Archive for June, 2012

FORTNIGHT FOR FREEDOM MASS

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

Praying the Prayer for Protection of Religious Liberty with the congregation before the end of Mass. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Last night, St. Paul Catholic Church in Tampa was almost full with those who came out to the Fortnight for Freedom Mass. I thank those who came and everyone who has been praying for the protection of our religious liberty.

I’ve included the text of my homily below. The video taken of my homily is also below if you would rather watch than read. You can read a PDF copy of my homily by clicking here.

There are a few photos from the Mass included after the text of my homily below. You can see more photos from the Mass by clicking here.

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/44976403[/vimeo]Brothers and Sisters, 

An often overlooked call to prayer, which in older times was called the Introit and since the Second Vatican Council called the “Entrance Antiphon,” tonight introduces the liturgy and this homily with these words: “These are the ones who, living in the flesh, planted the Church with their blood; they drank the chalice of the Lord and became the friends of God.” 

            Peter and Paul, far from perfect men as we know so well, rose with courage to plant the seeds of faith in the early Church and then sprinkled it with the blood of martyrdom. Peter, imprisoned in tonight’s first reading, by the same King Herod who out of sheer jealousy had ordered the slaying of countless Holy Innocents and John the Baptist, finds himself in chains. From the depth of his faith in Jesus Christ, Peter would not allow his voice to be silenced by an agent of the state.

Paul, time after time thrown in jail, tortured and beaten, simply because those in power, civic or religious, could not and would not brook a challenge to the established order, the introduction of a new way of life focused on a Jew crucified as a too-often purveyor of a message of love in a culture of doubt, suspicion. Or put another way, an advocate of a new faith rooted in a new covenant between God and humankind. Paul’s comfort in his final days on earth, before his beheading (a manner of death experienced sixteen centuries later in England and visited upon St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More who parted company with their king over their Church’s view of the indissolubility of marriage) was found in that in running the race, at least in later life he had fought the good fight.

            I chose this evening to call us to prayer at a moment when a dark cloud hangs over the future exercise of freedom of religion in our beloved country. The climate and culture of this moment in human history creates a welcoming environment for an attack on religion. Slowly but surely, this nation, founded as “one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all,” which we pledge alliance to, is becoming more and more Godless. How sad! Without God there can be little hope that is true and lasting hope. In his final days in Rome, Paul was not surrounded by a clamoring crowd yelling, “tell us more, tell us more.” Rather, he might have looked upon his efforts as singularly unsuccessful. But, listen to his words of confidence before his death: “I have kept the faith. From now on, the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.” Now there is a man of hope.

            Likewise, the clumsy, impetuous and sometimes even imprudent Peter never gives up hope in God and in Jesus Christ. One can take on the prevailing opinion when one is personally comfortable that in so doing we are following in the footsteps and riding the shoulders of those who have gone before like Peter, Paul, John, Thomas, and the Baptist, all of whose feasts we have observed during this fortnight.

            As a more modern example, the Carroll brothers of Maryland – one a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the other the first bishop on this soil. Fighting in the revolution for the freedom we til this time have enjoyed, Bishop John Carroll often found himself defending to his superiors the American experiment of democracy and true freedom of religion. He and the other Catholics of the colonies found the first amendment to the Constitution to offer solid, sustainable hope for the future. Countless other bishops and laity over the succeeding years rose to defend the American ideals because of the hope which they had in their new land and its leaders. Even a less than zealous man of faith like Jefferson of Virginia argued strenuously for true free exercise of religious liberty because it was not just one of the basic pillars of this new land, but its first privilege, its first right.

            Tonight I seek your support in prayer to God who is both the source of our hope and inspiration to see what is at stake at this moment. Carroll, Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, and Lincoln would and could never have envisioned the federal government defining what is a religious exercise and what is not. They fought and many spilled their blood for the contrary. Left to stand, the language of regulation of a single department of the executive branch of government would define Tampa Catholic High School, Jesuit High School, the Academy of the Holy Names, Saint Joseph and Saint Anthony Hospital, Catholic Charities and our homes for those with HIV-AIDS and Pinellas Hope (to name but a few) as not Catholic ministry because more than ten percent of the staff and the recipients of the education, healing ministry, homeless shelter are not Catholic. I repeat the line of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, “we do not assist people because they are Catholic, but precisely because we are Catholic.” They can’t regulate our freedom to be who we are and destroy our very  Catholic DNA which derives from the two great commandments, love of our God and love our neighbor. It is the Gospel which defines who we are, not a single agency of our government.

            What we are praying for tonight and throughout these days in our parishes and homes is simply this: let us define our mission, our purpose, our purview, free of outside influence while in harmony with the foundational ideals of our great nation and we will continue to be those in our neighborhoods who teach our children to be good citizens, who reach out to those who have either fallen through the safety net of previously government responsibility or who have no access to the safety net, who heal those sick and dying, who care for widows and orphans, who fight alongside others for freedom when called for, and fight for peace always.

            Brothers and sisters, failure to uphold our freedom of faith and liberty of practice is not an option even if the general culture of our society sinks into a religion of secularism. Others may chose other paths, but we pray that this great nation will allow us to continue to walk the road less travelled by if that should become the case. Catholics love this country, have spilt their blood for this country, and have risen to serve others in this county and tonight we pray for the continued ability to live free as Catholic Americans.

            Finally, it may well be a long walk to reinforce religious freedom. But it was a long walk for Peter and Paul. One could and did say “I have competed well; I have finished the race.” The other could and did say Now I know for certain that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod. . .” On this feast day, let us all be women and men of the Church and become at this moment in history to be the ones living in the flesh” seeking and working for the same freedom of religious liberty purchased some 237 years ago at the price of our ancestors’ blood. We shall not go quietly into this dark night.

Giving the homily. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

Praying the Litany for Liberty with the congregation. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

Fortnight for Freedom Mass. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

+RNL

TRAVELS WITH TIM – FINAL LEG

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

Tim and "T," our sleeping car attendant on the Cardinal

For my brother and I, the most exciting time of our transcontinental train trip began at Chicago’s venerable Union Station at 545pm on Tuesday. AMTRAK’s three days a week departure of “The Cardinal” (the bird and not the ecclesiastical variety) had backed into the station for its eastbound departure and passengers began to board. For the second segment in a row, we had a superior sleeping car attendant named “T” for Tyrell who got us settled in our slightly smaller double bedroom for what would be a twenty-three hour voyage down familial memory lane.

The Cardinal is AMTRAK’s orphan child and, as I have previously mentioned, they would like nothing better than to eliminate it. When it comes to overnight train amenities, it barely meets the “minimum test.” There is no dining car. The one sleeper has three double bedrooms and twelve roomettes but five of the twelve are occupied by the crew for their necessary overnight rest. Full, as was our train, means that they are only committed to serving twenty first class passengers maximum. Not enough to even think about one of AMTRAK’s greatest sore points with the feds, its food service costs. So there is a lounge and in one end of the lounge there are about four tables set, tended by one attendant who is waiter in charge, waiter, cook, and cleaner-upper all rolled into one. The meals come like airline meals and are reconstituted in a convection oven. The process is slow but the end-product is tolerable – not great, but tolerable.

Crossing New River and beginning the picturesque trip along and through New River Gorge, West Virginia

As the sun set over the miles and miles of corn fields in central Indiana (we saw a deer poaching on one farmer’s field), we “sped” along at an average speed of 50 mph toward Indianapolis (midnight), Cincinnati (four a.m.) and points east. Tim went to sleep early, wishing to rise and be wide awake as “The Cardinal” made its way along the Kentucky side of the Ohio River through Cattlesburg and South Portsmouth where he had worked decades ago as the freight agent for the Chesapeake and Ohio. But the big moment was a hour and a half ahead of us – Montgomery (population today is 1,942 ) and the church where we were baptized, the three houses in which we lived for the first ten years of my life and eight of his, the elementary school we attended and a much different and depressing downtown than either of us recall.

Camcorder ready for Montgomery memories

Tim set his camcorder up in the vestibule and our man “T” opened the window on the door so he could shoot pictures of all those places, the first memories of our now aging lives. Although Montgomery is shown as a station stop in both directions for the “Cardinal” if there are no passengers to get off or on, the trains slows somewhat and glides by leaving Montgomery in the distance. Today, we were in luck, however, as there were four passengers to get off and two to board. “T,” God Bless him, opened the door and allowed Tim and I to descend briefly to the platform. With tears in his eyes, Tim turned to me and said, “Bobby, we are finally home.” “T” cried and brothers embraced. We could have remained in Montgomery for two more days save “T,” with tears in his eyes, saying, “Bros, get back on the train. We are leaving.” Tim continued to film on his camcorder the Kanawa River and the falls at its headwaters and New River Gorge, the scenic highlight of the “Cardinal” journey up and down the Alleghanys, up and down the Blue Ridge and arriving for us into Charlottesville.  We took a look at our dad’s old office, all the remains in Clifton Forge of a once vibrant, now dormant railroad town where on this day, only the crew changed and no one got off or on. Soon it was Charlottesville and the sixty minute bus ride to meet the “Silver Meteor” to Florida, all anticlimactic following a day of good memories and fond farewells to places once important,  but now never to be visited again.

The two of us in the Cardinal's AMNOT DINING CAR

I said good-by to my brother in Orlando early Thursday afternoon and he remained on board until Hollywood, Florida. I close this perhaps too personal reminiscence with this compelling thought. My brother said to me with deep emotion, “Bobby, we are home, finally home” and in one sense he is right but now we must both prepare for a more important homecoming in heaven. Until then, our day is West Virginia, almost heaven as John Denver once sang, will sustain our past and our time together will prepare us for the future. Thanks for reading and now to much more important matters.

+RNL

TRAVELS WITH TIM – THE MIGHTY MISSISSIPPI

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Not Dinner in the Diner but Breakfast and Tim shown here entertaining three strangers

Saturday’s Seattle departing EMPIRE BUILDER arrived in Chicago yesterday a mere 2 hours late which is not bad for a trip of nearly two-thousand miles. By the time we pulled into Union Station, most of the sleeping car passengers were saying good-by to Tim and an occasion, “Nice to meet you, Your Excellency.” It seems that if Tim ferreted out that whomever he was talking to was Catholic, then he identified me as his bishop brother. All in all, for both of us, it was a great trip east and as one does on trains, we met a variety of very interesting people. Lunch on the final day was with a couple from Rhode Island who rode the train out to Glacier Park and spend ten days roaming the miles and miles of spectacular scenery. Whereas I tend to travel quietly, prizing my quiet time, Tim on the other hand, used every occasion to share his love for trains and his life experience to any and all who were willing to listen.

I found out that I am referred to as a “foamer.” Worried that it was some kind of comment on saliva or something like that, I was immensely relieved to hear that railroad people refer to rail fans (which is what Tim calls me) as “foamers” since we tend to foam at the mouth at the sight of any train, taking pictures of them, listening to them on the radio transmissions on a scanner, etc. I do  have such a scanner and on Sunday afternoon heard the BNSF dispatcher located in Fort Worth, Texas, tell the engineer and conductor of our train which was leaving Shelby, Montana, that there was now a flash flood warning and until he could verify no damage to the tracks, our train for a distance of about ninety miles would be restricted to a speed of 50 mph, instead of 79 mph, giving birth to the first delay of our trip. Pleased to share this information with my brother, I did so just as the Conductor was informing the whole train of the news, bringing a smile to the face of Tim that even “foaming” didn’t give one a leg up on accurate information. Score Tim 1 – Bob 0.

My brother Tim and absolutely the best sleeping car attendant either of us have ever had - GOL

Monday morning brought sunny skies to Minnesota and I awoke to find Tim gone from the room. Dressing quickly, I found him in the dining car keeping three people highly entertained. Soon after leaving Red Wing, the route of the train follows the west bank of the Mississippi to LaCrosse and a straight run to Milwaukee and eventually Chicago. I can tell that the trip is reaching its zenith for Tim with Tuesday night’s departure on the AMTRAK “Cardinal” through three of the five places where we lived as kids with our Mom and Dad. There is more talk from Tim about Dad and about those days as departure approaches and he is enjoying himself immensely. He now talks to me and others about this possibly being his last trip and what a trip it is – down memory lane for sure, but also drawing us closer together. I discovered on the Puget Sound Ferry to leave politics and religion out of the discussion and we would do fine. However, I have to listen, tolerate and forgive various expletives showered upon Republicans about once an hour.

The Empire Builder stopped for a few minutes in Winona, Minnesota. By this point in the trip, the train consisted of twelve cars carrying about 400 passengers.

I will conclude these reflections sometime on Wednesday as we complete the major portions of this sentimental journey. We change from train to bus on Wednesday afternoon for a transfer from Charlottesville to Richmond where we board the final leg of the trip, the “Silver Meteor” to Orlando where I shall disembark and Hollywood where Tim lives. We had dinner with friends of mine last night in Chicago which was a special delight as I shall soon be witnessing the marriage of two of them. Today is being spent resting and gathering energy for the train which is widely known as AMTRAK’s orphan or the one train they wish they most could get rid of – the Cardinal. The late Senator from West Virginia, Robert Byrd, reminded AMTRAK every year when it approached Congress for its annual subsidy that unless the Cardinal continued in his state of West Virginia, they would have a powerful enemy instead of a powerful friend. So the Cardinal leaves Chicago every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday for Washington and New York and every Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday from New York bound for Chicago. It has no real dining car, but more about that in tomorrow’s blog entry. It has only one sleeping car with three bedrooms and seven roomettes to sell to the traveling public, three coaches and a single baggage car. Does it lose money? Big time! But tomorrow we will remember Robert Byrd fondly as we relive our youth and zoom through places important to our history like Covington, KY, Montgomery, W.VA., and Clifton Forge, Virginia. Thanks, Senator.

+RNL

TRAVELS WITH TIM – AMBER WAVES OF GRAIN

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Tim on the Puget Sound Ferry prior to departure east from Seattle

Seattle is history. So is Spokane and Glacier Park. No matter whether I look east or west, north or south, there is nothing out there but “amber waves of grain.” The grain is interrupted occasionally by cattle, but east of the Rockies, there is only miles and miles and miles of grain to be seen . The Empire Builder left Seattle yesterday on an afternoon which quite suddenly and unexpectedly turned sunny and blue. In an effort to find something which Tim could do and might enjoy in the afternoon awaiting the 440pm departure of the “Builder,” we settled on a round trip Washington State Ferry ride across Puget Sound to Bremerton. It seemed like a good idea when I bought the ticket at 1215pm for the 1235pm ferry, but then it began to rain and rain and rain. When we arrived back at the ferry dock in Seattle at three, it was still sprinkling but by the 440pm departure of the “Builder” blue skies prevailed and the first hour running along the shoreline of Puget Sound was spectacular. Three cruise ships were sailing north to Alaska abreast of us and the Olympic mountain range to the west and along the coast were majestic.

At Everett, Washington, the train heads southwest and climbs the Cascades. Since it was two days after the longest day of the year, we had daylight for the entire climb and descent into central Washington’s apple growing area along the upper reaches of the soon to be mighty Columbia River, flowing south and southwest.

Dinner in the diner tonight brought us together with a two men from the coach section, one of whom it took all of two nanoseconds for him to figure out that I was a bishop. The ring gave me away. He is attending Sacramento State College and regularly attends the Newman Center and knows Bishop Jaime Soto and the long retired Bishop Francis Quinn of Sacramento who wears the same Council ring, which I wear. To make the world even smaller, he has a cousin who lives in Plant City and his own mother who lives in California has been on trips and pilgrimages with our Father Carlos Rojas. Tim kept the other young man entertained. Good dinner followed by a challenging first night of sleep – only three more to go in these AMTRAK sleeping cars.

For the first hour leaving Seattle, the EMPIRE BUILDER travels along the shore line of Puget Sound with the Olympic mountains in the distance. Sharp eyes can see Holland America's MS ZUIDERDAM heading both to Alaska.

Since Tim would not easily be able to climb into the upper bunk, I volunteered. Mistake. I should have probably secured two of the smaller roomettes so we could both have lower beds, but like many a football game, which is won on Monday, hindsight is always 20-20. Too bad there was no film of this 230 lb. monster climbing up steep stairs and then trying to crawl into a space of about three feet of headroom. I should win an award as a contortionist.

We awakened on purpose around 630am (having lost an hour due to the change from Pacific Daylight Time, to Mountain Daylight Time), in time for Tim to detrain in Whitefish, the station at which the Builder begins to climb to the top of the continental divide and enters Glacier National Park. Once again the weather was beautiful on the west side of the Rockies but it has been overcast on the east side. About fifty people detrained at the West Glacier Station and the same number boarded. At East Glacier, within walking distance of the National Park Lodge, the same number left the train and slightly less boarded. Clearly the National Parks are in their busy season. Tim entertained three people at a table for breakfast in the diner as I kicked him out. I had breakfast with a young woman from Corvallis, Oregon who was going to East Glacier and the Lodge with her family. She was very pleasant.

Traveling with one’s brother is not always easy. Tim chose the middle of Puget Sound to tell me how he thought I and the other bishops were looking pretty darn stupid (not exactly his choice of adjective) on the HHS matter. He could not believe that in this age of enlightenment, anyone in his or her right minds could be raising any kind of ruckus about contraception. I used all my best and every argument that I had that it was not about contraception but religious liberty but he was not buying. And he was vehement enough that had I not expended thousands of frequent flyer miles and AMTRAK Guest Rewards miles for this trip, I might have thrown him overboard in the middle of Puget Sound. Probably the testiest moment on this trip and in years. He has been quiet since then!

Lunch was with a husband and wife from Rhode Island who clearly like to ride trains. They came west on the train and are now heading home. They also like the Queen Mary III, which they have taken on a quick trans-Atlantic voyage three times since she entered service. They have a short connection tomorrow in Chicago and are already worried that perhaps they will not make it (this train has been averaging 140 minutes late the last two weeks into Chicago). The Lynch boys have their second and final hotel night tomorrow in the Windy City.

Tim is beginning to reminisce and rhapsodize about the trip which begins Tuesday night on what was once the Chesapeake and Ohio. He worked for them for twenty-four years after returning from Vietnam and there has been all kinds of talk emanating from him that he intends to bribe the sleeping car attendant into opening the top part of the Dutch doors in Montgomery, West Virginia and Clifton Forge, Virginia to allow he and his camcorder to record houses we used to live in and places we used to frequent. We will see. Now it’s back to those “amber waves of grain” and towns like Malta, Montana; Saga, Montana; Wolf Point, Montana. Come to think of it, Montanans have probably never heard of Frostproof, Florida, or Lokey either.

+RNL

TRAVELS WITH TIM – CERTAINLY NOT SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

My brother Tim.

The long awaited and much anticipated reunion of two of the three Lynch boys took place on Friday at Gate D11 at the Miami airport. I flew from Tampa to meet Tim and accompany him the rest of the way to Seattle, a trip of eight hours duration. He was so excited that we were finally on our way, having navigated by wheelchair from the curbside check-in counter through security to the gate. I had “cashed in” enough American frequent flyer miles and moved early enough to secure two first class seats on the flights from Miami to O’Hare and then on to Seattle. Tim said that the Miami to Chicago flight was on the largest and quietest jet he had ever flown on and then with something approaching “gallows humor” said that the next time he would be so far forward in an airplane would likely be when his casket was in the forward hold beneath where he was sitting. American did a great job of having wheelchair assistance waiting for him with his name specifically on it for transferring from gate to gate in Chicago and from gate to baggage claim in Seattle. It was, however, precisely at baggage claim that I began to really appreciate the challenges facing people with disabilities. Delivered to baggage claim and receiving her “tip” for the service, we were abandoned by the wheelchair person. At first I did not think that would be a problem because arrival pick up was taking place just a few steps from the carrousel. Then, struck with fear, I noticed no cabs nor any signs for taxis anywhere. I approached the American Airlines agent in the baggage claim are and she said, “Oh, the taxi’s are on the third level of the parking garage.” She then said you need to walk to an elevator, walk across and bridge over the roadways, walk through the fourth level of the garage and then take an elevator to the third level where the taxis could be found. I knew it would be too much for Tim and I could not manage his luggage and mine as well. It took two people to accomplish the transfer from baggage claim to taxi: someone handling the bags and a second person pushing a wheelchair. But we did it. Then out of the garage and right smack into Seattle’s signature climate: rain!

Arriving at the hotel at 1000pm EDT, our sole goal in life was no longer heaven, but something to eat and then sleep. We attempted to “dine” at the Pike Pub and Brewery across from the hotel but the wait time was 45 to 60 minutes so it was back to the hotel. I had two “sliders” evoking our memory of White Castles in Columbus, Ohio and Skyline Chili parlors in Cincinnati. Tim loved the day, the attention he received on the plane from various flight attendants who were drawn to him by his sunny disposition, paying little attention to the sour puss next to him.

Conversation was mostly about trains and our youth. Tim has very clear memories of his trip to and from Seattle for his service in Vietnam in the army – the troop ship out of Fort Lewis and the return from there. I do not pursue and he has always volunteered very little about his time in the war zone. My brother Jim and I surmise that those memories are just too painful. Every one is suspicious that Tim’s COPD situation results from a combination of smoking and, we think, Agent Orange exposure which the Veterans Administration is finally acknowledging is a source of veteran disability after years of denial by there VA officialdom. He does have a hard time breathing and even experienced some stress on the plane where the cabin is pressurized to 8000 feet. But we made it.

At dinner we talked a lot about railroads and about our Dad. Perhaps the most poignant moment of this special Friday for me will be when Tim said, with a tear in his eye about our father, “I still miss him terribly. . . I love him. . . I talk to him daily.” Later today a ferry ride on Puget Sound to Bremerton will be followed by the start of our eastbound transcontinental rail journey at 440pm on AMTRAK’s Train No. 8, THE EMPIRE BUILDER.

+RNL

WARREN BUFFETT, JAMES J. HILL, AND MY BROTHER TIM

Thursday, June 21st, 2012
The “Empire Builder”  James J. Hill. Photo from Google Images.

Tim Lynch is my brother and has been for sixty-nine of my seventy-one years. Of the three Lynch boys, he was the only one to have been drafted and to have served in Vietnam, for him a life changing experience in many ways. He has never married, worked at one job for only a limited time after returning from the War, and seems to have existed for some time on the margins of society or life which I have lived or so it seems. He loves his Catholic faith which came to us from our parents and attempts to attend Sunday Mass as often as possible at Little Flower parish in Hollywood, Florida, where he lives. He does not always agree with the leadership of his Church, including his brother, and has never met a Republican he trusted or liked (slight exaggeration, but not much of one). His working life consisted of being a clerk on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad as well as a freight agent, the same railroad onto which our father hired after graduating from Holy Cross College in 1921 and Harvard Business in 1922 with an M.B.A. When Tim returned from the war, however, our dad had already retired and with our mother, had moved from Ohio to his family home in Massachusetts where he died in 1970 and where he is buried with our mother who died in November of 1995. Tim has an artificial heart valve which seems to be leaking (it was a pig’s valve inserted about twelve years ago) and has chronic COPD. Last Spring (2011) he was diagnosed with a cancer of the lower left lobe of his lung. Because of his precarious heart and lung conditions, for a time there was a question as to whether any cancer protocol could be attempted on him, but eventually a decision was made in favor of three massive chemo injections and thirty-five successive (save week-ends) radiation treatments. The first post treatment PET scan showed that there was no longer any presence of the tumor in Tim’s lung and he remains cancer free though mightily physically challenged. It was on learning that the cancer was history that I made an offer to Tim, noting that the two of us as brothers had not done anything as brothers, since childhood. I told him I would take him any place in the world where he might wish to go as long as it was someplace he could physically handle (that ruled out Macchu Picchu). He chose an adventure that evokes the memory of James J. Hill and the reality of Warren Buffett.

Warren Buffett, the Empire Builder of this age. Photo from of Google Images.

James Hill was born in Ontario but wound up in St. Paul, Minnesota. He quickly became a successful business man in the Twin Cities whose personal mantra was “Work, hard work, intelligent work, and then more work.” Seeing an opportunity to purchase a struggling railroad  in 1873 and ten years later he began to build a railroad which would stretch eventually from the Mississippi to the Pacific, a transcontinental railroad. “What we want, “Hill said, “is the best possible line, shortest distance, lowest grades, and least curvature we can build.” He succeeded and in January 1893, his Great Northern Railroad was completed spanning 1,700 miles. He became known as “The Empire Builder.” Hill died on May 29, 1916 in his adopted St. Paul, a true railroad “baron.”

Warren Buffett, as people may or may not know, is the head of a giant investment firm called Berkshire-Hathaway and lives and works in Omaha, Nebraska. In his time as an investor, he has owned many things, but recently, he has developed an interest in railroads as well. In 2004, Buffett’s Berkshire-Hathaway bought Hill’s railroad (now named the Burlington Northern following many buy-outs and mergers) and the Atcheson, Topeka and Santa Fe giving him effective control over both the northern and southern transcontinental routes from the midwest to the Pacific and all points in-between. Only the mighty Union Pacific, amazingly also headquartered in Omaha, stand between them.

Tim called me back and first said that he would like to take one last trip on what was the original Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, for which he worked for a number of years, on which I had worked while in college, and our Dad had retired from as an operating officer. Such a trip would necessitate our flying to Chicago from either Fort Lauderdale or Miami and taking AMTRAK’s “The Cardinal” which runs three times a week between Chicago and New York over the old C&O line through the towns of Covington, Kentucky; Montgomery, West Virginia; and Clifton Forge, Virginia where we had lived as young boys with our younger sibling, Jim. We would connect with AMTRAK’s “Silver Meteor” in Richmond and disembark from the train two days and two nights later in Hollywood, Florida. Easy enough I said, but not long enough. My good brother then said, “Well, I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but when I went to and from Vietnam I took the train from  Route 128 station just south of Boston to Chicago and on to Seattle” (where he shipped out on a ship and returned on a charter airplane). I said, fine, we will fly to Seattle and train it transcontinentally (is there such a word?) from Seattle to Hollywood, Florida via Chicago, Cincinnati, Charleston, W.Va., Charlottesville, Richmond, Charleston, SC, Savannah, Jacksonville, Orlando and Okeechobee. We are on our way and my brother is so excited and so happy.

Life has not been a bowl of cherries for Tim and death is coming inexorably and slowly. This was the first thing on Tim’s “bucket list” and we are on our way west, no longer the young men of Horace Greeley’s prompting. Two brothers, sharing six special days. With Tim’s permission, I will share the highlights of the trip with all of you. He will have editorial control of the text because it will be more about him than me. If you find it boring, come back to this thread on June 29th for more Fortnight for Freedom. The travelogue begins tomorrow, June 22nd with the flights to Seattle by way of Chicago. The two of us have a lot of time to be made up which cannot be completed in six days but I suspect the memories of this time together will last the rest of our lifetime. While we don’t exactly command the stature of Buffett and Hill, we are something of railroad “barons” ourselves.

+RNL

 

 

 

FORTNIGHT FOR FREEDOM

Monday, June 18th, 2012

This Thursday the Catholic Church in the United States will begin to observe what has been entitled a “Fortnight for Freedom.” I will not retrace the steps which have led the Church in this country to this point, as I have addressed them several times here and anyone reading even the secular press knows that we and other religious leaders feel that religion is witnessing a major reduction in the liberties and freedoms which it has long enjoyed in recent years. The Fortnight, therefore, is an attempt to move the growing conscious awareness of what is happening into as many Catholic homes and minds as possible for reflection and prayer. I will celebrate a special diocesan Mass at St. Paul’s Catholic Church on Dale Mabry North in Tampa (map and directions) on Friday, June 29, 2012 at 7:30pm and I hope as many people as can will come and pray with me for a restoration of those liberties which we have lost and an end to future incursions into classic American freedom of religion. Your parish should be doing some other things to support the effort of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB), especially through special prayers at Mass during the Intercessions, bulletin announcements and as some parishes have done already, evening reflections and presentations on the issues involved. The Fortnight will be brought to a conclusion on Independence Day, the Fourth of July, with the ringing of Church bells at noon.

While I am appreciative and supportive of this national effort, I am also extremely concerned about the passage this Fall of two amendments to the Florida State Constitution: Amendment Six which would guarantee that no federal or state monies would be spent on abortions, and Amendment Eight which would eradicate the long-standing Blaine Amendment in our present constitution which precludes the use of any state monies for the support of any religious enterprise. Why do our children not get rides on school buses in this state? The Blaine Amendment. Why do our children not get access to textbooks for secular non-religion courses in our schools? The Blaine Amendment. Worried that one cannot go to the political well too often, I hope our parishes and institutions will work hard this fall in passing both of these important amendments to our state constitution. The history of the Blaine Amendment in the US is deeply rooted in anti-Catholic bigotry and should be an embarrassment to all fair and open-minded citizens. So, while we will cooperate and participate in the Fortnight for Freedom, I have these two other matters in my mind and know we will have to work hard to pass them. Florida statute requires a 60% “yes” vote on amendments to the Constitution for passage and that is a sizeable challenge.

There is a lot on the civic stove cooking at this moment and I hope you will walk these various paths with me and with the Church to achieve important changes in attitudes and law.

+RNL

GEORGIA ON MY MIND

Friday, June 15th, 2012

I just left the Grand Ballroom of the Hyatt Atlanta Downtown, my daytime prison cell for the past two days. We just concluded our Spring Meeting of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB), which is distinguishable from the Fall meeting in several respects: it travels (which means that we never meet in the same city two years in a row), it is shorter (two days instead of three), it is slightly less well attended by the membership, and it usually results in nothing startling,  controversial, or seismic. A new innovation attempted this year, quite successfully I would say, was to spend an entire afternoon listening to and responding to presentations on an issue of importance (this year the HHS Mandate debate). Quite frankly, I enjoyed the opportunity to spend some time in a matter of great importance to me, with insights and presentations given by experts in the field of religious liberty.

Dr. John Garvey, the President of the Catholic University of America and himself a lawyer, spoke about recent incursions into the freedom of religion. Citing five recent incidents in recent years, Dr. Garvey made a compelling case for the USCCB doing what it is doing relative to the Affordable Health Care Act and their attendant regulations from the Department of Health and Human Services. You may read Dr. Garvey’s talk to us by clicking here. A second presentation on the topic of international religious freedom was given by Ambassador Thomas Farr, currently on the faculty of Georgetown University and entitled “The Church and the Global Crisis of Religious Liberty” and it can be accessed by clicking here. The final presentation of the day was the most compelling to me and was given by Bishop Shlemon Warduni, a Catholic bishop of the Chaldean Rite from Iraq. Quite frankly, the bishop’s recounting of the cost to Christians in Iraq caused by the US invasion made me sick at my stomach. You may read Bishop Warduni’s brief talk here. Sometimes we bishops are accused of being the “Republican party at prayer” but this monstrosity was led by a Republican President. He ended by saying that the US had managed to get rid of one crazy dictator who has been now replaced by many crazy dictators. How sad and tragic and talk about an assault on religious freedom!

We spent a good deal of time dealing with the HHS regulations, the Conference’s response to them, the strategy of the lawsuits brought against the regulations, and where do we go from here. Starting next week, many dioceses throughout the United States will observe what is being called a “Fortnight for Freedom” which will end on July 4th. I will be celebrating Mass at St. Paul’s Church, just off Dale Mabrey in north Tampa, on Friday evening June 29, 2012 (The Solemnity of the Feasts of SS. Peter and Paul) and speaking in the context of the Fortnight for Freedom observance and I hope as many of you as possible can come that evening at 7:30pm. For more information on the June 29 Mass and to see how our Diocese is participating in the Fortnight for Freedom, please click here.

We talked about communications and how poorly we do it in the Church at the moment. Three bishops tweeted during the meeting and several posted to Facebook. There is wide-spread agreement among the bishops that the Church’s and the Conference’s communication efforts need to be improved and more use made of the modern means of social communication today – ah, like this blog! (Sorry, I could not resist.) There were some currents in the discussion which made me nervous as I feel the mantle of censorship coming to NC News which has since its founding enjoyed editorial freedom but may soon lose its “religious liberty.” I would rue that day. There is also a push for a spokesperson for the Conference (read that “easy to look at” and Walter Cronkite-ish in their credibility) and I would not want that job for all the proverbial tea in China. Nuance one thing in a way that upsets one bishop and that person’s livelihood would likely be at stake, a position Archbishop Wilton Gregory made on the floor in much kinder, gentler words.

We didn’t vote on anything except to authorize a statement to be written on the effects of the economy on people today. Today we spent ninety minutes in a regional meeting which is considerably longer than we are accustomed to doing. The day ended with an afternoon in Executive Session and then I am out of here and headed home tomorrow (Friday). If this blog has been less than scintillating, blame it on the fact that there is no train service from Atlanta to Tampa and I had to fly both ways. I tend in November to think better and perhaps even write better on the train coming home from Baltimore. It is always good to see friends at these meetings and the liturgies are well done in the morning. The Hyatt in Downtown Atlanta could, if it chose to do so, boast of the smallest hotel rooms for the steepest price on the eastern seaboard and while charging an arm and leg per night, there were no glasses in the room to be found and no room service from noon to five p.m. So that’s it from slumming it in HotLanta. Home sweet home awaits me.

+RNL

 

THANK GOD IT’S OVER

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

I suspect that my regular readers are thinking that from the title of the blog, this must have something to do with the Spring meeting of all U.S. bishops being held as I write this in Atlanta. It does not, but the next blog entry will for sure. The title here refers to the fact that on Monday night of this week, I finished my last public event until August, that being the graduation ceremony for seventeen hardy lay people of the diocese who completed their four year study in the Lay Pastoral Ministry Institute (LPMI) program. More about that, including some photos, in a few moments.

Statistically, I had celebrated the sacrament of confirmation about thirty times this year, had six high school graduations and/or baccalaureate Masses, presided at about five anniversaries of priestly ordination, one priesthood ordination, five geese a laying and a partridge in a pear tree – or something like that. Anyway, it is always a work-out for me beginning right after Christmas and ending sometime each year in mid-June. When I was younger it was a sleigh ride, but as I get older, I must admit it gets tougher. For the future, we are working hard to attempt a confirmation schedule which will utilize Tuesday and Thursday nights and Saturdays and Sundays and work very hard to control the number of Sunday requests to one each week. Arranging my schedule is always a challenge for my faithful assistant, Vivi Iglesias, and she tries hard to protect me from too many obligations only to have me approached by a priest and then I stroll up to her and tell her to violate my own admonitions. May is the toughest month for sure. Now, I make no pretense that I work harder than anyone else, especially my hard-working priests. I do suggest, however, that I must travel farther to do what I do and am often out later in the evening.

My illness of three years ago requires that I control food intake until I am almost home each night so there is that and my staff is terrified of me driving around at night, in the dark for heaven’s sake, so they push me to have someone drive me – like Miss Daisy, if you know what I mean. I feel very guilty about having someone drive me and see me back to my residence around 1030pm every evening and then have to drive another thirty or forty-five minutes to their own residence. I have never utilized a priest to assist me as either a full-time secretary,driver, and/or master of ceremonies. I will stick to that as long as I am the bishop. This year our four seminarians on pastoral year met me at the parishes where I was to do something (confirmation, installation, etc.) but they did not drive me. Next year, Father Carl Melchior, our full-time Assistant Vocation Director will help with the driving and MC’ing which he began in earnest a few weeks ago. All of this is a way of publicly admitting that I was thrilled to be done for a few months and can now spend some time thinking about a less demanding schedule and some time away for rest and relaxation. As hard as it can be and as physically demanding as it is, I still love what I do and I hope and pray that is reflected in my presence in the life of this Church.

Now, about the Lay Pastoral Ministry Institute and its graduates. Seventeen lay women and men completed the required course of study and it was an honor for me to acknowledge their accomplishment on Monday night. I’ve included a few photos from the Evening Prayer and Commissioning Ceremony below, but you can see more photos by clicking here.

The 2012 graduating class of the LPMI. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

The 2012 graduating class of the LPMI. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

Leading the family and friends who attended in a standing ovation to recognize the 2012 LPMI graduates.

 

With the 2012 LPMI graduating class. Top Row (from left to right): Dolores Hazard, Christine Grieco, Bob Christensen, Noel Negron, Denise Moyer, Edward C. LaRose, Julian B. Weglarz, John Ustick. Bottom row (from left to right): Gretchen Robens, Bonnie B. Ussery, Barbara Ferreris, Nellie Negron, Linda McCarroll, myself, Darlene Jones, DO, Janet Trinidad-Weglarz, Beverely Wiebeld, and Marla Ustick. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

Among those graduating was one judge, one doctor, and three married couples. That they love their Church so much that they would give up all those evenings for four years to journey to the Bethany Center for class is humbling and makes all my ruminations above seem trivial. I get paid to do what I do. They did what they did and do for the love of Christ and His Church. Congratulations, graduates, and may your work on behalf of the Gospel be pleasing to the Lord.

+RNL

NEW BISHOP, NEW HOPE

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

Bishop Gregory L. Parkes. Photo kindness of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahasse.

At a time when the male leadership of the Catholic Church in the United States is taking something of a beating, some of which arguably might be deserved, it was wonderful to be present in Pensacola on Tuesday for the ordination and installation of their new bishop, Gregory L. Parkes, formerly a priest of the Orlando diocese as well as its Chancellor and Vicar General. At both Monday evening’s Evening Prayer Service and at the ordination/installation Mass itself, it was abundantly clear to me that God’s people still have great hope in their leadership and still welcome and receive their new bishops with fond expectations and great affection and affirmation. I am certain that Bishop Parkes must have retired for the night on Tuesday with a very good feeling at the end of the day. His new diocese opened their hearts to him in two ceremonies where the music and liturgy were both well planned and well executed. I’ve included a few photos of the ordination and installation that were graciously shared by the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahasse at the end of this blog post.

The custom in the United States is that archbishops ordain their “suffragans” (hundred dollar word for bishops of other dioceses within their province which in our case is the whole state of Florida) and the privilege fell to Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami both in that role and having been Bishop Parkes own bishop for about nine years in Orlando – it was, as it should be, a sort of father-son moment. Both the Archbishop and Bishop Parkes thanked the former bishop of the diocese, John Huston Ricard, SSJ, for his almost thirteen years of service and the church literally erupted in a warm, long, standing ovation for Bishop Ricard. The same electricity of gratitude was in the air when Bishop Ricard exchanged the greeting of peace with his successor at the end of the ordination rite itself. No one worked harder for the nearly 75,000 people of the Panhandle Diocese than did Bishop Ricard and as I have said here several times in the last eighteen months, I miss him greatly as he was my closest friend and collaborator among the bishops. So old and new, standing together and embracing one another, is a memory I brought home with me, thanking the Church of my baptism for its constant opportunity to move on from what might become the routine and continue to renew itself and grow.

I have no doubt that two days away from the ordination, Bishop Parkes has said farewell to visiting family and friends and is already enundated with the decisions which necessarily had to await the installation of a new bishop – some of them certainly problems and challenges.  That happened in my case seventeen years ago, but life and love, faith and friendship, patience and perseverance ultimately prevail and the new Bishop has a huge war chest of good will from which he can draw strength and inspiration and support. Archbishop Wenski liked to joke often about Bishop Parkes 6’8″ height but that is not the lasting memory for those like myself who were there on Tuesday. Rather, it will always be of a warm, kind and gracious man accepting the challenges which come today with being a bishop in the United States and promising his best to the local Church to which he is now wed.

Finally, assuming no sitting bishop gets moved, I leave you to guess who will be the next to be replaced and which diocese will next experience renewed hope. And as promised, the photos from the ordination and installation are included below.

+RNL

At the ordination and installation of Bishop Gregory L. Parkes to the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee. Photo kindness of Peggy Dekeyser with the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee.

 

At the ordination and installation of Bishop Gregory L. Parkes to the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee. Photo kindness of Peggy Dekeyser with the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee.

 

At the ordination and installation of Bishop Gregory L. Parkes to the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee. Photo kindness of Peggy Dekeyser with the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee.