A LIONESS IN WINTER

July 15th, 2014
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, RSM.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, RSM. Photo via USCCB blog.

Why does it so often happen that it takes either death or a departure to move humanity to recognize the incredible gifts of a person which have too long been taken for a given. Such is the case with this blog and the person whom I am going to lionize precisely because she will be leaving a position in the Church, which she has so ably occupied and plied for several decades. I am writing about Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a Religious Sister of Mercy who has served in the Communications Department of the United States Catholic Conference for years.

The bishops’ national headquarters and the bishops have had a fine Communications Department for years. Russell Shaw, still an active writer on “things Catholic” was the chief of the Communications staff when I arrived in 1984, followed by a wonderful Albany priest, Father Kenneth Doyle, who was then followed by Monsignor Frank Maniscalco of the Rockville Center diocese. It was, I believe, Father Doyle who brought Sister Mary Ann Walsh onto his staff as a media spokesperson and right-hand-woman.

Quietly, effectively, honestly Sister Mary Ann has tirelessly attempted to make the sometimes-inscrutable decisions of this country’s bishops known and, better still, understood by the religious working media. The media trusted her always. If she could not tell them something they wanted to know, it was because persons like myself told her not to, or she was not privy to it herself. There was no one better in the Conference all those years at giving “background” on what we were up to than Sister Mary Ann. She could have been and probably should have been Director of Communications at some point in her term of service, but loyally and quite capably she soldiered on.

Saint John Paul II came to the United States for a third time on my “watch” and my colleague in the office, now Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati, in charge of planning that visit asked if Sister Mary Ann could run the whole press and media business for World Youth Day 1993. He would say and I would second, she was simply superb. But, more importantly, the media that covered the moment also gave her high marks. That moment for Sister Mary Ann earned her the promotion enthusiastically made by her “Boss”, Monsignor Maniscalco.

I left my eleven-year tenure at the USCCB /NCCB in 1995 but the one constant has been the presence of Sister, during the twice-yearly general meetings. It had to sometimes be very hard for her to represent the bishops. There were moments when we lacked the sensitivity we should have had for women. I think of the doomed Pastoral Letter on Women in the Church and Society. The “Society” part was easy enough but the “Church” part ultimately doomed the project. The debates on inclusive language in the liturgy had to be hard for her to represent at times and the day-after-day assault on sexual misconduct with minors would try and test any woman. I suspect that there were moments when she wished that she represented someone else than the bishops but she hung in there, putting the best face possible on dicey matters – ever loyal to her employer but probably churning inside. In every way, Sister Mary Ann Walsh was a pro and to this moment I would bet the bishops do not fully appreciate the “gem” we had.

So she is leaving now to write for AMERICA magazine, the weekly, Jesuit sponsored journal of Catholic opinion. Sister will now be free to tell her readers what she really thinks and not have to spin what we think. I look forward to her contributions because I know they will be thoughtful, measured, loving of the Church to which she has given her life in religion, but realistic about its warts and wrinkles. Sister Mary Ann had what I would call a “Novocain” face. In the midst of the most heated situations, her visage never changed. In the “winter” of the Church’s experience, she stood tall like a lioness overseeing her cubs, wishing for the world that she could help us escape our prey. And then she just prayed.

Sister Mary Ann, if I failed to say this to you before, you have made a simply amazing contribution to the life of the Church in the United States, albeit in almost anonymity. Mother Catherine McCauley, your foundress, is proud of you and so is a generation of General Secretaries. Thanks, and by the way, please don’t write a book because I am not going to. We know too much.

+RNL

ONLY THE SHADOW KNOWS

July 2nd, 2014

I have now had about twenty-four hours to reflect on the import of the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in what has come to be known as the “Hobby Lobby test.” If there is any reader who does not know what this is all about, it is simply that an owner of a family corporation found it against his/her personal conscience formed by religious teaching and long held belief to provide four components of the many required by the Affordable Care Act regarding contraceptive services . These particular elements were believed by the owners to be providing abortion services (for example, the morning-after pill is required). He had no objection to normal birth control medications, inter-uterine devices, sterilization).  A majority of 5-4 (all men and all Catholics) found for the Hobby Lobby owners in their objection and sustained their intention not to participate in this aspect of the ACA. The Court’s minority (three women, one of whom is Catholic, and one man) dissented strongly. Here are some of my “morning after” thoughts:

  1.  I am happy that we can still cling to some hope that religious conscience can still deserve protection in our country. The court used a 1993 law enacted by Congress and signed by no less than President William Clinton entitled “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act” as the basis for its majority decision, so that is a good thing. At the local level, last December Judge Elizabeth M. Kovachevich of the Middle District of Florida Federal Court arrived at exactly the same position on basically the same legal footprint in ruling in favor of a Pinellas county electrical contractor who owned his own company and also had deeply held religious feelings against the mandate.
  2. Judge Samuel Alito writing for the majority made it clear that this ruling applied only to solely or closely held businesses and therefore publicly traded corporations with stockholders, etc. could not make a similar religious claim and thereby avoid the provision of the so-called “contraceptive mandate.” Despite what you may have been reading today, the work-force universe which this ruling covers is incredibly small.
  3. As I, a non-lawyer reads the opinions, it would seem to me that there is only a slight glimmer of hope that the many more legal challenges awaiting the court’s attention, probably in the next term [October 2014 to June 2015] will find this same court ruling in favor of Catholic Charities, Notre Dame University [to name one university among many who have challenged this small portion of the ACA], the Little Sisters of the Poor, etc. I describe it as a “slight glimmer” because in his decision yesterday, Judge Alito almost legally blessed the procedure the Obama Administration put in place for exemptions and accommodations. Could that have brought a different decision in the Hobby Lobby case had it applied? Who knows?  Only the Shadow knows [here your author is showing his age as this line is from a ‘40s and ‘50s radio show].
  4. One cannot and should not ignore the minority finding, written by Justice Ginsberg as words of a “poor loser.” My guess would be that had the facts of this case or the many other cases on their way to the court dealing with the contraceptive mandate be put to public plebiscite, the minority’s and Mrs. Ginsberg’s position would be sustained. As I found out in the sample return of 7000 people to my survey in December 2013 of Catholic sentiment on contraception, Catholic public opinion has swayed a long way from the position our Church and the owners of the three businesses involved in yesterday’s decision to that of the minority opinion. While some of her points were not compelling to her brothers on the Court, they may be to others who will have roles to play when the mandate returns. There is ample time between yesterday’s ruling and the next one to come down for public opinion to be heard even more loudly. A strategy which says we have not sufficiently explained our position and therefore we will work harder to make it clearer and more palatable will, in my opinion not save the day either.
  5. So, one can rest in peace for a few more months that by a slim margin of one vote the Religious Freedom Restoration Act applied to this set of facts has been sustained, but uncertainty remains at least in my mind. I hope I am wrong. I thought the Court would find for the business owners in this case and in reading his opinion, I admire Justice Alito’s clear effort to provide a foundation for judgment that would win majority support. His rhetoric was measured, showing compassion at times, and limited. If I were the Obama Administration, I would have one more try at finding a solution which would end the legal debate, but I know they won’t because there is an election coming and I think he is pretty secure that on this one, the judgment of public opinion, he will win. But where is the great compromiser to be found in this day and age – in society, in politics or in the Church? Only the Shadow knows.

+RNL

PITCHING THE GOSPEL OF JOY

June 22nd, 2014
Auxiliary Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan served the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y. (CNS photo courtesy Catholic Charities of Brooklyn/Queens) (May 21, 2003)

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan served the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y. (CNS photo courtesy Catholic Charities of Brooklyn/Queens) (May 21, 2003)

Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan of Brooklyn was snatched from us one year and one week ago. He died when a tire blew on his car and he pulled into the emergency lane on one of the big city’s fast and furious expressways only to be hit by an oncoming truck.

For most of his priestly life, Bishop Joe Sullivan worked in his home diocese of Brooklyn in Catholic Charities and in Catholic hospitals. As a result of these engagements, he became known nationally as the “go-to” bishop on social justice and Catholic medical issues.

He served on the board of the Catholic Health Association as the official liaison of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for many years, served as chairman of Catholic Charities USA’s board and also as a member, served as Chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Social Justice and again as chair of the Domestic Social Justice committee. He chaired and supported strongly the Catholic Medical Mission Board which distributes donated medicines to poor countries around the world. He first asked me if I would be willing to take a seat on the board of directors of the Catholic Health Association and then again if I would replace him as a member of the board of directors of the Catholic Medical Mission Board.

The bishop was one of the happiest but most realistic men I have ever met. He played minor league baseball as a pitcher before entering the seminary. He fancied himself as something of an Irish tenor and could easily be coaxed into singing “Danny Boy” at the drop of a zucchetto (that’s the pink beanie we bishops wear). He was never happier when as a member of the episcopal conference he served on the drafting/writing committee of the USCCB’s pastoral letters on the dangers of war and the promise of peace as well as on the economy. His was the mind of a social justice activist and he supported workers in their right to organize into union in the footsteps of Chicago’s Monsignor Jack Egan and George Higgins.

He walked and talked faster than anyone I know. Fast talking with a Brooklyn accent made anyone attempting to listen to listen even closer. He was a man of infinite hope, incredible charity, great faith, and endless love for the poor, the marginalized, the sick and dying, the homeless, the undocumented, and so on. And he was walking contagion. To be near him was to become infected with the joy of the Gospel.

This afternoon [Sunday, June 22nd] I will be delivering the first annual Bishop Joseph Sullivan Lecture, an annual tribute to his memory established by his (and my) beloved Catholic Health Association, as the keynote address for their Annual Assembly beginning today in Chicago, Illinois. You may read my address by clicking here if you wish. Forewarned, however, is to be forearmed – it is a lengthy text. I had great fun drafting it because I love and honor its two principal foci, Bishop Joe and Pope Francis. Let me know what you think, as I know lots of other people will.

+RNL

LETTERS, I GET LETTERS, LOTS AND LOTS OF LETTERS

June 19th, 2014

Regular readers of this blog may recall that every year, it seems, I write something about the difficulties involved with transferring priest personnel.

It is a hard job. It is sometimes almost a seemingly heartless job and always a thankless job. And it is something which I do not undertake alone but with a committee of priests, almost all pastors, who don’t like it anymore than I do. Every transfer messes with someone’s life and many transfers can wound parish communities who have come to love and respect their pastor or associate pastor.

In other words, this is not a responsibility anyone in their right mind loves to do. But it is necessary and there are policies and procedures to be followed, many of which are unknown to many of you. So let me enlighten you, if I can, on exactly what is more often behind the decision to transfer your pastor or your associate.

The process begins early in every calendar year when all priests receive a letter asking them if they wish to be considered for a transfer or would they like to remain in place. Generally, pastors choose the latter and many associate pastors choose the former.

For pastors, there is an agreed upon term of office, which is for six years. After six years, the pastor can be transferred at any time but it is also generally understood that at twelve years, he will be transferred unless he is over the age of sixty, when he generally can expect to remain. This “tenure” for pastors allows some of my brothers to ask for a change at special moments after their initial six years. Our Priest’s Council passed this guideline a number of years ago. Imagine my surprise when a pastor asks to be transferred and then when he goes back to his parish, he says it was the bishop’s wish and decision. Then everyone gets mad at me and do I get letters, lots and lots of letters.

I personally think that a carefully followed policy in this regard is best, but the proverbial devil is sometimes in the details. For example, a pastor may ask to extend beyond the normal twelve years because he is involved in a building project that is nearing completion, or he needs to be near his doctors and health care facility, or he is over sixty and therefore now grandfathered into his position.

Most all of my priests will change when asked to do so. They know that the diocese and/or myself are up against it and they have something which is badly needed in another place. They may not like it but they remember their promise of obedience.

Like most requirements of Human Resources, I am not free to disclose the reason a priest is being moved. Associates generally need two assignments of different varieties prior to being named a pastor. Priests seeking to join the ranks of the priests of St. Petersburg generally must have five years of experience and two assignments before they will be incardinated. A recommendation for incardination comes to me from yet another committee of priests and seldom starts with me but comes to conclusion with me.

And, I do get letters, pro and con, at this time. Every bishop I know has a philosophy of the assignment of priests and whoever follows me will do exactly as I did in my first year, move a lot of people who have been a long time in their assignments, perhaps even regardless of the tenure requirement. He will get letters, lots and lots of letters.

Sometimes a priest is transferred because he has done something which damages his credibility as a servant leader. I can’t think of a single person in this category who has not been given a second or even a third chance at exercising leadership.

You see, priesthood is like marriage, at least in this regard. On the day of one’s ordination the Church agrees to in a way be a priest’s spouse (in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death do us part) and the priest does not have to worry about being “fired” save for the worst of offenses like sexually abusing minors, for example. So the priest is ours, all of us, not just me the bishop, but the whole diocese or his religious community. Few people have that sense of job security in life. On the other hand, their promise of obedience means that they must ultimately serve where the bishop (with a lot of help from their priest friends) feels that they are both needed and will thrive.

I can assure you that there is no bench available to me of priests waiting to be sent up to the majors! Everyone is presently in the line-up and a single death, serious illness, or departure from ministry for whatever reason starts a ripple effect among the priests of the diocese, like the proverbial pebble in the smooth lake. We currently provide three men as full time members of the faculty of our two seminaries that we use and I have always prayed that their presence will spur the Good Lord to reward us with many vocations and great young priests. There is ample evidence of that happening, but Lord how I could use those three men back.

Finally, I do not mind getting letters which are displeased with me because I have transferred a priest. That means that that man is respected, loved and missed. Some of the rhetoric in letters can sometimes make me question whether sufficient teaching on Christian love is being taught in a parish, but at least it is a sign of life and vitality in our diocese.

The real heroes are the priests, however, who go where asked when asked and give their best.

+RNL

THINGS WILL NOT BE EASY IN THE “BIG EASY”

June 10th, 2014
Reverend Robert E. Gately.

Reverend Robert E. Gately.

Our United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Spring meeting begins tomorrow (Wednesday) in New Orleans and ends Friday midday. However, I will be unable to attend. On Saturday night last, the mother of our Monsignor David Toups (Lynn Toups) went home to the Father and her funeral will be at St. Cecilia parish at 130pm on Thursday with a Wake Service tomorrow night (Wednesday).

Additionally, yesterday, Father Robert Gately, a priest of the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, but who spent his entire later years in priestly ministry in this diocese after retiring as a Navy Chaplain with the rank of Captain also went home to the Lord and his wake will also be tomorrow night and his funeral Mass will be on Thursday morning. Father Gately helped for many years at the Cathedral of St. Jude and at Prince of Peace parish in Sun City Center where his services will be held. So for the first time since my long illness I will not be attending a bishops’ conference meeting.

There are several interesting items on the agenda for my brothers during the open or public sessions. Every four years in the year prior to the forthcoming general election, the Conference has issued a statement of principles which might guide a committed Catholic in exercising their important right to vote for a President and Congress. Often called simply “Political Responsibility” in more recent years it has become a focal point for some spirited debate with part of the membership basically wanting mainly to highlight and address the so-called “life issues” of abortion, euthanasia, and more recently contraception and give rather pointed comment on the moral judgments one should make about candidates, their platforms and plans, etc.

Another part of the house of bishops while readily conceding that these issues need to be lifted up hope that the issues for voter concern will include the social justice issues of welfare, the homeless, right to labor opportunity, immigration, health-care access, etc. Two standing committees of the Conference usually come together to hammer out a text to be presented to the assembly in November for use the following year. This year, inexplicably to my way of thinking, an Ad Hoc Committee or “task force” has been given the responsibility. In recent general elections I do not think I would be seriously overstating the case if I said there are not good, or at least uniform feelings among the bishops on the matter. While we may always be “gentlemen” with one another, there are agendas at work which divide the house – not so much on core issues but on the quality and reach of the consistent ethic of life. Since I can not attend, like yourselves I will be waiting and reading the commentaries which come from the media as to which “inclination” is likely to prevail for the 2015 General Elections or will a compromise document emerge once again.

Speaking of public policy issues, I have a great concern that the truly poor of Florida are being denied access to proper health care in this state. The Florida General Assembly has refused to expand Medicaid opportunities in Florida, even though much of the money for the programs will come from the federal government. And, while we are not alone in refusing the Medicaid expansion among the states, we may be at the top of the list when it comes to counting those legitimately denied. When the bishops of Florida have spoken to Governor Scott about this, he has left us with the impression that he at least would sign a Medicaid Expansion bill if the legislature would pass it and send it to him, but the Republican dominated House and Senate refuse. What a human tragedy! I have heard it said that no genuinely poor person in Florida will be denied medical attention in an emergency but they better hit the right hospital or they will find themselves “dumped and dispatched” out the ER doors. More important to my heart and to my sense of distributive justice is the blatant and flat-out denial of medical service to the genuinely poor which might prevent the emergency room visit. A poor pregnant mother has no access without insurance to the obstetrical service which she needs, as an example.

In addition, without the Medicaid Expansion, the for-profit hospitals in our five counties are refusing to treat many of the uninsured and sending them to the non-profits which are carrying more and more of the uncompensated care responsibility. And, as happened in St. Petersburg when the major trauma and service hospital was sold to a for-profit company which promised the proverbial “moon” when making a case for their takeover, St. Anthony Hospital is bearing the burden for this uncompensated care as is Meese Hospital in Dunedin. In the five counties, there are far more for-profits for whom lack of compensation is a recipe for “dumping” than not-for-profits which will continue to shoulder the care needs until they can no longer afford to do so. Our state should be ashamed and so should those legislators who for whatever reason have decided we will not participate in the Medicaid expansion plan of the Affordable Care Act. Let them hear from you, if you care enough.

Finally from my soap box, I wish to briefly highlight the issue of immigration reform. The voices of your episcopal leadership are beginning to be heard and the religious case for immigration reform is beginning to get out there. There is no better spokesperson for this issue than our Archbishop, Thomas G. Wenski of Miami. He appeared before Congress last week and once again clearly and compellingly stated the case: protect the borders, yes; grant legal status to most of those who are already here; and make the cry of Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty once again the mantra of this great nation: “Give me your tired and your poor, your restless masses yearning to breathe free….” On immigration reform and elimination of the death penalty, it is sure lonely out here on this limb but it is what Jesus would wish us to work for, it is precisely what he would do, it is the mind of Pope Francis, it is the work of the Spirit.

+RNL

COMINGS AND GOINGS

June 3rd, 2014

I can see the light at the end of the annual “spring” tunnel and so can many of our priests, educators, parish personnel and others engaged in the enterprise of spreading the Gospel in the five counties of the diocese. As I write this, I have four more confirmations scheduled, one cook-out tomorrow night with those few seminarians remaining in the diocese for the summer and the graduation exercise next Monday night for this year’s participants in the Lay Pastoral Ministry effort. I have two commitments outside of the diocese in the next three weeks including a meeting in New York of the Catholic Medical Mission Board on which I serve and an invitation to give the first Bishop Joseph Sullivan lecture as the keynoter at the annual Catholic Health Association Assembly in Chicago. I think I’ll make it! So allow me a few paragraphs to do some summing up of the year in review.

First, I wish to express my profound gratitude to many of you who through comments, e-mails, and letters, etc., shared with me your sorrow for Father Vladimir Dziadek and your concern for myself. No blog entry has achieved the number of comments as did the last posted here and with a single exception of one person who utilized two comment opportunities, all have embraced the twin themes of forgiveness and mercy. Father’s funeral in Poland is today (June 3, 2014) and my Mass this evening will attempt to connect spiritually with those with whom he had familial ties as they grieve his loss. St. Joseph parish under their new administrator, Father Carlos Rojas, is recovering very well with renewed energy and commitment from everyone and that is reassuring.

My annual rounds of the high school baccalaureate Masses (Jesuit, Clearwater Central and Tampa Catholic) and graduations (St. Petersburg Catholic, the Academy of the Holy Names, and Bishop McLaughlin High School) are now history. I have listened to four salutatorian addresses (St. Petersburg Catholic had a tie for this honor), three valedictorian addresses, five lengthy remarks from school principals, and way too many acknowledgments of my presence at the events which reminded me too much of the old days when the bishop was treated like royalty.  I have been impressed with the seriousness of the graduates this year in particular, with the love and admiration they hold both for their sacrificing parents as well as their teachers (quite often mentioned by name) and their references to their basic faith in God. At times it has seemed like a long desert had to be plowed through, arid and with little water of refreshment and regeneration as neither God nor faith nor Catholic nor thanks were extended to those who really deserved the recognition. Don’t know what is currently in the air, but it is refreshing!

There is not much left of summer vacation, even though it has yet to begin. Our seminarians are either in Guatemala or Honduras studying intensive Spanish, in Omaha at Creighton’s Institute for Priestly Formation studying how to be holier, at Tampa General Hospital in Clinical Pastoral Education learning how to listen, or working in parishes with everything from youth ministry to painting. By my count they have only nine weeks until they are back in the seminary, scratching their heads and wondering where the time as gone. Teachers and school administrators are closer to reporting for the new school year today than recalling Easter Sunday and their Spring break. Such is the rhythm of life these days. When I recall that my summer vacation started a day or two prior to Memorial Day and ended a day or two after Labor Day, that was a real summer vacation.

Priests too used to take a month (or if you were from Ireland where there are six weeks in a month) off but now they are lucky to grab a few weeks. There are less of us which means less priests to cover and the shortened summer has shortened most summer vacations for your priests. We seem to all have become prisoners of a new reality which is more occasions of shorter times off. My men work hard for the most part and it is generally acknowledged that few of them take care of themselves in the manner in which they should. Sad really but something of a sign of the times. I wish them the best and begrudge them little. Understandable when a trip home means lengthy and challenging travel such as to Ireland, Poland, India and Africa, the time away should be a little longer as there is no home for these men to go to recover from Christmas and Easter and the mad and merry month of May.

Despite it all, the wonderful work of sharing the “Joy of the Gospel” continues unabated throughout the summer months. Where there was once a full choir at a Mass, there may now be only a cantor and organist; where there once may have been a youth group, there may now be only trips to Cove Crest. The Church, like nature, abhors a vacuum and the Spirit whose coming we recall this coming Sunday leads and guides us. I intend to continue posting from time to time throughout the summer because my mind never shuts down but my episcopal clock is still working its way toward ecclesial midnight. Like Robert Frost, I feel “I have miles to go before I sleep” and with you, to continue to choose “the road less travelled by.” Have a great summer.

+RNL

 

 

MAY FATHER VLADIMIR DZIADEK REST IN THE PEACE HE DID NOT HAVE IN THIS LIFE

May 21st, 2014
2014 Remembering the Faithful Departed

Father Vladimir Dziadek

FUNERAL HOMILY FOR FATHER VLADIMIR DZIADEK
St. Joseph Catholic Church, Tampa, FL
Monday, May 18, 2014
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop of St. Petersburg

            There are three things that are for certain in every human life: birth, death and taxes. While we ourselves are responsible for the third, our taxes, our staunchly pro-life teaching has always held and argued that God alone is the author of all human life and God alone is to be the determiner of when life begins and when it ends. Our Father Vladimir, however, a week ago chose both the time and the manner of his departure from our midst and the end of his life. This morning we may think we know of the contributing factors of his decision, but none of us is gifted with the power to see into his mind, his thinking, and his decision-making last Sunday night and Monday morning a week ago. No amount of money is worth the taking of a human life, no amount of shame can ever completely erase the good a person has done, no sin is truly unpardonable, no potential embarrassment even approaches the shame, anger, guilt which befalls those left behind to deal with the unforeseen reality occasioned by suicide. I want everyone here present this morning, the children of the parish and in the school to know that the single act which brings us together this morning is wrong.

            The act, however, can at times be severable from the person. For all of his priestly life, Father Vladimir put himself at the service of the Lord Jesus, serving in missionary territory in Venezuela prior to coming to the United States and to our local Church. In the years he was here, he endeared himself to God’s people. At Most Holy Name of Jesus parish, they cared for him enough that they gave him time to improve his English and when the Church became vacant they asked that he be made their shepherd. He was happy there, serving God’s people and loving in a special way the Hispanic population he was linguistically better prepared to minister to.

            When I asked him three years ago to come to St. Joseph’s to succeed the beloved Father Felix, he did not hesitate. He came. It was not easy for him. There was the school which had been losing money and enrollment for many years and a whole new effort begun by the University of Notre Dame to not just save the school but to build it up. He lived to see that happen. There were walls to be painted in the Church and at times he was more difficult and demanding of the artist painting than Pope Julius was of Michelangelo applying fresco to the Sistine Chapel. Through it all, mostly alone, he heard your confessions, celebrated Mass for you in two languages, baptized your children, and anointed your sick. On two occasions he told Monsignor Morris and I how much he loved St. Joseph parish and that it was an honor to be your pastor. Publicly all seemed well. Internally what some of us knew to be true was that dear Father Vladimir suffered bouts of depression although in recent years he showed signs of improvement and greater control.

            However, little known to most and unknown to me, there was an affliction within him called an addiction, which first came to light less than two weeks ago.  Addictions are not always sinful. To be sinful, in classic moral theology, three things are necessary: grave matter (taking a loaf of bread from the super market to feed one’s starving family, though I do not recommend it, is not grave matter but taking large sums of money is); second, one must know and understand the gravity of the act (since addictive behavior is often repetitive behavior, this requirement for serious sin can sometimes be missing); third and finally, in performing the sinful act one must willfully and knowingly intend  to break God’s law and the harmonious relationship between ourselves and our God and fellow women and men.

            Neither you nor I this morning are in a position to judge Father’s actions. He did not give us a chance to do so. But all three readings from Scripture remind us that our God is merciful, loving, compassionate and forgiving. The task of judgment passes from our minds and hands to Our Lord’s. Less than fifty years ago, a funeral Mass for a victim of suicide was not allowed by our Church and priests were not even allowed to pray over the caskets of the dead. The Church and society have embraced the notion that mental illness often causes people to do the unexplainable and what was once considered a capital sin remains wrong but can be an occasion for mercy, a call to pardon, a sign of love. We gather this morning not as investigative reporters but people of faith.

            Allow me to speak just for myself for just a moment. The past week has seen my emotions run the gamut from anger to guilt, from disbelief to compassionate concern for Father’s family in Poland and in West Tampa, from shame to sorrow, and usually back to guilt. On Saturday morning I rejoiced at the ordination of our three new priests, but I could not rid myself of the image of “the one who got away and how I wished I could have taken him back.” And I am sure that many of you have shared the same thoughts and the same feelings. A leader of belief, a shepherd of souls, a model of Christian living and loving, chose to end his life and leave the rest to us.

            Now we must leave the rest to God. There is no reason why we can not remember Father for all the good that he has done but there is no reason why we could or should embrace the manner in which he chose to leave us. Hoping and praying that he died in the Lord, we can embrace the words of the writer of the Book of Revelation, “Yes. . .let [him] find rest from [his] labors, for [his] works accompany [him]. Rev.14.13. As Wisdom says in the first reading: He who pleased God was loved; he who lived among sinners was transported, snatched away, less wickedness pervert his mind or deceit beguile his soul.  For the witchery of paltry things obscures what is right, and the whirl of desire transforms the innocent mind.” Wis.4:11-13.

            It is my duty as your bishop to assure you that we can pray for Father Vladimir confident that God will judge him justly. It is also my duty to draw the distinctions between right and wrong and in a proper time and manner to share with you what I know when I know it about what has and can be done to right the wrong, which was done. But it is also my duty as your bishop to say to Father Vladimir and to his family, despite all this, we are grateful for his better times and better moments among us and we send you our love and sympathy as we commend his soul to God, the most high. Eternal rest grant unto you, Vladimir, and may perpetual light shine upon you.

Father Vladimir Dziadek endeavored to be a good man and a good priest. Prior to coming to the United States, he left his native Poland and served for seven years in the missions of Venezuela.  In 2002, he came to the Diocese of St. Petersburg, able to speak perfect Spanish while perfecting his English. After a few years as an Assistant Pastor at Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Gulfport, he was named Pastor of the same parish in 2009 with the support of many parishioners. He was loved at that parish and when I asked him to assume the leadership of St. Joseph Parish in West Tampa, he readily agreed, was missed by the community in Gulfport, and began to bring people, mostly Hispanic Catholics back to St. Joseph’s. He was a good shepherd.

Two weeks ago, our Executive Director of Finance visited St. Joseph Parish because there appeared to him to be a significant lessening of support and an interesting, albeit alarming reduction in the balance sheet of the parish. It did not take long for him to discover that the pastor had been using the parish bank debit card to withdraw large sums of money at the local gambling casino over the last fifteen months. Father Vladimir readily acknowledged that he had withdrawn the money for gambling purposes but stated that he had tried to replace some of the funds.

The next day Monsignor Robert Morris, our Vicar General,  and I met with Father Vladimir and it was clear that the situation was far more serious than even thought the day prior. After a preliminary inspection of the accounts of the parish during the three years that Father had been pastor, it appears that  $199,685.00 was taken for the purpose of gambling and  $35,300.00 had been returned to the parish. This otherwise good priest appeared to have a serious addiction to gambling. I assured Father Vladimir that I was ready to help him in any way I or the diocese possibly could. Father Vladimir left my office ashamed of what he had done, sorry for what he had done, but in denial in some ways of the true nature of his actions.  I immediately removed Father Vladimir from anything involving administration of St. Joseph Parish. I assured  him that I was ready to assist him in any way possible, asked him to allow us to find assistance for him for his addiction (which he continued to deny having) and that while I hated the circumstances in which we found ourselves, I still loved him as a bishop should and we would attempt to get through what was coming. Monsignor Morris and I were concerned before his arrival in our office of his emotional stability. He had a history of fighting with deep depression, once which required hospitalization and a lengthy leave of absence in Poland to work on recovery. Both of us asked him not to return to the Rectory that night and be alone but to stay with either of us. He refused, insisting that he would be all right. The next day I ask a brother priest who was also Polish to call him up and ask him to move in with him and again he refused. There were several phone contacts with Father Vladimir which followed.

Concerning the funds taken from St. Joseph Parish, all institutions of the diocese are insured against such losses but the insurance carrier rightly demands that appropriate law enforcement be notified. In cases such as this, priests are not treated differently from lay employees. I met with the Diocesan Finance Council and sought the advice as well of Legal Counsel for the diocese.

Last Monday morning, May 12th, I was terribly saddened to learn that Father Vladimir had taken his own life.  The pain that has been felt by parish staff members, parishioners, friends, family members, fellow priests and myself is immeasurable.  I went immediately to the parish, to speak with staff members and have cooperated with the investigators from the Tampa Police Department.

I have chosen to appoint Father Carlos Rojas as Administrator of St. Joseph Parish.  Father Rojas is an energetic young priest of our diocese with a passionate heart for ministry.  I am confident that he can and will bring much-needed healing to the parish community of St. Joseph’s.

The parish turn-out for his viewing and Wake Service on Sunday was “standing-room only” for three hours. At his funeral on Monday, they were standing in the back half of the Church as there were not enough seats. Sixty-five of his brother priests came for the funeral Mass. The parish community knew everything by the week-end, except the exact amounts I have shown above since the local media had reported the story. They came to forgive, to mourn, and to ask divine mercy on a man whom they loved in life. On Monday night after the funeral I met with about twenty leaders of the parish community and told them everything which I knew, including not just the amounts taken and replaced but the pattern of financially accounting for them as well. All monies missing will be quickly reimbursed to St. Joseph’s parish.  Sadly, the parish did not have an active, fully functioning, fully accountable Finance Council; it met seldom and usually were just used to sign reports required of the diocese. That changed at St. Joseph as of Monday night. This morning I said Mass for the school children and spoke to them at length about “heaven”.

This has been the hardest, most challenging and emotionally draining moment of my time here as bishop. Father Joseph Waters, the Rector of St. Jude Cathedral upon learning of the suicide and reasons texted me this message: “suicide leaves behind many victims.” He was so spot on. I have celebrated the funerals for three suicide victims in my priestly life, all teen-agers. I then had no real sense of the deep feelings of guilt and anger and questioning which those three families experienced, until now. I blame myself and even though everyone who loves me says, “don’t”, to this moment I can’t stop. I feel I could have and should have done more. This all transpired on the Sunday when the Gospel said that the good shepherd would leave the ninety-nine to reclaim the one.

I end as I began. Father Vladimir was a good man who made some very serious errors in judgment, yet had a deep love for Christ and the people of his Church. Please join me in praying for his eternal rest and for the people of St. Joseph Parish who will miss him terribly.

+RNL

THREE NEW “LINEMEN”

May 19th, 2014

In a week which witnessed this writer on an emotional roller-coaster, Saturday was a beautiful day of rejoicing and being glad.

Somehow, with God’s help, I squeezed the ordination of three new priests and two weddings into the daylight hours. Our Cathedral of St. Jude, newly remodeled, was the scene for the ordination as well as one of the weddings and the new space works magnificently.

Filled to over-flowing, the ordination ceremony is certainly the most beautiful liturgy at which any bishop presides. You can relive the two-hour and twenty-minute ceremony by watching the archived “livestream” replay of the ordination ceremony by clicking here.

Should you not wish to watch the whole ceremony, you may look at a few photos that I am including below (see more photos by clicking here). You may also read my homily on the occasion which is included below the photos (click here for a PDF version of my homily). However, if you wish to merely listen to the homily and neither watch it nor read it, that too is possible by clicking here. Isn’t technology amazing?

Deacons Jonathan Emery, Fabiszewski and Kyle Smith processing in at the beginning of Mass. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Deacons Jonathan Emery, Brian Fabiszewski and Kyle Smith processing in at the beginning of Mass. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

The Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle was full for this glorious occasion. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

The Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle was full for this glorious occasion. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

Litany of Supplication (Saints).

Litany of Saints. Photo kindness of Mike Donovan.

Laying on of Hands upon Deacon Kyle Smith. Photo kindness of Mike Donovan.

Laying on of Hands upon Deacon Kyle Smith. Photo kindness of Mike Donovan.

Anointing the hands of Father Brian Fabiszewski with the sacred Chrism. Photo kindness of Mike Donovan.

Anointing the hands of Father Brian Fabiszewski with the sacred Chrism. Photo kindness of Mike Donovan.

Greeting Father Jonathan Emery during the "Kiss of Peace". Photo kindness of Mike Donovan.

Greeting Father Jonathan Emery during the “Kiss of Peace”. Photo kindness of Mike Donovan.

The new fathers at their seats among the priests while the congregation spontaneously applauds. Photo kindness of Mike Donovan.

The new fathers at their seats among the priests while the congregation spontaneously applauds. Photo kindness of Mike Donovan.

Liturgy of the Eucharist. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Liturgy of the Eucharist. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Father Brian Fabszewski, Father Jonathan Emery, myself, and Father Kyle Smith after their ordination to the priesthood. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Father Brian Fabszewski, Father Jonathan Emery, myself, and Father Kyle Smith after their ordination to the priesthood. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Ordinations to the Priesthood
Saturday, May 17, 2014
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop of St. Petersburg
Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle
Acts 10:37-43; Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13; John 15:9-17

            Barely nine days ago, much of the attention of the nation seemed to be directed toward the annual National Football League draft. Countless commentators spouting off on who might be chosen first, second, and third in the draft all listed the following requisites: height, weight, size. This morning the Church of St. Petersburg’s annual “draft day” has all that going for it and far more.

For these three men there was no suspense about whether or not their names would be called; there certainly was no “money sign” given by any of the three a few moments ago when we signaled our pleasure at their generosity, courage and determination, and in thirty to forty minutes, each of these men will “don” our equivalent of the “team jersey” – the chasuble worn at Mass.

            Our new “offensive linemen” will not get monetarily rich either. Their agent, St. Paul, in lieu of telling them how much their life and talent is worth in worldly terms, instead “urged [them] to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Clearly this isn’t the football of Vince Lombardi. This is the priesthood of Jesus Christ.

            In our world, love trumps violence. These men came today with excellent coaching: by their parents, by the example of priests they came to know and admire; by women and men in formation who shaped their vision of vocation and service. They did not have to first go to Indianapolis, to try out, prior to being called. Brian, Jonathan and Kyle’s calls came much earlier in their lines, as we heard moments ago in the Gospel, “it was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain. . . .This I command you: love one another.” Quietly, humbly, patiently, persistently, presently, fully and completely, these three men are in a very real way laying down their lives for the friends of Jesus.

            And when they might wish to be watching football on a Saturday afternoon, they will more likely sit in the dim light of the confessional waiting for that someone who has not darkened the door of the same for years to arrive seeking the reassurance of God’s mercy and compassion.

          When they might wish to be watching football on a Sunday afternoon or spending time with their family at both the end and the beginning of a long week, they will instead be pouring the water of new life over the head of a child screaming as if he or she wants God in heaven to know that they are free of original sin, the devil’s grasp and now here present, in His Church.

          And in that daily split-second of Divine accomplishment when the bread and the wine, the body and blood of the Lord is raised aloft at the words of institution, at the Great Amen, or at the invitation to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, all eyes and all light will focus on the Eucharistic Lord, not the person of the celebrant. It’s a whole new world. It’s a whole new way of loving. It’s a whole new manner of self-giving. It’s not about us, no matter how long we have been waiting for the moment. It’s all about Jesus and his love for us. We cannot give what we do not have but what we have to share is worth spending the rest of our lives for.

           Today, then, is not draft day. Jesus took care of that nine years ago, or seven years ago when these men first entered the seminary. And today is not the Super Bowl either, for that moment of glory in the sun is all too fleeting. Luke’s words, quoting Peter in the first reading from Acts, capture the essence of this moment perfectly as he reminds us of: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power.

            So Brian, Kyle and Jonathan, after invoking on you the assistance of the saints, laying my hands joined by those of the presbyters on your heads, and anointing your hands with the same Holy Spirit and power, you shall take your place at the altar of God. It’s absolutely amazing. After multiple years of preparing for, dreaming about, working hard for this moment, it will be over very quickly. But a wonderful, rich lifetime of ministry is only just beginning. Priesthood is more than just a moment. It is a way of life.

          Everything that the NFL, major league baseball, the New York Times and CNN or Fox and the media in general think are the true markers of success in life are merely passing idols. For you and me, for your brother priests, Jesus Christ is the constant and like him, as Pope Francis constantly reminds us, we must be humble, gentle, patient, forbearing messengers of his presence. Today and perhaps even tomorrow you and I are dressed in our finest. These are signs of celebrations, of a festive occasion but they are not what Christ would have worn today. We earn our stripes which identify who we are and what we do not by what we wear but how and to whom we minister.

            Brian and Kyle, please give me just a moment for a special word to Jonathan. Many here present today do not know that from the second to the sixth year of my priesthood I served as Rector/President of St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami. For two of those five years I had a student named Robert Emery, Jonathan’s Dad. He was a larger man than even his son and at times he was even larger than life. He could be a handful. But Bob Emery was at his best when he was on his knees in the chapel and at prayer, often asking God if he should continue in the seminary perhaps not putting up with the likes of me. After I left St. John Vianney, he left the priestly pursuit and we did not meet again until twelve years later when I confirmed Jonathan and he told me, “this one has a true vocation.” I have thought about your Dad, bigger “Bob”, a lot these last couple of days, Jonathan, and I know he could not be prouder of this moment and the other good things which have happened to his family following his sudden, unexpected death seven years ago. I truly sense a presence among us this morning, a twelfth player, if you will, very proud for sure, but telling his son, it’s past time to get on with the rest of your life.

            Three great men present themselves to the Church today. But we reaffirm that there is, “one Lord, one faith; one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” This you can take to the bank: rejoice and be glad for this is the day the Lord has made!

Newly ordained celebrate what is somewhat inaccurately called their “First Mass” following the ordination rite and normally on the next day, Sunday. Father Kyle Smith left the cathedral, went home for a few minutes, and then was off to his parish church, Our Lady of the Rosary for his Mass on Saturday afternoon.

Father Kyle Smith celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of Our Lady of the Rosary in Land O' Lakes. Photo kindness of Ron Ludwin.

Father Kyle Smith celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of Our Lady of the Rosary in Land O’ Lakes. Photo kindness of Ron Ludwin.

 

Father Kyle Smith celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of Our Lady of the Rosary in Land O' Lakes. Photo kindness of Ron Ludwin.

Father Kyle Smith celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of Our Lady of the Rosary in Land O’ Lakes. Photo kindness of Ron Ludwin.

Click here to see more photos from Father Kyle Smith’s first Mass at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish.

I did the same thing thirty-six years ago, having been ordained on the Saturday just prior to Pentecost and managed to get everything out of the way by sunset on the day of ordination itself. The other two priests celebrated their Masses on Sunday. Truth to tell, they actually concelebrate their first Mass with their bishop following the ordination rite itself but we all know what they mean when they invite you to their “First Mass of Thanksgiving.”

Father Jonathan Emery celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of St. Clement in Plant City. Photo kindness of Carol Rodriguez.

Father Jonathan Emery celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of St. Clement in Plant City. Photo kindness of Carol Rodriguez.

 

Father Jonathan Emery celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of St. Clement in Plant City. Photo kindness of Carol Rodriguez.

Father Jonathan Emery celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of St. Clement in Plant City. Photo kindness of Carol Rodriguez.

Click here to see more photos from Father Jonathan Emery’s first Mass at St. Clement Parish in Plant City.

Father Brian Fabiszewski celebrating his First Mass at his home parish of St. Catherine of Siena in Clearwater. Photo kindness of Wayne Clegg.

Father Brian Fabiszewski celebrating his First Mass at his home parish of St. Catherine of Siena in Clearwater. Photo kindness of Wayne Clegg.

 

Father Brian Fabiszewski celebrating his First Mass at his home parish of St. Catherine of Siena in Clearwater. Photo kindness of Wayne Clegg.

Father Brian Fabiszewski celebrating his First Mass at his home parish of St. Catherine of Siena in Clearwater. Photo kindness of Wayne Clegg.

Click here to see more photos from Father Brian Fabiszewski’s first Mass at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Clearwater.

So now they are priests and are given some time to relax between seminary, ordination day, and reporting for their first assignment. The faithful parishioners of St. Cecilia, Our Lady of the Rosary, and Most Holy Redeemer will now have the task of “breaking them in” as their associate pastors and I am sure that these three communities, led by loving and hard-working pastors, will see to it.

But it will still be some days before the applause of gratitude and affirmation dies down in their memories, the love and pride of their families diminishes once again in commands to clear the family table or dry the dishes, or do your own laundry, the joy of their brothers already in priestly ministry subsides. Saturday was a great day for the ordained, for their families and friends, and for their bishop who badly needed such a wonderful moment. (Apropos of the difficulties of last week, please watch this space the next several days as I attempt in homiletic form and information source to share with you what I know and believe relative to the death of Father Vladimir Dziadek).

The country singer Glen Campbell, back in the age of dinosaurs when I was growing up, sang a song called “Wichita Lineman” which began with these words, “I am a lineman for the county. .  . .” Our three new priests are “linemen for Christ” and we wish them many happy, wonderful years of playing in the “big leagues” of ministry and service.

+RNL

ENOUGH ALREADY

May 1st, 2014
St. John Paul II

St. John Paul II

The great canonization week-end is over and life in Rome is getting back to something approaching “Rome normal.” I have some thoughts about the canonizations which I would like to share with you as well as some thoughts about what some others have said subsequently about the events and those canonized.

Regular readers of this blog will recall that at the time Pope Francis announced his intention to canonize both Popes John XXIII and John Paul II at the same time, forgoing the need for a second miracle in the case of the former, I thought it was a brilliant offensive and defensive move on the part of our Holy Father.

Close followers of Church life have known for some time that there has been a deep chasm between a relatively small group of Catholics who liked nothing about the Second Vatican Council and blamed Pope John XXIII for their problems and another slightly larger but still small group that felt that the Church had stepped back and in some cases away from the vision of the Council fathers, and they blamed Pope John Paul II for their problems with the Church today. The former group is growing apoplectic about the present Pope and the latter group is growing impatient with him and could also move to the apoplectic if he does not act more quickly to embrace their hopes and aspirations. Relative to two of his predecessors, Francis moved decisively, congruently and cogently to share the best of both men’s lives with the Church at the same time and his measured, thoughtful homily on the occasion of their canonization last Sunday did not overdo either man. For this bishop, Pope Francis continues to never disappoint.

This brings me to my second point.

St. John XXIII

St. John XXIII

Two popes were canonized at the same time but in the eyes of too many people, I think, for the wrong reason. Saints are declared by the Church to be so because of who they were as persons and not what office they held. I have no personal experience of being in the presence of Saint Pope John XXIII but I have a lot more experience of being in the presence of Saint Pope John Paul II than a lot of other people in this country, including many bishops. I had the privilege and honor of planning and executing his 1979 and 1987 visits to the United States and being in over-all charge of the episcopal conference’s daily operations when he returned for World Youth Day in November. I was in the presence of Pope John Paul II when he came down in Boston on his first morning in the US in his pajamas for coffee and witnessed his nightly departure for bed and rest. But what I recall the most was the man at prayer. He was a mystic, able to communicate with his God at the deepest level of the mystical experience of prayer. One night we lost him temporarily at the residence where he was staying, only to find him prostrate on the floor of the chapel in a deep mystical experience. He was a saintly man and that reason and that reason alone should have advanced his cause. However, he was also a pope for a long time and if it were to be the position one holds which provides a fast track to canonization, this one took place too quickly for there is much to be discovered about his papacy overall.

I raise this concern because the cause of Pope Paul VI is rumored to be moving quite quickly also and a first miracle is said to be soon attributed to him. I loved Pope Paul VI and genuinely believe my own priestly vocation might be attributed to him but at some point we need to press the pause button and let more time elapse between the death of a pope and his canonization or history can ultimately make the Church look quite foolish (remember Galileo?). It can seem that it is the position, the papacy, that is the stepping stone to sainthood and not necessarily the person.

My third and final point centers on an article which I read today by a long-time friend and former colleague of mine, Francis Butler, who wonders in print, where are all the lay people in the canonization queue? Does one have to wear a cassock or habit to qualify for consideration? It is a very fair point.

On numerous occasions as the currently unavailable files from my time as General Secretary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (then the NCCB/USCC) where notes were taken of the meetings of my President and Vice-President with Saint Pope John Paul II, one will find several times the Holy Father asked our Conference to look for married couples as well as lay men and women who might be worthy of consideration. I think he knew that the sanctity scale was tilted strongly in the direction of priests and religious and was extremely desirous of elevating more laity to the ranks of sainthood.

We have now in the United States a candidate in the person of Dorothy Day who was from all accounts a very holy woman, even a saintly woman. That cause has been introduced by our episcopal conference, but. . . .now she will probably need to await the two miracles.

My final thought raises the question in my mind and I hope you will consider it as well, what is more important – seemingly miraculous occurences attributed to a holy person or the known sanctity of the person themselves?

Pope Francis has been moving toward the latter, eliminating the need at least for a second miracle. Maybe, just maybe, it is time to take a look at the whole process and eliminate the miracles necessity. That might open up the pool of potential saints beyond “cassocks and habits” and make it clear once again that it is the indeed the personal life of holiness which is the qualifier, not the position in the church occupied or held. Just a thought!

+RNL

 

 

 

 

EASTER 2014

April 19th, 2014
THE BAPTISMAL MOMENT AT THE EASTER VIGIL

THE BAPTISMAL MOMENT AT THE EASTER VIGIL

Easter 2014 is almost history but I wish to share some final thoughts with you before we move on to this coming weeks canonizations of Blessed Pope John XXIII and Blessed Pope John Paul II which will take place next Sunday in Rome. Holy Week 2014 was special for me and will always be because we were finally in our new space at the Cathedral of St. Jude. Pictures of the Chrism Mass last Tuesday morning/afternoon show some of the magnificence of the new space for the liturgies which we held there but you almost had to be there to achieve the whole effect of how our architecture and rites can combine magnificently.

Our liturgies were wonderful beginning with Palm Sunday and journeying right through the Easter Vigil last night. The Cathedral choir is beginning to show the signs of excellence that I hope come with their renewed energy because of the space they now sing and praise in and Chris Berke, their director and our principal organist, prepared wonderful settings and music for the whole week.

Father Joseph Waters and Father James and Deacon John Shea backed by a hard-working staff largely of volunteers made space, action, and support into one mosaic of prayer and piety. I have a wonderful Master of Ceremonies for Cathedral events who has been at my side in one way or another for nineteen years almost, John Christian. He works with the young men and women who serve both as Cathedral altar servers and members of the “Bishops’ Corps”, present most of the time when I am there for major ceremonies.

I BAPTIZE YOU IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, SON AND HOLY SPIRIT

I BAPTIZE YOU IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, SON AND HOLY SPIRIT

At the Easter Vigil Mass, we were able to use the immersion baptismal pool for the first time and it was wonderful, for those being baptized who literally came up out of the waters and for the rest of us baptized who were more engaged than usual, I suspect, because of action and place being new and forceful. There were catechumens who were baptized, confirmed and made first Eucharist and candidates who having previously been baptized were confirmed, made first penance, and first Eucharist.

Finally, I want to share with you my homily last night at the Easter Vigil. Since the Fifth Sunday of Lent I have been repeatedly hitting the theme of the signs that accompany us on our journey to and through Holy Week to the tomb on Easter Sunday and how we need to pay as much attention to them as we pay to the universal signs like the red octagon which signals “STOP” everywhere in the world. They are the scriptural signs which God gives us along the way to help us on our journey of faith. I suspect that at least the priests of the cathedral will be happy when I move off this theme and onto something else in the days and months ahead but I like it when I can weave one major theme through many successive liturgical events.

NEW CATHOLICS - CATECHUMENS AND CANDIDATES NO MORE

NEW CATHOLICS – CATECHUMENS AND CANDIDATES NO MORE

Happy Easter to all. As Pope Francis pointed out in his Easter Vigil homily, Jesus invites all of us to journey again to our personal Galilees where we first met him and renew and strengthen our acquaintance. See you there?

HOMILY AT THE EASTER VIGIL
Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle
Saturday, April 19, 2014
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop of St. Petersburg

        Beloved sisters and brothers and tonight dearly beloved catechumens and candidates,

       For those soon to receive the Easter sacraments and indeed for all of us, a long journey is merely minutes from completion. We have heard the word that he has risen. We can leave Jerusalem soon and return to our homes secure in the knowledge that death has been overcome, evil conquered, and eternity secured because of the love of one man for us all.

       Like all long journeys, sometimes into less than certain realms, we have relied on directions and signs. Putting aside Garmin, Google, Microsoft and Apple, we have followed the path outlined in sacred scripture to get us to this moment. Scripture has taken us on this journey in recent days to Bethany and the home of Lazarus and Martha and Mary, to the main road leading into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, to the Upper Room on Thursday night, to Pilate and Herod Antipas, to Golgotha and to tomb yesterday and tonight we are told by the angel that Jesus wishes us to once again take to the road and return to Galilee to meet with him once again.

      Wanting us never to wander too far afield, we have been given signs along the way. Tonight’s second reading told us of the journey into the countryside of Abraham and his beloved son in whom he and Sarah were well pleased and so happy. Abraham is willing to slaughter his long sought-after child to do the will of God the Father, but God spared him only to have God the Father choose not to spare his only begotten Son the death on a cross. It was meant as a sign and its significance only became clear tonight with the angel’s news.

      The third reading tonight told us of the journey of the Jews out of Egypt to freedom from slavery, to freedom of religion, to freedom to feed themselves from the land of both milk and honey, but reminded that a part of the human condition would sometimes seem like there was never enough.

      And the Gospel reading told us of the journey of the women to the tomb, suggested the sound of the giant stone being rolled back so that Jesus could exit and we, by the events of these days, would also be freed, free of our sins of pride and selfishness, free of the fear of death because now for the faithful people there is a clear alternative to nothingness called heaven and life with God and with the saints.

      For slightly more than forty-eight hours, all our weakness, all our fears, all our unanswered prayers, all our selfishness, all our anger, all our jealousy, all our hopelessness, all our directionless, all our lust, all our lies, all our prejudices, all our inclinations to slander and gossip, all our laziness in practicing our faith, all our weakness lay hidden, dormant, dead in that tomb – death seemed to have won, evil seemed to have triumphed, inhumanity seemed to have ruled over hope, kindness, generosity and forgiveness. But then that stone was removed revealing an empty tomb and each and every one of us was invited to come out and begin a new, in Him, and through Him and with Him. The stone rolled back from before the tomb becomes a sign of the invitation to embrace Christ more closely and live our life with Him more clearly, day by day. A journey which might have been expected to have ended has instead just begun anew, again, amen.

       How should we behave once again in the light of the day as Catholic Christians? What does our faith which should be strengthened by the journey we have taken with Jesus look like after Easter. We do have a choice. We can remain in the tomb and do little or nothing, or we can help others on their journey of faith while at the same time strengthening our own journey.

       In 1968 when this local Church of St. Petersburg was established as a diocese and this parish of St. Jude the Apostle was chosen as its first and only Cathedral, there was an organist, a director of music by the name of Carroll Thomas Andrews. He was forty-eight years old when he played and directed the choir for the installation of our first bishop. In the intervening years he composed beautiful liturgical music in the English and set it to equally beautiful score. He died and went home to God last Monday and was buried in a simple but elegant Liturgy of the Word and Final Commendation on Thursday morning. I share with you a story and a challenge given to all of us in attendance by his priest son, Father Greg Andrews. The words I am about to share with you were written by the fine historian Walter Lord whose two most famous works were A Night to Remember recalling the sinking of the Titanic and Day of Infamy about the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 when Andrews was twenty-two years old at Hickam Field on Oahu on that fateful day.

Pfc Carroll Andrews was one man with a definite objective. He and a buddy started off through the noncom housing area, running in short spurts between the strafing. Once they ducked into the kitchen of an empty house. Bullets ripped the stove, and they marveled at the splintering porcelain – it was the first time they realized how the stuff could shatter. On they ran, and then another interruption. This time it was a soldier who had seen Andrews playing the organ for Catholic services on the base. He asked Andrews to help him say the Catholic’s Act of Contrition. He explained that he had not been to Mass or confession for years and needed an emergency peace. Andrews stopped and repeated the words with him. They dashed on. Soon a Filipino woman ran up with a tiny baby. She too had seen Andrews in Church, and wanted him to baptize the baby. By now mildly exasperated, Andrews asked her why she did not do it herself. She said she was not sure how. So he went into another empty house, tried the kitchen faucets (they did not run), found a bottle of cold water, and baptized the baby. The mother burst into tears and ran off.

         None of us knows where our journey in faith may eventually take us what or our love of Christ may ultimately entail of us but this is how one man, one of our own, lived out his baptismal commitment on one fateful day. Next to the cross, it was for me this year the most potent sign I received of this Lenten season.

+RNL