What does a Jesuit priest have to do with deer hunting? Plenty, I think.
I recently started reading a book by Father Walter Ciszek called, “He Leadeth Me.” Starting at the end of World War II, he spent 23 years in Russian prisons and hard labor camps. It all started with a burning desire to do missionary work in Russia. But, the experience was far from the glory he had envisioned when he boarded a train and crossed the border into Russia.
I am at the part when he first realizes the horrible conditions that exist in the camps, and the extreme fear of persecution that leads the people there to not even want to mention God. Not encountering any openness, and not wanting to put anyone at risk — including himself — he starts off his time in the camps by going out into the woods after dark with another priest to celebrate Mass. The only person to hear each of their homilies was the other.
He writes about how disillusioned he was, and how he questioned his decision to go in the first place. He goes on to say that kind of questioning is what we all do — and that it’s a big mistake. God actually ordains such circumstances, and the best thing we can do is work to find God in them rather than wishing they were different.
I pondered this as I reflected back on a few recent unsuccessful deer hunts. Three times in the last couple of weeks, I had deer in range of my crossbow, and ended up spooking the deer all three times. Then, I had two chances with my shotgun during the gun season and missed both. In fact, I found no evidence that I even hit either deer.
I have felt bummed and humbled by my failures, and wish I could have done things differently to achieve success. But, that would change the learning process that deer hunting is. After reading the most recent few pages in the book, I realize that I shouldn’t be cursing my failures, but embracing them, enjoying them and learning from them.
For one thing, all of the failures make the successes all the sweeter. For another, they give me an important chance to grow in humility. If we’re honest with ourselves, we would admit that this kind of lesson is not something we really want to learn. In other words, we want to be humble without being humbled.
It doesn’t work that way. That is why it is important for me to say, after yet another failure: “I blew it.” Or, as my dad likes to say, it’s another case of what he calls “pilot error.”
The good news is, there are always more opportunities ahead. A friend of mine, who is an elite bow hunter and made a critical mistake just the other day that cost him a big buck, likes to say that bow hunting is mostly about avoiding mistakes.
Bottom line: I’ve got plenty of mistakes I need to avoid. And, more pages in the book I need to read.