“There are a few days in the lunar cycle when it’s impossible to see the moon with the naked eye. We know that it’s there, but we can’t see it. It is the same with God.”
Beautiful, candid words of hope and consolation from Lincoln’s Bishop James Conley in the Southern Nebraska Register:
When I was away on medical leave last year in Phoenix, dealing with the challenges of anxiety and depression, I began to think more and more about St. Joseph. Through the generosity of Bishop Thomas Olmsted, bishop of Phoenix, I resided at a retreat house called Mount Claret. The retreat house had four residences for retired priests, and I was invited to stay in one. Just outside my window was a beautiful statue of St. Joseph in front of the residence next door. Every time I would walk out my door, I would pass by this statue of St. Joseph. I would always stop for moment and just look at the statue.
It was just about mid-March of last year that everything shut down because of the pandemic. Feelings of isolation and loneliness that I was already experiencing only got worse. It seemed like God was absent in my life. This was probably the darkest period of my life.
For the first time in my life as a Catholic, I was even finding it hard to pray. My three anchors were the Holy Mass, the Rosary, and the breviary – and I was holding on to those for dear life. Those three anchors were about all I could do by way of prayer. I was holding on to those three anchors with all the spiritual strength I had. Where was God in all of this?
There was an image that helped me when I was going through some of my most difficult days. In the course of a month, the moon waxes and wanes. There are a few days in the lunar cycle when it’s impossible to see the moon with the naked eye. We know that it’s there, but we can’t see it. It is the same with God.
There were many days when I could not see, hear, feel or sense the presence of God. But somehow and some way, I knew that he was there, and that he had not completely abandoned me. Whenever we think that God has disappeared or abandoned us, think of the moon. It’s always there.
On my birthday, March 19 last year, I went to see my spiritual director, Father Eugene Mary, a young Phoenix priest who was released by Bishop Olmsted to be a diocesan hermit. He lives in a hermitage by himself in Black Canyon, a high desert mountain region about 45 minutes due north of Phoenix.
During that session we talked about St. Joseph, and Father Eugene Mary showed me a new book, “Consecration to St. Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father.” He encouraged me to make the 33-day consecration to St. Joseph. If I started the following week, I could make the consecration to St. Joseph on May 1, the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. I was also going to be on retreat at the end of April, so it was good timing.
There were four of us on the retreat—a transitional deacon, a Franciscan priest and a priest of the Society of the Holy Trinity and unbeknownst to all of us, we had all been individually preparing to make the consecration to St. Joseph on May 1. Needless to say, preparing for and making the consecration to St. Joseph, opened up a whole new appreciation for St. Joseph.
St. Joseph truly is our spiritual father. His strong masculine virtues as protector and guide, model for us men as to what it means to be man of God. His deep faith and trust in divine providence, particularly when the path ahead seems difficult, unclear and arduous, provided hope for me. I reflected many times on his journey to Egypt with Mary and the baby Jesus, and how much faith, trust and dependence upon God’s providence that must have taken. The virtue of perseverance was also a hallmark of St. Joseph, which was manifested during the arduous trip to Bethlehem and the strenuous flight to Egypt.
Although it would take many more months of healing before I would feel strong enough to return to Lincoln and my episcopal duties, St. Joseph played no small part in helping me regain my strength and my hope.
St. Joseph, pray for us!