Reflections on Retirement from Good Shepherd Sunday Bulletins

During my last month at Good Shepherd, I wrote several pieces in the Sunday bulletin in which I reflected on my upcoming retirement. I’d like to share them now with a wider audience. I have also just published my first Newsletter, on this my feast day, which you can view/download here. If you are not on my email list, you can join here.

June 28, 2015

Goodbye

Today, it is time to say goodbye as I venture into retirement this week.

There is no such thing as retiring from the priesthood. I am and will remain a priest for the rest of my earthly days – after that, it’s all in God’s merciful hands. I have actively served as a priest in a variety of assignments for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for 47 years. Now I’m finding it more and more difficult to balance the many leadership and management responsibilities of pastor, and very much need a simpler way of managing God’s gift of time.

In today’s Church, the time and energy of fewer numbers of priests have to be managed in a way that is most effective for the greater good, not merely stretched by piling on tasks. It is time for a much younger spirit to take the lead, and Fr. Ed Benioff, almost thirty years younger, is the perfect candidate. I trust that you will love and support him as you have me.

So, where am I going and what will I be doing?

I will live at Nazareth House, a lovely retirement community on the south end of Cheviot Hills. I will not be far. I plan to do as little as possible during the summer. I need to rest and to become accustomed to a new pace of life.

After a few months, I will begin to plan what my own ministry priorities will be: in what ways do I feel the Lord is calling me to be of service to his people. If the past can serve as a model for the future, this will probably involve some of the following:

  • developing habits of prayer that can better nourish me and others to discern how God is working in our lives through spiritual direction;
  • pursuing my own study programs of our history and heritage as Christians, as well as Scripture, liturgy and theology;
  • vigorously engaging in teaching, writing, and other forms of communication through the wonders of the internet, simple video technology, and wide-ranging social media (here’s my YouTube channel);
  • leading pilgrimages to various places, including my beloved Early Christian World Pilgrimage to Turkey, which will mark its tenth anniversary next year (view/download the flyer for upcoming pilgrimages here);
  • designing “virtual pilgrimages” in which I can lead others to drink from the spiritual wellsprings of significant places without actually having to go there;
  • and perhaps more . . . or perhaps less . . . that’s up to God more than you or me.

If you want me to stay in touch with you, I plan to write a regular (at least weekly) newsletter to keep you in touch with my comings and goings. You can also sign up for these regular emails here.

In my 47 years as a priest, I have had to say goodbye to about a dozen different communities. It is never easy, for me or for you. But, as a bit of each community still resides in my heart, so will you.

I love you.
Fr. Tom Welbers

June 21, 2015

“For everything there is a season . . .”

About 350 years before the time of Jesus, a guy like me wrote a strange essay of reflections on the meaning – or better, the lack of meaning – of life. It’s included in the canon (collection) of books of the Bible, regarded by Jews and Christians alike as inspired, that is, in some way the Word of God revealed to us. The unnamed author goes by the title Qoheleth (in Greek, Ecclesiastes), which can mean teacher, but more fundamentally refers to a “gatherer” or one around whom a community gathers, the leader of an assembly. Perhaps the ancient equivalent of a modern-day pastor of a parish. Like me. He would also appear to have been old and cranky, and on the verge of chucking the whole thing.

Although Qoheleth/Ecclesiastes is not one of the better known books of the Bible, and its message is one of almost unrelieved pessimism, certain passages are very much a part of our popular culture. The opening phrase “vanity of vanities” often comes to mind without our knowing where it come from. The first nine verses of chapter three have formed the basis for popular song of my youth in the sixties.

I have always been aware of time as a gift, one that I have often tried to use well and have often failed. “Time management” has never been one of my strong suits. As I stand, one week from retirement, these words take on new poignancy, perhaps even urgency.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

Christian tradition has never seen these words as a direct command from God nor as a justification of immoral behavior. Rather, they are simply a reflection on the de facto human condition, the limitations of the best and the worst that is our lot, and an invitation to rely on the grace of God to help make sense of it all, to bring healing and reconciliation in the midst of turmoil and trouble.

There are two kinds of time, according to Greek philosophy Christian tradition: chronos and kairos. Chronos is what we usually understand as time – moment by moment passing away, a points on a schedule. Kairos is moment of opportunity, of grace – the moment that yields something beyond itself, that invites us into a new way of looking at things. Read the above passage, thinking of the word “time” as chronos, as merely a schedule. Then read it as kairos, each of those moments as an opportunity for learning, for growth, for something new in God’s grace.

As I enter the time of retirement, which I see as pregnant with new opportunities not merely to “do what I want” but to follow the Lord in service, I invite you to reflect on these significant moments of transition in all our lives. What do they mean to you? Can you embrace them, even if there are uncertainties, fears, and temptations for denial and fleeing from them.

As I have already said, one of the ways I want to be of service is by staying in touch. I finally have a newsletter subscription service set up, in which I will send you a weekly newsletter with some of my thoughts and reflections. Many of you have said that you enjoy my homilies and what I write in the bulletin. This is a way for me to continue to serve you in this way. If you haven’t already received an invitation to subscribe, you can subscribe here.

Another activity that has been important to me that I will be continuing is leading Pilgrimages. There’s a four-page insert in today’s bulletin describing three that I am planning over the next year. (You can view/download it here.) You are welcome to join me if you can. But hurry: you need to register by the end of July.

May God bless you always and in all ways. I love you,
Fr. Tom Welbers

June 14, 2015

All You Need Is Love

A story changed my life.

When I was assigned as pastor to Our Lady of the Assumption (OLA) Parish in Claremont in 1994, my predecessor, Bill Barry, and I were already good friends. So, when he retired and I followed him, we were both delighted with the assignment. He spent a very dynamic retirement residing at his family’s house by the water in Newport Beach, and was active up until the day the Lord called him in his sleep.

Having served for 32 years at OLA, he was a “Living Legend” in many circles in the parish and in the Archdiocese. It’s tough to follow a Living Legend – perhaps that’s why there was little competition for the parish – but it’s a lot easier when you’re friends and spend a lot of days off together.

One day, early on, we were discussing some of the challenging situations in the parish, and he told me a story that he says changed his whole life. Changed mine too.

The pastor at OLA before him was the founding pastor, Fr. Don Strange, a gentle, humble man with a low-key but persistent personality that enabled him to successfully build the church and school. Bill Barry, almost the exact opposite, had a very hard time being accepted. One day, in desperation, he went to Fr. Strange and complained to him, “Don, nothing that I do seems to be accepted by these people. They are fighting me and opposing me no matter what I say or do. Do you have any advice for me?”

The answer was brief and to the point: “Bill, you have to love your people, and tell them that you love them – often.” Period.

Bill Barry learned the lesson well, and became one of those people you could not help but love – even if you vehemently disagreed with him – because you knew he loved you, and he had many ways of telling you he loved you, both individually and in large groups. His trademark song, which he got everybody to memorize and sing along with him was: “You’ll never know just how much I love you.”

Love worked its magic for him and for that wonderful parish community. And for me.

He was an extreme extrovert, as I am an extreme introvert, so I knew I had to find other ways. Of course I tried, with some success, to be sure that everything I decided or said or did – especially decided! – arose out of love rather than self-interest or fear or some other emotion. God has gifted me with an intense interest in exploring the kinds of knowledge and insights that can share through popular writing and teaching, which I love to do. So I simply resolved to conclude with the words “I love you” as often as possible when I communicate anything.

I don’t fully know what effect this may have had on the people, but I know its effect on me: it was my own constant reminder of why I was there. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

When it came time, after about five years, to get a new car for the pastor at OLA, I chose a mini-van because it would be more useful for the parish, transporting groups and supplies and what not. I decided to go public with my declaration of love on the license plate. (A side effect was that it really improved my driving, especially hand gestures.)

The minivan is now a fifteen-year-old jalopy, and the parish still seems to find a use for it, and the current pastor appears to have decided to keep the plates – something I’m not sure I would do.tw ola car

 

 

(This photo, taken during the recent OLA Mothers’ Day Fiesta, was posted on my Facebook page by a friend there as a retirement greeting.)

Since I knew I would be a “short-timer” here, I decided not to get vanity plates for my 2010 Prius, because that would saddle the new pastor with a perhaps unwelcome decision. So, I leave you with a heartfelt bit of graffiti on an old picture.tw-ola-gsbh2

As I glide (slide?) into retirement, I can honestly say that my love for you (and for the wonderful folks at OLA and all my other parish assignments, is still as strong as ever. Please stay in touch. Love will find ever new ways of expressing itself.

I love you,
Fr. Tom Welbers

June 7, 2015

Retirement

Most everybody knows that I’m retiring from parish ministry here at Good Shepherd at the end of this month – just a few weeks away. I’ve made no secret of this during the past year. But there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about how priests retire, or even whether priests can or should retire. Back in the days when I was growing up (1940s-1950s) it was almost unheard-of for priests to actually retire. But in those days, there were a lot of priests to go around – often three or four in each parish. Usually what that meant was that a pastor would remain “on the job” until he became sick or died, but doing very little, while the other priests did the actual work of ministry. Those days are long gone.

Today, not only are there fewer priests, but more is expected of pastors, not just to preach, celebrated Mass and the sacraments, and be available for “sick calls.” Back then all parishes were pretty much run the same way, and little was needed to keep it going beyond counting and depositing the collection and paying the bills. The school was run by nuns, and the pastor had little involvement other than to send his assistant priests over to teach religion occasionally. CCD (religious education for children not in the Catholic school) was done by the nuns on the weekend. Staff consisted of a part-time secretary, a house keeper-cook, and a janitor. It was actually a nice, well-functioning system, but totally closed in upon itself.

That’s the world I, and some of the”elders” among us, grew up in. For better (witness the revelations of significant abuse that was much too widespread in those days) and for worse (complexities of civil and ecclesiastical policy, insurance, liabilities, regulations, etc.), things are no longer what they used to be.

There is no such thing as retiring from the priesthood. I am and will remain a priest for the rest of my earthly days – after that, it’s all in God’s merciful hands. After 47 years in the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, 21 of them as a pastor, plus another 11 as campus minister (CSULB Newman Center and administering the Archdiocesan office) in addition to serving in four parishes as full time associate pastor, I’m finding that trying to balance the many leadership and management responsibilities of pastor with the kinds of ministry to individuals and communities as they seek to allow God more deeply into their lives, and explore what our faith and heritage teach us about being a disciple of Christ today.

In today’s Church, the time and energy of fewer numbers of priests have to managed in a way the if most effective for the greater good, not merely stretched by piling on tasks. It is time for a much younger spirit to take the lead, and Fr. Ed Benioff, almost thirty years younger, is the perfect candidate. I trust that you will love and support him as you have me.

So, where am I going and what will I be doing?

I will live at Nazareth House, a lovely retirement community on the south end of Cheviot Hills. I will not be far. I plan to do as little as possible during the summer. I need to rest and to become accustomed to a new pace of life.

After a few months, I will begin to plan what my own ministry priorities will be: in what ways do I feel the Lord is calling me to be of service to his people. If the past can serve as a model for the future, this will probably involve some of the following:

  • developing habits of prayer that can better nourish me and others to discern how God is working in our lives through spiritual direction;
  • pursuing my own study programs of our history and heritage as Christians, as well as Scripture, liturgy and theology;
  • vigorously engaging in teaching, writing, and other forms of communication through the wonders of the internet, simple video technology, and wide-ranging social media;
  • leading pilgrimages to various places, including my beloved Early Christian World Pilgrimage to Turkey, which will mark its tenth anniversary next year;
  • designing “virtual pilgrimages” in which I can lead others to drink from the spiritual wellsprings of significant places without actually having to go there;
  • and more . . . or less . . . that’s up to God more than you or me.

If you want to stay in touch with me, please do so through my website, tomwelbers.net. By the end of June, all the information you’ll need will be there

If you want me to stay in touch with you, I plan to write a regular (at least weekly) newsletter to keep you in touch with my comings and goings. You can also sign up for these regular emails here.

In my 47 years as a priest, I have had to say goodbye to about a dozen different communities. It is never easy, for me or for you. But, as a bit of each community still resides in my heart, so will you.

I love you.
Fr. Tom Welbers

May 31, 2015

Those Funny Hats

Last week someone asked about the why the pope wears a white skullcap. That, of course leads to a number of questions about the origins, history, and meaning of the way we all dress. A fascinating subject, but here I’ll stick to the headgear of bishops. This includes, of course, the Pope, who is the Bishop of Rome, and Cardinals, who are honorary priests of Rome, but also make up what might be best described as “the Pope’s Cabinet.”

The differences in color are somewhat incidental, but the cap itself, called in Italian a zucchetto, has an interesting origin. (Bishops wear purple, cardinals wear red, and the Pope wears white.)pope zuchetto

From the earliest days, it has been the custom for men who dedicate themselves to the service of God, through sacred orders (bishops, priests, and deacons) or through a vowed commitment (monks, hermits, and friars) to shave their heads as an outward sign of their inner commitment. This is called a “tonsure,” and may even date back to the time of the Apostles (see a reference to Paul shaving his head in Act 18:18) and seems to indicate a personal separation from worldly standards of appearance. Usually, only the crown of the head was shaved, leaving a ring of hair around the perimeter of the skull. We’ve all seen lots of pictures of holy people of old wearing a tonsure.

Of course, the exposed scalp was very vulnerable to the cold, especially in unheated monastic churches where the clergy would spend long hours in prayer, so the custom rapidly developed to cover the tonsure with a simple, close-fitting skullcap. Although very similar in style, it has no relationship to the Jewish kippah or yarmulke, which has a very different origin and meaning.

As with so many things, the tonsure, as the primary reason for the head-covering, fell into disuse, except for a few monastic orders, but the zucchetto, remained.

Note that the zucchetto is worn by prelates only when wearing the robes of their office, not when they wear a business suit or less formal attire.

What about the mitre, the tall hat worn by bishops and the Pope in ceremonies, and the crown worn by prelates of the Eastern Churches? Well, that’s another story.mitre crown

In my upcoming active retirement, I hope to be able to continue writing more frequently about these things. I think there are a lot of questions of great interest, some of which are fun “Catholic Trivia,” while others are vital to what I call “Catholic literacy,” the ability to really understand what we believe and practice in our world today. Faith that does not relate to real life is meaningless.

You will be able to stay in contact and have access to everything I have written or will write, including videos, at my website, tomwelbers.net, where you can also sign up for a regular email newsletter that I plan to start publishing.

Let us continue to pray for one another as we move forward.

I love you.
Fr. Tom Welbers

May 24, 2015

Endings and Beginnings

For a disciple of Jesus Christ, there is no dead end. There are, however, farewells.

This past week’s daily Mass readings – recalling both the Last Supper Farewell Discourse of Jesus in John’s Gospel (chapter 13 and following) and the farewell address of St. Paul to the community leaders of Asia Minor gathered at Miletus, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles (chapter 20) – reflect upon the meaning of Jesus’ departure and new presence in the Ascension as we prepare to celebrate the Holy Spirit in Pentecost, today.

Last Tuesday, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, elaborated upon this theme in his homily at daily Mass in the chapel of the Santa Marta Guesthouse where he resides.

As I’m preparing to celebrate my final Sunday with you, five weeks from today, and embark upon the new ministry of an active retirement, his reflections are especially pertinent (and poignant) as you and I prepare to say goodbye to each other. Here’s the summary-report from Vatican News (www.news.va):

Pope Francis’ homily was a reflection on how our lives are marked by saying goodbye or farewell, how we do it and the reasons why we do it. He took as his inspiration the day’s readings where Jesus bids farewell to the disciples before his Passion and death and where St Paul bids farewell before going to Jerusalem and weeps on the beach with those who have come to say goodbye to him.

He said our lives are made up of many farewells, small and big ones and with some of them there is a great deal of tears and suffering.

Let’s think nowadays of those poor Rohingya from Myanmar. When they left their lands to flee from persecution, they didn’t know what would happen to them. And they’ve been in boats for months over there. They arrive in a town where people give them water and food and tell them to go away. That’s a farewell. In addition, this great existential farewell is taking place in our times. Think about the farewell for the Christians and Yazidis (in Iraq) who believe they can no longer return to their lands because they were chased out of their homes. This is happening now.”

The Pope said there are small farewells such as when a mother hugs her son who’s going off to fight in a war and then there’s the final farewell for a person who is leaving this world and this theme of farewell is explored in art and in songs.

I’m thinking of one, of the Italian “Alpini” regiment, when the captain bids farewell to his soldiers: the captain’s Will. I’m thinking of the great farewell, my great farewell, not when I must say ‘see you then,’ ‘see you later,’ ‘bye for now,’ but ‘farewell.’ These two readings use the word ‘addio’ (farewell in a final sense.) Paul entrusts everything of his to God and Jesus entrusts to God his disciples who remain on this earth. ‘They are not of this world but look after them.’ We only say ‘addio’ at a time of final farewells, be they of this life or be they our final farewell.”

Pope Francis went to say that each of us would do well to think of our final farewell or passing and examine our conscience, just like Jesus and St Paul did.

What will I leave behind? Both St Paul and Jesus in these two readings carry out a kind of examination of conscience: ‘I’ve done this, this and this … And what have I done? It’s good for me to imagine myself at that moment. We don’t know when it will happen, but it will be that moment when expressions like ‘see you later,’ ‘see you soon,’ ‘see you tomorrow,’ ‘goodbye for now,’ will become ‘farewell.’ Am I prepared to entrust to God all that I have? To entrust myself to God? To say that word which is the word of the son entrusting himself to his Father.”

The Pope concluded his homily by praying that the Holy Spirit teach us how to say farewell and truly entrust ourselves to God at the end of our life.

During June, I will not only be sharing with you more of my retirement plans, but also will work with both you and Fr. Ed Benioff, my successor, for a smooth transition and fruitful continuation of the life and ministry of the Good Shepherd parish community.

I love you.
Fr. Tom Welbers

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Author: tomwelbers

I have been a Catholic priest for nearly fifty years, most of that time serving in parish and college campus ministry. I also have professional degrees in theology and liturgy, as well as institutional management, and continue avidly to explore pastoral theology, Scripture, liturgy, ecumenical and interfaith relations, and spiritual direction. I have a passion for sharing insight into our Christian heritage through teaching, writing, and leading pilgrimages, especially to Early Christian World sites in Turkey. Now actively retired from parish ministry, I live at Nazareth House in Los Angeles.

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