Archive for November, 2011

500th “ANNIVERSARY”

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Typing this 500th blog entry.

This is the 500th “anniversary” of the beginning of this blog, FOR HIS FRIENDS. “Anniversary” is in quotation marks because obviously the blog is not 500 years old but the server which handles this blog informed me that this would be the 500th entry since my first offering in October of 2008. I have been reflecting on this in recent days and thought I would dedicate the “anniversary’ post to what has been, is now, and is to come.

Three things drove me to consider beginning to write a blog. First was the decision to leave the family of the Florida Catholic. As Bishop of St. Petersburg I had at my disposal two ways of communicating with the people of the diocese: my occasional column in the Florida Catholic entitled “Out of the Ordinary” and a five minute spot daily on SPIRIT-FM, the diocesan radio station which we called “On the Air with Bishop Lynch.” In the early days, when I was a lot younger and far more energetic, meeting the weekly deadlines for the paper and recording two weeks of five minute radio programs with Mary Jo Murphy were relatively easy. In the latter case she would pick the topics and I would talk non-stop for five minutes whether I knew much about the subject or not. As time wore on, I sort of wore out. The deadlines for the paper and the recording sessions for the radio program became burdensome. By way of parenthesis, I am an avid listener on SIRIUS/XM radio to Archbishop Dolan’s weekly one hour program entitled “A Conversation with the Archbishop.” Though he probably would not admit it I can tell that there is already some stress in scheduling the time for recording his show and there are now many more “Best of Archbishop Dolan” than originally. I feel his pain.

While I was growing weary I became acquainted for the first time with two places in the “blogosphere”, a place where I had never dared to venture. The first was the “mother of all ecclesial blogs” called Whispers in the Loggia. Every day would conclude with a visit to Whispers where I learned not only things which were about to happen but a very reasonable interpretation of things that had happened. Rocco Palmo, the author of “Whispers” wrote only when he had something to say and did not have to meet deadlines or expectations (I sense life has gotten worse for him as well as he sometimes apologizes for not posting anything for several days). I like to write and I thought to myself, I could do that and only when I want and when I have something I want to share. The second blog to which I was hooked and still am is radically different from the first. Albert VanSchoonderbeek is the Master or Captain of a Holland America Cruise Line ship and for the three months in which he is on duty, he writes an entry in Captain Albert’s Blog each day about life in charge of a vessel. It has lots of nautical information in it which always intrigues me and through his eyes, I feel I have visited almost all of the great ports, oceans, and seas of the world. I don’t know how he does it every day he is on board but he does and I love it. I thought to myself, lots of people might like to know what it is like to be a bishop in today’s Church. Both fountains gave birth to this child. It also helped to have in our employ an incredibly gifted young man, Walter Pruchnik, who worked with the server and was forever at the end of a phone call from me which began with “help.” Walter left diocesan employment and is now in the formation program for the Congregation of  Holy Cross. His place has been taken by Maria Mertens who is also a gift in this endeavor.

I know I will never be a saint recognized by the Church and do not deserve such. But when a bishop writes as much as I have written, there is a lifetime of “fodder” for a devil’s advocate. Initially I received a lot of comments but when it became clear that this blog was to be a positive place and not another source within the Church for disputatiousness, calumny, slander, internecine warfare within the Church, the comment opportunity is now utilized mainly by people who express their gratitude, support, and occasionally a proper correction. It was a good decision to keep the comments private. Today’s Church does not need another outlet for complaints and criticism.

Most of what I write about pertains to our situation in this diocese and does not have national interest. One blog entry on the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin made it into Origins and other Catholic publications and a number have been used by other authors in the blogosphere, including the “mother of all ecclesial blogs.” I write for the people I love and serve and not for a larger constituency.

There has been a lot of affirmation along the way and I know that many people of different ages read the blog. We have a limited access to information on the number of hits, how often and how long they stay on, and where they are from. All encourage me to keep at it. I find writing cathartic but only when I am in the mood. Thus, a blog which has no deadlines and sets no demands is perfect for me. There have been 1138 days since my first blog entry in 2008 and today marks the 500th entry so the well is not running dry, yet. Tomorrow there will be a posting about my Mass with judges and attorneys in Tampa this noon but today I am merely waltzing through 500 posts. Thank you to the readers, thanks to the inspirers, thanks also to my colleagues in IT over the last three years. But the greatest thanks are reserved today to you wonderful people of the diocese wh0 are often the inspiration for these random thoughts about life in our Church today. It is a great Church. It is a great diocese. It is great to be your bishop. Now it is on to 1000.

+RNL

T-BALL PLUS ONE DAY

Monday, November 28th, 2011

In some circles it was hard this week-end to distinguish between “Black Friday” (that is the shopping day following Thanksgiving) and Translation Sunday (that is the week-end past when we started to use the new translation of the Roman Missal). Both were predicted in some circles to be “seismic” and both were awaited with some trepidation. Apparently the nation’s retailers were happy with Black Friday (and today’s Cyber Monday for that matter) and overall I think the Church should be happy with what happened this week-end. I offered the 930am Mass on Sunday at the Cathedral and the Congregation all had their “cheat sheets” in hand and were ready for that first “The Lord be with you.” Smiles were seen on faces when during the confiteor we returned to striking our breast three times and since there was no Gloria the worship aids were set aside to await the recitation of the Creed. Ah, but then there is that “The Lord be with you” which introduces the Gospel and about fifty percent of the congregation, sans aid, responded “and also with you” followed by broad smiles at their realization of their flub. Facial reactions ranged from bemusement by the generation which had grown up responding “and with your Spirit” and “under my roof” to befuddlement with the Holy, Holy, Holy. But I would wager a week’s salary that if I stood at the door and asked “how did you like it?” most would likely have responded “no big deal.” I always have believed and have written and spoken that the people would quickly adjust. One might get a different response if one were to ask them to define “consubstantial” and “ineffable” and a few of the other words not often used in spoken English in this country, but we have time to fill in the gaps. This morning twenty-eight of my priests on the Diocesan Presbyteral Council indicated that all went well yesterday in their parishes as well. One funny note is that the “cheat sheet” which most of our parishes are using uses red lettering to indicate the changes in the people’s parts but also has what we call a”rubric” in red ink which reminds the worshipper to bow their heads during the words of the incarnation in the Nicene Creed. In at least one parish, a good number of the participants at Mass read the rubric as well!

Now what about my challenges and those of other priests. A number said that yesterday was like saying their first Mass as they did not dare take their eyes off the text for fear of  missing a change in wording. We all “read” Mass yesterday and in the sense that we read the Divine Office also, reading does not necessarily mean not praying. I found yesterday akin to going back to T-Ball and learning from the beginning how to play the game of baseball. It was truly starting over but in time that will also come along. In the end I think yesterday went well in this diocese and I congratulate my priests, deacons and religious educators as well as the Worship Office for preparing us for this moment. Without the preparation and catechesis which preceded it, there might have been more challenges. So signing off with: THE LORD BE WITH YOU, AND WITH YOUR SPIRIT!” Why not?

+RNL

GREAT WEEK-END TO BE A BISHOP

Monday, November 21st, 2011

With Sister Emeline Schneider, OSF, one of the three religious jubilarians celebrating 70 years professed. Photo courtesy of Maria Mertens.

People often ask me what gives me the greatest joy in being a bishop and I respond unfailingly, ordaining priests, rite of election, and acknowledging the talents and gifts of many people serving the Church in the diocese humbly and joyfully. Well this week-end I was on overload starting with a Mass and luncheon for nineteen religious women and men whose combined service to the Church as professed religious amounted to 1000 years. We had three seventy-year professed/ordained jubilarians, all of whom are still quite active in their ministry. Organized annually by our Office of the Vicar for Religious, I look forward to Mass and lunch with these great women and men. There is to be found not one scintilla of regret or unhappiness in the life lived, but a joy which is contagious, infectious and life-giving. If you wish to know the names of those jubilarians honored this year, click here.

On Sunday, the Solemnity of Christ the King, for the last twelve years we have honored women and men from almost all of the parishes and missions of the diocese for their service to their Church. When instituted there was some resistance to the idea of singling out people annually. First, there was a fear that to honor one person would upset others but that quickly went away when all came to realize the true servants of the Gospel in our parishes and missions do not seek or wish for any recognition and are embarrassed if given it. So from the outset, parish communities were proud of those whom either their parish council or pastor chose for the honor. A second concern was that it might be difficult to sustain an annual honoree since the pool was “limited.” I did not believe that for the moment as there is an endless pool of generosity in our parishes and many people who could in time be selected to receive the honor. We named it after the patron saint of the diocese, St. Jude the Apostle.

With the St. Jude the Apostle Medal recipient from St. Anthony the Abbot Parish in Brooksville, Dianne Swain, and Reverend Craig Morley. Photo courtesy of Ray Bassett from Maddock Photography.

The Cathedral of St. Jude was almost full to capacity yesterday afternoon as in addition to their pastors and spouses, the honorees often were accompanied by loving and admiring children and grandchildren. To a man and woman, they always approach me and say something like, “Bishop, I am embarrassed because I am not worthy of such an honor” and I know that is exactly the kind of person the award was designed to thank. They receive a beautiful medal bearing on one side the image of St. Jude the Apostle and on the other side the diocesan coat-of-arms with the inscription, “St. Jude the Apostle Award.” The list of those honored yesterday can be seen by clicking here.

Finally, today I celebrated Mass with and invited to lunch the retired priests of the diocese and others who served other local churches and religious communities but who are retired and living in the diocese. Our senior priest is Monsignor George Cummings who is well into his nineties and close behind is Father James Hoge, OSB of St. Leo Abbey. This too is an annual event in one of the three days that run up to Thanksgiving on Thursday. I had this idea the first year I was here, certain that some of these men had no where to go for Thanksgiving and we needed an annual opportunity to thank them and encourage them. Now that I am seventy and a half years old, you will probably find me putting into place a lot of things which will help guarantee that the local Church does not forget those who have served so well for so many years (there is a growing sense of self-interest I told my confessor).

With the retired clergy gathered for the pre-Thanksgiving Mass. Photo courtesy of Deacon Rick Wells.

We had sixty-one for Mass and lunch at the Bethany Center at midday today and any bishop who does not love the wisdom, wit and commitment of his retired priests is not living on planet earth. I love and respect these men so much. I know that one or more may not be here next year and that we are all preparing for the moment when we enter eternal life now more than perhaps when we were younger. I attach my homily this morning and you can read it, if you wish, by clicking here. By the way, the reference to my culinary nemesis “vegetables” is today’s first reading which is taken from the Book of Daniel, 1:8-20 in which Daniel and his brothers grew more healthy when sticking to a vegetarian diet. My how I am glad that such “penance” is not an article of faith!

+RNL

A SILVER STAR OVER TAMPA

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

The “Silver Star” is about to appear over Tampa’s Union Station; right on time I might add as it has been throughout the night on its 1120-mile journey from Baltimore yesterday afternoon. I slept like the “Chessie Kitten” albeit with some help from an “Ambien” tablet, falling asleep while standing in the station at Cary, North Carolina (twenty miles southwest of Raleigh) and waking up in Palatka, Florida this morning. Columbia, South Carolina, Savannah, Jacksonville were all just dreams. However, I think I have one more post of observations about the bishops’ meeting that just concluded.

First, our new President, by sheer bent of his wonderful personality, managed to make what could be tense moments less so and I think his gifts as chair were appreciated by the majority of bishops present. By nature he is kind and patient, both qualities very necessary in a bishop leader today. There was quite a bit of concern expressed in the Catholic and secular press that the USCCB has lost its moral compass on social issues like jobs, the economy, justice, capitol punishment, etc. These same critics see most of our time and attention when congregated directed to issues like abortion, contraception, the government and President of the United States, etc. These comments and reflections at this moment in time are quite fair I believe. As a body of bishops, we seem to be in a period of navel gazing at the “safe” issues and have lost for the moment our zeal for those which society largely ignores, even though I readily admit advocacy on behalf of human life also fits into this general category. Some voices were raised by my brothers about immigration but not a lot. Some voices were raised by my brothers about atrocious injustice at home and abroad but not a lot. And as proof of this reality, there is not a lot if anything in the hopper of future USCCB concern which might portend the prophetic engagement of many of these issues. This is the period of the life issues, almost  p-e-r-i-o-d-“ We long have been the most consistent and persistent voice on behalf of human life from conception until natural death and I would not wish that to change one bit. But we used to be able to be that voice as well as a voice for other issues of deep social and societal concern. It is that second “edge” that I feel we are losing.

The whole movement to engage and enlarge the issue of religious liberty flows primarily from assaults on Church teaching on human life currently seeming to arise from the Obama administration and more so from the Department of Health and Human Services. We would not be so keenly interested perhaps were it not for the fact that HHS seems to be having a field day threatening to require religious employers to provide a vast range of contraceptive and abortifacient services in the new health care law, certainly with nothing but total disregard it would seem to date for the Church’s longstanding teachings on these matters (and here I would enjoin our Mormon brothers and sisters as well as the Christian Scientists and other evangelical religions) which want nothing to do with provision of services which are against our (their) conscience belief. Let me give you an example of what I, as your bishop and the diocese of St. Petersburg might be up against if the individual mandates remain in the law and are regulated as HHS currently plans. On its face, I would be required to provide all our employees a full range of contraceptive opportunities not currently covered by our health care plan. Ah, but HHS might say, we can make you exempt as a religious employer (please note that to this moment they have not yet been this generous). But for the diocese that is just hurdle number one. Hurdle number two is the fact that we are self-insured, which means we are an insurer acting as an insurance company and we would seem to still be even more compelled. Thus, I and every other head of a Catholic institution would have to in conscience terminate the health care plans for myself, my priests and all our 2300 employees, perhaps give them a check the equivalent of what would have been our contribution to their health care and send them looking for a plan and carrier that will come the closest to matching the plan they had. Our religious freedom to fashion a health care plan consistent with our beliefs will have been denied and removed. And as diocesan employees would readily admit, a great health care benefit which until now we could mount on would be taken away. That’s not progress in health care, that is sheer regression.

This week the Supreme Court has agreed to five hours of oral arguments in the New Year on several aspects of the health care plan including the mandate. We should know prior to the fall election what our fate would be on this matter. Soundings from Secretary Sibellius’ HHS are not promising. It is an important moment in the history of Church and State in this land of freedom of religion and I agree the signs are so far ominous.

But, as I conclude the last of these reflections on this year’s fall meeting, the Presidential Address of Archbishop Dolan was a bright spot precisely because it can serve as the launching pad for what I believe to be the most important work of the Church over the next two decades – the new Evangelization.

Quite truthfully AMTRAK’s “Silver Star” is presently “backing up” into Tampa’s Union Depot to drop me off. Like others remaining on this train and continuing south, I look to more forward progress in the days, months and years ahead.

+RNL

USCCB MEETING, DAY TWO

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

The second day of the annual fall meeting of the bishops of the United States had more parts than a dinosaur skeleton, not a mindless analogy mind you. When one asks 305 bishops (active and retired) to work on the plans, programs, priorities and new initiatives of the conference for the years 2013-2016, almost everyone has an opinion. And all of us had an opportunity to voice those opinions during the second half of the morning session when we broke into regional groupings (in our case the two dioceses of North Carolina, the one in South Carolina, the two in Georgia, and the seven in Florida). Every bishop in the region weighed in as to whether or not we should stick with the five priorities of the last five years, add “Religious Liberty” and the “New Evangelization” or reduce our expectations for the next planning cycle. First thing in the afternoon, the chair of the committee on Priorities and Plans and the Conference Secretary, Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, Ohio tried to assimilate all that had been heard at the morning regional meetings into a roadmap for his Committee to finish its work. Hats off to Bishop Murry for working with the clay putty of ideas the body of bishops had.

Also in the regional meetings we discussed how the Pontifical document Ex Corde Ecclesiae of ten years ago was being met by the Catholic colleges and universities in our region. There are five such institutions in four (arch)dioceses: Belmont Abbey in the Charlotte diocese, St. Leo University in our own, Ave Maria in the Venice diocese, and Barry University and the University of St. Thomas in the Archdiocese of Miami. I was able to report that as regards St. Leo, the president, Dr. Arthur Kirk, Jr. and I meet annually, our Vicar General, Monsignor Morris is both an alum and on the Board of Trustees, and that I have promised to return to Board membership if invited this year when I end my term on the Catholic Health Association Board.

For about an hour, our region knew when its dates for the Ad Limina visits to Rome were to be, but then word quickly came from Rome that the newly announced visit of Pope Benedict to Mexico and Cuba might delay us into late May or early June. Que sera sera!

Of great interest in the afternoon was a report by Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington on the establishment of an ordinariate (think diocese even though there are some canonical differences) to accommodate those parishes and priests in the United States who wish to leave the Episcopal Church and become Roman Catholics while retaining their rites and ritual. Pope Benedict XVI opened up this possibility a few years ago and England and Wales already have such an ordinariate. Cardinal Wuerl said that the United States would have one as well by January 1, 2012 and a Catholic priest who has joined the Church through the Pastoral Provision would be or has been chosen to serve as the head of the ordinariate. If that priest, and this is most likely, is married then he cannot be ordained a bishop but he can administer the ordinariate. Two parishes, one in Fort Worth, Texas, and one in Washington, D.C. have come over under this papal provision so far. I do not expect any movement in the territory of our diocese at this time.

With that report, we concluded our public business, had a coffee break, and went into Executive Session, which will last until midday today (Wednesday). This afternoon I will be “following my star”, AMTRAK’S “Silver Star” and should arrive in Tampa’s Union Station around noon tomorrow. The “Star” does not move as does the “Meteor” and the trip will take twenty-two hours instead of nineteen on the way up. Plenty of time to prepare yet another blog entry as this weekend, Christ the King will be such a busy one for our local Church. All aboard!

+RNL

USCCB FALL MEETING, DAY ONE

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Archbishop Dolan speaking at the Catholic Foundation Dinner in Tampa in 2009.

Who says AMTRAK can’t rise above its reputation once in a while. The “Silver Meteor” from Orlando with myself on board made a truly meteoric run from Orlando to Baltimore arriving in this city thirty minutes early this morning and allowing me to be present for the start of this year’s annual meeting about which I wrote yesterday. Whatever inhibitions or doubts I had about making the trip were somewhat and quickly erased by Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York’s first presidential address to his brother bishops. It was what I have been waiting a long time in this Assembly to hear, a call to get back to inviting people back to Church. I strong suggest that you read the text in its entirely by clicking here. With his customary wit and command of history, Archbishop Dolan squarely confronted the reality that as a Church we have been losing membership and suggested that our task as bishops is to go “fishing” to win them back and bring others in. One might say, well what else is new but for a number of years we have focused on our disagreements and disputes and little time and attention has been given to what Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI term “the new evangelization.” Any effort to recover ground and membership must begin with an admission that the Church, the bride of Christ is not always beautiful and at times it and we bishops sin. He captured the ground work necessary for a successful evangelization effort very well, I felt.  It buoyed my spirits and my brothers gave him once again a long affirmation through a standing ovation, often reserved for any President’s last address at the end of his term and less frequently for one’s first attempt. He concludes his first year in office with a classic Archbishop Dolan talk delivered in his own inimitable style. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed listening to it.

Archbishop Vigano's photo from Google Images

Also speaking to us for the first time was our new nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano who arrived to begin his ministry of service in this country only last Saturday. Recalling his personal loss of a good friend of forty years in our recently deceased nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Archbishop Vigano promised to work with the bishops of this nation in building a stronger Church. He was warm, measured as any diplomat always must be, and greeted with the respect that is due his office. He will now resume the process of seeking new bishops for service in the many dioceses of the United States. At one time the United States was the second largest hierarchy in the world, behind Brazil and Italy was also a large national Church. The role of the papal nuncio is an important one as he represents the Holy Father and the Holy See to the government of the United States as well as the Organization of American States which is also located in Washington, D.C. With just shy of 190 dioceses and eparchies (the Eastern Rite name for dioceses), many of which have auxiliary bishops,just keeping up with the inner-Church workings is a major task. We wish Archbishop Vigano well in his mission and will pray for him.

The morning ended with a long address by Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport on the erosion of religious liberty in our beloved nation. He heads a new Ad Hoc Committee to help the Church in the US respond aggressively and effectively to this new reality.

Our agenda was indeed so light that the afternoon session came to an end approximately forty-five minutes before the scheduled conclusion. There just is not that much happening in our conference these days. We still managed to raise our assessment in support of the USCCB by three percent, however. One interesting matter which was dealt with in an introductory fashion this morning by Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, chair of the Committee on National Collections, is a new document on how these collections should be treated by the dioceses. It may generate some lukewarm heat tomorrow when it is presented for final consideration. In Florida, it is true that the Diocese of St. Petersburg is the third largest diocese in the state (we used to be second) behind the Archdiocese of Miami and the Diocese of Orlando yet, in all but one collection, it raises and remits significantly more in the national collections than either of its two larger (arch)dioceses. One has to wonder and I have been wondering for fifteen and a half years now.

There was a general reception for the new Apostolic Nuncio to the United States following the conclusion of the afternoon session and Archbishop Dolan has invited me to join the Nuncio and a few others for dinner this evening. For this one member, the highlights of the sessions today were Archbishop Dolan’s talk and getting to know the Holy Father’s new representative to our country. Tomorrow we should be done by noon with our public business and executive session will begin and perhaps end tomorrow afternoon. These meetings use to consume three and one half days.

Finally, today is the anniversary of the death of my mentor and friend, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago. He was a true “prince” of a man and I and this conference still miss him.  Those of you who were present for my ordination and installation as a bishop may recall that he preached the homily on that occasion although already in great discomfort from his cancer and broken ribs. Every year after the Chrism Mass, I replay the disc of his homily and remind myself that his counsel to me at the time was to always be myself in the service of others. He died fifteen years ago today, eight and one half months after being present in our Cathedral of St. Jude at the age of 68. Even in death he still suffers from occasional slings of outrageous revisionist history at the hands of some but the people of Chicago still love him in death.

All for now from the inner workings of the bishops’ conference on the banks of the Inner Harbor of Baltimore, the first diocese in the United States.

 

+RNL

ROME, STATE COLLEGE, BALTIMORE AND THE DIOCESE

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

Darkness has now descended on northern Florida after an incredibly beautiful sunset and I am comfortable in my small room on AMTRAK’S “Silver Meteor” bound for the fall meeting of the bishops of the United States held in Baltimore and beginning tomorrow morning. If all goes well, which means God and AMTRAK working together, I will just arrive at the meeting room as the assembly begins. So tonight seems like a good night to post some unrelated and unconnected thoughts.

POPE BENEDICT XVI on Wednesday at the General Audience seemed to me to be quite animated and well. I had been reading of speculation about his health for several weeks and when he was an almost unprecedented twenty minutes late arriving in St. Peter’s square for the audience (very un-German like) I wondered, but once there, save walking more slowly (which I find myself doing), he seemed little different in bearing than when I last met him five plus years ago. We reminisced for about a minute and the fact that he still recognized me was encouraging also. From the beginning of his papacy, he has set a pace for himself consistent with his age and wisely has not tried to imitate his predecessor in having every meal with guests, forty people for daily Mass and individual opportunities for pictures at the drop of a hat. He should not be faulted for that and I suspect we will never again see the likes of a public pope like Blessed John Paul II.

THERE ARE ONLY THIRTEEN MORE DAYS LEFT for “Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again.” The new translation will be placed into use in our parishes, schools and missions on Saturday night, November 26th, the Vigil Masses for the First Sunday of October. All of will have to adjust but adjust we will. It may take some time to do so but it will be the new translation of very familiar prayers. I ask all of our good people to be patient with their bishop and priests for some time to come. Two weeks ago today, when offering Sunday Mass at the Church of the Primacy of Peter along the Sea of Galilee, the Franciscans in charge of the church had only the new English translation with which to work. I found praying the Eucharistic prayer to be challenging and difficult. In fact, I would say that I did not pray it as I would the translations with which we are so familiar as much as reading it. The wording is challenging, new in many instances, and the temptation to slip back into the more familiar when I took my eyes off the text was present and palpable. Only the “Our Father” has been spared change, everything else will require you and I and our priests for some time to pay attention to the printed word. And on both of our parts, in the beginning, we are going to “slip” from time to time. Please don’t write me with complaints about priests and deacons “refusing to use the new translation” when all that is happening is a simple mistake in these early months. It is going to take some time. Perhaps at the end of a year if you wish to share with me your thoughts about the changes, feel free to do so and I will respond by mail but give yourselves and us some time to make the change. I wish to thank our priests, deacons, and lay leadership who have prepared the diocese for this moment and you for being open to see how it goes. I have said many times this year and here will repeat for the last time, the changes will be far harder and more challenging on we priests than on anyone else. Soon perhaps we will be able to stop reading and resume praying when we commit to memory the new translation.

THE BALTIMORE MEETING this year going into it has a thin agenda – so thin I was able to read all the action items between the Orlando AMTRAK station and the Winter Park AMTRAK station. I do not see anything fractious or contentious to be discussed in public session but your bishops like nature abhor a vacuum and who knows? Unless there are more substantive issues, which arise in executive session (I have not seen the agenda), I wondered if I should even go to the time and expense of travelling to Baltimore. There are the usual elections plus elections of delegates to next year’s Rome Synod on the “new evangelization,” several small liturgical matters like the approval of some Mass texts for new saints and one for Blessed Pope John Paul II, and the annual approval of the budget and plans and programs for the Conference. Since its reorganization about five years ago, there has been a decided decline in matters brought before the body of bishops for debate and vote, which I think, was one of the purposes for the reorganization in the first place. I never thought twenty to twenty-five years ago that if a bishop I would want to miss a general meeting or leave early, but now I find myself guilty on both counts.

FINALLY, PENN STATE UNIVERSITY, JOE PATERNO and the sad news that children, minors, had been violated in the worst ways by a member of the coaching staff and while authorities knew of it, nothing was done brings back the worst of memory recall about our own challenges in this regard for the past decade. Since it all happened in 2002 and our dark night of the soul began in 2001 one would think that in light of our poor performance, every other organization would have learned and gained from our calamitous situation. As a Church in the United States and as a worldwide Church, we are far from “out of the woods” on this matter but we are working on it. Two things are foremost in my mind: anyone who has reasonably certain knowledge that an employee of the church, ordained, professed or employed is engaging in actions which even suggest inappropriate behavior need to report it to the civil authorities immediately, and second, when notified, those of us responsible for the governance of the Church must act as we promised we would in Dallas and have reaffirmed repeatedly. Words without actions spell further disaster.

IN THIS REGARD, the Diocese of St. Petersburg has been found to be in full compliance with the requirements of the Dallas Charter by Stonebridge Associates who have been retained by the United States Conference of Bishops to conduct annual audits. They made several recommendations, which will be implemented like posting in public places the phone numbers of where people should call and report if they sincerely suspect sexual misconduct with a minor to be present. Most of our parishes, schools and institutions have done this but apparently some have not. There was also a concern about one parish where it was not clear that all parents and children had been given the instructions about creating and maintaining a safe environment. I wish to thank everyone in the diocese from pastors to lawn care personnel for being attentive to the needs of insuring a strong safe environment. But in the end, like Penn State, it all depends in the end on me to make the right decisions with the help of a truly independent diocesan Review Board, Victims Assistance Coordinator and alert people.

The “Silver Meteor” has just landed in Savannah and it is time for me to go to dinner in the diner and nothing could be finer. Prayers for all of you this week and please keep me in your prayers as well.

+RNL

A MOMENT TO REMEMBER

Friday, November 11th, 2011

Briefly recalling working together now over two decades ago. Photo from Osservatore Romano

ROME, HOME

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

The apostle to the gentiles

“And so we came to Rome. The believers there had heard that we were coming, and they travelled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged.When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him. Three days later he called together the local Jewish leaders. . .and they came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying.” [Acts28:16-17,23]

Paul had interrupted his journey with some time spent on the island of Malta prior to boarding a ship, which would ultimately land near the present Italian city of Naples. Travelling with Luke overland to Rome, they found pockets of Christians. Excitedly they sent word on to Rome that Paul had finally arrived and was on his way to the capital city. It is widely believed that many of the Christians from Rome travelled out to the Appian Way to greet him upon his arrival. Still under Roman guard, one needs to imagine though that after all he had been through since his conversion, he was finally being welcomed by Christians, believers. Ten years after expressing a desire to come to Rome he had finally arrived.

As we have seen in other places, Paul started with the members of the Jewish community in Rome and began to preach at the synagogue. Fortunately for him, the anger, antagonism, and opposition which marked the end of his preaching in Jerusalem and every place in between was not initially present and he came to the Roman Jews without any advance prejudice having been sent ahead. They listened but it did not take them long not to like what they heard, especially the prospect of a new religious movement following a so-called “Messiah.”

Perhaps he won a few converts from that community but history had a way of repeating itself and before long there were few left to listen to Paul. Once again his message turned to the gentiles who offered more hope for conversion and more openness to the message. Luke in Acts tells us that Paul remained in his own rented house in Rome for two full years. Under arrest this whole time and mostly in chains but with certain liberties, there is no record of any trial or punishment meted out on Paul while early in Rome. Like the energizer bunny, he just kept on preaching Jesus Christ. Paul is growing older, more weary, and knowing that the end is near. Nero has ascended the Roman throne, not the most balanced person in Roman history and seems initially to have had little to no interest in the case of Paul. Perhaps too those from Jerusalem did not pursue bringing the case once Paul was “out of sight and out of mind” there. Whatever, there was a long period of waiting for the proverbial shoe, or more accurately sword to drop.

To get some idea of Paul’s mind during this period in his life, one should read his second letter to Timothy, which is a personal reflection on his emotions, mind and heart during this period of his life. I shall not repeat it here as it is a brief letter and you can read it in its entirety in minutes. Conscious of the growing division between Jews and Gentiles which Christianity is bringing and aware that his own credibility with the Jews of Rome is suspect, it is thought that Paul invited someone else to write the Letter to the Hebrews, often attributed to him as actual author but believed unlikely by most scripture scholars. That is not to discount, however, that Paul may likely have been in the background saying to the actual author, “no, write this!”

Sometime in the third year, Paul’s best friend and “Johnny-on-the-spot” every time the great apostle got depressed and desperate, Timothy, comes to Rome and spends time with his mentor, buoying his spirits. Other friends and converts from his missionary stops also come to Rome and that joy can be seen in his writings in Philippians. Luke dies before Paul so our historian is no longer any help on Paul’s final years.

Paul wanted to die for his Lord just as his Lord had died for him and for us. He hoped for a trial before the Roman authorities and it seems he may have gotten his wish and before Nero to boot. Sometime in 63 or 64AD Paul’s trial was held. Death was the verdict and punishment but it could not be a death like that of Jesus, crucifixion, because Paul was a Roman citizen and they by law were not crucified. We believe that Paul was led outside of the city where he was beheaded. Thirty years after being knocked off his horse at the gate to Damascus, Paul entered eternal life outside of Rome.

Peter would suffer the same death sentence at the hands of Nero as Paul but as a Jew he would be crucified, upside down and buried in a communal pit on the Vatican hill outside of Rome. The charge given to Peter along the Sea of Galilee to “feed my lambs. . .feed my sheep” gave to the “prince of the apostles” the position of heading the Church and other than the question of baptism versus circumcision which led to and was settled by the Council of Jerusalem in 64AD, there is no evidence anywhere to suggest that Paul did anything other than respect Peter’s role. There is no evidence in Acts or the Pauline writings or in the writings of the early Church fathers to indicate any antagonism or difficulties between these two giants of the early church and of the faith.

After offering Mass this morning in St. Peter’s Basilica at the new altar of Blessed John Paul II,  our remaining pilgrims and I attended the audience outside St. Peter’s with the successor of St. Peter, Pope Benedict XVI . Thus concludes our journey in the footsteps of Peter and Paul, from Galilee to Rhodes to Ephesus to Corinth to Rome. I am grateful for the gracious comments of those who have been following along with us and to the women and men who made this journey with me. Tomorrow some reflections of my brief time with Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday. When one has the opportunity that was ours for the past few weeks, scripture takes on new meaning and can be heard and understood in a different light at times. Monsignor Stephen Bosso, formerly Rector and professor of Sacred Scripture at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary, now pastor of St. Rose of Lima parish in Milton, Florida, was a great gift accompanying us and I learned an awful lot from his lectures and homilies. I am planning one final trip to the Holy Land before I leave and I know I will be returning to Rome, most likely in the Spring with the bishops of our region. At that time, every bishop must visit and offer Mass at St. Peter’s and again at St. Paul’s Outside of the Walls. I shall miss those who shared this experience with me.

A picture of our Holy Father taken on Wednesday by one of our pilgrims.

+RNL

PETER, PAUL AND MARY

Friday, November 4th, 2011

We arrived on the Turkish mainland this morning to bright blue, cloudless skies and a morning temperature in the mid-50s. During the day it warmed up to about 60 degrees but a strong wind began to blow off the sea. Tonight we may experience for the first time what Peter and Paul felt and experienced during a very windy night in the Adriatic and Mediterranean.

The two room house some believe to be where Mary lived until her death,. Photo kindness of John P. Christian

First, a few words about a destination of many tours today which is the house which legend has it that Mary lived with John the Apostle after the resurrection of Jesus, and as the locals would say until her Assumption into heaven following upon her death. The scriptures say little about Mary after the Ascension of her son so they are of little to no help in determining what happened to her. However, there is some support that John the Apostle who had been given the task of caring for Mary by Jesus on the cross came to Ephesus and lived here, and therefore if one follows the logic also with Mary. The Muslims respect Mary because they respect Jesus as a great prophet, not the greatest mind you (that honor belongs to Mohammed) and the mothers of all prophets are held in great esteem and reverence. Thus they are willing to stake their claim that Mary lived and died in Ephesus. In Jerusalem there is a church called the Church of the Dormition of Mary which also claims to be the place where she died and from which she was assumed into heaven. In the last century, a German nun and visionary had a vision that Mary spent most of her life on top of a tall mountain with a view of the sea and in a two room house. They found such a house here above Ephesus and I am including a picture. Where Mary died, in Ephesus or Jerusalem is not an article of faith. That she died and was assumed into heaven is.

We are fairly certain that Paul arrived in Ephesus around the year 52AD, from Corinth. Second in size to his hometown of Antioch in that part of the world, he arrives here with a greater knowledge of what works and what does not work in his preaching and evangelizing. We are also fairly certain that he traveled over 500 miles by land to reach Ephesus taking weeks as one might expect. There were few Christians to be found in Ephesus in a general population of 200,000 and it was a perfect place for him. He would end up spending three years in Ephesus, the longest time he would stay in any one place and when he left, he left everything to Timothy, his friend and early bishop.

Artemis was the Greek God of choice at Ephesus, which was a bustling port city. Today, the ancient ruins, which we visited, have seen the sea withdraw about six miles but in the time of Paul, one took a ship right up to the main street in the city. It was a place of great commerce and while not the capital city of the area it was classy, classical and clever.

It is said that there were some 10,000 Jews living in Ephesus at the time of Paul’s arrival. Initially as elsewhere, he enjoyed a brief period of honeymoon but then animosity and rejection. Paul cleverly found another site for his preaching, something that today we might call a “lecture hall.” Since the known world came to him in Ephesus, he did not need to leave and go elsewhere in the world in search of converts. Ephesus was an important place of congregation, gathering, debating and disputing, exactly his kind of town.

It is important for today’s Catholic to remember that Paul did not have access to what today we call the Gospels. He worked from stories about Jesus he was told after his conversion by people who either knew the Lord personally or had information from someone reliable and close to Christ. No where in his writings or in Acts do we have Paul quoting any Gospel but we do have one quotation in Acts by Paul from Jesus, words of Jesus, that appear in no Gospel: It is better to give than to receive. [Acts 20:35]. So his theology of Christianity developed apart from the Gospels themselves that to me is even more amazing. One of the best summaries of his time and teaching in Ephesus, I think, is to be found in his farewell speech to the community he had spent three years with which he delivered at Miletus (25 miles from ancient Ephesus) and which comes from Acts:

I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you, but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. . . I must complete the task. . .of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. . .[and] preaching the kingdom. I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. Acts 20:20-21,24-25,27,31.

One small section of the enormous Roman "theatre" where Paul preached at Ephesus. Photo kindness of Marc Barhonovich

Pretty simple it would seem but a lot for a hostile audience. How successful was he? Peter Walker in his excellent book  IN THE STEPS OF PAUL which I used for preparing for this trip and also for writing these Pauline entry blogs suggests that a community of perhaps 500 or 600 converts were won to the faith over his three years here. That is probably more than any one priest or bishop converts, instructs and baptizes in our lifetime today so do not let the numbers betray his real success.

When we visited the ancient city with its incredible excavations today, we saw the ancient theatre where Paul had a bad day or days. Something of a riot took place following his preaching and it centered on whose God was really God, Paul’s or the God Artemus of the Greeks/Romans. There was a huge brouhaha, which the Apostle desperately wished to engage in, but instead Paul was restrained from entering the theatre at that moment in time though he probably would have given his right arm to get into the debate. As the Jewish people began to become more vehement in their condemnation of Paul, he determined it was time to move on and set off for Jerusalem. As I mentioned earlier in this series, his letter to the Ephesians was written during his brief second visit to Corinth.

One final note about Ephesus. In 431, the third ecumenical council was held here to combat the heresy of Nestorianism which made two erroneous claims: first, that Jesus was not divine and second that Mary was not the mother of the Son of God since Jesus was merely human. Bishops from all around the ancient world gathered here to pray and discuss how to combat these theological errors. Of course, they reaffirmed that Jesus was both human and divine and they accorded to Mary the title of “theotokus” or “bearer [mother] of God.” No matter how one slices it, for Mary, for Paul, for John the Apostle, John the Evangelist, John of Patmos, St. Luke and for the Church, Ephesus played a major role in our first century church history. Most tourists visit it for its important ruins of the Greek and Roman eras but pilgrims visit it because they wish to walk in the footsteps of the apostles. As for Peter, Sunday through next Thursday is his day as we arrive in our final port, Civitavecchia, the port city for Rome.

+RNL