Archive for July, 2011

FAREWELL GOOD FRIEND OF THE CHURCH IN THE UNITED STATES

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

For the first time in the history of church in the Church in the United States, a presently serving papal representative to our country and church has gone home to the Lord from these shores. Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States of America died tonight as a result of complications arising after surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. I shall miss him and already I m0urn his departure deeply. He served the bishops and Catholics of this country very well. He served the bishops by speaking the truth in love to us often. When not quoting the Holy Father as nuncios must, in his own words he encouraged us, challenged us to be more open than perhaps we are and less iron-fisted. When left alone to his special task of recommending candidates for the office of bishop, he served the Church in this country extremely well.  Archbishop Sambi would often plead with us to recommend to him good men for his consideration and would sometimes complain ever so gently that he was not always getting them. The US has one of the largest hierarchies in the world, perhaps second only to Italy and/or Brazil and not everyone can keep up with the work load which an appointment to Washington can require. So while being Nuncio to the United States might on the surface be a coveted position, it can also be challenging in many ways. And the nuncio to the United States often does not have the last word as to who should or should not be chosen by the Holy Father for the office of bishop.

He also served as the Ambassador of the Holy See to the government of the United States as well as Ambassador of the Holy See to the Organization of American States which is headquartered in Washington. Always genial, often with a great sense of humor, and given the opportunity, he would confide in us at times his solicitude for the faith in this country and his admiration for the faith of the people. I thought the world of him. So did Our Father in heaven who called him out of this world and into eternal  life, unexpectedly, quickly, but lovingly I am sure. Rest in peace faithful servant of the Lord and of the Church. Many others and I will miss you terribly.

+RNL

MORE ABOUT SEMINARIANS

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

In two weeks I will celebrate Mass for our diocesan seminarians prior to their return to their respective seminaries. Then we have dinner and  I give the men an opportunity to dialogue with me about anything which they wish to bring up. Temerity does still somewhat rule the moment but more and more the softball questions are giving way to the curveballs and it is a give and take which I enjoy and look forward to. I think the latest count stands somewhere around thirty-three for the seminary this year with two at Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts, one at the North American College in Rome and the rest at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami and St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida.

However, often lost in these reflections are the men who are studying for priesthood within religious orders and congregations. Perhaps overlooked because we often are not informed of those who choose religious life, they are nonetheless a blessing from God and the diocese to the Church. I know of two men studying for the Society of Jesus (there may be more) and one for the Franciscans. I am sure that by the time of the convocation of seminarians, I will have heard from parents and others of still more.

As often happens in my blog composition, all of this is by way of foreward to another thing I wish to share with you. If any reader has been to a liturgy which I have celebrated the past three years, the odds are 9 to 1 that you noticed a young man assisting me, the servers and the pastor and associates of the parishes. Unflappable, always kind to the servers, and incredibly helpful in celebrating a good liturgy, this young man has also served the diocese as its “webmaster”, the mastermind of the technical details of my blog, and more often than not, my driver (something I resisted for twelve years until one day at lunch I mentioned to my closest collaborators that I noticed that coming back from evening confirmations I would often find myself daydreaming and miss the Fourth Street North exit off the Howard Franklin to my home). That did it and they went on a search for a multi-talented person who could do something in the diocese which was useful, drive and assist me with ceremonies, and be unfailingly helpful to the parishes where we would be going.

Walter C. Pruchnik III had been an ACE teacher at St. Petersburg Catholic following his graduation from Notre Dame University and a year following the conclusion of his time with us as a teacher, he was looking for something to do as a transition, perhaps to marriage or to religious life.  He applied, was hired and has assisted me for three years. Girl altar servers will remember the handsome young “priest” who helped the fat, balding bishop. Walter leaves the diocese today to begin a year of discernment for the Congregation of Holy Cross at his beloved Notre Dame. If all goes well and God and the community call him, he will enter the Novitiate in Colorado next summer for a year and then theology studies leading to ordination. Most of the priests of this diocese would second my conclusion that the Holy Cross Fathers are lucky to be getting Walter as a candidate. He so loves his alma mater and the community that founded it, that neither the Vocation Directors nor I have put a lot of pressure on him to think about diocesan priesthood but he will always be welcome should he choose to come here. He has been thoroughly private and professional in his time here and with me and I am so incredibly grateful for his dedication to his work, his love of the Church, and his loyalty to me. I think for purpose of our prayers, we should promise to include Walter in them every time we pray for those studying for priesthood and the religious life. Thank you Walter, blessings and happiness to you at Moreau Seminary this year and next, go Irish, and it has been a wonderful ride. May Notre Dame our mother intercede with her son for you and for all of us you leave behind.

+RNL

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Yesterday the Diocese of Gaylord celebrated its fortieth anniversary of establishment on the exact day, July 20th. St. Mary’s Cathedral in Gaylord was jammed with families and many people who were present on that special day forty years ago. Bishop Bernard Hebda invited me to join in the celebration and I am happy that I did. He had invited his three predecessors as bishops back for the occasion and all came. The first bishop of the diocese was/is Cardinal Edmund Szoka who was also celebrating the fortieth anniversary of his episcopal ordination since it occurred within the context of the erection of the Diocese he was to lead for a decade. From here he went to Detroit as Archbishop and then Pope John Paul II called him to Rome where he served with great distinction in helping the Holy See straighten out its finances and live within an annual budget. Bishop Robert Rose was the second bishop for about eight years before returning as bishop of his own home diocese, Grand Rapids. He is now living in retirement and is one of those bishops whom I found it a wonderful privilege to serve in the episcopal conference. It was wonderful to see him again as he does not come to the bishops’ meetings any longer. For slightly over twenty years Bishop Patrick Cooney served as the third bishop of the diocese and he is someone whom I have known since first going to Washington as a layman and working at the episcopal conference in 1972. Bishop Cooney and my housemate at the time, Monsignor Robert Monticello, were great friends and the former would come to DC occasionally to visit at our house. Bishop Hebda will complete two years as bishop late this Fall.

Bishop Hebda acknowledged almost everyone in the Cathedral in a very clever way, asking priests ordained by each of his three predecessors to stand as he spoke about their ordaining prelate, asking religious to stand, and members of the diocesan staff throughout the years. At the conclusion of a very lovely liturgy that any bishop would be proud of there was a picnic on the grounds of the Cathedral with a band imported from Detroit. Sloppy Joes were the “bill of fare” which is something I really enjoy and on what was probably to be the warmest and most humid day of the year, the picnic people enjoyed a cool breeze blowing through the huge tent. You could tell that it was a celebration for the people. The bishop is alleged to have wanted some measure of restraint in the occasion as it was the fortieth and not the fiftieth which might be an occasion for ratcheting up the celebration but I bet everyone there, certainly myself, would say, it was just perfect! Let’s do it again in ten.

I love my diocese and I am beginning to get that “itch” that precedes the end of vacation and my return to my usual duties. But I also have to say that serving as “parochial vicar” of the local parish in Petoskey has brought me a great appreciation of the faith in what is here referred to as the “upper part of the lower peninsula.” The people who live here year round are rugged as they must be because the winters are cold and the lake effect snows heavy. But they love their faith and they get to Church. They know the difference between sin and virtue and for the former they are sorry and for the latter they are grateful. Compared to our diocese, this is mission territory but like ourselves, they have done a lot in forty years and have much to be proud of. So Happy Anniversary to my diocese when I am away from my diocese (parce that one, if you will) and congratulations to all who made yesterday just perfectly lovely.

+RNL

IN WHOM DO WE PLACE OUR TRUST?

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

Florida summer weather has finally come to far northern Michigan with a vengeance! This was the week-end when I attempted substituting for the pastor of the local parish by hearing confessions yesterday afternoon and celebrating and preaching the 5pm Vigil Mass and this morning’s 8 and 10am. The church is not air-conditioned so everyone felt the need to seek the visiting bishop out and apologize for the heat and humidity. They trusted I would understand. At least they did not blame me for bringing it along with me.

This week I thought a lot about how people in the Church can sometimes so disappoint God’s faithful people. I focused on how some highly trusted and “believed” personalities have fallen into ecclesial disgrace because of things which they have done in life which when revealed cost them their ministry. In my endless desire that this blog not be  place to vent my own anger or outrage, I will not use any names. But there have always been preachers of the Gospel whose actions when made publicly known brought sometimes shame, sometimes disbelief, sometimes great sadness to God’s people. In particular, possibly vunerable are those who are able through the use of the media to connect with the spiritual feelings of people, to often use their electronic pulpits to hammer others with whom they do not agree, to paint a path to holiness that gives great value to material poverty, doctrinal fidelity, clearly delineating the saved from those at risk losing their immortal souls only to be discovered to have themselves not lived by the code and sometimes even the creed which they preached. And when they are discovered, the community of believers are thrown into first the pain of disbelief and then the anger at the betrayal of trust. Everyone has their failings. God knows I do. But in my preaching and in my life I try not to make myself out to be perfect but rather a pilgrim, struggling to get it right more often than get it wrong. I try not to be judgmental in the administration of my office, but to give everyone the same chance at forgiveness which I often feel gifted with. I think the vast majority of priests in our Church try hard and struggle to live life in the gray and not in the black and white. We know the moral absolutes to be sure and we preach them and try to live them but we also know what it means to confess our sins, amend our lives and try hard to offend neither God or neighbor again.

In Christian history as in any history there have always been falls from grace. The presence of evil is a powerful force even in today’s society or maybe even better said it is a major force. It is the weed which attempts to strangle the shaft of wheat. However, God the sower, plants wheat everywhere and no force for evil can ever totally overcome the plan of God which is directed not just to the present but more importantly to the moment of “harvest.” Put your trust in God. Listen to our voices as long as we betray not the task which the Lord has given to us and preach the truth in love. The real soldiers of the Gospel are not those you see on TV or listen to on the radio or read in the printed word, but those who week in and week out stand before you in Church to unpack the Word of God and apply it to daily living – their own and as well as ours. Then your faith will be well placed and it will likely not be shaken in the presence of human failure. In God we trust!

+RNL

WEEK-END UPDATE

Monday, July 11th, 2011

So I lied! I know I said no more blog entries until early August since I would be spending all of July “fishin” but I can’t resist (and also I find that I have more time on my hands to think and write than normal). There can really be no secret about my whereabouts (and there need not be) as yesterday when filling in for the local pastor who began his two week vacation with my arrival at the parish church, the lector for the 1000am Mass is a parishioner of St. Paul’s parish in St. Petersburg. Additionally, the sister of one of our priests, Father Mike O’Brien, was in the congregation with her husband, baseball immortal and Bishop Barry graduate, Bill Freehan. So it is time to fess up. I am spending the month on Crooked Lake (named for its shoreline and not its property owners) which is about six miles east of Petoskey and a similar distance south-west from Harbor Springs in the far northern area of the lower peninsula of Michigan. I am the sacramental ministry presence for St. Francis Xavier parish in Petoskey for the next two weeks while the fine pastor, Father Dennis Stilwell is away for a brief vacation. The Church is beautiful, indeed bordering on spectacular, except it is not air-conditioned and yesterday, Sunday, was really the first super hot and humid day of the summer (guess who got blamed for the humidity – that visiting bishop from Florida, of course).

Last night I had the honor of being the guest of the bishop of the diocese in which I am vacationing, Bishop Bernard Hebda, Bishop of Gaylord. We had a super dinner together but even better conversation. Bishop Bernard told me that he has about 41 active priests in ministry of whom 19 are either right at retirement or serving beyond retirement. Two of his pastors are in their nineties. The diocese has quite a few square miles to cover but except for Traverse City, Petoskey, and Cheboygan the towns, villages and parishes are very small and very rural. The area is spectacularly beautiful but the winters are very cold and there is a lot of snow. The local Church is the reverse of our experience in the Diocese of St. Petersburg in that during the summer, the Catholic population grows with those seeking relief from the heat of the midwest and Florida and in the winter, the population decreases substantially. The bishop gets around. In fact the priests and people worry for his health as he seems to be omni-present to the point that almost everyone with whom I talk, and they love him, worries about his schedule. He has taken to this local Church (originally a priest of Pittsburgh with some time spent working in Rome) like all these ducks from Canada take to the local lakes around here. This is truly a mission diocese, even in Michigan, and since it is indeed in Michigan, the state with the nation’s highest unemployment, the challenges of the economic downturn are felt even more in the parishes. But he finds a very healthy local church with impressive and dedicated priests and people. The time spent with him last night was pure gift to me.

This morning my hosts asked their cleaning lady to take a quick turn at my apartment. I had known that she was a devout member of the Jehovah’s Witness congregation and I do not know if she knows that in trying to convert me, which she attempted this morning, she was dealing with a Catholic bishop. That might have made me “the catch of the day” for her. Clearly, as a church, the Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t particularly care for Catholics, in fact they are pretty certain where we will be spending the afterlife though this woman stopped well short of that assertion. She did tell me that we do not know the Bible (I countered that we were getting better all the time at that), that the end of time is just around the corner because quoting Matthew 24 “the world is rising up in war, nation against nation”. When I said that first happened with World War I she countered with “that’s when the end of time started.” I asked if we would live to see it and she assured me we would. Steadfast, firm, unfailingly polite, she gave not one inch to reason, logic, theology or scripture interpretation. She never in the fifteen minutes or so we spoke explicitly came after the Catholic Church (except that when they call on us, we don’t know the bible). She also said that the “Confraternity Bible” which we use never uses the name of God and that is shameful. I told her God’s name is everywhere in our bible and then she said just as strenuously, “no it’s not! God’s name is “Jehovah” and you won’t find that anywhere in your Bible.” I countered, the word “Yahweh” from which Jehovah comes is all over the  Old Testament and she said, “but that is not God’s name. It is Jehovah.” We parted friends and she said she would pray for me. I call that something of a pyrrhic victory but all in all I had met my match in debate points.

Two distinctly different conversations separated only by sleep, one so comfortable talking about our faith and what we might do to spread it and the other demanding total capitulation. I think I have two choices: either to mop my own floors or to be absent next week when she comes again. Although I don’t understand the nexus often in their faith belief based strictly on a fundamental interpretation of Scripture, I end this with some admiration for the strength of her faith which gave her the courage to open, guide, direct, manipulate the conversation. And I think of yesterday’s Gospel. This woman takes very seriously her responsibility to be both a hearer of the Word and a sower of the same. I think I know which category of earth she falls in as a hearer of the Word, but I wish more of us had the courage and strength of our convictions in sowing what she has heard.

That’s all the news for the week-end from Crooked Lake where the men are all absent, the women are all hard working and the children are all out on boats.

+RNL

GONE FISHIN!

Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

It is that wonderful time of the year again when I can find some time to get away, rest and relax. This year, for the first time in my episcopal ministry, I will be taking the whole month of July. There is nothing to be done, places to visit, just pure rest and relaxation. The pastor of the parish where I am visiting is alone so I will be helping in his parish on Sundays starting a week from today and since he takes two weeks himself each year in the middle of July but has had the custom of returning for the three week-end Masses, thereby interrupting his time away, I will cover for him the week-end of July 16/17 giving him for the first time two weeks away. While I like to keep the location in the US where I am vacationing a secret, I can tell you that under cloudless blue skies yesterday the high reached a whopping 77 degrees and the low last night, my first here, was 57, necessitating a blanket (my hosts had to explain to me what a”blanket” is!). The diocese is never out of my thoughts and you are never out of my prayers.

A month ago I wrote a letter which was distributed in the parishes about the diocese’s history since 1991 in dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct against minors, our process and its procedures. The letter has been very well received and the feedback overwhelmingly positive. However, two people very respectfully asked for a clarification of the statement that we have not used Annual Pastoral Appeal monies to pay the costs of dealing with these sad issues. I reaffirm that the statement is correct but it does raise the question as to whence do the monies come if not from the people. At no time did I ever mean to imply that monies used for this purpose comes from anywhere other than the parishes and, therefore, the people. Every parish and institution in the diocese is “taxed” or “assessed” for certain things which are not directly related to pastoral programs which the APA funds. For example, parishes and schools pay a significant amount each year for the health and welfare costs of their employees, likewise for unemployment compensation insurance and pension fund contributions. All of that is deducted mainly from offertory contributions. A fourth and final category of parish and parishioner support is for “Property and Liability Insurance.” We maintain a reserve here to cover some deductibles and catastrophic losses due to hurricanes and storm damage, legal claims and settlements for things like “slip and falls”, fires, etc. We have dipped occasionally and as needed into this reserve to pay what we identified as the costs associated with the diocese’s history of settling with victims in the hope of giving them some sense of pastoral care and solicitude for the immense harm done to them. Anticipating the next question which likely is, “well, has the diocese raised its tax against the parishes to build up this reserve” and the answer is in the negative. From time to time our Property and Liability Insurer, Catholic Mutual, has raised premiums against the parishes and institutions because either the property is seen to have increased in value or risk but this has nothing to do with sexual misconduct claims and payments. So, yes, parishes and parishioners as well as high schools and other diocesan institutions have been the ultimate source of these funds but that fact has not impacted the assessment parishes have been paying because we have had the funds in reserve. I hope this is helpful.

So, the fish are calling and I will sign off, not to be heard from again until sometime in early August. May the Lord spare us storms this hurricane season and may each reader also have an opportunity at some rest and relaxation from the normal. God Bless.

+RNL

 

HOMILY FOR FR. ROZYCKI

Friday, July 1st, 2011

Below is my homily from the Funeral Mass for Father George Rozycki at St. Joseph parish in Zephyrhills on Friday, July 1, 2011.

I wish to begin by saying up front that I am deeply honored to have been asked by Father George to both celebrate and preach his funeral Mass. I am also somewhat more intimidated than usual because if you just happened to be listening a few weeks ago to the discussion on the forthcoming document on preaching to be issued by our national conference of bishops at our recent Seattle meeting, the present bishop of Oakland took the floor to say that he had heard many funeral eulogies but no real funeral homilies. I hope this effort might please both the bishop and our dear Father George.

“Bishop, I have no fear of death but I so wish I could have some time to rest and enjoy my life after retirement.” Those words were Father Rozycki’s to me in the hospital barely three weeks ago. How he looked forward to his retirement in two years! “I wish I could have some time to rest. . .”

Father George’s prayer was answered though neither in the exact time nor manner in which he hoped. But he did indeed get his wish, deeper and richer than any of us can imagine. “Rest” is at the heart of life with God in eternity. George Rozycki as everyone in this Church knows was a just man, a kind man, and a gentle servant. He was exactly the person about whom the writer of the Book of Wisdom had in mind when it was written, “the just man, though he die early, shall be at rest.”[Wisdom 4:7-15]. How incredibly fitting and consoling are the additional words of Wisdom, “He who pleased God was loved; he who lived among sinners was transported. . . .he reached the fullness of a long career; for his soul was pleasing to the Lord, therefore he sped him out of the midst of wickedness.” Wickedness can come in life from a variety of sources and living and dying with pancreatic cancer certainly qualifies as a form of that from which God in his goodness can spare us.

In a final gesture of love, the Father called his priest George to forego more suffering and come more quickly than he or we might have liked to rest, eternal rest. Since Monday afternoon, I understand more clearly Wisdom’s closing words: “But the people saw and did not understand, nor did they take this into account.” Left with simply the hollowness of human measurement, this death was untimely, unjust and unfair, and to some in their attempt to measure God’s love, even unkind to Father George. But to people of faith, Father was simply “snatched away” to receive his reward of rest.

How can we be sure that in this case death was a precious gift? We listened a few moments ago to Peter in the Acts of the Apostles remind us of the duty of the baptized in general and the ordained priest or deacon in particular. Peter says, The Lord “commissioned us to preach to the people and to testify that [Christ] is the one appointed by God as the judge of the living and the dead.” [Acts 10:34-36, 42-43]. For this reason alone I firmly believed that Father George was “dead-on” in professing to have no fear of death; he understood that God showed no partiality, even to Jesus His Son, in sparing the final moment of transition and our Father George knew that in his life as priest, he had always tried to act uprightly and therefore be found acceptable to Him. So Jesus came on Monday last and received George’s soul to present him to the Father Most High.

Biblically then the case can be made that in calling George Rozycki to Himself, the reason was that in his life Father preached Jesus Christ as the judge of the living and the dead and the manner was in harmony with how we all should wish a loving Lord to snatch us away when the time is right for Him, though not necessarily for us. But how about us? How do we deal with this sudden sense of loss?

Jesus wept at the news of the death of his friend Lazarus. It is one of only two times in the Gospels when Jesus shows the emotion that may have swelled in us with the news of Father’s death. Prior to that incident and early in his ministry he showed His remarkable compassion and understanding in confronting grief – the raising back to life of the son of the widow of Nain. In a foreshadowing of how countless centuries of his followers would react to death, he was first “moved with pity” and spoke with both compassion and empathy to the yound man’s mother “do not weep.” He raised the dead man back to life, foreshadowing that resurrection, which will follow all human death when we will be raised again to new life. When the Lord comes for the just man or woman, it can be said truly “God has visited his people.”[Luke 7:11-17].

Today Jesus is saying to you George and Wanda Rozycki, Father’s parents, do not weep. He has visited George and taken him to Himself. He affirms to you, his brothers, nieces and nephews, that after forty-one years of priestly service, the High Priest Himself has taken ownership of your brother and uncle and given to him the rest he sought. He has said to you the people of St. Joseph parish, your pastor’s body may have been full of cancer but there is no cancer to be found on this community of faith, this parish which he has sustained for the past twelve years. God has visited his people. On Monday in a manner we cannot fully comprehend, he said to your shepherd, “young man, I tell you arise.” Dear brother priests and deacons, we too know not the time or the place but with George’s faith in the Lord, we must echo his testimony, “I do not fear death.” His example of service, his sense of humor and emotional stability, his love and support for many priests who have passed through this parish give me both example and hope that whenever my moment comes, I too might be ready as I believe he was.

Thank you Fathers Theo and Matthew for lovingly guiding this parish while your pastor was away and unable, thank you Theresa for caring for him and St. Joseph’s so competently and lovingly and thank you Almighty God for sharing Father George with us and taking him when and how you did. In his death we proclaim with new meaning: thy kingdom come, thy will be done.

And as for you, dear George, REST, REST IN PEACE. AMEN.