by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Usually, I begin the first days of the new calendar year on retreat with the bishops from Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa.
This year, I begin on retreat with all the bishops of the United States.
Pope Francis requested that all the U.S. bishops spend significant time together in prayer in order: 1) to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in responding to the recent scandals; and 2) to strengthen the unity of the bishops.
While Pope Francis was unable to be with us in person, the Holy Father sent the Capuchin Friar Rainero Cantalamessa, who has served as the preacher to the papal household for almost 40 years under three different popes.
Father Cantalamessa’s conferences provided brief reflections on the insights of the action of the Holy Spirit in the lives of disciples as described in the ancient hymn, “Veni Creator Spiritus.” The majority of his talks were devoted to the formation Jesus gave to the original apostles and how it was applicable to their successors, the bishops.
The heart of the apostles’ formation was staying with Jesus, being with Our Lord. During the years of the apostles accompanying Jesus in his ministry, Our Lord sought to help the apostles to see as God sees, as opposed to how the world sees.
This is clear in Our Lord’s teaching as epitomized in the beatitudes. Jesus’ teaching on what is needed for joy is quite contrary to the wisdom of the world.
This contrast is also revealed in Our Lord’s formation on leadership. The apostles argue over who is most important, while Jesus counsels that the one who leads must serve, must be a slave to those entrusted to their care.
Father Cantalamessa reminded us the one responsibility that a bishop cannot delegate is his prayer life, his relationship with Jesus. It is only through our companionship with Our Lord that we begin to see as God sees, not as the world sees.
The second phase of the apostles’ formation was being sent by Jesus to preach the good news, to proclaim the kingdom of God is at hand. We can only do this effectively by being empowered by the Holy Spirit. For this to happen, we must turn the reins of our hearts, the control of our lives, over to God.
Some in the secular media portrayed these days of retreat as a strategizing session by the bishops to come up with a game plan to restore our credibility that has been harmed by the scandals.
They seem to view these days as a time devoted to developing a public relations strategy to restore our reputation with our people. This most certainly was not the purpose of these days of retreat.
The retreat was an opportunity to encounter the living Jesus again and to be transformed by this experience. It was a time for me and my brother bishops to invite the Holy Spirit to rekindle the fire of his love in our hearts by pondering the word of God and encountering the living Jesus in the Eucharist and the sacrament of reconciliation.
On the solemnity of the Epiphany, Father Cantalamessa prayed that like the Magi, we would be transformed by our encounter with Jesus to fulfill better our responsibilities as the successors of the apostles with the wisdom of God, not the wisdom of the world.
Please continue to pray for me that the Holy Spirit will help me to become more and more a servant leader modeled after the example of Jesus Christ.
Hopefully, sharing these insights gained from the retreat are helpful to you also as you strive to live as a disciple of Jesus in the unique circumstances of your life.