DEAR BOY

April 18th, 2015

They buried a friend of mine Friday in Rome and how I wished to fly over there for just the day to say farewell and thanks. Cardinal Roberto Tucci, SJ was and remains a man I deeply admire. I came to know him from the second (1987) and third (1993 World Youth Day) trips of Pope John Paul II to the United States.

In 1979 I came to know and become a close friend with the late Archbishop Paul C. Marcinkus, close enough to have been asked to preach his funeral homily at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. He was the Holy See’s organizer for papal trips outside of Rome from Pope Paul VI to Pope John Paul II. He was succeeded by Father Tucci. He even supported the choice of Father Tucci and his two conferrers, Monsignor Emil Paul Tscherrig (Now Archbishop and Apostolic Nuncio to Argentina) and Doctor Alberto Gasbarri (currently in charge of papal visits for Popes Benedict and Francis.)

There was a seismic shift in approach and personalities between Archbishop Marcinkus and Father Tucci, but the two admired and in a way deeply admired each other. Father Tucci, a Jesuit, born in Naples and baptized an Anglican, converted to Catholicism as a young man. He earned a doctorate in theology and was a peritus at the Second Vatican Council, having helped in the final drafting of two important conciliar documents. After the Council, the Jesuits placed him in charge of the important publication Civilta Catholica and later as manager of Vatican Radio. Even while planning and executing the many travels of John Paul II, he retained his position within the Vatican.

He had the largest set of eyebrows I have ever seen and when perplexed, he utilized them perfectly, non-verbally, to proclaim his bewilderment. When he was certain that something would not work, he would preface his response always with “dear boy”. A good listener always, with his team, they were models of patient endurance with the US Secret Service, all kinds of political leaders, episcopal conferences insisting on things which were impossible and the papal apartment, which meant largely working with Monsignor Stanislaw Dziwisz.

Father Tucci knew the limits of the Pope’s energy and was protective, particularly in later years. He had little patience for higher-up curial officials who were always pushing for pride of place at the pope’s side and earned occasional enmity for shoving some higher up so that some regular people who could never see the Pope could get close.

Word always had it that he was a runner-up to Father Hans Kolvenbach in the election which followed the resignation of Father Pedro Arrupe, S.J., the famous former Superior General. I remember Pope John Paul II saying to me on one occasion, looking at Father Tucci, “Poor Father Tucci, such a great theologian and now my travel agent.” I also remember Father Tucci at a meeting at the then high school seminary for the Los Angeles Archdiocese when four U.S. bishops addressed the Holy Father with four areas of concern here in the U.S., saying: “dear Archbishop Quinn has just taken the Pope to the theological mountaintop and the Holy Father could barely make it to the basecamp” (a clear comment on the inadequacy of the papal response).

Another great moment in planning the same trip was when Lew Wasserman, the CEO of all of Universal (the studios, the theme parks, the movies and TV) asked Father if the Pope while on the property of Universal in Los Angeles could be seen on the theme park ride which parts the Red Sea into two while one rides through it on a carriage. Father Tucci said to Wasserman, (dear boy, I don’t think so but we will ask him). Two weeks later I was in Rome and Father Tucci and his team and I were invited to pranzo (Lunch) with the Pope, and Father said, “Father Lynch, ask the Pope about Mr. Wasserman’s request.” I then described the “parting of the Red Sea” ride to which the Pope responded, “I don’t think so, Moses has already done that.”

There could be many more stories. Pope Benedict finally relieved him of his duties and made him a Cardinal when he was past eighty years old. He chose not to be ordained a bishop (as did his American Jesuit brother, Avery Dulles). It made no difference to him, he still lived in his small room at the Bellarmino and enjoyed being surrounded by the “company of Jesus” or the Jesuits. I have not seen him in over fifteen years but he and Archbishop Tscherrig and Dr. Gasbarri are ever with me even to today. They held a 50th birthday party for me in Rome on May 27, 1991 and in 1996 when I was made a bishop, the three of them presented me with a silver Council Ring which I still wear every Lent.

Having said all this, however, I loved the man for his elegant, gracious, patient presence in my life through two papal visits (he actually brought the Pope back two more times after I left the General Secretariat of the USCC-NCCB) and those who worked with me and with my successor, Archbishop Schnurr of Cincinnati would embrace without qualification everything which I have written here in his honor upon the news of his death.

If I make it to heaven, I know he will seek me out and say, “dear boy, where have you been?”

 

+RNL

THANK YOU LCWR AND ARCHBISHOP SARTAIN AND COMMITTEE

April 17th, 2015

Three years ago when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced a full-scale examination of the statutes and procedures of THE LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE OF WOMEN RELIGIOUS (LCWR), like many others I wrote in this space that I was sorry this action had been taken but indicated that I felt it would all end well even with the concomitant pain and angst it raised. I was criticized in certain circles for seeming to side with the LCWR (guilty), not supporting the CDF (guilty) and worse, being a bit Pollyannaish about the whole matter and much too positive (also guilty).

 

Now three years later, the dossier is closed, CDF and LCWR have managed to conclude their discussions and what I would call less than seismic changes have been made to the organization’s statutes and modus operandi. I was thrilled that this result was reached, though not surprised. I wrote then the following excerpt from that particular blog.

 

  1. So my words to my sisters in this diocese would be to relax somewhat. You are still loved and appreciated by your Church. The appointment of an incredibly fair and compassionate man like Archbishop Peter Sartain to see this process through is a hopeful sign in itself and I am not simply trying to apply “a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.” There have been other bishops appointed over the last few decades to “study American religious life and make appropriate changes” such as the one in the eighties chaired by Archbishop John R. Quinn. Disaster has never struck.

 

  1. American Catholics who read the secular media are getting an introduction to how terribly the media understand the Church. Editorials have appeared all over the place supporting the sisters and condemning the Pope, Rome, bishops, men, etc., etc. The notion of a hierarchical Church is both foreign, inimical and anathema to current liberal, freethinking and secularist thought. I laud the media for their support of religious women in the United States but I also find something almost comical about how they visualize Church structure. They will not be around in a few years when the leadership of LCWR and Archbishop Sartain ascertain a way in which both can peacefully co-exist because there will be no story there. Yet that is precisely the story. From moments like this, monumental change rarely results and sometimes a deeper relationship replaces something which is frayed, tattered and/or torn. I have great faith that as in the past, both sides will make this work. Sisters love the Church which they have served because they love its founder, Jesus, who at times called all of us to live a radical ethic. The current seeming tempest at sea can and will be calmed and we will continue to love and support our sisters.

 

What have we learned from this experience?

 

  1. The Sisters have more credibility in this country than some might have expected when the process was begun. Pointedly, they had the high road all to themselves because of their selfless dedication to teaching, healing and caring for the poor than even our Bishops Conference in the height of its credibility could not lay claim.
  2. The appointment of Archbishop Sartain was crucial. Throughout the process with people attacking him and his two fellow bishops, he never uttered one word of protest or called into question the sincerity of the sisters or the process he was undergoing.
  3. The election of Sister Sharon Holland, IHM as President for this conclusive and final year was a gift of the Spirit. Her predecessors in office did extremely well in keeping their cool, speaking in measured terms even in the midst of their suffering at the embarrassment, holding their ground on a few non-negotiables and discussing and negotiating even the neuralgic. Sister Sharon having served for over twenty years in a high position within the Congregation for Religious and one of the foremost Canon Lawyers in the U.S. was pure gift from the Spirit and the membership of LCWR.
  4. Then there was Pope Francis who was elected after the study was announced. He took most of the wind out of the sails of the study by a talk he gave to the International Union of Superiors General and conversations with the religious men and women of the countries in CELAM (Conference of Bishops for Latin America) where he said, “don’t worry too much about letters from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith accusing you of things.” Any Jesuit knowing the history of his community understood what the Holy Father was talking about.

 

It is a shame in some ways that the process was wrought in the first place. But, as all sides are now saying, they were able to turn it into a graced moment of dialogue, greater understanding of genuine concerns on both sides, and a reaffirmation of the gift of religious life to the United States. In the end, it is an “Easter Event” – a provident Lord turning something difficult into something useful. It takes all the restraint I can muster to stop from saying, “I told you so.” For two decades the leadership of LCWR has sought and failed to gain anything approaching a private audience with St. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict. Yesterday they had one hour, alone except for a priest translator with Pope Francis.

 

+RNL

OPPOSITION, OBSESSION, OBEDIENCE

April 3rd, 2015

GOOD FRIDAY, 2015

Dear sisters and brothers,

Throughout this week, beginning last Sunday, Palm Sunday, I have made it my task to attempt to get into the mind, the thinking of our Lord during these climactic events which we call Holy Week and to offer to myself and hopefully to you as well, some take away thoughts which together we might ponder in the days ahead. To help with the “take away” of my thoughts, each day I have attempted, using alliteration to give you three words which might serve as a beginning for thought and prayer.

Today in listening to Isaiah, St. Paul and to Jesus in John’s passion account, I offer these three words: opposition, obsession, and obedience. The first thought, opposition, is easily seen in the passion account just proclaimed. In fact, all of you acted in opposition to Jesus, by using words like “Crucify him” and “if he were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you” to use but two examples. The opposition, which Jesus encountered not just today but throughout his public ministry at the hands of religious representatives, was a steady current in his life and ministry. No matter how much good he did, it only seemed to excite opposition. Yet he persevered. During his final hours, he had to ask himself, “What in God’s name have I done to warrant this hatred, this vicious vengeance, this anger?”

The application for today, the connection to our lives, between the events we recall this afternoon and our daily lives is not hard to fathom. Can we become so stubborn that we no longer can find any good in a person? Can we become so emotional that we do not allow right judgment, logic and wisdom to control our thoughts and words when we are in the presence of someone with whom we may not agree or do not like? Finally, do we on occasion get mad even at God because we do not get what we wish, when we want it, and in the way we want it? The natural tendency of humanity is always directed towards complaint, contempt and contradiction. We can sometimes all too easily become an opponent of Jesus.

Jesus was obsessed with the task the Father had given him this day. It did not allay or lessen his physical suffering but in his mental anguish, he knew he was doing the right thing in sacrificing his life so that we might live. He surely must have known of the prophet Isaiah’s words foretelling this moment: “Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, while we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins . . .we had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way: but the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all. Though he was harshly treated he submitted and opened not his mouth. . . “

Why was he obsessed with the thought of his terrible sacrifice of self? The author of Hebrews this afternoon said, “for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.”

Are we obsessed by our love of God or is it like our TV set, we can turn it on or off at will? Are we obsessed enough to serve our sisters and brothers often enough with love and sacrifice to imitate in part the events in the life of Jesus we today recall? Is our obsession with our God like a spigot in the sink of our lives, able to flow both freely and hot and cold or worse yet, only lukewarm? Jesus got through these hours because he was obsessed with saving us, sacrificing for us, loving us to death. Is our love for Him and our desire to continue his saving work on earth simply a passing thought or a genuine obsession? Hebrews, one final time on the obsession of Jesus from the second reading: “In the days when Christ was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and with tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.”

For the saved, among whom you and I are numbered, it was the obedience of the Son to the will of the Father, which should be the main “take-away” from today’s liturgy. “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the course of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” [Hebrews in the second reading] I could go on for a good hour about the role of obedience in our life. “Christ died once for our sins, the just for the unjust . . .he bore our sins in his body upon the tree.” [1 Pt 3:18 and 2:24.] 

Obedience is a tough marker in checking our lives. To many adults it is an abhorrent notion, which, again in our minds, can often though not always lead to no good. We obey traffic laws easily enough and we pay taxes, which we think are too high and too unnecessary. But obedience to the law of God often seems more negotiable. We sin. We err. We fail. We forget. The cross, which in moments we will reverence, is nothing if not a reminder of the cost of obedience. Jesus today gives us the example. The author of the letter to the Hebrews says: “You have not resisted unto blood.” So we should not fear the anxieties, which our own lives and troubles occasionally cause. We will never have borne as much as Christ did. Obediently he shed his blood for us and obediently, willingly, totally, spent himself for you and I. Remember always, for Jesus it was not just an easy promise, which often flows from our lips. He really did love us to death. Obedience to the will of God and sacrificing his life for others is what this all about.

+RNL

HOSPITALITY, HUMILITY, AND HORROR

April 2nd, 2015

HOLY THURSDAY 2015
St. Jude the Apostle Cathedral

Because of the succession of small West Virginia and Virginia towns we lived in as a child, I only attended one Catholic elementary school in the first eight grades of my education. The school was run and taught by the Sisters of Providence of Terre Haute, Indiana. We lived right next door to the church, school and convent and whenever they needed someone to serve, the good sisters would call my parents and off I would go. I remember very well the three Holy Thursday liturgies from those days and especially the procession, which we will do at the conclusion of this Mass. I would carry a candle and the choir would sing something which sounded like Tom Tom Arrow but there would be a break in the music and Sister would use her cricket and all of us would turn to the priest holding this gold vessel with Jesus under class and together we would say, “O Sacrament most holy, O Sacrament Divine, All praise and all Thanksgiving be every moment thine!” Then the cricket would sound, we would turn and face forward and off we would go again.

It was hard for a child to understand and embrace the importance of this day in both the life of Jesus and of the Church. So, following upon the theme I set on Palm Sunday, I would like to take just a few moments to reflect on what must have been on the mind of Jesus on this night long ago. Again, following the formula I have used throughout this week and will employ again tomorrow and on Holy Saturday night, I would focus on three things which might have been on his mind: hospitality, humility and horror.

It was Passover night and Jesus wished to celebrate this massive moment in the religious life of every observant Jew with his friends. Knowing that his life was down to minutes and hours and not days, he wished to do the hospitable thing and welcome them to share one final meal together. A preacher’s trick on Holy Thursday is to often ask the congregation, if they knew they had only a day to live, with whom and how would they wish to spend that time. It is was a slam dunk for Jesus – he would spend it with his friends, even inviting the one he knew would betray him – Judas.

However, he did not wish to leave them or us alone and so he used the occasion to institute the Eucharist taking the very bread and wine, two elements on every table at Passover in those days and telling them that they were to do the same. The perfect host, wishing the friendship, the relationships might never end and at the last supper he would institute for the first time the first supper, which we do two millennia later when we gather for Mass. What truly magnanimous host ever wishes to say goodbye to those whom he or she loves? Even though tragedy would precede triumph, Jesus was ever solicitous of his friends as he is of each of us. Are we hospitable to the foreigner, the stranger, the homeless, the hungry, the medically indigent? Have we learned anything from this night and this example of the Lord?

But during the meal, he also knew that he had one more lesson to teach his friends who would outlive him on earth. Try as hard as he might, and he tried often; they just never learned the fundamental lesson of discipleship, which was humble service to others. They would quarrel among themselves and then ask him who would have the first places at his side in the life, which was to come. Wrong question, he replied. Did he not say, “The Son of Man has come to serve and not to be served.”? The miracles, the teachings, the healings had all gone to their heads and they naturally thought that their inheritance would be a life of relative ease and comfort. After all, they had walked the dusty paths, slept in strange beds and it would be their time to be waited on. Humble they were not – none of them at this moment, so the greatest among them put on an apron and proceeded to wash their feet, the dirtiest and filthiest part of their bodies. The ministry of humble service was once more put before them and they still did not get it. He tried. He humbled himself. We priests are privileged to serve you, hopefully always with the deepest humility. Even approaching this altar tonight, it must be and always will be a service of love. We are humbled before our God each and every time we raise the bread and wine and it becomes his body and blood. Sometime we may forget that, as did the disciples, who could not understand why in the world he would wash their feet.

Finally, and perhaps the easiest thing to understand is that his thoughts and his head were full of horror at what he knew was likely to happen to him. In a matter of minutes, he would one more time ask the Father to allow the cup of pain and suffering to pass from him. One thing our Lord was not was a hopeless romantic. From the circumstances of his birth, throughout his life, and especially in the three years of his ministry, he knew it was going to end badly for him. But he persevered, he plowed on, he trusted His Father in heaven right to the end. There was hope to be found this night in horrors of his mind. Only hope can overcome horror. Only hope in God can help one through loneliness, through a sense of failure, through the inevitable rough patches od daily living. Jesus knew that soon, perhaps not soon enough, he would once again be united with his Father and our Father and the horror of that which was to come would itself be overcome with a sense of accomplishment.

Soon the priests and I will have the true privilege of washing the feet of some of you. It is a reminder that He whom we wish to serve and make present to you later in this Mass humbled himself in the penultimate symbol of service, the cross being his last act of humble sacrifice. We wish to serve you. It is our mission. It is our life. It is our hope. And should we fail, it is also our horror. Jesus gave us this night long ago the gift of sharing with you the bread of life, the sacrament most holy, the sacrament of his divinity. Tonight we welcome him into our lives; we offer him the hospitality of our hope and our faith. Truly all praise and all thanksgiving should every moment be his, thine.

+RNL

CHRISM MASS 2015

March 31st, 2015

Here are some photos from the annual Chrism Mass earlier today. To read my homily, scroll down below the photos. To watch the video recording of the Mass, please click here. To see more photos, click here.

Renewal of Priestly Promises. Photo kindness of Jeanne Smith.

Renewal of Priestly Promises. Photo kindness of Jeanne Smith.

 

 

Blessing the Oil of the Sick. Photo kindness of Jeanne Smith.

Blessing the Oil of the Sick. Photo kindness of Jeanne Smith.

 

 

Parish representatives holding their parish’s Oil of Catechumens as it is blessed. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Parish representatives holding their parish’s Oil of the Sick as it is blessed. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

 

Blessing the Oil of Catechumens. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Blessing the Oil of Catechumens. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

 

Parish representatives holding their parish’s Oil of Catechumens as it is blessed. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Parish representatives holding their parish’s Oil of Catechumens as it is blessed. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

Consecrating the Sacred Chrism. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Consecrating the Sacred Chrism. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

CHRISM MASS HOMILY 
March 31, 2015
Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop

The late bishop John Nevins of Venice with whom I spent five of the first six years of my priesthood would often tell the story of what happened to him late in his formation for priesthood, indeed just weeks before he was to be ordained a sub-deacon. An only child of an Irish mother and English father who separated and divorced shortly after young John was born, John J. Nevins could only find one religious order and no diocese which would accept him as a seminarian for the priesthood. That one community was called The Fathers of Mercy. Finishing his studies at Catholic University in Washington, John Nevins in the Spring of the final year came home from class to the Fathers of Mercy house only to be told that the community had been dissolved, its ordained were free to find any benevolent bishop or other order who would accept them and as for the seminarians, “clear your room out, move, stay warm and well fed.” As he approached the end of telling this story, he would always end it with this line: “There was no mercy to be found in the Fathers of Mercy, buster!” I know of few priests in my soon to be forty years who was kinder, more merciful and forgiving than John J. Nevins. He lived the virtue under whose title he longed to minister.

We have been hearing a lot about mercy the last two years, much of it emanating from the Holy Father. He has challenged the whole Church, all those who have been anointed with the sacred chrism in baptism, confirmation, and priesthood and episcopacy, to new heights of merciful ministry. He has preached forgiveness, inclusion, welcoming not just the sinner but also the foreigner, the immigrant, the poor. He has joined his ministry of words with a rich panoply of encounter and gesture. He has called us all, but especially we bishops to a simpler lifestyle more in touch with all God’s people which might make us more aware and understanding of the pain of poverty. The one constant through the first two years has been the bedrock belief in the mercy of God which we have both received as a gift of the spirit of God to share with the world and we have been anointed with oil to heal the wounds of people, some of which even the Church we love have caused.

Allow me for a few moments this Holy Week to reflect on the image of oil, noted in today’s very familiar readings by both Isaiah and Jesus. The glass jars which await our prayers of blessing contain simple olive oil though to the chrism will soon be joined an aromatic. All oil (olive and petroleum) has three aspects worth a few seconds: value, volatility and viscosity.

VALUE we have learned in recent times from oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, to wars of religion over oil in the Arabian gulfs, to four dollars a gallon at the pump to a 125% increase in the cost of Chanel No 5 in the last ten years. From King David through to the Saudi princes, oil is worth a lot, of money, sadly of lives lost and environment destroyed. So for moderns the oil has value and for the ancients it did as well. It healed the wounded, anointed the chosen leaders, was then and is now one of the more valuable fruits of God’s creation. And it is shared with us in sacraments. When we use it properly it dispenses mercy and love on the newborn, comforts the sick and aged and when accompanied by sacramental confession it too dispenses God’s mercy on the scared, the scarred, the solitary soul in search of God.

VOLATILITY – Oil also ignites more readily than other liquids. Jesus says that the anointing he received ignited in him a fierce blessed rage for order (in the words of David Tracy decades ago). It made him palpably burn within to bring healing to the sick, hope to the homeless, compassion for the poor, freedom not just to jailed prisoners pbut the freedom of mercy and the love of God and the presence of Jesus Christ to those imprisoned by addiction, by religious laws that limited love, and an end to tyranny from whatever source which limited mankind’s ability to drink at the cool well of mercy, kindness, love, compassion and forgiveness.

Tell me one sinner in the Gospel who having acknowledged his or her sin was dismissed by the Son of God without healing. The highly volatile oil of his anointing set Jesus on fire with the desire to establish his Father’s kingdom – a fire that did not cease within him until his penultimate breath in one Gospel account: “brother, this day you shall be with me in paradise! Has our anointing in baptism spent all its volatility or is the fire within us to reconcile the world heating up again to the point where we have a blessed rage for dispensing God’s mercy and compassion?

VISCOSITY – All oil is thick, gooey, and sticky, even olive oil. Just try to get it off your hands after confirming 150 youngsters – even lemon does not really cut it. My fingers continue to smell like PLEDGE furniture polish through at least three washings – but I digress! It is precisely the perfect image in a way to describe our ministry when it is working. What we do well sticks. What we offer is sometimes thick. Our ministry of mercy often moves far more slowly than we might wish. Maybe it is time in a sense to apply a merciful thinner to our passion for compassion. Pope Francis certainly does it, daily in his Mass homilies, in his brief but sticky audience teachings. Listen to how his words should stimulate all of us to a deeper engagement in social action ministry:

‘These days there is a lot of poverty in the world and that’s a scandal when we have so many resources to give to everyone. We all have to think about how we can become a little poorer.”

“A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just”

“We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, spread love, be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace.”

“Although the life of a person is in a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.

With Peter and under Peter my prayer is that today, recalling the awesome power of anointing in our own lives, everyone here has been anointed, most likely at least twice, we may ignite again in our hearts and in our ministry the joy in being agents of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “The joy of God is the joy of forgiveness. It is the joy of the shepherd who finds his lost sheep, the joy of the woman who finds her lost coin; the joy of the Father who welcomes home his lost son.”

Ah, the oil of gladness. My brother priests, this very Holy Father speaks to us often, challenges us, wants us to once again recover the fire of the day the sacred chrism was spread on our hands, the day of our ordination. He particularly it would seem focuses on our ministry of reconciliation. Most all of you have given of yourselves the past few weeks with penance services, The Light Is On For You, and hours in the box. You are very good, indeed wonderful at this expression of tender mercy. Your anointed hands and your blessed words become the sign of the forgiveness of God.

“The service that a priest assumes, a ministry, on behalf of God, to forgive sins is very delicate and requires that his heart be at peace, . . .that he not mistreat the faithful, but that he be gentle, benevolent and merciful, that he know how to plant hope in hearts and, above all, that he be aware that the brother or sister or sister who approaches the sacrament of reconciliation seeking forgiveness does so just as many people approached Jesus to be healed. . . .The penitent faithful have the right, all the faithful have the right, to find in priests servants of the forgiveness of God.

Lawrence O’Donnell, a commentator on MSNBC likened the Pope’s remarks on one occasion to his last Catholic school teacher, a Father Harrington. “Father Harrington knew that he was our last religion teacher,” O’Donnell said. “He didn’t use that final year of class time to cram our heads with rules and condemnations. . .Father Harrington talked only about the things that mattered the most in Catholicism, which meant he talked about God and love and goodness and kindness, and he never talked about sin. O’Donnell continued by noting that Pope Francis seems to be eager to deliver the same message. “The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The Church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrine to be imposed insistently. Indeed, O’Donnell noted, Pope Francis warned that the moral authority of the church could “fall like a house of cards” if its condemnations are the only thing people ever hear about. Quoting the Pope, “The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.” O’Donnell in that electronic moment ended his reflection with “If Father Harrington was still with us, he would like this pope. A lot.” 

Beginning soon we shall together plan for how as a local Church we shall observe the year of grace to begin in November called the Holy Year of Mercy. It could well be a very graced moment – a moment of mercy. Let no one in these five counties say of us what Bishop Nevins said of the manner in which he was treated by a community to which he had already given years: “There is no mercy to be found in this local Church, buster!”

+RNL

THE FICKLE FINGER OF FAITH?

March 29th, 2015

Palm Sunday 2015
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch

Beginning today and continuing throughout this holy week, I have chosen as my theme, “What was Jesus thinking?” Admittedly the question reveals an “arrogance” on my part, but I hope that my humble effort at armchair psychology might be helpful in making the most of this important week of our faith.

So join me in attempting to discern what Jesus might have been thinking on that day when he entered Jerusalem for the final time. I wish to focus today on that singular moment captured in the Gospel read during the blessing of palms knowing that on Good Friday together we will have an opportunity to reflect at greater length on the Passion account.

I can see at least three important thoughts which Jesus might reasonably be expected to own in the account of his arrival at the portal to his death: fraternity, fickleness, and fulfillment.

Knowing that his days were surely numbered and a horrible and painful death was awaiting him in Jerusalem, he wished one final thing for himself and for his disciples – the opportunity to celebrate the Passover together one last time. Ever mindful of others and ever the teacher, the rabbi, the “master” Jesus knows that he and they will soon be put to the test. Were they ready for it? Were they sufficiently cognizant of his presence in their lives for the last three years that their memories would sustain and perhaps even overcome their doubts in the days to come? He must have sensed that day that if what he had done and what he would do would ultimately glorify the Father, then he had to teach them again about placing themselves at the service of others, becoming less to accomplish more.

He knew that those citizens of Jerusalem who hailed his arrival knew little about him except through rumor. In his public ministry, Jesus spent little time in Jerusalem, choosing instead the region of Galilee as the major locus for his ministry. So as he surveyed those throwing their cloaks before him and waving their palms, he must have known of their fickleness. All glory, laud and honor shouted in this moment, he knew would give way soon enough to “kill him”. Yet he took the chance to once again be seen by those who were basically fence sitters at best and fair-weather only friends at worst. Even those he sent ahead to gain his method of conveyance, a donkey, and secure a room for the last Passover supper, how would they measure up to the hostility to their friend and his message? Despite the romance of the scene of the so-called triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he knew they were fickle – all of them.

Finally there was the matter of fulfilling the will of the Father. No person seemingly in their right mind would say to themselves or to others: well it’s time for me to die so let’s get on with it. Only that deep commitment to the will of the Father could explain why he would set off to Jerusalem in the first place knowing what would await him. Obedience to the Father would find its finality in the fulfillment gained on the cross.

That inevitably begs the question of what does this entire moment mean for us on this Palm Sunday 2015? How close is our friendship to Jesus? Do we trust him, believe in him, follow him 24/7/365 or is he simply a historical figure of some attractiveness and interest but not a personal friend, an intimate. Is he truly our brother? Does his willingness to embrace pain, loneliness, and opposition to what he believes and preaches translate for us in our own faith commitment?

Are we fickle, fair weather friends who take comfort in our faith only when things are going well, only to abandon the same belief when faced with the inevitable crosses of everyone’s daily life? Is it easy to be a friend of Jesus unless and until we are challenged to stand for human life in all its phases of development, from conception to natural death? Can we also be seen as a follower of Christ’s teaching when friendship with him makes us seek genuine immigration reform while welcoming the stranger. Are we willing to question and challenge the death penalty in a state (in this we are one of only two of the fifty states) that requires only a simple majority of a jury’s vote? There are lots of things about Jesus we can love and embrace, but there are other things, which lay open our fickleness. What part of the crowd would we likely have been in: hosannas or kill him?

Finally, the cross was the fulfillment of our Lord’s mission. How well do we carry the crosses of our lives? Do we really believe that suffering, opposition and uncertainty, the hubris of daily life in our times, gain for us the favor of the Father for our future?

There was a lot which Jesus must have been thinking during these his final days. Join us this week, on Holy Thursday and Good Friday and next Sunday at Easter as we attempt to get into his mind and answer the question: what was Jesus really thinking?

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OF LIFE AND DEATH

March 6th, 2015
With the other Florida bishops waiting to meet with Governor Scott. Photo kindness of Bishop Parkes' Facebook page.

With the other Florida bishops waiting to meet with Governor Scott. Photo kindness of Bishop Parkes’ Facebook page. See more photos from Catholic Days at the Capitol here.

The bishops of Florida, minus our dear brother Bishop Gerald Barbarito of Palm Beach who is rapidly recovering from very serious surgery, met Tuesday and yesterday (Wednesday)  in the state capitol, Tallahassee. We do it every year, usually always during the first week of the annual legislative session and conclude it with a Red Mass at St. Thomas More Co-cathedral. During the bishops’ visit to Tallahassee, about 350 people, mostly women, come wearing red almost always and they call on their elected representatives to “lobby” for the province’s agenda for the session. They meet with the staff of the Florida Catholic Conference before invading the capitol and they have lunch with us at the Convention Center midday on Wednesday and prior to the Mass. A stirring call to religious liberty was delivered by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater to the assembled during the lunch. I hope to share the content of that talk with you soon.

It has been a long custom that during this visit to our state capitol we usually have a meeting with the Governor. In my now nineteen-plus years, I began with Governor Lawton Chiles, followed by Governor Jeb Bush, Governor Charlie Crist, and now Governor Rick Scott. All have been gracious hosts for these meetings, patiently listening and one of us after the other brings up matters of concern to the Church. For some inexplicable reason I have become the spokesman for “health care matters” which was not all that hard until the Governor was suddenly someone who spent his whole professional life in the health care arena.

One aspect this this year’s visits which I wish to share with you, especially in light of the fact that the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS later in this blog) will be hearing soon a case involving capital punishment is that very subject. I do this secure in the knowledge that my comment responses will be overwhelmingly negative and nasty (second only to the immigration issue I might add).

We also met Wednesday afternoon with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi who was also gracious and very hospitable.

On the death penalty, we bishops unanimously wish that it would be abolished in Florida. It is a natural, logical and responsible extension of our commitment to the protection of all human life, born and unborn, and flows from the basic belief that God is the author of all life and to God alone falls the task of determining both birth and death. Seven states in recent years have abolished the death penalty (either the legislative branch supported by the governors or the latter acting alone). There are now about two-thirds of the states where the death penalty no longer exists and then there are Florida and Texas which lead the others in annual executions.

A tandem issue is that Florida is only one of two states (Delaware is the other) which does not require a unanimous jury for the death penalty sentencing phase. We find that an embarrassment of the highest order.

We got no where with either the Governor or the Attorney General on either of these matters, although the former is willing to think through the unanimous jury question. Every Governor during my time here as bishop speaks, truthfully I think, of  how much they dislike having to sign the warrants which lead to an execution. I am sure that it is not easy. All have said that they have done so with a clear conscience that the one being executed was indeed guilty of the crime beyond a shadow of a doubt. I believe them also on that. And finally they seek the cover of fulfilling their oath of office to uphold the laws of the state of Florida which I can also understand.

Governors Bush and Scott have embraced our pro-life position on abortion and euthanasia. Governor Chiles respectfully demurred always and who knows what Governor Crist’s real position was/is. But it is so hard to get any elected official, pro-life or not, Republican or Democrat to see the natural extension that God alone should determine when we are born and when we will die. Saint John Paul II on the matter of the death penalty, said that while it might be justifiable in the rarest of instances, he knew of no good reason to justify it. Pope Francis has condemned it as barbaric as does the world community at large when it looks as us (the US) from a distance.

Yesterday, four Catholic newspapers/publications of very differing leanings and differences signed a single editorial against the death penalty. What may never be decided in Tallahassee, ever, may be decided soon by SCOTUS as they wrestle with “death by lethal injection” as a form of cruel and unusual punishment. With this court, who knows? Utah is thinking of reinstating the firing squad and will Florida return to using that never too certain to work “electric chair” if this form of execution is ruled unconstitutional.  It takes all the restraint which I can manage not to invoke recent images from other parts of the world.

I love my adopted state and I deeply respect everyone elected to public office. They have a hard job. In such cases, one can invoke instead the power of the Holy Spirit. That the same Spirit come upon all those who exercise any measure of control over the beginning and end of life and grant them wisdom to choose life over death, always. Hence, the Red Mass.

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FORTY DAYS OF GRAY

March 3rd, 2015

I bet at least I have your attention!

Some people look at and others believe that Lent is nothing less than forty days of penance, prayer, retreat into one’s own spiritual life to sift out all the accumulated weeds of the past year. Sackcloth and ashes or its modern day equivalents are the marks of the “darkest season” of the Church’s year. Baloney I say. Lent is also a period of great light, not just introspective light but ecclesial light as well.

True that Lent begins with ashes and a call to repentance. We need to hear that and we need to practice penance from time to time. Many have begun some form of personal sacrifice. I have given up fast food for Lent but have unleashed within my own office, which contains one theologian, whether or not Steak and Shake is fast food! (Steak and Shake says “no.” but I still stay away from them). But did not Jesus in the Gospel on Good Friday suggest that we should not put on the appearance of remorse and sacrifice? Vestments changed to violet. The “alleluia” bade us farewell for a brief period of time. We need some reminders of these forty days but there is also a lot to rejoice in as well.

Lent was no longer than four days when about 950 catechumens and candidates arrived at the Cathedral for the Rite of Election.

During the 1:30 p.m. Rite of Election. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

During the 1:30 p.m. Rite of Election. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

I wish the whole diocesan Church could be present for that simple moment in a person’s journey to baptism and full communion. They would have crawled to the Cathedral and simple gestures like a handshake and brief words of welcome were greeted by the broadest of smiles and words and gestures of thanks.

During the 4:00 p.m. Rite of Election. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

During the 4:00 p.m. Rite of Election. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

It is always a “wow” moment, for myself as bishop, for my pastors and priests who accompanied the candidates and catechumens to the Rite ceremony and to their sponsors, spouses, parents and others who accompanied them. So little brings such happiness to so many. You are an awesome God! And we are a great Church! You can see more photos by clicking here.

On Thursday night, March 12, every parish Church in the diocese will be open for confession.

LightIsOnForYou_2000x1000

If you need it, do it! Even if you don’t need it, think about doing it. You can pick a Church on your way home from work, school, gymnastics class or a work out and there will be a priest waiting who knows you not but is desirous of assuring you of forgiveness, mercy, compassion and love. This now annual exercise is called “The Light is on for You.” Darkness be damned.

How about the readings at Sunday Mass throughout Lent? They don’t get any better than the temptation of Christ, the Transfiguration, the Woman at the Well, the Prodigal Son, and so on. And the first readings from major moments in salvation history, however familiar, stir the imagination and challenge the life of every believer. Would you have sacrificed your children for God like Abraham thought he would? Lots of parents I know have had to do so for an endless variety of painful reasons, bearing their suffering with greater faith than I can sometimes muster up. They are truly people of the light who suffered through an incredible period of gray.

Bishop Robert W. McElroy. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of San Francisco's website.

Bishop Robert W. McElroy. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of San Francisco’s website.

And then there is the Holy Father! He surely has not taken Lent off as a time to retreat into a prolonged period of penance. Today one of the members of the U.S. episcopacy whom I have admired for his intelligence, compassion and mercy, and commitment to justice for all has been made bishop of the seventh largest diocese in the United States, San Diego. Bishop Robert McElroy is a “Francis”can bishop if there ever was one and the good Catholics of San Diego have won the “Powerball” lottery. With Archbishop Cupich in the Midwest and Bishop McElroy in San Diego in the West, this Pope is refashioning the American hierarchy. Only briefly, however, do I wish I were younger.

I conclude with the acknowledgment that I am writing these words on a Delta flight from Chicago Midway Airport to Atlanta and then on to Tallahassee for “Catholic Days” at the Capitol. It was snowing and sleeting in Chicago this morning and our plane was late arriving from Atlanta. The Delta captain approached me and began the conversation with this question: “How is your Lent going, Father?” “Well,” I responded, “and yours?” “Me too,” he responded with a smile. He told me that he attends St. Michael’s parish in Auburn, Alabama, his home and was looking forward to making the last two nights of his parish’s annual mission.

Lent is far from forty days of gray, but rather is forty days of dawn. Enjoy it! Thanks for putting up with me!

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FAREWELL FATHER TED

February 28th, 2015
Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh C.S.C. in his Hesburgh Library office. Courtesy of the University of Notre Dame. Photo by Matt Cashore.

Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh C.S.C. in his Hesburgh Library office. Courtesy of the University of Notre Dame. Photo by Matt Cashore.

Father “Ted” Hesburgh went home to the Lord on Thursday, having lived 97 years and acting as an agent of change for many of those same years. Theodore Martin Hesburgh or simply “Father Ted” as he was affectionately referred to by thousands of Notre Dame alums was a proud member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, a religious community dedicated to education, higher and secondary, and to parish work. For thirty-five years he led Notre Dame to becoming certainly one of the, if not the, most prestigious Catholic university in the United States. In that role alone he became an icon of Catholic Higher Education.

The Jesuits also founded many fine universities in the US but it was Father Ted who through faith, grit, and sheer force of personality changed the face of Catholic Higher Education. Within two years of the close of the Second Vatican Council, Father Hesburgh convened a landmark meeting of leaders of Catholic Education at Notre Dame’s Land-o-Lakes, Wisconsin property. Certain that tough days were in store for sectarian higher ed., he outlined a new “idea of the University” in which trustees, not religious orders, would own and control their respective campuses. The canonical term for what he proposed was titled “alienation of church property” and the idea caught on both in academe and in health care. It was not well received by some in the hierarchy who smelled “loss of control” and “loss of Catholic identity.”

There are endless theories about what actually led Father Ted’s thinking. The ‘mid-60’s also were a time when the litigious nature of life in these United States was rearing its sometimes-ugly head and the potential of lawsuits against the university might bankrupt Notre Dame or the Congregation of Holy Cross. But I think he saw that with the close of the Second Vatican Council the Church was wrestling with its  new openness to the modern world and nowhere better should such debates take place than in a Catholic institution of research and education. Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman toyed with this notion in his The Idea of a University but it remained for Father Hesburgh and a few other Catholic University presidents to put flesh on Newman’s intellectual bones. Father Hesburgh was also aware that opening governance to the laity would bring to decision making for the future a world of worldly experience and wisdom and he was right.

Today Notre Dame has the largest endowment of all the Catholic schools and is closing in on Harvard and Yale. It has not lost its Catholic identity and I would argue that Father Hesburgh’s foresight strengthened the same and did not weaken it. It makes good sense to me that a university is exactly the right place where ideas are debated, research is pursued, and ideas and ideals are spread throughout the Church. ND has given much back to the larger Church since Father Ted began his presidency and it still does, in programs, which strengthen Catholic education, church life, and leadership in ethics through its business and law schools. If there were not the strong university which exists today precisely because of the Hesburgh vision, our beloved Church would be the worse for wear. It has perhaps the nation’s finest theology and philosophy departments among the major Catholic universities with Boston College in hot pursuit.

There used to be a saying about the difference between God and Father Hesburgh – God is everywhere including on the Notre Dame campus and Father Hesburgh is everywhere but Notre Dame. A tireless traveller on behalf of his beloved university, Father Ted was also an icon in the civil rights movement, thrust into that by appointment of President Lyndon B. Johnson to chair the nation’s new Civil Right’s Commission following Selma and Montgomery and whenever a President needed a mediator for some sticky wicket, they called on him. But coming back to South Bend was ever a joy for him and while away the University was watched over with diligence and care by his longtime priest friend, Father Ned Joyce.

One time Father Hesburgh was in Paris and visited that city’s Cardinal Archbishop, Jean Marie Lustiger, himself a convert from Judaism. Father Ted bragged that his university’s Lourdes grotto was never without at least a hundred students praying the rosary to Our Lady. Lustiger disputed that assertion saying that young people of that era did not have great devotion to the mother of Jesus. Upon returning Hesburgh invited the Cardinal to come to South Bend for an honorary degree or something and on the way from the airport, keeping his fingers crossed or having pre-arranged it, no one knows for sure, the two drove right to the Grotto. There were hundreds of young people kneeling in prayer, lighting candles and Lustiger could not believe his eyes.

In the end, Father Ted’s eyes began to fail him and blindness enveloped him but it did not stop the inquisitive mind, which remained alert, bright and informed till near the end. Father Ted died a humble priest of his beloved Holy Cross. Always approachable, ever faithful to his priesthood and to his Church, he richly deserves the accolades, which are today coming his way. His two successors, Father Edmund “Monk” Malloy and Father John Jenkins know well of their predecessors shoes and they have measured up to the task admirably and the Irish remain a storied past, a very rich present, and a great future. He lived simply and died humbly as many of his contemporary Holy Cross brother priests had done. He knew his stature was high but he maintained a low profile in retirement. Father Ted, you served your Lord, your community and the Church brilliantly, now rest in eternal peace.

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STRONGEST CHALLENGE YET

February 16th, 2015

Yesterday in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Pope Francis gave the strongest, clearest, and most concise homily he has given yet of his vision for Church leadership and membership. In speaking on the occasion of the creation of new Cardinals from throughout the world, the Holy Father used the Sunday Gospel to remind them, the world’s bishops, myself, and all who are involved in the ministry of the Church of the Gospel account of the curing of the leper. in so doing he told  once again that maintaining what we have is not enough, indeed far from enough. Rather  the spread of the Gospel and the success of the presence of Jesus in our world must penetrate every corner of our world and force us to look to the peripheries for the modern day equivalents of the leprosy so that they can feel the healing touch of Jesus.

A local pastor shared with me before the weekend this point, which would be a part of his homily; “Such behavior [he was speaking of the Gospel note that the priests who thought that people had leprosy, banished them to the outskirts of town and forced them to announce their presence by shouting, ‘unclean, unclean’] is abhorrent to us. How could someone who is ill be treated so heartlessly? But perhaps we are no different than those priests of Levi. Think of how we treat or avoid those who are of a different race, culture, religion, sexual preference, political persuasion, age group or economic status. The list is endless.”

There is a natural tendency of all religions and maybe especially ours to “preach to the choir” or put another way to concentrate our ministry on those people and aspects with which we personally are most comfortable. For the last twenty-five years, we bishops in the United States spent perhaps entirely too much time on liturgical language, battling politicians, threatening sanctions (the result is driving more good people out of the church and into the peripheries), whining against an admittedly dangerous secularism and seemingly ever stronger perversion of our Judeo-Christian culture (should we not soon add “Islamic” to the preceding hyphen?).

Politicians and their advisers learned long ago that the majority of Catholics don’t listen to their leadership when we engage in what is mostly verbal sparing. They would be a lot more worried about us if we took to heart the social justice aspect of both the Gospel and our ecclesial mission. If we were unanimous, for example (or close to it since I think that even the Nicene Creed would garner two negative votes at USCCB General Meetings) in supporting President Obama’s first small step at immigration reform (how many homilies have you heard this mentioned in?). In my seventy-three plus years, the Church never had the credibility outside and within its own membership that we did in the 1980’s with the twin pastoral letters on War and Peace and Economic Justice for All. Even those who disagreed took us far more seriously that many do today.

For the last thirty years, the Catholic Church in the United States has been much too content to pitch its tent on a safe island assuming that the surrounding seas were serene. Fear took hold of bishops and bishops’ conferences, the theological enterprise, and relationships with exempt congregations of religious women and men. At the same time, truthfully we watched tons of people abandon the Church for many reasons. And here in the United States, we are told, the periphery became the second largest religion in the nation: lapsed Catholics.

Now there is a voice, Peter’s present successor, who challenges Church leadership to get off that island and listen to and heal, comfort and don’t condemn, the sores of alienation of many while all the time listening to the cries of the immigrants and others for help. Rediscovering the “soul” of Catholicism is what this pontificate is all about, with an enormous reliance on the Holy Spirit.

I suspect and am afraid that there are those within our ranks who hope and pray that this Pope does not live long. Sad, isn’t it, that we would wish that on the most popular Holy Father in recent history (he will eclipse St. John Paul II in the hearts and minds of the people of the world, believe me). His challenge is not with God’s people but with those of us who promised obedience and respect for him and his successors as well as those who promised the same for their local bishops and religious superiors. (For a masterful review of the present current of dissent and unhappiness with this Pope, click here for a blog posting this past weekend by Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington)

Pope Francis is dealing with major issues of humanity which preclude far too many from a relationship with Christ the healer. He basically said to the world’s Cardinals in his homily that maybe those rich red robes were fine for that occasion but get out of them as soon as possible and get to work touching people like Christ touched the leper. “Sir, I know you can heal me if you just touch me.” God’s people do not care what we wear but that we care. There is a new freedom in the Church of Christ and only we can determine whether we are “players” or content to simply “sit this one (papacy) out by sticking to the safer sidelines”.

The Holy Father’s homily, which you can read by clicking here, said to me: you have ears to hear but are you listening? In my following blog entry I shall attempt an answer as to what I as a bishop, my priests, religious and members can do to respond to the Holy Father’s challenge. It may take me a few days.

 

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