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From One Time Zone to Another

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Father David BonnarSeveral years ago, when I participated in a mini-sabbatical at St. Meinrad Seminary in St. Meinrad, Indiana, I discovered that one could drive just a few miles and enter a different time zone. Quite simply, some counties in that state follow the Central Time Zone, while others adhere to Eastern time. For anyone just visiting, this time variance can be confusing, especially when it comes to attending an event or an appointment.

Sometimes in our travels, we may find this same disparity. For example, one day, many years ago, I had to drive to the eastern part of my home state, Pennsylania. In a matter of hours, I drove through what seemed like all four seasons. There was sun, rain, hail, snow and wind. The temperature fluctuated the further north I traveled.

I found myself thinking about this reality on Saturday when, in just a matter of an hour, I transitioned from celebrating a funeral liturgy to presiding at a wedding Mass in the same worship space. When I told the widow of the deceased that there was a wedding following the funeral, she said, “Father, you are going from a somber moment to a joyful moment.” Indeed, at the funeral, there were many tears of sadness while the wedding produced tears of joy.

It is amazing, how on any given day we priests can find ourselves riding the roller coaster of life as we journey with the faithful. The range of emotions that we witness and even face within can be riveting. While we priests are called to act in the person of Christ, we can never deny our humanness. Even Jesus wept. Sometimes, the transitions in these moments can be challenging. They may, in some cases, trigger a whole set of different emotions. I will never forget going to visit my colleague’s mom in the same hospital in which my mother had died weeks before. Thankfully, his mother was going to be OK, however, I left that hospital feeling so deeply the loss of my dear mom.

The emotional roller coaster is not just something that clergy face. Every human being shares in this challenge, which is all the more real with the pandemic. As we move from one gathering to another, it is sometimes like entering a different time zone, because people see this all differently. For example, some are very prudent and vigilant in following guidelines with masks and social distancing, while others downplay or even dismiss the effects of the virus.

Even pastors see this differently. Someone from the wedding took exception that the pews used were not every other pew but every two pews. They wondered why it had to be that way since the neighboring church only blocked off every other pew. I had to explain that it was not six feet. At the same time, I told the person that we all interpret the guidelines differently.

The fact that we as a nation are on the threshold of a presidential election makes this roller coaster even more poignant. For example, we can move from conversation to conversation and it may feel like we are moving from one time zone to another.

Whatever zone we find ourselves in or wherever we are in the roller-coaster ride we can take heart in knowing that God is always with us. Jesus gave this assurance when he sent his disciples out. The last thing he said to them was, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).

FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 16 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. Follow and like The Priest magazine on Facebook.

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