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Sunday, July 6, 2008

First Assignment?

One of the more frequent questions put to me in the last several weeks has been: "What is your first assignment?" Or: "What parish will you be working at?" So, I have to keep explaining that I haven't been assigned to a parish and that, indeed, most Jesuits are not assigned to parishes. Though there are some Jesuits, and priests of other religious orders working in parishes, most of the priests who work in parishes are diocesan priests, priests of that particular diocese who come under the authority of and are assigned by the local bishop. Their "first assignments" are typically to a parish.

My "first assignment," on the other hand, is to continue my studies. Though I am now a priest, that will be my primary task for the next few years. This does not mean I will not be working as a priest. However, instead of being "assigned" to a particular parish, I will, when I return to Boston, establish some kind of regular schedule of priestly ministry. This could be at a local parish, or perhaps in campus ministry at the university. I will find some place where there is a need, and offer my help. Since I did not return to Boston after ordination, I have not yet had the opportunity to get that set up.

Nevertheless, this summer I am working as a parish priest, of sorts. Generally, after ordination we are expected to at least spend the summer working as a priest, usually in a parish situation. In my case, I also had another goal for the summer as well: to learn German. And so I found myself a job working as a priest in Germany, while I study German.

No, I'm not inflicting my horrible German on some poor parish! I'm serving as a priest to two English-speaking parish communities in Frankfurt, Germany for the summer. I have three masses per weekend. Two at a twelfth-century church here in Frankfurt, on Saturday night and Sunday morning, and one more Sunday morning at a church built in the last half-century in a suburb of Frankfurt. It's a fascinating situation to work in. The Frankfurt community is a fascinating mix of people, English speakers from numerous countries who have come here to live and work. The People come from Asia, Europe and North America primarily, though we have people from other parts of the globe as well. There are even some Germans in the community who prefer the English liturgy to that of the German churches they have been to. The other community is mostly ex-patriate Americans, though there are also people there from a number of other places. They are both lovely communities, and I'm enjoying the work very much, especially the opportunity to work in such a multicultural context, while also learning a lot about German culture in the meantime!

It's also interesting being "the priest" amidst my fellow students at the language school, where I completed my first week on Friday. Most of them seem to have a limited religious "literacy," and so they have lots of questions! Once we establish first that Jesuit is not another religion, then I can tell them a little bit more about the richness of the Catholic tradition of religious life, and my experience of being a priest thus far. This is the second summer in which I have spent a good bit of time among people for whom God and religion is not necessarily a big part of their life, not necessarily because they are hostile toward it, but just because for whatever reason it has not been a big part of their lives. I spend so much time in religious and Catholic circles that I think I sometimes forget how many people like this there are out there. And it seems as if the number is growing. I'm starting to wonder whether something that God might be calling me to in the future is outreach to such people. My experience has been, like I said, that rather than being hostile toward Christianity and Catholicism they are rather quite interested in knowing more about it. I don't feel it necessary to proselytize. I just answer their questions. Who knows where that might lead?

In many ways, then, what I'm doing now is my "first assignment," and I'm finding it a nice way to start my life as a priest. And it will be a good experience to carry with me as I continue my studies and my priestly ministry back home.