Archive for November, 2010

CONDOM CONUNDRUM

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Last week’s Church news gave ample proof why Popes generally shy away from giving interviews to the media or anyone. In case you  missed it, Pope Benedict XVI last summer devoted a good length of time to being interviewed by a German journalist, Peter Seewald, who previously interviewed him prior to his election as Pope. The resulting book Light of the World was published in German, Italian and English [Ignatius Press] at exactly the same time as the Holy Father was creating new cardinals and excerpts from the long interview made the front pages of the world’s press. Headlines such as “Pope Approves Condoms” and “Church Allows Condom Use for Male Prostitutes” greeted us in one form or another last week. So what did the Holy Father actually say and what does it mean for the Church? First, some important points need to be made. Pope Benedict in granting this interview to a journalist he trusted made it abundantly clear that his personal opinions, much like his reflections on the life of Jesus which he is writing in book form while Pope, are not to be taken as definitive Church teaching. That is accomplished in other more formal ways. Rather, he is allowing Catholics and others who are interested to know a little more about his own thoughts on major issues of Christian living and behaving. So his comments on condoms do not change official Church teaching. But in expanding on this issue, if one takes the time to read the whole section, one sees a priest searching for a pastoral application of sound moral teaching to a difficult issue.

In response to Seewald’s question about the possible use of condoms to combat the spread of the HIV-AIDS virus, the Holy Father suggested in the interview that condom use might be justified in some very limited circumstances, “as perhaps when the male prostitute uses a condom” as a “first step in the direction of moralisation, a first assumption of responsibility on the way toward recovering that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality. . . .She [the Catholic Church] of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement towards a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.”

I was not at all surprised by this statement because in November of 1986 the Administrative Committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops issued its first statement on the pandemic and in that document said that applying the morally accepted principal of “the lesser of two evils”, death being the greater evil, under certain circumstances condom use could be morally permissable. A huge uproar greeted this document, even within the bishops’ conference, caused in part by a procedural issue that it had been issued by a committee of the Conference on the very eve of a plenary conference when all the bishops could have debated and decided the issue instead of fifty-two bishops. The guidance of that first document on combatting the spread of HIV-AIDS through a variety of possibilities was also a part of the ensuing uproar and debate. A year later the same conference issued a second statement on the HIV-AIDS pandemic which while it never acknowledged that there was theological error to be found in the first statement chose to drop the section on the use of condoms.

At that time I was working on the forthcoming second pastoral visit of Pope John Paul II to the United States which took place in 1987 and I accompanied the officers of the USCC-NCCB to Rome for their twice yearly visits to the Pope and Curia. They visited Cardinal Ratzinger and the officers of the conference brought up the matter of the first AIDS statement. The then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that in his opinion while the moral theology contained in the first statement was defensible, he had concerns about the pastoral prudence of the condom approach at that time. In a later letter to the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Pio Laghi, Cardinal Ratzinger expressed an opposite opinion on condom use. So it was obviously a matter even then which he was reflecting on and thinking about. Pope John Paul II in his private meeting acknowledged the uproar in the states but did not express great alarm nor was he critical of the application of moral theology in that statement.

So I for one was not surprised when Pope Benedict XVI spoke of a very limited application of the principal of the lesser of two evils in his interview with author Seewald. Does this mean that the Church is advocating condom use? No, abstinence has been and continues to be our message and the proper application and understanding of human sexuality is not threatened either. Rather, the Holy Father is speaking to a possible situation in which a precaution might be used to avoid the greater evil of death. In other words, I found the statement of Pope Benedict to be reflective of his thinking twenty-four years previous in private conversations. Struggling as many confessors might do, the Holy Father simply said there might be cases where the use of a condom can represent the first stirrings of a sense of moral responsibility, if the intent is to save the life of another person.  He does not advocate condom use and he does not generally condone condom use. There are enough nuances here to protect the long held Church teaching that condoms are not a “real or moral solution.”

For many years both Cardinal Josef Ratzinger and now Pope Benedict XVI and many bishops around the world have reflected and considered the application of the principle of the lesser of two evils and its application to the HIV-AIDS pandemic. This same Holy Father early in his pontificate asked the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to further study the issue and that work product is not yet finished. In the new book we merely are exposed to the Pope’s reflection on a very small part of the question. He did not intend nor should he be thought of as backing off the long-teaching of the Church on artificial contraception for either of the two purposes of marriage: mutual communion of life and love leading to eternity and bringing children into the world. I feel for Pope Benedict in the context of his remarks above because he is taking it on the chin from left and right at the moment. However, he is a strong teacher and a moral force for good in the world. I feel for him that in the current controversy, right as he predicted, little attention is being given to the role which the Catholic Church around the world plays in treating persons with HIV-AIDS. My beloved Catholic Relief Services is often belittled by US-AID (a branch of the U.S. Department of State) for not distributing condoms in its response to the pandemic yet the same agency often turns to us as first providers in the government program for wider use of anti-retroviral protocols in countries experiencing major incidences of the disease. More will be written on this subject in the years to come and it seems to me that what we have here is an example of the universal pastor confronting a major global killer with thoughtful reflection. That’s my take on the condom conundrum.

+RNL

TIME TO CHECK YOUR PERSONAL SECURITY SYSTEMS

Friday, November 26th, 2010

Within seven days the Liturgy of our Church moves us from the image of Jesus Christ, our King, to, in the words of this Sunday’s Gospel, prepare for the coming of the “thief in the night.” It is quite a literary and theological chasm to span between these two images but both are important to our lives of faith. Today, as I write this, the USA consumer culture acknowledged what our retailers have come to call “Black Friday.” The malls and shops are full of people anxiously expecting to receive bargains for Christmas gifts. Last night, Thanksgiving, I went to sleep as one of the local television stations showed pictures of people sleeping outside the stores of one of our major electronic and appliance stores in the hope of being first in line to grab the few items which really are on sale today. The expectation which drove the waiting is amazing to me.

Advent season, beginning Sunday, is also a time of expectation and waiting, not for a bargain but for a baby. This baby comes in fulfillment of the Scriptures which foretold of a child who would fulfill the hopes and dreams of all humankind, a Messiah, God Himself, in the person of Jesus. It takes us all of about fifteen days to deal with His infancy but it will take us another year to deal with his life, mission, ministry until at its conclusion we acknowledge once again that he is indeed our King, our Lord, our Savior. So the Church would have us prepare for something which we know happened and which needs to happen every year in our life – to acknowledge and live with the Word who became flesh, taking on all our humanity, save our sins, in order to save us from our sins. But Advent is also the season when we most need to reflect that He will indeed come again and we need to be prepared.

I drove by several of our parishes this morning and I saw no lines of people, or even one solitary person, perched outside the door awaiting their opening. I understand this. But I wonder how prepared we are for the coming of the Lord, not just historically as we will recall in four weeks, but spiritually. I live with the realization that “the thief in the night” almost came for me fourteen  months ago and I must confess that I was not as prepared then as I am today having lived with that reality now for some time. This is the season to check your spiritual security systems. The sacrament of reconciliation is more readily available at this time with Penance Services in almost all the parishes and additional hours in others. Try preparing by spending a little time in quiet reflection if you can find both the time and the space. Ask the good Lord for help in acquiring those gifts and habits which will best prepare you for the day of reckoning.

There is no lock which can keep the “thief” from entering our lives, rather we leave the door slightly ajar, prepared and awaiting his arrival at any time of His choosing. Not to fear, take comfort. Have a blessed Advent.

+RNL

THANK YOU, LORD

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

On the eve of  Thanksgiving Day 2010, I pause to reflect once again on the blessings which the Lord has bestowed on me. First, I am privileged to serve a wonderful Church. We have many if not all of the problems which confront Catholicism in the United States today, but we are also a Church full of hope, for the future to be sure but confident that in the present, however haltingly, we are doing God’s work. Thank you, Lord.

I have terrific priests all of whom are my friends. Yesterday, I finished the second of five in the new round of overnight “pajama parties”, a name given to my listening sessions with our priests which began in 2008 and are now being repeated at their request. We spend an evening, overnight, and morning together in prayer and communal reflection at the Bethany Center. They share their hopes and their fears and we talk about them, hopefully in follow-up to implement those which can indeed be implemented. I think they know that their people do indeed love them, alot more than most are willing to admit, and I told them I did as well. Thank you, Lord.

Mass with the Retired Priests on November 23.

Mass with the Retired Priests on November 23.

I am thankful for wonderful deacons and religious in the diocese. The deacons are becoming more and more helpful to the priests, probably for two reasons: better formation and the reduction in the number of priests which makes them all the more valuable. Thank you, Lord.

Nothing irritates or nearly angers me than speaking badly about religious sisters and brothers. One would have to be a troglodyte to fail to love these noble women who have given their lives to the Church and have endured a lot because of their fidelity to the Church and t0 their community. The sisters and brothers living and working in the Diocese of St. Petersburg are among the most ardent supporters of our programs for evangelization and religious education and this Church is truly lucky that they have chosen to live and work in our midst. Thank you, Lord.

God’s people in this diocese are like those most every where else but somehow I feel a better connection to them and they to me. They wish and pray for leadership from myself but the overwhelming number of them wish me to serve rather than to rule, to affirm rather than to scold, and to listen more than to be foreclosed to their hopes and aspirations. And, perhaps most importantly, they are patient with me. There are many times when I will fail one or another as they often expect me to manage an individual case of bullying in school, overrule a decision of a building principal who expels a student, etc. A micro-manager I can not and never will be, but a true shepherd I hope I am. Thank you Lord.

I have a wonderful team of colleagues here at the Bishop Larkin Pastoral Center and elsewhere throughout the diocese who help me do my daily work. They are the best. Thank you, Lord.

Now, I must bring this to an end because my whole family is coming this year from around the country for Thanksgiving. I must be off to the supermarket which I know about as well as I would getting around Kabul in Afghanistan. On those few occasions when I darken the passageways of the local PUBLIX, there are always people from the diocese to direct me to where the eggs and milk are. Thank you, Lord.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

+RNL

GENEROUS SERVING

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Front of the St. Jude the Apostle Award Medal

This blog entry has absolutely nothing to do with the table to be set on Thursday. Rather, I want to take a few moments to recapture the wonderful spirit present at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle yesterday when we awarded the St. Jude the Apostle diocesan medal to women and men from our parishes and missions who have given so generously of their time and talent.  For me it is a wonderful and humbling moment to see these recipients who never sought or wished for any public recognition for the service they have rendered approach and receive their medal.

The ceremony takes place within the context of Solemn Evening Prayer on the Solemnity of Christ the King. Eleven years ago I chose this particular date for the first such ceremony because it is the day we reflect on the kingship of a man who came “to serve and not to be served.”

Here are the names of this year’s recipients and the parish or mission which chose them for the honor.

Finally, about five years ago we began to designate some person to receive the medal for their service to the diocese. This year’s very worthy recipient was Helen Marston, for many years the principal of Sr. Cecilia Elementary School and more recently both Assistant Superintendent of Schools for the diocese and for a few brief months this year our acting superintendent. When I told her colleagues in Catholic education my intention to award the St. Jude medal to Helen, they burst into loud and long applause. Helen lost her beloved husband, Bob, this year so my prayer is that in the loving support of others encapsulated in this year’s award, some of the tough and penetrating sense of loss can be ameliorated.

Congratulations again to all the recipients.

+RNL

Bishop Lynch presents Helen Marston the St. Jude the Apostle Award Medal while her brother shares in the moment.

Bishop Lynch presents Helen Marston the St. Jude the Apostle Award Medal while her brother shares in the moment.

ST. JAMES AND ST. JUDE

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

Cathedral of St. James, Orlando

Today I attended the rededication of the Cathedral of St. James in our neighboring diocese of Orlando. As my regular readers know, both the dioceses of St. Petersburg and Orlando were created on the same date in 1968. When a new diocese is erected, usually one Church is chosen to be the Cathedral Church for the new diocese and is announced on the same date, with said designation coming from the Holy See after consultation with the local churches. In Orlando, the original Cathedral was St. Charles Borromeo and the first bishop of Orlando, the late Archbishop William Donald Borders was installed as its first bishop there. However, St. Charles experienced a catastrophic fire and it fell to the second bishop, +Thomas Grady to select another Church for the “mother church” of the growing diocese and he chose the downtown parish of St. James, much smaller in size, seating about 500-600 people. Normally a church chosen to be a Cathedral Church remains that way for ever but except for the great basilicas of Europe, in the United States almost every Cathedral Church will go through some remodel and/or refinish every fifty years or so. The Cathedral of St. Augustine was restored and remodeled once in my lifetime, Miami’s Cathedral has been significantly altered twice in the last thirty years. Palm Beach whose Cathedral of St. Ignatius is the youngest at thirty-six years has been totally redone from its original plan.

Several years ago, Orlando’s fourth bishop, Thomas Wenski, embarked on a project to renovate and remodel St. James, adding seating space, improving sight lines, and truly creating a “cathedral” which takes its name from the presence of a permanent chair or in Latin Cathedra from which the bishops presides and celebrates the major functions of the diocese: ordinations, Chrism Masses, Holy Week and Christmas midnight, etc. The newly redone St. James now seats about 1000 people, artfully done by taking a challenging footprint and expanding out on one side with an enlarged transept and on the other with a daily Mass chapel which will also seat a large number of people who can participate in the Mass through glass.

Sanctuary of the Cathedral of St. James, Orlando

The sanctuary is larger and more functional for diocesan ceremonies and all inside the Cathedral feel a sense of closeness to a permanent, granite main altar. Since Catholic liturgy has three parts as we have featured in our own diocese during the last three years, the new St. James has a very impressive granite ambo from which the Liturgy of the Word is proclaimed. Behind the main altar and the granite cathedra are panels of art work depicting major moments in the life of Christ and there is a half-dome presenting the Blessed Mother. I am including some pictures to give you an idea of the finished product.

At moments like today, the Cathedral or any church which has been built from scratch or substantially remodeled is full of priest architects who can be heard saying to their neighboring priests either “I wonder why he did that?” or “I would have done it this way!” Bishops give in to the same temptation as well but over-all, given the space and footprint with which they worked here in Orlando, I think they have done a very fine job of transforming basically a downtown parish Church into a Cathedral.

Baptismal Font in the Cathedral of St. James, Orlando

I have more than a passing interest in today’s rededication because our own Cathedral of St. Jude needs attention badly. Earlier this year, for the first time in over fifty years, we replaced the mechanical system (air conditioning and heating) at the tune of $550,000. Our Cathedral needs another 3 million dollars worth of work just to keep its doors open (pointing, roofing, new doors and window sealing up the leaks of both, new pews to replace the rotting original pews in the Church, etc.) My consultative bodies along with the parishioners or St. Jude’s have been working on a redesign of a Church which was never designed in the first place to be a Cathedral church but was chosen simply because of its size and newness in 1968. So today was a busman’s holiday for me, sitting back and not doing too much praying but rather watching and thinking.

Archbishop  Wenski who was installed as Archbishop of Miami in June returns to his old diocese today but his successor has already been named as you know from reading this blog and will be officially installed as the fifth bishop of Orlando on December 16th. And to him went the honor last night, presiding at Evening Prayer in the Cathedral of St. James the Apostle, Bishop John Noonan was the first to occupy the bishop’s chair, cathedra.

Tomorrow, Christ the King and the St. Jude the Apostle awards at our own Cathedral.

+RNL

TRAINING

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Two years ago I took AMTRAK back to Tampa from the Fall General Meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and during that trip I wrote my first entry on my new blog site. You know the rest of the story. Well, this evening I am on the “SILVER METEOR” which is neither silver nor meteoric in its speed. As a matter of fact, we are this moment stopped at the station serving Richmond, Virginia. But it is a very restful way to ease back into diocesan life and gives me ample opportunity to reflect on the week that was.

Our agenda this week was light and there were no good arguments which serve to liven up the long sessions of presentations and listening. My vote for the new President of the Conference was in vain as my Vice-Presidential preference leap-frogged my Presidential preference.

Tonight, however, my mind seems intent on focusing on whether or not we did anything helpful for the priests, deacons, religious and faithful of the St. Petersburg diocese and my instinct says not really. We seem, to my mind, these days to spend a lot of time “navel-gazing” – talking about budgets and assessments, etc., at least in the public sessions. The Executive Sessions did address issues of greater concern to pastoral ministry but I respect the confidential nature of those discussions.

I have been thinking a lot about the number of people who are leaving the Church and the possible reasons for this. I am thinking about the sacrament of marriage which is under challenge from several directions such as its very definition which we do talk about but today there were results announced of a recent Pew Research Study which found that 39% of adults surveyed said that “marriage is becoming obsolete,” that couples that do get married do so later in life (28.6 for men and 26.1 for women) and therefore, no surprise 44% of adults lived together before marriage among whom 64% said they considered it a step towards marriage. While we have expressed strong support for the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman, I don’t think we have ever pastorally addressed what every priest in my diocese knows, couples are not coming to the Church to get married in significant numbers or at least the same numbers.

Then I think about my task of being a leader to my priests. There is theologically one priesthood in the Diocese of St. Petersburg but there are at least three different categories of priests: those sixty and above who see the end in sight, those forty-five through sixty who sometimes dread the way in which they see the priesthood and Church in the U.S. going, and the younger priests filled with enthusiasm who seem to say that we are not adapting quickly enough to what is needed, sometimes what was a part and parcel of the past but which fell into some disuse following the Second Vatican Council which for them is largely a historical moment as Trent is for me.

Then there are the youth. I had lunch with two young students of Loyola Baltimore during my stay this week and their love for their faith and the amount of time they give to sharing it with their peers is just this side of incredible – a sign of hope in an ocean of disconnect for many their age.

These are some of the pastoral challenges which it would help for me to spend time on and perhaps at some moment they will be resolved. Until then I can only listen and lead. Arriving in Petersburg, Virginia, the porter wants to put my bed down for me (so he can go to bed himself I suspect for a precious few hours). It’s a cold night in southern Virginia but tomorrow morning I will wake up in Florida warmth and so will my hope and love for the Church.

All Aboard!

+RNL

WHAT EVERY BISHOP SHOULD BE READING

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

My Cousin the Saint by Justin Catanoso Cover ImageAt a time when I should be spending my time reading documentation in advance of next week’s annual meeting of the bishops of the United States, I found myself totally engrossed in a book, which I highly recommend to anyone. Titled My Cousin the Saint (Harper Collins, 2008), this masterful account was written by Justin Catanoso, a professor of writing and editing at Wake Forest University and a Pulitzer nominated journalist. It details the author’s journey to faith through the unlikely path of having a member of his family, a distant cousin, proclaimed a saint by Pope Benedict the XVI in 2005. St. Gaetano Catanoso was a priest for much of the first half of the last century in the southern Italian region of Calabria. The author’s own family had emigrated from the region early in the last century and settled in Philadelphia and Wildwood, NJ. The knowledge about their uncle back in their native Italy was largely unknown to the American side of the family until Pope John Paul II declared Father Gaetano a “blessed” at one of his last beatification ceremonies prior to no longer being capable of presiding at these events.

The book actually has three distinct tributaries flowing into one stream of faith: the life of Saint Gaetano, the faith of an Italian family in Italy and the United States, and the author’s own search for the true and deeper meaning of the Catholic faith of his baptism from which he drifted following Catholic high school. Filled with poignant moments, it can serve as a primer on such diverse Catholic topics as, to name but a few, the making of a saint, the faith of our ancestors, the road home, coping with tragedy, making sense out of the seeming senseless. Just let me say that I have seldom been as captivated by a personal story as I was by this one, finding it hard to put my iPad on “off””. Every proud Italian American should read this book just to grow in love and appreciation of the absolute best of what it means to having been born Italian. Every serious adult Catholic should read this book to appreciate even more their own gift of faith. Every struggling Catholic or non-practicing Catholic should read this book for a source of hope for the journey.

I first heard of the book from a wonderful Catholic husband and father who spent summers with the author life-guarding in the Wildwood-Cape May area. He happens to be the brother of one of my priests. I downloaded it long before I got to it to read. I am so grateful to him for informing me of the work as I am to the author for the time spent in his family research and in his own struggle with the meaning of Catholicism.

As I leave to attend the annual meeting of the bishops of the United States and as I prepare to enter my seventieth year of age and fifteenth of my privilege of serving the Church as a bishop, I find far more comfort and hope for the future in a book like this than all the documentation (and there is not that much of it) for meetings such as next weeks. The real work of faith takes place not at my level of ministry in the Church but at the parish and service levels through the work of good priests, sisters, brothers, deacons, and committed loving lay people. I am indebted today to Justin Catanoso for sharing the moving life of his cousin, the priest and now a saint, with me and humbled to reflect on how far even I must travel still till facing the Lord in eternity.

BISHOP’S BEST BLOG BOGS

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

Besides being somewhat in love with alliteration, the title of this post is somewhat tricky. Does it means where one can bog down in the blogs which this bishop follows closely and enjoys immensely or does it mean that I am reviewing my work of the last three years searching for the place where I “bogged” down on an issue or a topic. Actually, it is the former and is in response to perhaps the most often asked question which I receive on my blog. Everyday, without fail, I look at the following three blogs:

Screen shot of Whispers in the Loggia

Whispers in the Loggia

Rocco Palmo, Author of Whispers in the Loggia

Rocco Palmo, Author of Whispers in the Loggia

As I have often pointed out, the mother of all ecclesial blogs and the inspiration for my beginning this effort three years ago is called Whispers in the Loggia. Written by Philadelphian Rocco Palmo, this blog covers the Church incredibly well and very fairly. I suspect and suggest it is clear that the author loves his Church, while realistically understanding that wholeness is an eschatological reality and between here and there, the Church sometimes has aspects that are neither tidy nor perfect. Whispers it seems to me does not get polemical but can sometimes be absolutely poetical in its reflections on saints of today and yesterday, historical moments in the Church’s life and a good spin on what popes, conferences of bishops and individual bishops and others are saying. I used to say that one could be a very learned person on many things if one just took the time to read (in its old format no longer extant) the Wall Street Journal’s three front page articles, the right, left and center stories which would go on for pages illuminating in great detail life on this planet in its various manifestations. In the world of our Church, I think Whispers serves the same purpose – it is at once illuminating, informative, and fair. I suppose it does not hurt that when it comes to appointments of bishops, if that is one’s interest, the author of this blog is often ahead of the curve  by a few hours. Anyway, it was this blog bog that moved me to begin to write this current effort and if you have not acquainted yourself with it, I suggest you try it week after next during the Fall meeting of the nation’s bishops. I will be reading to see if other than elections to Conference office, Rocco Palmo finds many other reasons for our meeting this year. Try it, I think you will like it.

Screen shot of Truth in Love

Truth in Love, Bishop Paul D. Etienne's blog

Most Rev. Paul Etienne, Bishop of Cheyenne

Most Rev. Paul Etienne, Bishop of Cheyenne

In a classic case of the student outshining his mentor, my dear friend Bishop Paul D. Etienne is a faithful blogger since his ordination to the episcopacy last December 9, 2009. I wish I could write so well about things spiritual as this young bishop does. While one has to be patient with more than an occasional picture of a fish hanging at the end of a line, there is good fishing for sound spiritual theology in Bishop Etienne’s reflections, often on the daily readings, saints, and life in the vast Wyoming space. He has agreed to be the spiritual director of our October 2011 Convocation of Priests here in St. Petersburg and that alone should be worth the time my priests take to be with one another. Bishop Etienne’s writings come from his own life in priesthood and from his love of such diverse realities as St. Catherine of Siena about whom he wrote his Licentiate paper in Rome to nature and the outdoors. If one is looking for that thought where you might best connect with God’s loving plan for creation and redemption, a few minutes spent with Truth in Love is a great place to start.

Screen shot of Catholic Education

Catholic Education, Michael Zelenka's blog

Michael Zelenka

Michael Zelenka, Principal of Incarnation Catholic School

Finally, I am not the only person in the diocese of St. Petersburg to spend some time time blogging. There is a new principal of Incarnation School in Tampa who posts something new, timely, reflective, thoughtful and theologically very sound about once a week. In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that Michael Zelenka came to this diocese as a graduate of Notre Dame and spent two years teaching at St. Petersburg Catholic High School in ND’s Alliance for Catholic Education program (ACE), followed that with five years as the first Athletic Director of the new Bishop McLaughlin High School in Pasco County, then after gaining a second Masters degree, this time in Educational Administration from Notre Dame, he was Assistant Principal at Christ the King School in Tampa before beginning this summer at Incarnation.  I witnessed the marriage of Mike to his wife Emily (herself a teacher at Villa Madonna School in Tampa) and have remained close to them since their marriage. Now having warned you of all my prejudices, I invite you to take a look at Michael’s blog entries. Mike was a “walk-on” in football all four undergraduate years as Notre Dame and his older brother, Joe, is the long snapper for the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL, so he speaks passionately and convincingly on occasion of a spirituality which should infect all sports and athletics. However, you don’t have to know a shuttlecock from a racket to appreciate his thoughtful reflections on the faith formation role of Catholic Education. Try it and you will like it.

Well that it. That’s where you can find me bogged down in my best blogs. And I thought this was going to be a short entry. I am bogged down myself. Watch this site for the next entry which will be entitled and focus upon “pajama parties.”

+RNL

LET ETERNAL LIGHT SHINE UPON THEM

Monday, November 1st, 2010
2010 CCJS Eternal Light Award Recipients Dr. Arthur Kirk and Mr. and Mrs. Paul and Gail Whiting

Dr. Arthur Kirk, Jr., Mrs. Gail Whiting, and Mr. Paul Whiting, 2010 Recipients of the St. Leo Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies Eternal Light Award

Oh, oh you are probably saying to yourself reading the above caption. Yet another, third priest has died! Not so. Last Wednesday night I was honored to participate in the latest Eternal Light Award Dinner sponsored by the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies located at St. Leo University. The center which has now been in existence for longer than a decade was originally the brainchild of a Jewish Rabbi, James A. Rudin, for many years deeply involved in the intricacies of interreligious dialogue. He approached me to inquire if I thought that St. Leo (“College” then, but on the cusp of becoming a “University”) would be a good home for a deep Southern center for extending the dialogue between Jews and Catholics. I told him that the future of St. Leo was not all that certain at that moment but that I felt that the new University President, Dr. Arthur Kirk, Jr. would be receptive. Rabbi Rudin had been referred to me by Cardinal Keeler of Baltimore who has no equal in American Catholic history to date for his engagement in Jewish-Catholic relations. Rabbi Rudin, often a colleague of Cardinal Keeler’s in those dicey moments of the early dialogue (the Auschwitz convent, Vatican recognition of Israel, etc.) had developed a reputation with Bishop John Nevins, Bishop Emeritus of Venice to our south, who had begun an annual dinner of Jews and Catholics in his diocese.

Over the years, the Center has grown but Jewish-Catholic understanding in this area has grown by leaps and bounds. Going out on a limb somewhat, I would say that my closest non-Catholic minister friend in this area is Rabbi Jacob Lusky and his wife JoAnn who have made me welcome in their synagogue, their home for Passover, and their family life. His synagogue is hundreds of feet from my Cathedral and he was present for my ordination, on a Friday and almost stretching into his own sacred time. Jacob has educated me to the intense feelings which our Jewish brothers and sisters feel when they feel slighted or worse by people who they identify as Catholics. And I have shared with Jacob and his congregants my uneasiness that they of all people should be more with us as we decry abortion-on-request in the United States and attempt, like they, an increasingly expensive private, religious school system. At the personal and ministerial level, I have come to a deeper understand and love of my Jewish sisters and brothers through my meetings and dialogues with religious leaders in this area. But it is not always easy when dealing with the Jewish faith to calculate and understand the differences in their three distinct representations. They probably find it significantly easier to deal with one Catholic bishop than I do on occasion with reformed, conservative and orthodox. I have learned not to be daunted by the challenges of the dialogue but to embrace them.

On Wednesday night, the Center gave their “Eternal Light” award to two parishioners of Christ the King parish in Tampa and to Doctor Kirk. Paul and Gail Whiting give much back to the community in which they live and Gail was one of the first Catholic directors on the Board of the Center when it began, at my “ask.” Paul, when he had retired from his very successful business life came to see me to ask what he might do to help me and I recommended that a new initiative seeking grounding in Tampa which I had a hand in establishing in Pinellas could use his wisdom and insight. He remains today as the first and only Chairman of the Board of Academy Prep in Tampa which takes in at-risk African-American children and works educational wonders with them. Whether it is their work in their parish, their community, or the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies, this couple allows the light of their faith to illuminate the faith, fate and hope of others.

The same can be said of Dr. Kirk who made a home for the center at St. Leo, now on firmer ground under his leadership as an educational institution of higher learning. Commitment counts and Art Kirk has remained committed to this interreligious center for dialogue and greater understanding. Dr. Kirk and Deacon William Dietweg noted that this year’s awards were being given on the exact 45th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s incredible document entitled Nostra Aetate which moved our Church to recognize the fundamental reality that all religions which lead to God have a role and place to play in the salvation story.

Congratulations Gail, Paul and Art and to you, Rabbi Rudin and to those who participate in this worthy endeavor. May eternal light always shine upon you.

+RNL