Message from the Pastor

June 16 & 23, 2019 Issue

This week's column is written by Fr. Tim O'Brien, S.J.

Not long ago I was speaking with a friend, a lawyer by profession, who was saying that when he graduated law school, he was qualified to do one thing: go learn how to actually practice law. His point was that his formation up to that point, while necessary, was not enough to teach him how to ply his trade. He had to learn it in doing it, along the way.

This is true in many walks of life, and none more so than the priesthood. After eleven years of Jesuit formation, only in these last eight months at Holy Trinity have I begun learning how to actually be a priest. I have said often that my years as a parishioner here were deeply important for my own decision to enter the Jesuits. As I prepare to move to Baltimore in order to begin doctoral studies in history this fall at Johns Hopkins, I am aware of how much of my young priesthood has been shaped by this place as well. That is, it has been shaped by my relationships with you all–parishioners, lay colleagues, and brother Jesuits alike. I will take that formation with me wherever I go.

Last summer was not an encouraging time to be Catholic, still less to be ordained a priest. I was unsure about returning to Washington as our local Church was reeling from fresh claims of clerical sexual abuse and cover-up. But looking back now, it has been exactly where I needed to be. Your faith has buoyed my own. Your hope and action for reform in the Church has boosted my spirits when they have flagged. Your commitment to building a Church that is merciful, welcoming, and inclusive has returned me of the roots of my own call.

One of the very few things I dislike about being a Jesuit is how often we move, and the accompanying pain of leaving one place for another. (It is especially challenging when you love the place, as in this case!) It has been a privilege to walk with you all this year, and to begin learning how to be a priest here, with you. I thank you for welcoming me into your lives, often at moments of great joy or great sorrow. I thank you for your encouragement and your generosity. I thank you for your friendship. And, yes, I thank you for your always-candid, frequent feedback on my preaching!

Recently I learned of an old tradition in the Society of Jesus, that before leaving a place a Jesuit would ask forgiveness for his shortcomings, and also ask the community he was leaving to pray for him going forward. It is a wise tradition, and I ask both things of you. I take comfort in the fact that Baltimore is not far up the road, and will depart on June 30 in the hope that our paths will cross again soon. In the meantime, please know of my affection and, even more, my gratitude.