This is the sixteenth installment of A Deacon’s Diary. In the fifteen installment, Steve heard his first confessions.
It was a summer of firsts (and lasts). First Mass(es). First confessions. First blessings. First weddings. First days and weeks as a priest.
Last days in the parish. Moving on from the community where I spent my last days as a deacon and first weeks as a priest. Last cigar on the roof of our house. Last Mass with the fathers on the last morning.
Except things weren’t always in this well-arranged, logical order. It wasn’t a summer of first things first and last things wrapped up with a bow.
Transitions are not the in-betweens of Jesuit life, but its very fabric. This summer I’ve passed through transitional diaconate to priesthood, from studying to parish life, from the East Coast to the Great Lakes. And then back. In the past few days, I’ve arrived in Boston to teach at the school where I’ve been a student the past few years.
So many graces in hearing confessions, in preaching, in baptizing, in celebrating Eucharist, in marrying friends (to each other!).
I spent the past several months living out of suitcases. Everything was temporary and none of the rooms I stayed in were mine for very long. Actually, rooms in Milwaukee, Chicago, Leeds, Nailsea, and London were never mine – just places where I was grateful for hospitality and friendships.
Arriving here again in Boston, so much is familiar, but everything is new. In a (new) faculty orientation meeting, we were each asked to present a six-word narrative about 2022. I settled on the past several months and scribbled: “New: house, community, research, courses, priesthood.”
I’m teaching again—something I’ve done a fair amount, but am returning to again. And I’m revisiting my doctoral thesis to see how it can (at last!) become a book. Some of my friends still go to school here, most of my teachers are sitting in the same meetings.
Newness and familiarity swirl and caught up in that, I stagger a bit. Everything is new, but not much actually is.
After arriving in Boston, I was in isolation with COVID-19. I was waiting, too, to move into my community’s house, as my new (almost?) room had been used by guests all summer. So I was staying in a dorm. And then I was in Buffalo to see family and in London to celebrate a wedding. Only now is the number of not-yet-unpacked boxes diminishing a little and the number of library books multiplying as I prepare for a semester of teaching and writing.
I think it hasn’t quite sunk in that I live here. Yet. It’s more like a guest room that has a lot of my stuff in it. But I’ve committed to not living with boxes for this episode of Jesuit life.
Amid the neo-gothic hallways of this house, its carved saints and angels, and my windows overlooking the city of Boston, beauty is here, but it’s something like stability that I’m seeking. A grace of arriving has shown itself; a grace of settling in and appreciating what’s fresh is what I’m most in need of.
Stability isn’t part of Jesuit life, at least in the way we talk about it and in the ways we’re trained. But it happens sometimes. It can be found in Jesuits teaching fathers and sons (and maybe even grandfathers) from the same family. It can be found, too, perhaps in the returning to a place and letting it be both old and new all at once. Perhaps relationships with a place have layers of patina and it might be those that need settling.
The return to a place I’d already been meant that I told myself I didn’t need to say goodbye. But sometimes I still did.
Friends from the past several years had moved on from Boston during the summer. One is working in Saint Louis, another in Chicago, and yet another in Seattle. Some have stayed, but many of those are still students and I’ve become a faculty member–its own kind of departure from my last years as a student.
I’m not assigned to Boston University as a deacon these days and haven’t visited the chaplaincy (yet) since returning. I’m learning to navigate the landscape of sacerdotal “supply” (a word used for priests who help out at parishes we’re not formally assigned to) and while Boston University will be part of that picture, I’m now “Father Steve.”
Poignantly and starkly, a good friend and brother of mine is likely dying of cancer these days, too. I had lunch with him two weeks ago and we talked about life and new priesthood and Jesus and the school. As I dropped him off at his office, he said: “I hope we have lunch again soon.”
Tom, I sure hope we get to, more than anything. Tears honor this relationship (as my novice director, Chris, once told me) as I consider finalities.
My grandparents always insisted that we never say “goodbye” because they felt it was too final. So instead, they always said, “so long.” When I lived in France, I often left people, saying, “a bientôt.” “Soon.” In something like middle age, though, I’ve learned to tell people that they mattered and how if I think I might not see them again. I’ve learned to say thank you for kindnesses of any size.
Goodbyes have found me, even when I’ve neglected them. Good friends, old friends, closest brothers pass by and sometimes help me neglect the work of saying goodbye, even while it is I who remain and many others move on to jobs, to new cities, to fresh diaconate years, and to Christ’s Kingdom.
This is Steve’s last installment of the Deacon’s Diary, in a few weeks, a new deacon will begin. In the meantime, revisit Steve’s journey from this past year.