Archive for November, 2012

WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD! WHAT A WONDERFUL WEEK!

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

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.

With Wilfredo and Suzanne Huertas, and Rev. Anthony Coppola of Sacred Heart Parish in Pinellas Park. Photo kindness Ray Bassett.

With Wilfredo and Suzanne Huertas, and Rev. Anthony Coppola of Sacred Heart Parish in Pinellas Park. Photo kindness Ray Bassett.

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.

Bishop Joseph E. Strickland. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Tyler website.

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.”

+RNL

THANKSGIVING WITH MY FRIENDS

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012
With Sr. Gladys Sharkey, OSF, who celebrates her 60 years of consecrated life and service to the people of God! Photo kindness of Dana Rozance.

With Sr. Gladys Sharkey, OSF, who celebrates 60 years of consecrated life and service to the people of God! Photo kindness of Dana Rozance.

Within forty-nine hours of each other, I had the wonderful occasion to spend time with sixteen sisters (view photos by clicking here) who will or have celebrated major anniversaries of their life in religion and with the retired priests of the Diocese of St. Petersburg as well as elsewhere in North America. Both are annual occasions but what made them very enjoyable this year is that both occasions occured within the penumbra of Thanksgiving.

Regular readers of this blog should already know of my love and fondness for our sisters and the few brothers who are either active or retired and living in the diocese. The sisters have a hard time with the Church at times when it seems that they only arouse interest when someone or some part of the ecclesial bureaucracy is angry or frustrated with them. They often do not hear or do not hear often enough words of thanksgiving and gratitude from the likes of myself and would have reason to wonder if anyone even cares any more.

Of the sixteen of twenty-four who are celebrating anniversaries this year, there were two Benedictine sisters (blood sisters as well as sisters in religious life) who are celebrating eighty years of professed life. Imagine, they left their homes in Texas in 1932 to travel to San Antonio, Florida, and begin eight decades of witness to their Lord according to the rule of Benedict and Scholastica. The great depression was just getting rolling when they committed themselves and Hitler and his evil empire had not yet begun to make its presence known in Germany or Europe. Both taught school for years and years.

There were no twenty-five year or silver anniversary jubilarians this year (they are getting less and less) but there were a good number of golden (50) and diamond (60). One can’t help but love them. Their stories which are briefly summarized as they get a $25 gift certificate to Barnes and Noble (am I cheap, or what?) are always amazing. We would not be where we are were it not for the great work of these great women over the years. They know I both admire and love them and I suspect every reader of this post does as well. Health, happiness and holiness are my prayers for Brother Chris of Tampa Catholic and the sisters with whom we shared both the Eucharistic table on Saturday as well as a nice, simple meal. One requirement last Saturday, however, smacking of my memory of sisters of previous decades – we had to be through and back in place for the kick-off of Notre Dame’s amazing eleventh win against no losses. No losses in these jubilarians either – they are precious before the eyes of the Lord.

On Monday, I celebrated Mass (view photos by clicking here) at the Bethany Center for about sixty-two of the retired priests who reside within the five counties of the Diocese. We have about thirty-four retired priests of the diocese and another forty or fifty from other dioceses in the U.S. and Canada who spend either part of or the whole year here with us.

With our retired priests at the St. James Chapel at the Bethany Retreat Center. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

With our retired priests at the St. James Chapel at the Bethany Retreat Center. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Many of them have no place to go for Thanksgiving and were it not for our annual Mass and outing, there might be no turkey and all the trimmings for them. They are always so appreciative and those from other dioceses are amazed that they are invited and welcomed to this event. Unable to be present this year but in 2013 to be celebrating their seventieth anniversaries of ordination are Monsignor George Cummings and Benedictine Father James Hoge. Both are approaching or have reached their ninety-fifth birthday and there is a Franciscan Father who is also at or soon to reach this threshold.

I often suggest to our priests that we do not reflect enough on the “shoulders of the giants” on which we walk and among our retired diocesan priests, there are to be found outstanding examples of priestly zeal, courage, fidelity and effective ministry.

With both groups I reflected on the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council which we are beginning to observe. More about that in forthcoming reflections here. For the meantime, even though my brother from Buffalo is arriving to spend Thanksgiving with his son and wife who live here and his grandaughter of two and his 8/9s of grandchild number two, a great part of my Thanksgiving has already been observed with my friends.

Finally, I would be a real ingrate if I did not thank God for all of you whom it is my privilege to serve, and I will tonight and tomorrow, at Mass and throughout the day. HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL.

+RNL

RAVENS, ORIOLES AND BISHOPS

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

I realize it has been some time since my last posting here and I will admit to a certain “desert” experience during which I felt neither the muse nor the motive. However, that brief period is now over and I am ready again to take “pen to hand” (well, not exactly literally) and share some thoughts with you again.

“A Sea of Bishops” at Mass on Monday morning. Thank you to Lisa Hendey, a Catholic blogger also at the Mass and who covered the USCCB meeting, for tweeting this photo and for graciously allowing me to post it. You can check out more photos and her tweets recapping the meeting by clicking here.

I am currently killing time in Baltimore awaiting my return flight to St. Petersburg after the fall meeting of the bishops of the US (USCCB). Admittedly, there was both some soul-searching and some navel gazing following the recent elections, but the work of the Church continues. Among the public actions taken, I think a special message on “preaching” written for bishops, deacons and priests who are privileged to have this special task was probably one of the best things which we accomplished during the two days of public meetings. It is a challenging document, sober in its analysis of both the challenge and efficacy of preaching. In my humble opinion, it is one of the better pastoral items coming from the USCCB in recent years. When published, I intend to give a copy to all of our priests and deacons but for those who cannot wait, Rocco Palmo of the “mother of all ecclesial blogs” has the text in its entirety and up even before the USCCB’s own website. You can read it by clicking here.

There is always a lot of “business” and “busyness” accompanying our annual meetings since the annual budget for the conference and the priorities and plans, in the case of this year’s meeting, for the next three years must be passed. Cardinal Dolan’s Presidential address on the need for the Sacrament of Reconciliation was different than what we usually hear and built upon Pope Benedict’s homily that the new evangelization must spring from the twin foundations of reconciliation and charity. The representative of the Holy Father to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, addressed us thoughtfully on a number of matters including the care of the bishops for his priests.

It was hard at times for me to concentrate as there is a major challenge awaiting me at home in the diocese. With somewhere near 1,500 employees whose health care plan is administered by United Healthcare, the battle between they and Baycare, whose doctors and hospitals many of our employees use, is approaching a decisive hour when major decisions will have to be made. I can not envision being a part of a healthcare plan which does not include St. Anthony’s and St. Joseph’s Hospitals, but Baycare is demanding a dramatic increase in reimbursement fees which will also impact the already stretched and tight budgets of our parishes, schools and institutions. Nowhere in seminary training, then or now, were we trained how to deal with a “Clash of Titans.” November 30th is the drop dead date after which some major decisions may have to be made by my administrative team.

Tampa is in the news in a tragic and unflattering way these days, as most of you know, which leads me to share some concluding thoughts on fidelity, marriage, ordination and consecration. I don’t know if it is just me, but it seems that infidelity has brought down too many role models in the last decade, be they athletes, religious leaders, politicians, and now, high ranking leaders of the military. That marriages fail is an understandable reality and fact of life. That dalliances prevail is a tragedy of modern life. Cheating on one’s firm commitment undermines the stability and trust not just of the promises, but also of the major institutions of society and the people we elect, chose or admire who hold those positions. Fidelity, where art thou? It seems to me that fidelity is in, shall we say, a “skyfall!”

With that last paragraph, you might wish that I re-enter the desert where there are no birds, no ravens, no orioles, and no bishops!

+RNL