Archive for June, 2013

THE FIRST 100 DAYS

Friday, June 21st, 2013
Pope Francis smiles as he greets the crowd outside after praying the rosary at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome May 4. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) (May 6, 2013)

Pope Francis smiles as he greets the crowd outside after praying the rosary at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome May 4. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) (May 6, 2013)

Pope Francis just passed the 100th day of his papacy. Here in these United States, once every four or eight years, the nation pauses to take stock of its newly elected leader (POTUS) and pundits and professors suddenly appear on cable talk, Sunday morning interviews and in the op-ed pages of the nation’s newspaper to assess the first 100 days – its successes and it failures (usually the latter), its promises kept and its promises broken (usually the latter), its prospects for the future and its potential calamities for the future as well (usually the latter). So with this “US” tradition in mind, what’s to be made of our new Pope and how does one judge his first one hundred days? I am about to provide a response but wish to make it clear that while I think I speak the heart and mind of a lot of people – Catholic or not – these are still only my thoughts.

I feel something like Simeon the prophet in that marvelous moment from Luke’s Gospel when Joseph and Mary present their newborn in the Temple and Simeon says, “Now, Master, you have kept your word. Your servant can go in peace.” That is exactly how I feel – with God’s help, especially four years ago next month, I have lived to see a new day begin to dawn in the Church which I love and am privileged to serve. Because of the election of one man from a special pastoral experience this successor of St. Peter is exceptionally candid, fearless in sharing not just his fine mind, but his loving heart as well, and, amazingly, a man intent on listening to the longings of others. He wants to go forward, really “put out into the deep” and not return to the shore of history and start anew from what failed to work in the past but live in this moment and respond now to the present realities and challenges. Here are some examples from the first one hundred days which give me heart:

1) To thousands of Jesuit students from around Italy, he casts aside the traditional prepared text, declares it likely to be boring, and says, let me answer some of your questions, whatever they might be. Someone rushes to the microphone to announce that whatever questions are asked, they are totally unprepared and infers the Pope should be forgiven if they embarrass either he or the questioner and for thirty minutes he captivates the young people, the world, and myself with his candor and love. Watch out Rio, this man has the touch to turn every past World Youth Day experience into an unprecdented moment of love. I know what some would say, did not John Paul II have the same chemistry with youth? Yes, in some ways, but he still read long, tedious and perhaps by this Pope’s estimation, boring speeches, homilies, etc.

2) When the ivestigation of US religious women and later when the investigation of LCWR was launched, I took a lot of grief from the National Catholic Reporter for being much too optimistic when I suggested, don’t worry so much about it. They have never led to doomsday. When Pope Francis says the same thing to the Central and South American equivalent to LCWR and CMSM, it is like a new revelation coming from Mt. Sinai in the person of the Pope. Francis understands that one cannot force toothpaste back into the tube once it is out, so learn to creatively live with it and keep the good work going.

3) When I did my recent post on the new translation of the Roman Missal, I caught some grief coming from one source on the Catholic right. But my salve came a few days later when no less a person than the Pope suggests that a return to the past is not the path to the future, leading me to believe that maybe a return to “And also with you” might return some day to replace, “And with your Spirit.” I still firmly believe that many of the attacks on the liturgy since the Council and more especially in recent years have been attacks on the Council’s integrity and work product and some of those who long for the old liturgy want even more. Pope Francis must scare these people to death.

4) One of the more challenging aspects of my personal ministry here in this diocese has been to enlist people to work for justice and to become a voice for the voiceless. “Yeah, yeah, but it is not my cup of tea,” people will say when of my personal support for FAST (Faith and Strength Together) in Pinellas county and HOPE in Hillsborough county. It is my belief that Pope Francis can not be understood unless someone has an appreciation of what it means to minister day and day out to those living in poverty, those thinking they have no voice and no one is listening. It is clear to me that this Pope’s pastoral heart is with these people and he wants his bishops and priests to be there with these people as well. I have a long way to go in this regard and very little time remaining to me to get there, but I understand him.

5) Finally, in hoping for a return to a more socially active, collegially committed episcopal conference, Pope Francis’s talk yesterday to the papal nuncios from around the world stirs my heart. “Pastores Dabo Vobis which translates, “I will give you shepherds” [or “pastors”] was cleverly inverted by the new Pope to ask those tasked with making recommendations for the episcopacy to “You give me pastors [shepherds]” to consider for the role of bishop. By that standard I am sure I would not have made it, but it is possible that I might have been a better bishop had I spent more time in “pastoring” a parish. I truly believe that the Holy Father was not excluding anyone from consideration but seeking including successful practical pastoral experience as a criteria for choice.

Allow me to end this “musing” with a repeat of what I said on the evening of his election and his first appearance before us all. The Holy Spirit truly has given us a shepherd who will provide continuity of doctrine, compassion in pastoral practice in leading the Church, and simplicity of lifestyle. He’s highly attractive to Catholics and non-Catholics alike but after all, it has only been one hundred days.

+RNL

THE BROWN ONES ARE MINE TOO!

Monday, June 10th, 2013
Photo from the USCCB's Justice for Immigrants Campaign material.

Photo from the USCCB’s Justice for Immigrants Campaign material.

Does anyone remember the at the time “Gaff” Vice President George H.W. Bush made when, during his campaign for the presidency, pointing out his grandchildren by his son Jeb and Columba, a Mexican woman?

Well, I know exactly how the former president felt because the women, men and children from Mexico are my spiritual brothers and sisters, spiritual sons and daughters as well, regardless of whether or not they are in this country legally or without documents. They are rapidly becoming the core faith group in the Catholic Church in the United States and they have as much claim on my mind and heart as anyone else. Thus, I am very interested as both a bishop and as an American in the forthcoming debate and vote on immigration reform which is likely to begin in the U.S. Senate within days.

My brother bishops in Florida (a high impact state for the undocumented) and I have today issued a statement on immigration reform. Along with capitol punishment, immigration reform brings me more push-backs in the comment section opportunity in this blog than anything else I write about.

The Florida bishops’ statement is a good one and expresses my very strong commitment to have our elected officials realistically and openly wrap their minds around this very pressing issue. Too many people, Catholics most all of them, live in constant fear of deportation. I know they are here illegally in many instances and I have heard and reflected on all the arguments that those who break the law should NOT be given a break by the law.

But they are here. And they are working, albeit for a pittance. And they are not homeless and in our streets. And they are very strongly peaceful and law-abiding people. And they are Catholics with a strong devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe and a desire to pray, celebrate all the sacraments, and feel welcome in our Churches. It is in this context that they are indeed “mine” but they belong to The Lord, to the Church and to all of us.

I ask you to read the statement of the bishops of Florida which you can do by clicking here for English and here for Spanish. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ also has a number of statements on the subject and the position of your and my Church is clearly laid out before you. Please take some time to read it and please, please send an e-mail to the appropriate Senators and members of the House asking for action on immigration reform before the summer recess. It is a justice issue.

In honor of Jean Stapleton who died last week, for us it is also “all in the family.” Do something. Write or call – not me, them – our elected reps who need to hear from us because a “yes” vote is going to take some backbone, but, is one we can win. As the call of the barricades in the musical Les Miserables asks, “will you join in our parade?”

+RNL

NO MORE SCRUBS

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

This morning I formally and in a very nice way finished my seven years on the Board of the Catholic Health Association. It doesn’t seem like seven years to me but it has been seven grace-filled years to be sure. My final moment was spent right where it should have been, at the altar celebrating daily Mass for about five hundred of the slightly more than one thousand delegates attending the annual Assembly this year in Anaheim, California. The attendees are a diverse lot from religious women whose congregations founded the great Catholic hospital system of this nation to lay women and men who now manage and run the hospitals.

Much is changing fast in the world of health care. Let me illustrate by speaking of the two Catholic hospitals in our local Church, St. Joseph’s in Tampa and St. Anthony’s in St. Petersburg. Fifteen years ago, knowing that some sort of merger or alliance would be necessary to keep these non-profit health care facilities alive, the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, New York decided to enter a joint venture with four other local non-profit hospitals to form a new entity called BAYCARE. Prior to that decision, the sisters had already joined what then and now is called a system of hospitals which was called CATHOLIC HEALTH EAST. The system was made up of a number of Catholic sponsored hospitals mostly as the name implies along the east coast of the US. Forming systems gave smaller independent order sponsored hospitals the purchasing strength and other market protections which were then felt necessary to stave off the rise of the for-profit hospital systems (I won’t name them but they are present in our community). It was farsighted and fortuitous. It is likely none of them would be standing today had the sisters not formed the systems.

In our case, the two Catholic sponsored hospitals differed significantly. St. Joseph’s was doing very well and St. Anthony’s was struggling. BAYCARE provided the financial protection to grow St. Anthony to the position it is currently in which is quite sound and St. Josephs like its sister in the system, Morton Plant is also cruising along well. All of the hospitals in the BAYCARE joint venture agreed to abide by the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Facilities.” (if you wish to see what these directives require, click here). None of the hospitals were engaged in performing elective abortions and they did not wish to do so. Originally, Bayfront Hospital in St. Petersburg was in the joint venture but then politics and politicians got involved and they left and have struggled financially ever since.

How long Catholic health care can continue is an open question but for the moment, the systems are growing and more and more not-for-profit hospitals are joining in. There is also now a move to start for-profit hospitals under Catholic auspices. What is the difference, one might ask? A non-for-profit Catholic Hospital does make money but instead of distributing it to stock holders, the money is plowed back into the facility for enhancement and staying current and up-to-date. Community care is assured and the interests of the poor and under-served are still met.

So I leave an organization from which I have learned a great deal and for which I have a great love and now even a devotion. It has been an honor to work for and with Catholic Health Association and its President, Sister Carol Keehan, DC. She and her staff are first rate representatives of the best our Church has to offer in the health care arena. My colleagues, episcopal, lay and religious on the Board are outstanding witnesses to the desire to maintain and carry on the founding vision and charisms of those who began in the ministry many decades ago. Only God knows where the ministry will go in the future and what it will look like. I can say that in the seven years I have been privileged to serve, we have kept the vision and identification alive. I will miss them as I miss being involved intimately in Catholic Relief Services but for every thing there is a time and a season.

+RNL