By Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M. Coadjutor Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton
It wasn’t the kind of retreat I thought I’d make before my Episcopal ordination!
I arrived in the Diocese of Trenton from Washington, D.C. in late morning on Friday, July 16. My belongings preceded me to my new residence at St. James Parish in Pennington by one day. By 2 p.m. that next day, I had already been admitted to St. Francis Hospital in Trenton where I would stay for the next seven days, the result of a bone infection in my left foot.
My heart sank as the days wore on. I was so eager to jump into my new environment and role with “both feet,” only to find myself barely limping with the one good foot I had. As Mother Teresa used to say, “If you want to make God laugh, show him YOUR plans!”
Being in the hospital teaches you humility. You quickly learn there that you have no control over much of your life. You never know when or if the doctor is coming, you cannot sleep with all the interruptions, you have very little privacy and you develop a hunger for anything and everything in sight. Although I chose as my Episcopal motto “to serve and not to be served,” the next week would find me not serving but, rather, “being served” in ways I had not imagined just a few days before.
Funny thing is, however, when you are left alone in a hospital room with nothing but your own weakened state as a companion, you begin to think about life, about your own mortality and about God’s loving but mysterious will. You begin to realize how dependent you really are on others, even for the most insignificant things. You begin to pray in deeper ways than you otherwise might. You begin to discover you are not the only person in the world with needs.
My hospital stay was truly an episcopal retreat, with sickness as my retreat master. I saw in the kindness and dedication of doctors and nurses, staff and visitors a very clear reminder of what service truly means, not simply a phrase written on a coat of arms but, rather, a commitment to be there for others in their times of need. I reflected on the fragility of human life and the awesome responsibility we all share to care for and support life in all its stages, especially at the most vulnerable times. I saw the face of Christ.
If you allow it, God’s voice speaks clearly in quiet moments, calling you to humbly recognize his presence through the healing touch and unselfish service of others.
Of course, I was happy to be discharged but, knowing what lay ahead of me, I left that hospital “retreat” feeling different than I had the week before. And the phrase “to serve and not to be served” took on a whole new meaning. I could hear the Lord say, as I looked forward to my ordination as a bishop for the Diocese of Trenton, “As I have done, so also you must do.”