Life Lessons

Last week I was all set to go for my annual spiritual retreat in Southern Indiana at a Benedictine monastery. At the last minute I had to cancel my plans because one of my priest-mentors suddenly passed away last Wednesday. Fr Ronald Lewinski was one of the important leaders in the archdiocese. He was 71.


In the summer of 1997 I was invited to teach a summer course at Marquette University and I was looking for a parish in the northern suburbs from which to commute to Milwaukee. Through the help of a deacon friend, I was able to spend my summer with Fr Ron and do priestly ministry at St Mary’s in Fremont Center, Mundelein. At the end of my two-month stay with him, Fr Ron casually asked me whether I would consider serving in the Archdiocese of Chicago. I had been toying with the idea earlier but had no clue as to how that could happen. Fr Ron’s question was the sound of God opening a door.

It was Fr Ron who encouraged me to come to Chicago. He set up my meeting with Bishop Kicanas who eventually helped me meet Cardinal George. One thing led to another and I finally came to Chicago in 2000. Two years later I was incardinated into the archdiocese. Throughout those years as well as later Fr Ron mentored me and encouraged me. Whenever I needed some counsel regarding a challenge in my priestly ministry, I turned to him. That is why his passing has affected me quite deeply.

The impact of his death is even greater because he passed away so suddenly. He was not sick or in a hospital undergoing treatment for some terminal illness. He had just returned from a trip to Italy and Poland. They found him in his chair in the rectory at St Theresa in Palatine. I have been thinking about life and death just as I did when at the age of twenty I witnessed the sudden passing of Fr Joe Murphy on the cricket field. This experience has taught me several lessons which I would like to share with you in this column.

First of all, life is short. None of us knows how much time we have. Sometimes we live as if we have all the time in the world. The hourglass reminds us that our time is always running out. Every night when I go to bed I am filled with the powerful realization that I have one less day to live. If our time on earth is limited then we have to examine how we spend our precious time. Are we spending too many hours in trivial pursuits while we fail to contemplate the more serious questions of life? Do we invest a lot more time in taking care of our bodies while we neglect our spirits? Do we fritter away our days playing videogames on our phones or binge-watching some non-consequential TV series? Do we postpone the life changes we must make thinking that we have more time? Are we immersed in social media while we neglect our loved ones sitting by our side? Are our significant relationships languishing while we get sidetracked by mindless distractions? We need to examine our priorities.

Second, life is precious. When we lose someone dear, we often have regrets. We say that if only we had known the end was coming, we would have expressed our love. In the gospels the evangelists narrate the story of Mary Magdalene anointing Jesus’ feet. In response to Judas’s protests that the costly ointment should have been sold and the money given to the poor, Jesus praises Magdalene’s act of love. In fact, Jesus says that she should be applauded wherever the gospel is preached. In my opinion Jesus was asserting that we should express love and appreciation while someone is alive rather than wait till they are dead. The Jewish custom was to anoint the body when the person was dead. When someone dies everyone offers generous words of praise and appreciation. When the person is still alive, we are reluctant to give them positive feedback. How often do we show genuine appreciation to those we love? How eager are we to reconcile with someone who has hurt us? How willing are we to let go of resentments because forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves and not to the perpetrator?

Finally, this life is passing. After hearing of the news of the sudden death of Fr Ron, I felt a certain sense of futility. If we are all going to die, I asked myself, why do we get easily unhinged by the inevitable ups and downs of life? We are not meant merely for this world. God has destined us for something greater. In good times and in bad, in happy days and sad, we remain serene because we know that all things will pass. We are not too elated in times of success. We are not bloated by our achievements. At the same time we are not crushed by our failures and even by our sins. We are always hopeful.

May the God of life and death, the Lord of heaven and earth, grant us the wisdom to live our lives authentically!

Mission Statement: As children of God, living in a Catholic community of faith, we are united by the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Aware that all we have is gift and grace from our Heavenly Father, we strive to give of our time, talent and treasure to build His kingdom on earth. We live this mission, challenged by the Word, nurtured by the Sacraments, and enlivened by the Spirit, to serve our brothers and sisters in peace, justice and dignity. All are welcome on this journey.

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St. Paul of the Cross

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