GOD'S WORK IN MY WEAKNESS
Fr. Al Winshman, S.J., Director
Marian Renewal Ministry
319 Concord Rd
Weston MA 02493-1310 USA
With the coming of the Virgin Mary, our Mother and Queen of Peace, to all of us at Medjugorje since June 24, 1981, I have experienced many graces of conversion as a Catholic priest. I have been delighted and amazed at the things that have happened in my life, which I am able to understand as coming from Jesus through Mary. Before, I was simply doing my thing for God, and since then I am slowly experiencing that God is doing His thing through Mary in me. What a difference this growing surrender to God makes as it brings His strength and peace into my weakness.
The growing desire I had for many years for a retreat ministry at a Jesuit retreat house became a reality in the summer of 1981 with my assignment to Loyola Retreat House in Faulkner, Maryland. There I received an unexpected grace. I was gifted to have superiors who truly respected the movements of the Spirit within me and nurtured my own response in freedom. Mary came into my life in a new and powerful way, although I would not hear about Medjugorje until the fall of 1984. However, my story really blossomed from seeds planted and germinated years before in my family at home.
When my mother was an infant her family was converted and baptized together because my grandparents hungered for daily Mass and Holy Communion. They also had a tremendous devotion to Mary, and they gathered their children to pray the family Rosary each day. My father came into the Catholic Church just before he married my mother. And so, as the eldest child, born in 1934, I grew up in a family of faith, praying daily the family Rosary and joining my mother as a youngster for morning Mass. I was only seven years old when, as we left St. Mary's Church in Dedham, Massachusetts, one morning, I told her that I was going to become a priest. The privilege of a priest making Jesus present to His people at the consecration of every Mass drew me. That desire never left me and now intensifies. True devotion to Mary always brings us to Jesus. For the feast of St. Ignatius in 1952, I entered the Jesuit Novitiate at Shadowbrook in Lenox, Massachusettes, right out of high school. On my first anniversary as a Jesuit novice consecrated myself, my life and future priesthood, to Jesus through the hands of Mary in the DeMontfort total consecration and surrender of my life. My personal motto became "To Jesus through Mary." However, as I now look back, my earlier spiritual progress was jeopardized and eroded by our modern world culture in its rationalism, individualism and materialism that began taking an increasing toll during and after the late sixties. But in the summer of 1981, my spiritual life once again grew when I consciously began saying my "Yes!" to the challenging yet gentle call heard within my heart.
Our Lady was to be the one who would call me back and mold me anew as a Catholic and a priest. I was never so happy as I was at the retreat house. A new spirit energized me. By the summer of 1984 I was again praying the Rosary daily, which had often lain dormant in my pocket. Later that fall I took seriously the call to conversion and its basic starting point, to consciously turn away from all occasions of sin. I became deeply troubled by the insensitivity to sin in our lives. Sadly, even annual retreatants were not going to confession. They said they had nothing to confess, even though they admitted living the lifestyles of the TV "soap operas," saying, "But Father, today that's no longer sinful." I realized that the mass media, with its strong anti-Gospel message, was responsible for much of the present day sin and hardness of heart. As with other forms of the mass media, which had taken a toll on my life, I now put the habitual and indiscriminate use of prime time network TV out of my life. As I look back now, I was beginning to live Mary's call to prayer and fasting before I even heard of Medjugorje.
Now I see how Mary was guiding me back to a more faithful unity with the teachings of the Church, clearly proclaimed in our day by Pope John Paul II and now Pope Benedict XVI in a world that often refuses to listen. Some of my thinking during the seventies had imperceptibly become tainted with the erroneous new liberal theology, as I rationalized ways to justify this and that, for myself and for others. For this I have since repented and ask forgiveness from everyone whom I may have led astray into what were euphemistically called okay "gray" areas. I believe that deep within our hearts we know what is right and wrong and what we need to do. I am realizing more the absolute priority prayer must have in my life so that I can come to listen deeply in quiet stillness and inner reflection to God revealing Himself and speaking to me. That is what Mary is now teaching the world today in her school of "prayer of the heart" at Medjugorje.
It was in the late fall of 1984 that I heard about Mary's daily apparitions in Medjugorje for the first time. I was initially disturbed that word of this had been kept so quiet in the Church, and that I was just hearing of it more than three years later. That winter I read everything I could get my hands on. Stan Karminski and his family had gone there several times and made a documentary video, "A Message of Peace." In March 1985 I visited them and got a copy of their video. With this my ministry began to take a whole new direction as I showed the video and spoke on the events of Medjugorje everywhere I went. Fr. Joseph Pelletier's book, "The Queen of Peace Visits Medjugorje," which Stan helped to document, gave me a clear presentation of the events and the message.
By the end of that summer I had an inner conviction that I had to go to Medjugorje. This, as I've learned, is a grace that Mary often gives to those whom she calls. But how was I to go to Medjugorje? In discernment I revealed this to my superior, Fr. Clem Petrik, S.J., at the retreat house. His unexpected response was another grace from Mary. He knew that since I had been incorporating Mary's message and call at Medjugorje in my Ignatian retreats, many graces of conversion had come to retreatants, and so he commissioned me to go and investigate Medjugorje. In November 1985 I went for the first time as a pilgrim while it was still a poor village with no heat in the homes except the kitchen stove. The simple pastoral setting was not yet spoiled by extensive construction undertaken to cope with the millions of pilgrims from all five continents.
On that first pilgrimage, we were housed in homes in the neighboring village of Citluk for there were few rooms in the small village of Medjugorje. We arrived at the church at 6:30 p.m., in the middle of the evening Croatian Mass. The church was overflowing with hundreds outside and 1600 or more inside. The faith and prayer of the people immediately told me that this was real. In the next few days I met the visionaries and began entering into the life of the village. The following summer I began leading spiritual pilgrimages to Medjugorje and have taken forty-six pilgrim groups there as of 2005. Today Medjugorje is a second home and its people are like family to me.
Back at the retreat house I was getting more and more calls from my retreatants to go out to parishes to give Medjugorje Evenings of Prayer. Mary asks us above all to pray - to pray and live the Rosary and the Mass. My evenings of prayer, faithful to the evening prayer program at Medjugorje, begin with the meditated Rosary before sharing on the apparitions and messages of Mary, and concluded with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and a healing blessing. By 1988 I had to discern whether to cut back on my ministry and continue on staff at the retreat house, or be assigned full-time to my growing Marian ministry. Mary again called me. Contrary to all expectations, my Provincial Superior called me back to Boston, formally assigning me fulltime to Marian Renewal Ministry, and I have been remissioned to this ministry every year since. It has now taken me throughout 42 of the 50 U.S. states, from British Isles and Ireland to the south Pacific countries of Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines, and from Canada to Egypt, giving Parish Missions, Parish Triduums, Marian Evenings, Eucharistic Healing Evenings, and Ignatian Retreats as well as speaking at local and national Marian and Eucharistic Conferences.
For me personally, the grace of striving to live more fully our Mother's call to peace, which she began at Fatima and is now completing at Medjugorje - a call to faith, prayer and fasting, conversion, frequent confession and living the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass - has brought me to a growing devotion to the Holy Eucharist, our Mother Mary, and faithfulness to the teaching of our Holy Father and the Catholic Church. This brings a growing inner peace to the extent that I am true to God, my neighbor and myself. I would not want to return to my life as it was before our Mother and Queen of Peace began coming to our world in its great need at Medjugorje. Praised be Jesus and Mary now and forever!