Archive for September, 2011

DE PROFUNDIS CLAMAVI AD TE DOMINE

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

Bonnie Hoyle, myself, and Sharon Price with the episcopal miter. Photo courtesy of Maria Mertens.

Nine games back with about twenty-five yet to play is indeed about as deep in the basement of playoff baseball as one can get. A total player payroll of 41 million dollars and having to play one team with a 200 million dollar payroll and another with a payroll of 171 million in order to gain entry into the post-season playoffs approximately fifteen times in the final month is indeed the “depths” of baseball’s challenges. Living with the fact (or so I am told and I have no personal knowledge of this) that even the Las Vegas oddsmakers were unwilling to give this baseball club any odds to make the playoffs and the wisdom of the nation’s baseball writers and commentators were too busy with the high payroll teams to even include our team in the discussions is about as low as one can get.

Then on one night, seven runs behind going into the eighth inning our boys of late summer and early fall scratched and clawed their way into the final four of the American League by one reprise home run while standing at baseball death’s doorway and a second by one of the best baseball players I have ever seen play the game to win it all. And I was there when history was made, when our Tampa Bay Rays cried out from the depths of a nine game deficit for the wild card position in the playoffs and brought the playoffs home once again for a team that in many quarters never gets a lot of respect. Wow. Those of you who stayed up till the end saw me on television, I am told, pumping my fists and applauding joyously for the little team that could.

On Tuesday before the penultimate game, I wrote a letter to Matthew Silverman, President of the Tampa Bay Rays. I wanted to write him before we knew whether we were in or out of the playoffs. There is a second wonderful Latin phrase to describe the moment when I wrote and mailed my letter:  tempore non suspectu which means “in non-suspect times”. I wrote him to thank he and the whole organization for what they have given to our community, to formerly tepid baseball fans like myself and to baseball. Like in the Gospels, it sometimes proves harder for the richest team to pass through the playoff portal than the poorest. I told him that I have been hooked on this team since its inception and seldom have had as much fun and satisfaction in sports as this month.

“Try to remember the kind of September and oh so mellow” will these last few weeks be. No team in baseball history has come back from a nine game deficit at the beginning of  September to make it to the playoffs. No band of brothers have shown more resilience than our Rays. If Joe Madden does not get Major League Manager of the Year again this year for a second time then it will be a sin that cries to heaven for vengeance. I am satisfied, thrilled and grateful. While I wish them well in the coming weeks in the playoffs, I have a surfeit of memories to last me the rest of my life on earth. “Out of the depths we cried to you, O Lord” and you heard us. (Well, I am sure He has better things to do than manipulate major league baseball, but you know what I mean.)

Finally, I have resurrected the episcopal miter from the previous three of the last four years we have been in the playoffs, and it is on display in our reception area. I bet their Excellencies Dolan, Chaput, Farrell, Vann, Vigneron, Carlson, Listecki, and Olmsted  don’t have a treasure like this (if they get wind of this and see it, they will probably be saying “Thank God”). Go Rays! And thanks!

Six of my best friends are from St. Louis and the author of the “mother of all ecclesial blogs” will be rooting for the Phillies once again, so my tone for this reverie has been more one of gratitude than gloat. We all love football but there is something very special about baseball, isn’t there?

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GOD AND FORTY

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Pastor Shawn of a Southern Baptist Congregation offers the first witness talk at the Rally for Forty Days for Life across from an abortion clinic on Fletcher Avenue in Tampa

Last night in Tampa about a hundred dedicated pro-life people and I began the annual “Forty Days for Life” effort across from an abortion clinic. Our presence was a peaceful and prayerful witness to our fundamental belief that all life is sacred and its beginnings and its end should be in the hands of God, not humans. For the next forty days, someone or several people will be quietly walking the sidewalk in front of the clinic giving eloquent witness to Gospel of Life. The vigil will begin at eight each morning and conclude around five or six each evening and volunteers have already signed up. Similar witnesses will be given in front of or adjacent to other abortion clinics throughout the diocese.

It was certainly a privilege for me to join in prayer, solidarity and support with those who believe as passionately as I do that abortion is one of the greatest horrors of our time. FORTY DAYS FOR LIFE gathers people of many different religions who believe in the pro-life cause and who trust in God. Throughout the Bible there is evidence that God made major changes and transformations after a period of forty days:

* It rained 40 days and 40 nights when God wanted to begin again the world he has created first in the Garden with our first parents and which had become so sinful.

*Noah waited an additional forty days before he dared open the window of the Ark he had built at the Lord’s bidding.

*Moses twice ascended the Mount to be with God for forty days each time.

*It took forty days to search the promised land and bring back first fruits.

*Jonah warned the city of Nineveh that they had only forty days until God would cast the city into ruins and the citizens used those forty for repentence and God spared the city.

*Jesus fasted for forty days in the in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry.

*Jesus was seen for forty days between his Resurrection and Ascension.

Clearly our God gets a lot done in forty days and this is the spirit in which we launched this year’s vigil for life in the diocese. God has worked mighty miracles in the past and can do the same again if our faith and commitment rivals that of Noah, Moses, Elijah and even Jesus. We have seen the abortion rate in our state drop (though it appears now to be creeping up once again), the public awareness of and debate over abortion-on-request become a major issue in the public square, not just during elections but at other times, and significant legislative victories chipping away at the ease with which abortions can be procured. What were once considered miracles are happening as we approach the fortieth anniversary of Roe in 2013. Would it not be wonderful to have a whole new pro-life climate in the U.S. by then? We can only hope, pray, witness and work and that’s precisely what we did last night in Tampa. Thanks to those who came and to those throughout the diocese who will volunteer their presence in the next forty days.

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SACRED HEART

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

I visited Sacred Heart parish in Tampa this week on two different occasions. On Monday the friars invited me to dinner and in return for my meal I agreed to spend ninety minutes with their RCIA class of about fifteen adults. The dinner, prepared by Father Sean, was delicious and the interaction with the RCIA class was a delightful experience. I focused my thoughts mainly on how the Catholic Church is structurally different from other Christian churches but also spoke about the intersection of sacramental life with structure. The questions were relatively easy which followed and I think the group was happy to spend some time with me. In fifteen years, the new pastor of Sacred Heart, Father George Corrigan, OFM has been the first to invite me to spend some time with those preparing for entering the Church at the Easter Vigil. As always, there were some sponsors who themselves relatively recently had completed the RCIA and were either baptized and confirmed or received and confirmed.

On Sunday I returned to Sacred Heart to formally and canonically (read that legally within Church law) install Father George as the second Franciscan pastor of this venerable parish in the heart of Tampa’s downtown. The parish and I warmly welcomed back the first Franciscan pastor, Father Andrew Reitz, OFM, who flew down from New York to be present for his successor’s installation. When I first came to the diocese fifteen years ago, I began by installing every new pastor in his parish but as time and the ardors of age have begun to be felt in this body of mine I now generally only install a priest in his first assignment as pastor and allow subsequent installations to be handled by the “Dean” of the area in which the parish is located. There is not much to the ceremony of installation itself which follows the homily. There is something of a greeting between the new pastor and his assistant pastors, if there are any, deacons, if there are any. and his parish staff. Then the members of the Parish Council and the Finance Council, if they are present, welcome the new shepherd. The bishop then asks the priest being installed to lead his new community in the Nicene Creed (“we believe in one God….”) after which he recites the oath of fidelity to Church teaching with his right hand on the Book of Gospels. That’s about it, except there is also a formal signing of papers with witnesses of the administration of the Oath of Fidelity and the Creed and then a document by which I formally appoint, assign and give all the proper powers as pastor to the priest.

Past and Present - Father Andrew Reitz, OFM, first Franciscan pastor of Sacred Heart and Father George Corrigan, OFM, new pastor. Photo kindness of Shaun Allen.

What has been wonderful about these moments and it was particularly true yesterday is that the ceremony provides several opportunities for the parish community to show its affection, appreciation and approbation of the man being installed. Long, sustained and loud applause was the order of the morning in historic Sacred Heart yesterday, for Father Andrew returning for the first time since leaving and for Father George. Both men should have felt very good about the ringing affirmation both received. The Franciscans took over the responsibility for pastoring Sacred Heart six years ago following decades of priestly presence from the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits withdrew reluctantly but at a time when the New Orleans province had a dearth of men in its ranks who could or wished to serve as parish pastors. By way of sidebar, I can affirm that the vocation situation in the New Orleans Jesuit province is very healthy at the moment and I know from the provincial who is from this area, that they miss being present at Sacred Heart. Older members of the parish also continue to miss the Jesuits but everyone is grateful for the presence of the Franciscan fathers and brothers. It was Father Andrew who was first dispatched to come to Tampa and explore the appropriateness of possibly coming to Sacred Heart, little knowing that his Provincial would tap him to be the first pastor.

Our oldest and some would say most beautiful Church in the Diocese, Sacred Heart, Tampa (photo through the kindness of Shaun Allen.

Sacred Heart also takes care of the Catholic Pastoral Ministry at Tampa General Hospital and campus ministry at the University of Tampa so the friars have a full plate in many ways. We have three distinct orders of Franciscans in our diocese and in four of our parishes. The Third Order Regular Franciscans are responsible for St. Mary, Our Lady of Grace Parish in St. Petersburg along with Bayfront Hospital and All Childrens Hospital and St. Patrick’s parish in south Tampa. The Capuchin Franciscan Fathers shepherd Most Holy Redeemer parish in Tampa with responsibility for Moffitt Cancer Center. As these three communities of men and the several communities of Franciscan women prepare to celebrate the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi on October 4, 2011, it is time for this bishop to thank them all for their wonderful presence and ministry in our midst.

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DOCTORS, LAWYERS AND COMMITTED CATHOLICS

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

With USF medical students. Photo courtesy of Dana Rozance.

Two events in the recent week remind me of how lucky I am as bishop and this local Church is as diocese. On Saturday night last, I celebrated the Eucharist for about 100 physicians and their spouses in what is called the annual “White Mass.” Added to this group of practicing physicians were seven medical students from the University of South Florida College of Medicine, invited guests of the physicians and their spouses. The beautiful Bethany Center was the site for the annual gathering. They always invite someone to give a talk during the dinner and this year we were pleased to hear from Doctor Peter Morrow, who in 2014 will be the President of the Catholic Medical Association (CMA) of the United States. Dr. Morrow and his wife are from St. Cloud in the Orlando diocese and he is a convert to Catholicism. His presentation was on the identity of the Catholic Physician and the responsibilities in the practice of medicine which accompany the doctors’ Catholic faith. I was impressed with not only his insights into what it means to be a “Catholic physician” but also the medical-moral precepts which should guide that same practice. We had guest physicians from the diocese of Orlando and Venice and they were amazed at the size of the turnout of doctors who came to our White Mass. I suspect we lead the state in this regard and this is due in no small part to the founding physicians who started the event even before I arrived as bishop. Some of them were also present for the night.

With members of the local guild of the CMA. Photo courtesy of Dana Rozance.

On Tuesday night of this week I hosted at Bethany the members of LEGATUS, an association of Catholic professional persons who are deeply committed to their faith and who commit to bring it into their workplace in an appropriate manner. LEGATUS was begun by Thomas Monahan who though raised in a Catholic orphanage went on to found the Dominos Pizza chain, owned for a brief time the Detroit Tigers, and now has founded and funded Ave Maria College near Immacollee in Collier County with its attendant law school. This group of dedicated Catholic business people, physicians and lawyers meet for Mass and dinner once each month and hear impressive speakers raising faith values. There are some fairly stiff requirements to belong to LEGATUS but their membership is gaining and I embrace them because they are a strong core group working for Gospel values in the world of business.

My week finishes with a meeting of the Board of Directors of St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami today (Thursday) followed by the same for St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach tomorrow and the Florida Catholic Conference on Saturday morning, also at St. Vincent Seminary. This will be my first opportunity to visit with thirty-three of our thirty-four seminarians (remember one is studying in Rome at the North American College and I will see him in November) since their school year started. At both the White Mass and LEGATUS Mass, the good news of God’s blessings on us in the persons of our young men preparing for priesthood was greeted with sustained applause and clear delight. God is truly good to us – now we must not squander that divine goodness.

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CONSCIENCE CAUSES

Friday, September 16th, 2011

There is no misspelling in the title of this blog. I wish to address the issue which will be before my sisters and brothers in the Diocese of St. Petersburg this week-end and is before the United States Department of Health and Human Services for another week before a crucial and critical decision will be reached. First, I will restate a personal feeling which I have had for a number of years, many of them spent working with the government in Washington. That feeling is that I do not trust government officials either in the legislative or executive branch who in an effort to appease religious groups promise conscience exemptions for matters which are violative of a person’s clear religious beliefs. Most of the time they seldom hold up over the long haul. However, hope springs eternal and we as Catholic Christians have a duty and responsibility to ask government to protect our rights derived from our fundamental religious beliefs.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services has already decided that the provision of contraceptive services to women will be included in the basic health care services arising from the new law enacted by Congress last year and signed by the President. There was a period for public comment and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and individual bishops like myself weighed in asking that these services not be covered. They decided to the contrary and little can be done about that now. Now the issue is that the department is receiving comments on whether or not religious employers must be forced to provide a service to its employees which is against its teaching and whether or not a Catholic health provider can be forced to provide the same. In the diocese, our employees have a very fine health care plan as they will tell you but contraceptive medicines and services are not provided. That can change with a ruling from HHS. I believe twenty-one states already mandate even the Church as employer to provide these services to women who are employees but the federal government never has required it. Additionally, even though in some states Catholic health care providers must provide the service, the federal government has not required it. So all embracing is the Affordable Care Act of 2010 that without our speaking out and asking for an exemption, for the first time it may become the law of the nation.

I believe strongly that we should stand our ground in order to avoid the next step which is to rule out all conscience protection for those who wish nothing to do with abortion. It is quite simply “the camel’s nose under the tent.” We have been assured that there is no right to an abortion to be found in the new health care law and two federal judges have said as much. But times and actors change in this drama and its behooves us to secure the future. Please follow the directions in your parish bulletins this week and next and write or e-mail Secretary Sibelius as soon as possible.

WE SHALL NEVER ALLOW OURSELVES TO FORGET

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

The cross discovered among the ruins. Picture taken from Google Images.

The readings for this week-end’s Mass focus on forgiveness. The mind of the nation this week-end focuses on a series of events which have changed the lives of every American as well as claimed the lives of many. The tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001 brings back all the images, all the feelings, all the anxieties of that fateful morning. I have clear memories of three major events which have occurred in my lifetime, recalling exactly where I was and what I was doing at the moment. The first was the death of President Kennedy, the second was the death of Pope John XXIII and the third was 9-11. I was just arriving at my office for a meeting with the architect and contractor for Bishop McLaughlin HIgh School and Wil Alexander, the architect, said that an airplane had flown into the World Trade Center. There is a television in my office and we gathered around it and turned it on just in time to see the second plane fly into the second tower. Architect Alexander said definitively, those buildings cannot structurally survive and will certainly collapse. Shortly thereafter the third plane flew into the Pentagon and a fourth was unreachable by Air Traffic Control over western Pennsylvania. President Bush was in the Bay Area that day at a school south of the bridge and we shortly came to the realization that our country was under attack. The scenes which followed I am sure are forever etched in our hearts and minds. I learned that my second cousin who had just graduated from Notre Dame University and who was about to get married was worried about her roommate for four years and soon to be a bridesmaid in the wedding which I would witness because she worked in the World Trade Center (it took months to recover what is believed to have been her body).

We had Mass that noon in the chapel of the Pastoral Center/St. Petersburg Catholic High School and almost everyone from the office who was still around (some had left to be with family and that nagging fear that more was to come and we all might be at risk). I recall offering in a very ex temp homily that God would make some good come out of the horrible evil of that morning but I suspect that I doubted then that whatever good might be disproportionate to the horror of those acts. Later in the day we began to learn of the network behind the master plan and the face of the enemy became much clearer. This week I have thought all week about whether I could ever come to forgive those who did this heinous crime to us as the Scriptures suggest this week-end. Seventy-times seven does not seem to be proportionate to the thousands of innocent lives lost that morning in New York, Washington and western Pennsylvania. Since there has been no sign of regret or contrition but rather the opposite, I believe it will be up the Lord to judge those who acted against our country and its citizens that day. The good which immediately sprang from those events was a coming together of a nation for a time in a unity of purpose and resolve that has not often been witnessed in my seventy years. Republicans and Democrats, whites and blacks, women and men, different cultures and religions united together in a beautiful way.

Our civic leadership organized an effort to root out and bring to justice those who had been involved in the planning and  execution of the atrocities, a military effort which fully met the requirements of the just war theory and won the approval of no less a person than Pope John Paul II, provided it was limited, carefully targeted, avoided collateral damage in so far as humanly possible. I shall not dwell on the way in which it has changed our life in America for in some ways to do even that would give those who did it to us a sense of victory. This effort  is coming to a close now and at least that small “mission is accomplished.”

This will be a tough week-end for my second cousin and the family of her roommate who gallantly and bravely came to the wedding their daughter would have participated in. All around New York and other parts of the country families will gather in memory, their sense of loss not lessened, their outrage and anger remain unstilled. But the good coming out of the evil is that we who lived through it will likely never forget it and we shall always pause and pray for those who paid the supreme sacrifice on that day ten years ago. I trust that God has been good to those who died innocently and  just to those who perpetrated the deed. For ourselves, let us pray that we shall never forget this tragic chapter in our nation’s history, continue to sow the seeds of peace in our world, a love of our neighbors – not seven times but seventy times seven.

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SCHOOL DAZE

Friday, September 9th, 2011

I know I am quite late in the timing of this reflection but I wanted to have some time to gather and reflect on the enrollment statistics for our schools and centers for the Academic Year 2011-12. That data is now in and from it I want to share with you some of my thoughts. In addition, I have examined the test scores of the standardized test (ACRE) which checks the religious knowledge of fifth, eighth and eleventh graders in our schools.

Enrollment in our schools and early childhood centers remains somewhat static throughout the diocese. Our early childhood programs are down 77 students and the elementary total of all parish and private elementary schools is down 168 students for a total of 8,456 children. Our diocesan high schools enrollment is down eleven students for a total of 1,862 students but enrollment at the Academy of the Holy Names High School division and Jesuit High School is up by 40 students. The total number of students in all Catholic Schools and Centers in the diocese of St. Petersburg is 11, 877.

There has been a consistent drop in enrollment over the past five years in Catholic schools reflecting a variety of factors, the economy, demographic shifts (the St. Petersburg Times reports today that public school enrollment in Pinellas County is down 11% since 2003), charter and magnet schools, home-schooling, dissatisfaction by parents of some programs to name just a few which I hear more often than others. We have several schools which are seriously financially challenged and a few have some academic challenges which need to be addressed. Our buildings often need updating and remodeling to remain competitive but school budgets seldom have the funds to do what is necessary.

At my insistence, many in the diocese have been engaged in examining the reality of Catholic education in the diocese and some recommendations as to  how best address these challenges are forthcoming. There will be neither a quick nor a cheap fix to the challenge. Deeply troubling to me is the emerging reality that there are two types of Catholic schools – the “haves” and the “have nots.” Generally but not always the “haves” are parishes with good schools and parents who can afford to pay the tuition. They are efficiently run and tuition collection is impressive. The “have nots” are schools serving a smaller population, a more financially challenged family economic reality, and lacking the administrative structure because of budget constraints.

It is no longer reasonable to assert that a Catholic education should be available to all who wish to access it regardless of means. I used to believe this as a foundational statement for maintaining Catholic schools. Some middle ground must be found where, if there are any schools, there need to be schools serving our whole community of believers.

I am pleased to say that the test scores which measure the cognitive effectiveness of religious education in our schools continue to improve. All of our schools are higher than the national average of all Catholic school students tested throughout the nation. As mentioned above, the fifth, eighth and eleventh grade scores reflect grade level comprehension of eight domains: God; Church; Liturgy and Sacraments; Revelation, Scripture and Faith; Life in Christ; Church History; Prayer and Religious Practice; and Faith Literacy. There are also four pillars of religious education measured and they are creed; liturgy and sacraments; morality and prayer. If we did not do what we profess we exist for, then there would be little need for Catholic schools. While I must reluctantly admit that not all parents are as interested in the religious education of their children as others, for most, and for myself, it is the raison d’etre of Catholic education.

Finally, some pastors require evidence that parents support what the schools are attempting in their religious education programs – namely that parents and children come to Sunday Mass and that there be evidence of the same. I support my pastors in this and am a deaf ear to appeals to the contrary.

 

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BACK TO THE FUTURE

Saturday, September 3rd, 2011

This  week-end many of the parishes in our diocese will begin to use the musical settings which will accompany the implementation of the new translation of the Roman Missal. The whole new translation will begin to be used on the First Sunday of Advent in late November this year. Most of our priests have been talking to you about this change in the last few weeks and there will be more catechesis or teaching coming from them and from myself in the next few months. For the moment and for the purpose of this entry, allow me just to comment briefly on what begins tonight in our parishes.

The new translation of the Roman Missal will occasion some slight changes in wording of the prayers which we pray together as a worshipping community. There are such slight changes to be found in the Gloria and Creed of the Mass, the Holy, Holy, Holy and the Memorial Acclamations. Please remember that no changes have been made in the Lord’s Prayer. Beginning in November we will all be looking at prayer cards as we pray aloud these prayers until we become accustomed to the new wording, have them memorized, and no longer need a text in front of us. That will probably take at the most only several months for those in Church weekly.

But, the musical settings require something of a head-start. For one thing, during Advent and Lent we neither pray nor sing (which is also praying) the Gloria. On Christmas with our churches traditionally full of “CEOs” (aka. “Christmas and Easter Onlys”), when we sing these once familiar prayers there will be new words and new musical settings. Hence, we will all start this week-end learning the new words and music for our familiar sung prayers and responses. I will be celebrating the 1145am Mass tomorrow at Sacred Heart Basilica on the campus of the University of Notre Dame where I will hear and sing for the first time the revised setting for the OUR FATHER which has been set to music by Steve Warner of this campus and which we use almost everywhere around the diocese. Gone, of course, are the concluding words “from now until the end of time” and the conclusion of this particular setting will be as the Missal indicates “for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, now and forever. Amen.” We will also be singing a new setting for the “Glory to God in the Highest.” So, most likely will you in our parishes as the new musical settings and the new translation begins its implementation phase.

Always on this topic, I ask for your patience and prayers. For my generation, the future takes me back to the earliest English translations of the Roman Missal following the Second Vatican Council: for example, “Lord I am not worthy that you should come under my roof but only say the word and I shall be healed” or “The Lord be with you” followed by the response, “And with your spirit.” I will explain this movement back to the older translation in a coming blog entry. So some patience is going to be required on the part of all of us. Prayers should be said for your priests because the changes affect them the most as you will see come the First Sunday of Advent. They had better not have any breathing challenges if they wish to pray the opening prayers at Masses!

For some, the language of the new translation will seem archaic and to others it will seem far more reverential or more theologically rich. Since I survived the post-Vatican II changes without any deep wounds of doubt or disbelief, as a lay man I might add, I think it will not take long for the changes which we are beginning to be accepted and prayed. That, at least at this writing, is my prayer.

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