Column: Look for God even in your failures and disappointments

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

Each year, the bishops of Region IX (Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa) make an annual retreat together at the beginning of January.

With the backlog of correspondence and other work after the Christmas holidays, I am always conflicted about the advisability of making a retreat at that time. There are always, seemingly, a million reasons why it would be more prudent to stay home in order to attend to the many pressing pastoral issues.

Yet, by the grace of God, for the past 11 years — except for the January 1999 pastoral visit of Pope John Paul II to St. Louis and the Jan. 7, 2004, announcement of my appointment as the coadjutor archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas — I have made my way to Prince of Peace Abbey in Oceanside, Calif.

Once I am there, I am always glad that I came. Of course, being in Southern California for a week in the dead of winter is not exactly hard duty! Yet, even more than the pleasant climate, I realize how much I need to spend time with the Lord. Singing the Liturgy of the Hours with the monks of the abbey makes me aware of how often I rush through morning and evening prayer. I discover each year my need to slow down the pace of my prayer.

It is also a blessing to be with my brother bishops. During most of the retreat, we maintain a spirit of silence. But each day before supper, we have a half hour to visit. I am always edified by the zeal and dedication of the other bishops. I enjoy their wit and humor. We laugh a lot during that short time. At the same time, as I hear some of the challenges my brother bishops are facing in their dioceses, it makes me very grateful for the priests and people of our Archdiocese.

I also rediscover each year how the time for the retreat in many ways is ideal. It is such a blessing to begin the year with an extended prayer time. The retreat provides an opportunity to ponder and give thanks for the blessings of the past year. It also gives me a chance to recognize and acknowledge my many sins and failures. During the retreat, I ask the Holy Spirit to guide and direct my decisions and actions for the coming year. Most importantly, the retreat is an opportunity to begin the new year with an extended time of prayer, invoking the Lord’s blessing upon priests, people and pastoral priorities of the Archdiocese.

Our retreat director, Father Richard Tomasek, asked that we reread the spiritual classic, “Abandonment to Divine Providence” by Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade, SJ. Father Tomasek’s conferences throughout the retreat all centered on the theme of accepting and embracing God’s will in our lives.

Generally, it is easy for me to embrace God’s will when it appears to correspond with my hopes and plans. Yet, the challenge of leading a life disposed to God’s will is our ability to accept that will when it seems very contrary to what we, with our limited wisdom, consider best.

There is something very liberating when we begin to look for God’s grace in our disappointments, our failures, our sufferings and even our humiliations. In truth, it is often at these moments that we will find that God is working most powerfully in our lives and using us to touch the lives of others in ways that we could never have imagined.

One of the key insights of Father de Caussade was what he termed the “sacrament of the present moment.” The person who practices abandonment to God’s will is striving constantly to live in the present and to recognize in the most ordinary and seemingly trivial circumstances the opportunity to love God with all of our heart and soul.

Like the spirituality of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the teaching of Father de Caussade is eminently practical. These great spiritual mentors unlock for us the potential for holiness present in the ordinary activities of our lives.

I am always grateful for the days of retreat. It is a grace to have this time each year for spiritual renewal and refreshment. Still, it is always a joy to return to the Archdiocese and begin again the real adventure of striving to live the insights gained or rediscovered during retreat in the normal activities of everyday life.

Pray for me that I can embrace God’s will, especially when my own plans are interrupted. Pray for this grace for yourself, as well to be able to enjoy the liberation that comes from being able to recognize the Lord’s presence even in the disappointments and difficulties of the present moment.

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