Bishop Hying

Challenge of Lent not to be distracted by details, but instead, seek who God truly desires us to be

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on February 11, 2018


      One of the greatest experiences of my life was backpacking in the Grand Tetons in Wyoming with two of my brothers during the summer of 1988, right before I was ordained a transitional deacon. We ascended thousands of feet, walked miles into the wilderness and never encountered another human being. We lived on fish we caught from beautiful lakes, watched a glittering sea of stars at night and slept in the embrace of majestic mountains. 

      For a few days, life was stripped to its bare essentials and I felt profoundly connected to God, my brothers, the world and myself. I go back to that place often in my mind and heart, always finding peace and strength. Part of me would love to be a hermit in the wild!

      Lent is a journey into the wilderness of the heart. The Gospel this upcoming Sunday details the mystery of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert. He bounds from the Gospel pages, freshly baptized and anointed by the Holy Spirit, preparing for his life’s work by entering the vast expanse of solitude. 

      We hear about his struggle with the Evil One and his temptation, but other questions and thoughts must have arisen in his heart during those sacred days. What did he think about all that time? What tussles of the soul emerged?

      Sometimes, we fear silence and time alone because we do not want to probe the depths of our own humanity. It’s far easier to stay busy and distracted than to face the challenge and pain of what lies deeply within. Lent is our time to enter into those nagging questions, powerful memories, persistent doubts and stubborn weaknesses that lurk around the edges of our perky busyness. How much easier to keep it all at bay!

      When I am alone in my room at night, driving down an Indiana country road, absorbed in deep prayer or spend a few days at a monastery on retreat, my heart fills with questions and memories. Lord, am I really doing your will, or am I just fooling myself that my will is actually yours? 

      Where have so many years of my life flown? I think about the moment in my family’s kitchen when I found out my brother Patrick was dead, or I remember lying on the cold marble of the cathedral floor during ordination. I ponder my failures to love, my irrational fears of the future, my struggles with prayer and my resistance to the gentle yet persistent love of the Lord.

      I think about all of my ministerial assignments over the years - various parishes, mission work, the seminary, becoming first an auxiliary bishop, and now, a bishop here in Gary. A sea of beloved faces appears in my memory. Good people. Troubled souls. Those who always made me laugh. Hidden saints who carried very heavy crosses. Folks who were so amazingly kind to me. 

      How many more years do I have, Lord, to serve them and you before falling into the mystery of death? What is truly essential and how do I get rid of the superfluous? More and more, memories of people and places come surging back, experiences I have not thought of in decades. Is all of this part of the wisdom that comes with increasing years? I have been carried and blessed by so many remarkable people. All of it is humbling.

      Which people, what memories, which questions and anxieties, what blessings and graces emerge in your heart and mind when you enter the wilderness of silence and solitude? 

      These mentors, experiences, feelings and thoughts are the sacred signposts for us on the way to the Kingdom of God. Some are joyous, others deeply painful; unhealed wounds may still have power over us.  Fears and questions may make the road ahead seem obscure or even impossible. 

      Lent is a time to remember that we are led by grace through the desert to the Promised Land, just like the Israelites of old.

      One way to view the traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving is to honor their power to cleanse us out, to create an empty and holy place where God can work on our hearts and spirits, healing the broken, lifting up the paralyzed and reviving the dead within us. We realize in a profound way that the healing stories in the Gospels are really about us and what Jesus wants to accomplish in us.  Claiming our personal history, examining the trajectory of our lives through the prism of God’s love is a transformative way for us to spiritually grow during this sacred season.

      When we dare to enter the wilderness, whether it is the Rocky Mountains, a walk on the beach, a weekend retreat, 20 minutes of silent prayer, a relaxed meal with a loved one or another 40 days of Lent, questions and emotions may arise within us that we may resist. But how else can we more profoundly connect with God, others, the poor and suffering and our deepest selves, unless we face the swirling depths within and truly let God speak to our hearts? 

      We all need a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving so that we can hear the gentle but persistent voice of Christ calling us to go deeper into divine love. Maybe the challenge of Lent is not to let the method obscure the goal, to not get distracted by the details of what we seek to do these 40 days, and instead seek who God truly desires us to be.  Know of my prayers and encouragement as we set out into the desert together.


       + Donald J. Hying

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