Archive for January, 2009

EVERY SUNDAY IS SUPER

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

This week-end on Saturday I have a confirmation at Our Lady of the Rosary in Land-0-Lakes, a Mass for young Catholic Athletes at Christ the King in Tampa in the afternoon and tomorrow two Sunday Masses and a parish Visitation at Corpus Christi parish in Temple Terrace. I’d like to see “Big Ben” and “Kurt” keep that schedule. For Catholics, every Sunday is or should be “Super” for it is the Lord’s day. We gather, are nourished by the Word of God and the Eucharist and then are sent renewed, refreshed in body and soul back into the world for another week. There is no need for a play-off to live this Super Sunday experience and no parties extending into the wee hours of the morning in preparation – just plain, simple people worshiping their God and spending time with the greatest “play caller” in human history.

What’s all the hoopla about? We do this every Sunday, not sixteen every Fall, and everyone who keeps holy the Sabbath, attends Mass, spends time with the Lord comes out of the experience feeling like the Most Valuable Player. No one in our Sunday playbook shouts, “I’m going to Disney World” but all can say “I’m going to Mass.”

+RNL

FAITH EDUCATION

Friday, January 30th, 2009
The Joseph C. White Family Performing Arts Center at Clearwater Center Catholic High School. Made possible by the Journey in Faith Capital Campaign.

The Joseph C. White Family Performing Arts Center at Clearwater Center Catholic High School. Made possible by the Journey in Faith Capital Campaign.

Some final thoughts are in order as Catholic Schools Week comes to a close this afternoon. Last year I visited all of our elementary and high schools, said Mass for the students, and then met with different age groups to tell them once again about the great gift of the Eucharist. It was a wonderful experience and I will soon begin again a second round of school visitations, although not all of them in the same year. I was impressed with what I saw and experienced. I was impressed with our administrators and teachers. They make a significant financial sacrifice to teach in Catholic schools and they clearly love and are proud of their school and students.

I felt the elementary school students were getting a good basic faith formation education. Yesterday I railed about parents who do not support what we do by regularly ignoring our Sunday obligation but it was pointed out to me last night that I should also acknowledge the many that do bring their children to Sunday Mass and do support both in-school and CCD faith formation. I am grateful for that commitment and support but  many of my pastors would tell you this second category of parents is in the minority. But we go on, nonetheless, and I thank those faith-filled and faithful parents, teachers, administrators and staff of our Catholic schools. They certainly do make a difference.

The Offertory Moment - Bread and Wine soon to become His body and blood.

The Body of Christ

On February 21st, every teacher in the diocese and as many of our CCD catechists will gather with me at the Tampa Convention Center for the second of our diocesan-wide convocations on Living Eucharist: Gathered, Nourished, Sent. Forming the formators is an important part of passing on the faith. If you would like to learn more yourself about the gift of self that Jesus left to his Church, register quickly on line and come, join us. Our education in our faith does not end on the last day of class.

Thanks to all for making this Catholic Schools Week a success.

+RNL

WHAT?

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Sometimes those of us engaged in Catholic schools can be heard to say: the best job in education is to be the principal at an orphanage! What, you say? Well, there generally by definition are no parents for children in orphanages.  Parents can be very challenging when one attempts to run a school system and it is getting worse not better. Sixty years ago when I was in primary school, the parental rule of thumb was, “get punished by your teacher and you will get it a second time when you get home.” That’s not so true these days and occasionally the parental mantra is, “the next voice you hear will be that of my lawyer.” So administrators and educators often walk on the proverbial “eggshells” trying to teach children and mollify parents sometimes at the same time.

If I had one wish during this Catholic schools week, it would be that all parents share with us the obligation of educating in faith. Just dropping the children off for classes is not a reason for operating this large and financially challenging system of schools. It is a good thing I am not a parish pastor or principal because I would be constantly on parents who do not bring their children to Sunday Mass and I would not care who they are. My bishop would probably remove me for being too confrontational and perhaps inflexible. We seldom hear from parents about matters pertaining to the religious education of their children. Admittedly parents are along with the parish or diocese major stakeholders in the operation and direction of the school. They pay a lot of money and they rightly expect results, in every area except, it often seems,  the faith-life of their children. And when the children are grown and no longer practice, it is likely to be those same parents who will say, “I don’t know what happened. I spent all that money to give them a Catholic school education and now look at what happened?”

Allow me one other thing off my chest now that I am using this blog entry as something of a soap-box or bully pulpit. When a school takes an administrative action, be it with a student or with a faculty member, staff member or member of the administration, it can not and will not reveal the nature of the cause which precipitated the action. Current laws surrounding the rights of workers protect them and the hiring entity must respect those laws. Ask any professional person in a business with more than a dozen employees and they will tell you what I am writing is correct. There often is and can be no response in the part of the institution. The agrieved can say, suggest, intimate, hint whatever they wish but the employer can not respond in kind. Our diocesan institutions are becoming much more sophisticated in handling human resources problems. We are far from perfect. But we try. Just once or twice can we not be given the benefit of the doubt? End of this “thread” of thoughts while shaving during Catholic Schools week.

This morning I offered the Liturgy of the Eucharist at Clearwater Central Catholic High School. The school community was very welcoming and the students paid close attention during my homily. I think they will be talking about it, among themselves and in class, for the rest of the day and sometime thereafter.

Happy or not?

Happy or not?

They have a classmate, Michael Quinn, who is currently in All Children’s Hospital in isolation and awaiting a heart transplant which is necessary for him to live. Please join the school community and myself in praying for Michael whom his classmates miss and fear for his life.

The Mass is ended. Go in the peace of Christ

The Mass is ended. Go in the peace of Christ

+RNL

INCREDIBLE DAY

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

I can not remember a day in a long time when I have nothing scheduled – nothing! No appointments at the office, no conference calls, no ceremonies, no public appearances, nothing. So I am going to have my hair (what little there is) cut, pick more oranges from the super-abundant tree in my back yard, and put my life on “cruise-control” for twenty-four hours. The reverie ends tomorrow.

I do have a chance to bring you up to date on some things about this blog. Happily our Diocesan Web Site is now receiving about 1000 hits each day and this blog is averaging about 300 hits a day with people reading the blog for an average of about two and half minutes. This blog enjoyed a brief spike in readership when the mother of all Catholic blogs, Whispers in the Loggia announced to the Catholic world that I was up and running.

There have been a number of great comments and I read them all carefully and ponder their implications both for the blog and for my ministry. Early on, however, I decided that this was not the forum for airing disputes when they occasionally arose or giving angry people a place to publicly vent. By far, over 98% of your comments have been very positive and all serious comments are appreciated by me.

One surprise which I was not expecting is that I get an inordinate number of “comment responses” from places selling drugs, medicines and some other bad things. Apparently this is something which regularly happens to blogs as spam artists try their best to use other people’s work and space to promulgate their wares, etc. So each night I have to mark those which I wish to identify and “treat as spam.” Were I not to permit “Comments” there would not be this bother which is miniscule compared to the positive aspects of allowing you to interact with me directly.

Vivi Iglesias, my wonderful assistant, soon discovered what I suspect she knew all along, that is that her boss talks too much, so she is no longer able to translate all these blog entries into Spanish. I am sorry for that but from time to time on special topics, I will ask her to prepare a translation.

Have a great day!

+RNL

CATHOLIC SCHOOLS WEEK 2009

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

This week throughout the United States, the Church is observing  Catholic Schools week. This morning I had Mass at Tampa Catholic and on Thursday I will celebrate Mass for the students and staff of Clearwater Central Catholic High School. In this diocese we have 1,409 children in early Childhood Centers owned and operated by our parishes and schools,   12,266 in elementary and high schools including The Academy of the Holy Names and Jesuit in Tampa. There are presently 28 elementary and 6 high schools celebrating Catholic schools week.

These are tough times for Catholic in-school education. Tuitions are too high for many people and demographics in this area are indicating a significant decline in the number of school age children. As most of you know, both Pinellas and Hillsborough county have or are considering closing some public schools because of a marked decrease in enrollment.

Catholic education in this country thrived on three realities which are no longer present: (1) the shoulders of religious sisters, brothers and priests who worked for nothing; (2) the hostility  toward the Catholic religion in general and thus the need for Catholic schools to protect both faith and values; and, (3) a genuine belief in Catholic families that Catholic education was important to imparting and sustaining the faith.  The sisters are gone for the most part and their place has been taken by dedicated and devoted lay women and men who deserve (as did the sisters and brothers) a just wage – thus much higher tuitions. Many parents are not afraid of secularization and do not place the same emphasis on moral teaching and discipline as did their and our parents (this can be evidenced in part by the number of parents who do not and will not take their children to Sunday Mass yet continue to access the schools). Between cost, some loss of identity and better public schools, enrollment loss is today more the order of the day.

Our schools and centers continue to attempt to buck the trend. Generally, where there is a vibrant and younger population, schools are getting by and several are flourishing. Also generally, where the demographics of an area suggest a diminishing population of children, schools are hurting. In some instances in this diocese, the schools are no longer in a viable service area and there are no schools where there should be. The Diocesan Finance Council has asked me to commission a diocesan-wide review of our Catholic schools and to suggest financially viable ways in which to maintain them for the future.

For now, however, we acknowledge the presence and good work of Catholic education in our five counties. And I salute our principals, administrators, teachers and staff for maintaining quality educational institutions in a challenging time. But most of all I wish to acknowledge those gallant parents who truly sacrifice so that their children may benefit from Catholic education. That’s what this week is all about, celebrating the present while prudently planning for the future.

The Tampa Catholic experience this morning was enhanced by the presence of grandparents, proud of their offspring and happy to attend Mass with them. A senior girl named Victoria at the end of Mass gave a tour d’force about the things that school does to be of service to the broader community. She was proud of the Tampa Catholic Crusaders work on behalf of others and so was I. Now I look forward to Thursday at Clearwater Central Catholic.

Photo by Mike Hayes

With some TC students after Mass

MILESTONE NOT MILLSTONE

Monday, January 26th, 2009

I debated whether or not I was even going to mention this day in this blog but since so much of my happiness as a priest and bishop is due to the priests, deacons, religious and laity of this diocese I decided to go for it as one more way of expressing my thanks to the good Lord and to all of you for completing thirteen years as the bishop of St. Petersburg.

Many people when they meet me still tell me they were present for my ordination on this day in 1996. In my memory it seems the whole world was inside St. Jude Cathedral that afternoon. Many of the major people in the liturgy that afternoon are with the Lord today, my co-consecraters, Archbishops McCarthy and Marcinkus, my homilist, Cardinal Bernardin. Every Tuesday of Holy Week I come home and watch the DVD of that moment in my life and thank God it was here and not some place else.

It is way too early for me to take stock in what together we have accomplished. Other people have and have let me know of my faults and failures and disappointments. But their number is far from legion and more have been expressive of the good things which have been accomplished. I can and should take little credit for most as I have been supported by great priests, laity on the Diocesan Finance Council and Pastoral Council, thoughtful groupings of priests on the Priests Council, and a personal staff around me whom I treasure.

So at noon today I will offer a Mass of Thanksgiving for finishing thirteen mostly wonderful years and thank the good Lord for all of you. Now it is time to begin the fourteenth year. Blessings everyone for that is what you have been and are to me.

+RNL

STONED!

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

This is not going to be about what you think!

This morning I made a Pastoral Visitation to St. Stephen parish in Valrico. As you know from being at Mass today, the universal Church celebrated the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul because the Holy Father declared this year to be the year of St. Paul. Before his conversion and change of heart, Saul (aka Paul) was one of those identified as participating in if not organizing the stoning to death of the deacon and proto-martyr Stephen (there’s the connection to the title).

St. Stephen is a growing parish. This morning alone eighteen families registered and four couples came asking for convalidation of their invalid marriages. St. Stephen’s registers new parishioners every Sunday so this was just a normal Sunday. The 9:30am and 11:30am Masses were packed with people standing and they were fine Eucharistic celebrations with good music, attention to detail in the liturgy and I will humbly leave it to others to judge the quality of the homily.

At the moment the parish works off of two pieces of property approximately one and a half miles from each other. Their original site on Bellshoals Road contained the Church, church offices and hall. A beautiful piece of property on Boyette Road was donated by a parishioner and currently contains the rapidly growing school. The parish is looking forward to the day it will have a new worship space (aka Church), hall and offices on the site of the school (about a fifteen million dollar project.) They have steadily paid down a major debt on the new school and will soon be well positioned to think future. It is a lively community with great leadership, priests and people, and a great future.

I finished the day with a celebration of yet a third Mass at St. Paul’s parish in St. Petersburg on this their special day – also a great celebration. Congratulations to Father William Swengros and Monsignor Robert Gibbons for providing me and God’s people with great Eucharistic celebrations.

+RNL

DISAPPOINTED BUT NOT SURPRISED

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

At least and unlike his Democratic predecessor (and husband of his Secretary of State), our new President waited until after the Roe v. Wade anniversary to sign his expected “Executive Orders” allowing for a myriad of abortion services with federal funds and on federal property. But he signed them, nonetheless. Close observers of this matter know that predictably when Republicans are elected to the White House, Executive Orders restricting abortions are signed and when the Democrats arrive, Orders allowing abortion services are signed. So President Obama’s actions came as no surprise and are in reality debts repaid to various women’s and liberal groups who backed his campaign. It was to be expected.

We need now to steel ourselves for the second wave of Executive Orders which will be new to our national life in which embryonic stem cell research restrictions will also be lifted. President Bush was the first and only President to severely limit embryonic stem cell research with federal monies so in lifting the restrictions, our new President is likely to be the first to allow them. I might note here that it seemed to me that all of us, bishops, pro-life leaders and organizations, gave Senator McCain a “pass” in the last election on this one since he voted three times in the Senate to allow embryonic stem cell research.

This is the “dance” of the first ten days no matter who is elected to the presidency. Now for the long haul we must all hunker down and prevent FOCA from becoming law.

+RNL

FIFTY YEARS AGO

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

Sunday the Church will celebrate the Conversion of St. Paul worldwide  which will mark the fiftieth anniversary of Blessed Pope John XXIII announcing his intention to convene an Ecumenical Council, the first in more than one hundred years. Giving it the name, Second Vatican Council, good Pope John called all of the bishops from around the world to meet in Rome four years after his announcement. The announcement took place at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-walls in Rome on January 25th.

In calling the Council, the Holy Father announced that it was time to open the windows of the Church and allow some fresh new wind to blow through her. I was in the seminary at the time and the announcement of the convening of the Council which was relayed to us by the Rector was stunning news. What was the purpose? What changes might be occasioned? Who else would be invited? What would be the scope of the Council’s agenda/ Who would win the inevitable battle between the conservatives and the progressives in the Church? Would we continue to study philosophy and theology in Latin? Would we continue to pray only in Latin? Our professors made it correctly clear that there would likely be no changes in doctrine but there might be many in discipline: fish on Friday, strict Eucharistic fast and Friday abstinence, relationships with other Christian churches and perhaps a  new openness to Scriptural interpretation which up to that time had mostly been a freedom allowed only to non-Catholic biblical scholars.

There are many interpretations of the effects of the Council on the life of the Church, some positive and some negative. My first cousin is visiting me today and she said, “I’ve got a bone to pick with the Council as the Church stopped teaching the catechism and substituted a ‘God is love’ theory that allowed almost anything to go. The children since the Council do not understand the faith.” That is one person’s idea but there is some scintilla of truth to be found in it. From a standpoint of the priests, I do not know a single one who was ordained prior to the Council who would ever want to go back to the ministry they once knew. Some ordained since the Council might but they did not experience what the Church was like in the late ’50’s and early ’60’s. For many younger Catholics the Second Vatican Council is as foreign as the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council was to us in the ’50’s. The active “shelf life” of most of the later Councils which did not attack and define heresies has been short.

It is my personal feeling and only that which has led me to think we would be in far worse shape as a Church that some feel we are now. We needed desperately “full and active participation in the Eucharist” and we have it. How many presently in Church would be there today if we had the normally painful experience of music and prayer in a language we did not speak, understand, or appreciate? Did we lose some of the beautiful musical patrimony of the Church – indeed, but it is still recoverable and capable of being appreciated  when it is done well as it seldom was prior to the Council. We have greater respect and dialogue with our Protestant, Jewish and Muslim sisters and brothers. We retained disciplines which helped people and discarded those which hindered many.

But have we lost some good things also? I think the answer is yes. I will reflect on some of those things in coming days but I do not believe them to be foundational. I doubt if I would have become a priest had Pope John XXIII not convened the Council and Pope Paul VI implemented it. I owe those men and the Holy Spirit who guided them soon to be thirty one years of priestly ministry.

+RNL

TODAY IN DC

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

As I mentioned in an earlier post, today is the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. Tens of thousands will brave the cold to make their voices heard, hopefully in the White House and the halls of Congress. The fervor of this day has not dimmed with the passing of the years.

Pro-life people are worried and they should be. Our new President almost two years ago told Planned Parenthood that if a “Freedom of Choice Act” were to hit his desk, he would sign it. Worrisome indeed. Several members of the House of Representatives have reintroduced the FOCA legislation (worrisome) which went no where in the Democratically controlled Congress the last two years but interestingly there does not yet seem to be a rush to sign on by lots of other members. There is no question in my mind that were the Congress to pass and the President to sign a FOCA act, I and others would have no choice but to lead a movement of civil disobedience.

Our parishes have been placing post cards in the Churches which we will forward to our elected representatives in Washington. I hope you will fill one out and then bring it back to be sent north. With a few glaring exceptions, (Congresswoman Castor and Senator Nelson) most of our delegation to the House and Mel Martinez in the Senate can be counted on to be pro-life, some strongly so. I hope to personally meet with them all to explain the consequences of FOCA legislation as it has been proposed in the past.

The Supreme Court did enough damage on this date three and a half decades ago. We do not need the Congress or the President to nail the casket shut on innocent, unborn human life. Personally, I do not think there is sufficient support in this Congress for this radical reordering of an already awful situation but I may have thought the same thing in 1973 when the real “Supremes” confounded all expectations. It is important in this matter of life and death not to be caught asleep at the proverbial switch once again.

+RNL