From Jan. 4-11, 2022, the Bishops of Episcopal Region IX, that is the Bishops of Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri gathered at Prince of Peace Abbey, in California, for our annual retreat. Our retreat director was The Most Rev. Peter Sartain, Bishop Emeritus of Seattle. In the last edition of The Mirror, I offered Part 1 concerning what I learned on retreat. Here is part 2.
Referencing Pope Francis, Abp. Sartain challenged the bishops to notice “the poor at the door.” We should know who are the untouchables throughout southern Missouri. Technology, for all of its good opportunities, can also isolate us. It is very easy for us to live in our own little world and forget the issues with which people struggle. There are many people out there carrying great burdens who are searching for somebody who will simply listen to them. Making time for others draws us out of ourselves and invites us into a greater love.
DEALING WITH OTHERS
It is often the case that bishops deal with committees and programs. How we treat our staff is important. People notice such things. We are called to see Christ in the poor and we are called to see Christ in our staff. We are called to reach out to those who are “contrary and unattractive.” We are called to go to those who are sitting alone, to reach out to the priest who is “troublesome.” Since we have been ontologically changed due to our ordination, to encounter me should be an encounter with Christ. We are called to see more, to notice more, to learn names, to return phone calls, and send little notes to people. We are called to bring joy to those who cross our path without expecting anything in return. We must “re-personalize” our environment. Manifesting joy as I wear my Roman collar is the greatest tool for evangelization.
CAN I TRUST?
Do I believe that God can make me completely happy? Do I trust that God will take care of me? If not, I can tend to hold back just in case, trying to protect myself. God calls me beyond all the things that I want to hold on to for security. He wants me to hold on to Him, but in order to do that, I have to let go of the things I’m holding on to right now. It’s an invitation to move beyond my selfishness, to give myself away and be detached.
Archbishop Sartain told a beautiful story of being recognized for his work with those with special needs. In recognition of his work, the committee wanted to give him a gift. A woman, that had participated in the Special Olympics said she wanted to give the Archbishop her gold medal, and she did. The Archbishop held that up as a beautiful example of detachment and generosity.
Of course, we all know that the “things” that we own can “own” us, whether it be material items, ideologies, or behaviors. Our Lord emptied himself of everything as a symbol of true freedom. How often in the Gospels children are highlighted as they came to Him as opposed to the rich man who went away sad. Again, am I selfish, afraid to let go of things? Whatever it is that I am holding back, I am called to give it to Jesus.
PEACE AND RECONCILIATION
In my interactions with parishioners or staff, do I contribute to peace? “Peace be with you,” is the greeting our Lord gave to The Apostles when he appeared to them in the upper room on that first Easter evening. How do I respond to those who do not agree with me? Do I have a knee-jerk reaction and become defensive? Am I strong enough to be a man of peace and turn the other cheek? Do I stop gossip, am I passive-aggressive, or fall into sarcasm? Do I offer forgiveness or do I hold a grudge? Is there anyone that I am at odds with right now that I can engage in a spirit of reconciliation, or have I dismissed the possibility and given up on them? Am I big enough, gentle enough, to offer personal, deliberate encounters of reconciliation? Forgiveness brings us to the foot of the Cross. It is from the Cross that Jesus begged the Father to forgive those who crucified Him. I am called to forgive, to forgive deeply, in imitation of Christ.
Be a class act. I shouldn’t take myself too seriously. At the same time, take others very seriously. Remember that each day can be the most important day for someone else. It may be their wedding, a special anniversary, or memorial, and while it may be routine for me, it is not routine for them. It can be the most important day of their life. People place their lives in our hands for a moment, in the confessional, at a baptism, or a chance conversation. Hopefully, they walk away with renewed hope, feeling that they were respected. A class act is one who builds up and does not tear down. A class act is one who is sensitive to others and who seeks to serve. As I reviewed my notes from my retreat, I realize I have a lot to work on. Like everyone else, I am a work in progress. I try to follow the advice that I give the others and “Trust in the slow work of God.” In the words of Mother Teresa, “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” Please pray for your Bishop and remember that he prays for you