Life is filled with transitions. Many transitions are part of the regular rhythm of life. On New Year’s Eve we stay up late and celebrate the transition from one calendar year to the next. Throughout the year we watch the world around us change with the transition of seasons. Sunrise and sunset mark the daily transitions between day and night. At the end of our work day, things like our commute home or enjoying an adult beverage serve as a transition to our personal life. Many of these things are so routine that we might not even think of them as transitions.
Other transitions usher in more significant changes in our lives. These often involve our employment, our relationships, our education, or our residence. These transitions may be unexpected, or they may be planned. They may occur very suddenly, or they may take place over a period of time. Whether we experience them as positive or negative, these transitions disrupt the status quo until we are able to adjust in our new reality.
This year the transition from Summer into Fall is rather unique. This is the time when many of us who serve in ministry are typically hitting the “reset” button, beginning a new ministry year by starting a new cycle that mostly repeats what was done in the previous year. But we all know that 2020 is NOT a typical year. This year, the transition from Summer into Fall brings with it changes in leadership as pastoral transitions that usually occur on July 1st will happen next week, as parish staffs face changes due to financial constraints, and as some volunteers step down from roles in which they had previously served. While some parishes have transitioned their liturgies to take place outside, we don’t know how long it will be until our other ministries are able to gather in-person. Parents and young people are navigating a transition into a new school year that is beginning in their own homes rather than in classrooms on the school campus. There is no doubt that the regular rhythms of life and ministry have been significantly and unexpectedly disrupted from the status quo.
In recent weeks, I’ve thinking about this new landscape in which we are ministering, wondering how much has changed permanently, and how much might return to something that is more familiar to what we have known in the past. I’ve also recently been reading or re-reading several books that, in various ways, focus on evangelization. It has been a good reminder to me that the most important thing we do as Christians, not just as ministry leaders, is to proclaim the Good News that “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen, and free you” (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 164). This is the message that belongs at the forefront of everything we do in ministry! To proclaim this message credibly, we must know how we have experienced it ourselves.
Aware that we are transitioning into a new season of ministry and prompted by my reading and by some of the Gospel passages we have heard proclaimed recently at Mass, I have found myself reflecting back on several of my own more significant encounters with God. This has not been merely remembering what I experienced in the past, nor an effort to re-create those previous experiences of prayer. Rather, it has been a repetition of prayer similar to what St. Ignatius describes in the Spiritual Exercises. As I prayerfully revisit these prior experiences of prayer, the fruits of those prayers seep more deeply into my life now. I am being drawn more deeply into the mystery of those earlier encounters with Jesus in ways that make them fresh and new encounters today. The renewal of these encounters continues to re-ignite and deepen the joy and hope I have found as a disciple of Jesus. And that’s certainly Good News – especially in 2020!
All transitions, from the dramatic to the mundane, are laden with opportunity. The times that we are preparing for or entering into transition are a great time to reflect back on our experiences from the past. When the transitions are part of the regular rhythm of life, we don’t necessarily think of doing this. But this year is different, and some of the disruptions we’ve experienced will result in permanent changes in our ministries. So why not take a different approach as you transition to the new ministry year? My own experience over these past few weeks has reminded me that taking time for reflection opens the door to renewal. I encourage you to take some time to reflect upon your own faith story, as well as your ministry. Allow the Spirit to draw you more deeply into the mystery of both. Let the fruits take root more deeply in your life. And trust that God will surely be at work bringing about renewal in your life and ministry. Are you ready?