By Bishop James Conley
Last week I joined my colleagues from the Lincoln diocesan offices for a daylong retreat at Our Lady of Good Counsel Retreat House. Held at the beginning of each Lenten season, the purpose of this retreat is to offer a time for personal renewal and reflection for our diocesan staff.
This year I invited Father James Golka, rector of the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Grand Island, to present the day of reflection. I am grateful for his gracious acceptance and willingness to share an impactful message with those present.
Father Golka reminded us that Lent is an opportune time to ask ourselves what in our lives God is calling us to surrender. Instead of thinking of surrender as choosing to “give up,” Father Golka challenged us to see the act of surrender as choosing to “give over.”
We might contrast the act of the surrender with the sin of our first parents. God had given them everything that they needed for fulfillment, and yet, they grasped after the forbidden fruit, sin, which was not good for them. We do the same kind of grasping when we sin.
In contrast, Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary exemplify true surrender. Jesus, the New Adam, in the Garden of Gethsemane, knowing that a tortuous death awaited him, said to the Father, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). The Blessed Virgin Mary, the New Eve, said to the Angel Gabriel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).
We may be tempted to view this surrender in a negative light, but it really is quite freeing. If we, like Jesus and the Blessed Mother, put our trust in our Heavenly Father’s will for us, it gives us a peace that only He can give us. When we trust, our problems are no longer our problems, but God’s problems.
This act of surrender is where we find our purpose and identity. The Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, states that man “cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”
In a word, this sincere gift of self is love. Through grace we receive God’s love and extend it to our neighbor.
We, of course, must make the decision to love. It is through our will, where we make the choice to do what is good, or what is evil.
Often, we use the image of the heart to describe the will. It’s an appropriate image. In our human bodies, blood circulates to and from our hearts, allowing our lives to continue and flourish.
In our spiritual lives, our hearts need to receive God’s love and love in return in order to sustain our lives in Christ. If our hearts are not filled with God’s love, we are spiritually dead. We need to have hearts that have surrendered—given themselves over to God’s love.
Next Wednesday, March 20, the major relic of St. John Vianney’s incorrupt heart will be at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ in Lincoln. This is the physical heart of a man who surrendered his life to God’s will. He is the patron saint of parish priests.
St. John Vianney knew that he wanted to serve the Lord as a priest at an early age. His conscription into Napoleon’s army delayed his studies for the priesthood, and yet he kept the desire in his heart. Even though he struggled in his studies, he possessed a priestly heart resembling the heart of the Great High Priest, Jesus Christ.
St. John Vianney was assigned to the little town of Ars—and he transformed it through his holiness and zeal. The Curé of Ars, as he is commonly referred, would often be in the confessional for over 16 hours a day. People from all over France would come to Ars just to have their confession heard. And through his eloquent preaching he brought many hearts to conversion.
St. John Vianney went through many trials in his life, and he continued to hand himself over to the Lord. I pray that this Lent we may trust that God is using us for a greater purpose, especially in times of affliction.
Sometimes we find ourselves in situations we never envisioned for our lives: difficult jobs, broken marriages, sudden illness or loss. It is not easy to think God has a perfect plan that includes such sorrow. Still, we must trust in God as our perfect Father, a father who loves us and will take care of us.
I found Father Golka’s message of giving ourselves over to God particularly timely as we continue to pray for purification in the Church, especially in this diocese. It is my prayer this Lent that the Divine Physician will use this painful time to bring us healing.
I am including below a powerful prayer by St. Ignatius of Loyola. May this Lent be a time for us to surrender our gifts and increase our trust in God’s plan for our lives, our diocese, and his Church.
St. Ignatius of Loyola
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, All I have and call my own. You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me. Amen.