The future is before us and we can help shape it

The beginning of a new year is often one of anticipation of a fresh start. There is excitement about the possibilities of what is to come but also for many a relief that the difficult past year has ended. Most of us harbor both thoughts: anticipation and relief.

The past is what it is and cannot be changed. The future is before us and we can help shape it. Of course we often wish the future was laid out clearly before us.

We long for security, a safe voyage without worry or pain. Deep down we know that is not possible. We can set the best of plans, build the most useful of buildings, develop the most innovative programs, declare our sincerest resolutions and yet, in an instant, our lives can be changed. Sickness, accidents, weather, reversals of many kinds and unexpected changes both positive and not so happy can alter our plans and expectations. How can we balance the excitement of new beginnings and our desire for serenity with the reality of the unknown yet to come?

The answer as it is in all things is oneness with Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today and forever. Faith and trust in Christ roots us so that whatever storms come our way, self-imposed or random, they can be weathered because he is with us in every joy and every challenge.

The poet Minnie Louise Haskins wrote, “And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’”

As we enter 2018 we as individuals and as the local church of Sioux Falls must through prayer and reflection place our hands and our future in the Hand of God who will provide the light and security we yearn for.

While I often encourage deepening prayer by all who I encounter, among my New Year resolutions is to become better at prayer myself.

Recently I changed my prayer routine because it had become just that, routine. It was becoming merely a check-list part of my day, something to be done rather than an opportunity to experience the presence of God.

There is an old saying often used in sports, “He doesn’t have a prayer.” It suggests that a person does not have much of a chance to achieve what is being sought. I am not sure where that expression came from, but it is not true. Everyone has a prayer; we just don’t always use it or use it well.

It is true however that there are times when for one reason or another we may not be able to achieve or receive whatever it is we might wish. I for instance will never experience a full head of hair again. I can still pray for it but I suspect God has already answered that prayer.

Sometimes He surprises us. I had a professor in seminary who suggested that I powder my bald head to reduce the glare that might distract people at Mass. God has taken care of that. As a bishop I get to wear a zucchetto and mitre which reduce the glare. That was not in response to a prayer of mine I can assure you.

We all have a prayer. In fact we have many prayers. Some are written such as the Liturgy of the Hours or memorized over the years such as the Our Father. Some are spontaneous when we confront a particular situation for which we seek God’s counsel or consolation. Some are reflective as when we contemplate the beauty of a rose, a moving passage of scripture or our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Some are in petition for the needs of others or ourselves, especially when someone close to us is suffering. Each is a beautiful expression of our belief in a loving and merciful God.

Over the years I have learned that no one prayer form is enough. I need them all. Sometimes my mind is so active that quiet meditation is hard so I turn to written prayers or familiar ones like the rosary. Other times after enduring the noisiness of our society, I need the quiet of being alone with God in adoration or meditating on scripture or laying my concerns before the Blessed Mother. Sometimes I need to vent a bit, and lay before God my fears, my sins, my needs and my hopes. I always need the highest form of prayer in the Church, Holy Mass, to lift me beyond my self-focus, to remind me of God’s saving love, and to invigorate me with the grace of the Holy Eucharist.

We all have different moods and moments. One of the treasures of the Church is the variety of prayer forms and spiritualities available to us. We must always be sure that they are truly prayers of the Church. There are many so-called spiritualities in our culture that are not healthy and can lead us astray. If a spirituality divides us or puts our wants ahead of our relationship with God, be wary.

People have said to me that they tried prayer but that it didn’t work or didn’t do any good. We ought not approach God like a clerk at the store with our list of needs and expect instant fulfillment. Someone wrote that God is like a Father, not a grandfather. Like any good parent who is gentle and yet demanding for their child’s good, Jesus is compassionate toward us so great is his love for us, and He is demanding of us, so great is his love for us. He never gives up on us though we may wander. He prays for us still, forgives us when we ask, and he shows us the way.

As recorded in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus prayed in the Garden, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will”. (Mk. 14:36)

If we approach God ready to discover what his will is for us we will always have a prayer that can be answered in a way that allows us to cope with hope the challenges that come our way.

A man told a priest that he once had a hard time praying. He said a friend told him that prayer was simply having a conversation with Jesus and suggested he place an empty chair in front of him, imagine Jesus sitting there and then speak with him or simply rest with him. The man did and it became part of his life each day.

When he died his daughter found him not on his bed but with his head resting on the empty chair. He was resting in his Lord and Savior and with his friend and companion, Jesus Christ.

“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

Happy New Year. May 2018 be one filled with joy, with peace and with Jesus Christ beside you.

Bishop Swain's Column, January 2018, ,