscious of the differences in Asian features. I mention this family for their mixed heritage, but also because they too were smiling upon the mixed-heritage pair in front of them. A couple of pews behind the family were young parents with a newborn. Both were cooing to their baby, oblivious to those sitting nearby.
As we strode past the font, dipping our fingertips in the holy water to bless ourselves before leaving, my daughter recalled an incident which we both perceived as significant. In line to receive communion, she noticed 2 women, one in front of the other, gently holding hands. If they were lesbians, they were evidently comfortable admitting so before the entire congregation. Their simple gesture is momentous in that it speaks to Father Brian’s tolerance for all who come to worship. These women felt he would not condemn them. No fuss was made, so I didn’t take notice. We were all one, receiving Christ into our lives.
Such scenes as I’ve mentioned, warm my heart, and make me very grateful for Father Brian. He enables us to be better people, better parents, better spouses, better neighbors, better bosses, better workers. There’s something to be said for the generosity of enablers. I don’t only toot my own horn, for I enable my husband to be the best boss he can be, and my daughter to be the best ballerina she can be. But the world is full of enablers, those who happily work from the sidelines, cheering others on to greater glory. The world needs both, those who do, and those who enable. And God blesses both.
Father Brian was the emcee at the recent inaugural ceremonies for our new archbishop, which took place at St. James Cathedral in Seattle. Unfortunately for us, his “sheep,” Father is not long for our parish. Having worked in the corporate world for many years, I can spot an “up-and-coming,” personality. And Father Brian is a star on the rise. He would make an excellent archbishop, cardinal, even Pope. Of course, these predictions are just that, predictions. No one has so much as voiced these opinions in public. Except perhaps the former archbishop whom we met at a farewell party in his honor. I seem to recall that he made a comment acknowledging that Father Brian’s talent hasn”t gone unnoticed.
While the Church needs men such as our pastor who has the passion, ambition, youthful energy, intelligence, people-skills, generosity and grace to lead the institution, I personally think more men like Father Brian are needed as pastors. The Church, after all, rests its weight upon the shoulders of its “sheep.” Without charismatic shepherds, sheep have a tendency to stray, even becoming tantalizing meals for wolves, and the like.
Of course the decision belongs to Father Brian and ultimately, the Pope. Father’s a young man, with a long journey ahead of him. He must answer his calling. Whatever it is, he has touched our lives along the way, and we’ve been made better for his gift of service.