As 2014 begins and we look toward events coming in the new year, a friar experienced in a variety of ministry roles describes the challenges involved with change. Richard Mucowski, OFM, offers insights into the reasons behind people’s broad range of attitudes toward transitions and recommends remembering the prayer “Lord, take me where you want me to go.”
When many of us turn on the television to watch a favorite program around New Year’s Day, we are exposed to advertisements for weight loss programs and commentators speaking of resolutions for change. Though many of us tend to shut out such programming, it is a reminder to those who listen that change is inevitable.
As friars, we are not immune from exposure to such intrusions into our consciousness. How many of us will find ourselves wondering about what 2014 will be like? As brother friars in Holy Name Province, we will face a challenge for the election of new leadership that will call us to change.
While many of us may not be changing our residences or our duties and responsibilities (though some of us will), we can be sure that the Holy Spirit will be calling on all of us to do things differently. Are we prepared to accept such change in our lives? Unlike the television commercials that we can ignore, the change that will come over all of us brothers as Holy Name Province faces its final days before its morphs into another entity is inevitable. We may resist but God’s plan is greater than any and all of us.
Shifters and Persisters
In 1977, I defended a dissertation titled “A role Typology for ‘Shifters’ and ‘Persisters’ in the Clergy.” This research found that indeed there were different personality characteristics among the friars who preferred to stay in one type of work namely: shrine church work, education, advocacy and direct care for the poor or missions.
Shifters presented as more resilient, adventurous, and willing to take risks. Persisters preferred predictable, less turbulent living situations. Both positions, of course, are stereotypes. Actually, we all fall on a continuum from unwillingness to tolerate change to those who look forward to it. Contributing factors include one’s age, health, educational interests and circumstances, with some preferring urban, suburban or rural settings. Still others prefer ministry in the north or south, let alone east or west, larger versus smaller fraternities, along with the opportunity for advancement in responsibility, making change in one’s life and journey in faith a challenge.
For someone whose gamut of ministries began 43 years ago in a high school classroom and proceeded through a full life in the professorate that included research and publishing, two university presidencies, working with people who have spiritual, emotional and quality of life issues as a therapist, then as a spiritual director, and previous to my current assignment as a pastor, working with the incarcerated poor and criminally insane, I can say that God has indeed blessed me with many new and different experiences. Some are wanted; some I would have preferred to walk away from.
‘Take Me Where You Want Me to Go’
What has been steady throughout this Franciscan journey is the desire to go where God wanted to send me, and where I believe the talents that He has given me to share with others in different places can be readily used to help those in need. The simple prayer of Mychal Judge, OFM, has been a guide for me every day since I first learned it: “Lord, take me where you want me to go. Let me meet who you want me to meet. Tell me what you want me to say. And, keep me out of the way!”
As I look back on my life, it has been more like the job shifter rather than the job persister. The career path has always involved some aspect of teaching, healing and care for those given in my charge whether they come from wealth or poverty. What I learned long ago from a wise spiritual director is this: Change is inevitable.
The gifts we’ve been given are not ours to keep but rather they get better and multiply as we give them away. When we stop doing that giving away thing, we are ready to pack it in. That is what I learned from the life of our father and brother Francis of Assisi. His spirituality has always enabled us, I believe, to step up to any challenge life gives us until our God calls us home to be with our brother, Jesus Christ.
— Fr. Richard, a native of Philadelphia, is pastor of Assumption of Our Blessed Lady Parish in Wood-Ridge, N.J. In 2014, he marks 50 years as a friar.
Editor’s note: The HNP Communications Office welcomes friars to submit reflections about holidays, feast days and other topics of a timely nature. Those interested in submitting an essay for consideration for a future issue of HNP Today should contact communications director Jocelyn Thomas by email at Communications@hnp.org. In the most recent seasonal reflection, Matthew Pravetz, OFM, provided ideas on how to keep in good physical and emotional spirits, as people cope with stress often experienced at Christmas time, a feeling caused by both busyness and the winter season.