“Nothing will be impossible for God”

Dear Friends,

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. [Jesus] said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20: 19-21)

Peace.

On October 1, 2017, a lone gunman on the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada murdered 58 people and injured close to 500 people in a volley of gunfire. Tragically, it is another reminder of the violence which seems to have pervaded the very fabric of our daily lives, leaving all of us more afraid and definitely feeling more vulnerable than the day before. Where can we escape the fear of violence invading our lives, we ask ourselves, and then our lives change in response as we feebly try to protect ourselves and our loved ones from future mayhem that may come our way.

On Friday evening, October 6th, more than a hundred people gathered in our church to pray for peace and an end to violence. The service was created in a sense of immediacy as people (myself included) struggled to grapple with the enormity of the tragedy in Las Vegas and the desire to do something… anything… when confronted with such evil. So we prayed for peace and an end to violence.

Peace.

Dictionaries tell us that peace can be defined as: “a freedom from disturbance… a quiet and tranquility, as well as a freedom from or cessation of war and violence.” (from Google’s definition). But we also know that peace from a spiritual perspective is more than that – it is being in a right relationship with God and one another. It is a “wholeness” in those relationships.

Our desire to be whole leads us to pray for peace because we know that “…nothing will be impossible for God.” (Luke 1:37).

It is important to remember, however, that peace must begin with us. Fr. Matt Jamesson reminds us that “The call for universal peace from God is preconditioned by an acknowledgement of the lack of peace and love in oneself. Psalm 51 is the calling for reparation (penance) or from the Latin “reparere” which is “to repair.” What should be repaired first is one’s own heart – by the acknowledgement of one’s own wrong-doings, one’s contribution to the atmosphere of death through selfishness. After this, the prayer for peace becomes a more powerful act of intercession.”

Once we are able to repair our own hearts, then we can begin the arduous work of being agents of peace in the world. This may seem a Herculean task but it really does happen one person at a time, just as violence and evil begins one person at a time. We all know that God is more powerful than Satan and that good conquers evil. As people of faith we know the power of love and that is precisely how peace will win the day – LOVE. The love of Christ modeled for us in his sacrifice and death on the cross… the love that is given to us at conception when God infuses in us the gift of faith… the love which offers us hope in the midst of seemingly insurmountable odds. It is love which conquers violence and evil, and it begins with us.

I am an optimistic person. In spite of the force of evil alive in the world today, I still hold out hope and have faith that fallen humanity will redeem itself through Jesus Christ and the power of love. While I occasionally find myself discouraged by the lack of civility toward each other and the seeming futility in addressing evil in the world, I see signs of hope… from the many testimonials of love and sacrifice from victims of the violence in Las Vegas to quieter stories of people coming together in peace and love in our daily lives.

Let’s pray for an end to violence in the world, in our nation, on the streets of Chicago and in the communities in which we live. Let’s also pray for our fallen brothers and sisters who have been victimized by violence that they rest in peace. Finally, let us offer our prayers to a loving God that we might have the courage to be agents of Christ’s love in the world. Let our resolve to be agents of peace and love be assured by our faith that
“…nothing will be impossible for God.”

May God bless you always.

Love,
Fr. Tim

The Beautiful, The Ugly, and The Boring

AESTHETICS IS NOT an historically accidental phenomenon in the Church. Aesthetics, the principle of beauty, is a necessary element to a healthy Christian experience. Without the beautiful, the Christian faith would simply become untenable, unapproachable, undivine. Classically, three absolute principles called transcendentals, which are attributed to God, run as an undercurrent in the great schema of the Christian faith. They are: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

Christian Philosopher Peter Kreeft qualifies a true thing as being connected in the following manner: “Truth is good and beautiful; goodness is true and beautiful; beauty is true and good.” Inasmuch as the Church proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ through her sacred texts (Scriptures) and her Apostolic Tradition, she is proclaiming a triad of interdependent realities, wherein if one were missing, the other two would cease to hold weight. It can then be similarly said that a thing is not true if it isn’t also good or beautiful; a thing isn’t good if it isn’t truthful and beautiful; a thing isn’t beautiful if it isn’t truthful and good. When the Good Shepherd says that his sheep hear his voice and they follow him, I suppose he meant it esoterically – that is, his voice is recognizable only by those who have spent time getting to know it. Recognition only comes through relationship, and it produces a type of reaction like that burning heart, which the two disciples felt after their encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

“From the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator…for the author of beauty created them” (Wis. 13:3,5).

In short, beauty is not an arbitrary brush stroke in the sacred history of our Catholic faith, and it is this very theme that I wish to write about in my first monthly column, which Fr. Tim has so graciously asked me to participate in. (Thanks for the confidence, Fr. Tim!)

The beauty of family, friendship, and belief is the first thing on my mind these days – perhaps because these very things seem to be the most fragile of systems in our current affair with the post-modern world, and I am utterly convinced that half of our political, emotional, familial, and religious issues all directly point towards a slow, albeit unintended, fading away of what is authentically beautiful. Note here, I am not speaking about the vain cosmetic repertoire of runways, or models, or movie stars. Our over-sexualized, over-stimulated, culture of utility knows very little about true beauty. Its standards seem professional, but there is often never anything honest about it in advertisement, and goodness is hardly its strongest quality. Cosmetic beauty is not what the Church means by beauty. Cosmetic beauty is an opium for a truer beauty beneath the human surface – a beauty far more dangerous and capable of expressing goodness and truth in every human person. And my mind is boggled as to why this is such a threat to our modern culture.

My favorite Irish poet, John O’Donohue once wrote:

“It has become the habit of our times to mistake glamour for beauty. Beauty is not glamour. Most of what the media, the fashion world, Hollywood, the art world has to offer is glamour. Glamour, like the art world itself, is a highly fickle and commercially driven enterprise that contributes to…the ‘humdrum.’ It appears and disappears, no one ever catches up to glamour…Glamour has but a single flicker. In contrast, the Beautiful offers us an invitation to order, coherence and unity. When these needs are met, the soul feels at home in the world.” Hence, when one is not glamorous, he/she is considered ugly. For example, when I walk around in my black clericals, when I shop in the mall with a collar on, I would, by the standard of glamour, be considered ‘ugly.’ Time and again, I am certain we all have felt the shame of doing the sign of the cross before a meal in a public restaurant. It simply is ugly to be a Christian today.

But a great and influential thinker of the 20th c. named Dietrich von Hildebrand once said that the opposite of what is beautiful is not what is ugly. The opposite of what is beautiful, he said, is what is boring. In his book, he claimed that whatever attractive thing lacks truth and goodness, whether in prose, or argument, or art or morals, is also equally boring. And I would agree with him. In a society where the truly beautiful is missing, we are filled with a people who are extremely bored. Is it any real wonder that we have a constant need for entertainment? Silence has no place in a world of boredom, that is, in a world where beauty is not permitted to be itself.

I am thinking, of course, about those stories we constantly hear about the girl who thinks her freckles are ugly, and so she covers them with a type of make-up that fits the standard of another person’s facial quality – or even vice versa. I am thinking also about the family, which wishes to be the perfect image of a family, and so neglects their true problems in exchange for an artificial image of perfection, all for the sake of fitting a standard that wants us to lie about ourselves. I’m thinking about the new mantra in society, the new call to express one’s own unique identity through bodily mutilation, surgery, and the enactment of laws that force the compliance of rational beings to become irrational, all the while creating a whole group of “unique” individuals who are now starting to look…well…the same.

And all of this is getting so boring.

The grand adventure, which is God, is the least bit boring, but it looks as though the general attitude towards religion is the reverse.  Religious affiliation in America and especially in Europe is steadily declining. The current young adult population, the Millenials, is less inclined to associate with any religious system. Check-box: none.  The pews are less and less filled, and consequently, vocations to religious life and the priesthood also seem to be declining. But here’s the thing: they’re not, at least not in a manner that is important. Recent polls (within the last 3 years) have suggested that out of the 3000 plus young men currently enrolled in major theological seminaries in the U.S. studying to be priests have a strange statistic of its own: From 2000-2014, a rise in younger priestly vocations has risen 75%, the largest age group trending between the ages of 25 – 29 (see Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate – CARA). I entered the seminary when I was 25. I took this poll 8 years ago. I’m in that percentage. In 2016, the number of ordinations for diocesan and religious order seminarians was at its highest since 1990 (~548 men).

What these fancy stats tell us is that despite the overall mistrust in organized religion; despite the clergy child-abuse scandals of the earlier part of this millennium; despite the decline in societal moral norms, the higher rates in divorce, or the overall declining number of priests in America; despite the overarching threat of secularism and an appeal for the new atheism, God is still faithful to his promise: “I will send you shepherds after my own heart” (Jer. 3:15).

Here is the beauty that I observe as a young, 33-year old priest: parishioners who are challenged to be more faithful than ever, and they are. I am blessed to witness a people who yearn to hear God’s voice and many who really do, because of the learned longing in their hearts for something more – something substantial – something that cuts to the heart. I am privileged to witness young men in the seminary and young women entering religious vocations today who have been filtered from the world as those who have a longing for truth, goodness, and beauty – who still hunger perhaps even for such strange things as poverty, chastity, and obedience. I am honored to have and continue to live with priests, who have deeply impacted my spirituality in ways I can only spend an eternity to fully realize and be thankful for.  I am deeply humbled to be trusted by a pastor whom I look up to and a parish who so willingly enables me to celebrate Mass, to preach, to hear confessions, to counsel, and to fundraise for a new statue of Mary – all for the sake of expressing what remnant of truth, goodness, and beauty God has made me custodian over for the sake of the people he brought into my life through St. Theresa. And with the recent loss of Fr. Ron, I am ever more aware of the appeal for love of neighbor, and even more so for love of friend, for love of family, for love even of enemy – that is, wanting what is good for them, not what is good for me.

Still, I wax and wane at this stringent thing called beauty, which has the power to bring an entire civilization to something great. With the lack of clarity in recent years over personal identity and dignity, or say even the lackluster behavior of world leaders and the diminishing quality of fatherhood and motherhood, I cannot help but think that beauty is somewhat replaced by what is artificial. So I am beginning these columns with an appeal to an open mind – to let go of some ideas that are convenient or even careful, and to explore with me the true beauty that the Church wishes to unleash. After all, by “beauty,” I do actually mean Jesus Christ.

-Fr. Matt Jamesson

The Answer is Christ

Dear Friends,

A few weeks ago I was on a weeklong vacation that required me to turn off my cell phone and computer and just relax. While the time away was wonderful, I missed out on the events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia in which a protest between white supremacists and counter demonstrators became violent when one of the white supremacists drove his car through some of the demonstrators, killing Heather Heyer and injuring at least 19 others. Heather was 32 years of age. The demonstration was organized by white supremacists to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville.

Racism is a word that makes most people very uncomfortable. Webster defines the word racism as follows: “A belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”

We’d like to think that we have come a long way in the 241 years since our nation declared its independence and in many ways we have. Yet time and again we are reminded that we still have so far to go to be the kind of country we all would like to be.

Like many realities in our democratic society, racism has become, among other things, a political topic; yet we as Christians and Catholics need to view racism through the prism of sin – a sin that strikes at the hearts of all who express racist beliefs. White Supremacism, Anti-Semitism, Neo-Nazism and Fascism are all inherently evil and racist. We as followers of Jesus Christ must be courageous in calling out this sin whenever we observe it – whether it be at work, at home, in the communities in which we live, or sadly, even our church.

The U.S. Bishops recently invited pastors to address the sin of racism with their parishioners and reminded us that almost 40 years ago a Pastoral Letter on Racism was authored by the US Bishops. One reflection stands out: “Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father.”

 In response to the violence in Charlottesville, the US Bishops further have said the following: The fundamental problem is this: too often we are apt to group people as either “us” or “them.” And when we see another as “one of them,” we tend to act out of fear – a fear of the unfamiliar and a fear that they will somehow harm us. This is the root from which racism too easily springs.

What answer is there to the sin of racism? Again, the US Bishops help us out by saying the following:

  • The answer is Christ, who proclaimed the oneness of the human family.
  • The answer is Christ, whose Church is a “house of prayer for all peoples” (Is. 56:7).
  • The answer is Christ, who came to heal the divisions of sin and death.
  • The answer is Christ, who commands us to do what is right and just (Is. 56:1).
  • The answer is Christ, who prayed to his heavenly Father, “so that all may be one…” (John 17:21).
  • The answer is Christ’s Kingdom where there are no divisions; where there is no separating us from them, and where there is no fear of harm from “them.”

In order to heal the sin of racism, like any other sin, conversion must take place. There is a corporate element to the sin of racism, however, that makes it more challenging. As a nation, we must confront racism whenever we see it. As a church, we must welcome those who are different than we are and be inclusive of all as children of God. Individually, we must humbly place ourselves in the loving hands of God and ask the Lord to convert our hearts if need be to heal the wound of racism.

As always, I have hope. Without it I would be destined for despair. I know it is within our power to heal the wounds of racism, but like most things, it must start closest to home and work from there. I’m realistic enough to know that a one page bulletin article will not heal all wounds, or even come close to addressing the complexities of the sin of racism, but I hope it inspires each of us to prayer – asking God to help us be messengers of his love, forgiveness and recognition that we are all made in his image and likeness. When I was a youngster, I remember a billboard that was created depicting two young boys holding hands – one African-American, the other white – along with the words, “No one is born racist.” How true! Let’s pray that there will come a day when no one feels the need to espouse racism to the young people of this world.

May God bless you always.

Love,

Fr. Tim

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