As I approach my final day here in my current assignment I have been experiencing many endings. There was my final homily last weekend, my farewell reception this coming weekend, dismantling my office and room to pack up. Of course there are the very personal goodbyes as well, saying farewell to the parishioners, the staff, and those with whom I have worked closely while here in Guelph. I'll admit, that I did get a little choked up trying to get my farewell message out the first time last weekend. As I meet for the final time with certain individuals such as those for whom I have been providing spiritual direction, there is certainly a touch of sadness. I'm reminded of a line from the prayers of final commendation from the Order of Christian Funerals (which I have just had to dig out of the box in which it was already packed to find the quote), "there is sadness in parting, but we take comfort in the hope that one day we shall see him again and enjoy his friendship."
Sadness in parting is very much a part of the human journey, as we form bonds and connections with those with whom we journey in this 'valley of tears', bonds which inevitably come to an end. This morning though it also got me thinking about the spiritual nature of detachment. There are many walks of life in which one is called upon to 'move on', and certainly the role of the diocesan priest is to be a pilgrim, never staying too long in one place, and in that too there is a witness to a deeper spiritual reality. Some years ago I and friend of mine were speaking to a young seminarian in his first year about the notion of detachment, because of the very transitive nature of the ministry of the parish priest. This seminarian was a little shocked, and thought we were talking about a very cold and distant approach to the people, that one couldn't be friendly with anyone because one day you would have to leave. Of course that is not what we meant at all, we were talking about detachment. Perhaps to explain a little better I might show off my geek credentials and quote from Anakin Skywalker as he describes love in the life of a Jedi, "Attachment is forbidden. Possession is forbidden. Compassion -- which I would define as…unconditional love -- is essential to a Jedi's life. So, you might say that we are encouraged to love."
The life and ministry of the parish priest really is meant to show that same idea. We are not bound to poverty, but we are encouraged to live simply without the need for many possessions, we don't have a family of our own, and as I have already mentioned, we don't normally stay too long in any one place, in fact today, a dozen years in one parish is becoming a rare thing. As Christians, the one and only thing we need is God alone, indeed those true saints (if we are fortunate enough to encounter one in this life) have almost an other worldly quality about them, because the have all they need and desire in God. Most of us who have not advanced to the heights of sanctity continue to develop attachments to things and people of this world. Don't get me wrong, it a natural part of life that we form these attachments, but as Christians we are called to that higher calling to find all we need and desire in God alone. Some months ago I shocked someone as I was teaching about Purgatory, that one of its purposes was to rid us of our attachments to the people and things of this world to prepare us for Heaven. She couldn't believe it, the fact that she would one day have to detach herself from her husband and family in order to go to God unfettered.
Here is the rub, that just as Anakin Skywalker said, we are encouraged to love, but we are encouraged to do so in an unselfish way, to trust in God's providential care for everyone and everything, and not to make anyone or anything our own personal possession. Any selfish attachments we have to creatures means our love for our Creator becomes divided. We are encouraged to love, but to do it unselfishly, to grow daily in our charity, our compassion, and to remember that everything and everyone in our lives is a gift from God, and belongs to God alone. We must never forget that all we ever need is God alone.