The Road Ahead

Dear Friends,

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was a Trappist monk who resided for 27 years at the Abbey of Gethsemani in the state of Kentucky. His writings were, and still are, very popular, while his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, has sold over a million copies. Fr. Ron Lewinski frequently went to the Abbey of Gethsemani for his yearly retreat and I have gone there as well. One of Thomas Merton’s prayers has been a favorite of mine for a very long time and I have shared it at various opportunities throughout my priesthood. Since Fr. Ron’s passing, I have been drawn to this prayer once again:

THE ROAD AHEAD

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
     does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
     does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything
     apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this,
you will lead me by the right road
     though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always
     though I may seem to be lost
     and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
And you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

This is a prayer of dependence. I’ve said this before, but we as Americans tend to shy aware from an acknowledgement of dependence, perhaps because we see dependency as a weakness. After all, many of us were raised to believe that whatever we accomplish in life comes through our own hard work and effort. Recognizing our dependence, for some, lessens our own ability to “do it our way” and diminishes our achievements. This perspective, in the spiritual life, is not helpful. We are utterly dependent on God who guides us on our journeys of life. There is certainly no weakness in that and in fact, there is great strength in recognizing our dependency on God to guide us to our destinations in life.

This is a prayer of hope. We may not always be aware of where the road is leading us in life, but our desire to journey it with God at our side, whether we are truly conscious of where God is leading us, is in itself pleasing to God and demonstrates that we are on the right path.

This is a prayer of trust. I tend to be a person who appreciates certainty. I like to know what I am getting myself into. I stress when I don’t know something’s outcome and I want to control it. There are frequently moments of ambiguity in life. I can be very good at recognizing God’s hand in retrospect… sometimes not so good at observing it in the present. This prayer reminds me that trust in the Lord means allowing God to guide us through the uncertainties of life and fearing not those paths out of our control. This is not easy (at least for me) but again, our desire to allow God to guide, whether we are successful at it or not, is in itself pleasing to God. I find great comfort in that.

I invite you to allow the power of this prayer to wash over you and lead you to a greater appreciation of the Lord’s journey with you in your life’s path, wherever that may lead you. We are never alone with God on our side and God will never disappoint.

Enjoy the week and God bless you all.

Love,

Fr. Tim

Well Done, My Good and Faithful Servant

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Dear Friends,

We all suffer loss in life. It is part of the human condition. Yet when that loss hits close to home, it is especially difficult and painful. My Mom passed away in her home 8 ½ years ago. She had been sick for many years and the emphysema she had been diagnosed with took a slow and steady toll on her until she could no longer go on. Her death, while difficult to endure, was a blessing after watching her become more and more incapacitated by her disease.

Fr. Ron Lewinski, 71 years of age, was in seemingly good health, though he had experienced a few medical challenges as of late. Discovering that he had passed away in his room was something that no one could have expected. A sudden death like that prompts the question, “What could I (or anyone) have done differently to prevent this loss?” While I sincerely believe the answer to that question is “nothing,” it still nags at one’s soul.

It was a privilege and an honor to live with Fr. Ron these past three years. Fr. Ron is one of the “giants” of the presbyterate in Chicago and there aren’t many of those priests. He had his hand in so many things and his reach was global. In fact, the day after he passed away, I received a phone call from one of his friends in Australia who expressed his sorrow at the loss of Fr. Ron. Bishop George Rassas was able to contact a German bishop who was close friends with Fr. Ron. As of this writing, Bishop Franz was making arrangements to be present for his funeral.

I’m not going to spend this reflection describing all that Fr. Ron Lewinski accomplished in his life. For a good description of that, I invite you to go to the website of the Chicago Catholic, our Archdiocesan newspaper at: https://www.chicagocatholic.com/chicagoland/-/article/2017/07/20/-dedicated-and-devoted-priest-dies. Suffice it to say, Fr. Ron was an internationally known expert on the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) and liturgy. He was also one of the authors of the Parish Transformation process, which St. Theresa participated in a year and a half ago, as well as one of the Cardinal’s delegates leading the way on “Renew my Church,” which Cardinal Cupich has initiated to help bring parishes together in this Archdiocese.

When I discovered Fr. Ron was looking for a place to live after finishing his assignment as Pastor of St. Mary of the Annunciation in Mundelein and accepting the Cardinal’s invitation to work on Parish Transformation full time for the Archdiocese, I got on the phone immediately and let him know we have a lovely rectory with lots of room and a dynamic newly ordained priest by the name of Fr. Matt Jamesson assigned to St. Theresa. We met and discussed it and before I knew it, Fr. Ron was moving in! Yay!

Resident priests are described in that way because their primary ministerial responsibilities are outside of the parish in which they reside. Little is expected of them in the parish other than hopefully assisting with Masses and other sacramental functions. Of course, as we all know by now, Fr. Ron did MUCH MORE than that!

Fr. Ron was very generous in presiding at Masses for us on a regular basis and he especially loved celebrating the school Masses with the kiddies. He also was part of the regular rotation in celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation on Saturday afternoon and he concelebrated many Masses that were significant to the parish as well.

Being the liturgist that he was, Fr. Ron helped direct our parish in a liturgical renewal that really helped bring us up to date on practices here at St. Theresa. I cannot thank him enough for that. When we found out our previous music director was going to be leaving us, Fr. Ron helped me put together a search committee of people who interviewed potential candidates for the job. I think the success of that committee speaks for itself, as we hired the perfect music director for this parish in Laura Kutscher.

One of the dreams I had when I arrived as pastor, was to create a liturgy committee. In a parish our size, a liturgy committee is so helpful in planning for all the liturgical celebrations that are a part of parish life. Fr. Ron was instrumental in the formation of the committee and helped guide all of us through our infancy.

Being one of the authors of Parish Transformation and having gone through this process at my previous parish, Fr. Ron convinced me that the time was right to engage in Parish Transformation at St. Theresa. In addition, he participated in and shared his wisdom at a number of our gatherings and helped me chart the progress of the Parish Transformation process throughout. The plan that was created is the work of the wonderful team assembled, but it also bears the mark of Fr. Ron’s guidance. Our dedication to the fulfillment of this plan will be a wonderful tribute to Fr. Ron’s guidance as well as the team’s vision, as it will benefit our parish for years to come.

It’s ironic that on the day Fr. Ron passed away I was at a gathering of priests with the Cardinal at his residence at the seminary in Mundelein and we were talking about the living situations we were all in. Some of the guys were talking about living alone, but I shared how wonderful it is to have a community of priests to live with. I said this past year with Frs. Matt, Tom and Ron has been one of the happiest years of my priesthood because it is so great to be able to come home and have not just roommates but true friends to recount the day with, laugh and unwind. In fact, the Monday before Fr. Ron died, the four priests were able to share in a “spontaneous” BBQ chicken dinner that Fr. Matt and I prepared. We really treasured those moments, because they didn’t happen often enough and because of the unplanned nature of this dinner, it was even more special. It would sadly be our last meal together.

I’d like to conclude this reflection by offering what I will miss most about Fr. Ron, because I hope it will give you further insight into the wonderful priest and friend he was. I will miss:

  • His sense of humor. Fr. Ron had a tremendous smile, a hearty laugh and a great IMG_5163sense of humor. At one point he shared with Fr. Matt and I that someone had called him “Donald” rather than Ron. From that moment on, we called him Donald so much so that I had to check myself occasionally to remind myself he really wasn’t a Donald! He would even occasionally sign emails and notes with the “Donald” signature. It was a lot of fun. When he picked up something hot and burned his hands, he would start speaking a language that only he knew, but it sounded a little like Mandarin! Moments like those reminded us not to take our lives and ministry too seriously.
  • His dedication to ministry. Fr. Ron could have retired at 70, but it seemed he worked all the harder last year because he loved his priesthood and was excited to learn and grow, right up until the end. He did talks and missions all over the world, performed weddings and baptisms all over the country and drove down to the Pastoral Center in downtown Chicago several days a week. I would laugh that before our Easter Vigil Mass and Midnight Mass at Christmas I would see Fr. Ron watching those Masses on TV broadcast from the Vatican on EWTN because he wanted to see what he could learn from them.
  • His culinary skills. When I became pastor at St. Bede, parishioners gave me a large and a small crock pot that sat in a cabinet my whole time there. Once Fr. Ron moved here, he asked if I had a crock pot and I showed him where they were. He then would occasionally take great care to create a crock pot meal for the house that was always delicious!
  • His great wisdom. Because of Fr. Ron’s vast experience in a variety of ministerial settings, I would frequently come to his room (which was opposite mine at the rectory) at the end of the day and ask his advice on how to handle a particular situation. He never shied away from expressing his opinion and he helped me a great deal in that regard. I will greatly miss our talks.

It has been an absolute privilege to be a very small part of Fr. Ron’s life and I think I can presume to speak for Fr. Matt and Fr. Tom and say we all very much loved living with him. I hope every member of this parish also recognizes the enormity of Fr. Ron’s contributions to our St. Theresa family.IMG_5167

I still find myself glancing into Fr. Ron’s room as I ascend the stairs to my quarters to see if he will be sitting in his comfy chair by the door watching TV or sitting at his desk doing work. To say he will be missed by Frs. Matt, Tom or myself goes without question, but as we mourn his loss we celebrate his new life with the risen Lord in heaven. I’m sure Fr. Ron is up there right now talking shop with Cardinal Bernardin and Cardinal George and all the other greats of the Archdiocese that have gone before him, while setting aside time to be with his family in heaven and spending a little bit of time watching over us all here on earth.

A Memorial Mass for the repose of the soul of Rev. Ronald J. Lewinski will be celebrated at St. Theresa on Thursday, September 14th at 7:00 p.m. in our Church.

His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.’ (Mt 25: 23a)

Welcome to the Blog!

Welcome to the new and improved parish website! Same web address but greatly improved design, speed, and access. And it’s mobile friendly, too!

This new Blog feature will be a place to share weekly bulletin articles as well as occasional words of inspiration and reflection.

Enjoy!


Dear Friends,

RETREAT.

The Catholic Encyclopedia online says the following about the word “retreat”:

If we call a retreat a series of days passed in solitude and consecrated to practices of asceticism, in particular to prayer and penance, it is as old as Christianity. Without referring to the customs of the Prophets of the Old Testament, the forty days which Jesus Christ passed in the desert after His baptism is an example which has found many imitators in all ages of the Church… The religious who sought the solitude of the deserts or the monasteries, or in general those wishing to lead a contemplative life withdrew from the world, in order the more readily to draw nearer to God and apply themselves to exercises of Christian perfection… According to St. Francis de Sales (Treatise on the Love of God, XII, chap. vii), the practice of the retreat was specially restored by St. Ignatius Loyola. We may say indeed that in his “Spiritual Exercises” St. Ignatius has combined the methods of reforming one’s life and seeking the will of God in solitude. The Society of Jesus was the first active religious order in which the practice of the retreat became obligatory by rule.

Each year, all priests are expected to engage for at least a week on retreat. These retreats can take many forms. In 1999, I participated in a thirty day silent retreat based on the spiritual exercise of St. Ignatius (referenced in the definition above). In 2011, I was blessed to go on sabbatical and entered into the Sonoran Desert for a 12 week retreat program at the Redemptorist Retreat House in Tucson, Arizona. Typical retreats though average about a week and can be either directed retreats with a spiritual director to guide you, or self-directed. For the last several years I have opted for a self-directed retreat in SW Florida. I rent a condo there and spend the week in solitude.

I just returned from my yearly retreat there and had a wonderful experience. My goals when I go on retreat include rest, prayer, spiritual reading and encounters with God.

By the time I get to summer, the hectic pace of ministry has left me somewhat weary and in need of a break. This is no different from any of you and I know I am blessed in that most people, particularly parents, are not given the opportunity to retreat; but I am grateful for the chance to just relax for a week and try to catch up on some sleep.

My prayer on retreat is not all that different than what I experience during the year… I just am allowed the opportunity to do more of it. I pray the scriptures each day, recite the rosary while remembering all the intentions you have asked me to pray for and spend time listening to the Lord’s call in my life.

Four years ago, when I discovered I was to be the new pastor at St. Theresa, I decided to read St. Theresa’s autobiography, “The Story of a Soul,” to help prepare me for my new ministry. After visiting the Shrine to St. Theresa in Darien this past May, I decided to re-read “The Story of a Soul.” I began that process on retreat. As I was encountering those words straight from St. Theresa again, I was amazed at the depth of her faith and her trust in God’s providence in her life. While I was not able to finish the book on retreat, I was very grateful for the depth of prayer it led me to. I look forward to reading the rest of her autobiography this summer.

One of my most powerful encounters with the Lord occurs through nature. In SW Florida, I am a frequent visitor to the Audubon-owned Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, about a half hour east of Naples, which is home to the largest old growth Bald Cypress forest left in North America. One can traverse the swamp on a 2.5 mile boardwalk that takes you through the heart of the park. Visiting the sanctuary is like being transported to another world. I especially like going when the sanctuary opens at 7:00 am, because I am usually the first visitor. At that time, I feel the solitude and the unity with nature… no sounds from planes, trains or automobiles – in fact, the only sounds one hears find their origins in God’s non-human creation. Its stillness and beauty stirs my soul and draws me into God’s presence in the natural world. I’ve probably been to the swamp 30 times over the years, and each time is like the first for me. If you’re ever down in the Naples, Florida area, I encourage you to give the swamp a visit, arrive early and bring the bug spray!

Many years ago, a grizzled veteran of a priest told me that one of my most important tasks as a priest is to pray for my parishioners and their intentions. While I try to do that every day, going on retreat gives me the opportunity to do that in a more focused way. I’m very grateful for that opportunity and want you to know that when you ask me to pray for anything, I take that very seriously and truly believe in the power of prayer. Let’s continue to pray for each other and if you have a need that you would like lifted up in prayer, just let me or one of the other priests (or all of us!) know and we will offer it up.

Enjoy the week and God bless you all.

Love,

Fr. Tim