Archive for March, 2011

DRINKING AT THE WATERS OF LAKE JOVITA

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

The Abbey Church at St. Leo Monastery

Last Sunday night I celebrated the student liturgy at St. Leo University and confirmed six of their members and offered First Eucharist to one. First let me begin by saying that it was a lovely liturgy and they had a roughly ten person choir who provided very appropriate and beautiful music for the liturgy. Father Stephan Brown, S.V.D. is in charge of Campus Ministry and invited me to be with his community. Normally I do not ever confirm during Lent but I made an exception this time at Father Brown’s request since Easter falls so late and there are only ten days of sch0ol left at St. Leo after the Easter break.

The liturgy on Sunday night took place in the Abbey Church although it usually occurs in a room at the student union. I suspect that St. Leo had a large share of students who go home on week-ends because they live so close to the University. Attendance of students at this liturgy was not large and the fact that Sunday Eucharist is celebrated in the Board Room of the student union indicates the challenges inherent in a campus ministry program for a school such as this.

St. Leo University has grown significantly in the last twenty-five years, for the first ten or eleven under the leadership of Monsignor Frank Mouch and for the last thirteen under the current president, Dr. Arthur Kirk, Jr. While its residential program on campus numbers about 2000 traditional four-year students, its outreach through distance learning and programs on military bases makes St. Leo about the fifteenth or sixteenth largest Catholic university in the nation.

I know a lot of graduates of our high schools who attend St. Leo and love it. They are certain that they are getting a first rate education for life after college and the graduates students are grateful for for the opportunities afforded them as well. It’s local, it’s Catholic, it’s educationally sound. – all good things. Soon they will dedicate a new building housing the School of Business and the campus has experienced such growth that it is impossible for me to locate a single picture which does the whole justice. St. Leo Prep which preceded St. Leo College which preceded St. Leo University was for many years an apostolic work of the Benedictine monks of St. Leo Abbey. A number of years ago the title and ownership of the college was turned over to basically a lay board of trustees who have taken bold ownership while still remaining committed to the Benedictine spirit and tradition of ora et labora, or “prayer and work.” Another part of the Benedictine spirit from their founder is that of hospitality and it was certainly in evidence on Sunday night. Congratulations to the confirmandi, to the campus ministry and peer ministry program and to all who keep the light of Saint Benedict and his sister Saint Scholastica alive.

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THIS LIGHT IS ON FOR YOU

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Woman at the WellDid you notice how long you were standing for the Gospel this past Sunday? Hopefully not as you were most likely engrossed in the long dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well – in fact, the longest dialogue in all four Gospels between Jesus and any one person. Next week prepare yourself for a second long Gospel, the curing of the man born blind and in two weeks perhaps the longest until Palm Sunday (and the reading of the Passion according to Matthew) which will be the wonderful story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The Church chooses these Gospels and they are often used every year in conjunction with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults because they serve as a “triptik” (the old AAA words for the spiral bound road maps between two points or destinations) for those coming into the Church through baptism and confirmation and first Eucharist. If I were to pick one word for each of the areas where the first five Gospels of Lent take us, they would be in ascending order: temptation, epiphany, conversion, faith, and new life. We are now well past the half way mark between Ash Wednesday and the start of the Sacred Triduum of Holy Week on Holy Thursday.

The Church reminds us that we will all from time to time face temptation from the evil one and how we respond to these temptations is crucial. Jesus was not moved by the offer of power, domination, ownership. Jesus 1 – Devil 0. As he began his journey to Jerusalem and immediately following the scolding of Peter, Jesus takes his three closest friends up to the top of Mount Tabor and once again his divinity is made manifest. We are told to “listen to Him”. Jesus 1 – Three Apostles 0. Last Sunday among the many themes flowing from that well in Samaria that day was a call to conversion, to turn away from sin, and drink of the waters of living life. Jesus 1 – Disciples 0. Jesus heals the blind manNext week, the blind man asks for a favor, a healing, and his request is granted but there are still many who are in disbelief. The Gospel indicates that there is still time to sign on to the legion of Christ and make the journey with him. Jesus 1-witnesses to the miracle 0. And if we need any proof of the opportunity for redemption and resurrection with faith in Jesus brings, Lazarus. Jesus 1 – those still refusing to believe he is the long awaited Messiah 0. Jesus advances to top seed in the final four (Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil/Easter Sunday.

The three Gospel stories (Sunday, next Sunday and the following Sunday) all come from John’s Gospel and they exemplify so well the dualism found there between the Gospel of Light and the Gospel of Darkness. Listen carefully next Sunday and the following one to illusions as to light and darkness and draw your own conclusions as to which world you are living in. Time is a’wasting but if we listen to the words of Jesus this week and act on them, what a glorious Easter awaits us.

If you are desirous of emerging from the darkness of sin and/or guilt this Lent, Thursday may be just your lucky night. For the third year running, every Catholic Church in the diocese will be open and priests will be hearing confessions in each from five until eight p.m. Our priests are very desirous of making confession available to you during this Lenten season and they show their desire in three ways: the regular hours for confession in each parish church, the Lenten Penance Services which will be starting up in each parish soon and this unique and special opportunity for you this Thursday. Designed to make it easy for the busy person to stop by on the way home from work, the embarrassed person to have a chance to confess their sins in a place and to a person who is highly unlikely to know them, the harried parent who finds the Saturday hours impossible between dropping off and rooting for their children at sports, dance, gymnastics, etc., or catching up with chores around the house arising from another busy week, the lights of our churches will be left on and you are most welcome. Like the father who welcomes his profligate son home, try us again, you will like us. Most of all you will feel and revel in the healing touch of Christ. Thanks, dear brother priests, for the gift of your time and the treasure of your love and and extension of God’s forgiveness.

The Light is ON for You

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ERA OVER? HARDLY!

Sunday, March 27th, 2011
PHoto from Wikimedia

Cardinal Bernardin

There have been a spate of articles lately announcing the end of the “Bernardin era” in the Church in the United States. These proclamations would be amazing in themselves given the fact that the much beloved and respected Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago will in a few months have been dead for fifteen years. They are even more amazing to me in that to my mind if there ever was a “Bernardin era” it ended in 1984 when Pope John Paul II chose Bishops Bernard F. Law of Springfield-Cape Girardeau and John O’Connor of Scranton to be archbishops of Boston and New York respectively. It was then shortly after the pastoral letter on war and peace that Cardinal Bernardin’s influence with the Pope and his curia became diminished. Likewise, in 1985, his ability to influence the appointment of bishops in the United States also diminished. During the same year, Cardinals Law and O’Connor talked Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia into hosting a meeting of the U.S. cardinals during which the newly arrived Cardinals introduced the topic of devising a strategy whereby the Cardinals might on occasion assume a larger role in American Catholic life than perhaps even the episcopal conference, might  approach the generally friendly though still bristling from the “war and peace pastoral” Republican administration and power block in Washington and, if necessary, might at times offer another voice than that of the body of bishops. In other words, redirect the political spotlight from the Conference and perhaps (following the death of Cardinal John Dearden, in the ’70’s by far the leading voice in post-conciliar ecclesiology) the leading spokesman for the Church in the United States away from the Archbishop of Chicago to others. The strategy worked to a certain extent and Cardinal Bernardin was left to lead the Church of Chicago and through both a false allegation of sexual misconduct against him and his life-ending cancer, won the hearts of the Catholic people of the Windy City who turned out in record numbers to say farewell before, during and following his funeral. Like his mentor Dearden, he could however throughout his tenure in Chicago bring the body of bishops to a hush when he rose to speak in plenary assembly. Many bishops admired him. So why bring all this up?

Yesterday’s NEW YORK TIMES devoted two full pages of print to the Catholic church in the United States, most of it negative but fair reporting. However, the lone bright spot was an article about the influence on the present Governor of Illinois, Pat Quinn, who in signing a bill from the Illinois legislature  abolishing the death penalty, attributed his difficult and soul-searching decision to whom? None other than Joseph Cardinal Bernardin. The article written by Samuel G. Freedman in a section entitled “On Religion” and in an article entitled “Faith Was On the Governor’s Shoulders” wrote eloquently and movingly how a minister of religion can influence the public square, even long after he has died. It was another victory for the “Consistent Ethic of Life” by which the Church has challenged its own members and society to end abortion, euthanasia, poverty, nuclear war, and capital punishment. Governor Quinn was the second Catholic governor to take this brave step. Several years ago in New Mexico, Governor Bill Richardson, citing his faith and the influence of present Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan, did the same thing – banned the death penalty. Governor Quinn unabashedly held up at the time of signing the death penalty ban a copy of Cardinal Bernardin’s greatest book and a  run-away best seller, THE GIFT OF PEACE which he wrote as a diary during his dying days. Literally from the grave came once again a brave and intelligent voice for life, for sanity, for consistency, for advocacy, for witness.

Full disclosure suggests that I let anyone who might not know that the Cardinal and I were somewhat close throughout my life at the episcopal conference, and he preached the homily at my ordination as bishop here at St. Jude’s Cathedral after breaking yet another rib in his hotel room the night prior to the ceremony. I admired him and have tried to model my ministry on the stronger points of his: collegiality, shared decision-making, respect for all and a commitment to the seamless garment of life issues. The Cardinal as successful as he became, could be sometimes conflicted and to this moment I think he might have wished if he could choose only one of two options: either the respect and trust of Pope John Paul II (as he had with Pope Paul VI) or solely being remembered as a true shepherd of God’s people and a voice for the voiceless, on occasion might  have preferred the former if he could not have both. When Pope John Paul II called him a few weeks prior to his death, he was like a kid at Christmas or an employee looking for any sign of approval from his/her employer. My point is that when the major era of his influence passed, long before his death, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin spent himself for God’s people, one of whom was a young Patrick Quinn. The article can be read in full by clicking on the title above. Read it and I hope you will feel good about your church, and know that biographers and  Church commentators might just need a little more time before declaring someone irrelevant or their “era ended” or maybe we should see how the present moment survives in fifteen years and whose voices or work rises from their graves. No saint to be sure, but a very good bishop for sure.

Cardinal Bernardin preaches at Bishop Lynch's Ordination as a Bishop at St. Jude's

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MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

For the last ten years or so, it has been my custom to offer a Lenten Mission to parishes, which approach and ask me to do it. Last year because of my longer than expected recovery, I did not give any missions and I had promised Saint Catherine of Siena in Largo that I would. So this past weekend, I finally made good on my word and showed up. Let me begin by saying that I am not a “mission preacher” in the any sense of that word. Mission preachers do it about forty weeks of the year and travel throughout the country. They have a set presentation and a more generous approach than I am able to give. I preached at all the Masses this past weekend at St. Catherine to “warm” the congregation up and encourage them to attend the mission sessions on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Typical mission preachers will also give sessions in the morning as well as the evening. I am unable to do that because of the demands of my usual day job.

But in addition to the Sunday Masses, I did share some of my insights into our faith with the people who came on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights. At each parish they choose a different context in which I preached.  At St. Catherine of Siena on Monday night, Father Ken Malley the pastor asked if I would give the mission talk within the context of Mass, on Tuesday within the context of Evening Prayer, and on Wednesday night with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament following the talk. My evening talks usually run between thirty and forty minutes maximum so we try to have everyone in and out in just a little over an hour. The mind can only absorb what the “tush” can take.

For the past couple of years I have been using the triple themes of our Eucharistic Initiative, “gathered, nourished and sent” but within the context of the theological virtues of faith, hope and love. Or to put it another way, how can we live in Christ amid the challenges of daily living. The Gospel account of the Transfiguration was a great place to start this mission week off with the voice from the cloud saying so clearly, “listen to Him” (Jesus that is, not necessarily Lynch). Saint Catherine’s already had underway a parish commitment to “we believe, we remember, we celebrate” so I was also able to incorporate these ideas into my presentations as well.

On the final night of the mission, I offered myself to those who wish to stay at its conclusion and ask me any questions they might have: about the content of my talks, the Church in general, the diocese or the future of the faith. There has been good feedback from that opportunity to “Ask the Bishop.”

The attendance at the missions, which I already have given, has been quite good and I find that I often receive far more than I give to these occasions. Bishops are quite good at “one night stands”, like parish confirmations, but to be present and to share faith, hope and love for five days is a unique and, for me, very satisfying experience. Since this week was a “catch-up” experience from 2010, I will be giving a second parish (or the 2011) mission at St Ignatius of Antioch in Tarpon Springs, beginning on April 2, 2011 and in 2012 I will be at St. Cecilia in Clearwater and at St. Lawrence in Tampa in 2013, God willing.

At least the priests and deacons were listening! The two photos are through the kindness of parishioner Elaine Luker.

I was sorry last night to end my time with the faith community of St. Catherine of Siena who had received me so well.  As I said earlier, in the time just before the mission and as people were leaving, their stories of their faith journeys and the challenges of daily living would put my life to shame. There are a lot of holy people in this Church of ours. Thanks to Father Ken Malley and everyone at this wonderful parish in Largo for a great mission.

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SEEK AND YOU WILL FIND

Monday, March 21st, 2011

I thought you might be interested in how we look for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. There are many approaches, which can be taken to vocation recruitment, but the most important ingredient is a happy priesthood and religious life in the diocese. Priesthood can only seem attractive if the men who serve the young are themselves happy. Happiness and contentment in the priesthood is constitutive for recruiting good candidates for the seminary and for religious life.

In this diocese we have been blessed with a great number of vocations, which will in a few years begin to pay off with more ordinations. For almost thirteen years, Father Len Plazewski pursued anyone who showed even the slightest interest, never taking their name from his Rolodex of candidates until they contracted marriage. Using a variety of methods of contact, our Vocation Directors stay in touch with those who seem to be searching for priesthood. They meet them in their schools, on college campuses, invite them to discernment retreat week-ends, evenings of prayer and discussion throughout the year, and even twice a year take them to the college seminary for a week-end experience.

Once a year we hold something called FOCUS ELEVEN. All of the sixth graders  in our elementary schools are invited to come to one spot for an entire day which focuses on vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Using skits, games, and many other ways to connect with eleven year olds, the matter of a possible religious vocation is brought up. Why eleven year olds, one may ask? Sociologists and child psychologists agree that it is about age eleven when children begin to think about what they want to be with they grow up so the moment is right in the maturing process and we take advantage of it. Eleventh grade is also an important moment when the sixteen or seventeen year old is beginning to think about where to continue their education after high school. We used to bring all the eleventh graders together as well.

Priests, Sisters, Brothers all hold signs of their former occupations. Eleven year olds are challenged to match the job with the right person.

On Thursday, I hosted what are called Project Andrew dinners, after the Apostle who first followed Jesus and then invited his brothers and friends to do likewise. On these occasions, young men in junior year of high school and older, are invited to dinner with the bishop accompanied by their pastors or associate pastors. We don’t do a “hard sell” on these occasions but each priest present and I share our own vocation stories. We offer to receive and answer any questions, which they have and then send them forth with the promise that to the extent they wish, we will stay in touch with them during their discernment experience. This year we will have had four of these dinners and I personally have met about twenty-five or thirty young men who express an interest.

While we have a good number of seminarians (thirty-one at the beginning of the present school year) I also wish to acknowledge that religious communities in the diocese also have sought and received vocations from our young men and women. There are, I think, about an additional six men studying for priesthood in religious communities such as the Jesuits, Salesians, etc.

Finally, when a candidate decides to apply to the diocese, a rigorous assessment process is begun which includes interviews with at least three members of the Diocesan Vocations Admission Board, myself, a full battery of psychological tests and interviews, and recommendations from teachers and friends, including always the vote of the man’s pastor.

Eventually the nomination comes before the full Admissions Board containing lay women and men, religious women, and diocesan priests. So what may have begun with a chicken dinner at the house of the bishop ends with ordination to the priesthood or profession of vows in religious life. At the time of this writing, we have nine men in the application process for the coming year which almost guarantees a total of thirty-five for the seminary next Fall. But I will close with this thought. This is not a numbers game which we are playing but a search for fine candidates for the priesthood. We know that not all we accept will make it to the altar.

Probably one of the more boring moments - "The Bishop's Speech"

A little over 350 children attend each of two days

GREAT SCOTT!

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

The Florida bishops met with Governor Rick Scott this morning, obviously for the first time and I must say that I was impressed with him. Obviously somewhat nervous to be in front of seven men in black suits with crosses and chains, the Governor quickly warmed up to the audience and gave us about thirty-five minutes of time in his busy schedule. While I consider discussions such as this to be somewhat privileged, I would say that our first meeting went very well. Our talking points were these: sanctity of life concerns (nothing to worry about here with this Governor), the McKay and Florida Tax Credit scholarships for children in non-public schools (he is strongly in favor of choice in education), criminal justice reform (his administration has proposed some interesting concepts which just might lead to greater restorative justice in our jails and prisons), immigration concerns (here he tends to think somewhat in Arizona terms but acknowledges that until the border is sealed and the economy improves, there will be no shift in public perception and feelings about immigration reform), health reform and Medicaid changes (in this regard, he thinks health care can be improved and delivery of services more accessible than presently or even under the proposed federal health care reform act).

Governor Rick Scott meets with the Florida Bishops

What impressed me most is that our session was a no-nonsense and straightforward discussion. This Governor does not equivocate if he holds a position on an issue. If it is something he can espouse but needs more information, he promises to see to it and I leave thinking that he will. There is a passion in the man that is not political but practical. I left our meeting today thinking that Governor Scott at this moment in his tenure doesn’t give a proverbial “hoot” about re-election but is dedicated to achieving the goals he laid down in his campaign to reform, streamline, and attempt to make every aspect of state government more effective while at the same time less costly. In other words, he seems intent on doing exactly those things he said he would do during the two campaigns.

On the matter of the death penalty, the Governor clearly does not like being the person who will sign the final warrants for death by lethal injection. He noted that out of the 392 persons on death row, 40 have exhausted all their appeals and decisions will have to be made case by case. We spoke to him with our own passion about the fact that Florida is now the only state in the union which allows juries to offer an advisory sentence with only seven of the twelve recommending death. It takes a unanimous jury to convict but fifty percent plus one to execute. I remain equally uncomfortable with the fact that Florida elects its judges, many of whom make capital punishment decisions while running for election or reelection.

We will surely disagree on issues of public policy in the years to come but he seemed to me to be respectful and a good listener. After the meeting I learned that he has removed all state aid to the homeless from his budget and that is troubling and I wonder if his approach to Medicaid reform will really improve or remove the access of the poor to medical care and service.

The Governor who is not a Catholic will be attending the Red Mass this evening, something his predecessor never did and promised that his Administration would be open to further dialogue with our Conference staff and the bishops. All in all, a good morning in Church-State relations and a good start to what I hope will be a useful and fruitful l relation with our new Governor.

Later in the morning we met up with the representatives from our respective dioceses who were here for the annual “Catholic Days at the Capitol.” These generous and dedicated volunteers come early in each legislative session to meet with the members of the Legislator and share our and their position on certain issues of public policy.

The afternoon was taken up with a meeting of the heads of the Catholic hospitals in the state to talk about the implementation of the Patient Protection Act (“Obama-care”) in Florida, its consequences for conscience protection and use of federal or state funds for abortion, etc. It was a ninety-minute walk through an alien land for most of us bishops as health care is almost a world unto its own. The CEO’s present from hospitals in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Tampa and St. Petersburg, Jacksonville and Pensacola were a very impressive group of women and men.

Now I am ready to fly back to Tampa after a long day and a packed twenty-four hours. On the way up last night, our flight was twenty minutes into the sixty minutes trip when our right propeller engine began to fail and we had to turn and limp back to Tampa, allow them to swap planes and arrive here an hour and thirty minutes late. I am hoping for better luck tonight.

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HOLDING FAST

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Monday evening I attended the annual FAST Rally which they hold in preparation for what they call their Nehemiah Conference which will be held in four weeks. FAST is an acronym for “Faith and Action for Strength Together.” It is basically a community organizing association of Churches of all denominations working on tough issues of Social Justice. Precisely because it is a “Community Organizing” organization, it makes a lot of people uncomfortable. They zealously take on  issues which no one else will speak for and they confront elected and appointed officials seeking an honest reflection of their support or opposition. Their target of concern is not politicians or appointed officials in city and county government, but the African-American male who is unlikely to graduate from high school, the jailed drug addicted person whose program for rehabilitation which was available until this year in the county jail but now is another victim to budget cuts. That program saved a goodly number of offenders from returning to crack, to crime, to incarceration. Then there is the fifteen million dollars promised for low-income housing in the county when we were sold a bill of goods on “Penny for Pinellas” but now is being used for “beach renourishment.” FAST also is seeking a commitment by the Pinellas county school system that it will develop and implement a plan for raising the reading level of children in the schools. These are far from radical goals.

About 900 people attended the rally which was held at Holy Family Church. Eight of our Catholic parishes were represented by their pastors and people. The black Churches of the county are well represented. Monsignor Anton Dechering, pastor of Blessed Trinity parish is one of two co-chairs. The hope this year for the Nehemiah Conference is that 4,000 people will attend to hear whether or not those elected and appointed officials who have been invited support these goals and initiatives for 2011-2012. Generally no one likes to be put on the spot and told they may only give a “yes” or “no” answer to a question put to them. FAST meets with those who indicate they will come and tells them the exact question which will be put to them. There is never a surprise. I personally would have a hard time supporting any effort which had as its tool “ambushing” someone and embarrassing them in public. That is not what will happen at the Nehemiah Conference. They know what they will be asked and they are given three minutes to explain their decisions (the exact same amount of time as was pointed out that a citizen appearing before city councils, county commissions and the school board, are given in this area to raise an issue or ask a question). If an elected or appointed official offers a response supporting FAST’s goal/objective, then they are appropriately applauded. Ah, but you ask, what if they say it cannot be done? Then they are greeted with just silence, no booing or other signs of disrespect are tolerated. In New England this would be called a town meeting but in Pinellas County if you don’t like it, it is called “badgering.” What a shame because these goals are simply asking for ways to help the poor, the addicted, the minority child in school, get what other people can expect and access either through private or public funds. When I have been able to be present for the Nehemiah Conference, I have on occasion been impressed with an official who says, “just can’t do it” and gives the reason. He/she came and that was important and offered a reason. Sometimes the negative response has given FAST leadership an opportunity to continue dialogue with the official and find an acceptable middle ground.

There is a strong biblical root in what FAST attempts and it is Catholic Social Teaching to its very core in action. It is neither Republican or Democratic nor is it some emerging form of socialism. In my judgment it is giving a voice in the public square to the voiceless, ignored and often disparaged. Not everyone is comfortable with this approach as you can tell that not every parish in Pinellas is a member of FAST. Generally, the pastor is the gate keeper of whether or not his community will join and/or participate. I just wish those who are skeptical or even opposed had been with me last night to listen to the witness of courageous women and men speaking of their heartbreaking experience with a system which seems to them to be heartless.

Tomorrow the bishops of Florida meet for the first time with Governor Scott in Tallahassee. More on that meeting later in the week.

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OASIS IN THE DESERT

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

The Gospel reading for the First Sunday of Lent is always about the trip into the desert by Jesus immediately after his Baptism by John in the Jordan and Satan’s temptations which befell him there. I am certain that the Church wishes us to hear these readings year after year in order that we might enter into some kind of desert experience ourselves throughout these forty days. Deserts that I have known are barren, forbidding and foreboding places where one cannot escape the heat of the day or the chill of the night. There is little to admire and much to fear in crossing a desert. It is boring and easily can give way to hallucinations and anxiety. I doubt if even Jesus was totally comfortable in his desert experience but he could not have found a place more free of distractions to pray at the beginning of his ministry.

For many of us, we need not physically go to a desert to have a “desert experience” and we certainly don’t have to physically relocate to experience temptations to evil, to profound doubt, to deep distrust. The evil one who tempted Jesus still tempts us when we aspire to greater wealth and jealousy of those who have it. The evil one still tempts us when he fills us with unholy ambition that might suggest we walk all over someone else to get something that we want. The evil one still tempts us when he invites us to positions of power and prestige whose methodology of attainment is not that of God.

There are even temptations alive which can right now affect our lives of faith and in the Church. Let me enumerate just a few: (a) the Church is corrupt and I do not need it any more to gain my salvation; (b) I don’t need a human much less a priest to whom I will confess my sins and therefore I choose to go directly to God; (c) the Eucharist is  just a memorial, nothing changes so I sure don’t need to go every Sunday; (d) who needs God? I sure don’t. These temptations are not products of my own too fertile imagination but rather are fairly common in our Church today. At the end of it all, the spirit of evil uses the same temptation to narcissicism as did the evil one with Jesus – it’s all about me! Jesus saw through it all and so must we. It is all about God and God’s relationship with me and me with him. There are as many temptations in the spiritual life in our personal deserts as there are stories in a naked city.

Deacon Jerry Crall calls the 454 Catechumens to be baptized, confirmed and receive First Eucharist at the Easter Vigil this year in the Rite of Election Ceremony at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle today. Photo courtesy of John Christian

People who travel through deserts, however, look for and rejoice when they come upon an oasis. Just when you think it can not get any worse, there is that cool shade, that cool water, that relief from the heat and desert temptation. I find it amazing that when the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults was instituted following the Second Vatican Council, that the Church found that as Church we just might need an oasis as we begin our Lenten experience. With all the renewed negative publicity about the Church and doubts about its leadership, some of which right now is merited it seems to me, and when one might tend to become dispirited, the Spirit gives us The Rite of Election. Today at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle, it was my privilege to welcome  1,110 catechumens and candidates who will be received into the Church at the Easter Vigil this year. This is the highest number for this occasion in my fifteen years as bishop and quite frankly, I needed this oasis today more perhaps that those smiling and happy persons who shook my hand in the two separate ceremonies. I have several times mentioned before at this ceremony that it is second only to the ordination of priests in the happiness it brings to a bishop and his priests and deacons.

The Catechumens from Sacred Heart, Tampa, led by Father George Corrigan, OFM approach the bishop. Photo courtesy of John Christian

I know that there are many others preparing for the Easter sacraments who were unable to be at either of the two services held today and their number will make the number entering the Church even more impressive. Sixty-nine of our seventy-seven parishes and missions were present and the Cathedral was full with about 1,200 people at the 2:00pm and 4:30pm celebrations. Some approach me with tears in their eyes and others seem so grateful for the opportunity to be welcomed by the person who will be their bishop this Spring. A good number of children were present at both ceremonies and I counted about twenty families who would be coming into the Church together – Mom and Dad and the kids. Some also came forward who I would expect will get married this Spring and Summer and wish to become Catholic prior to that special moment. As I said earlier there are many stories in the “Naked City” as the old television show used to suggest.

So, if someone was having a desert experience today and could have been with me to share the joy of this annual moment, you would have been most grateful to God for the grace which is operative and obvious in this local Church.

Candidates (already have been baptized) for full communion with the Church at the Easter Vigil come forward for a "close encounter of the first kind" with me. Photo courtesy of John Christian.

FAREWELL FRIEND

Friday, March 11th, 2011
Bishop John Ricard

Bishop John H. Ricard, SSJ, Bishop-Emeritus of Pensacola Tallahassee

Today is a sad day for me personally. Pope Benedict has formally accepted the request to resign from my good friend, Bishop John Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee. Long time readers of this blog should recall that almost a year ago to the day I wrote here about a visit to Bishop Ricard who was then recovering from a series of strokes. I included a picture of the two of us taken that day and I was shaken then by how much my friend had changed as a result of  his medical challenges. At that time also I was beginning to finally fully recover from my own series of operations and recuperations and I hoped that +John would make the same progress which I had made, although I was also skeptical at the time. To my and everyone’s amazement, he managed within days to celebrate the Chrism Mass in his diocese and preside at Holy Week Services, all the time working to recover as much of what he lost as he could. He still was not the old +John Ricard, however. The two of us often think alike on matters before the Florida Catholic Conference and especially at the meetings of the Board of Trustees of St. Vincent de Paul Seminary. He was my predecessor as Chairman of the Board and President of Catholic Relief Services and continued to serve CRS by countless trips into Darfur in the Sudan and other challenging parts of the African continent. Even in the last twelve months he continued to go to Africa for CRS but those travelling with him could see how tired he would become and the limitations on his stamina were obvious to everyone else but the bishop who just wished to soldier on.

An African-American bishop of the Society of St. Joseph (or Josephite Fathers), John Huston Ricard was born, raised and educated until the seminary in Louisiana. After joining his religious community and being ordained, while serving in parishes in the Washington, D.C. area he earned his Ph.D. in Psychology.  Ordained again as an auxiliary bishop of Baltimore, he served there for a number of years prior to coming to Pensacola-Tallahassee thirteen years ago. There we renewed our friendship and since then my admiration and affection for this man has steadily grown to the point that today I feel a great loss. So do the priests, deacons and people of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee who know well how much he loved and served them and they returned that love in great measure.

Now I am the longest serving bishop in the province of Miami at fifteen years and Bishop Gerald Barbarito of Palm Beach is the senior among us in episcopal ordination. I never thought it would come to this. A great deal of sophistication in dealing with the Governor and Florida legislature in Tallahassee leaves our state with the retirement of Bishop Ricard and while we have an extremely competent lay staff at the Florida Catholic Conference led by Dr. D. Michael McCarron, they would be the first to say that when they needed “a cross and chain” to make a case for the Church, they could count on the Bishop jumping in his car and driving three hours plus to represent us. They just don’t make us like that anymore.

I used to look forward to the seven or eight times each year when the Florida bishops would gather because there would be a reunion of sorts with the “panhandle bishop.” Now, he will no longer be there. This has been a very painful moment of transition for Bishop Ricard and for his diocese – he and they are hurting. But the genius of our Church is that none of us are irreplaceable and our service to the local churches which we love is finite. It is just the reality of separation and farewell which is so difficult. I have five more years to try and be half the bishop my brother +John has been so as someone else in Tallahassee is so fond of saying, “let’s get to work.” Thanks, Bishop Ricard, for your tireless and generous example, for your friendship and support. I will miss you terribly.

+RNL

FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

It is said that Ponce de Leon discovered the fountain of youth here in the “Sunshine State.” Well, about that we cannot be absolutely certain but one thing is for sure, young Catholics have a place to go now in Brandon to discover, share, enjoy and embrace their faith. Nativity Catholic Church earlier this year dedicated a new Youth Center named after its long-time pastor, Monsignor Jaime Lara, which sets the “gold standard” for parish based Youth Centers. Allow me to share some pictures of this new facility with you along with congratulations to the people of Nativity parish for their support of this project and to Father Arthur Proulx, the pastor, and Justin the Youth Minister for their vision and leadership. Is this coming soon to a parish near you? How we wish! Nativity’s demographics and number of youth make an investment like this possible but there are other parishes in the dioceses with significant youth populations desirous of building Youth Centers as well. I hope they do. It will help in all our efforts at the new evangelization and in Serving God’s People.