So, You Must Be Thomas

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin

A few years back, I was travelling to a bishops meeting, dressed in clerical attire, seated next to a very nice young lady who engaged me in conversation. (Usually I avoid talking to people on planes, but for her, I made an exception.)
“Hello, Father. Are you a priest here in Rhode Island?” she asked. “Yes,” I said. “I work in Providence.” “What church do you have?” she inquired. “Actually, I’m the bishop here so in a way I have all the churches.” “Oh,” she said. “So you must be Thomas.”
Our continuing conversation revealed that my companion wasn’t a Catholic but was in the process of becoming one. She explained that when she and her Catholic fiancé attended Mass together, she noticed, during the Eucharistic Prayer, the prayers offered for “Francis our Pope and Thomas our Bishop.”
“So, you must be Thomas.” Her response intrigued me and reminded me how wonderful it is that at every single Mass offered in the Diocese the priests and people are praying for me, their bishop. It’s so encouraging and, truly, greatly appreciated. The prayers of the Church sustain me and lift me up, especially in difficult and trying times.
But there’s another aspect to this liturgical remembrance that’s humbling and amusing. You see, the Roman Missal on the altar doesn’t have the names of the pope and bishop printed in the text. There’s just an “N. . . .” where the name of the current office holder is inserted.
Now, as I’ve travelled around the Diocese I’ve noticed that sometimes my name is just written on a post-it note, or is penciled in. Never in ink, always in pencil. Maybe it helps the priest to remember the name of his bishop; or perhaps it assists visiting priests; but it’s always a poignant reminder for me that I won’t be here forever; that others have come before me and others will come after me, a reality that is, no doubt, a source of comfort for many!
But, in fact, in the passage of time, in the flow of history, your name, too, is written on a post-it note. Your name, too, is written in pencil, not ink. You see, our lives are passing. We’ll all be easily replaced and quickly forgotten. Others have come before us, and others will come after us. And it’s very good to remember that.
Something to think about: That passing nature of life: What does that teach us?