Starting Point
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Issue Date:  January 21, 2005

Starting Point


Charlie was my pastor when I was assigned to a small parish in northern New Jersey. There was a big spread of years between us. I was 26 years old and he was in his early 50s. He called me “the kid” but I did not mind. We kept in touch over the years.

A good man but shy, he did not find it easy to share his feelings. Yet the feelings were there, and he did his best.

One night at supper he told me how hard it was for him to turn and face the people when the changes came with the Second Vatican Council. I sensed that it was hard, even a bit painful, for him to tell me that.

He choked up a bit when he said that he had loved the church he was ordained for and that it hurt when it all changed. “But I have tried to turn and to relate as the church has asked me to,” he said.

We had good years together -- I could always talk with him and he appreciated trying to learn things from “the kid.” Charlie turned and I thanked him for that. I turned, too, in my own way as we shared the years and many chats. He died not too long ago and I miss writing to him. He loved and respected me from a “different” church, a different time. And it worked. Loving is hard.

I have thought about Charlie’s honesty and his goodness over the years and how he spoke volumes that night. It was, for me, an insight into the struggles of a man to make an enormous change in his life -- a change that must have rocked him to his feet. But change he did and he did it well.

I think that the whole church, indeed the world, is struggling with a turn we are in the midst of but do not understand. It is a turn to love differently. So many new things are coming into view with the turning -- good things and some painful things.

Trappist Fr. James Stephen Behrens lives at Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery, Conyers, Ga.

National Catholic Reporter, January 21, 2005

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