“The question is so simple – so profound! Allow me to answer it by reflecting on my own journey of faith and how I came to find God.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PRAYER
My life is not so very different from your own. My specific responsibilities as a pastor may vary from yours, but I have to face the same basic human issues that you do. I get caught up in the maelstrom of my work or ministry. I am sometimes bewildered and perplexed by rapid changes within society and around the world. So it is just as easy for me to get lost on the Christian journey as it is for anyone else!
‘IS THIS ALL THERE IS TO LIFE?’
Like you, I have sometimes wondered, ‘Is this all there is to life?’ My 44 years as a priest and 30 as a bishop have been marked by a search for the Lord, by a sincere concern to live in accordance with His Gospel. But so often, my search seemed to lead me into darkness rather than light. I felt buffeted and bombarded by problems associated with my ministry. I often felt I was walking alone.
‘LET TIME LACK FOR EVERYTHING ELSE, BUT NEVER FOR PRAYER’
One day, while I was still archbishop of Cincinnati, I realised that I was constantly exhorting others to pray – frequently, daily. I was preaching often about the importance of prayer, about the significance of having a close relationship with God. But I was not investing adequate time for prayer in my own life. A short time later, I had dinner with some priest friends of mine, who were themselves prayerful people. I shared my dilemma with them, and they advised me to act on my desire for adequate, quality time for prayer, affirming that this was, indeed, essential for the Christian life.
A FIXED PRAYER ROUTINE, WHATEVER THE EXTERNAL PRESSURES
Fortunately, I followed their advice. With their encouragement and support, I resolved to devote an hour each day to prayer – the first hour each morning before the pressures of my ministry could get at me. Besides reciting the Rosary and praying the Liturgy of the Hours, I have recourse to Scripture as a point of departure for meditative prayer.
DON’T TRY TO SHOULDER ANY BURDENS ON YOUR OWN
During the early days of this new habit of prayer, I began to realise how often I had looked elsewhere for God rather than right in the midst of each day’s journey. I became aware that often I sought escape from the difficulties and the suffering that I encountered daily in my ministry. I tended to think that my ministry was mine alone, rather than the Lord’s.
DRAWING NEAR TO OUR LORD IN THE EUCHARIST WITH YEARNING
In short I came to recognise that I do not walk alone! God is with me. Through his Word He helps me to keep on the right path. Through the Breaking of Bread each day the risen Lord leads the deepest hungers of my heart and spirit. And the Holy Spirit gives me what I need to carry out my pastoral ministry effectively.
EXPERIENCING THE LORD’S PRESENCE ACTIVELY AND PROFOUNDLY
I can assure you that my search for God continues, but I no longer search so far and wide. My quest takes me into the deepest recesses of my heart, where I have learned to be still and listen to the Lord speaking to me in the events and people around me. I have come to understand the Lord’s presence where, often before, I had experienced His absence. I have come to know myself – and accept myself – much more because of prayer.
I have also learned to recognise Him in the ‘strangers’ I encounter on my journey, that is, in my fellow pilgrims, in all my brothers and sisters. I know that they share my search, my dilemmas and my deepest desires. From some of them I learn more about the Lord Jesus and His Gospel. To others I proclaim the good news that I have heard and continue to hear.
SUFFERING UNITED WITH OUR LORD JESUS’ SUFFERINGS
In the past several years I have constantly tried to enter into closer communion with God through prayer, so that no part of my life, no part of myself, would be excluded from my relationship with the Lord. This search for union has been an exciting, life-giving, sustaining experience. In the last two-and-a-half years in particular, daily prayer has sustained me through two very different experiences, both widely known.
YET ANOTHER CASE OF A FALSELY ACCUSED CATHOLIC PRIEST
The first was an accusation that, several years earlier, I had sexually abused a college seminarian. While I knew the accusation was false, within hours it became a cause celebre in the US and around the world. Despite my innocence, I was totally humiliated and embarrassed. The false accusation put my ministry in jeopardy, at least until the accusation was dropped.
‘FACING DEATH IN A WAY THAT I NEVER DID BEFORE’
The second event occurred when I learned that I had a malignant pancreatic tumour. Within days I underwent radical surgery followed by intensive radiation and chemotherapy. The unexpected news that I had an aggressive form of cancer meant that I had to face directly the prospect of an early death. While I remain cancer-free at this time, my perspective on my life and ministry has deepened because I have faced death in a way that I never did before.
‘I WILL NOT ABANDON YOU, I WILL WALK WITH YOU AND HELP YOU’
Basically, it was my faith that made it possible for me to cope positively with these two events. As I faced these traumas, I literally felt God’s presence. It was as if God was saying to me: ‘I will not abandon you. I will walk with you and help you through all of this.’ This has made an enormous difference in my life. I have continued to find God in the events and persons of my daily life, and especially in moments of fear, anxiety, pain and suffering. The crucified and risen Lord Jesus has become an intimate part of my daily life, the source of my strength, courage and hope.”
– This article by The Late Cardinal Bernardin was published in “The Crusader”, issue June 2013 [headings in CAPITALS in the text added by the administrator of this blog]. For subscriptions and donations please contact: The Crusader, All Saints Friary, Redclyffe Road, Manchester M41 7LG, United Kingdom