May 21st, 2015


Almost without fail, every year around the same time as ordinations a local church (diocese) will lose at least one priest to death and the same was true of this year. Just before the ordinations, Father Raymond O’Neill who only retired from active ministry last July suffered a heart attack and went home to the Father’s house. On Monday we beautifully bade him farewell at the parish where he had served for well over the last decade. Born in Ireland, Father Ray was …..well, I will share with you my homily at his funeral Mass and perhaps you will come to know this gentle servant of the Gospel better. Three of the five ordained the previous Saturday came to the funeral which gave my heart great joy and the fourth took the Masses at his home parish so his pastor could attend. The bottom line: the Lord gives His Church new priests but he also takes and only a Christian can rejoice in both realities.

It could be said that Father Ray O’Neill ate and drank too much but it was not what caused his death but rather is likely to be what guaranteed his entrance into heaven. “He who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal and I will raise him up on the last day. [JO 6:54]. To know Father O’Neill was to know from his personal witness as well as his preaching that hardly a day went by when he did not say Mass, eat the flesh and drink from the cup. He took the words of Jesus literally and spent his life breaking bread and sharing the cup with many of you. So much of our memory of him is painted with this altar as well as in Gulfport, St.Joe, Pinellas Park, Dunedin and St. Petersburg. He was never happier than at the table of the Lord.


And he was a just man. Can anyone who ever went to confession to him suggest that he was never anything but unfailingly kind, quietly but effectively compassionate, and just. Is there a person here who does not think that he is now in the hands of God? And when he was down the street at the funeral home, his quiet presence brought or restored calm to the torment, which touched so many people in their hours of dealing with death.


In his priestly ministry he craved anonymity. When he was at Sacred Heart-St.Joseph, he prayed that we in the Pastoral Center would forget about him, lose his Rolodex card. From Gulfport to Pasco County, he hid from me but not from God. I can still remember the sigh when I called him to ask him to come here in 2001 – he greeted my voice on the phone with that quiet compassionate Irish sigh which translated, “you again, hopefully not me again!” But he was always a good priest, a good soldier, ever reluctant to journey forth into virgin territory but never needing to be dragged while screaming.


The great movie producer John Ford made a movie in 1952 and filmed much of it at Ashford Castle, north of Galway, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara and the quintessential Father O’Neill like Barry Fitzgerald and called it the “Quiet Man.” However I should point out that Fitzgerald did not play the parish priest in the movie, Ward Bond did. And the town is called Innisfree. I don’t to this moment know why this has anything to do with Father O’Neill except he was in every way a quiet man, a gentle man, a kind and loving man. He would be embarrassed to hear my speak of him in this way as he never bragged about his virtues and he didn’t have but one vice – formula one racing.


When he told me of his love for their noise polluting cars, I could not believe my ears – perpetually quiet man in love with racings most expensive, noisiest and most dangerous cars. When my wonderful chancellor Joan Morgan told me of his sudden and unexpected death, my first thought was to call Marie Dupheney and tell her, “let’s delay the funeral Mass until next Monday and I promise to be finished with it before the start of the Indianapolis 500.” He would have been happy. He has a collection of Formula One cars, which he treasured and when asked why, he simply said in his usual understated terms, “I can talk to them and they don’t talk back to me.”


But we commend him back to God just hours and days before Pentecost – this coming weekend. As most of you know, Father O’Neill was born in July of 1966 in Dublin but ordained as a member of and for the Congregation of the Holy Spirit. They sent him to Africa for six years and like most young newly ordained serving in Africa, he taught high school and served as a pastor. I think of yesterday’s Gospel for the Ascension and how Jesus told his disciples that they needed to get off their “duffs”, spread out and bring the kingdom of God to many places. He came to us and auditioned us in 1986. We briefly failed the audition because he left rather soon and went to Australia but that was for a year and then he returned to remain until God came for him last Wednesday.


For vacation he would travel home to Ireland where he is survived by his brother but every year after a short visit, he would take off for the continent and take bus and riverboat tours covering all of Europe. He understood the history and culture of every place he visited and never met a fellow bus traveller again after the final day.


Today we celebrate his goodness and the grace of his presence in our midst. If you are like me, there is a little tinge of anger at God in my mind for not giving me the opportunity to say “farewell” and “thanks” one more time. He was as good to priests as he was to all of you and both Fathers Rebel and Madden felt the loss deeply. But it is hard to be too angry and he would have none of it because Father O’Neill was comforted by Paul’s words to the Romans “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we are also live with him.”


Father Ray ate often of the bread of heaven. He was never better or more of a priest than when he would stand behind that altar and effect the great mystery. We already miss him though there were already signs that his remaining days on earth would most likely be challenging. I think a provident, loving and gracious God afforded a provident, loving and ever gracious priest a happy end to a life of service. A quiet man. A deep and pensive thinker. He has gone home to the Father and in that light and with his faith, we rejoice that on May 13th, God visited his servant Raymond and beckoned him to Himself.



May 16th, 2015

Father Carl Melchior, Father William "Bill" Santhouse, Father Ryan Boyle, Father Steven “Chuck” Dornquast, myself, Father Anthony Ustick and Father Curtis Carro. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Father Carl Melchior, Father William “Bill” Santhouse, Father Ryan Boyle, Father Steven “Chuck” Dornquast, myself, Father Anthony Ustick and Father Curtis Carro. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens. See more photos from the ordination here.

Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle
St. Petersburg, FL
Saturday, May 16, 2015

Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop

Hebrews 5:1-10
2 Corinthians 5:14-20
John 15: 9-17

The entire Church of St. Petersburg rejoices this morning that these five young men, Curtis, Ryan, Chuck, Anthony and Bill are offering their lives to Christ and his Church in priestly ministry. It is worth noting  that this morning’s ordination is of the largest class since 1991. God is good and these men are incredibly generous.

They chose the readings for their ordination Mass and their choices they reveal to me, and I hope to all of you as well, their hopes and aspirations for their priesthood beginning in just a few minutes.. For a few moments then, I wish to reflect on what we might expect from our new priests based on the readings they have chosen (five points): from Hebrews: deal patiently with the ignorant and the erring, reverence, and obedience. From 2 Corinthians: being an ambassador for Christ; and from the Fourth Gospel: love without limit.

Earlier this week, research from the Pew Foundation revealed two things that I suspect we all knew but were reluctant to admit. First, Pew said, for every new convert to Catholicism, six people leave our Church. Second, Catholicism in this country would be in deep decline numerically were it not for the Hispanic immigrants we currently enjoy and even there thirty-five percent of all Hispanic Catholics are leaving the Church of their baptism for other religions. In fairness I have to admit that we are not alone in the loss category and we know that America is becoming less Christian.  Nonetheless, we as Church have a Gospel challenge to face, meet and defeat.

We don’t teach what we believe as well as we should. We rely perhaps too heavily on old methods of communication and put too much reliance on traditional vestige, hierarchy of orders and judgment. We often hide in the clothes of the past as well as some of the ideas of the past, disregarding the fact that to today’s younger generation not only are these things devoid of meaning and anachronistic but also some can suggest tendencies that may not otherwise be present.

Dear brothers, we can basically only choose two paths to our ministry: to cling to a notion of priesthood and ministry and see our older Catholics and ourselves off to eternity, or adapt when possible and stop fighting some of these the new realities. Your generation will never be content with simply embracing a religion that they feel helped their moms and dads but has little meaning and relevance to their own lived experience. They are there, this younger generation of the baptized Catholic,  ripe for the picking, when approached with a reasoned, kind, patient, welcoming ministry, which includes not only we who are ordained, but people like themselves as well, the people of God.

Reverence is a two-way street, not one way. God so loved the world that even Jesus’ “prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death” to many seemed unanswered. The Son was forever and always reverent to the Father, BUT he continually showed reverence to those to whom he ministered. If we are indeed made in the image and likeness of God, then every person you meet expects to be treated with reverence. And that is not an easy task, especially when someone is mad at you, frustrated with you or with the Church and to them the Church is nothing more than a  seemingly endless list of do’s and don’ts. Allow me Just a hint from a thirty-seven year old veteran: cry out and cry to the Lord, not to the person in front of you remembering that God still asked his Son, the great high priest, to die for us.

Obedience today is elusive. It may mean something to you today when you already know where you are being assigned and are happy with it and it will mean something else to you when you are asked to go somewhere, do something, which you really do not want to do. Obedience this morning is easy, tomorrow it might be difficult. But here the writer of Hebrews points out something I hope none of we priests ever forget: Jesus “learned obedience from what he suffered.” If you wish to act in persona Christi then like Christ himself, accept the tough, the unattractive, the taunts and taints, yes, even the sufferings as he did. He could have exempted himself from this passion but he did not and why should we? Understand well the deep meaning of the promise of obedience and respect and make it a part of your regular prayer.

In Paul’s words to the Church in Corinth, all of us are to be ambassadors for Christ. When the President of the United States appoints a “fat cat” who contributed millions to his or her campaign to serve as the United States Ambassador to the Court of St. James (Great Britain) that person surrenders their personal agenda, their personal ideas of defense and finance, their personal likes and don’t likes, part of their intellectual independence to the will and person of the President who appointed them. They carry both the message and agenda of their President and his ideas, his mission in service, his goals and objectives to the government and people where they serve, and not their own. In other words, apart from their personal and private lives, ambassadors become more than merely a representative but they take on the persona of the person who sent them. If we are to be ambassadors for Christ, we should never be content with just being his emissary but rather we should strive to present his persona: kind, compassionate, loving, forgiving, merciful, healing, non-judgmental except and unless all else has failed.

Style your ministry after Pope Francis. Ever the teacher, he is a master of the use of the gesture which captures the hearts of the world. Why, because he acts like most of us think Christ would act. He speaks with authority only when he has to but with wisdom and understanding and openness. He doesn’t hide behind rich vestments and vestiges of power and privilege but leads by example using words only when absolutely necessary. When Raul Castro can suggest that this Pope is truly an ambassador for God, we least of all,  should never take him for granted.

Deacons Ryan, Bill, Anthony, Curtis and Chuck – for God’s sake and the people’s good, be the first of the Church’s Francis priests. It means you will always make yourselves  open to vulnerability, ever in search of the lost, truly satisfied with little material things, consistently a lover of the poor, forever a true promoter of justice –  in other words, ambassadors for Christ.

Finally, try to remember the motto of the man who in moments will lay hands on you and anoint your hands for God’s work. Love one another and stay close to each other as friends in the priesthood, which for a few years will be tricky given Ryan’s ministry. You have chosen the chapter and verse of John’s Gospel from which nineteen and a half years ago I chose the words by which I would try to live out my ministry in this great diocese.  God chose you, I did not. Others have formed you, I did not. Love God, love one another, and join me in loving and working tirelessly for our friends. Priesthood is a privilege but not a privileged place. Like the master, choose always to serve and not to be served. Love one another as he has loved us.



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?”




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 Pollyanna-ish 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.



April 3rd, 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.



April 2nd, 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.



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.

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!”



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?



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.



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.


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!