From the Pastor – November 1, 2009

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Mk 5:1-9)

Happy Anniversary of Our Time Together!

It’s hard for me to believe it, but this weekend marks the one-year anniversary of my coming to Good Shepherd Parish. And it has been a very blessed year for me. Of course it has been an adjustment going from working in an office in Rome to ministering in such a complex and diverse parish in a time of transition. But it’s so good to be home. Over the past year, many people have asked me if I “missed Rome.” And my stock answer has been, “I could never miss Rome while I’m in New Orleans as much as I missed New Orleans while I was in Rome.”

Let me tell you a story that illustrates my feelings about being Pastor of Good Shepherd Parish. My vocation to the priesthood goes back to 1985, when a priest first asked me if I’d “ever thought about being a priest.” At the time, I told him that I never had thought about it, unless you count my “playing priest” as a child! But in 1985, I started actively thinking about the priesthood. And I started watching and listening to priests in the environment where I saw them most, which was Sunday Mass in the parish.

Flash forward eight years later when I finally decided that I couldn’t sit on the sideline and watch anymore. I had to give seminary a chance, but I didn’t know where to go. I spoke with some close priest friends, and initially got in contact with a priest from the Congregation of Holy Cross (the priests who run the University of Notre Dame, as well as many other schools). That priest had me fly to San Antonio, and he introduced me to priestly ministry in Texas. I met priests who were doing diverse types of work: they were teaching, practicing law, doing vocational work, helping immigrants, and running a retreat center. I was presented with a variety of possibilities for my potential future priesthood.

A few months later, I was interviewed by the vocation director for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and a Teresian sister asked me: “What do you see yourself ”˜doing’ as a priest”?

It was a very confusing question. I didn’t really have an idea about “doing” anything as a priest besides being a priest. And so I told her I didn’t understand. And she continued: “Well, do you see yourself in some sort of special ministry or working in a parish?” Since most of my contact with priests had been at Mass, I told her that’s how I saw myself. “Well, it sounds like you want to be a parish priest.”

When she said that, it was if a switch turned in my head. That’s exactly what I wanted to be! I wanted to baptize babies then give them First Holy Communion when they were seven. I wanted to prepare those same children for Confirmation, and when they got older, I wanted to prepare them for marriage and celebrate their Nuptial Mass. And then in a few years, I wanted to baptize their babies! And in the meantime, I wanted to forgive their sins in Confession, say Mass for them very Sunday (or even daily) and visit them if they got sick. When they were sad, I wanted to weep with them, and when they were joyful, I wanted to rejoice with them. That’s how I envisioned parish priesthood, and that’s what I wanted. I knew it then, and I know it now. I couldn’t think of anything that I’d rather be than a parish priest!
And so I went through seminary, and returned to New Orleans to work in a parish. And somehow along the way, I had learned Italian and Canon Law. And that’s when the vision of my life was changed for me. I was sent to Rome to work in an office of the Vatican. It was a wonderful job among wonderful people, and I learned a lot living in the shadow of St. Peter. Since I made a promise of obedience, it was an easy ministry to accept, and I think I flourished there. But it wasn’t really my own vision of life as a priest. Being a pastor is the “job” that I always envisioned. It’s really my “dream job.” It’s not an easy, cushy ministry, and it’s filled with so many opportunities of grace.

But what I didn’t realize is how much of the parish priesthood is also about being ministered to, myself. In this short year, I’ve been a part of Baptisms, Confessions, First Holy Communions, Confirmations, Weddings, Holy Anointings and Funerals, just like I thought. But I’ve also received more than I ever bargained for in terms of sorrow – most especially at my Dad’s death. And in the end, you – the parishioners of Good Shepherd Parish – have given me back more than I ever believed possible. You’ve rejoiced with me, and you’ve cried with me. And this has been the best year of my priesthood. But I believe next year will be even better. And the one after that even better. Thanks for putting up with me. I am humbled to be your pastor, and I pray daily that I can continue to be worthy of your trust.

Rev. Msgr. Christopher H. Nalty