The following is something written by a Jesuit whom I esteem, in memoriam for another Jesuit who recently entered eternal life. It offers much to ponder.
|Fr. Dick Tomasek, SJ|
A Jesuit of the Fourth Vow: A Graveside Reflection on the Life of Fr. Richard A. Tomasek, S.J.
(June 18, 1943 – August 6, 2011)
by Fr. William F. Prospero, S.J.
While I was not able to say everything I wanted to say in a short reflection at the burial site of our dear brother Fr. Richard Tomasek, I would like now to expand on those thoughts in this reflection. I hope the results will inspire a greater appreciation for what God has done for us in Fr. Tomasek.
People usually think of Blessed John Paul II or Blessed Mother Theresa when speaking of contemporary saints. It would be a mistake to limit our understanding of saints to these very public saints. Why can’t Fr. Tomasek be declared a saint by the Catholic Church? On one level it certainly does not matter whether he is declared a saint or not. Those of us who knew him know the truth that he was a model Christian and Jesuit priest, and in my opinion, well worthy of the title “saint.”
Saints are people of forgiveness and mercy. Pope Benedict once said that holiness is not about never sinning or making a mistake: holiness is about our capacity for reconciliation, our capacity for forgiveness. Fr. Tomasek had a great capacity for forgiveness. I never knew him to hold a grudge against anyone. Yes, he had many reasons to hold grudges, like all of us, but I never heard him express a grudge against anyone. He was a man of mercy, forgiveness, and freedom. His capacity for forgiveness was as natural as being human. This is the essential mark of a saint and it was an essential mark of Fr. Tomasek.
Spiritual Father and Brother
Fr. Tomasek became for me a spiritual father and brother. While he had more years in the Society than I, he made me feel like we were equals. We spoke on the level of the heart quite naturally and freely. He had an easy way of making conversations meaningful and heart-worthy. I just presumed he was like that and never really thought twice about how he became that way. Now reflecting back, I realize this is something remarkable, a mark of holiness.
For many younger Jesuits and seminarians, Fr. Tomasek was a model priest who witnessed to the authentic priesthood of Jesus Christ. He was always available as a good Jesuit should be (Jesuits have a charism of “availability” to the greatest need in the Church). His availability was not a “rule” that he somehow tried to observe or obey; rather, his availability was who he was. He was an open and receptive man with many places in his heart for us to visit. In this way he exercised a Jesuit form of hospitality, a true “hospitality of the heart.”
Many in seminaries today find the politics of the Church challenging. Fr. Tomasek was a rock of authentic priesthood calling his seminarians to focus on the spiritual life rather than on climbing the “ecclesiastical ladder.” Always a man of the Spirit, Fr. Tomasek kept his attention on the things of heaven and not on the things of earth. The ease with which he was able to live in this way is something I loved about him.
A Fourth Vow Man
Fr. Tomasek had a special love for the Jesuit Fourth Vow of obedience to the Pope. Some Jesuits understand this Vow to mean an obedience in regards to special missions the Pope gives to Jesuits; others have a more expansive understanding of this Vow that also includes a special appreciation for the Pope’s articulation of Catholic teachings. Fr. Tomasek embodied this more expansive understanding of the Fourth Vow, seeing this special appreciation as essentially linked to his Jesuit vocation. Fr. Tomasek loved this dimension of being a Jesuit and would seek out younger Jesuits who manifested similar understandings. He befriended us and helped us to be faithful to the challenging teachings of the Church in the face of often difficult environments.
Fr. Tomasek’s fidelity to the Church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality, specifically abortion and contraception issues, earned him mistreatment by some. One particularly challenging moment was precipitated by some nasty letters complaining about a certain homily Fr. Tomasek preached on the sacredness of marital love at the Des Moines Cathedral many years ago. In this homily he articulated, albeit in summary fashion, the Church’s teaching about life (abortion) and its correlative teaching about artificial birth control. Everyone who knew Fr. Tomasek knew that he did not have a mean-spirited streak in him at all. He would never preach something that did not lead people closer to God. Yet, people can be offended by the truth. (I am aware that he preached another similar homily [I vaguely recall him telling me that he tried to preach on the truth of human life and sexuality at least once a year] in Columbus, OH. He received a standing ovation for that homily.) However, any such homily will offend at least a few persons and those few may write the Bishop and Provincial. Do people EVER write the Bishop or Provincial when a really good homily is preached? Fr. Tomasek did not preach, however, for the nice letters or the nasty ones; he preached the fullness of the truth because he loved and believed the truth, and he was missioned to do so by the Church through the sacrament of Holy Orders. He carried out this mission joyfully, intelligently, confidently, and courageously. We loved him for it.
Fr. Tomasek was thought of by some to be a rigid conservative who was out of touch with the people. NOTHING could be farther from the truth. Fr. Tomasek joyfully lived in the freedom of the children of God, deeply in touch with the needs and aspirations of every soul entrusted to his care. Conversely, in the seminaries he was commonly viewed as the “liberal Jesuit,” probably because he had such a free spirit that some may have mistook as “nonconformist.” All Fr. Tomasek wanted was to be conformed to the Heart of Jesus. He wanted nothing else. Men of institutions and systems were likely challenged by Fr. Tomasek’s blatant disregard for politics and favorites, manipulations and positions. Fr. Tomasek loved the Heart of Jesus and became the very image of Him, all the while becoming more and more himself, disregarding the spirit of careerism found in some sectors in the Church.
Fr. Tomasek believed in the power of God’s Word preached with love; he believed in the power of the truth to move hearts closer to God, the goal of all preaching. He did not let negative consequences influence his preaching. I would never describe Fr. Tomasek as a “hammer of the heretics,” but I would describe him as a man on fire with the love of God and His Church. He held a deep appreciation for the capacity of the human heart to respond generously to the call of Christ the King.
The “Kingdom of Christ the King” [#91-98] was one of Fr. Tomasek’s favorite meditations in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. He loved to think about the Christian call to be close to Jesus, to share in His mission to bring His salvation to the ends of the earth. Those who share with Jesus in the toil and suffering of bringing this Good News to the world will also share with Him His glory. Fr. Tomasek lived fully this great enterprise of evangelization, freely accepting the suffering that came with it. At the same time he drew many of us along in the enterprise, so we felt him right beside us as we did the Lord’s work. A true “friend in the Lord” and companion on the way, Fr. Tomasek will be sorely missed.
Fr. Tomasek’s holiness was both heroic and real. While he would not be accused of being overly pietistic, he had a deep piety, an authentic devotion to Jesus and to His Blessed Mother Mary. One never had the feeling that his spirituality was “imposed” by some need to project holiness; rather his spirituality had a real accessibility to it. There was nothing fake, but only the real person right there before you that you could sense and feel. His sincerity and “realness” made him attractive to many souls and inspired countless persons to love Jesus more.
The Society and the Church will miss this great apostle. He said in his dying days, quoting St. Therese, that he will have greater effect in the world when he is in heaven with the Lord. This consoles me on some level, but I still can’t help but miss him terribly. My life will never be the same. I can hope and pray, though, for a share of his magnanimous spirit. I will make this prayer in eager anticipation until I will meet him in the Kingdom where we will enjoy together the Face of the Eternal King.