November 7, 2008

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Becoming ministers of hope for others in need of hope

Rarely do we know the impact we might have on other people. Rarely ido we know the impact of our witness as people who pray.

I am rather certain that many of our holy folks who have gone home to God made a deep impression on us when they least realized it.

Retired Archbishop Harry Flynn of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis told the following story while directing our bishops’ spiritual retreat last August. The story illustrates my point.

Jerry was a seminarian preparing for the diocesan priesthood. He was highly respected by his fellow seminarians and the faculty alike.

But at the end of his first year in the seminary, for some reason, he flunked every one of his courses. Not surprisingly, the faculty said he could not continue studies for the priesthood.

His seminary rector wondered if Jerry might have the ability to do better, and suggested that he take two summer courses in theology to see if he could.

Jerry took up the suggestion, worked hard and did fine. So the rector invited him back to the seminary. He passed all of his courses, and was ordained a deacon after his third year of theology.

While serving as a deacon on summer assignment in a small town of the diocese, Jerry went to visit his vocation director some distance away.

On his way home that night, he was in an auto accident and suffered a broken leg.

When it was time to have the cast removed from his leg, his mother took him to a nearby clinic. The cast was removed, Jerry stood up—and he fell over dead. An embolism had formed and it took his life.

At his funeral in his hometown, the seminary rector noticed a religious sister in attendance and, after the funeral, he asked her how she knew Jerry.

The sister said that she had met Jerry at summer school. She said when she came to summer school she had planned to be dispensed from her religious vows and to leave the convent.

During the summer session, she saw that Jerry spent a lot of time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, praying his Breviary, saying the rosary and simply being there in quiet adoration.

The nun told the rector that Jerry’s example caused her to realize that she had made a decision about her vocation without talking to God.

She took her discernment to prayer, and realized that she was truly called to consecrated life.

Jerry’s fidelity to Jesus in prayer was a powerful witness. She has been a consecrated religious for 42 years now. She owed her life in religion to Jerry, who had no idea what his example would accomplish.

Maybe it would be good to ask ourselves, do we talk to God about the priorities in our lives? There is nothing like time spent with God to help us look at the big picture in life.

It is easy to get caught up in the everyday details and preoccupations. Time spent with God gives us peace of mind and heart.

Talking to God in a culture that more and more wants to privatize him—and to deny his place in the world he created and sustains—is an important responsibility shared by all of us.

Last June, in one of his reflections, Pope Benedict XVI remarked that when God is left aside none of the things that truly matter to us can find a permanent place; all our great and small hopes are founded on emptiness. He said it is necessary to open our hearts, our minds and our entire lives to God, to be his credible witnesses among our brothers and sisters.

“Through perseverance in prayer, the Lord broadens our desires and expands our mind, rendering us better able to receive him within ourselves. … We must open ourselves to God’s gaze, to God himself so that in the light of God’s face, lies and hypocrisy fall away. … It is through prayer that we learn to keep the world open to God and to become ministers of hope for others” (L’Osservatore Romano, #25, June 18, 2008).

Jerry, the seminarian in the story, was simply doing his duty as a seminarian and deacon. At times, doing that duty before the Blessed Sacrament may have been the greatest act of love he could offer. He might even have found that prayer time a bit of drudgery, but he gave himself to God’s gaze anyway. By God’s grace, that simple gift of self became an instrument of salvation for another person.

Do we talk to God? We, too, can become ministers of hope for others who are in need of hope. And we can help keep the world open to God. †

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