When we face significant transitions in life we often look back with wistful memories. As I near retirement as your bishop, I have started looking back with wistful memories of all that has transpired over these twelve plus years. They include many blessings including so many of you and your generosity in so many ways, decisions I should have considered more carefully, and so many examples of God’s love and mercy and God’s surprises.
Allow me to share with you excerpts from my Bishop’s Bulletin columns which capture some of the themes that have guided me over these years and guide me still: trust in Jesus Christ and the power of prayer.
From February 2009:
“One topic that brings us together in our diversity is the weather. And we have had quite a bit to talk about this winter. Weather affects our plans and our attitudes.
As we travel through the seasons of weather, and the seasons of life, we know that there are uncertainties, changes that we cannot predict but to which we must adapt. We also know from history that those who went before endured rough winters, economic slowdowns and parish and personal trials. They endured because their faith in the love and mercy of God reassured them. Our call as followers of Christ is to, like them, assure that the unchangeable truths of Christ are not lost in the uncertainty and that the changeable realities are allowed to take the course God wills.
The story is told of a grandmother who read to her granddaughter the verses on the creation of the world from the Book of Genesis. When she finished, the little girl seemed lost in thought, ‘Well, what do you think of it all?’ Grandma asked. ‘Oh, I love it,’ replied the granddaughter ‘It’s so interesting. You never know what God is going to do next!’
That is a wonderful expression of faith. We cannot know what is going to happen next, but we can be sure that it will be good if we open our hearts to God’s will and God’s way. This is not to suggest that we not engage in the world and just sit by and wait. We help the stranded motorist; we support those who are unemployed, we pray for those hurting, we together seek to solve the problems of our day. Christ calls us to be the light of the world, we are his instruments, we reach out in love and care for one another because we are committed Catholics who live our faith.
As followers of Christ, we count our blessings and thank God for them and bear our crosses with trust. We can be optimists, ambassadors of hope, because we know what God the Father has accomplished in sending His Son as our Savior. We know the gift of His Church that continues His redeeming mission. We know his sacrificial act of love and that we are never alone. We know that our destiny is in Him and not in this passing world.
It is that certainty in God’s continuing presence among us that can provide assurance as we face the rigors of winter, the rollercoaster rides of the economy, and the personal losses. One of my best friends was killed on a snow-covered highway just before Christmas. I grieve his loss; I also am grateful for the years of his friendship.
We pray each Sunday in the Creed, ‘We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.’ The Book of Genesis reminds us that what God has created is good. As people of faith, may we thank God for the gift of each day and face the challenges with hope. May we by our plans and attitudes declare, “I love it. It’s so interesting. You never know what God is going to do next.”
From February 2007:
“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. 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 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 miter 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. 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.
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.
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 the challenges that come our way with hope. A Lenten theme this year might be: how open am I to discover and accept His will for me? Do I have a prayer?”
Trust in God and prayer. Thank you for allowing me to share these thoughts with you over the years.