The Anxious Disciple

When I first attended Mass at my local parish, I liked the pastor right away. I couldn’t explain why. He was serious and quiet, unlike the other priests I’d come to know. After Mass, he didn’t chat up everyone but simply shook their hands and thanked them for coming. As much as I need someone outgoing to counterbalance my introversion, I felt something of a kindred spirit. Of course, this means we barely spoke, not saying I wouldn’t have liked to.

This week, he announced that he’s stepping down as pastor. Among other unnamed health issues, he notes in his parish letter that he struggles with anxiety and depression. As soon as I knew that, everything made so much more sense: The notecards for the homily. The quiet, post-Mass handshake. The eloquently-written emails, compared to the quiet in-person nature.

It should’ve been obvious to me, but it’s often difficult to see in others the struggles you have yourself. Nothing would’ve changed, because I know me. I’d continue to offer a slight smile as I enter through a side door, even with flute in hand to play that Mass. I’d still sit at a different table for the few social events I’ve attended, because I don’t know how to talk to people like myself—more so those in some kind of authority position.

But I can do the same thing he’s done all these years: Send an email. Introduce myself, albeit a little late, though he’ll understand why it took so long. I’ve always believed in the positivity of our struggles, even if they don’t make sense at the time. By admitting our faults, others are strengthened in knowing they’re not alone. I never felt that strength much from the side of one who’s struggling, but know it now as the faithful disciple. Nothing speaks of the glorious power of God as a 30-year priest struggling with the same things I have to face myself.

When I was in Italy, my fellow pilgrims encouraged me to write a devotional. We came up with all sorts of atypical, off-the-wall ideas, but in the end kept it simple: Aiding others through my own struggles. Our weaknesses are not sinful or shameful; it’s because of them that we learn to trust God. And by sharing these experiences, others can learn and grow, too.

Honestly, I haven’t gotten very far with that. Partly because it’s a daunting task, but mostly because it means stirring up those feelings. It’s easy to bury our supposed sins, thinking no one else feels or experiences this. But through Monsignor’s resignation, I’ve remembered brainstorming across the Italian countryside. I remembered my fellow pilgrim’s excitement over having a well-read convert in their midst. And, despite my continued reluctance, I remembered that I have work to do.

I read the resignation letter several times. The more I did, the more I understood the depths of his sacrifice. Even more, I understood the overwhelming impact he had on his parish, despite his supposed weakness. Maybe, before he leaves, this quiet convert—who often hides behind a hymnal or her flute—can call on God’s strength to thank him. And maybe answer her own sacred calling, too.