Monday, November 10, 2003

Prayer on a foggy day, for the USCCB meeting

When my now retired archbishop was examining his ministry in the last few months leading to his 75th birthday, he stated that one of the things he was most looking forward to in retirement was not having to go to the USCCB meetings any more. Time to pray and time to write and no more committees!

But, the USCCB meeting decades before had set him to reflecting.......

Today, dear Lord Jesus, during this meeting of all the bishops of the U.S.A., I am reminded more than ever of my duties as a bishop.

One bishop this morning recalled to us a famous passage St. Augustine addressed to his flock. He said to them, "When I am frightened by what I am to you, then I am consoled by what I am with you. To you, I am the bishop; with you, I am a Christian. The first is an office, the second a grace; the first a danger, the second salvation."

All of the tasks of a bishop frighten me this morning, dear Jesus --- perhaps because it is rainy and dreary out, perhaps because our meetings seem to touch lightly on a thousand aspects of the church in the U.S. today and we hesitate to scratch deeply for fear of not being able to put it all back together.

Perhaps, however, it is all a bit simpler to analyze: perhaps I just sense that people expect too much of me. They cry out for spiritual leadership, when I am just struggling to keep head above water. They expect me to be a model of kindness and patience, and I become easily irritated and impatient. They expect me to be an example of prayer, and this morning, Lord, my mind is distracted and foggy like the weather.

They expect me to inspire each time I open my mouth or to have new and striking insights in every discussion. They believe I can talk on any subject at any time without preparation. They believe they can program me like a machine.

Surely, Lord, they don't think I have the stamina of Pope John Paul II, or the pastoral touch of John Paul I, or the sharp intellect of Paul VI, or the mellow, paternal heart of John XXIII. What models, Lord, you have given them to match me against!

Then there are the many wounds out there to be healed, and I am reaching so very few. How many have been "turned off" by the church and its lifestyle! How many have been hurt by caustic words or signs of coldness! How many are bitter because no one seemed to care when they were in need or in grief!

But, Lord, even if you gave me a 30 hour day and all of the stamina of John Paul II, and all the pastoral insights of John Paul I, and all the intellectual reflections of Paul VI, and all the warmth and kindness of John XXIII, still it would not be enough.

What a foggy morning, Lord!

Help me to see that it really does not all depend on me. I guess it will always remain foggy, until I can see more clearly what I am "with you, Lord," and what I am "with them": grace, a Christian, salvation, consolation.

I keep forgetting, Lord: the kingdom is yours. The flock is yours and you can do without me. You can do more with me than I could ever do myself. You have the calculator, I just punch keys.

You are the source of hope and consolation and salvation; I am but the conduit.

With your flock, I am one who has been touched by your love and brought to the saving water. I am one with them in that baptismal water.

I was not sent alone, but with them, Lord, with your chosen ones --- that royal priesthood, your people.

Of course, we become discouraged and foggy when we think we can do it alone. Being sent is a part of being Christian: you made that clear, Jesus, before you left this earth.

My episcopal ministry is to minister to the baptismal ministry of others which I also share. It is so complicated, Lord --- but consoling.

And so, I can thank you for the fog this morning. It made me realize, Lord, how much depends on you and how much we Christians, bishops or not, depend on each other.

Take care of your people, Lord!

[Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B., Walking on the Wings of the Wind, Paulist Press, 1980]

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