I Can do All Things in Christ Who Strengthens Me

My Brother Knights,

I welcome you all to this year’s state convention. As we all continue to navigate the challenges that our world throws at us, the theme chosen for this year’s state convention comes from the passage of St. Paul to the Phillipians 4:13, “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.” I was inspired to choose this quote after reading the book He Leadeth Me by Fr. Walter Ciszek. If you haven’t had a chance to read this book I highly recommend it. In this book Fr. Walter describes his experience of being captured by the Russian army during World War II and how he spent 23 agonizing years in Soviet prisons and the labor camps of Siberia. When people asked him how he got through all of that unimaginable suffering, he said it was only through an utter reliance on God’s will that he managed to endure. To truly trust that even when things were not going as he would wish, that all things were under the hand of God’s providence. Or as Saint Paul says in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.”

Now, even though none of us are prisoners of war or in a labor camp, we all have our own difficulties and setbacks in life, and I think we can all gain some wisdom from Fr. Walter. In this brief talk, I would like to share two pieces of wisdom that stood out to me.

The first piece of wisdom is this: when we experience setbacks in life, that is when things are not going as we would wish, we may be affected by what is going on but God is not. Very often when things are not going the way we want them to, we can get so bogged down in what is going wrong and what we cannot do that we don’t focus on what we can do. This happened to Fr. Walter, a lot. Very often he was not able to offer Mass or function as a priest in the way which he would have liked, but he had to learn that there were other ways to do God’s will if he remained open to it. For instance I am told that a heart surgeon does not approach the heart directly, but often comes in from the side or back. Learning to do things in a different way requires great humility and dying to one’s self though, because it hurts when our plans don’t go the way we wanted them to. Fr. Walter mentions that very often, he said he desired to do God’s will, but in the way that he wanted it. It was moments where things were not going well or the way he planned where he was invited to ask himself: am I trusting more in God or in myself? As Knights of Columbus, maybe things are not quite going as we planned, or there is something else that is not exactly going right. Are we just trying to plow ahead with our own strength in the way we think things need to be done, or have we really brought these before the Lord? Maybe God has a way we can approach what we do in a different way, like the heart surgeon that comes in from the side. The same job gets done, but there is a different approach.

For Fr. Walter, one of the moments that really showed where he was trusting more in himself or in God was when he was being interrogated by the Russian authorities. They were trying to get him to deny his faith, and his country and eventually he caved in after days and months of abusive treatment and being in solitary confinement. He felt awful that this happened, but in this moment of failure, Fr. Walter heard God speak to him, “you have been trying to resist them with your own strength, turn to me.” As bad as Fr. Walter felt, once he realized he was just trying to resist the interrogators on his own and once he turned to the Lord, the interrogators lost their power over him, he was no longer afraid of dying. Once he stopped trying to do things on his own he found a freedom in being able to do all things in Christ who strengthened him. This was of course something that he had to continue to learn his whole life and was not a one time event

The second piece of wisdom is related to the above point, and it is this: in every single moment, of every single day we have an opportunity to do God’s will. Fr. Walter says this is both a scary and an amazing thing to ponder. Each day we have opportunities to do God’s will or do our own. That even in what could be considered the small, dull, ordinary moments of our life, when we seek to do them in love, it is not just us doing them, but God in us. It is not always easy or obvious to know what God’s will is, but this is why a life of prayer is important. When we take different moments of our day to turn to the Lord and remind ourselves that He is there leading and guiding us. To ask ourselves what is motivating us to do what we are doing? Or maybe more importantly to remind ourselves that he is with us, and has a plan for us.

In the prison and labor camps, Fr. Walter mentions that he had to let the Lord teach him about what it really meant to pray, or as he says, to have his prayer purified. Very often Fr. Walter would come to prayer asking for things to help his situation, like to be freed for ministry, for the conversion of the guards, to have more food, or to escape solitary confinement. When these prayers were not answered he again realized that he was seeking to do God’s will in the way that he wanted it. When he learned to surrender his frustration and desire to control the situations he was in, he was amazed how God’s power broke into each moment of his life. That he could truly do all things in Christ who strengthened him. One great way to know if we are seeking to do the Lord’s will is if we are at peace. If we are overcome with anxiety, fear, anger, and frustration, we may be seeking to do God’s will in the way that we want it done, and not necessarily how God wants to act. We may have holy desires like Fr. Walter, but maybe like him we need to let the Lord purify us of our self reliance.

To close, I would like to share an image with you about learning to trust in God’s will that a priest shared with me a while back. In our prayer often we may have many questions or things that we would like God to help us answer. It is important to express these questions or desires to God, and to be aware of what they are, but if we are not careful these questions or problems can block our prayer. We can junk up our prayer with these questions, and they can prevent us from hearing God’s response. One thing that can be helpful is to imagine laying all of these concerns on a table or shelf in front of us and then giving them over to God. Once we lay out all of our concerns or questions on this table, what remains or what do we still desire? Very often the concerns or questions we have are secondary to what God desires or wills for us. Once I lay out my concerns and questions I have and then ponder about what I really want and desire from God, that is often when I hear God respond, and often the concerns I have are not a concern anymore, because I know God is with me. Often the answers to some questions come once I am aware of God’s presence, or even if they don’t, I know God is with me. Like how God let Fr. Walter know he was not alone when he was being interrogated, truly we can do all things in Christ who strengthens us.

God Bless and Vivat Jesus,

Fr. John Kucera