I am on the plane returning to the diocese from two recent board meetings which I serve on. The first is the Board of Directors of the Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB) which is located in and requires travel to and from New York five times a year.
CMMB has been around a long time but is not well known to most Catholics. With its origin and roots in the Society of Jesus, CMMB accepts donation of huge supplies of pharmaceuticals, hospital and medical equipment, etc. and distributes them for use in about nine poor “focus” countries and elsewhere in the desperately poor world. I will write more about CMMB soon.
From bitterly cold New York I flew Monday evening to bitterly cold Tallahassee for the annual Red Mass at which I was asked to be the homilist and the quarterly meeting of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Our day yesterday began with breakfast with Governor Scott at the Mansion. The governor has grown quite comfortable and relaxed with the bishops over the last three years and our conversation focused on many items of common concern. I brought up the subject of Medicaid expansion to allow access to non-Emergency but necessary medical care to the poor and indigent. Governor Scott would be supportive but the legislation has no “legs” in the present Florida House and Senate. This is a shame and an embarrassment.
After a morning of Conference business, we met our various delegations who descended on capitol city dressed in their traditional red clothes for Catholic Days at the Capitol, a two-day event for Catholics from around the state to gather and discuss human life and dignity issues with elected officials.
There were over 350 at the luncheon for the volunteers which the bishops host each Spring during the legislative session, including forty-seven from the Diocese of St. Petersburg, including a delegation from St. Petersburg Catholic High School who are pictured here with me prior to the luncheon.
Here is a photo of our entire delegation, graciously taken and shared with us by the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In the afternoon, the state’s now eight bishops gathered for the Red Mass in a jam-packed Co-Cathedral of St. Thomas More.
My homily which is solely based on yesterday’s two readings from Deuteronomy and Matthew follows, or you can read it as a PDF by clicking here. I hope I did not embarrass our beloved diocese.
SOMETIMES WE NEED A GENTLE TAP ON OUR SHOULDER
Homily at the Red Mass
St. Thomas More Co-Cathedral, Tallahassee, FL
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop of St. Petersburg
There are those moments in the Church, more rare than regular, when through the daily readings from Sacred Scripture and on special occasions such as this that one can feel the gentle touch of the Lord’s hand on our shoulder and his whisper, “this is meant for you.” The two readings just proclaimed are those for the day, everywhere, throughout the world, and yet they seem to have special import for us this evening gathered in this place.
In God’s plan for His people, law has always occupied an important place. In the first reading, freed from the tyranny, slavery and wanton injustice of the Egyptian exile, God knew that his chosen people would need a framework of law by which to govern their life and actions upon their return to their homeland. Statutes, which would govern their relationship both with their creator as well as with one another. To Moses. their liberator and leader, he proposed ten simple statutes: thirty percent dealing with their relationship with Him and seventy percent dealing with their relationship with one another. Called “commandments” because they were to allow for no wiggle room of interpretation or appeal to a higher power, since there was no such thing, they set the framework for life which endures throughout the millennia to the present moment.
Respect life, don’t take it. Never steal. Stealing the good name of another through calumny and slander has no place among God’s people. Honor your parents and ancestors. When you take someone to be your wedded partner, be faithful to that person. God knew well the weaknesses, which dwell in human hearts and he legislated primarily for the common good. In so doing, in the eyes of God and humankind, law became constitutive of the human experience, necessary to insure right conduct and hallowed by none other than the creator.
Moses knew that ten laws would never be enough but were to provide the foundation, the framework for future guidance of human conduct. Centuries passed between Moses and Jesus, but the Lord himself underscored the need for law in the lives of us all. Pharaoh had been replaced by Caesar and divine law had been forced to give way to legislation enacted in far-away pagan Rome to be applied in far distant Jewish Palestine. But Jesus in the Gospel again affirms the place of law in the lives of a faithful person. Though not a lawyer, I find Jesus siding with the Scalia, Thomas, and Alito wing of the Supreme Court in a belief that law, at least divine law, is not organic but foundational. I think that is precisely what Jesus is suggesting in the Gospel tonight: “whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”
Thus my second point is that God’s Word tonight touches us ever so gently on the shoulder to remind us that all law is founded on the twin pillars of love of God and love of neighbor. While a secular state must approach the former with great dexterity, the rule of law rooted in the love and care and welcome provided to one’s neighbor is embraceable by all the world’s great religions. If as Jesus affirms, his appointed task in becoming man and coming to earth was not to abolish the law but rather to fulfill it, then that fulfillment finds itself in his never-ending desire to place his life, his ministry, his mission at the service of others. Government works best when it is constantly at the service of others and not of itself.
Third and finally, in most of our lives, we sin today not so often by commission but by omission. The commandments tell us what we must avoid doing. Our Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions tell us more about what we ought to be doing. Caring for the modern day equivalents of widows and orphans, the defenseless and the endangered, the lonely and the brave (especially those who bear the emotional and psychological scars of having served our nation in defense of the rights of others.) I am convinced that I will be judged not so much on how well I fulfilled the ten commandments but rather on how often I reached out to grasp the hand stretched out to me by a homeless man, a battered woman, a fear-filled immigrant, a family seeking medical care for a child which they can not afford, a single mom working at McDonalds forty hours a week but still not earning enough to support her two kids, a victim of sexual abuse by someone they should have trusted like a priest, scout leader, big-brother. So often these acts of loving outreach get filed away as what Jesus called tonight “the least of these commandments.” My generation has a lot to answer for to the Lord on Judgment Day, even if all we seek is entrance into and not the greatest place in the Kingdom of heaven.
Governor, Senator, Representative, Judge, Bishops, Priests, Deacons, Religious and all of God’s people. Feel the touch. Listen to His voice as he says, this one’s for you. Often it is what we have failed to do which is more violative of the spirit of the law than what we do with the letter of the law.
We do have some photos from the trip already, graciously taken and shared by Sabrina Burton Shultz, our Director of Life Ministry and Jackie Briggs, Campus Minister at St. Petersburg Catholic High School. You can see the photos by clicking here. More photos will be added to that album as they are received.
So it is back home this morning and hard at it till Easter.
Tonight I will be hearing confessions from five p.m. to seven p.m. as we offer our annual THE LIGHT IS ON FOR YOU opportunity for all to experience the healing graces of the sacrament of penance and reconciliation.
I invite you to come to Confession at one of our parishes tonight. EVERY Catholic Church in the diocese will turn on its lights and open its doors for YOU. Here is a short guide on Reconciliation in English and Spanish should you need it.
It will be nice to be back home.