Over the past 20 years of parish work in the Central Valley, I worked hard and expected people to respond. People did respond—our Mass attendance, lay apostolates, and income doubled in a few years. That made me feel good, and naturally led to the pride common in successful pastors. Now, however, kneeling in this vast empty church, I get the feeling that it is humility time. I begin to see that nothing I do will double the number of Catholics coming to this parish. There’s too much competition for their time and money in this city; secularism has devastated family life in San Francisco. I can’t drive success here like I did in Modesto.
I’m 53 years old and it’s time to surrender to God. In the first 25 years of the priesthood, I worked at a frenzied pace, depending a lot on myself. As I get older, God is giving me the gift of weakness, so that He may be strong. As my aging father said recently, “I’m getting too old to keep denying reality.” The reality is, it is God who grants the increase. Even if He is pleased to accept our help, He certainly doesn’t depend on it.
So I stay in this empty church, and it is God I find in it, not myself. He has largely erased my own powers, and the affirmation that comes to a priest when his church bursts with people. In a greater measure, then, I have found the only beauty and love that never wanes, but only grows brighter with time. God has brought me to this vast empty church to find Him, in whom my heart is glad.