FIVE GUYS

May 22nd, 2016

Yesterday, Saturday, May 21, five men were ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of St. Petersburg. To a Cathedral packed to the rafters with a local Church loving and welcoming, these five men embraced the call to be good shepherds to the People of God whom they will soon serve.

May 21, 2016 - Fathers Felipe Gonzalez, Alexander Padilla, Bradley Reed, Jonathan Stephanz and Kevin Yarnell were ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Robert Lynch at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle. Please keep them in your prayers! (DOSP Photo / Maria Mertens)

With the newly ordained. Father Jonathan Stephanz, Father Felipe Gonzalez, myself, Father Alexander Padilla, Father Bradley Reed and Father Kevin Yarnell. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Elsewhere on the diocesan website you can see pictures of the ordination and, if you have 145 minutes, you can even watch the whole ceremony. Below I wish to share my words to the men, likely to be my last as the power and privilege of ordaining will pass to a new good, maybe even better shepherd.

ORDINATION TO THE PRIESTHOOD
Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle
St. Petersburg, FL
Saturday, May 21, 2016

Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop

“It is a reality that God often interacts with humanity through the medium of dreams. While few of us have the experience of St. Joseph to whom an archangel, no less, appeared in a dream with life changing news, most of us who are ordained or to be ordained began to seriously develop our notion of priesthood through dreams of some day becoming one. Throughout formation, we sometimes made it through the more challenging and darker moments by dreaming of our ordination day or our first Mass or our own image of what kind of shepherd we might ultimately become. But as our five deacons soon to be ordained will find out, reality can and often does supplant dreams and today I would offer my counsel that this can be tragic when unforeseen and ill-prepared for.

When tomorrow afternoon, they literally roll the proverbial stone before the tomb and all your family and friends withdraw leaving you alone with your new reality, I would counsel it is precisely then that you need to begin to fashion new dreams in which you see yourselves, Felipe, Alex, Brad, Jonathan and Kevin as good shepherd of God’s people. What you are soon to become is far deeper, richer, transforming than what you have dreamed you might be on the day of your ordination.

Pope Francis almost daily reminds his priests of what God wishes them to be and what they may or may not have become. His dream is that we become so attracted and attached to Jesus, the Good Shepherd that “we press forward in faith, to advance in the spiritual pilgrimage which is faith that is nothing other than to follow Jesus; to listen to him and to be guided by his words, to see how he acts and to follow in his footsteps to have his same sentiments. And what are these sentiments of Jesus? Humility, mercy, closeness to others but also a firm rejection of hypocrisy, duplicity, and idolatry. The way of Jesus is a love which is faithful to the end, and even unto sacrificing one’s life; it is the way of the cross.” [Pope Francis, Marian Day, 10,12,2013].

Francis is redrafting the dream of priesthood. It is far from an office of privilege for the ordained, but rather a privilege which through ordination allows us to be Christ to the terrified immigrant father and mother facing deportation, to the confused and wounded young mother who has chosen to take the life within her womb for fear of being unable to care for the child once born, to pray with the condemned prisoner on death row or the overnight visitor to the county jail who has been arrested for a DUI or a lesser offence, to promise a parent that their parish will work hard to improve literacy at the miserably failing local public schools their children are attending by working with FAST or HOPE in two of our counties, to comfort a dad who has just lost his job that while searching for new employment, we will work to retain his children in our parish or diocesan school even though we might be at a loss also of how to make ends meet. These are a few of the pastoral realities which must reshape the dream of how we are to become that good shepherd tomorrow when all withdraw and a lifetime of priestly ministry awaits and begins.

“Being Church means being God’s people, in accordance with the great plan of his fatherly love. This means we are to be God’s leaven in the midst of humanity. It means proclaiming and bringing God’s salvation into our world, which often goes astray and needs to be encouraged, given hope and strengthened on the way…. The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven, and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel.” [Francis, JG]

It is almost the nature of dreams, especially about priesthood, to see us as ministers of the sacraments and indeed that is an essential part of the job description of today’s priest. But that you can accomplish in several waking hours, what are you going to do in the remaining time – wait for the phone to ring or the doorbell to sound? Pope Francis calls us to dream of using more of our time as good shepherds in a different way – as ministers of God’s mercy, taking the initiative to seek out the lost, recapture and reclaim the disenchanted and disenfranchised, to get dirty in the hubris of dialing living by giving special attention to the poor, to the lonely, to the forgotten, to the angry,

If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, might and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them; without meaning and a goal in life.

            More than a fear of going stray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within the strictures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us, “Give them something to eat.” [Francis, JG]

Dear Felipe, Alex, Brad, Jon and Kevin, I wish I were younger and could join with you and my brother priests who may live the dream of a new form of priesthood born of the vision and the conscience of Pope Francis. It is far more challenging and exciting than anything I have experienced to date in my life and even somewhat scary. But it is more faithful to the image of Christ the Good Shepherd whom I was to become at my priestly ordination than the “dream I dreamed in times gone by” [Le Miserable]. It is the Good Shepherd who loved us to death, the alter Christus who in a few moments you are to become and I once became.

Today this Church is filled with love and great expectations. Your soon to be brother priests are renewed that in these times and with these challenges, you have already said “yes” to the call of Jesus, “follow me.” Together with me, they welcome you as brothers. God’s people whom you will serve will honor you as “father”. May Jesus welcome you many years from now as “faithful servant.”

+RNL

MADAM SECRETARY

May 16th, 2016

I am still on the airplane flight coming back from Minneapolis-St. Paul (see preceding blog entry) and there is yet a second topic which I would like to share with my readers. Several topics came together recently so I am “lumping” them together even though each could be treated separately and on their own.

The national Catholic media noted the passing of a “lioness in winter”, Sister Margaret Brennan, IHM. Her influence on post-Vatican Council II religious life was profound and her leadership of her community was quite simply extraordinary. I found myself the beneficiary of Sister Margaret’s vision and leadership in the Church and thought you might be interested in how that came to pass.

Shortly after the Council, Sister Margaret Brennan who was superior of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters of Monroe, Michigan knew that renewal and reform of religious life was going to happen and likely to usher in significant change. She also knew that many of her sisters while educated well enough to teach in elementary and secondary schools, could contribute far more to a post-conciliar church if they were even better educated so she started sending sisters off to obtain terminal degrees in theology, economics, education, etc.

She also saw that religious life was going to be challenged to its roots in its basic construct and she aided and contributed a great member of her community to something called “the Sister Formation Conference.” The purpose of this work was to prepare every religious of whatever community to be better prepared to accept, embrace and enhance what would become of religious life in the last decades of the twentieth century.

While a seminarian in 1976 at Boston’s Pope John XXIII National Seminary I found my way into taking two “moral theology” courses from an IHM sister whose name was Mary Emil Penet at the Weston School of Theology in Cambridge. Twice a week in my car to sit at her feet. She was teaching moral theology to Jesuit seminarians and an occasional “drifter” like myself after having spent a number of years in Rome assisting and learning from the great Jesuit moral theologian, Joseph Fuchs, SJ. She returned alive with the potential for applying moral theology to a church in the midst of renewal. Sister Mary Emil prior to her Roman “holiday” had been the head of the nascient Sister Formation Conference I mentioned earlier, travelling throughout the US to assist communities deal with what was happening.

This was no liberal nun but a deeply devoted woman of the Church who wished its priests would have a solid foundation of Catholic social teaching and moral theology to lead a changing Church. She continued to wear a veil and a blue skirt with a white blouse but the mind inside that whimple was bright, alert, challenging, penetrating and perceptive. What she was, I and the church partially owed to the vision of Margaret Brennan.

While Rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami, I was fortunate to engage Sister Mary Emil Penet as a faculty member and at the same time to capture the retiring President of Barry College (now a University), Sister Mary Trinita Flood of the Adrian Dominicans to join our faculty. Those were the days and every seminarian who came under the influence of either of these two women would tell you that they became the “soul of the seminary.” Both are now deceased but their memory lingers, in my mind in gratitude and in the hearts and minds of many others whose lives they touched. To Margaret Brennan for one and to Mother Genevieve Weber for the other, I shall always be profoundly grateful.

They proved to a skeptical audience that smart women were a gift to the Church and their presence was genuine ministry to which all religious are called. So it was with some interest that I noted earlier last week that Pope Francis in responding to a question from a large group of religious women with whom he was meeting at the Vatican responded to a question about the possibility of women deacons in the Church. He simply said it was worthy of study and a commission might be formed to address the matter. All of a sudden we were bombarded with headlines and stories suggesting this major change was just around the corner.

The best analysis of what the Pope actually said and what he might do can, as usual, be found in the mother of all ecclesial blogs http:’’’www.whispersintheloggiablogspot. com. To what is there I would add several of my own reflections:

  1. Although I personally see no great problem in women in the diaconate for a local diocese like ours, if put to a vote in our episcopal conference at this time it would not stand a chance of passing;
  2. Pope Benedict XVI when he was Josef Ratzinger and prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had the matter studied under the lens of historically have there ever been women deacons, especially in the early Church and his study group could not find support for the affirmative
  3. Because we sometimes pay a heavy price for being a universal church (much, much larger than these United States) what might be acceptable in one cultural milieu would be unacceptable in another (think the Church in Africa on the homosexual matter, for example). The rest of the Catholic world generally is uncomfortable at best and openly hostile to exports from the United States and Canada (be it McDonald’s or women deacons). And we have the highest percentages of permanent deacons in the world!
  4. Large parts of the Catholic world are less interested in more clerics and more in greater engagement and involvement by a well trained laity (count the number of married deacons in Africa and Asia, for example).
  5. What Margaret Brennan and Genevieve Weber contributed was probably far greater than if they had been ordained. They sure had more freedom to lead.

All of which brings me to my third and final observation. Also from last week. Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, publicly exclaimed the obvious which was that there was nothing to exclude a woman from being “Madame Secretary” for the Holy See. What a TV series that would make and how I would love to be the script writer!! I know in my heart that Pope Francis wants to name a woman to a high curial position, breaking the glass ceiling of time and tradition. He even said that to those same religious who asked him about the chance of women in the diaconate, and that he had approached a women for a high ranking position and she had declined. It’s coming and to me it is more important than the ordination question. It might pave the way better for the ordination of women to diaconal ministry. This much I know and to this I can attest: if good things have happened in the Diocese of St. Petersburg much of it can be attributed to the presence of highly competent and capable women in the administration of the diocese and its offices. And they can’t take that away from me!

 

+RNL

 

THE SUN ALSO RISES

May 14th, 2016

 

I am returning to the bay area this morning having spent forty hours in the Twin Cities. When I arrived on Friday afternoon, it was cold, windy, gloomy and rainy. When my flight took off this morning, it was still cold, windy but the sun came out. The same reality happened for the church in the Twin Cities yesterday as it formally, canonically and enthusiastically welcomed its new shepherd, Archbishop Bernard Anthony Hebda.

 

There is probably no (arch) diocese in the US, which has had to deal with challenges, which this once great church has faced. About one year ago its Archbishop and Auxiliary bishop resigned under considerable fire, mostly for the manner in which sexual misconduct of priests with minors had been handled – by them and their predecessors. The ecclesial climate was dark, cold, gloomy, and sad. Like in Boston before, many Catholics, especially the millennials had enough with the Church and left. The priests and religious were embarrassed but they heroically carried on. Each day brought new revelations, the next more damaging than the prior.

 

Pope Francis acted quickly and snatched (great verb choice) Archbishop Hebda from his position as Coadjutor Archbishop of Newark (a Coadjutor is one who will inevitably replace a sitting bishop either upon his retirement or death). I had known Bernard Hebda for only a few years. He was the new, young (today he is only 56 –one year older than I when twenty years ago I became Bishop of St. Petersburg), ubiquitous bishop of Gaylord, Michigan where I spent a couple of weeks every summer. We were lucky if we could find one or two evenings in the month of July when we could have dinner but when we did it was the highlight of my summer.

 

Bishop Hebda was ordained a priest for his home diocese of Pittsburgh at the age of 29. Prior to ordination he graduated from Harvard and Columbia Law School. Prior to Gaylord, he worked for a number of years within the Holy See and was a spiritual director to many young US seminarians studying at the North American College. In Gaylord, he was adored (well maybe that is hyperbole but only slight hyperbole.) The diocese is quite small in numbers but relatively large in area encompassing the whole northern tip of the lower peninsula of Michigan. He was everywhere, approachable, remembered names and relationships, and reflected Pope Francis’ vision of a shepherd who mixed well with his sheep.

 

Gaylord was heartbroken when he was quickly reassigned to the Archdiocese of Newark. So was I and I have previously written of that moment in a previous blog at the time of his transfer. To Newark he brought energy and hope. He lived in a small apartment in a residence hall at Seton Hall. Though he had no real power other than the awesome gift of his presence, he brought hope to Newark. The priests and people of Newark today are angry that he was taken from their midst a year ago to help the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis deal with bankruptcy, healing from the sexual abuse crisis, and thirsting for transparent, honest and credible new leadership for a great Church. Originally that was believed to have been a temporary duty assignment but the Holy Spirit thought otherwise.

 

I went to his “reception” in Newark a few years ago and left mad and disappointed for reasons I will keep to myself. I left St. Paul-Minneapolis this morning with renewed confidence in the Holy Father’s choice of bishops in this country and certain that the sun will also rise on this troubled local Church.

 

In about ten minutes during his homily at the Mass of his Installation yesterday, Archbishop Hebda acknowledged the present reality and magnificently prepared his church for the pain likely yet to come. The Archdiocese has already sold the Archbishop’s house, the archdiocesan chancery building to pay costs arising from the sexual abuse crisis. He brilliantly made clear that all that counts is our trust in Jesus who is calling us to be a poorer Church ever more for the poor.

 

The Catholic Church in Minnesota is historically important for many reasons, not the least being that its first archbishop, John Ireland, was a major figure in our brief history on these shores. While James J. Hill was building his empire from lumber and railroading, his neighbor across the street was building an empire of faith among the German, Irish and Polish immigrants flocking to the land of 10,000 lakes. Ireland gave prominence to the emerging Church west of the Alleghany mountains and reminded his brother bishops who were comfortable in large east coast dioceses that life beyond the Mississippi was radically different yet full of promise for Christ and His church.

 

I am absolutely certain that the new Archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis will be one of the major leaders of the Church in the United States in the next two decades, like Dearden, Bernardin, Fiorenza and Quinn were for the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. He will lead his Church ultimately to the full sunshine of their faith and into the light of the resurrected Christ, which we proclaim in the darkness of the Easter Vigil. He will be a quiet voice but when he will rise to speak in the episcopal conference, all will listen intently because he will always have something of substance to say. He will be far more interested in bringing people to the Lord than losing culture wars. He will prove to a lot of skeptics that being Christian and even more so being Catholic Christian can be fun though one must always be ready to embrace the crosses of life. He’s a gift to St. Paul and Minneapolis, a loving memory to Gaylord and Newark and a bishop like Francis, our Pope, ready to bring hope to the peripheries while buoying the committed.

 

I left this installation with genuine joy in my heart, thankful to God and to Archbishop Hebda who has made a great sacrifice and proud of my Church. In the words of Ernest Hemingway who spent his youth in the Diocese of Gaylord (It was Grand Rapids then), “the sun also rises” after a long period of darkness.

 

+RNL

MIRACLE OF MIRACLES? WELL NOT YET BUT MAYBE

May 10th, 2016

In my younger days, long, long ago and far, far away I would never have imagined that I would see the destruction of the Berlin Wall, the dismantlement of apartheid in South Africa, an African American president and an American pope, yet all have come to pass. Now there is a glimmer of hope that in Florida there is a possibility, perhaps not yet a probability, that the death penalty will be abolished. I think of these words spoken by Simeon when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple, “now Master you have kept your word, you can dismiss your servant in peace.”

Several things have come together which place the death penalty in Florida on a new trajectory. First there was the recent decision of the United States Supreme Court which ruled that Florida law which made a jury’s deliberations about the death penalty in a case merely consultative and not deliberative (leaving it ultimately up to the judge) was unconstitutional. Bundled within this decision was that merely requiring a simple majority of the jury to recommend execution to the judge was also unconstitutional? As I have pointed out so often when addressing this topic in previous blogs, this minimalist approach to a life and death decision cried out to heaven for vengeance. Happily heaven can wait, the SCOTUS found similarly.

Florida is one of only three states (Alabama and Delaware) which do not require a unanimous jury and earlier this year, the Florida legislature took an easy path in applying what they hope is a “fix” by raising the number from seven jurors to ten. SCOTUS did not set a size for the jury’s vote but made it clear the seven was a legally unlucky number. Last week the Florida Supreme Court heard arguments derived from the U.S. “Supreme’s” decision in the case of the inmate on death row whose appeal formed the basis of the latter’s decision.

Then, manna from legal heaven descended yesterday upon the state when a Miami judge found the death penalty fix also to be unconstitutional. Now, before deciding the case heard last week, the Florida Supreme Court knows that a more foundational issue is on its way to them which may just skew their thinking in the earlier case. Wow!

Our Attorney General, Pam Bondi, has often said publicly and in conversation with the state’s bishops that she fully supports the application of the death penalty, fully supported the simple majority allowance in the Florida law, and is fully against any effort to require a unanimous jury. I suspect that she was pleased to argue the case before the Florida Supreme Court last week. She would have me say: make no mistake about it; I am 100% in support of the death penalty application and hopeful that it can be attained with the minimum roadblocks possible. At least she is clear, if wrong-headed. She assures us of her unambiguous pro-life position, which is strong when it comes to abortion. But for me, it is like asking Mary Todd Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre, “other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the first act?”

Governor Scott is a more interesting case. After many conversations, he has said that he is very uncomfortable signing the death warrants but is obligated to do so by oath and office. He has intimated that were the Legislature to outlaw the death penalty he would likely sign and not veto the bill. He has also said that he only signs those warrants where the evidence is rock-solid that the person accused and found guilty actually committed the crime. He is also fully supportive of most other pro-life positions and I actually believe his wrestling with his conscience when it comes to executions. Equally candidly, he has said, that one cannot be elected to any office in Florida if one is seen as “soft on crime and/or criminals.”

That leads me to the conclusion of this reflection. Those of us who see the death penalty in America as a pro-life issue need to ratchet up our opposition to Florida’s inhumane approach to capital punishment, using whatever means might be available to us to make our case. We can think of the Baptist Church congregation in Charleston, South Carolina who earlier this year, including survivors of those murdered, went to the prison to forgive the perpetrator. They surely did not tell him that it was forgive and forget, for they will never forget his atrocity and they don’t ever want him on the street again. The same for the Amish community in Pennsylvania whose children were massacred but who also marched to the jail to forgive the aggressor. And how about the early Christian community who found it in their heart to forgive Saul of Tarsus, directly responsible for the death of Stephen and the torture of many others. If as we say so pointedly and well in our pro-life effort that God alone has the ability to choose when life begins and when life ends, then justifying capital punishment is beyond the logical pail.

Step up Florida. End the barbaric death penalty in the sunshine state. While I feel deeply for those whose lives have been changed, transformed, deeply hurt by violent crime and we must do everything to see that it does not happen again and those who committed the crime are never free to do it again, it is time to take a deep breath and do the right thing. Finally, if any Catholic wishes to use Saint John Paul’s minuscule opening against me, bring it on, but recall the words of Pope Francis to the US Congress on this very topic.

+RNL

 

 

You have to love the pope, the father of this family

April 8th, 2016

Pope Francis has once again uniquely, and seemingly in his own disarming style, demonstrated a pastor’s heart in his Apostolic Exhortation, “On Love in the Family” released this morning in Rome and in my hands only late yesterday. Let me begin by saying that the document is 261 pages long and I have only been able to give it the most cursory attention. It deserves and will receive far more from me as it should from every serious reader.

Here are just a few of my personal take-aways from my admittedly quick review:

  • Pope Francis embraces and expands upon the notion of the primacy of conscience which was begun to be examined by Pope Paul VI in the late ‘60’s and tells us that the Church and its ministers are “called to form consciences not to replace them.” What that seems to me to imply is that once a person has received the input of the teaching, believing and ministering Church, they should not be precluded from applying their experience along with the teaching to reach a conscience conclusion of something which bothers them.

 

  • As he often has, Pope Francis insists that Jesus healed, not judged the persons he met and confronted and that a Church which consists of a manual of don’ts and do’s is not helping people live but hurting or at least obstructing them from the truth.

 

  • In marriage, in procreation, in raising children, the Pope acknowledges and affirms traditional teaching as the ideal but acknowledges that not everyone reaches or can live at the ideal level. This man knows the common person’s struggles like many of our finest priests and deacons and carefully says, as they know, that no one size necessarily fits all human conditions.

 

  • Every married person should read his reflection on 1 Corinthians (89-119)

 

  • We priests will have to give additional time, reflection and prayer to Francis’ notions of accompaniment. This is particularly applicable in those sections which touch on the matter of those divorced and civilly remarried.

 

  • A Church which offers to those struggling with relationships, marriage and its definition, cohabitation, and contraception could use a larger spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down – the sugar being mercy, forgiveness, compassion, understanding, love, tenderness.

In conclusion, I find “On Love in the Family” to be an invitation not a rejection. It is an invitation to those who might have wished for a different result, a different message to hear that not only are you not drummed out of the corps, but the door is open even wider. Mercy trumps (sorry about the verb choice) judgment when your spiritual, mental and physical well-being are at stake. The Church wishes to accompany you as a friend on your journey and perhaps we as Church can and should learn to live with and accept a certain amount of messiness as we try to walk by light.

First read, first reaction. More later. I promise.

+RNL

 

CHRISM MASS 2016

March 22nd, 2016

 

Today was the Chrism Mass. You can watch a replay of the live video stream here and see more photos here. My homily is below should you wish to read it.

March 22, 2016 - Bishop Lynch presided at the annual Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle in St. Petersburg. Priests of the diocese renewed their commitment to priestly service, the Oil of the Sick and the Oil of Catechumens was blessed and the Sacred Chrism was consecrated. (DOSP Photo / Maria Mertens)

CHRISM MASS HOMILY 2016
Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop of St. Petersburg

            Twenty years ago January 26, 1996 at the end of a long ordination liturgy I spoke my first words to you as a bishop. I began my inaugural address, as it were, by calling to mind an old hymn entitled, “what a friend we have in Jesus.” Today, as at every Chrism Mass in the intervening years, we listen again to the inaugural homily, speech, or sermon of Jesus when at the very beginning of his ministry he reminds his fellow synagogue members in Nazareth of Isaiah’s depiction of the Messiah. From that moment forward Jesus fulfilled his ministry of mercy perfectly, just as the Father had commanded it and as the Son had embraced it.

At that precise moment, Jesus announced that a new era had begun, a time of God’s favor, God’s mercy. Jesus proclaimed a gracious God and a merciful God and both would be the hallmarks of his remaining life and ministry. He speaks of his “anointing” and the oils which today we bless and consecrate are reminders of God’s love and generosity. They will be used to remind parents of their children’s election by God in baptism and confirmation – they are anointed. They will be used to remind the sick and the scared that God often heals – they are anointed. And, thank God, they will be used in seven weeks to anoint the hands of five who will feed His people with the bread of life and the cup of salvation. That era begun in the Nazareth Synagogue that Sabbath has not ended, nor has its substantially changed in its essence. Each and every one of us has been anointed to bring the good news of God’s mercy.

Can it be that in 2016 the Church of Jesus Christ is the last hope for the poor? Who are the poor? They are indeed the needy, the homeless and the hungry, the vulnerable lonely and the parentless child, the wounded returning veteran home from armed conflict, the breathless masse yearning to be free and here in our midst, our brothers and sisters in the shadows fearing deportation, separation from loved ones and even exile. In his inaugural homily or sermon or discourse or teaching, Jesus makes it abundantly clear that these “poor” have first claim on his time and on his ministry and on his gifts. Francis, our Pope, says precisely the same thing and establishes precisely the same order for Christ’s church – the poor come first, whether it is the poverty of sins in need of forgiveness or the poverty of a paucity of love or the poverty of living in constant fear.

Jesus would go on to put flesh on every priority first enumerated by Isaiah in just the three years of his public ministry while we have struggled to do our part in twenty. Jesus taught us to build bridges and not walls. Jesus taught us to proclaim through our ministry what he carried out in the rest of this marvelous Gospel of Luke which graces us this year:

Blessed are the poor, the Kingdom of God is yours. (6:20)

The poor have the good news preached to them. (7:22)

When you hold a banquet invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind (14:13)

 And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus and covered with sores. (16:20)

“I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than the rest. (21:3)

            Together for the past two decades we have tried in many ways to proclaim, spread and incarnate the good news in the life and ministry of the Church. One can become sadly disillusioned if and when one solely concentrates on the enormity of the challenge. Yet every new child baptized and confirmed, reconciled and fed with the bread of life, every couple married in Church because they wish God to be the center of their promise of fidelity, every infirm person prepared for the journey from death to eternal life, all testify to the presence of the Lord in our life and ministry.

Our mother Church gives us moments not just to reflect on the enormity of the challenge of evangelization, but also the success of many of our efforts and the communal act of gratitude for our ministry which this liturgy uniquely evokes. There is room for humble pride as we have born the heat of so many challenges in the last twenty years. But the people of this Church have never lost confidence in you, their pastors and priests. They still love you and are grateful for your priestly presence in their lives and let me say, perhaps for the final time, so am I and forever will be.

Sitting in this sanctuary this morning and watching livestream in Rome are five men, Deacons Felipe Gonzalez, Alex Padilla, Bradley Reed, Jonathan Stephans, and Kevin Yarnell whom I now call to ordination to the priesthood of Jesus Christ, eight weeks from now on May 21st. You are signs of hope and examples to all of us to God’s goodness. Additionally serving in the Sanctuary and sitting in the congregation are twenty-three others discerning God’s call at various levels of formation for whom we pray daily and are grateful always. You also are a significant part of our hope for the future.

The married deacons and their wives, here always in great number in support of our priests, are a treasure I failed to recognize when I arrived twety years ago but which I have grown to treasure more with each passing year. You are and will be a gift and legacy which I will leave to my successor with love and admiration and heartfelt appreciation.

Religious women and men, what a gift you are to our community. Substantially fewer in number than when I came, nevertheless the powerful witness of your consecrated presence reminds us all that sacrifice is still possible for the good of the kingdom of God.

And finally, people of God of the diocese of St. Petersburg. Pray for your Church often. Pray that we may reclaim those who have left us as we bring glad tidings to the lowly, heal the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners. Pray that we may continue to offer hope to our sisters and brothers who think they are at risk of deportation, to the pregnant mother who fears she cannot cope with giving birth to a child but finds us even more ready to help if she chooses life and pardon and forgiveness to the woman who was not able to make that choice, a sense of security to the school child who fears their parents are going to divorce, to the elderly who fear they will not be able to access medical care or prescriptions when they need it, the gay or lesbian who may have previously felt impoverished by neglect and scorn, those living in second or third non-sacramental marriage who long for the Eucharistic connection, women who seek to share their unique gifts with the Church they love. This is the modern poverty of which Jesus speaks and these are those whom we are called to serve with mercy. Pope Francis has changed the prescription of the lens through which we are to examine our ministry and mercy now enters our purview with even greater clarity.

However poverty is defined and it has many shapes and images, may we keep it before our face as Jesus did and Pope Francis demands, ready always to respond with mercy, love and compassion. My brother priests, deacons, religious and lay, let our past acts of mercy be the legacy of the last twenty years and the foundation of hope for the future.

+RNL

A FRIEND REMEMBERED

March 15th, 2016

When I awakened this morning, during my morning prayer I thought of writing a blog entry on the announcement earlier today in Rome that Mother Theresa of Calcutta would be canonized on September 4, 2016 by Pope Francis. No surprise there, of course, as both the votum of the Holy Father and the date have been expected for weeks. To me, early this morning, it was something worth pondering, and it still is.

But upon arrival at the office today, I received the news of the death by his own hand of Father Virgil Elizondo, a priest of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, Texas, and a distinguished professor of pastoral theology at Notre Dame University. He has been a friend for many years, at times close when we would see each other at meetings in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, and at times distant due to my work as a bishop and his as a teacher. Generally, whenever I was on campus, I would try to see Virgil.

Born of migrant worker parents and raised in the economically poorest of circumstances, Father Virgil proved from the earliest age to have some genius qualities about him. After ordination, he would be sent to earn a doctorate degree at the Institute Catholique in Paris, France. In his home archdiocese, he would begin the Mexican-American Cultural Center where theology, language, Hispanic culture and pastoral outreach to the growing Hispanic population in the United States would be offered, studied and applied.

When I took Saint John Paul II to San Antonio on the hottest of days in September, 1987, he was the Rector of the San Fernando Cathedral where the Pope made a visit upon his arrival. On that occasion I had to referee a logistics match between my friend the Rector and my friend Father Roberto Tucci, S.J. (later a Cardinal), the head of the Vatican Advance and Planning Team about what the Pope might do once inside the Cathedral. It was awkward, difficult, and torrid, indicating the depth of feeling Father Elizondo held for what might end up being the Hispanic Catholic moment during the San Antonio visit.

I saw him only three times after he went to Notre Dame, having been awarded the prestigious Laetare Medal by the University previously. He was immensely happy at ND but flew home to San Antonio almost every week-end on Friday and back on Sunday to be with his people. For Virgil Elizondo, the Church was the only hope for a people desperately in need of hope.

Approximately one year ago, a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of San Antonio and against Father Elizondo was filed in which it was alleged that he had engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor over thirty years prior. He maintained his innocence but was personally devastated. Although at the time the allegation received wide-spread publicity throughout San Antonio and the church in the United States, it is my understanding that no one else has come forward to make a similar allegation (it is my experience that there is almost always more than one victim though one is one too many.)

As the movie SPOTLIGHT has pointed out, it does take a village and often more than one person to abuse a child. Father Virgil Elizondo took his own life with his own hands, also an unspeakable tragedy. Many, many victims have done the same in recent years, each a horrific tragedy and so have many perpetrators as well. I trust in the mercy of God to help each and every one and will leave it to God to judge. For me and this morning for many others, we shall always wonder but also remember.

+RNL

 

SPOT ON

February 29th, 2016

On Thanksgiving Day, I went to see this year’s Academy Award winning Picture of the Year, Spotlight. There was absolutely no one else in the auditorium that afternoon for the two o’clock showing, just myself and the images and story before me. What I witnessed that afternoon was one of the most fair and factual accountings of the tragedy of child abuse perpetrated by priests and others in the employ of the Church. It was also saddening and sickening, but well done. While the leadership of the Church in Boston and decisions made were the central focus of the film, it also acknowledged complicity by law enforcement, the legal profession and even the Boston Globe itself, albeit bit players in the overall tragedy. The editor of the Globe says both succinctly and correctly that “it takes a village to abuse a child.”

Briefly, the movie recounts how the “I-team” or investigative team is tasked with checking and tracking how the Archdiocese of Boston handled priests credibly accused of having abused children. If memory serves me correctly, four of the five team members were Catholic though some nominally. None embraced the project as an opportunity to embarrass the Church of their baptism. Simply, the deeper they delved, the more sickened they became with what they found. The end of the film, the day of the expose, ended not in jubilation among the five but a combined sense of relief that their work product was finally out there and a gut-wrenching sadness of what they found and its devastating effects and consequences on the victims.

Has the Church learned anything from the experience of the last twenty years? My answer would be “yes” and “no”. There should be no question that we have put in place at great expense protocols to protect children and vulnerable adults. Just ask any adult parent volunteer at their children’s parochial school or Christian formation program about the screening they were put through. In this diocese, safe environment procedures have added about 1.5 million dollars to the annual budget. It is money well spent, if it works.

Do bishops continue to shield and hide predatory priests and assign them knowing of their predilection? I doubt the assignment part. There is, however, a sort of demilitarized zone which is problematic. It occurs primarily when an allegation is made which is unable to be substantiated by the independent and mostly lay Abuse Review Committee. Some allegations, albeit very few, turn out not to be true. Those hurt the cause of every child, now an adult ever abused who wish that no one experience the life-changing trauma that was theirs. “Cannot be substantiated” does not sit well with this bishop and this is an area in my judgment still to be plumbed in how we handle allegations.

I also believe that too many seminarians, who are dismissed from seminaries, sometimes when they exhibit a certain predilection for adolescents over peers, are able to be admitted and picked up by other places. There is a mandate from the Holy See on this but I personally know from experience it is often more honored in the breach than the observance. Perhaps it is one more example of creeping “unable to be substantiated”. The four seminaries we use in this diocese would have no part of this I am sure.

I left the theatre on Thanksgiving afternoon giving thanks for a movie which laid bare the awful truths of the past and I was happy no one else was present in the auditorium to see me cry at times. For me, SPOTLIGHT may end up being the best picture of the decade.

+RNL

MERCY, MERCY, MERCY

February 26th, 2016

Regular readers of this blog know of my love for Pope Francis. So it is with unaccustomed temerity and alacrity that I have chosen in this diocese to highlight mercy in a different manner than Pope Francis has asked. Many of you know that he has asked that every Cathedral Church in the world be open this Saturday for twenty-four hours of confessional opportunity and we shall not be offering that at St. Jude’s as recommended. I hope what we will be doing will be found pleasing to him, to yourselves, and more realistic for our time and local setting.

You see, if we were to have at least one priest hearing around the clock at St. Jude’s, he would not be very busy – for a variety of reasons. Also, I would want to provide security for those who would come during the nighttime hours and that would mean hiring off-duty police, etc.

IMG_9998

God is pure mercy.

What we are doing beginning next Monday is offering eleven opportunities throughout the five counties for our people to experience the tenderness, compassion and mercy of our God.

Communal penance services will be held in each of the locations, which I will list below and will be presided over and preached by myself. In each of our deaneries, priests have been enlisted to hear confessions and absolve from sins. Many of them will help out at more than their own deanery.

To assist in hearing the sins and granting pardon and absolution, these penance services will utilize what is referred to as the “Second Rite of Reconciliation.” This is how it will work. The opening prayers, scripture reading, homily and examination of conscience will take about twenty-five minutes. There will also be a recited Act of Contrition after which those wishing to confess their sins will do so to individual priests who will be stationed everywhere. Let me emphasize several important things:

  1. Penitents should confess only mortal sins or those failings they truly believe to be serious.
  2. This is not a moment or a good occasion to seek counseling. If it is needed or thought to be needed by the priest, a recommendation will be made to return at a later time for a conversation with the/a priest.
  3. The priest will assign a penance to be said prior to leaving the Church but will not ask the penitent to say that Act of Contrition again.
  4. The priest will pronounce the words of absolution and the penitent will be sent forth assured that his/her sins are truly forgiven.

We used this form in 2000 during Lent of the Great Holy Year and several thousand people came to the sacrament or came back to the sacrament.

These diocesan-wide Penance Services should not be confused with the Third Rite of Reconciliation, which is called “general absolution.” In our form, every person approaches a priest, confesses their sins, and receives both absolution and a penance. My memory of the 2000 experience was that due to the number of priests hearing confessions each evening, we were able to reconcile and bring closure, peace and mercy to sometimes in excess of 1000 per night within about ninety minutes. At each service, if someone needs more time and attention, there will be one or two priests available to help.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation, aka confession, is one of Christ’s great gifts to us and it is within this context that we can most often and most appropriately extend the loving mercy of the Lord to many.

Try us – you will like us! Here is the schedule for the Diocese during the next few weeks of Lent- you can find parish addresses and directions on the diocesan website.

Mon, Feb. 29 St. Scholastica Lecanto 7:00 p.m.
Tues, Mar 1 St. Theresa Spring Hill 7:00 p.m.
Wed, Mar 2 St. Thomas Port Richey 7:00 p.m.
Thurs, Mar 3 St. Timothy Lutz 7:00 p.m.
Mon, Mar 7 St. Ann Ruskin 7:00 p.m.
Tues, Mar 8 Our Lady of the Rosary Land O’Lakes 7:00 p.m.
Wed, Mar 9 Incarnation Tampa 7:00 p.m.
Thurs, Mar 10 Cathedral of St .Jude St. Petersburg 7:00 p.m.
Mon, Mar 14 St. Jerome Largo 7:00 p.m.
Tues, Mar 15 Espiritu Santo Safety Harbor 7:00 p.m.
Wed, Mar 16 St. Rita (En Español) Dade City 7:00 p.m.

There will be other moments during this Holy Year of Mercy for other opportunities to experience God’s mercy. Like others, I am awaiting Pope Francis’ Post-Synodal Exhortation to perhaps shine some light on healing broken and re-marriages.

Come and join us during the next three weeks at the place most convenient to you to experience of your Church at its merciful best.

+RNL

MY ANTONIN

February 24th, 2016

 

Antonin_Scalia_Official_SCOTUS_Portrait_crop

Justice Antonin Scalia

I want to begin by suggesting that every class in homiletics given in the seminary should include as a model approaching perfect that given by Father Paul Scalia at this father’s funeral Mass last Saturday. At the Shrine Basilica of the Immaculate Conception and on national television, Father Scalia gave a textbook homily which combined very sound death/resurrection theology with artful application to his dad and did so with total control of his emotions under what any priest will tell you is a difficult setting and situation – the funeral Mass for one’s parent.

I had two opportunities in my life to be in close proximity with Justice Scalia. The first occurred during my first year as General Secretary of the NCCB/USCC, 1989. The Apostolic Nuncio at the time, Archbishop Pio Laghi had invited Justice Scalia and his wife to lunch at the Nunciature and somehow he also invited myself. When I arrived the Scalia’s were already present and Archbishop Laghi and the judge were engaged in some classic Italian boasting. A simple Irish monsignor could do nothing else but shut up and listen and hope it would end soon.

At the table, somehow the conversation managed to turn around to the pastoral letters on the economy and justice and peace and Justice Scalia articulated clearly and concisely that he was not a fan of either and was not looking forward to the third part of the triptych which was to deal with the role of women in society and the Church. As the rhetoric became a little more heated, the Nuncio, realizing for the first time that I was at table said, “Monsignor Lynch, what do you have to say to the judge?” Before I could answer Scalia piped up and said, “Don’t give me the line that those pastoral letters are really written by bishops. They are the work product of staff.” To which I responded, “and much the same way, Your Honor, as the decisions of the Supreme Court are written start to finish by the nine of you. You too have clerks.” There was muffled laughter from the others at table, including Mrs. Scalia, and the judge simply smiled and said, “touché.”

The second time was in St. Petersburg at the annual Federal Bar dinner. Apparently the Federal Bar dinners had fallen into some desuetude and the Chief Judge of the Federal District Court of Florida, Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich hoped to restore some pizzazz. She called me up one day and asked if I would be willing to write to Judge Scalia and ask if he would be willing to come to Tampa to give the principal address at the annual banquet. He responded affirmatively (I also wrote similar letters to Justices Thomas, Alito and the Chief Justice, William Rehnquist and all accepted the invitations and the number of lawyers attending the bar dinners dramatically increased). Judge Scalia arrived at the table and it was clearly evident that he was not in a good frame of mind. Testy might be a better word. It seemed that he came under the impression that he would be speaking to a mostly Catholic gathering of lawyers and was surprised to find that there was nothing distinctly Catholic about the event. Unhappy, he said that he would not deliver the speech he had come prepared to give but instead gave his stock speech on originalism. It was fine, well-received with a standing ovation, but he could not sit down fast enough. I was not blamed in any way but I wish I had been sitting at another table.

I was mostly an admirer of his intelligence and view of the role of law even if I would occasionally grimace the verbal attack on his colleagues, most often in the majority but occasionally in the minority. I also thought his positions on the framer’s wisdom on the death penalty and some social justice issues was nowhere as intelligent and thoughtful and committed Catholic as he should be. I need not add my insignificant name to the list of those who will miss him on the court, as I know his family will miss him in life. I am not proud at this moment of the Republican majority in the Senate who say they will not even interview any candidate proposed by the President. No one can tell how a person called to serve on the court might ultimately turn out: in my lifetime Justices Brennan, Souter, and Kennedy have been somewhat surprising. The Republicans recall the punches they took on the Bork nomination and they have always wanted to pay the Democrats back for that ugly moment. Imagine the punches they may have to take again after this debacle if they lose control of the Senate. Antonin Scalia was a master of statesman craft and I would hope that those we have elected to advise and consent might rise to this occasion with wisdom, magnanimity, and courage.

+RNL