Archive for July, 2009

SEND FOR THE ELDERS

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

“Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord free you from sin and raise you up.”

On my birthday in 1995, I woke up at four a.m. with the worst headache and neck ache I had ever had. Two Extra-strength Tylenol did nothing, nausea followed, then the sweats and chills. I had just spent the first night in my new rectory of the parish in West Broward county to which I had been newly assigned as pastor. At eight a.m I called the parish offices, told the secretary of my worsening situation and she sent my associate pastor to take me to a doctor. He found a blood-pressure reading of 210/170 and immediately gave me medicine to try and lower the blood pressure. He said that he was calling for the EMTs to transfer me to the nearest hospital. That’s all I remember. I have no memory of being transported. I have no memory of being rushed into the emergency room. I have no memory of the multitudinous tests being run on me. My very first memory was hearing the words above being recited, the oil being placed on my hands and on my forehead – it was my new associate, Father Fernando Isern,  anointing me for the first time in my life. Somehow from that moment on I knew I was going to make it, though I did not know where I was or why I was there. It remains to this day all in a cloud of unknowing except for the Sacrament  of the Sick. I fell  off again into a deep sleep until awakened by a doctor who said that for ten hours he had been working on me, trying to determine what was wrong, trying every test except one remaining one – a spinal tap which he said was essential to confirm his now fairly firm suspicion. I remember that moment every Tuesday of Holy Week when I bless the Oils of the Sick and as the representatives of the people ask me in English and Spanish to bless these oils to strengthen and heal the sick. I remember that moment.

Today I was once again anointed by oil which I myself blessed last Tuesday of Holy Week as I prepare for tomorrow’s surgery. All of the anxiety, all of the uncertainty of the last three weeks seemed to vanish as this time Father Joseph Waters prayed over me and for me. The Sacrament of the Sick is a wonderful encounter with Christ. At times I felt like all of those in the Gospels who experienced the Lord’s healing touch during his lifetime, some who sought him out for the purpose, others who were approached by family and friends for healing, and then those few who sensed they only had to touch or be touched by him to be healed. I sensed His presence and felt strengthened for the journey ahead. Preceded by the Sacrament of Reconciliation and having celebrated the 930am Mass at the Cathedral of St. Jude this morning during which the Anointing was performed,  I am going to bed tonight leaving tomorrow in the hands of my loving God and the skill of my very fine surgeon. In May 1995, the Lord in His love and mercy began to free me from spinal meningitis. In July of 2009 I am supremely confidant that he will do the same of whatever is growing in my colon. As the kids would say, “how sweet is that?” We have the gift of encountering Christ at all the major moments in our life: birth and baptism, reason and confession and communion, emerging maturity and confirmation, marriage and ordination, and when we are sick, the anointing of the sick. How cool is that? Older Catholics who remember Extreme Unction need to keep in mind that the sacrament is no longer attached to the necessity of death being imminent, but rather is available to all who need the healing presence of Christ to strengthen them in an illness or prior to a surgery.

I feel  His powerful presence tonight and your prayers. When next you hear from me at this site, I will be on the road to recovery. Even a bishop can experience the presence of Christ in a sacrament he rarely receives but is there for him also when he calls for the elders to come, pray over him, anoint him, commend him to the love of Christ. The people attending the 930am Mass at the Cathedral joined Father Waters in praying for my well-being. I will be in touch with you soon. For the moment, the Lord Himself has been in touch with and touched me.

+RNL

WE/I BELIEVE IN ONE GOD

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

I had occasion this Sunday to attend Mass where the new translations of the Order of Mass were in use already. Or perhaps I should say that the new translation of the Nicene Creed was being used. After the homily the priest presider took his seat and when he stood up to begin the Creed, he and everyone in the Church scurried to find the text of the now familiar prayer. Directed to follow a slavish translation of the Latin text, “Credo in unum Deum” which for years we have been saying, “We believe in one God” is now “I believe in one God….” and thereby becomes a personal faith affirmation rather than an affirmation of the whole assembly. “One in being with the Father” is now translated “Consubstantial with the Father” and so on. One nice change is that “for us men and our salvation” is rendered “for us and for our salvation.” When the Creed was ended, everyone including the priest scurried to put away the “cheat sheet” until next it would be needed.

I have no delusions that in time the new translation will be a part and parcel of the praying community’s memory just as the prayers are now to which we have grown so accustomed but I am not sure I will live long enough in my case.

At the end of the Eucharist I asked the priest what he and his people thought of the new translation. His response, speaking for himself and for the people, is not printable here.

Nonetheless, it is coming and coming soon to the United States. At this November’s meeting the bishops of the United States will be asked to approve the final segments of the translation and submit them to Rome for what is called a “recognitio” and then a date, maybe the first Sunday of Advent in 2010 0r some other time in 2011 we will begin to use them in our celebrations of the Mass. The Our Father remains unchanged but we will have to get used to some other things. I predict windfall profits for the missaelette people, missal people and others who will produce, distribute and sell the “cheat sheets” which we will all need for some time.

+RNL

EMMA LAZARUS LIVES IN TAMPA

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

This morning’s 5-2 decision by the Hillsborough County Commission to allow Catholic Charities to open a second site for the homeless in the bay area (Pinellas Hope has been function for almost two years now) is something just short of miraculous. Until this morning there had been scant indications that the Commissioners would support a new temporary housing for the homeless on the only site in Hillsborough County which the diocese might be able to use for this purpose. The news media had reported correctly on the opposition of the residents to the plan, the negative decisions of two regulatory bodies or persons who make recommendations to the Commission about such things, and the seemingly endless uphill challenge of gaining support for the project. Yet hope springs eternal in the minds and hearts of our Catholic Charities Leadership and they never gave up.

The Hillsborough Commission today voted to instruct the staff to change the language which would allow our Pinellas Hope approach of temporary housing (tents to be specific) to be copied on the Hillsborough site. We screen every applicant, police the place literally with off-duty police, assist the homeless in securing the benefits to which they are entitled (Pinellas Hope has been an education to me in how often our Veterans do not know what is available to them in assistance), help them find jobs and most especially provide a safe and secure place for them to live temporarily. Meals have been supplied by countless Church and other groups (the Allegany Franciscan Sisters, for one example, have cooked and served several times in Pinellas Hope) and access to medical attention is also provided as needed. The powerful fusion of public and private support has given lift and life to our presence among the homeless. It is precisely where I think our Church needs to position itself to the care for the “homeless masses yearning to breathe free.”

This is just the beginning step but very significant. I wish to pay special tribute and appreciation to the editorial boards of THE TAMPA TRIBUNE and THE ST. PETERSBURG TIMES for their well researched, well-reasoned, and well-spoken advocacy for Hillsborough Cares. In my judgment, they made a huge difference in the outcome of today’s discussion. It is my prayer and my hope that Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Petersburg will soon be able to join Metropolitan Ministries and the Salvation Army and the other organizations who work for and with the homeless. Earlier I mentioned that today’s vote was near miraculous. Well if Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta is in need of one more miracle for sanctity, I would be happy to offer today’s happenings.

+RNL

NOW’S THE TIME

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Now is the time for a concerted effort with all our legislators in Washington to let them know that the nation needs broader health care coverage available to all but that any new program of universal health care should not include provision of abortion coverage or require people of conscience to act contrary to said conscience. It would be a national tragedy for something good, greater access to health care, to be a launching pad for something awful, the taking of innocent human life by abortion. In a day or so in this space I will attach a letter to the President which I intend to write asking him to stand up for what he promised the Catholic editors with whom he met – strict conscience protection for all involved in any aspect of health care. He has extraordinary currency with his Democratic controlled Congress and now is the time for him to remind them of his promise to us. Please join me in writing to Senators Nelson and Martinez, Representative Castor who all are involved in drafting the impending health care legislation. It is a simple message I ask you to convey – no federally mandated inclusion of abortion in universal health care programs and protect the consciences of those who will not be forced to act again their beliefs.

+RNL

THAT’S THE WAY IT IS

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

Just a short entry on two items of news. President Obama has nominated a fellow board member of mine on the Board of the Catholic Health Association, Regina Benjamin, MD as Surgeon General of the United States of America. Dr. Benjamin has served about two years with me on the board and it seems that at every other meeting some mention was always being made of a new accolade and/or recognition she had received since the last meeting. As most of you know, she is an African-American woman who attended Catholic schools and graduated from Xavier University in New Orleans, a university begun by Mother Katherine Drexel for African Americans many years ago. After completing medical school and beginning her practice, Dr. Benjamin was moved by the lack of access to health care of the rural poor in Alabama and Mississippi and she began to open clinics to care for them. Admired and loved by the Archbishop of Mobile, her home archdiocese, she was awarded the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Award, the highest papal award a bishop can bestow on a lay person. Her participation in the work of the Catholic Health Association has been of the highest calibre. We will miss her but I know that every board member will like myself be proud of her and wish her well in her forthcoming responsibilities.

Secondly, the news of the death today of Walter Cronkite saddens me somewhat. I always trusted that man and turned to him as the principal source of my television news for many, many years. I would occasionally see him in retirement when I used to sail in and out of Edgartown Harbor on Martha’s Vineyard many years ago. Walter has now signed off for the final time on this earth and for him as for all of us, “that’s the way it is.”

+RNL

LETTER FROM INDIA – #3

Monday, July 13th, 2009

The third of Brendan Stack’s  “Letters from India” has arrived and can be found here. If you are new to this blog, Brendan is a junior at Loyola Baltimore  (member of St. Jude the Apostle Cathedral parish and graduate of Jesuit High School) and is spending the summer as an intern with Catholic Relief Services in remote India, and you can find his first two letters by clicking on the tag “Brendan Stack Update” at the end of this post. As you can tell, he is experiencing Church, poverty, charity, culture at a new and amazing level of engagement and he shares this experience in  his “Letter” back to us. I hope you enjoy it.

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POTUS AND THE POPE

Friday, July 10th, 2009

The first meeting between President Obama and Pope Benedict XVI will take place in just a few hours. I believe that this President is about the ninth U.S. President to have a meeting with a Pope. It was years before the first US President summoned up enough courage to physically be present to the Holy Father and, of course, that came after years of anti-Catholic bias and even bigotry which prevented such meetings. This meeting will be pleasant, cordial and correct. Catholics who are still out of sorts that Obama was elected President hope that the Holy Father will take the President to the woodshed on abortion, embryonic stem cell research, etc. That will not happen I can assure you. I can also assure you that the Holy Father will emphasize the Church’s teaching on beginning and end of life issues and the President expects it, but the tone of the meeting will be as it should be, a respectful exchange of ideas in conversation not at all strident. If I were the President and more so if I were the President’s staff, I would have my boss prepared to outline to the Holy Father how much the goals of his administration mirror the Holy Father’s social hopes for the world in the latest encyclical of this week, “Charity in the Truth.” My quick first reading of the encyclical leads me to believe that except for the issue of abortion, this Pope and this President share many of the same economic, environmental, and social beliefs. They certainly agree on the use of “armaments” on the world stage, the elimination of hunger in our lifetime in the world, the responsibility of the rich nations to assist the poorer, etc.

This first meeting will be “getting to know you, getting to know all about you, getting to like you, hoping that you’ll like me” (sorry Rodgers and Hammerstine but you said it best in “The King and I”.) In 1993 I ushered the relatively new President Clinton into his first private meeting with Pope John Paul II at Regis Collge in Denver at the start of World Youth Day. The papal secretary, now Cardinal Dziwisz, and I closed the door, looked at our watches and waited the thirty minutes which had been scheduled for the meeting. Precisely at thirty minutes, he opened the door and we looked in. They were locked in conversation and Pope John Paul looked at him and said in Polish, fifteen more minutes please. The predictions had been that this meeting would not last that long but I knew better because I had already experienced both men’s abhorrence of sticking to schedule when conversation was good. At the forty-five minute mark Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea were standing by with us awaiting the signal to come in for a personal moment or two with the first family. We opened the door and a third time were told they were not finished. This time we did not close the door and soon a signal was given that the conversation was ended. President Clinton said to me, “the Holy Father is amazing. I am sorry we had so little time together but we agreed to keep on talking when I come to Rome.”

Stalin was right, the Pope has no legions of soldiers except millions of believers who soldier for the faith in different ways. I will close with a reminder which some of my readers will not want to hear but it is the truth. President Obama so far has excited the minds and imagination of most people outside of the U.S. as ushering in a new day on the world stage for the mighty United States. To these people he oversees a future full of promise (whether it is realized or not only history will be able to say). I have evidence that the Roman Curia, the pope’s closest advisors like what he is doing. They acknowledge that he is not a Catholic and therefore needs time to be educated on Catholic teachings on life, justice, charity and a whole host of other things. But they believe he can be a great leader or the world stage and I would go to the bank that Pope Benedict believes the same. Today’s meeting will be only the first and it will be between two gentleman getting to know one another better.

Don’t forget, I’ll be back on the blogs on July 22nd or thereabouts and then go quiet again.

+RNL

LIFE GOT A LITTLE CRAZY THIS WEEK

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

Two quick reflections. My life got a little crazy this week with the discovery mentioned in the last blog and the consultations which have followed. I am still reading the new encyclical and have digested about one third of it. I hope that sometime later tonight or tomorrow at the latest I will be able to offer some comments on it which you might find interesting and/or helpful. Finally, I will be taking a short break from this blog and will return to writing again around July 22nd. The hiatus has nothing to do with the forthcoming surgery, just a rest period prior to entering the hospital later this month. But there is at least one more entry to come plus another letter from India which has arrived but needs to be converted to the proper format for inclusion here.

+RNL

AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION IS WORTH A POUND OF CURE

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

I wish to use this blog opportunity to share with you some news that is deeply personal but shared because of a passion for a cause which I wish to take up with even greater commitment and zeal. First, the personal issue. Nine years ago one small polyp in my colon was discovered, removed, analyzed and determined to be non-cancerous during a routine colonoscopy procedure. I was told to come back in five years or when I was 64 years old for a second procedure. In the meantime, insurance reimbursement and conventional wisdom went to a ten year period between procedures if there were no warning signs or cancer concerns. In the intervening years I have been faithful to an annual physical examination with a wonderful primary care physician who has terrific diagnostic skills. This summer I inquired if I should have a second colonoscopy since nine years had passed. It was decided that indeed one was justifiable at this time not because of any warning signs or cancer concerns but because everyone my age should take care and precaution so as to avoid colorectal cancer. I had the procedure on Monday, July 6th and the result was slightly different from my first experience.

The procedure discovered a large polyp of approximately three centimeters (0ne inch) in length. The very skilled gastrointerlogist performing the procedure said to me after I woke up that he doubts if the polyp is cancerous but it must come out and only then after the whole mass is subjected to proper pathology tests could colorectal cancer be discounted. He took a biopsy of the outer portion of the polyp and as he suspected, it was not cancerous. I am hoping and praying for the same result when the entire mass is removed during the forthcoming surgery. I am optimistic, hopeful and will be happy when this chapter is closed in a few weeks. Surgery is scheduled for later this month. Beyond five to seven days in the hospital for the surgery, some additional time will be necessary for recovery. I will Thisbethis time to regain my strength. When at Mass you pray as you do “for our bishop Robert” ask the Lord to give me the strength and courage to deal with this situation. Your prayers have often sustained me in difficult times throughout these thirteen and a half years. That concludes the personal.

Now, the real reason, for telling you all of this. When one reaches the age of 50, please, please take advantage of whatever opportunity you have for colorectal screening. Although mine is likely not cancer, it might have been had this not been discovered in time. Colon cancer can usually be survived if discovered in time. As I write this, I stand a good chance of being one of the lucky ones. I want you with me in “the winner’s circle” so that we can continue our pilgrimage in faith which we have been sharing together. Too many people die of colorectal cancer who might have lived. Be not afraid. Be not ashamed. Ask your doctor if it is time for a colonoscopy procedure. I did and I thank God and my doctors. Join me in the fight against colon cancer. Pray that health care reform allows more people access to the screening process. The procedure itself is brief, totally painless, and eminently reliable. It saves lives. It may have saved mine. Allow it to save yours.

+RNL

WE GET LETTERS, LOTS AND LOTS OF LETTERS

Monday, July 6th, 2009

Tomorrow (Tuesday) is the release date for Pope Benedict XVI’s third encyclical letter, entitled “Charity in Truth”  or Caritatis in Veritate which will be the official Latin title. This seemed like a good day to reflect on exactly what an “Encyclical Letter” is and with what seriousness it should be taken by Catholics world-over. Popes use encyclical letters for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they are used as teaching documents to elaborate on matters of truth, faith and morals. Sometimes they are used as clearer guidelines to morality and ethics. Sometimes they are used to proclaim articles of faith which must be accepted by the faithful. The word “encyclical” means circular or a letter circulated among all the Churches throughout the world. So do they often establish new doctrine to be embraced by all Catholics? They have indeed on occasion but in more recent times they represent attempts by the Pope to illuminate, elucidate and inculcate the faith. Most of the time, when the Holy Father goes to the trouble of writing to all the Churches, it represents his concern for an aspect of life, either in faith or secular society, in our day.

Catholic social teaching which is one of the best-kept secrets of our faith has long been a bed-rock of material for encyclical letters. In “Mater et Magistra” Blessed Pope John XXIII spoke to the rights of workers to organize. In “Populorum Progressio” Pope Paul VI issued a challenge to evangelize the world with the Gospel following the Second Vatican Council. In “Evangelium Vitae” Pope John Paul II spoke to the whole gamut of “life issues” and called for society to embrace a deeper respect for human life from conception to natural death. In the natural span of my sixty-eight years there have been exactly fifty encyclical letters. Perhaps the one which has raised the greatest challenge to Catholics was that of Pope Paul VI dealing with artificial birth control, “Humanae Vitae in 1968.

The Church teaches and binds Catholics in basically two ways: the extraordinary magisterium (definitions of Ecumenical Councils and/or Popes with the clear intention to bind the faithful)  and ordinary magisterium which includes encyclical letters, papal bulls, apostolic constitutions (which by the way rank higher in authority than encyclicals). All can be written for the whole Church, for bishops, or sometimes something for a particular Church in a country or part of the world.

So, bishop, you should be asking, what about this one? Should I read it? Should I take it seriously? Will its teaching be a matter of faith with which I cannot disagree? In this instance, the Holy Father is addressing the current economic situation of the world in which we live and the responsibility we hold for all of our brothers and sisters. We should listen to him. It is no accident that this letter is being issued just prior to the annual meeting of the G-8 nations with their powerful economic engines, some of which like our own are currently in low gear. Benedict is a professor. His writings are among the clearest and most concise documents I have ever read in my years of priesthood. I look forward to settling down tonight and reading the letter from start to finish. I know he will speak my heart. Caritatis in Veritate may well ultimately wind up on the top ten list of social encyclicals such as Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII in 1891,  Quadragesimo Anno of Pope Pius XI in 1931, and Mater et Magistra of Blessed Pope John XXIII. The Lord Jesus said to his apostles, “He who heareth you, heareth Me.” (LK 10:16). We should all listen to this successor of St. Peter.

+RNL