April 22, 2011

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Health challenge gives new meaning to Lent and Easter

Two people inspired me as I was taken by ambulance from my residence to St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis on March 18 after I suffered a mild stroke.

I thought of Msgr. Bernard Yarrish, who was the vice rector of Pontifical North American College (NAC) in Rome. He had contracted multiple sclerosis.

As he prepared to leave the NAC, he presided at a farewell Mass and was about to preach a homily.

As he moved from his chair to the pulpit, his legs gave out and he grabbed the altar for support.

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, then the rector of the seminary and who is now the Archbishop of New York, went to help him and told the seminarians, “This may be the most powerful homily you will ever hear.”

Msgr. Yarrish leaned on Jesus in his moment of weakness. It was a good witness, and an inspiration to me at a moment of helplessness.

The second person to inspire me was a sixth-grade student at St. Roch School in Indianapolis. This fellow sent me a letter in 2008 during my bout with Hodgkins lymphoma in which he told me to take courage because Jesus loves you.

The message that the student, Bryan Rush, shared continues to have a deep impact on me even though we have never met.

He wrote: “The definition of courage is hard to memorize. But luckily for everyone, it’s easy to describe. It’s the ability to move forward when times are dark. It’s the times you give it all you’ve got even though you’re weary. So remember dear Archbishop, that even though times are bad, you’ve still got the grace of God, so always stay glad.”

On the ledge of the window in front of my computer is a little plaque that reads: “Always Stay Glad.” It continues to be a timely message, and I am glad that he wrote to me.

When I was tempted to think that I was damaged goods for the archdiocese, Msgr. Yarrish’s leaning on Jesus Christ in his moment of weakness was an inspiration.

The student at St. Roch reminded me to depend on Jesus and to rejoice in his help. “Always Stay Glad”—his message to me to not let life’s challenges get me down—was a good reminder.

Thus, Msgr. Yarrish and a fellow at St. Roch have inspired me at an important moment. They are powerful examples of the good that people can do when they reach out to others in their time of need.

As soon as I had my stroke, I offered up losing my independence for our priests and seminarians, especially those who are struggling at this time.

I knew right away that my recovery from this stroke wasn’t going to be easy because of how difficult my recovery from shoulder surgery was in 2010.

Rehabilitation is hard work. It takes a lot of patience. I admire the occupational therapists. There should be a special place in heaven for caregivers and my staff in the chancery office.

Losing all of my independence was humbling. Having several generous priests coming every day to offer Mass with me is also humbling. These are some of the best Masses that I have had in 46 years as a priest.

I also have a deep empathy for people who suffer even more than I do. By God’s grace, I am gaining strength and the ability to resume my responsibilities. The health care workers and staff at the rehabilitation hospital where I am recuperating have been generously helpful and supportive.

I am definitely mindful of the prayerful support of the people of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, and I am forever grateful. I am working hard to recover so I can return to my duties, God willing.

Lent has a new meaning for me. I see it as a season of hope.

Easter also has a new meaning. I pray that God blesses all of you with a happy Easter, and offers special graces to all of you for your many prayers.

We never know what God has in store for us. We know that he provides whatever help we need.

God loves us, and so we can “Always Stay Glad” as the fellow from St. Roch reminded me.

My family thanks you as well.

I view this entire experience as an opportunity to make it a sacrificial gift in return for God’s love for me. †

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