Archive for April, 2013

THE LORD GIVES AND THE LORD TAKES AWAY

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013
Father Thomas Stokes, S.M.

Father Thomas Stokes, S.M.

Word came to me late yesterday of the deaths of two wonderful people. The Marist Fathers province informed us of the death of our dear Father Thomas Stokes, for many years the pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ybor City. Father Stokes retired last summer but remained around until the Fall when he returned to Ireland for the final time. I wrote lovingly about this man and his time among us last year and you can access that tribute by clicking here. For this moment, Father Tom did not have a long period of restful retirement, but now he rests in peace in that better place to which we all aspire and to which all of us who knew Father Stokes know that he is almost there, for sure.

When I arrived in the diocese in January of 1996, our communications officer was Joseph Mannion. He also died yesterday after a long struggle with cancer. Joe was one of the first people I heard about after my appointment as bishop became known as he had been a classmate and friend in Rome at the North American College of Cardinal William Keeler, a wonderful friend of mine and mentor to me. He told me that Joe and his wife remained close friends of his and that the diocese was blessed to have a communicator of his talent. Upon arriving, I found that Joe had been an on-air personality of Channel Eight here in the Tampa Bay area for a number of years and was a highly respected journalist in the newer medium of television. Joe was also the lobbyist in Tallahassee for Pasco County which necessitated his presence in the capital during legislative sessions and we were beginning to have the challenge of coming to know and handle the sexual misconduct claims of priests and other diocesan employees. It became almost impossible for Joe to represent both the county before the legislature and the Church before the media and he chose the county. A part of me always thought that because of his lifelong love of the Church and the priesthood, it was just awful for Joe to have to speak to these crimes of unspeakable pain and suffering perpetrated largely on minors. I would see Joe and his wife on occasion, always when his friend Cardinal Keeler was in town, and at the annual Red Mass in Tallahassee once each year when the bishops were in town. He was a great man in every way, a great servant of his Church and his faith, and a witness to both. May he rest in peace and may his wife Elizabeth and his sons be comforted by the memories of a life well lived and a service to the Lord and to humankind of the highest quality.

Finally, this brings me to the Lord’s most recent gifts. On Saturday last, I ordained eleven men to the transitional diaconate (this means simply that they are on their way to priesthood ordination next year and will serve as deacons only during a transitional period of thirteen months).

Photo kindness of Alexander Rivera, seminarian at the St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary

Photo kindness of Alexander Rivera, seminarian at the St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary.

The ordination took place at our regional seminary of St. Vincent de Paul in Boynton Beach where Monsignor David Toups is Rector and Monsignor Michael Muhr, both priests of our diocese, is spiritual director. Three of the eleven men were ordained for the Diocese of St. Petersburg. They are Brian Fabiszewski from St. Catherine parish in Largo, Jonathan Emery from St. Clement parish in Plant City, and Kyle Smith from Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Land O’ Lakes.

Deacon Kyle Smith, myself, Deacon Brian Fabiszewski, and Deacon Jonathan Emery. Photo kindness of Alexander Rivera, a seminarian at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary.

Deacon Kyle Smith, myself, Deacon Brian Fabiszewski, and Deacon Jonathan Emery. Photo kindness of Alexander Rivera, a seminarian at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary.

The other new deacons were from the Archdiocese of Miami, and the dioceses of Palm Beach, Orlando, Jacksonville and Pensacola-Tallahassee. My opportunity to ordain at the seminary to the diaconate comes once every seven years as the owning bishops of the seminary rotate the privilege. It was a glorious day with a glorious liturgy and I departed confident that six of our dioceses would be getting eleven great priests a year from now. Pictures from the occasion can be found by clicking here, as is my homily (click here to read it) on this occasion.

So indeed with two deaths of friends, colleagues and witnesses to the faith, the Lord has taken from our midst great people, but in the ordination rite, the renewal of ranks continues and he gives us continued hope for the future.

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“THIS IS WHAT WE EXPECT FROM WAR”

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

The quotation with which I begin this reflection was spoken yesterday by an emergency room coordinator at one of the Boston hospitals which received the most victims from yesterday’s senseless attack on innocent lives in Boston. Surveying the injured, declaring the dead, certainly wondering what the next ambulance delivery would bring to her emergency room doorstep, this healer found herself wounded by the carnage of the bombs and their after-effect on her life and the lives of many.

I was speaking on the telephone with Monsignor Brendan Muldoon on my way home when he informed me that there had been a bombing with some of loss of life in conjunction with the Boston marathon. I know Boston well having studied there and on turning on my television I recognized the corner. The network was showing again and again the little footage they had of the precise moment of the two explosions and I was overcome with two thoughts: first, I feared for a young man from the Cathedral parish who is studying at Boston University and who has run marathons, and secondly, I was impressed by the courage and compassion of everyone who chose not to flee the scene but to rush to the aid of the injured and dead. A text message to my friend quickly confirmed that he was fine and nowhere near the scene and throughout the evening, the recurring pictures of Americans doing what we do best, helping others remained with me.

Upon arriving home from an event, I spent an hour in my chapel in front of the Blessed Sacrament praying for my beloved Boston and its citizens and visitors and asking the Lord to lift this senseless and seeming endless cycle of violence from our world and our lives. I know this may not happen in my lifetime but it has to happen. This can not continue.

I am speaking of violence to the young women and men I am confirming this year. While I know that much violence can be rooted in mental illness, I also believe that we currently live in a culture of violence. Allow me to explain. The sacredness and value of human life is everywhere under attack. It starts with the taking of life of the unborn and sometimes ends with decisions about the end of life. It is to be found in video games where killing objects is thrilling, in movies which elevate graphic violence to an alleged “art form”, to capital punishment, to the use of drones to take out “enemies” but at times delivering collateral damage to innocents. It all can add up to thinking that human life is expendable and humans can make these decisions, not God. That’s the dark side of our current culture and society.

But, I do see occasional signs of hope as well. I thanked God last night for the courage of those who cast themselves in potentially harm’s way to assist those wounded. That is who we are as a nation and as a people. That is the way of Christ. FDR was spot on when in the face of the worst world war of human history he said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” to which in the intervening years, I would simply add, “and humankind’s rush to devaluate human life.” If you need proof that there is indeed a Satan in our world, just watch the Boston footage. What happened there and in Newtown and in Aurora, Colorado is pure unadulterated evil. We have only ourselves to blame if we allow this insensitivity to continue to lead us and the next generation behind us to continue this slide toward passive acceptance of the continued devaluation of human life.

May the Lord console those who mourn the death of the three who were murdered yesterday on the streets of Boston while taking the dead unto Himself, may the virtue of humanity also on display yesterday erase the pain of the violence for those wounded, and may those who did this be brought to justice. Amen.

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DEATH COMES TO THE COUNTY

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

HOMILY AT THE PRAYER VIGIL TO ABOLISH THE DEATH PENALTY

Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle

April 10, 2013

Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop of St. Petersburg

Giving the homily at the prayer vigil. Photo kindness of Sabrina Burton Schultz. To see a few more photos from the prayer vigil, please click here.

Giving the homily at the prayer vigil. Photo kindness of Sabrina Burton Schultz. To see a few more photos from the prayer vigil, please click here.

For the first time in my seventeen years as bishop of this diocese, the consequences of a heinous crime and the application of the death penalty has come to our area and in just a few minutes Larry Mann will himself experience death by lethal injection. My thoughts first go out to the family of Elisa Nelson, the young girl brutally murdered by Mann over three decades ago who are hoping that the death of this man will help bring closure to their long period of grief and suffering. No one, least of all myself, can speak of their experience of the loss of a daughter in an unspeakable way which this family has lived with. It would be tragic not to take this moment to pray for the Nelson’s and to commend again their darling daughter Elisa to eternal rest with God.

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace.

We gather this evening also to pray for the abolition of the death penalty in our state. We take as articles of faith that even one who has fully violated the fifth commandment, Thou shalt not kill, should not have their life taken by anyone other than the author of all life, the Lord God. All of the modern popes since the Second Vatican Council have spoken to the issue of capital punishment. While all have allowed it in the narrowest of circumstances, it was Blessed Pope John Paul II who said that it should be extremely rare. It is extremely hard to be pro-life when it comes to its beginning and postulate the arguments against abortion and still be for capital punishment. That same heart and mind which abhors the horror of abortion should logically abhor the state deciding who will live and who will die.

Proponents of the death penalty argue that justice can only be served when one violent act is responded to by another. As a child, my parents always taught us that two wrongs do not make a right. When “right dwells in the desert” and “justice abides in the orchard”, then the great prophet Isaiah promises that “justice will bring about peace; right will produce calm and security.” After over two hundred years of the exercise of the death penalty, there is no valid evidence that it reduces crime, that murders diminish, and that the people live in greater security. It is not and never has been a deterrent.

Florida’s use of the death penalty is one of the most egregious in the nation. It does not take the same unanimous jury which convicted the felon in the first place to initiate the death penalty. In fact, it only takes seven out of twelve members of a jury to recommend death, by lethal injection or the electric chair. Only one state in the union shares this sad statute with ours. Our elected judges can overrule a jury and assign the death penalty if they do not concur with the jury’s recommendation in capital cases. Death comes cheaply in Florida in our statutory law.

In the last two years, the governors and legislatures in two more states have abolished capital punishment: New Mexico and Maryland. Tonight we pray once again that what the rest of the world views as a barbaric response to admittedly heinous crimes becomes rarer and rarer to use our Holy Father’s words. “Forgiving one another as God has forgiven” us is part of our religious DNA. It is why we are here tonight. We use this occasion of yet another moment in Florida’s sad history to pray to God, the author of all life, to enlighten the hearts and minds of our people and elected officials and remove this last statutory remnant of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

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