Archive for February, 2010

UNTIL DEATH DO US PART

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

For a Lenten week-end, it has been kind of crazy. First, last night (Saturday night) Transfiguration parish in St. Petersburg celebrated its golden anniversary as a parish with a Mass and dinner. I celebrated the Mass and preached the homily. For a long time I could not figure out why a parish would choose a week-end in Lent to celebrate  an anniversary, until I started looking at the readings and discovered that the Gospel was Luke’s account of the Transfiguration of the Lord. However, even with that Lent is a time during which we all need to hear again and again the call to conversion and more radical discipleship. I left uncertain as to whether or not I had served the parish occasion or the scriptures well. Preaching is always a challenge for me though some would likely dispute it but when one is a bishop, the occasions often tend to suffocate the liturgical seasons. Congratulations to Transfiguration parish on five decades of existence and service to God’s people, to Monsignor Avellino Garcia, its pastor and to its tri-cultural community who respect one another’s traditions, language and style of worship (Anglo, Hispanic and a growing Tongan community).

Today I found myself still celebrating the Second Sunday of Lent but it was Marriage Jubilee Mass afternoon at the Cathedral of St. Jude. 390 couples from around the diocese gathered for this annual celebration representing 19,697 combined years of marriage. Here are the statistics:

  • 60 parishes represented  with 54 couples celebrating twenty-fiver years of marriage sometime this year
  • 138 celebrating fifty years
  • 122 celebrating between fifty-one and fifty-nine years
  • 75 married over 60 years.

Bishop Lynch Congratulating Charles and Barbara Wellen for their 71 years of married life. Photo credit: John Christian.

Charles and Barbara Wellen were present today as the longest married couple in the Cathedral, an amazing 71 years. They have four sons, fourteen grandchildren and thirty-five great grandchildren celebrating the occasion with them. When I asked the assembly to stand and to face each other, join their right hands and renew their wedding vows, they looked at one another with the same eyes and delight at they must have shown on the day of their wedding.

Marriage is another sacrament of the Church which is in some trouble. We notice less and less young people coming to Church for weddings and from time to time I will see that a certain graduate(s) of our Catholic high schools will have gotten married on the beach, at Disney World or some other secular place. Being married in a Catholic Church no longer carries for many of our baptized the reality of yet another sacramental encounter with Jesus and so it is abandoned or ignored. Granted, it is not always easy to get married in a Catholic Church. There is a lengthy period and program of preparation but those couples who still embrace the sacrament in Church often comment how beneficial the program was to them even if there was initial reluctance. One of my pastors once commented that there is less time on Saturday for marriage in most of our Churches since the advent of the Saturday Vigil Mass for Sunday. Where once there may have been two or three slots in the afternoons for weddings, there is now likely only one.

I also think sometimes that like many other things in society and our world today, the indissolubility of marriage which the Church proclaims leads some to just ignore sacramental marriage in the Catholic Church. It has become somewhat easy to  get out of most of our fiduciary responsibilities (via bankruptcy, abandonment, dissolution of prior promises) and perhaps Church weddings just do not seem that important any more, especially a Church which takes the vows of fidelity “until death do us part” so seriously.

The bishops of the United States addressed the issue of marriage in the Church in a document released this last Fall and have established “strengthening marriage” (http://www.foryourmarriage.org) as one of the five primary goals and objectives of USCCB activity.

Today in the Cathedral the fundamental and enduring grace of the sacrament of marriage was present for all to see. I know how tough it can be to endure “good times and bad, sickness and health. . .” but 390 couples came to Mass today to ask God’s help in strengthening their promises and providing abundant blessings until “death do them part.”

+RNL

THE FUTURE OF OUR CHURCH

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

I made my first trip outside of the diocese (actually the first night spent in something other than my bed at home or a hospital bed) since July 27th, 2009 on Tuesday. The occasion was two-fold, the twice yearly Board of Trustees meeting of our regional seminary, St. Vincent de Paul in Boynton Beach, which was also held during the once every ten years accreditation visitation by The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (aka “SACS”) and the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) and the opportunity to visit our seminarians in theology (there are eight in the five year program and about twenty-two in the college and pre-theology program at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami).

All the bishops of the seven Florida dioceses are owners of the theology seminary and along with about twelve other lay people constitute the Board of Trustees. We meet every February and September and take our faith and fiduciary responsibility seriously. The seminary is an expensive proposition so finances often occupy a great part of our discussion but so do the spiritual, pastoral, academic and student life parts of the five year formation program. The future looks better for St. Vincent’s than the present as the large number of men in the college and pre-theology program suggests enrollment on the order of eighty rather than the present sixty-two.

The seminary passed the tests of the two accrediting associations and has been accredited for an additional ten years. These periodic visitations and evaluations are beneficial, helpful and necessary, but they place enormous pressure on the college and/or university. Several of the ten member visitation team spent time with the Board of Trustees asking us questions both about our engagement with the seminary and our financial commitment to St. Vincent’s. They all left this morning (Thursday) and so did I, but I was the only one on AMTRAK!

Finally, I visited individually with each of our theologians and also took them out to dinner. They are wonderful men and will serve their Lord and yourselves well. Deacons Dominic Corona and Dayan Machado shared their excitement about their impending ordination to the priesthood, reminding me of my own excitement more than thirty-two years ago. They are very happy with their seminary experience and committed to their vocations. Finally, I spent a little time with our Father Michael Muhr who serves as a spiritual director at St. Vincent’s and has for the last nine years. They deeply admire and appreciate his presence at the seminary, even though it is a great sacrifice for us as a local Church. Nonetheless, he is making a great contribution to the future of our Church. I came home happy to have spent this time and effort with our future priests in their formation house.

Finally, I ask all our readers prayers for Bishop John Ricard, the bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee who continues to recover from serious physical challenges and is now in rehab. We missed him at this meeting and I miss him terribly as a friend. Also, my last living uncle and my father’s youngest brother died this morning in Wellesley, Massachusetts. He was the first chief judge of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Superior Court System, visiting professor of trial practice for many years at Harvard Law School and a great uncle modeling integrity and justice. I am not yet approved for flying so I will not be able to attend his funeral on Saturday morning which grieves me deeply. May he rest in peace.

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LAYING FOUNDATIONS FOR THE FUTURE

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Saturday night last (the 20th), the Catholic Foundation which has as its goal among other things providing tuition assistance to needy families so that their children can attend Catholic schools held its annual fund raising dinner at the Grand Hyatt in Tampa. 527 people were in attendance for the dinner.

Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York gives the principle address at the 2010 Catholic Foundation Gala

Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York gives the principle address at the 2010 Catholic Foundation Gala

The principal address was given by my friend, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York. I was h0nored that he would fly down here to be present on this important occasion on the eve of the First Sunday of Lent and his own archdiocese’s Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion later on Sunday at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He spoke about the year of priests which has been declared by the Holy Father and the importance of Catholic schools in helping priests transmit the Gospel and make Jesus real and alive to our young people. The archbishop is a brilliant Church historian but in casual conversation and in formal presentations, he presents a wit and charm which makes all listeners see and hear a man of hope. He flew back right after his talk and I heard him at 1015am the next morning celebrating Mass and preaching at his St. Patrick’s Cathedral (You can listen to the Archbishop in a special one hour program he does every week entitled “Conversations with the Archbishop” on Sirius or XM satellite radio (Thursdays at 1pm, Sundays at 8am and 6pm and at other times). I am so grateful to the Archbishop for accepting my invitation and I have not met or heard from anyone yet who did not enjoy and gain from his presence.

We presented a special award to a husband and wife who have worked hard all their life for Catholic education, Darcie and JoAnn Cleary of St. Paul parish in St. Petersburg. JoAnn was principal for many years of Transfiguration elementary school and then taught at St. Petersburg Catholic High School.  Darcy has been the administrator of the Mary C. Forbes Foundation which makes tuition scholarship grants to Catholic schools to area students.

The “A-Train”, aka Mike Alstott was present to autograph a football auctioned off and the event probably cleared $135,000 for next year’s tuition scholarships.

My thanks to those who worked hard in planning the evening and to the over five hundred who purchased tickets, tables, etc. and attended. It was a sparkling evening for a good cause.

+RNL

IT’S SPRINGTIME ALREADY FOR THE DOSP

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

1063 catechumens and candidates came to St. Jude Cathedral yesterday (Sunday) for the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion. That is a great number for our relatively small diocese and to me it is always representatives of a new blossoming or Springtime for our beloved Church. I know we had probably an additional 300 who were unable to come to the Cathedral but who will either be baptized (the catechumens) or admitted to full communion (candidates) at the Easter Vigil.

The mother of all Catholic blogs, Whispers in the Loggia indicated that the Archdiocese of Atlanta had over 2200 for its Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion which is a wonderful number. That growing Archdiocese is approaching one million Catholics and most likely is the fastest growing local Church in the U.S. Philadelphia, it was noted, had a total of about 500 for their ceremony of welcome.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, we had nine less at the Cathedral this year than last year and our number stays pretty steady throughout the years I have been here (now beginning my 15th). Statistically, that means we have baptized and received over 15,000 during that time. How many we have lost in a similar amount of time is harder to calculate and during the years of the clergy misconduct scandal there is no question slightly more people abandoned “ship” than remained on board.

Each year the pastors and associates and their respective Directors of the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) come to the Cathedral beaming as they bring their prospective newcomers up to shake the bishop’s hand and receive his welcome. Some approach me crying, some saying they have never shaken the hand of a bishop before, and some just can’t believe that the journey they embarked upon to become Catholic has so many others interested as is witnessed by the two sessions of a full Cathedral. This much I know for sure, I have to go home and soak my right hand to reduce the swelling caused by 1063 handshakes. How sweet that pain is!

+RNL

IRELAND’S CATHOLIC SOUL

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

There has been quite a lot of media attention directed towards the Church in Ireland and the Irish government with regard to how both entities have dealt with reports of sexual misconduct against minors in the past. A devastating report issued about six weeks ago laid the blame squarely at the feet of the bishops and the police (in the Dublin archdiocese) demonstrating massive cover-ups on both parts and the reassignment of offenders. This study also examined claims of misconduct leveled against religious sisters, brothers and lay employees. As a result, the present Archbishop of Dublin asked a number of the former auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese to resign their episcopal duties. Such a request won the Archbishop high praise from most quarters of the Irish media but irritation and anger from many of his priests. The turmoil was enough for Pope Benedict XVI to call a meeting of all the Irish ordinaries (residential bishops but not auxiliaries) in Rome on Monday and Tuesday of this week. The Holy Father met for two full days with the Irish bishops in attendance, allowed each of them to address the situation from their perspectives and at the end, at least publicly issued a statement saying that the bishops needed courage in dealing with the events at home, that he, the Pope, would write a letter to the Irish Catholics in which he would apologize for the mistakes of the past and would condemn such acts against minors as heinous crimes and sins. That letter should be forthcoming sometime shortly after Easter. Left unanswered was whether or not he would accept the resignations of the former auxiliaries of Dublin as called for by the present Archbishop. The media in Ireland have had a field day with all this and the victims of abuse probably feel their hurt even deeper.

The challenge to the moral credibility of the Church on this matter is not going to disappear quickly, even in our generation or the one which follows us, in my personal view. The credibility of persons in authority in the Church (bishops like myself no matter how hard we have worked to insure the future safety of children), the ministry of our priests with young people, the relationship of priest and bishop, have all been dramatically altered in the last ten years. Now, at least in Ireland in general and Dublin in particular, the relationship between the bishop and his brother bishops is challenged. I have a strong sense that after many years of writing much of this off as media-hatred for the Church and a local matter, the Holy See and this particular Pope now get it and they furthermore get the consequences for Church ministry for the future. It has become easier for bishops to seek release of a priest predator from his priestly promises and vows. There was a time early in my ministry when the burden of proof sat almost wholly on the shoulders of the bishop and the predatory priest was protected.

The Church in the United State suffered significantly in the last decade from the clerical misconduct situation. There is no question in my mind that we lost membership by people who either just could not believe what they were hearing and/or reading or chose to use this as a moment to leave the Church which might have hurt them in other ways. The morale of our good priests tanked in some instances. Our path to recovery is still long and daunting. But with our various “Child Protection Programs” and Codes of Professional Conduct, we are doing probably the best we can do in righting this horrendously wrong situation. Cover-ups should be out of the question and lay review boards who are privy to accusations against Church personnel should inform the public when they think I or any other person in authority is not living up to the claims of the Dallas Charter. As a bishop I must answer not only to a higher authority in the person of the Lord but in this matter to the collective wisdom of competent lay advisors who review all allegations and recommend action. Ireland has begun this process in an attempt and hope to regain trust.

Finally, sexual abuse of minors is not just a Church problem or issue. It is a societal issue. It needs to be addressed by society at every level. Almost all of my priests would tell you that most cases reported to them have nothing to do with Church personnel but rather a parent, family member, in-law, step-father or step-mother. Here in the Tampa Bay area the news of misconduct in recent years has centered on public school teachers, scout leaders, doctors. We have tried to do what we can to reduce the incidences in the Church knowing that it will be practically impossible to prevent every instance. Awareness on the part of the whole Church will help, from parents and elders observing behavior to the codes of professional conduct which require supervision from authority and observation from all. My heart goes out to the Church in Ireland at this time. We have been there. In some ways we are still there though we are clawing our way back to credibility and trust one incident at a time. Our goal is that children will always be safe on the grounds of or in activities of their Church.

+RNL

FINAL WORDS FOR A GREAT LADY

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

I mentioned that I would post the homily at the funeral Mass for Sister Germaine Bevans, OSB, Vicar for Religious for the Diocese of St. Petersburg. She was buried from the Abbey Church of St. Leo Benedictine Monastery with a full Church and in the presence of her family from Belize and elsewhere. I think you will be able to tell that I will miss her even though in both my heart and mind I know she is in a better place. For the homily, please click here.

LENT 2010

Thursday, February 18th, 2010
Bishop Lynch putting Ashes on a student's forehead

Bishop Lynch making the sign of the cross with ashes on the forehead of a student at Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Petersburg Catholic High School. Photo Credit: John Christian

Hard as it may be to believe, our celebration of Lent 2010 began yesterday with Ash Wednesday and now will continue through Easter Sunday on April 4th. I began my liturgical celebration of this holy and penitential season by celebrating Mass for the students of St. Petersburg Catholic High School. They are unfailingly attentive at Mass when I am there and make it a genuine pleasure. The provincial superior of the Salesians, Father Thomas Dunne, was present and preached the homily to the assembly.

Bishop Lynch and Fr. Tom Dunne, SDB

Bishop Lynch and Fr. Tom Dunne, SDB at Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Petersburg Catholic High School. Photo Credit: John Christian

On March 11, 2010 we will repeat last year’s highly successful The Light is ON for You event. If you recall, we promise that all 75 parish churches and missions will be open on that Thursday night from 5pm until 8pm for the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Most Churches will also continue their practice of Penance Services sometime during Lent, so what’s the big deal about The Light is ON for You? To begin with, it will be easy to go to confession. You need not call the parish and ask what time confession is because every parish in the diocese will offer confession between five and eight that night. If you find a place closed during those hours that night, I want to know about it.

Secondly, if you have been away for a while or wish true anonymity, you can go to confession at any Church. Perhaps you work in downtown Tampa and live and worship in New Tampa at St. Mark’s as an example. You could choose Sacred Heart downtown, Corpus Christi in Temple Terrace, St. Mary’s in north Tampa and just stop by on the way home. Chances are you would have the anonymity which you feel you need for peace. Just come in, reflect on your mortal sins and your life in general, enter the confessional space and talk to the Lord and the priest. Listen carefully to his words of absolution and leave feeling healed and clean.

You may recall that last year when I presented the idea of The Light is ON for You to the priests they were skeptical. Well, to their amazement many of them were slammed that night by the number of people who made use of this opportunity and they were pleased in the end. It is now the priests who have asked that this opportunity become an annual one and it will be repeated on the Thursday night of the second full week of Lent for the foreseeable future or as long as it meets a need. Word came to me that many were wonderful confessions of people who had been away from the sacrament for a long, long time.

This Sunday finds me  at the Cathedral of St. Jude for two “Rite of Election” ceremonies. This is always a day that makes a bishop feel particularly good as he officially and formally welcomes the catechumens (those who will be baptized at the Easter Vigil, confirmed and make their First Holy Communion) and the candidates (those who have already been baptized, perhaps in another religion or if Catholic it has been years since they practiced) and who will make a profession of faith, be confirmed and make their first communion. Next Sunday there will be 385 catechumens and 678 candidates for a grand total of 1063 coming into the Church and present at the Rite of Election (there are always those who are catechumens or candidates who are unable to make this ceremony but will still be received at Easter.) By the way, this year’s number is down by only nine from the number received at last year’s two Rites of Election.

From all of this, you should be able to tell that I am finally back at work. I will do all I am physically capable of doing but still am told and suspect that it will be the Fall before I can expect to be fully recovered and back at full strength. For this reason, I have reduced my confirmation schedule this year but expect to resume full service in the Fall for confirmations.

I hope that together we can spend these forty days fasting and praying so that we may fully comprehend the great Easter mystery all the more.

+RNL

The Light is ON for You

THIS DIOCESE AND HAITI

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

One month after the devastating earth quake in neighboring Haiti, the people of this diocese have beautifully responded to my urgent plea for donations and help for this tragic nation. As of this morning, we have collected and forwarded more than $1,356,700 to CATHOLIC RELIEF SERVICES for their use in alleviating the suffering of the Haitian people with water, food and clothing. Additionally, and I am here guessing, many of our parishes “twin” with parishes in Haiti and have sent what they collected right to those same parishes so my guess is that at least another “$250,000” has been collected and forwarded to parishes. Such generosity in a time of need must be pleasing to God. I know that I am proud of your generosity.

Also, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Petersburg has been asked by the U.S. government to handle all of the sick and wounded from that country who have been airlifted to Florida. The government chooses the hospitals for the care of the sick, but each patient is allowed to bring two people with them and it is now our duty to find them places to stay and to support them while their loved ones are in the hospitals of the area.

It is beginning to seem like my dream of being the first responder to urgent needs in our area and world is coming true thanks to the vision of Catholic Charities Director Frank Murphy and his colleagues. Another reason to be proud of your Church as we begin this Lenten season of prayer and sacrifice.

+RNL

SISTER GERMAINE BEVANS, O.S.B. WENT HOME TO OUR LORD ON FEBRUARY 12TH

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

Regular readers of this space may recall that while I was still in the hospital I asked for prayers for my colleague, Sister Germaine Bevans, a Benedictine Sister of Holy Name Monastery in St. Leo, FL and our diocesan Vicar for Religious for almost eleven years. My colleagues at the Bishop Larkin Pastoral Center are, in faith, grieving her death but happy her battle with cancer was cut somewhat short. Sister Germaine was born in Belize, a small nation in Central America some seventy-three years ago. She always wished to be a religious sister and professed in 1956 as a Pallottine sister. She served with that community as a teacher and principal for twenty years before coming to Holy Name Monastery in 1973 attracted to the Benedictine charism and the example of Saints Scholastica and her brother, St. Benedict. From 1976 to 1986 she was principal of Saint Anthony School in San Antonio, Florida, just a mile from the monastery. Chosen by the members of her community, she served two full terms as prioress, reflecting the trust and love of her fellow sisters. When her second term was concluded, I asked her to serve the diocesan Church as Vicar for Religious which she did till Friday when the Lord came for her. She loved religious and fought for them when she thought they were being mistreated or wronged. She was persistent and did not take “no” from me without challenging the justice of the situation. Most often she was right but little could be done to right the perceived wrong. She was a holy woman, living a very simple life style with a deeply prayerful commitment. I cared deeply for her and will miss her. At the request of the sisters, I shall celebrate her funeral Mass on Tuesday morning at the Abbey Church, St. Leo, and preach the homily which will be available here after delivery. Rest in the peace of Christ, dear Sister Germaine, you have more than earned it.

+RNL