Archive for December, 2013

IT CAME UPON A MIDNIGHT CLEAR

Wednesday, December 25th, 2013

On Christmas eve I celebrated three Masses for Christmas around the diocese as has been my custom almost every year since coming in 1996. I try for the first Vigil Mass for Christmas to go north in the diocese since they often feel left out on many things.This year I was the celebrant and homilist for the 400pm Vigil Mass at St. Benedict Catholic Church in Citrus county. At almost every parish in the diocese, the first Mass on Christmas eve targets children and families and this was no exception. The parish is largely a retirement community so there are not an awful lot of children to begin with but add to their number the grandchildren and nieces and nephews who travel at Christmas and we had about forty kids between the age of 3 and 7. I invite them to come forward to the altar after the Gospel proclamation and there I tell them my favorite Christmas story. Here are some of the pictures from the Mass yesterday afternoon.

Mostly all ears!

Mostly all ears!

 

Land the plane, Bishop. one of the kids was thinking

Land the plane, Bishop. one of the kids was thinking

 

With special thanks to Father Ryszard Stradomski. gracious host and splendid pastor of St. Benedict parish

With special thanks to Father Ryszard Stradomski. gracious host and splendid pastor of St. Benedict parish

With  barely two hours to spare, seminarian Joseph Plesco who was driving for me last night as well as assisting in the ceremonies and I left for ninety mile trip to Nativity parish, Brandon. I wanted to go there because Christmas is, after all, the feast of the Nativity for birth of our Lord and they had a scheduled Spanish Mass for 730pm, giving me time to celebrate the Mass and be back in St. Petersburg with time to spare prior to the Midnight Mass at the Cathedral of St. Jude.  So off we went to Brandon.

Nativity is our largest parish in the diocese and from its inception under the pastoral guidance of Monsignor Jaime Lara, retired and still very much a force major, Nativity has always been a happy home for and mixture of the Hispanic as well as Anglo cultures. It produces the greatest number of vocations for the diocese and is known for its excellent liturgies. Last night was no exception, except maybe for the principal celebrant whose Spanish sometimes cries out to heaven for vengeance.

About 800 people came for Mass in the Main Church while another 800 attended Mass in English in the parish hall. With full choir and my discovering my voice once again, we sang the newborn Christ Child into life.  The liturgy was reverential yet lively, congregation fully participating and the celebrant singing away in Spanish. Sometimes I do find I make less mistakes singing the Mass parts in Spanish than in simply reciting them because I go much slower when musically inclined.

Here are some pictures from the liturgy in Spanish a Nativity. A last minute decision was made to have Father Nelson Restrepo preach the homily whiles yours truly at the end invited the children between 3 and 7 years old to come forward for a second retelling of my favorite Christmas story. Once again the kids “got into it” and their parents also full participated.

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By the time Midnight Mass had begun at the Cathedral I had failed to hand my camera over to anyone to take pictures of that beautiful setting. But if you wish to see the whole Mass, you are in luck. Simply log on to www.dosp.org and click on “Click here to watch Christmas Midnight Mass at the Cathedral.” You and those lucky people will not and did not hear my favorite children’s Christmas story.

I write these thoughts with two hours remaining in Christmas of 2013. I am exhausted and going to bed but there will be least two more posts before we call 2013 a wrap. Merry Christmas all.

Bishop Robert N. Lynch aka +RNL

A GENUINE HERO

Friday, December 6th, 2013
Nelson Mandela. Photo courtesy of the News.va Facebook page.

Nelson Mandela. Photo courtesy of the News.va Facebook page.

Much has been written in the hours since Nelson Mandela’s death was announced late yesterday afternoon and more will follow. I debated whether or not I could add anything to the strong current of praise and thanksgiving which is attendant upon this good man’s death at the age of 95 and decided to share these few thoughts with you about Mandela.

When I was young I never thought I would live to see two things. The first was the end of communism and the fall of the Berlin wall. It seemed so improbable in the days of Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Andropov. When the outlying states started getting “frisky”, Moscow tightened its grip on them and their puppets in the what was then Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and East Germany thought nothing of murdering/ imprisoning, torturing countless of their own people yearning to breath free. Russia and the KGB were relentless in seeking out anyone who spoke for any form of genuine democracy and one could see the suffering on the faces of those people. Stalin had established an iron-fist and drawn an iron-curtain and it was impossible for me to think then of any major change in my lifetime. Perhaps it was the foolishness of youth or a lack of faith in the power of God.

The second also  had to do with an “end-game” but this time it was my deeply rooted belief that in my lifetime I would probably never see the end of apartheid in South Africa. I had an occasion to visit South Africa in 1990 during the final years of white domination and while Nelson Mandela was still on Robbin Island, several miles out to sea from Cape Town. I drove through the camps/settlements of the black South Africans and found it rivaling or exceeding sometimes even the enormous poverty of Rio, Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Watts, etc. There was one thing one could count on and that was that by a certain time in the early evening, every black South African needed to be back in the townships and off the streets where the whites lived. I knew it would not last because the rest of the world was waking up to its responsibility to help bring it to an end. I just did not think it would come so quickly.  Then the economic embargo began to make a difference. People throughout the world began to divest themselves from corporations doing business in South Africa, thereby propping up the white government rule. The bishop’s conference for which I worked excluded IBM, Ford, General Motors from our investment portfolios (at some sacrifice of earning) and those great corporations gradually either withdrew or radically downsized their presence in South Africa. The white minority could not ignore the growing disasterous consequences of white supremacy.

Through it all, there were two voices of sanity to  be heard. The Anglican Bishop of Capetown, Desmond Tutu, and from his cell on Robbin Island, Nelson Mandela. The African National Congress began to unify the black South Africans and the tide of the end of white rule in neighboring Zimbabwe began to seep South. First, Mandela was released from prison. With passion, conviction and courage, he preached a message of unification which included reconciliation and forgiveness. F.W. DeKlerk, the last white President of South Africa called for genuine elections knowing that he and his party would lose badly and when they did and Mandela became the nation’s president, there were no words of hatred to be heard from him against those who held the overwhelming number of citizens in bondage but only words of forgiveness and reconciliation and an intelligent, wise call for unity.

Majority rule in South Africa has not solved all the nation’s problems, economic and social. Even in Mandela’s government there was to be found instances of corruption though none ever touched the President. Patiently, steadily, steadfastly with a reliance on the help of God, he forged a nation with the intent to get better for all in time but to live in the present for the future without anger for the past. He acknowledged the role of religion and religions in freeing black South Africans from the grip of near-slavery and certainly desperate poverty but knew he could only start the forward progress and others would have to complete it. When his terms as President were up as a result of the new constitution he never threatened as did others in the nations to his near north, to remain in office but rather he retired from the spotlight and allowed, like the North Star,  a single point of light to accompany him till his death yesterday. He, like Pope Francis, and like this bishop, would readily and publicly admit that he was a sinner but he had tasted redemption in his life on earth and he wanted others to have the opportunity to dine at the same table. What a man! What a leader! What an example to a nation and to a world! I would have loved to have been the proverbial fly on the wall when the Lord came to take him home yesterday and I look forward to hopefully sharing eternity with him.

Nelson Mandela, rest in the peace of the Lord.

+RNL

THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL

Sunday, December 1st, 2013

This pope is absolutely amazing. Earlier this week he released his first major “exhortation” to the Church universal entitled The Joy of the Gospel. There were probably few ghostwriters for this piece. It is clear when you read it, and I am reading it for the third time, that it is pure Pope Francis. It is a challenge to the Church from a shepherd who lived and worked in a large urban environment in the new world where everything does not work or look like it might in Europe. For the last several hundred years our Church has often looked and acted like a European Church. But in the emerging churches what might play in Prague or Paris or Peoria for that matter more often than not just doesn’t work elsewhere in the world.

The Holy Father has addressed fundamental challenges facing the entire world, especially the poorer nations and challenges the more prosperous to an even higher level of accountability. And what he asks of nations, he also asks of persons. Voices have already been raised in certain quarters in the last week along the general lines of “the Pope seems like a nice man but an economist he is not.” At times it seems to me like the old canard that if you don’t like the message, then shoot the messenger. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI also wrote of the vast disparities arising from economic inequalities among nations and peoples but perhaps because Pope Francis is so popular, one can expect fairly severe criticisms directed his way and we should be supportive of him. He knows what the poor look like, what they need and seek.

To my utter amazement, the TAMPA BAY TIMES editorially embraced the Holy Father yesterday (Saturday) and his worldview and pastoral mission. In my soon to be eighteen years completed as bishop here, it is the first time I can remember such editorial support from this paper directed to the Holy Father personally and the Church he leads. The editorial board of that paper seems to understand not only his economic views, but his desire to make our Church more missionary as well.

But right at the same time the Church around the world is beginning yet another Church year, the same The Joy of the Gospel shines yet further light on the vision of this Pope for what the Church of the early part of this century should look like. A papal vision that is beginning to take shape, flesh being applied to structural bones. It begins with an acknowledgement that he, the Pope, will seek the counsel and opinion of others in order to make the Church more responsive to the times. Was that not what Blessed John XXIII said when he called the Second Vatican Council together?

The Second Vatican Council was the first stirring of unrest out in the trenches of the world. Read any history of those proceedings and one soon realizes that the “earth-shattering” ideas of collegiality, subsidiarity, and synodalism were seen as threats to a certain command and control structure. Strengthening national conferences of bishops was in some quarters seen as a sure recipe for weakening the central curia’s command and control structure and they responded. It was seen in some places as a “battle” for the soul of the Church. The bishops of the world in Council could pass all the documents they wished, but when it came to implementation, Rome retained its absolute power. The key word in the struggle was a Latin word, “recognitio” and almost every major action, which would be taken by an episcopal conference anywhere, demanded a “Good Housekeeping stamp of approval” (my image for what the word “Recognitio” means) from someone in the direct service of the Holy See. Now our new Holy Father is suggesting that national episcopal conferences might have some element of teaching authority, that they might just be better positioned to decide some issues locally than the Holy See (subsidiarity), and that more effective evangelization of people might be possible as a result of larger collaboration and listening. It is truly, possibly a new Advent.

We were once told that episcopal conferences did not have teaching authority which might ultimately be binding on the Catholic population of a nation (our conference had never claimed such) so imagine me almost falling out of my chair when in his exhortation, Pope Francis cites documents of episcopal conferences, including our own, as examples of how local churches teach.

While affirming the fact that he believes the question of the ordination of women to the priesthood is forever closed, he dreams of women in the highest positions of authority, which do not require ordination. He foresees a priesthood, which does not rest in a rectory, till the doorbell or phone rings, but actively places itself at the direct and constant service of the poor. On abortion, he reaffirms the tragic moral evil, which it is, but he challenges us to be as concerned about the distressed woman who seeks an abortion and what we might do should she choose life. The difference to me is that his questions are not rhetorical but demanding of answers and incorporation into our mission. The larger Church can and should do what many of our parishes have successfully begun, shift from maintenance to mission.

So, along comes the Joy of the Gospel suggesting that there can be and needs to be a better way of being Church universal. And to back up what he said on Monday, on Friday Pope Francis met with the heads of all the major religious orders of men in the world. Believe me, more than most of we diocesan bishops, religious superiors of men and women serve in the front lines of evangelization. Pope Francis in the meeting called them prophets. The classic definition of a prophet is “one who comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.” He did not give them a speech.  Not this Pope. No text. Instead he tells them, tell me what is on your mind, what are you praying for, how can I help and he stays with them not thirty minutes but three hours. It is possibly the beginning of a whole new way of being Church.

We now have a successor to Peter who seems to think that the local churches have a strength which needs to be allowed to germinate, bloom and flower and he wants to listen to all. (A note to my diocesan readers: don’t forget to take the survey on Marriage and Family Life in our day on the diocesan website: www.dosp.org).

If, perchance, you feel a new sense of energy and excitement in these words, which I pen here and earlier, it is true. Thanksgiving week was a great week for the Church and for myself as well. Today we truly are beginning a “new Advent” and our period of waiting is winding down. Blessed Advent to all. Read the exhortation by clicking here and also here is the Tampa Bay Times editorial.

+RNL

P.S. I would also recommend a very incisive monograph by Archbishop John R. Quinn, Archbishop Emeritus of San Francisco, entitled Ever Ancient, Ever New: Structures of Communion in the Church recently published by the Paulist Press.