September 24th, 2015

It would take an extreme form of callousness not to have been proud of being a Catholic the last two days and the pride should continue to swell in our hearts and minds for three more days as Pope Francis continues his missionary journey to the United States. He speaks a message of love, mercy, and forgiveness and challenges all of us, myself included, to love God more dearly and our neighbor more nearly as the famous refrain from Godspell recalls. I was moved to tears by his speech to the joint session of Congress. It was masterful in construction and amazing in delivery. It was courageous of Speaker Boehner to invite the Holy Father and courageous of the pope to respond in English.

At both the White House and today at the Capitol, the Holy Father chose to raise our eyes up and beyond the current divisive debates which mark our political landscape to embrace fundamental American concepts which in the past have served us so well: religious freedom and liberty, respect for all human life from conception to natural death, welcome once again the stranger, live the Golden Rule, protect mother earth, end the death penalty.

In speaking to the U.S. bishops, we were exhorted to put aside narcissism and petty differences so as to act even more boldly on proclaiming the ministry of mercy of Jesus to the world. Using that marvelous metaphor of the Easter/Pentecost fire and applying it to a Church gathered around the family fireplace, he told we bishops that it is high time to stop being so exclusionist and more welcoming of the new family reality by letting each member stand around the fire with us regardless of their starting point.

Lifting up four Americans, two of them not Catholic (Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King) and two of them not so well known Catholics (Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton) he invited all in our country to continue to dream of a just society, an equal society, a kind and compassionate society, and a society bent on peace and the end to warfare, weaponry, etc. You may not know but certainly the Holy Father knew that as a young woman, Dorothy Day had a procured abortion but the mercy of God brought her back to stand around the fire and enlarge it with an outreach to the homeless and desperate of society.

The spin doctors of the media were at work to a certain degree, but a lot of what they were thinking (and perhaps some even hoping for), namely contentiousness between the Holy Father and the President and the Holy Father and a bitterly divided Congress just did not materialize. Gently but firmly Pope Francis spoke the language of Church teaching without offending most. I would be grateful if we bishops would be capable of doing the same.

There is Friday’s speech to the family of nations yet to be delivered and several major talks to be given at the World Meeting on the Family but it would be hard to imagine a conclusion to this missionary journey that will be as thought-provoking as these last two days in the nation’s capitol.

By the way, our seminarians were present in Washington today. I wanted them to experience the man whose name some of them will soon be using as they offer the Eucharistic sacrifice. Francis is the pope of the people and clearly even in secular leaning America, the people love this pope. I love this pope – more than any other in my lifetime and I shall spend my remaining months doing what I can to bring more people to stand around the family fire.



September 22nd, 2015

Pope Francis is now only hours from arriving at Andrews Air Force base in Washington having completed his journey of hope to the island nation of Cuba. Having three times stood on the ground awaiting the arrival of now St. John Paul II, I can imagine the feelings of those who have worked so hard to prepare for this moment.

The women and men of the United States Secret Service, many of whom are Catholic, are filled with professional anxiety for the Holy Father’s safety. They know they shall never protect anyone again in their lives before crowds of people desperate to see the Pope. No elected official draws such a vast crowd ever (though they wish they could), no other head of state, even the Queen of England, would see so many people.

Those who have worked so diligently and hard preparing to host the Pope also want everything to go well. Representatives of the U.S. government, the Bishops’ conference, the Archdioceses of Washington, New York and Philadelphia, the United Nations are now just hours from their one moment to test all they had planned with a man who is notorious for going off script and schedule. They want and we pray that all goes well.

The media have sought credentialing in incredible numbers to cover the papal visit. About one hundred international, Vatican-credentialed media will accompany the Pope on the plane from Cuba and will return with him to Rome on Sunday. But when they step off the plane at Andrews Air Force base, they morph into the larger pool of media swarming on Washington, New York and Philadelphia.

Some just can’t stand good news and Gospel hope and love so the negative spins have begun. Don’t listen to them, dear reader, listen to the Pope and carefully read and ponder what he has to say. Agendas abound for this visit but there is only one which  really matters and that belongs to the Successor of St. Peter, Francis. His is a message of “yes” and not “no”. His is a message of God’s love for every human being and not just those who feel they have made it. His is a message of mercy, not punishment. His is a message of sharing not hoarding. His is a message of inclusion, not exclusion. His is a message of joy in the Gospel, not burdens. His is a message of relief, not bondage.  Listen to him – this immigrant to our shores, as he opens the vision of Jesus to all humankind. Don’t let the “spin-doctors” spoil the moment – one of the greatest for Catholicism in my lifetime.

Finally, tell yourself throughout the next five and a half days that he is speaking to you, to me as a bishop who I am sure I will hear an earful, to a nation that values its religious pluralism but also stands “Under God.” He speaks as a priest who for all of his priesthood until March 2013 served a poor nation, governed by despotic anarchists who disvalued human life and squandered what profit their office brought them on protecting an economic order of very rich and very poor only. He believes that God seeks for all people equal opportunity, a life of freedom from tyranny, sufficient economic activity to allow all God’s children to live fruitfully and a future for the earth, which is currently at grave risk due to unfettered capitalism.

The barque of Peter has arrived on our shores and its faithful navigator, Pope Francis, wishes us to study the winds of change, which will lead to a better life with God and with one another than what we now have.

Fasten your seatbelt, as we are sure to encounter predicted turbulence.



September 10th, 2015

By now, most of you have heard that Pope Francis has “made annulment of marriages cheaper and easier,” as one news source hastily reported. This report has resulted in many questions concerning what was actually stated in the Pontiff’s Apostolic Letter issued motu proprio (of his own initiative), which was released on September 8th, although the letter was dated August 15th. It is surprising that the content of this letter had not leaked out before its release!

The Latin title of the letter, Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus (“The Lord Jesus, Gentle Judge”) is an accurate description of our Lord and a model for the Church to emulate. As an Apostolic Letter, it lays out new ecclesiastical (Church) laws in addition to or in place of existing laws. The purpose of the letter is to describe certain reforms of the canonical (the Church’s legal) process used when determining whether a marriage should be declared null. Or, to use the common but inaccurate expression, whether an “annulment” of a marriage should be granted.

As is the case with most new laws issued for the universal Church, a preparation period of three months is given before the law becomes effective, in order to allow bishops the opportunity to instruct and prepare the faithful in their dioceses concerning the meaning and impact of the new law. In his letter, Pope Francis established December 8, 2015 as the date on which this new law will take effect. In a style that is typical of our Holy Father, it is fitting that the effective date should coincide with the beginning of the Year of Mercy.

While only released in Latin and Italian, below are a few key points which were outlined in the pope’s Apostolic Letter:

  1. The Church continues to view marriage as indissoluble (permanent), based on Christ’s teachings in Sacred Scripture (Mark 10:2-12, Matthew 19:3-12). Even if a divorce decree has been granted by a civil authority, this does not change the fact that the marriage continues to exist. “Therefore what God has joined together, no one must separate” (Mark 10:9).
  2. There was a need to reconsider the existing nullity process: Pope Francis has consulted with numerous experts in canon law, theology and pastoral practice before proposing changes in a marriage nullity process that had become long, burdensome and often frustrating for many who questioned whether their failed marriage was ever valid (binding) to begin with. It was not uncommon that, in some parts of the world, the “annulment process” took more than two years to complete. To use an old quote from civil law, “justice delayed is justice denied.”
  3. Only one decision in favor of nullity is necessary: Under the current law, if one or both parties in a failed marriage believe that the marriage was never valid due to a flaw in the consent of one or both persons, two Church tribunals (courts) must agree that this flaw existed, declaring the marriage invalid (non-binding) and rendering the parties free to remarry. Under this new legislation, a decision from only one court is required, saving a significant amount of time.
  4. The bishop can permit an even shorter process in some cases: By his office, the diocesan bishop already possesses full judicial power and may function as a judge in cases where both ex-spouses agree that their marriage should be declared null and there is clear and abundant proof to support their assertion. This proof would include witness testimony, expert testimony (such as evidence provided by a counselor, psychologist or other qualified professional), and written evidence attesting to the nullity of the marriage.
  5. Additional reasons for nullity: The Holy Father, in describing the shorter process mentioned above, provided additional reasons for why a marriage might be declared null. It could be that one or both parties lacked the faith to understand marriage as an indissoluble bond, ordered toward the good of both spouses, open to the possibility of children, with the full intention of fidelity. It is possible that a spouse elected to abort a pregnancy to avoid procreation, or intentionally remained in an affair at the beginning of the marriage or shortly thereafter. Perhaps a spouse has concealed the fact of children born from a previous relationship or a pre-existing and incurable disease. Such hidden factors might have caused the other party to enter the marriage with erroneous presumptions about the qualities of the person he/she married.
  6. A party still has the right to appeal: Whenever one of the former spouses feels that the tribunal’s decision was unjust for any reason, he/she will have the right to approach the Metropolitan Tribunal (in our case, the Archdiocese of Miami) in order to make a complaint. This right exists in our current law and continues under the new law, in order to avoid abuses among diocesan tribunals and to protect the rights of both former spouses. Appeals may also be made to the Church’s marriage court in Rome, the Rota, if the concerned party chooses to do so.
  7. One judge is as good as three: While it is preferred that marriage cases are reviewed by a panel of three ecclesiastical judges (a “Collegial Tribunal”), a single judge may hear the case, as well. While this is also a reiteration of an existing law, it is most helpful for those diocesan tribunals with limited personnel and resources. However, the pope advises bishops to exercise caution that the process does not become “lax.” The long-held requirement of a tribunal staff member who functions as “Defender of the [marriage] Bond” continues, in order to provide potential arguments against assertions made by judges prior to a final decision regarding whether the marriage should be declared null.

In addition to the previous points, I would like to add some helpful information that was not addressed at length in the Apostolic Letter:

  • Although commonly referred to as an “annulment,” the accurate term for the Church’s procedure is “declaration of nullity.” This means that the tribunal has reviewed the evidence and has discovered that, for one or more reasons, a truly binding marriage never existed from the beginning. The tribunal then declares the marriage to be null.
  • This “declaration of nullity” does not mean that children born from the union are “illegitimate” (unlawful). Our existing law states that children born from a marriage that was presumed to be valid by at least one of the spouses at the time of consent are legitimate, regardless of a later discovery by a Church tribunal.
  • The purpose of this process is always to discover the truth about the marriage, whether it was truly valid (binding) or invalid (null, or non-binding). It was never intended to be merely a “rubber-stamp” process.
  • From the moment a case is received, every Church tribunal begins with the presumption that the marriage is valid. It is then up to the single judge or panel of three judges to determine whether there are any reasons to overturn that presumption (e.g. immaturity of one or both spouses; pressure to marry due to age, premarital pregnancy or other reason; intention of one or both parties at the time of marriage not to include fidelity, permanence or openness to children; and various psychological disorders, such as substance addiction, narcissistic personality disorder, etc.).

The Tribunal Office for the Diocese of St. Petersburg offers some very helpful resources, for those who would like to know more about the marriage nullity process. To view some of the available resources, please click here.  Also, in keeping with Pope Francis’ desire that all parties should be permitted to participate in the process with minimal expense, there are no fees for services offered by our Tribunal.

My hope is that all bishops and pastors, as well as parish and tribunal staff members will take the Holy Father’s letter to heart and more closely imitate Jesus, the Gentle Judge, by offering healing and guidance to those who suffer from the pain of separation and divorce.



July 9th, 2015

The recent weeks have been momentous in many ways but also quite predictable in other ways. In the following thoughts I hope to demonstrate that both perceptions are possible within a single fortnight.

Chronologically first out of the block was the papal encyclical letter, Francis’ first, Laudato Si. Most of my readers were quite in accord with the Holy Father’s brilliant and prophetic support for the moral equation to be found in the environment and our responsibility for caring for it. There were some strong voices to be heard objecting to the Holy Father entering the realm of science and suggesting he should stay in the realm of theology (these people I suspect did not read the encyclical in its entirety) as well as fewer still who thought the interlocking rationale between finance, business and ecology was a step too far. But almost two weeks later, my sense is that those who took the time to plough through the encyclical in its entirety were proud once again of their Pope, his amazing teaching ability and his constant focus on the vulnerable – human and environmental. While there can, will, and perhaps always should be scientific debate about something like global warning, Pope Francis’ invitation to the world community to join in a discussion of how best to protect and save creation is worth a read, worthy of discussion, and a source for continual prayer for saving creation. There is more than enough moral theology in the encyclical letter to qualify the Holy Father’s concern.

Then came the Supreme Court decision on a small but very important aspect of the Affordable Care Act, the majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts. I was both thrilled by and grateful for the upholding of the device most recently used to help the poor gain access to health care. The bishops of the United States in general and this bishop in particular have long been in favor of universal access to health care which has been achieved in some part by the aforementioned act. Health care is a right of every one of God’s children and the ACA is but a first step in achieving that Gospel goal. While I have troubles with certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act and their requirements upon employers like ourselves, the larger goal is now more guaranteed by the recent SCOTUS decision and that’s good. The Chief Justice wrote well in his majority opinion in this case.

Next in order came the establishment of a new constitutionally situated “right” to marriage and this time the Chief Justice was even more eloquent, albeit in dissent. He said several things which I fully embrace: five lawyers should not be rewriting the constitution to create a new right never before seen in over two hundred years as that is the task belongs to the people of the nation; then the Chief said that if you love the Constitution and look for this new right to be found therein, guess again – it is not to be found there, anywhere. The Chief’s dissent was measured, respectful of the majority even in disagreement with them and he even intimated a respect for the dynamic, which is sweeping the country in equality for all regardless of sexual orientation. The reaction to this decision from our Church has run the gamut of emotion and words from outrage to sadness that it has all come to this. Everyone should have seen this coming. We Florida bishops have known for some time that the constitutional amendment passed by our state electorate in 2008 would for sure not pass in 2016.

For many gays and lesbians, for many other people and for the majority of the Supreme Court, the issue is one of denial of equality with married people in basic rights – inheritance, health care benefits, etc. The only avenue, in their minds, to equality quickly, was the courts and the hope that a “constitutional right” could be found guaranteeing equality of treatment. Some predict further challenges to the Church as we assert time and time again that our definition of sacramental marriage is between one man and one woman. That’s not going to change. What needs to change is that as a community of faith, we as Church must become more tolerant of the many different ways people choose to live their lives, put an end to painful language like “perverse”, be loving, caring and compassionate towards all.

If gays and lesbians adopt, the children they have chosen to raise are God’s children and they will be loved by God and their parents. We already see this in a number of our elementary schools where Johnny or Jane has two mothers, or two fathers. I strongly dispute any claim that they can not be loved, raised and cared for. We have decades of intolerance, painful language, and abusive behavior to work to overcome and our Church should be an agent able to, in the words of St. Francis, “change those things which can be changed.” For me a marker has always been how Jesus (and now the Holy Father especially) dealt with those whom others saw as sinners. Recall the story of the woman caught in adultery who Jesus approached first publicly and asked her in the presence of others “has anyone condemned you? . . . .Then neither shall I.” Privately, out of earshot, he encouraged her “to go and sin no more.” The same approach can be seen and heard in the conversation of Jesus and the woman at Jacob’s well. May we as a Church be full of love, not hate; of welcome not exclusion; of forbearance and forgiveness not denunciation and character assassination. As Archbishop Blasé Cupich of Chicago said last week, we must learn how to use and live with culturally shifting mores while gently, quietly, and lovingly sharing the truth we have received.

Finally, I wished to withhold this blog until I had learned the outcome of the Court’s decision on lethal injection. I only wish Justice Breyer could have found one more vote because I too believe that the death penalty is an assault on life inconsistent with the will of the Creator. Believe me, good reader, its days are numbered. One state after another has abolished it in capital crimes, and the fifty states joined with the federal government are now an anomaly among the world family of nations throughout the whole world who view it as barbarism.

Just as among the nine, unelected Justices of the Supreme Court there are many minds and many voices, so true also is it of the Church. I know there will be some Scalia’s among the respondents to this post, as I know there will be some Breyers and Roberts type voices. I just ask our faith community to think and pray with civility as we try to fashion ourselves as a Church and nation of mercy and compassion.




June 22nd, 2015

I am currently engaged in “honest” pastoral ministry, which means that I have been helping out in a local parish where the associate pastor is critically ill. It also means a 730am daily Mass so today after Mass I was in my car headed for the “arches”, not the ecclesiastical kind, and listening to SEIZE THE DAY on Sirius XM Satellite Radio (channel 129) which is hosted by Tampa’s own Gus Lloyd. I pretty much always tune Gus in on the way to the office, which is usually ninety minutes later than this morning.

Gus Lloyd worked for the diocese on what was then referred to as WBVM, now Spirit FM 90.5 when I first came and he was superb in the morning drive time. The man has more energy than the energizer bunny and he is Catholic to the inner core of his being. Eventually when Sirius was starting up, the Communications Director of the Archdiocese of New York, which had been given some proprietary rights over the fledgling network, Joe Zwilling called me to check Gus out. I knew right away that our diocesan station was going to lose him and he has been holding down the morning drive time slot for about eight years now and doing it well. His two and a half hour program (730am-1000am and repeated again at 1030am) is a combination of talk, interviews, phone calls from listeners and even a casual listener can learn a lot about the Catholic faith. And it all originates in a room in his home here in Tampa. There have been a few times in the car when I have muttered, “no, Gus, no” but no one will ever risk hell when listening to Gus.

Today’s program was fascinating. We had been advised that a group from the Westboro Baptist Church would be demonstrating outside of some of our parish Churches and yesterday it was to be St. Timothy in Lutz’s day. I advised all pastors to ask their people not to engage in battle with these people but politely ignore them and that was the advice shared with the parishioners of St. Timothy in advance by the pastor Father Ken Malley. Gus and his wife attend St. Tim’s.

To refresh your memory, Westboro Baptist Church first gained notoriety by protesting military funerals for returning soldiers who had been killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. They then declared verbal (so far) war on Catholics (we are for certain the whore of Babylon at best and the devil incarnate more likely), Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Episcopalians or just about any religious strain not a part of Westboro Baptist Church.

Gus decided prior to coming that if they were present at the conclusion of Mass, he would go out to the public sidewalk where they would be allowed to demonstrate. He noted that the police were present and they were there. I listened to Gus engage in a conversation with Charles whose voice made me think he was a young adult at best. Gus was brilliant, never losing his cool but it did not take more than his first question to bring out the hatred in Charles towards Catholics on this day and just about everyone else in general.

Charles accused every priest of being a pedophile and then said that our Church at large and Pope Francis specifically is in favor of gay marriage, homosexuality, abortion (!), etc. Charles mocked the Eucharist, or better blasphemed but I am not certain that Charles is smart enough to know much about anything. When he called us “idol worshippers” he didn’t just mean statues, though they were included, but the Eucharist itself. When Gus after saying that we adore only the one true God and asked him if he had any pictures of his family in his home (great comparison, Gus), Charles cut and ran from that one.  I think he knew he was in a rhetorical hole from which he could not climb out. Patiently, prudently and never showing any signs of anger, just disagreement, Gus spoke to Charles and recorded a seven-minute conversation.

Since the tragedy in Charleston last week, I have been concerned about the safety of people in our parishes and churches in the diocese. It is ridiculous in this day and age with guns and mass assault weapons easily acquired to say “it can’t happen here” and listening to Charles, his misplaced fervor, his heated rhetoric which I will not call hate-filled though, if it is not, it stopped being just short of that, and learning more about the shooter in Charleston’s background in exploring racism, even violent racism, I said to myself this morning that the same tragic thing could happen to us just because we are Catholic.

Gus Lloyd did his listeners a service today, even though he dismissed my counsel to his pastor who counseled to leave them alone. I am glad he did and I think he represented us very well in exposing a deep well of anger in a young man claiming to represent a Christian church. Our world is fast becoming scarier and scarier and we need to increase both our awareness of the reality and threat and pray more and pray harder. My neighbors must have thought I was nuts because I sat in my car in today’s heat and humidity listening to SEIZE THE DAY until the segment ended.



June 18th, 2015

With great worldwide interest, Pope Francis today released truly his first encyclical letter, Laudato Si which translates “Praise Be to You.” Those words are not original with Pope Francis but instead are the opening words of a Canticle written by St. Francis of Assisi. Our Holy Father uses the world’s beloved “poverello” of Assisi whose name he chose as the one of the first persons to recognize human responsibility for protecting all of creation. He addresses not only Catholics but the entire population of mother earth to reflect on the consequences of continued disregard for nature and our created planet. Ecumenically he begins by quoting from a letter from Patriarch Bartholomew of the Greek Orthodox Church which more briefly sounded a warning several years ago.

It is clear that the Holy Father availed himself of as much scientific advice as theological advice. The letter is solidly based on findings and propositions staunchly held by most of the scientific community. Francis is “no Lone Ranger, tree-hugging” liberal as some have made him out to be. Rather, he is a father listening to a world-wide family and caring for their future as well as that of their off-spring. In the run-up to today’s publication, it seemed that much of the negativity in advance was coming from politicians. I wonder now that they have a chance to read the letter in its entirety if Florida’s two candidates for the presidency will remain as negative to the letter’s themes and propositions. I hope not because without change, history will record that unlike in the case of Galileo where popes and the Church got it wrong, in this instance this pope got it right.

Does one have to accept papal statements on environment, ecology, economics as de fide definita or “defined, binding truth”? No, and Pope Francis would be the first to admit this. But, should a Catholic in the first instance take note of this papal teaching and take it seriously. Yes. Why? Because, as the letter points out, all of humanity has a moral responsibility to care for the first gift from God at creation which is the planet. Let me take one of the most contentious issues in the encyclical, at least with the economic and political order – global warming. There are still a few who would deny that there is such a thing as “global warming.” Let me share a few places on God’s good earth where I have witnessed it and I believe it cannot be denied: Alaska where the Mendenhall Glacier outside of Juneau has melted back nearly one half mile since my first visit thirty years ago; Antarctica where the very size of the continent is shrinking; the Maldives where the whole nation is likely to be underwater in not too many years and where the sea encroachment has already been seen and experienced my many of its residents; the Arctic Ocean, previously impenetrable now navigable; the Amazon rain forest which when cleared for industrial use or paper harvest, reduces the amount of annual rainfall to desperately low levels threatening not only its unique ecology but threatening the indigenous poor who live along diminishing river banks. These are scientific realities of the dangers inherent in simply poo-pooing, ridiculing, ignoring what is happening and the speed at which it is happening.

Beyond the science, the Holy Father points out the economic consequences. The poor will grow in number because of displacement. He points out, and this is the main thing that drives his critics bonkers, that economic progress comes at the expense of human dignity in many ways in addition to having environmental consequences. Boeing, to use an example with no intention of beating a “dead horse” for they are not the worst, is working hard to replace its work force with robots. The number of poor in the world will increase beyond its present staggering level and they will have less earth and less natural resources to sustain life.

These are admittedly “quick takes” from an exceedingly long but loving letter from a kind, gentle, compassionate pastor. I need to read it a second time, and then perhaps a third and fourth time to truly and fully comprehend the import of its message. But, I would take this to the bank, there will be tonight and tomorrow night far more people in the world who will be grateful that a voice has been raised to save planet earth from a Jurassic park without dinosaurs but also without grateful care for the gifts God has given to humanity in nature.



June 6th, 2015

Archbishop Wilton C. Gregory, Archbishop of Atlanta, generously asked if I would be willing to provide the keynote address/homily for this year’s annual Atlanta Eucharistic Congress. He specifically asked if I would be willing to address the topic of “the Eucharist as a “springboard” to Social Justice and Catholic Social teaching”. This morning, Saturday, June 6th, 2015,  following a Eucharistic procession which the Archbishop led, I delivered this text to the twenty-thousand people in attendance for the beginning of the annual Atlanta Eucharistic Congress for 2015. Each year this annual observance has drawn more and more people to attend and it is predicted that by the end of the observance tomorrow, over 35,000 people who have made the trip to the Convention Center where it is held. These words were spoken in the context of a holy hour of Eucharistic exposition to the assembled. I hope you enjoy my thoughts on this Body and Blood of Christ week-end and that for some, it will reawaken the themes and work of our own three year Eucharistic convening beginning ten years ago. The Eucharist is, as the Second Vatican Council declared, the source and summit of our faith belief and practice.

Archdiocese of Atlanta
2015 Eucharistic Congress
Always Be He Whom You Receive

The theme for this year’s Congress—I Will Be With You Always—gives voice to Jesus’ commission to the disciples:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of time (Matthew 28:19-20).

In Matthew’s Gospel, these are Jesus’ last words to His disciples—words He offers them at the end of His time on earth as He departs and ascends and returns to the Father. They are, then, Jesus’ words of farewell to His closest friends to whom He has entrusted the continuation of His ministry…and these words can be said to be addressed to us as well!

Loving the disciples—and us—as He does, Jesus offers words of reassurance—I Will Be With You Always. However, Jesus also gives to them—and us—a task…a mission: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations

The theme for this year’s Congress then conveys two profound aspects of our Eucharistic faith: 1) The reassurance of Jesus’ perpetual presence to us through His real presence in the Eucharist and 2) the Eucharist’s commissioning of us to an apostolate of justice unto the world. In other words, the Eucharist speaks to us—as Jesus spoke to the disciples—of the interconnection between His ongoing presence and our Christian mission to the world.

Jesus’ Presence in the Eucharist—I Will Be With You Always

Central to our Catholic faith is the conviction that Jesus is really, truly and substantially present to us in the Eucharist. Therefore, the Eucharist is, indeed, the source and summit of our faith (The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, #10). Being in the presence of another affords us an encounter with that person. An encounter with another should be transformative, i.e., I am moved to behave and act in a manner respective of the one I encounter.

Consider the difference of how you might act if you enter a room and believe that you are alone…versus entering a room aware of the presence of another. Through the Eucharist Jesus takes the initiative to generously make Himself present to us and to afford us an encounter with Him. Christ makes His presence among us actively visible and tangible…by extending among us on earth in visible form the function of His bodily reality which is in heaven—This is precisely what the sacrament is: the earthly extension of the body of the Lord (Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P., Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God, p. 41).

In those words from Ascension Thursday Jesus reassured His disciples that He would be with them always. He assures us, too, of the same by using the sacrament as the means by which He continuously extends to us His ongoing presence and grace. Jesus’ heavenly saving activity which is invisible to us becomes visible in the Eucharist. Jesus utilizes the sacrament as a means to bridge the gap between us and Him thereby making an encounter with Him possible even after His Ascension—The sacrament is an earthly prolongation of the glorified Christ…the face of redemption turned visibly to us (Schillebeeckx p.44). To receive the sacrament, therefore, is to encounter Jesus.

Not only does Jesus make Himself present to us in the Eucharistic species—so powerfully experienced in devotions such as this–His presence in the Eucharist is further assured by His presence to us in the gathered Eucharistic assembly; the act of remembrance (anamnesis) by which we recall the Jesus Event in a manner that renders the Event present to us anew, calling us to commit ourselves to sharing this Good News with others; the priest who acts in the person of Jesus; and the proclamation of the word (Scripture) through which we encounter the WORD (Jesus).

Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of His minister…but especially under the Eucharistic species. By His power He is present in the sacraments…He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, lastly, when the Church prays and sings, for He promised: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20) (The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium #7).

The Missionary Aspect of the Eucharist—Our Christian Call to Social Justice

To encounter Jesus, then, is to be transformed.

Immediately prior to the passages in Matthew cited above, the Gospel tells us that the disciples were at a mountain in Galilee processing the mystery of Jesus’ Resurrection. Upon initially seeing the Risen Christ the Gospel reports that the disciples worshipped Jesus, but still doubted. It is only when Jesus approaches and speaks to them—affords them an encounter—that the disciples are transformed—moving from uncertainty to missionary zeal. So, too, it is with us. As Jesus approaches us in the Eucharist, affording us an encounter with Him, He speaks to us through His Word proclaimed and commissions us—just as he did the disciples—with a missionary mandate to go forth and to share our faith with others.

From the Liturgy, the Church…receives the mission to proclaim and to spread among all peoples the Kingdom of Christ and of God and to be on earth the initial budding forth of that Kingdom (Sacrosanctum Concilium #2).

The Acts of the Apostles records that the disciples were, indeed, transformed by their encounter with Christ and did as He instructed them—They went forth to all peoples giving witness to the faith and calling for social justice (The undoing of Babel—Acts 2; Communitarian Living—Ananias/Sapphira Episode—Acts 4-5; The missions of Paul—Acts 13f; etc.). Furthermore, Acts also speaks of how Jesus empowered them for this mission by bestowing upon them His help by giving them the gift of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost—Acts 2—Note that prior to receiving the Spirit/Jesus’ help the disciples are locked in an attic in fear…And that after receiving the Spirit/Jesus’ help they are empowered to go forth to share the teachings of Jesus with peoples from all nations). Likewise, (T)he Eucharist bestows upon us Jesus’ help—grace—and the gift of the Holy Spirit (epiclesis—prayer which calls down the Holy Spirit to transform both the bread and wine into Jesus’ body and blood and to transform the assembly into becoming whom they receive that we may go forth and do the same. The liturgy then equips us with the gifts of Jesus which enable us to express and to manifest to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the Church (Sacrosanctum Concilium #’s 2 and 5).

…I wish to briefly reaffirm the fact that the Eucharist constitutes the soul of all Christian life. In fact, Christian life is expressed in the fulfilling of the greatest commandment, that is to say, in the love of God and neighbor, and this love finds its source in the Blessed Sacrament…the Eucharist signifies this charity, and therefore recalls it, makes it present and at the same time brings it about…there also springs up within us a lively response of love…we enter upon the path of love…and serves the love to which we are called to in Jesus Christ… (Pope John Paul II, The Mystery and Worship of the Eucharist, Dominicae Cenae #5).

The very names for our celebration of the Eucharist convey to us our mission: “Mass” is derived from the Latin term meaning to send…and our celebration of the Eucharist ends with the words Ite missa est—Go/You are sent…reminding us of the missionary mandate that the Risen Lord bestowed upon the disciples—and –us; “Liturgy” is derived from the Greek terms for people and work (laos and ergon, respectively), thus meaning the people’s work…”Eucharist”, itself, is derived from the Greek verb meaning to give thanks—to give thanks for the redemptive gift of Jesus to us by extending it to others… (Michael S. Driscoll in Sacraments and Justice pp. 37-39).           The Eucharist is not something static; the gift becomes the obligation…a life that demands to be lived…We receive Christ, not to keep Him to ourselves but to give Him to others so that they may recognize Him in us (Godfrey Diekmann, O.S.B., The Theology of Worship).

If we are to be a Eucharistic people we, like the disciples, must make the mission of Jesus our own mission. Those who celebrate the death and Resurrection of Jesus must join Him in doing the justice of God and become with Him advocates and agents for the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom. Liturgy without action on behalf of justice is incomplete and unfinished (Gilbert Ostdiek, O.F. M., Liturgical Catechesis and Justice). We must go forth and point to and make Jesus present, His Kingdom and the true nature of the Church. If we do so, the central vision for the Church espoused by the Second Vatican Council—That the Church, itself, is the People of God; a Servant; Missionary by Nature; a Sacrament—can be actualized. We must live our lives in a manner which reveals how what we celebrate on Sunday is lived out Monday through Saturday. The world ought to be able to look at us and see and experience the love of Jesus. We must afford the world an encounter with Jesus…and we can do this by living out the mission of social justice to which the Eucharist commends us.

Receiving the Bread of Life, the disciples of Christ ready themselves to undertake with the strength of the Risen Lord and His Spirit the tasks which await them in their ordinary life. For the faithful who have understood the meaning of what they have done, the Eucharistic celebration does not stop at the church door. Like the first witnesses of the Resurrection, Christians who gather each Sunday to experience and proclaim the presence of the Risen Lord are called to evangelize and bear witness in their daily lives. Given this, the Prayer after Communion and the Concluding Rite–the Final Blessing and Dismissal–need to be better valued and appreciated, so that all who have shared in the Eucharist may come to a deeper sense of the responsibility which is entrusted to them. Once the assembly disperses, Christ’s disciples return to their everyday surroundings with the commitment to make their whole life a gift, a spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God. (Pope John Paul II Dominicae Cenae, The Mystery and Worship of the Eucharist #45).

The lay faithful have an indispensable role to play if the true nature of the Church is to be made manifest. The vision of the Church espoused at the Second Vatican Council will sink or swim depending upon how we, the baptized, live our faith. If the world is to look to the Church and see and experience Jesus, then those in the Church who are the Church’s point of contact with the world must live their lives in a manner that points to and makes present Jesus.

When the world looks to the Church, they must see also the lay faithful who live their vocations in the midst of the world. Therefore, the laity themselves must be sacraments—they must act in ways that point to and make Christ present, thereby affording the world an encounter with Jesus (See Pope John Paul II, On The Eucharist, Ecclesia De Eucharistia #22). Living within the world the laity are called by God and led by the Spirit to act as a leaven of the Gospel within the world thereby contributing to its sanctification (The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium #34).

The lay apostolate, however, is a participation in the salvific mission of the Church itself. Through their baptism and confirmation all are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord Himself. Moreover, by the sacraments, especially holy Eucharist, that charity God and man which is the soul of the apostolate is communicated and nourished. Now the laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth. Thus every layman, in virtue of the very gifts bestowed upon him, is at the same time a and a living instrument of the mission of the Church itself “according to the measure of Christ’s bestowal” (The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium #33).

The world may be indifferent or even hostile to explicit attempts to proselytize. Therefore, we must present the faith to the world in a manner that it is more likely to receive and accept—by practicing social justice. People of reason and good will who may not share our faith might be more open and more receptive to solidarity; respect for human dignity; rights of workers/just wages; the just distribution of goods and natural resources; environmental stewardship; healthy marriage and family life; a preferential option for the poor, marginalized, social outcasts; etc. Think of social justice/the principles of Catholic Social Teaching as the means by which we can share with the world the teachings of Jesus.

The Eucharist, in turn, is like a school of social virtue. By participating in the Eucharist we learn and rehearse social justice and are commissioned to go forth and to share this with others. Note that we need not turn the Eucharist into a pep rally for social justice…rather that social justice is intrinsic to the very nature of the Eucharistic celebration. As illustration:

Assembly—Take note of our diversity and plurality as we gather together—male/female; black/white/Hispanic/Asian; old/young; healthy/sick; etc.—An expression of both our catholicity and a lesson of solidarity…

Greeting—We acknowledge Jesus’ indwelling in each and every person’s spirit, thereby challenging us to be mindful that every human being bears the image and likeness of God and to respect human dignity…

Proclamation of the Word—Hebrew Scripture consistently speaks of God’s deliverance of the oppressed (Exodus); powerfully warns against separating worship of God from justice unto others (Prophets); advocates the wisdom of justice and folly of injustice (Wisdom); whereas the New Testament gives voice to Jesus’ own example and teachings: the Beatitudes (Luke 6); Foot Washing (John 13); Matthew 25; the prolific care for the sick, disabled and mentally (Mark); etc. ..Justice is a constitutive aspect of the proclaimed word!

Preaching/Homily—effective preaching illustrates how the Gospel kerygma is to be applied to the injustices of our time…affords a dialogue between God and His people…

Anamnesis—Our communal act of remembrance of Jesus’ Passion reminds us that God is to be found in the one who suffers…the sick; marginalized; rejected; outcast; etc.—teaching us of a preferential option…

Our Father/Prayers—The seminal prayer of our faith which we recite at every Eucharist challenges us to strive for God’s will and Kingdom (marked by peace, justice and righteousness) to be realized on earth…while our prayers of petition shed light on the injustices of our time…

Peace—Our exchange of peace reminds us that we are to be agents of the Prince of peace…If you want peace, work for justice (Pope Paul VI)!

Distribution of the Host—all who come forward are received by Jesus and receive the Host or a blessing—a lesson in distributive justice…How can we give witness to our love for Jesus via the sharing of a meal, then be indifferent to issues of poverty and hunger?

The authentic sense of the Eucharist becomes of itself the school of active love for neighbor…The Eucharist educates us to this love in a deeper way; it shows us, in fact, what value each person, our brother and sister, has in God’s eyes, as Christ offers Himself equally to each one…If our Eucharistic worship is authentic, it must make us grow in awareness of the dignity of each person. The awareness of that dignity becomes the deepest motive of our relationship with our neighbor. We must also become particularly sensitive to all human suffering and misery, to all injustice and wrong, and seek the way to redress them effectively…From this concept of Eucharistic worship there then stems the whole sacramental style of the Christian’s life…The sacraments give the lives of Christians a sacramental style (Pope John Paul II, The Mystery and Worship of the Eucharist, Dominicae Cenae #’s 5-7).

As disciples of Jesus we are to begin with the Eucharist. The Eucharist affords us an encounter with Jesus whereby we receive His grace and learn social justice. Grace and social justice are gifts which are meant to be shared with others. As we share these gifts with others, the grace that the Eucharist provides us will animate, nourish and sustain our apostolate/mission unto the world. Therefore there ought to be a dialectic between our liturgical life and our daily life.

The world needs us to be a Eucharistic people…a people of social justice. For the world needs the encounter with Jesus which we—thanks to Jesus’ reassurance, abiding presence to us, and mission assigned to us—are able to provide. As we ready ourselves for the Year of Mercy announced by Pope Francis, let us recommit ourselves to the Eucharist—the source and summit of our faith from which all our power flows—and to the mission to which it commissions us. Let us commit ourselves to Pope Francis’ call for us to be a church marked by a missionary impulse to go forth out of our comfort zones to those on the peripheries—to encounter others face to face– taking on the dirt, smell, bruises and hurts of the sheep…to be a church for the poor (The Joy of the Gospel, Evangelii Gaudium #’s 27, 20 24, 88 and 198). In doing so we will discover the brilliance of Jesus’ words which we began with today—Not only does the Eucharist reassure us of Jesus’ ongoing presence among us, but if we go forth to all to share our faith we will discover that He remains present to us in and through those whom we serve, for they are the prolongation of the Incarnation for each of us (Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, Evangelii Gaudium #179). Again, as Pope Francis recently opined…A Eucharistic people ought not just kneel before Jesus in the Eucharist but also kneel before Him in the poor. In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul suggests that to celebrate the Eucharist while being indifferent to injustices in our midst is paramount to dismembering/re-crucifying Jesus!

Do you wish to honor the Body of Christ? Do not ignore Him when He is naked. Do not pay Him homage in the temple clad in silk, only to neglect Him outside where He suffers cold and nakedness. He Who said, “This is My body” is the same One Who said, “You saw me hungry and you gave me no food” and Whatever you did for the least of My brothers, you also did for Me…” The temple of our afflicted neighbor’s body is more holy than the altar of stone on which you celebrate the holy sacrifice…(John Chrysostom, Homily on the Gospel of Matthew).

Allow me to close with offering a syllogism composed by the great pioneering figure of the Liturgical Movement in the United States and zealous proponent of the Eucharist-justice interconnection, Virgil Michel, O.S.B., for us to take with us and to ponder:

…the liturgy is the indispensable source of the true Christian Spirit…the true Christian spirit is indispensable for social regeneration…Hence the conclusion: The liturgy is the indispensable basis of Christian social regeneration (Virgil Michel O.S.B., Liturgy as the Basis of Social Regeneration).




June 4th, 2015

I do not often attend episcopal ordinations and/or installations outside of my own province (all the seven dioceses in Florida) or our episcopal region and then when I do venture forth, it is almost always for a friend and/or close associate. Such occasions have taken me to Spokane, Washington, Cheyenne, Wyoming, Tyler, Texas, Duluth, Minnesota, Cincinnati, Ohio, and Camden, New Jersey to name just a few places. Today (Thursday, June 4, 2015) I am in beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico and have just attended the installation of Archbishop John C. Wester (formerly of San Francisco and Salt Lake City) as the eleventh archbishop of this historic diocese.

But I am also here to be with my longtime friend, Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan who retired this afternoon as Santa Fe’s eleventh archbishop. Archbishop Sheehan is an important part of my own vocation story since as a layperson working for the national episcopal conference from 1992 till the fall of 1995 I lived in the same residence with the Archbishop and the late Bishop Lawrence McNamara of Grand Island, Neb. They inspired me to return to seminary studies and Archbishop Sheehan preached my first Mass in 1978 in Miami, Florida on the day of my ordination, May 13th.

Archbishop Sheehan has spent twenty-two years leading an archdiocese, which was among the first to be hit hard with the reality of the horrors of sexual abuse of minors. His predecessor, a good man, had admitted to have sexual relationships with age appropriate women and had to step down. There also had been a clergy treatment center in Jemez Springs, New Mexico which treated priests with sexual disorders and a number of priests while on or having completed the program worked in the parishes of the Santa Fe archdiocese and had continued to abuse minors. In a terrible mess came Archbishop Michael Sheehan, at the time the first bishop of the Diocese of Lubbock, Texas, of “Buddy Holly” fame. He mentioned privately this afternoon that in time here, he had ordained sixty priests and dismissed twenty-five from the priesthood. That was only an inkling of the state in which he found at archdiocese on his arrival.

Michael Sheehan was born and has lived as an incurable optimist. His approach to life is something akin to the story of the six-year-old boy found at the bottom of a compost pile with a small shovel who tells his parents, “it’s OK, there has got to be a pony down here somewhere”. With bankruptcy looming, clergy morale lacking, trust of the Church and the hierarchy in this territorially large Archdiocese waning, the Archbishop waded in with his genuine trust in God, in the essential goodness of people and their willingness to forgive and while it has taken a long time, he leaves to his successor a local Church thriving (he ordained seven new priests two weeks ago), recovering from its occasionally sadly sordid past, and teeming with hope and promise. He has more than earned his retirement.

Cathedral of St. Francis

Cathedral of St. Francis

Today’s installation took place in the venerable Cathedral of St. Francis. Early Church history in the southwest is omnipresent here from the earliest Spanish missionaries to Archbishop John Baptiste Lamy (immortalized in Willa Cather’s historico-novel, Death Comes to the Archbishop) who arrived in 1850. The first Spanish conquistadors accompanied by Franciscan friars arrived in 1598. I was unable to be present last July when Archbishop Michael celebrated his fiftieth anniversary of priestly ordination due to a funeral of a priest in our own diocese. I had the honor of preaching for part of his 25th anniversary of ordination celebrations in Lubbock. So I was here for my dear friend and for his successor who is an absolutely wonderful bishop, John C. Wester. At precisely 221pm MDT the twelth Archbishop of Santa Fe took possession of the bishop’s chair (“cathedra”) in the beautiful mother Church of all of New Mexico. New life came to the two archbishops here in Santa Fe today and you can make your choice which one it came to, or perhaps even both.



June 3rd, 2015

There are so many topics which I would like to share with you and it seems so seldom that I can find the time and the energy to sit, reflect, pray and then write. I cannot remember five months which have been as busy for me as the time since Christmas. I am still hoping to address topics like the beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero a couple of weeks ago as well as the constitutional referendum in Ireland dealing with the definition of marriage. In both instances a clear and sound mind are called for before putting “pen to paper”, or whatever.

For the moment, however, and largely as a result of the article which appeared in the TAMPA TRIBUNE recently I would like to share with you an outline of the process which will be used in selecting a new bishop for this wonderful local church we call “The Diocese of St. Petersburg.”

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano. Photo courtesy of the Apostolic Nunciature.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano. Photo courtesy of the Apostolic Nunciature.

On May 27, 2016, my seventy-fifth birthday, I will forward a letter to the Holy Father asking to retire as bishop of St. Petersburg after having reached the mandatory “age limit” for bishops. I can also submit it earlier than that if there is a good reason, such as my health, energy, and/or the needs of the diocese being greater than my ability to meet them. That letter is sent to the Holy Father’s representative in the United States, currently Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, our Apostolic Nuncio. He forwards the letter to the Congregation of Bishops in Rome who will then decide how it is to be handled: (a) it can be accepted immediately but I will be told to remain in office until my successor is installed; (b) it can be accepted immediately but an Apostolic Administrator (another bishop of another diocese) can be appointed to administer the diocese until a successor is chosen; (c) it can be accepted immediately but the College of Consultors of the Diocese (seven pastors) can be asked to choose an Administrator who would then serve with slightly restricted powers until a successor is installed.

Regardless, a long and thorough process of consultation will begin led by the Apostolic Nuncio in Washington. Currently most all the cardinals in the United States will be asked what they know about the diocese and its needs for a new bishop; similarly many of the U.S. archbishops though mostly of the region are queried; and special attention will be given to the Archbishop of Miami and to my brother bishops throughout the state (called a “province” in ecclesiastical language).

With the "major players" at the 2015 Catholic Days at the Capitol. Photo kindness of Steve Madden and the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.

With the “major players” at the 2015 Catholic Days at the Capitol. Photo kindness of Steve Madden and the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Letters are generally also sent to some members of the College of Consultors, the Presbyteral Council leadership, some members chosen from the Diocesan Pastoral and Finance Councils and then others who may know about the diocese, for example the Rectors of our seminaries. All are given an opportunity to suggest names and if the experience is still about the same as it was when I was more intimately involved in the process, there will be about as many names submitted during this first phase as letters mailed.

In due time, the papal Nuncio “works” the feedback he has received and begins to focus on three possible candidates who seem to “fit the bill” meeting the needs of this diocese. Will I be asked, many people query me and my answer is “probably in the first round of inquiry but certainly not later in the process” and, quite frankly, my influence will be no more weighted than that of others canvassed. This system works well when it is left to the good process for vetting candidates and defining needs and the responsibility is taken very seriously by the Apostolic Nuncio.

Cardinal Oullet at the 2013 Rector's Dinner at the Pontifical North American College (PNAC) in Rome. Photo courtesy of the PNAC Photo service.

Cardinal Marc Oullet at the 2013 Rector’s Dinner at the Pontifical North American College (PNAC) in Rome. Photo courtesy of the PNAC Photo service.

When he has his three names, the papal nuncio will then send the files with everything he has received to the Congregation for Bishops in Rome and it leaves both his hands and the United States for further scrutiny and ultimately presentation to the Holy Father. The Congregation for Bishops consists mostly of cardinals residing in Rome but it was other members as well. They meet every other Thursday from the first Thursday in October to the last Thursday in June (not dissimilar to the United States Supreme Court). When the Congregation has all the files in order and translation into Italian of the input if called for, the matter is given to a cardinal member of the Congregation who is called the “ponens” which is Latin for “postulator” who presents the names received to the full Congregation. The papal nuncio to the United States will have sent the files with a recommendation for first, second, and third choice among the names. The cardinal “ponens” can do the same and recommend his order of candidates, often guided by discussion from the Congregation’s staff and prefect (“chairman” in our language), currently Cardinal Marc Ouellet. After whatever discussion the members of the Congregation wish to give to the selection a vote is taken, and generally the candidate receiving the most votes is the name which is taken to the Holy Father.

The congregation also has an opportunity to signal its pleasure or displeasure with candidates number two and three but that is a process I choose not to go into here.

Finally, usually the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops sees the Holy Father sometime on the Saturday following the previous Thursday meeting of the congregation with the file(s) and the advice of the Nuncio and the Congregation. If the diocese is relatively small and seemingly inconsequential (sorry but we would fit in that category), the Pope as any CEO of very large multi-national organization, would accept the proposed name presented to him. If the vacancy is for a place like Chicago or Washington or New York, then the Holy Father might ask for more time to consult, read and reflect, pray and propose.

By Monday, usually, of the following week the Congregation has contacted the Apostolic Nuncio and asked him to gain the acceptance of the person chosen and a public announcement follows usually no less than a week after that.

Now let me close this with some FAQ’s ( “frequently asked questions”)

  1. Will I, Bishop Lynch, know who is being proposed or likely to succeed? No.
  2. Would I like to know? No.
  3. Will anyone in St. Petersburg know who is in the running? No.
  4. Will there be public updates once the process begins? No.
  5. Will anyone in the media or on the blog-o-sphere know for sure who it is going to be? No
  6. Will it “leak” in Rome after the Congregation and before the Pope decides? No
  7. Will it “leak” in Rome or Washington prior to the formal announcement? No
  8. Will it “leak” in the diocese prior public announcement? I hope not.
  9. Will there be rumors? Highly likely. Should they be taken as “Gospel”? No

Though it is becoming increasingly more difficult for me as I age, I will maintain the same Confirmation schedule for 2015/16 as this past year (approximately thirty-five), I will preside and preach at ten penance services throughout the five counties during Lent 2016 (there will be no “The Light is On for You” in Lent 2016) which will be part of our diocesan observance of Pope Francis’ call for a “Holy Year of Mercy”, and then there will be the usual requests for 25th and 50th anniversaries of priests and parishes plus participating in as many moments throughout the diocese that my health will allow. We will have already scheduled several special events during 2015-2016 including a special convocation of all our priests on assignment in the diocese, an observance of the 50th anniversary of the documents of the Second Vatican Council on Religious Life (“Perfectae Caritatis”) and Catholic-Jewish relations (“Nostrae Aetate”). Then there are always the funerals, etc.

I hope to serve through to my birthday next May and as long thereafter as it takes to find a successor, but I pray that the diocese can receive new life and new energy as soon as possible. I am already praying for my successor and will ask you to do the same as the time approaches.



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.