Archive for May, 2010

THERE’S A PONY DOWN HERE SOMEWHERE

Monday, May 31st, 2010

There is an old story which probably most of you know about the kid feverishly shoveling his way through a huge and high pile of compost. When asked what in the world he/she was doing, the child replied, “with all this, there has to be a pony down here somewhere.” Today in Rome, the Holy See announced the expected pontifical visitation to the Church in Ireland in light of the horrendous revelations of sexual abuse of minors by priests, religious brothers and religious sisters which has devastated the faith in that country. Some must ask why now? Is it not too late? Is the horse not already out of the barn? Of course, it is never to late to confess one’s sins, personal and institutional, amend one’s life, personal or institutional , and agree to commit the sin no more, as a person or an institution. The Catholic Church in Ireland has basically asked the Holy Father, send us “good confessors” to whom we can confess our sins and who will guide us on reclaiming moral high ground we seem to have lost. The Apostolic Visitators to the four archdioceses in Ireland and to the dioceses are all from outside of Ireland but all have born the heat of the day in their own dioceses and can be good confessors to a Church seeking healing and redemption. From the United States, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston has been appointed by the Pope to perhaps the toughest of situations in the Archdiocese of Dublin and its related suffragan sees (ecclesiastical talk for the dioceses outside of Dublin which come under the loose supervision of the Archbishop of the capital city). At the same time as the whole Church in Ireland will be visited, there will also be a visitation to Ireland’s remaining seminaries led  by our Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York. Archbishop Dolan spoke last week at Ireland’s major remaining seminary, St. Patrick’s in Maynooth and I encourage all of you to take the time to read his lecture by clicking here. Quite frankly, I think he has found the pony! It is a great synthesis of how I think my priests have suffered but made it through the last decade here, in St. Petersburg. Archbishop Dolan’s talk is lengthy but illuminating.

The bishops of the United States, some 210 strong, will be assembling in St. Petersburg starting Monday, June 14, 2010 at the Vinoy Hotel. 212 bishops have registered for an “assembly” which we hold every four years. It is not a business meeting so the media and observers will not be attending. It is closed to all but bishops. It is relaxed and informal. It is something like five days of continuing education and this year the general theme is “the bishop and his priests.” Archbishop Dolan will give the keynote address on Monday night to start us off. It has been my special privilege to be a part of every committee planning the agenda and topics for these assemblies since I was made a bishop and I was chair of the committee which planned the Assembly held in Tucson, Arizona, in June of 1998. We always invite a cardinal from outside the United States to spend the days with us and deliver the homilies at morning and evening prayer throughout the days and at daily Mass, lead our Hly Hours, and our Reconciliation and Penance Service. This year, our “spiritual father” will be  Cardinal Peter Turkson who is from Ghana and was recently asked by Pope Benedict XVI to leave his archdiocese and come to Rome to head the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. I look forward to the Cardinal’s wisdom and insights into being a bishop in the Church and world today. He too will help us try and rediscover the “pony.” Our assemblies are  as I mentioned relaxed. Evenings can be spent in informal conversation with others, there are even new or relatively new movies which the Hollywood studios make available for bishops to see in the evening. If you happen to be in downtown St. Petersburg from Monday, June 14 through Saturday, June 19th and see a group of men in the evening walking through Straub or Vinoy Park, it will likely be some of us.

Relationships between bishops and priests is an important topic because it has changed for the worse since the sexual-abuse controversy of 2001 and following. In many places priests don’t trust their bishops any longer and are terrified that they will receive a call and be asked to come and see the bishop for fear it might be a complaint or something of that nature. Priests and bishops need to search together for the “pony” that remains down there somewhere, as it was before.

I ask your prayers for our Assembly which is being held in our diocese in two weeks. May it be five days of grace, wisdom and insight for those of us who have been asked to lead the Church at this moment in history.

+RNL

WHERE IN THE WORLD IS BISHOP LYNCH? JUNE SCHEDULE

Monday, May 31st, 2010
Tuesday, June 1, 2010 2pm Installation of Archbishop Thomas Wenski as Fourth Archbishop of Miami
Thursday, June 3, 2010 630pm Seminarian’s Cookout at Bethany Center
Sunday, June 6, 2010 1100am Fortieth Anniversary of Priestly Ordination, Father Henry Riffle, Pastor of St. Michael’s Church, Hudson
Monday, June 7, 2010 700pm Commissioning of Graduates of Lay Pastoral Ministry Institute
Sat-Sun, June 12-13, 2010 Catholic Health Association Board of Directors Meeting and Annual Assembly, Denver, CO
Mon-Sat, June 14-19, 2010 USCCB Bishops’ Assembly, Vinoy Hotel, St. Petersburg, FL
Sunday, June 20, 2010 930am Installation of Father Anthony Coppola as Pastor of Sacred Heart parish, Pinellas Park
Monday, June 21,2010 1100am Incardination Committee Meeting, Bishop Larkin Pastoral Center
Tuesday, June 29, 2010 1030am Mass and Anointing of the Sick, Bon Secours Maria Manor
Wednesday, June 30, 2010 1030am Mass of Thanksgiving on the Occasion of the Election of Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB as Prioress of Holy Name Monastery, Saint Leo, FL

THEY’RE HERE ALREADY

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010
Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles

Archbishop Gomez

Today is both a big and a historic day for the Church in the United States. In Los Angeles this afternoon, the largest archdiocese in the US is about to receive a successor to Cardinal Roger Mahony although the succession will not take place until early in 2011. And, here is the neat thing about it, the traditional “Irish cardinalatial seat” will soon be occupied by a Mexican.

Archbishop Jose Gomez, born and raised in Mexico, is today being received in Los Angeles as “Co-adjutor Archbishop with right of Succession.” What the ecclesiastical gobbley-gook means is that when Cardinal Mahony’s letter of resignation is received, like on his seventy-fifty birthday early next year, Archbishop Gomez will automatically become LA’s archbishop. Los Angeles’ Catholic population is already majority Hispanic. In transferring Archbishop Gomez from his present assignment as Archbishop of San Antonio to Los Angeles, the Holy Father is indicating, following the strong recommendation of Cardinal Mahony himself, that LA is now ready to be shepherded by a man whose first language is Spanish, whose background is Mexican, and whose love of and service to the Church is beyond challenge. Hispanics are already present in sufficient numbers in LA to recommend that their new archbishop be one of them even though he will serve a linguistically and culturally diverse Church. It is a great day for the Hispanic Catholics not just in LA but throughout the church in the United States. But it is also a good day for the whole Church of Los Angeles. Their new shepherd has great experience in serving the whole  Church and not just a single segment of the population. Archbishop Gomez is a member of OPUS DEI, an association of ordained men and lay men and women begun in the last century in Spain. He has served in many capacities as a pastor throughout the United States, in Denver as an auxiliary bishop, in San Antonio as Archbishop, and now in the US’s largest diocese, Los Angeles. I know him to be a kind man, good listener, strong defender of the faith when he deems it necessary, and open to all. He is the right man to make this kind of Catholic history.

Obviously, it is likely that he will some day join the college of cardinals and when that happens he will be the first Hispanic cardinal in the United States in our history as a Church. Mexico has always had its share of Cardinals in cities such as Mexico City, Monterey, Guadalahara to name a few, but when the United States gets it first Hispanic red hat, it means that Hispanic Catholics in the United States have finally arrived.

There is still too much xenophobia in the Church in our country. Anglo Catholics and immigrants from Asia and Eastern Europe are still foreclosed in many ways to the reality that within two decades, the majority of U.S. Catholics will be of Hispanic origin. Miami would be an archdiocese with a larger Hispanic population than Anglo but it also is home to a great number of Haitian Catholics as well – thus its new Archbishop is capable to lead his people in all three languages and is in touch with all three cultures. Someday it will have a shepherd with a different native tongue and from a different cultural tradition. So may St. Petersburg some day and it is not too soon for our younger Catholics to open their hearts and minds and be open  to the present reality that Hispanics in great number are not a future possibility, rather, they are already here.

Congratulations to Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, to the Church of Los Angeles, and to the Church of Jesus Christ for being open to the realities of the times.

+RNL

Update: The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has information about the reception of Archbishop Gomez at coadjutor.la-archdiocese.org

Update 2: Este artículo también está disponible en español: ELLOS YA ESTÁN AQUÍ.

BLOGGERY

Monday, May 24th, 2010

As regular readers can tell, I enjoy sharing my thoughts with a wider audience through the use of this blog. It first came into being when it was clear that the diocese would be leaving the newspaper era and investing more in time and talent in the “on-line” opportunities. The FLORIDA CATHOLIC which was read by a very small segment of our Catholic population cost the diocese and the parishes something near $650,000 per year, its subscription and circulation list was in decline and it was “touched” (which does not mean read) by only 20% of those receiving it. It was useful, kept us informed on coming events in the diocese, nation and world and reported on what had recently happened. I miss it, I must confess. But print journalism, at this moment, is in decline and so the Church must seek other ways of communicating and this blog has merely been one of those ways in our local Church communicates (see the Diocesan website www.dosp.org and podcast, the Living Eucharist website LivingEucharist.org, the Vocations website spvocation.org, and the Ministries of Mercy website mom.dosp.org).

When I started, Cardinal Sean O’Malley in Boston had begun a once a week personal blog and I have always enjoyed reading what His Eminence posts. Since I had originally begun writing for the FLORIDA CATHOLIC a weekly column (entitled mind you, “Out of the Ordinary”), I thought blogging would be an interesting adventure. I knew right away that I did not wish to enter disputatious argumentation so the comments received would only be read by myself. I also promised myself that I would never use this blog to attack in any way any single person or to speak terribly ill of any single person or groups of persons. I challenge you to go back through the year and a half of these entries and find one. However, those who comment on the blog are clearly not bound by any bond of charity and I would say about ten per cent of the comments make me cringe to think that the writer might profess the faith which Jesus left. But I don’t mind it and if people feel better because they unload their anger on any blog writer, myself included, then so be it.

Blogs generally have no responsibility to the truth. Many of them reflect the deep divisions and polarizations present in society today. They are meant to be controversial, to stir up emotions, and in some instances to tear down people and/or institutions. Yet some clearly navigate the waters carefully, reporting, challenging in a Christ-like manner, generating thoughtful reflections and moving people like myself to delve deeper into the real meaning of events and insights. There are some wonderful blogs about matters of our Catholic faith and I for one have gained much more insight from them in recent years and I was from the journalistic printed word or radio and television with their brief segment approach to the most complicated of issues.

On judgment day, there may be a special line in which we “bloggers” must stand before hearing those words, “well done good and faithful servant” or its terrifying opposite. For my part, I will continue to offer my reflections on life in the Church today until something more effective comes along but I am committed to kindness and reserving judgment. To those who have proffered comments, thanks. Some of you have seen that I have listened and responded in later entries without so identifying that the change or nuance in my thinking has originated with a specific comment. It has been suggested that the comment part of this bishop’s blog should be eliminated but I learn from your insights just as I hope you learn from mine. “Bloggery” like flattery may ultimately get us nowhere but it can be fun too.

VENI CREATOR SPIRITUS

Friday, May 21st, 2010

We are within hours of the great Solemnity of Pentecost. As most Catholics know, it was that moment after the Ascension of the Lord when the promised “Paraclete” or Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and once again changed the direction of their lives. Following the chronology of their growth in faith, they went from despair and fear at the time of the Crucifixion to great hope with the news of the Resurrection. Even in the post-resurrection appearances of the Lord, they are shown to have maintained something of a “I can’t believe it’s really him.” In the days between the Ascension and Pentecost, there is no scriptural evidence that they spent the time in meetings to determine exactly what their role was now that he was definitely gone from their midst. They were listless, like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus had told them that they were to go forth “baptizing all nations, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” but up until Pentecost, the deeper meaning of that mandate was lost on them.

There is also little scriptural evidence that they remembered he had promised a “Paraclete”, a Spirit which would descend upon them. There is more evidence that they felt pretty sure that after having gone to the Father and having promised he would come again, they probably should just return home and wait for the next sighting or the next news. Happily they stayed together, however, and were back in the Upper Room when the Spirit came and just as when they had left everything to embrace the Lord’s invitation to “come, follow me” which was a life changing moment, Pentecost was a work changing moment.  In the words of the great American novelist Thomas Wolfe (i.e. the elder), they “could not go home again.” Appearing as both dove and fire, the Spirit captured their cowardly humanity and transformed them into a people on fire with a mission – to convert the Jewish people to Christianity and the Gospel and to appeal also to the Gentiles. Throwing all caution aside, they immediately started taking risks which are recounted in the “Acts of the Apostles.” They began to think and act as one, as a Church with a head, Peter, and with apostles. They formed a community which has lasted throughout twenty centuries, soon two millennia. What other organization can make such a claim?

As a result of the Pentecost experience, there was room in the newly forming Christian community for the worst of sinners (how about Saul of Tarsus) and they became a community reflecting the life of the Master in loving and forgiving. Given the gift of language, these simple fishermen and one tax collector, cast their nets broadly to Gentile  and pagan populations which initially welcomed them with interest, then embraced them, sometimes then turned on them finally to embrace them once again. Pentecost started something which has so far proved to be unstoppable, despite the sinfulness and mistakes of some of those professed to be Christians and some who professed to be leaders of the faith. Pentecost is rightly called the “birthday of the Church”, because it was the moment when eleven of them plus one newly elected member chose to stop being individuals with personal agendas and to become a community sharing one faith, one Lord, one baptism.  They looked to Peter whom the Lord had chosen to lead his people like we look to Peter’s successor, the pope, for guidance through difficult moments. They placed trust in others when the fruit of their preaching led to communities so large that they personally could no longer appropriately serve and minister. Each of them would eventually suffer a martyr’s death but their imprint, their preaching, their teaching would refuse to die.

Thank God this week-end for the gift of the Spirit which still guides the Church, the Holy Father, the bishops, and those who both minister to God’s people as well as those who belong to the Church. The Church today is not radically different than the post-Pentecost church. We are still waiting the coming of the Lord in glory but we are not wasting a moment to make sure that He is welcomed again by believers who accept him as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” Happy Birthday to all and a Blessed Pentecost.

+RNL

NUESTROS HERMANOS Y HERMANAS

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Last week I wrote a blog Brothers and Sisters to Us, and there have been requests for it to be translated into Spanish, so here it is.

He estado pensando mucho desde que la gobernadora de Arizona aprobó y firmó la legislación que posiblemente es la más restrictiva de la historia de esta nación. Como la mayoría de ustedes, yo creo que el gobierno federal tiene el deber y el derecho de asegurar las fronteras, la del norte y la del sur. Los Estados Unidos ha sido siempre una nación que ha dado la bienvenida y que ha recibido a muchísimas personas, y muchos de nosotros podemos trazar la presencia de nuestras propias familias aquí en este país a la decisión de alguno de nuestros antecesores de inmigrar aunque de manera legal.

Pero ¿Qué pasa cuando nuestra nación no asegura las fronteras y miles de personas la cruzan? Dos realidades, por supuesto están presentes de manera ilegal y han quebrantado la ley. Podríamos terminar aquí y decir que ya es el final del asunto. Pero como sabemos, no lo es. Estas personas que ya están aquí, con frecuencia encuentran el camino a trabajos que nadie más quiere hacer y con tan poca compensación que aún nos permite a los americanos,  poder comer a precios bajos (Si comparamos los precios del costo de la comida con los de otros países). Nos permite dormir en cuartos limpios. Reparar nuestros techos por migajas, comparado a lo que costaría si encontráramos a otros que quisieran hacer este trabajo en condiciones de calor extremo y asfixiante.  Estas personas indocumentadas, viven en condiciones por debajo de la dignidad  de quienes fueron creados a la imagen y semejanza de Dios. Tienen terror de firmar sus nombres en cualquier parte por miedo a ser descubiertos y deportados, no son valorados y generalmente cuando están presentes las personas los tratan con desprecio. En otras palabras, nos beneficiamos económicamente del sudor de sus frentes pero nos quejamos de su presencia.

Para añadir algo a este dilema la mayoría de ellos son católicos,  son nuestros hermanos y hermanas. Ellos sienten gran admiración por nuestra Santísima Virgen, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe y desean ser bienvenidos en la iglesia en la que fueron bautizados. Tristemente, como nuestra nación, nosotros los defraudamos en vez de satisfacer sus expectativas. Las encuestas demuestran que la actitud de los católicos en cuanto se refiere a los inmigrantes indocumentados, tristemente es tan vehemente como la del resto de   la sociedad americana. ¡Que vergüenza! ¡Que pecado!

El perfil racial es también un pecado en contra de la humanidad y de la ley de Dios. Si leen la bíblia del Third Reich (del régimen Nazi) pueden ver las imágenes de lo que el perfil racial, étnico y religioso puede dar a luz. En los Estados Unidos, como nación, siempre hemos estado en contra del perfil racial y la opinión de la mayoría del pueblo es que están en contra de ello. Y aún así está sucediendo entre nosotros.

En la conferencia de Nehemías de FAST escuché a un mejicano, miembro de nuestra iglesia que lleva viviendo aquí legalmente  por varios años, narrar como sin razón,  lo había detenido la policía en una comunidad de Pinellas County. Como lo  habían interrogado hostilmente, para que al final le dejaran ir sin siquiera pedirle disculpas. Éste hombre es miembro de la junta parroquial de una de nuestras parroquias más grandes. Yo le creí, al igual que la mayoría de las personas que estaban presentes y  que escucharon su historia, pero no creo que el alcalde de la comunidad donde sucedió le creyó.

Esto es lo que es posible que suceda ahora en Arizona. Un hispano puede ser detenido, ser  agresivamente interrogado, sólo por que él o ella parecen mejicanos. Éste no es el sistema Americano.

Entonces ¿Qué se puede hacer?  Bueno si podemos enviar personas a Marte como el presidente Obama sugiere que podríamos, entonces ¿No sería posible asegurar las 2000 millas de la frontera del sur? Debemos empezar con un buen programa federal de control. Debemos darle la bienvenida y cuidar de aquellos que ya están aquí, no sólo romperles la espalda recogiendo naranjas, tomates, y fresas. Como Iglesia debemos también ser más abiertos y dar la bienvenida  y atender las necesidades de nuestros hermanos y hermanas que se encuentran entre nosotros. Alguien más los va a querer, quizás la Iglesia Pentecostal que además de orar con ellos, les da alimentos y cuidados médicos para sus hijos. Ellos deberían de haber sido incluidos en la reforma de salud pero fue más fácil excluirles e ignorarles.

Como católicos debemos hacer 3 cosas: (1) Persuadir al gobierno federal para que adopten leyes justas y amplias de inmigración  que incluyan un control. (2) Dar la bienvenida a los inmigrantes, documentados e indocumentados que se encuentran ya entre nosotros deseando ser libres como  Emma Lazarus lo dice en la Estatua de la Libertad. Y  (3) Resistir cualquier movimiento como el de Arizona de hostigar, asediar y detener a cualquier persona simplemente por el color de su piel, la ropa que llevan puesta o el idioma que hablan. ¿Qué diría  Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe si  apareciera hoy en Nogales o en el Este de Hillsborough? Les aseguro que ella hablaría en español.

+RNL

DOME REDUX

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

I must have something of a death wish for reopening this issue but I was thinking about what has happened in the year since the University of Notre Dame held its last commencement ceremony with all the attendant publicity and controversy. What prompted this reflection was the splendid Laetare Medal recipient’s speech given this year and available on the “mother of all Catholic blogs,” Whispers in the Loggia (worth a listen!) What are the givens a year later after President Obama’s appearance, commencement address, and award of an honorary degree? Notre Dame is still the premier Catholic university in the country; its current President enjoys more support from faculty, students, Board of Trustees and nation than he did prior to the contretemps; more parents than ever seek admission to Notre Dame for their daughters and sons; and in a moment of truth, many bishops in the United States would tell you that ND produces more signs of hope for the faith and its transmission from its young graduates than any other Catholic college or university. True, some alumni may temporarily or permanently cease giving to their alma mater but my sources tell me that this backwash has been very minimal. So the University continues along doing good things, preparing students to live in a religiously pluralistic world and embracing a strong Catholic identity as well as core beliefs.

How about President Obama, who along with the university president, took his lumps during the controversy? Well, “the most pro-abortion president ever elected” as he is often referred to has not exactly led the pro-abortion movement as was feared. His actions to date, and I emphasize to date, are no more pro-abortion, anti-life than the Clinton administration’s in their eight years with whom I had to deal during my Washington years. His actions on behalf of born human life have led to a lessening of the chance of nuclear war; extended health care which the Church posits as a basic human right soon to be available to millions of additional Americans even if, as I suspect, the legislation has severe flaws; he promises a genuine, just and effective immigration policy for the future; and so on. In other words, last year’s Notre Dame commencement speaker with the worrisome exception of being   unacceptably pro-choice/pro-abortion  has done other things which embody much of Catholic social teaching and its concomitant dreams for a better society. The jury is still out on this president in many ways and the history of his presidency is yet to be written. We will have to see.

How has the Church fared through this controversy and its fallout? Some bishops chose to take a strong stand. I was not among them then and am not now. I merely publicly stated that the exclusion of the local bishop from the decision making process on something which would be controversial was sad, as I understood it at the time. I would hate to be blind-sided by such an occurrence in this diocese, even if the college or university chose to reject my position and proceed anyway. I believe that a university can remain solidly Catholic while allowing for a certain freedom of expression. Inviting the President of the United States and having him accept, even if there are substantial differences of opinion on major issues, is not beyond the scope of my thinking. President Bush was invited to Notre Dame very early in his time in office with rumblings already in the air about an attack on Iraq which was a challenge even then to the traditional Catholic just war theory. He also unabashedly supported capital punishment.  Anyone who thought then or thinks now that the nature of the college or university in the United States is likely to change because of the assault on Notre Dame last year is deceiving themselves. Perhaps colleges and universities will be more cautious (thoughtful?) in making the choices, and perhaps local bishops where these colleges and universities are located may be more involved prior to a public announcement, but that, or so it seems to me, is about all that was accomplished last year. Zero sum gain for the Church, in my mind.

I remain proud of the University of Notre Dame, our own St. Leo University, St. Thomas and Barry University in Miami, and of all our Catholic colleges and universities. They need a certain amount of autonomy within the framework of a dedication to Catholic identity to remain credible in the higher education ethos in which they are found. As I have often said in this space in the last year and a half, as shepherds we need more energy and assistance in inviting people into the Church than drumming them out. As a religious minority in a pluralistic society we have much to be proud of  in our elementary and secondary schools, our colleges and universities, our hospitals and nursing homes, our charitable outreach through various ministries of mercy. Only close collaboration has a chance of keeping all these disparate elements in the fold. Attacks do little good for the common weal other than make the attacker feel better. Finding common ground remains the Christian and Catholic way of dealing with those things which can be accommodated while boldly but perhaps more empathetically teaching that which can not be changed. This is the reflection I draw from last year’s dome days.

+RNL

LETTER TO OUR SON

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Last Friday in this space I wrote about the ordination of our two new priests and I told the story of Father Dayan Machado’s journey from communism to Catholicism and finally to priesthood last Saturday. I mentioned that his parents were admitted to full communion in 2002 at St. Joseph’s Church in West Tampa by Father Felix Sanchez. The parents wrote a letter to their son which appeared in the parish bulletin this Sunday in time for the first Mass. It is edifying, touching and telling and I strongly encourage you to read it by clicking on the language which best suits your needs (English or Spanish). It was written by them to Father Dayan in Spanish, of course, and translated into English by their pastor, Father Sanchez. Please read it.

You can read it in the linked PDF Document (English and Español)

+RNL

MORTARBOARDS AND MITRES

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

For centuries the Church has put “funny” hats on its bishops. In our case, they are called mitres and zuchettas (Italian word for the purple beanie). The mitre can be traced back to a certain headgear that was worn by Jewish High Priests but in Catholicism is evolved into a front and back of somewhat triangular shape and various colors. I thought of the mitre today as I presided (without wearing one) at the first of six high school graduations and/or baccalaureate Masses. But we bishops do not have a lock-on distinctive headgear. The traditional headgear of a high school and college/university graduate can be even more distinctive and occasionally troublesome. Of course, I am speaking of the mortarboard or cap worn at graduation ceremonies. The graduate has worked hard at various levels of educational activity for the privilege of wearing a cap and a gown at their graduation. Unlike bishops, they only have to wear them a couple of times in their lifetime and in some graduation ceremonies they can not wait to toss them into the air. Bishops can’t do that – they cost too much for one thing. But in the history of civilization, headgear has often been a sign of accomplishment or office.

The graduation season at the six high schools in the diocese began this Sunday afternoon (May 16th) and for all but last year, I have tried to be present to the graduates and their families at this special moment of achievement. Some of my brother bishops have chosen not to attend graduation or baccalaureate Masses for a variety of reasons but I see it as one last opportunity to accomplish several goals: to briefly remind the graduates that they are being sent to the world to among other things make Christ more present; that the education they have received is a sign of the love for them which their parents or guardians and the Church have as today it comes at considerable financial sacrifice; and, finally, that at least in our Catholic schools, administrators, teachers, and staff also make a big sacrifice to be present to them and help them. It all has to  be done rather expeditiously because the graduating class just wants to get out, get on with the parties and celebrations and get on with their lives. This afternoon I tried to remember who spoke at my high school graduation, who were the salutatorian and valedictorian. Couldn’t! Could not even remember who did it for my college graduation either. So the “who” of graduation day and the “what” he or she said is very transitory.

I did look at the graduates however and I do have the feeling that we have done the best we can for them to prepare them for their next adventure. At least at St. Petersburg Catholic I see them arrive in their freshman year and grow, physically, emotionally, spiritually and educationally. I can tell that their Catholic school experience made some difference. Our schools compete against a lot in the culture and world which teen-agers experience today. High schools do not always win that tug-of-war, but I still think we make enough of a difference that we must be committed to keeping the opportunity available for future high school generations. A sometime endless debate centers on whether or not, if one could have only one, would elementary or high schools be the place where one deposits the greatest investment. At the moment and I hope up to the time I leave, it will never be “either-or” but “both-and.” The elementary schools after all are the principle feeders for the high schools.

To all the graduates of St. Petersburg Catholic, the Academy of the Holy Names, Bishop McLaughlin, Tampa Catholic, Jesuit, and Clearwater Central Catholic, I offer my congratulations but I save my greatest good wishes for those loving parents and guardians and faculties and staffs who make this day possible annually.

+RNL

Updated: Here are some photos of yesterday’s (5/16/2010) Graduation at St. Petersburg Catholic.

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Ordination Homily

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

Esta homilía también está disponible en español en un documento PDF.

If someone were to ask me, [and up to now no one ever has,] what my all-time favorite play/movie is, my answer would be the agnostic Robert Bolt’s A Man for all Seasons which recounts the final months and days of the life of St. Thomas More. In one particular scene, King Henry VIII is losing all patience with his Lord Chancellor’s support for the Pope in Rome, and More’s very nervous wife, Alice, warns her husband that he is on a sure and certain path to at least prison and maybe even death. More turns to her, points to himself and says, “Alice, there is no stuff of martyrdom here.” In that simple and humble declaration, Thomas More indicates what the Italians say in, “que sera, sera” (“what will be will be”). He will follow his conscience not seeking to die for his faith but open to the possibility.

The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles reminds me of that moment in the life of St. Thomas More. A new, renewed, reborn, courageous, committed, conscientious and fully conscious Peter recalls for his largely Jewish audience a summary of the life of Jesus. No longer concerned with “saving his own skin”, Peter aggressively pursues his own personal mission to preach the Gospel for the salvation of the world. Perhaps, like More,  Peter sensed the risk of his words and actions and did not seek or wish to be a martyr for the cause, but gave his life, finally, to our Lord in a martyr’s death.

Paul in Ephesians, the second reading, grasps the consequences of embracing the Gospel of Jesus and declares that he was a “prisoner for the Lord.” His bonds and bars, freely accepted, were the tasks of building up the body of Christ, unifying God’s people without discrimination between Jew or Greek, Gentile or Jew. His words to his audience are as true to this moment, 20 centuries later as they were when spoken;  we are to take upon ourselves humility and gentleness, patience and forbearance, and through a generous dose of love, to create a bond of peace among the believers. Beaten, tortured, imprisoned, and reviled in certain circles, Paul probably felt no “stuff of martyrdom” either, within himself even though like Peter and like More and like Christ Himself, he too would suffer a martyr’s death.

Peter, Paul, More, Dominic and Dayan, the five of you have at least one thing in common; they were chosen by God for the work of making Christ present and real in the Church and so are you. How did they and how are you two to make Christ present in the world: by loving one another. By loving those whom the Church will soon entrust to your care, regardless of nation of origin, language spoken, color of skin, gift of gender, holier-than-thou or the most despicable of sinners. They are precisely whom God has chosen for you to serve.

If I may one more time, [and come to think of it, who is to stop me?] return to my opening theme.  Like Peter, Paul and Sir Thomas More, risks in ministry must be taken. They are constitutive of who we are and what we do.  Preaching the Gospel in this moment of history, especially outside the relative safety of a Church, can be challenging. And while it will not likely lead to loss of life, a martyrdom of being ignored, mocked, reviled is quite possible. My dear brothers, I am confident that you enter this moment with the theological training you need but that is the safest part of the ministry you will be beginning. Theology did not get my three historical proto-types in trouble, shaking up the establishment of their time did. Preaching the value of every human life, in a womb of a pregnant mother or a cell at Raiford can get you in trouble. Challenging the establishment to care for the vulnerable elderly, the homeless, the illegal, through active engagement in the mission of social justice can at times make you feel like you are imprisoned by a society that just does not get it. You will make Christ present today not just by celebrating the sacraments, but by calmly, consistently and courageously proclaiming the Gospel with and for those who are most in need of it.

Dominic and Dayan, in a few moments you will answer a few final questions I will ask for the sake of the Church. As I look at you, I know More’s response to Alice would be yours to me: “there is no stuff of martyrdom here.” But in your “yes” you are assuring the Church that you are willing to be sent into ministry, chosen by Christ for this office, without fear or favor, to proclaim the good news in good times and bad. Hearing those affirmations, this Cathedral and this local Church will be filled with hope for you and for the future of the Church.  Wewill thereafter seek the help and protection of all the saints of God among whom will be Peter and Paul and Thomas More. Embrace the ministry, full of challenges but also full of joy. The rewards of a good priestly life, indeed a good life lived by anyone, are surely out of this world. But they begin with an acknowledgement that He has chosen for what only He knows but He assures you that you will have the grace you need. More than that, we cannot ask.

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