Year for Priests: Saying goodbye

By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series

There are few joys that rival the beginning of the end to a school year.  Exuberant celebrations of paper tossing and book shelving give witness to the freedom students and teachers feel as they walk (or run) out of school, not to return until August.

Of course, the end of school also brings a bit of sorrow as we say goodbye to seniors and students who will not return, and part ways with teachers who have decided to move on.  This year, I am one of those teachers.

Over the past year, you have read about my adventures at Detroit Catholic Central High School, but now the time has come for me to say goodbye, both to my family at Catholic Central and to the many people who have read my thoughts over the past year, for this is also the end of the Year of Priests and reason for my contribution to Catholic News Service.

In my own mind, goodbye always equals thank you.  When the editors of CNS first asked me to contribute to this blog, I was both humbled by and a little nervous because of the proposal.  After all, I was stepping into a new ministry as a new priest, with very little idea of how I would process this first year.  Now I write words of gratitude for both have given me the opportunity and reason to reflect more purposely on the first year of my priesthood.  Quite simply, what I thought was an assignment turned out to be a gift.

Each of you has encouraged me to look for the “teachable moments” this past year – something of my experience that might be of value to the lives of others.  In short, you have helped me to become a better teacher, and for that I am thankful.

Like many of you, I have reflected on the spiritual meaning of this year – a year for priests and a year of great shame and disappointment in the wake of so many scandals.  Thus, I am reminded that this ministry is not about me; it is about God.  My own abilities will fail, but this year has reminded me, in many ways, that my love for God must be at the heart of everything I do.

I was told during formation, “God give the best to those who give God the choice.”  Over the years, I have found many blessings in making oneself available, but most especially over this past year.  Scripture teaches that our answer is always “yes;” let God worry about the rest.  In many respects, I hold that idea as a mantra and have been humbled by all that God has done in just one year – much of which, you, as readers, have witnessed through this blog.

Now the time comes for a new assignment – one that is perhaps even more challenging than those before it.  I have been asked by my community to revive campus ministry at the University of Windsor in Ontario.  The Basilians have always provided pastoral care for students on the Windsor campus, but things have been quiet for a number of years.  Now the Basilians have decided the time is right to put the focus on the pastoral ministry at the university.

I must confess that I am intimidated by the responsibility that has been given to me, but I take solace knowing that I did not chose this.  Once again, my community has helped me to see something in me that I did not see for myself, and once again, I am very thankful.

May God bless each of you along your journey, and may you be blessed enough to discover the teachable moments and pass along what you have learned.

Father Chris Valka, CSB, was ordained a priest for the Congregation of St. Basil in May 2009 and has been teaching at Detroit Catholic Central High School in Michigan.

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