March 5, 2010

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Students’ letters query archbishop about his vocation

Recently, I received a packet of letters from the middle school students at St. Rose of Lima School in Franklin.

During Language Arts class, the students were assigned the task of looking me up online and then writing a friendly letter to me. One student found out that I “read every letter I receive,” and expected the same.

There were numerous questions about “what inspired you to be a monk?” The short answer is that I believed God called me to live a simple life in community with a special focus on prayer and the liturgy. I was also attracted to the seminary apostolate at Saint Meinrad.

Morgan asked: “What kind of emotions are you feeling as you approach this incredible milestone [my Golden Jubilee]?” It is really hard to believe 50 years have flown by! My basic emotion is joyful gratitude to God for standing by me all those years.

Spencer asked: “Did you ever have any trouble on your road to priesthood?” As is the case for any seminarian, there were occasional bumps along the way. And it was a gradual road to figure out if this is what God really wanted me to do. There was a lot of help from priests and other friends. I was ordained a priest in 1964, and it is a great gift to be a priest.

Michael and Spencer both noticed in my biographical data that I had been a Boy Scout. Michael wrote: “You are also a great role model because you are a Boy Scout who has achieved the rank of Eagle. I’m currently a tenderfoot in Troop 227 in the phoenix patrol.”

Spencer asked: “What was one of your activities you did before becoming an Eagle Scout?” One summer, I helped prepare the site for our summer camp, cleanup and setup of tents.

Lizzie commented on the fact that “you come from a small town like me, but proved that with determination and drive you can still do big things. … Thank you for showing that people can do the same thing for 50 years and still be so happy.”

There were questions about my becoming the third bishop of Memphis.

Nick asked: “How did you feel when that happened?” I was taken by surprise when I got the phone call telling me Pope John Paul II had appointed me. I think I was sort of in shock for about six months.

Sydney asked: “What is a third bishop and is it like an archbishop?” It means there were two bishops of Memphis before me.

Another Nick asked: “What was Memphis like? Did you like it?” Memphis is a beautiful southern city, and the people are very hospitable. I loved it, and it was hard to leave when I got the call to become Archbishop of Indianapolis. Having done the calculation, he wrote, “I hope you have a happy twentieth anniversary for being our Archbishop in two thousand and twelve.”

Bethany wrote: “Now I have two questions. Was your childhood fun and, finally, did you want to be an archbishop when you were little?” I had a happy childhood. Most of our neighbors were cousins so we were like a big family and did what kids do. I thought I wanted to be a priest when I was little, but I had no thoughts about becoming an archbishop.

Marisa asked a similar question: “Did you think about being Archbishop when you were my age [11-13]?” Truthfully, it never entered my mind until the day I got the call in 1987.

There were lots of questions about being archbishop. Megan asked: “Episcopal consecration—what is that?” It’s another term for ordination as a bishop. She asked: “Do you get to meet special and important people?” I consider people like you important and special. But you are probably wondering if I met the governor or the mayor or Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. The answer is yes.

Aidan asked: “How has being the Archbishop brought you closer to God?” Everything I do is for the glory of God and the people of God. That constantly calls me to be holy.

One fellow wrote candidly: “I love God with all my heart. Can you do me a favor? Can you pray for my family? Ever since my grandma died, 80 percent of my family is depressed. I am starting to lose hope. I can tell you never lose hope because you rely on prayer every day.” To be sure, you and your family are on my special prayer list. Remember, God loves you and he is our hope because nothing is impossible for him. He will see you through.

Please write to me again.

There were many questions about my cancer. I’m clear and will report later. †

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