I have had a great week in so many ways which I wish to share with the readers of this blog. My Thanksgiving began with a Liturgy of Thanksgiving last Wednesday on the night before the great American holiday. With the Cathedral church closed for remodeling, the Mass was celebrated in the parish hall where a very lovely temporary worship space has been created and the children’s choir reminded all in attendance of innocence, spirit, gratitude and joy. My brother came down from Buffalo to be with my nephew (his son) and we had Thanksgiving dinner together for the first time in a long time. Brother Tim, whom many of you met only rhetorically from the train trip across America in June, was unable to come up from South Florida not because, for once, of any physical limitation he has at the moment, but the need to care for a very special person in his life who is suffering from very severe back pain. Nephew Chris and his wife, Julie, and their two year old daughter Brinleah plus their 8/9th second daughter (due January 3, 2013) hosted not just myself but several others who had no place to go to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner.
On Friday, I celebrated Mass at St. Clement’s Church in Plant City which is beginning to celebrate the centennial (100 years) of the celebration of the first Mass in that small city. About 300 people gathered to thank the good Lord for 100 years of blessings and faith and it was a lovely Eucharistic celebration.
On Saturday, I hosted about twenty people to watch the Notre Dame-Southern California game at my residence. The rule was that hamburgers and hot dogs would be served between 7 and 8pm after which the cook/chef (moi) would retire to concentrate on the game. Ninety minutes prior to the beginning of the game, my cable box blew out and I was certain that tragedy had struck. But a second cable box in the bedroom was moved to the Florida room and none of my guests were even aware of the trauma that preceded their arrival. The outcome of the game, of course, made rest come easy that night but it was one a.m. before the mess was cleaned up and the bishop could retire.
Sunday began with a Mass during which I installed Father Damian, T.O.R. as pastor of old St. Mary’s in downtown St. Petersburg. A full Church and a magnificent choir contributed to the spirit of thankfulness the people held in their hearts for both Father Cletus Watson who had to retire from being pastor (he still lives there and assists) and for Father Damian whom they had come to know well in the last year. Prior to coming to St. Mary’s he had been pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Bradenton and lots of his old parishioners were present to pray him well.
One of the nicest things I do each year occurs on the Solemnity of Christ the King when I present the diocesan medal struck in honor of our patron saint, the apostle Jude, to nominees from each parish and mission in the diocese (view photos by clicking here). Accompanied in almost every instance by their pastor or occasionally their assistant pastor, these people who have given years of quiet and humble service approach the altar and receive their medal and a picture taken with me of that moment. Many are weeping tears of joy and humility as they come forward. None of them do for God and His Church anything to eventually cop this recognition. In fact, I always say that if you think you deserved this moment and medal, you probably don’t, but if you think you are unworthy and should not be receiving it, then you are exactly who it was meant for. Great people receive this medal annually, and before them I am humbled.
On Monday, I met with the Presbyteral Council and they talked about many things. It was one of those meetings where I could sit back and enjoy the conversation as they wrestled with giving me advice on issues of some moment and consequence. There was a great, lively and honest discussion and progress was made on several fronts. After lunch I reviewed the results of a number of studies about the Church in the US at this precise moment and said that the statistics needed to help us develop a pastoral plan for the short-term future. For instance, there are 75 million Americans who identify themselves as Catholic but only 17 million are in Church every Sunday. 68% of those who identify themselves indicate that they would not advise a young person to consider a vocation to the priestly or religious life. I’ll be sharing more of these realities with you in the coming months here as we discuss them in the Diocesan Pastoral Council and the Presbyteral Council. They are important for the future.
Finally, yesterday (Wednesday) I was in Tyler, Texas for the ordination of a young new bishop whom I have known for some time through a mutual friend, Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe (instrumental in both of our priestly vocations and who preached both of our first Masses as priests). Bishop Joseph E. Strickland is a priest of the same diocese he is now called to serve as bishop which is rare in episcopal appointments in the United States. But the priests and people of Tyler loved him and yesterday they showed it many times during the ordination ceremony. Tyler is in east Texas, about 150 miles east of Dallas from which it was mostly cut off in 1986. It has 89,000 Catholics now and is one of the more missionary of the Texas dioceses. Tyler is the “Rose Capitol” of the world, or so it claims and so does the Papal Bull of appointment (Father Reginald Foster in Rome or whomever must have had fun writing that one for the Holy Father to approve). Fall is just now beginning to arrive in East Texas so I will end by quoting those lovely lines from Louis Armstrong, “I SEE LEAVES OF GREEN, RED ROSES TOO, …WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD.”