Archive for March, 2009

CHRISM MASS 2009

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

The annual Chrism Mass is one week from today at the Cathedral of St. Jude in St. Petersburg beginning at 11:30am. Held during Holy Week and in the days of my youth, long ago, held on Holy Thursday morning, this important moment in the life of the local Church should not be missed if you have the time. All the priests gather to concelebrate the liturgy with their bishop. They recommit themselves to their priesthood and receive the support of the people of God. The oils of the sick and catechumens are blessed during this Mass for use throughout the year and the Sacred Chrism is consecrated. Chrism is used for baptism, confirmation and ordination to the priesthood and to the episcopacy. It is a special day for me because I gather to celebrate Eucharist with almost all of our priests, active, retired, religious, diocesan, special ministries – you name it, they are almost all there. Day in and day out, it is the priests who carry the majority of the responsibility for leading, guiding, celebrating, teaching, evangelizing, and sharing the sacraments with God’s people. They are every bishop’s true gift of God and at the Chrism Mass we celebrate and give thanks for our common priesthood. I hope you will consider joining us for this liturgy.

+RNL

CONSCIENCE

Monday, March 30th, 2009

In earlier entries in this blog I have written about my reservations about what are called “conscience clauses” in general. Advocates of abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, often in order to get something enacted into law when there is significant and vociferous opposition will agree to an inclusion that exempts people who for “conscience” reasons feel that they cannot morally participate in these procedures. From the time of Roe v Wade in the early 1970’s, many laws have been enacted which a faithful Catholic or Morman and sometimes people of other faiths and no faith feel that they can not abide. Feeling that they are covered by such “conscience clauses”, they suddenly find their employer applying punitive action against them for refusing on the grounds of conscience.

It is partly for this reason that this nation needs to be careful of proposed legislative actions like a “Freedom of Choice Act.” On the surface it seems to offer a piece of relief to those who cannot abide by what it will make possible. But these conscience clauses do not always work and they should never be accepted as a reason for supporting immoral laws.  Let me make it clear, I certainly do not advocate removing conscience clauses from proposed legislation.  I just remain skeptical as to how much protection they might offer let us say a nurse who suddenly discovers that the surgery on which he or she is assisting is actually performing a morally illicit act.

But they must be doing some good because Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion organizations want to get rid of them from all legislation, federal and state. That would be a worse tragedy than failing to provide them in morally flawed laws. The Illinois legislature has an action before it to outlaw such protections and the federal department of Health and Human Services has an open window of public comment now about closing the protection federal law currently provides. I have written to the latter expressing my opposition to the proposed regulatory changes. It is hard when you find yourself between that proverbial rock and a hard place: maintain the current weak protections often employer violated and supporting their continuing presence. I hope the legal system will ultimately support the right of an individual not to be made to violate their individual conscience. One can only hope.

+RNL

WEEK-END UPDATE

Friday, March 27th, 2009

The blog has been quiet most of the week due to my schedule resulting from the final of the two missions which I had committed myself to give this year. The mission at Holy Family concluded last night and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I hope those in attendance did as well.

Tomorrow I will celebrate the annual Mass of Recommitment with the Permanent Deacons of the diocese (aka “married deacons”). Since they are ordained into the clergy while still maintaining their marital responsibilities, they have chosen to gather one Saturday late in Lent each year to hear again the consecratory prayer from their ordination rite and to recommit to the promises made to the Church at that time. These generous servants of the Gospel now number in excess of 100 in the diocese, serving in many of our parishes, at the Port of Tampa, and in prison ministry. Their number will increase when in October the first class of new deacons will be ordained in slight over a decade – eighteen of them, I believe. Generous, desirous of serving, making time for prayer and service in their already busy lives, these men and the wives and families are edifying in their commitment to the Lord, to His Church, and to this diocese and their assignments. Say a prayer for them this week-end, that God who has begun His good work in them will see it through to its conclusion.

Sunday finds me at the Cathedral in the afternoon for the annual Altar Server Appreciation Mass. Many parishes send their servers to this Mass and one of them is selected by the pastor and others as the “Altar Server of the Year” from each parish.

I note with pride and satisfaction that Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico signed into law a statute which will prohibit the use of the death penalty in that state. Initially in favor of the death penalty, he came to the opposite conclusion and acted after going to Mass and receiving the Eucharist, meeting with a bishop representative of the Church in that state,visiting a prison and confronting for the first time in his life that he could not be absolutely sure in most cases that he would not be ordering the execution of an innocent man. Conversation with his Church in this instance led to conversion on a life issue. His position on abortion remains woefully wrong but perhaps the same patient consultation and conversation can turn him on this major issue of public life as well. I applaud the Governor for changing his mind and taking a position in favor of life and pray that he will now revisit his other positions and be consistent in defense of innocent human life.

Finally, Notre Dame University has created quite a stir by announcing that at the Spring Commencement ceremony they have invited President Barack Obama to give the graduation address and receive an honorary doctor of laws degree. It is a very prestigious platform to offer a President who is leading the battle for an expansion of abortion rights which may ultimately end up being unparalleled in recent history. Early “markers” are not encouraging in this regard but hope needs to spring eternal and while Notre Dame may have acted way too early and too generously, I am more alarmed that the rhetoric being employed is so uncivil and venomous that it weakens the case we place  before our fellow citizens, alienates young college-age students who believe the older generation is behaving like an angry child and they do not wish to be any part of that, and ill-serves the cause of life. Notre Dame has in the past and continues to give this local Church fine, professional and very Catholic women and men who both know and live out their faith. Most of them I know are ardently pro-life and like myself are probably disappointed with their alma mater. They and I will choose to convey our sadness to the Board of Trustees and Administration in a calm and dignified manner. I am especially sad for Bishop John D’Arcy, bishop of the diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend in which Notre Dame is located. For almost two decades he has supported the University and loved the University, even when he felt it necessary to correct the University privately which I can assure you he did. Now in the waning days of his tenure as bishop there, he is told of the invitation shortly before its public announcement and in words clearly laced with pain has had to announce that he will choose not attend the final commencement of his time as bishop. What sadness for this good man as well. I see Father Ted Hesburgh quoted as saying that “visits to campus of leaders has never changed the campus but has often changed the visitor.” One can only hope and pray for this outcome.

+RNL

MIAMI NICE

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

I am just back from a short but wonderful visit with our college seminarians who are attending St. John Vianney College Seminary in southwest Miami. Father Len Plazewski, our Vocation Director, and I arrived at the seminary about 3:30pm and I stayed busy with private interviews with each of the seventeen men for three hours. Then we went to a neighborhood restaurant for dinner (joined by two other seminarians from this diocese who came down from the theologate in Boynton Beach  to attend a special lecture). I am proud of the large group who we have attending St. John Vianney and I always enjoy spending time with them once a year as well as eating and praying with them. During our private talks, I am always amazed at how open they are and willing to talk to me about their ups and downs, where they feel they are standing at this moment relative to the long journey to priesthood, and how they believe themselves to be growing: spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, maturationally, and vocationally. The seminary years are a period of discernment and they are not meant to be an easy time. There is too much on the line: a public promise of celibate chastity for the rest of their lives, obedience and respect to their bishops and their successors, and a ministry to others wherever in the diocese they are sent. We celebrated the Eucharist this morning before Father Len and I had to hightail it back to St. Petersburg for a busy week-end.

There are two aspects of their college experience which can and usually are quite challenging: studying in a Hispanic culture and acquiring the necessary language ability to survive in Hispanic Miami and serve in the Church; and, the study of philosophy, a speculative intellectual discipline that does not easily lend itself to “Wikipedia”  or “Ask.com.” It is always enjoyable for me to hear how the men are doing in both regards. Overall, this group is not just coping but flourishing. Three men will be entering First Theology next year at Boynton Beach, still looking at five more years of formation. It is a long way not just to “Tipperary” but to priesthood as well. These seventeen are off to a good start.

The collegians and pre-theologians (they have completed a bachelor’s degree elsewhere and are in a two-year “crash course” in philosophy and spirituality) studying for us and their sending parishes are: Jonathan Emery, St. Clement, Plant City; Kyle Smith, Our Lady of the Rosary, Land-o-Lakes; Felipe Gonzalez, St. Paul, Tampa; Jackson Reeves, Most Holy Name of Jesus, Gulfport; Jonathan Stephanz, St. Stephen, Valrico; Gregory Visca, Nativity, Brandon; Elbert Ballado, St. Stephens, Valrico; Adrian Padilla, Our Lady of the Rosary, Land-o-Lakes; Karl Schmidt, Nativity, Brandon; Chris McBride, St. Raphael’s, Snell Island; Brian Fabiszewski, St. Catherine, Largo; Cliff Whitty, St. Cecilia, Clearwater; Curtiss Carro, St. Jerome, Indian Rocks Beach; Imad El Chiti, Christ the King, Tampa; Joseph Plesko, Nativity, Brandon; Chuck Dornquast, St. Joseph, Zephyr Hills; Anthony Ustick, St. Matthew, Largo. Here is a picture of the group:

OUR 2008-2009 COLLEGE SEMINARIANS AT ST. JOHN VIANNEY

OUR 2008-2009 COLLEGE SEMINARIANS AT ST. JOHN VIANNEY

I am happy to share with the good news that we are likely to increase our number for next year at St. John Vianney by six to possibly eight new candidates. Particularly pleasing to me and an answer to my many prayers are several candidates from the Hispanic community. Pray hard for these men that they might persevere and serve our Church as priests of God.

+RNL

WEEKEND UPDATE

Friday, March 20th, 2009

I continue to hear from the priests what a pleasant surprise the response to THE LIGHT IS ON FOR YOU was. And, they mostly report that their experience was that a lot more people came back to the sacrament after being away a while than usually occurs, even at this time of year. Our Lady of Fatima in Inverness reported that they were very busy throughout the whole time period for the word of the opportunity spread also to the northern counties. It’s all good.

I am finally getting down to our college seminary, St. John Vianney in Miami, this afternoon to spend some time with the college seminarians studying for our diocese. I had to cancel an earlier visit so I am making good on my word to reschedule and visit. The overwhelming number of our seminarians are in the college program so I will be busy with my private interviews, a shared meal, and the Eucharist together before returning at midday tomorrow (Saturday).

The second and final mission for me this Lent begins tomorrow afternoon with the 500pm Vigil Mass at Holy Family parish in Northeast St. Petersburg. Territorially it is my parish but canonically the Cathedral is really where I am supposed to be pastor. Because it is less than ten minutes from my residence, my daily presentations on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday will be held twice each day (I will celebrate the morning Mass each day at 730am and make my first presentation at 815am and then I will be back in the evening at 700pm. My mission talks last about 35-40 minutes and Holy Family is not planning to “wrap” them in any other form of prayer service. Remember that the first night of the mission will be Tuesday, not Monday as the parish had a previously scheduled commitment for Monday night. Their Mass schedule on Sunday is 730am, 900am and 1100am.

This week-end the second collection in all our parishes will be taken up for Catholic Relief Services. The gifts of the people of this country in this collection are also shared with the Migration and Refugee Services department of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, and to the Holy Father for his charitable work throughout the world. The generosity of American Catholics to the desperate throughout the world is no where better exemplified than in the work of Catholic Relief Services. Be generous and I know that hard times will not make for hard hearts.

+RNL

LIGHT LEFT ON LONGER THAN WE THOUGHT

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

Every once in a while, something goes right in the world and in the Church. This morning’s reactions to our efforts to make the sacrament of God’s forgiving love for us (Reconciliation) available last night has been uniformly positive. I have now heard from twenty-two parishes, all of whom experienced non-stop confessions last night from 5:30 to at least 8:00pm. Among the comments I am receiving from the priests is that a good number did indeed come back after a long time away from the sacrament. Many reported far more people than they had anticipated. Some actually thanked me for suggesting the initiative and that we should do it every year (I will leave that “call” up to the Priest’s Council.  Others said that their crowds were large even though their Lenten Penance Services had already been held and many of the people were those not usually seen.

Even I participated in the evening. When I arrived at St. Paul’s in Tampa at six for my seven o’clock closing mission talk, there was a line of about forty people waiting for the three priests who were hearing confessions. I immediately took my place in a room and became the fourth confessor for about fifty minutes prior to seven. The three priests continued hearing confessions throughout the hour I was making my presentation and I immediately entered the room and heard for an additional forty-five minutes until we finished everyone by 8:45 p.m. Then the priests of the parish said they started about 4:30 pm and went for four hours and fifteen minutes.

There is still a significant place for this sacrament within our Church life and making it easier to go to confession might only have been a small part of what happened last night.

To my already stressed-out and overworked (in many instances) priests, heartfelt thanks for making “The Light is On for You” a success. You would make any bishop proud. To those who came for confession and reconciliation last night – peace be with you.

+RNL

OUT OF AFRICA

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

A good deal of church news this coming week will deal with Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to Angola and the Cameroons, his first to the African continent.  He left Rome this morning. Africa is a church of promise for us as it continues to grow in the number of Catholic Christians. Although the reach of Islam is also finding good footing in some of the African countries, the Pope is visiting former French and Portuguese colonial countries where the faith remains fairly strong.

I have been to Angola. I went there around 1990 as a member of the Board of  Directors of Catholic Relief Services. The country was still involved in a civil war which had brought far too many deaths and I remember flying by a small private plane from the capitol city of Luanda to a near-by diocese. The pilot had to pass over the runway three times and look for possible planted mines on the dirt strip, and then feeling it safe we landed. Others were not so lucky and we visited several clinics run by the Church where children were being treated who were missing limbs simply because while they were playing with other children, they set off a mine. Angola had mines set by the Russians, the Cubans, the Namibians, the rebels, their own military and none left any maps of where these mines could be found. Sadly, children found them, and it was too late.

Comparative peace has come to Angola now and it is discovering that genuine peace-building can be as complicated, challenging and compelling as civil war (just ask the US military serving in Iraq about this). The bishops have been national leaders in the peace building effort. The greatest natural resource for this country is diamonds – lots of them and that is largely what the civil war was all about.

I remember Luanda as a very poor city with minimal services and sanitation. It may have changed in the nineteen years since I was there. I hope so.

+RNL

THE LIGHT IS ON FOR YOU

Monday, March 16th, 2009

Many moons ago I used this space to announce that on Wednesday evening, March 18th, every parish in the diocese would be open with the lights on and a confessor present t0 hear confessions. An experiment first tried in the Archdiocese of Washington and in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River, “The Light is on for You” attracted many people to return to the sacrament as it afforded an easy and certain opportunity to experience the sacrament at any Church which was convenient. No one needed to memorize the times of confessions for any one Church, all were open from 5:30pm until 8:00pm. Priests in both of those local Churches indicated that many people chose to return to the sacrament those nights and some offered the reason that not only was it convenient to stop by a Church on the way to and from home, but the anonymity of being in a parish where they were not known was instrumental in their returning to the sacrament.

When I presented the idea to the Priests’ Council, they noted correctly the opportunities during Lent in all their parishes and some expressed some skepticism that the same paradigm would work down here in central Florida. But the Priests’ Council agreed to giving it a try in this diocese and  on Wednesday night we will see and in May at the Presbyteral Council meeting we will measure how successful it was. One good confession of someone away a long time made possible because of the convenience of this opportunity would be a key to success to me. I will help them hear at a parish Church myself.

If you find a Church not open and available, I want to know about it. Use the comment section of this blog with the name of the parish and time you attempted and I will personally check into it. This will only work in the big picture if all parishes participate. Remember, on Wednesday night the light shining in the Church is on calling you to come home for Easter.

+RNL

WHAT? MONEYCHANGERS IN THE TEMPLE? BINGO!

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

When is the last time you walked into a Church where either a statue, mosaic or picture of Jesus with a whip in his hand, rage written on his face, and on a tear against a group of people could be found? Never in my almost 68 years and I bet you can’t think of such a place either. Yet that is the snapshot of Jesus we are presented in this week-end’s Gospel story. Jesus enters the Temple, finds it overrun with merchants and money changers and in a fit of Gospel pique, drives them out, whip in hand and tongue lashing just as severe. This moment appears in all four Gospels, though in a different chronology in Matthew, Mark and Luke than in John which we hear this week-end. So what has made the Lord so angry? I offer this picture and then a hint of an explanation:

THE GREAT TEMPLE IN JERUSALEM AT THE TIME OF JESUS

THE GREAT TEMPLE IN JERUSALEM AT THE TIME OF JESUS

First, there was an important and necessary place for merchants and money changers in the general Temple area. If you and your family were making a pilgrimage from Nazareth, let us say, to Jerusalem for Passover and you had some money, you bought a lamb to present to the priests for sacrifice when you got to Jerusalem rather than bringing it along with you on the trip. If you were poor, you bought a dove from the merchants to present to the priests, and didn’t pack it up at home in a cage and walk with it all the way to the Temple Mount. You were also expected to pay for these items in Jewish half shekels but the coin of the realm at the time was the Roman denarius with an image of Caesar and an inscription which declared the emperor to be divine. Your offering could not be made with a blasphemous coin so it was necessary to exchange Greek and Roman coins for Jewish shekels which had no value outside the Temple but were obligatory inside the Temple – thus the money changers.

Initially all this commerce was done on the Mount of Olives from which perspective this picture was taken or in the Kidron Valley outside the Golden Gate (shown in the foreground of the Temple picture) prior to entering the Temple area. Over time, it would seem in the life of Jesus, the merchants and money changers set up shop inside the Temple in the great plaza between the entrance shown on the left of the picture and the Inner Temple and Holy of Holies shown in the center. Although King David’s Great Temple was long destroyed, the great temple of King Herod the Great shown here as it was thought to be at the time of Jesus was built on exactly the same lines. One washed themselves or purified themselves in the Pool of Siloam or the Temple pool, both of which were located outside the Temple itself and to the left but not shown here, entered with one’s animal for sacrifice or one’s offering into the giant plaza as we would call it, approached the priests with the women gathering on the left of the Holy of Holies and the men going around to the right where the priests could be found, and then the High Priest would be given the animals for ritual slaughter inside the Temple itself in the Holy of Holies which is through the giant doors.  The area was as reverential as it could be with huge numbers of pilgrims coming at Passover and reserved for prayer and offerings.

What Jesus found was chaos. Merchants and moneychangers had moved inside between the entrance to the left and the inner Temple and were shouting to gain the attention of the pilgrims looking to purchase a lamb for slaughter or a dove for offering and to exchange their coin offerings for shekels. The Father’s House had become a den of thieves which suggests that the merchants and money changers had probably figured a way to cheat the pilgrims who suddenly found themselves like a returning parent who remembers at the last airport that they haven’t purchased a gift for the spouse and children and into the high priced airport shops they go, trapped by time and need.

So allow me some final thoughts about what all this could possibly mean for our life in faith today? This list is not taxative to be sure:

1. Is the Bingo sign at the parish larger and more legible than the times of Masses sign?

2. Do we enter inside our modern Churches/Temples and pass by tables set up to sell raffle tickets, dance tickets, dinner tickets or is this done appropriately outside?

3. Are we greeted as we enter our modern day Temples or Churches with a quiet welcome or is our attention directed to some other distraction?

Just some thoughts for this Third Sunday of Lent. Have a good week-end all,

+RNL

MAN ON A MISSION

Friday, March 13th, 2009

When I first arrived as bishop, my Diocesan Worship Commission suggested that I not administer the sacrament of confirmation during Lent. Their reasons were liturgically and theologically sound and focused on the importance of the catechumenate during this season as well as the need for the whole Church to center its focus on the nature and meaning of the season itself. So I annually receive a seven week reprieve from confirming during Lent. Being an obsessive-compulsive type of personality and because of that aware that my schedule abhors a vacuum, I began to think of other things I might do during Lent to sort of “fill up the time and calendar.” Well, I got the idea that I would try my hand at conducting parish missions, if invited to do so by the parishes of the diocese. I have now done this for seven years.

Let me begin by noting the obvious, I am not a “mission preacher.” They are a type onto themselves in the Church and most do a very fine job at giving missions throughout the United States. They do it almost every week, except time off for vacations and respites. They integrate into their talks stories that they know will grip the attention of the congregation while supporting their central themes. Because they do it every week, it is something akin to getting out of bed each day, they just do it and don’t worry about it. Well, not so this writer. I start tomorrow night (Saturday) and I am terrified at the thought of starting another one. Even though the next two weeks will be the ninth and tenth time I have attempted to preach a mission, I am still running scared. The normal, regular things I do in my life comprise my comfort zone and stepping outside of that challenges me every year – will they like it? will I be over their heads? is what I am saying practical enough and applicable to their lives of faith? Will they come back after the first night or even after the Sunday, “you all come” homily? And, I am very aware of what I am not. I am not a mission band preacher who just packs up and moves on after the closer, but I remain as bishop and they will see me again, in this instance in both parishes, in a few weeks for confirmation. Today, I find myself asking, “why did I ever agree to do this?”

To add to my anxiety, this year I am giving three entirely different presentations from the past so there is no reaching in the file and pulling out last year’s “jewels.” Neither parish is incorporating a penance service into the three nights which has been a regular of my past experiences and one parish has appropriately asked me to delay the mission evenings one additional night, starting on Tuesday instead of Monday because of an important scheduling conflict. “Oh, my God, will they even remember on Tuesday to come?”

Friday is the day I try to take to myself. Much of it is spent in thinking about the Sunday homily or other presentations which I must make in the coming week. Tomorrow morning I have a Diocesan Pastoral Council meeting and then I start, preaching at all and celebrating seven parish week-end Masses that end on Sunday night. Truth to tell, I am taking a break from outlining the first talk from the second as I write these words. Anxiety runs high. Prayers (I leave it to you as to whom to pray for – the preacher or the preached to) are requested. I will let you know how it turns out.

+RNL