Reassignment/May All Be One
By Father Pete Iorio
I recently saw a musical at the Barter Theatre. Church Basement Ladies is a hilarious musical about a small Lutheran community in Minnesota in the 1960’s. A very traditional widow is in constant conflict with a progressive college student who is judged for being tainted by the big cities and bringing these changes to the church community. It truly has a message of conflict resolution and unity within a community of faith and reflects Jesus’ prayer in the Gospel: May all be one, Father, as I am in you and you are in me.
Conflict is unavoidable in life. We all have different perspectives and preferences and even beliefs. Conflicts are not bad; they are opportunities for growth and for people coming together into deeper unity.
In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the first major conflict happened among members of the early Church. Gentiles were converting to the faith, and the Jewish followers of Christ, who still kept the Mosaic law, wanted the Gentiles to do the same. So Peter and Paul who represented two different viewpoints got together at what is called the Council of Jerusalem to hash it out. The bottom line is that they decided that Gentile Christians did not have to be circumcised but had to observe restrictions of certain foods. The Council of Jerusalem thus demonstrated the willingness of apostolic leaders to make compromises on certain secondary issues in order to maintain peace and unity in the church. Peace and unity in the Church was the result of this first church council. Sadly we know in history, that conflicts in the Body of Christ did not always conclude with unity. Schisms occurred.
In the Gospel, Jesus prays his priestly prayer at the Last Supper uniquely in the Gospel of John. He desires all people to be in communion, to be able to gather and live together in love. He is just about to be arrested and enter into His Passion. Just before the ultimate conflict, He prays that they may be brought to perfection as one. I understand this perfection as the test of love. Jesus prays that the disciples (and we as well) truly follow His way of non-violent love so as not to separate but to come to a deeper unity. It is the Mystery of the cross which by outward appearances seems like hatred and separation, but paradoxically is the means to unity. Jesus shows us that through suffering, a greater good can shine forth.
I repeat: Jesus shows us that through suffering, a greater good can shine forth. This leads me to share with you something that I was going to announce at the end of Mass, but I want everyone, even those who leave after communion to hear. This is how I personally apply the Gospel message to me and to all of us a community of faith.
I have been blessed to be your pastor for eight years. It is the longest I have ever lived anywhere in my life.
In the fall of last year, I heard in my prayers, “Your mission at St. Mary’s is complete.” From that time on, I have been in discernment, even asking the active clergy to pray for and with me in this process. As I have preached and put into practice, I must follow God’s Will even if it is something that is difficult or that I do not want to do. “Thy will be done, not mine.” This message continued to be affirmed in different ways for me in the following months.
For the last six months, I have struggled with health issues and felt brain fatigue and irritability. It was only last month that I was diagnosed with stress induced depression. I have begun taking antidepressant medication which has helped, and I will begin counseling. People have told me that I have also not grieved my mother’s death (nearly two years ago). With all of this going on, I have felt unfit to continue pastoring this big beautiful parish. St. Mary’s needs someone who has the stamina to be pastor.
My discernment led me to request a reassignment to a smaller parish. Our bishop was compassionate, and granted my request. On July 15th, I will become pastor of Our Lady of Fatima in Alcoa, TN outside of Knoxville. Fr. Dustin Collins will become pastor of St. Mary’s. I am very grateful that Fr. Jesús will continue as your parochial vicar. I trust all of you, especially the lay leaders, will welcome and assist Fr. Collins as he assumes pastoral duties here. I ask for your prayers for him and St. Mary’s as well as healing for me.
St. Mary’s will always be my family. You have been so wonderful to me and as St. Paul says in the Scriptures, “I thank God for you.”
And one thing that I want to be clear is that in following Jesus, I do not blame anyone or anything for what I am going through. To blame is to separate myself from the love of God and my love for his people. Just as some people are susceptible to different diseases, I am susceptible to depression. I accept this as my trial, a suffering. And as I have preached many times, suffering can make us bitter or suffering can make us better. I choose to accept this cross in my life with love. As the saints say, it is a gift. God is giving me and in reality, also giving St. Mary’s an opportunity to grow in faith, in hope and in love so that all may be one as Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Him.