The nights are a bit cooler and longer these days. Kids are going back to school and the usual seasonal sales for that migration are being advertised with hopeful enthusiasm. One and all, we wonder where yet another summer has gone. How is it possible that we are once again tottering on the brink of Labor Day and slipping into another autumn?
One of the blessings of living on our part of the planet is the gift of four seasons. Each never quite fits our mental expectations, but they do return year after year with astonishing regularity — every one, gift wrapped in its own colors and hues. Wisconsin is a great place to live.
The storms may seem more severe these years, however, and the damage often significant. The threat of climate change seems a proven reality, but Wisconsin is still a wonderful place to live, and a great location for being part of a family and serving in a flourishing Church.
If the fields that spread out across the state are expected to produce abundant crops each year, it doesn’t take much imagination to realize that each of us human beings is also presumed to produce our own harvest of blessings for the world to which we are sent and in which we happen to live. The beginning of harvest time might also be the beginning of our annual spiritual assessment of our response to God’s gifts of grace. We again encounter God’s invitation to serve the larger world.
The bishop members of what we call USCCB Region VII (Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin) will be meeting again this week for our annual retreat in Mundelein, Illinois. Each year, approximately 25 or 30 of the brothers gather — at a helpful distance from desks or offices back home — to take a personal look at our various ministries and pastoral responsibilities. Some goodhearted camaraderie helps create a relaxed atmosphere for personal spiritual insight and mutual support. We recognize that we are all “in it together” for the long haul of caring for our fellow believers in our respective dioceses as best we can at this moment in history. One of the books in my suitcase will be a recent assessment of the years of Pope Pius XII and their impact on the war-torn world of that time (1939-58).
For me, it’s been almost 43 years since my ordination as an auxiliary bishop in December 1979. On occasion, I still scrutinize the photos from that event in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. My hair is certainly grayer and thinner. I’ve lost a few pounds but gained an abundance of pastoral experience. Over those years, I may have confirmed as many as 50,000 or 60,000 young men and women in the parishes of our 10 counties. There have been a few heartaches, and some situations I wish I had treated differently, but many more that unfolded so well that surely it was the Holy Spirit in charge and at work.
These days are not a retreat from our world so much as a much closer inspection of its very real contours and challenges. It’s a time to which I look forward and a week which inevitably will offer a few unexpected challenges and moments of grace — even an opportunity, good weather permitting, for a daily bike ride around the small lake there and a visit to the grave of Cardinal Albert Meyer, who sent me off to studies so many years ago (1954). You, each and all, will be wandering through my prayers as well, sometimes even by name. Thank you, even in retirement, for the privilege of being one of your priests here in the southeastern corner of our Wisconsin.