Archive for April, 2014

EASTER 2014

Saturday, April 19th, 2014
THE BAPTISMAL MOMENT AT THE EASTER VIGIL

THE BAPTISMAL MOMENT AT THE EASTER VIGIL

Easter 2014 is almost history but I wish to share some final thoughts with you before we move on to this coming weeks canonizations of Blessed Pope John XXIII and Blessed Pope John Paul II which will take place next Sunday in Rome. Holy Week 2014 was special for me and will always be because we were finally in our new space at the Cathedral of St. Jude. Pictures of the Chrism Mass last Tuesday morning/afternoon show some of the magnificence of the new space for the liturgies which we held there but you almost had to be there to achieve the whole effect of how our architecture and rites can combine magnificently.

Our liturgies were wonderful beginning with Palm Sunday and journeying right through the Easter Vigil last night. The Cathedral choir is beginning to show the signs of excellence that I hope come with their renewed energy because of the space they now sing and praise in and Chris Berke, their director and our principal organist, prepared wonderful settings and music for the whole week.

Father Joseph Waters and Father James and Deacon John Shea backed by a hard-working staff largely of volunteers made space, action, and support into one mosaic of prayer and piety. I have a wonderful Master of Ceremonies for Cathedral events who has been at my side in one way or another for nineteen years almost, John Christian. He works with the young men and women who serve both as Cathedral altar servers and members of the “Bishops’ Corps”, present most of the time when I am there for major ceremonies.

I BAPTIZE YOU IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, SON AND HOLY SPIRIT

I BAPTIZE YOU IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, SON AND HOLY SPIRIT

At the Easter Vigil Mass, we were able to use the immersion baptismal pool for the first time and it was wonderful, for those being baptized who literally came up out of the waters and for the rest of us baptized who were more engaged than usual, I suspect, because of action and place being new and forceful. There were catechumens who were baptized, confirmed and made first Eucharist and candidates who having previously been baptized were confirmed, made first penance, and first Eucharist.

Finally, I want to share with you my homily last night at the Easter Vigil. Since the Fifth Sunday of Lent I have been repeatedly hitting the theme of the signs that accompany us on our journey to and through Holy Week to the tomb on Easter Sunday and how we need to pay as much attention to them as we pay to the universal signs like the red octagon which signals “STOP” everywhere in the world. They are the scriptural signs which God gives us along the way to help us on our journey of faith. I suspect that at least the priests of the cathedral will be happy when I move off this theme and onto something else in the days and months ahead but I like it when I can weave one major theme through many successive liturgical events.

NEW CATHOLICS - CATECHUMENS AND CANDIDATES NO MORE

NEW CATHOLICS – CATECHUMENS AND CANDIDATES NO MORE

Happy Easter to all. As Pope Francis pointed out in his Easter Vigil homily, Jesus invites all of us to journey again to our personal Galilees where we first met him and renew and strengthen our acquaintance. See you there?

HOMILY AT THE EASTER VIGIL
Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle
Saturday, April 19, 2014
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop of St. Petersburg

        Beloved sisters and brothers and tonight dearly beloved catechumens and candidates,

       For those soon to receive the Easter sacraments and indeed for all of us, a long journey is merely minutes from completion. We have heard the word that he has risen. We can leave Jerusalem soon and return to our homes secure in the knowledge that death has been overcome, evil conquered, and eternity secured because of the love of one man for us all.

       Like all long journeys, sometimes into less than certain realms, we have relied on directions and signs. Putting aside Garmin, Google, Microsoft and Apple, we have followed the path outlined in sacred scripture to get us to this moment. Scripture has taken us on this journey in recent days to Bethany and the home of Lazarus and Martha and Mary, to the main road leading into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, to the Upper Room on Thursday night, to Pilate and Herod Antipas, to Golgotha and to tomb yesterday and tonight we are told by the angel that Jesus wishes us to once again take to the road and return to Galilee to meet with him once again.

      Wanting us never to wander too far afield, we have been given signs along the way. Tonight’s second reading told us of the journey into the countryside of Abraham and his beloved son in whom he and Sarah were well pleased and so happy. Abraham is willing to slaughter his long sought-after child to do the will of God the Father, but God spared him only to have God the Father choose not to spare his only begotten Son the death on a cross. It was meant as a sign and its significance only became clear tonight with the angel’s news.

      The third reading tonight told us of the journey of the Jews out of Egypt to freedom from slavery, to freedom of religion, to freedom to feed themselves from the land of both milk and honey, but reminded that a part of the human condition would sometimes seem like there was never enough.

      And the Gospel reading told us of the journey of the women to the tomb, suggested the sound of the giant stone being rolled back so that Jesus could exit and we, by the events of these days, would also be freed, free of our sins of pride and selfishness, free of the fear of death because now for the faithful people there is a clear alternative to nothingness called heaven and life with God and with the saints.

      For slightly more than forty-eight hours, all our weakness, all our fears, all our unanswered prayers, all our selfishness, all our anger, all our jealousy, all our hopelessness, all our directionless, all our lust, all our lies, all our prejudices, all our inclinations to slander and gossip, all our laziness in practicing our faith, all our weakness lay hidden, dormant, dead in that tomb – death seemed to have won, evil seemed to have triumphed, inhumanity seemed to have ruled over hope, kindness, generosity and forgiveness. But then that stone was removed revealing an empty tomb and each and every one of us was invited to come out and begin a new, in Him, and through Him and with Him. The stone rolled back from before the tomb becomes a sign of the invitation to embrace Christ more closely and live our life with Him more clearly, day by day. A journey which might have been expected to have ended has instead just begun anew, again, amen.

       How should we behave once again in the light of the day as Catholic Christians? What does our faith which should be strengthened by the journey we have taken with Jesus look like after Easter. We do have a choice. We can remain in the tomb and do little or nothing, or we can help others on their journey of faith while at the same time strengthening our own journey.

       In 1968 when this local Church of St. Petersburg was established as a diocese and this parish of St. Jude the Apostle was chosen as its first and only Cathedral, there was an organist, a director of music by the name of Carroll Thomas Andrews. He was forty-eight years old when he played and directed the choir for the installation of our first bishop. In the intervening years he composed beautiful liturgical music in the English and set it to equally beautiful score. He died and went home to God last Monday and was buried in a simple but elegant Liturgy of the Word and Final Commendation on Thursday morning. I share with you a story and a challenge given to all of us in attendance by his priest son, Father Greg Andrews. The words I am about to share with you were written by the fine historian Walter Lord whose two most famous works were A Night to Remember recalling the sinking of the Titanic and Day of Infamy about the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 when Andrews was twenty-two years old at Hickam Field on Oahu on that fateful day.

Pfc Carroll Andrews was one man with a definite objective. He and a buddy started off through the noncom housing area, running in short spurts between the strafing. Once they ducked into the kitchen of an empty house. Bullets ripped the stove, and they marveled at the splintering porcelain – it was the first time they realized how the stuff could shatter. On they ran, and then another interruption. This time it was a soldier who had seen Andrews playing the organ for Catholic services on the base. He asked Andrews to help him say the Catholic’s Act of Contrition. He explained that he had not been to Mass or confession for years and needed an emergency peace. Andrews stopped and repeated the words with him. They dashed on. Soon a Filipino woman ran up with a tiny baby. She too had seen Andrews in Church, and wanted him to baptize the baby. By now mildly exasperated, Andrews asked her why she did not do it herself. She said she was not sure how. So he went into another empty house, tried the kitchen faucets (they did not run), found a bottle of cold water, and baptized the baby. The mother burst into tears and ran off.

         None of us knows where our journey in faith may eventually take us what or our love of Christ may ultimately entail of us but this is how one man, one of our own, lived out his baptismal commitment on one fateful day. Next to the cross, it was for me this year the most potent sign I received of this Lenten season.

+RNL

HOLY WEEK AND THE BISHOP

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

As I begin to pen these words, it is “spy” Wednesday of Holy Week, the day when the Gospel reading at Mass prepares us for the Sacred Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil) by reminding us of the treachery of Judas who sold his friend Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. I always have varied thoughts entering these most sacred of days which range from some discomfort with “bumping” the Rector and priests of the Cathedral parish from celebrating and preaching these days to the exhilaration and excitement of the Chrism Mass and the Easter Vigil.

Yesterday we had the annual Chrism Mass with an unexpectedly high attendance of 186 priests (we ran out of seats I am told), about 100 deacons, most of our seminarians (some are studying outside of the state or abroad and four who will be ordained to the transitional diaconate a week from Saturday were on their canonical (read that “required”) retreat, and a standing room only crowd in the Cathedral.

The magnificence of that new space for large ceremonies like yesterday’s was obvious to all in attendance.

Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

The Oil of the Sick, designated by the letters OI, is presented by a representative of those who minister to the sick or by someone who works in the healing profession. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

The Oil of the Sick, designated by the letters OI, is presented by a representative of those who minister to the sick or by someone who works in the healing profession. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

 

The Oil of Catechumens, designated by the letters OC or OS, is presented by a representative of those who minister in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults from each parish. Photo kindness of Jeanne Smith.

The Oil of Catechumens, designated by the letters OC or OS, is presented by a representative of those who minister in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults from each parish. Photo kindness of Jeanne Smith.

 

Consecrating the Sacred Chrism. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Consecrating the Sacred Chrism. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

The Liturgy of the Eucharist. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

Invitation to Communion. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Invitation to Communion. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

My homily for the occasion is shown below (note that there is more blogging after the homily and you can read the homily as a PDF here) but I pulled a “popey” which is something like a “selfie” by departing from the text near the end to ask questions of segments of the congregation. For that you will need to watch the video replay which you can do by clicking here. As of this writing, about 1,300 people have watched the Chrism Mass online with about 700 watching live during the ceremony. The ability to share these moments with anyone who has the time, inclination and a computer or mobile device is wonderful. You can see more photos of the Chrism Mass here.

CHRISM MASS 2014
Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle
Tuesday, April 14, 2014
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop 

            Once again we have heard the words of Isaiah, now so familiar to us. Twice in this Liturgy of the Word alone, every year at this Mass, quite often at our ordinations as priests and/or deacons, these familiar and haunting words of Isaiah are heard: “the Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord, and a day of vindication by our God, to comfort all who mourn. . .”

            In the Gospel passage this morning Jesus uses this passage from the great prophet when he returns very early in his public ministry to his home town, to his friends and family, to his Jewish co-religionists with whom for some thirty years he joined in the local synagogue to learn the law, approach its application to daily life, to challenge, to encourage, to fortify their faith. However,  one cannot fully embrace this passage from Luke’s Gospel without spending some time analyzing its context. The verses we have heard are easy enough. The total package of the passage is a “horse of another color.” It is worth, I believe, a moment or two of our time this morning.

            Situated early in Luke’s Gospel account, Jesus comes back home from his baptism in the Jordan, having survived his temptations in the desert and on the way back to Nazareth, beginning to preach and teach, to heal and to challenge – four important pillars of his public ministry. He does some of this in Galilee and word of his power, of his preaching, of his proclamations and of his presence elsewhere has already come to Nazareth. The town is waiting for him. His return home is a moment of great expectations. The locals want him to do the same things in Nazareth that he has done from Jerusalem to Jericho, to Capernaum. I can imagine the sentinels dispatched by the locals to announce his imminent arrival in Nazareth as he climbed from below sea level to his mountainside home village.

            When he preaches God’s word, challenges the locals to action, he disappoints. They want him to do for them what it has been said he has done for many others – give us a miracle or two Jesus, not just words. If you take time to read the very next verses of this famous passage and listen to the response of his own townsfolk as they turn from anxious anticipation to dangerous anger. It is produce, Jesus, or perish. They become so angry with him that they attempt to kill him but he slips away, likely never to return to family or friends in Nazareth. What could have been a moment of unity and reunion becomes instead a moment of threats and rejection, of jealousy and resentment, of criticism, carping and complaining. And that was the Lord’s early experience of ministry.

            Today the message and mission of those prophetic words from Isaiah remain the same, but the reception as well as the atmosphere is no less problematic. We are the bearers of the message, dear brothers. We are the deliverers of the mission. And if, at times, our audience seems out-of-touch with the Gospel of Joy which we try to live out, preach and deliver, the temptation can more easily turn to run, to anger and frustration at the worst and disappointment at best. Making Jesus Christ present, real, embraceable, believable, acceptable, even within our own faith community can be as difficult today as it was for Him on that return to his hometown. That is setting the Scriptural stage for the second and third part of this reflection I wish to share with you today.

            There is no day in the yearly calendar of the Church to rival this one for providing us a sense of unity in mission, commitment and fraternity.  It is the day when the greatest number of us gather during the year to concelebrate the Eucharist, recommit ourselves to our priestly ministry together, and to experience a sense of unity in the work of service. Nineteen times I have had the privilege of doing what I am doing right now, truly and always supported by your presence, your witness, our communal prayer of Thanksgiving. There is no other time when I feel more like being a servant leader, a bishop, than this day. For a little more than ninety minutes we set aside our individual identities, our ecclesial offices, our disagreements and disappointments and recall the intensity of our desire for service. We lose our identity and assume that of Jesus, healer, teacher, catechist, anointer, blesser, and source of hope, messenger of justice. And we are joined by a good segment of God’s people who love us, support us, assist us, lift us up when we fail or disappoint and sometimes even challenge us in ways once thought unimaginable.

            If I feel this unity annually on this occasion, I hope and pray that you do as well. We are in communion with Christ and with one another. There are moments in each year when we can sometimes share the feelings of the townsfolk of Nazareth. It is the dark side of the humanity of most of us all. But there is something about this Eucharist, which enlightens our ministry. Pope Francis on February 27, 2014 said this: brothers who love each other despite their differences in character, origin or age. . . this testimony gives birth to the desire to be part of the great parable of communion that is the Church. When a person feels that mutual love among the disciples of Christ is possible and is capable of transforming the quality of interpersonal relations, he/she feels called to discover or rediscover Christ, and opens to an encounter with the Living and Working One.[Pope Francis to Bishops and Friends of Focolare].

            Dear brothers, unity, patience, forbearance and, yes, even love are contagious. If we are to ultimately be successful in encountering and encouraging and accompanying others, it surely begins with us, here, now and when we leave this place for another year. We need to resolve to care for each other better. I will try in the time remaining to me.

            Finally, preaching the “Gospel of Joy” sometimes comes at a high price – not unlike the Nazareth experience of Jesus in the whole of Luke 4. Many of you have more years in the priesthood under your belt than I but in my thirty-six years of priestly ministry I have never felt the challenge, which I feel today, and it is coming from a man we hardly knew at this Mass a year ago.

            There is no part of my ministry that is untouched in the last thirteen months, from where and how I live, to whom I give central focus upon in my ministry, to what I assign pastoral priority, to how best to deliver. The world and in a special way our Church has quickly fallen in love with Francis because of how he lives out his life and ministry – simply, humbly, with Jesuitical clarity, with firm resolve, and living comfortably on planet earth as first among sinners ever needing and feeling the warmth of God’s mercy and kindness. He has set the bar high for we bishops. Nothing, which might once have been a treasured “perk”, is any longer to be treated as “sacred.” He is redefining episcopal ministry, which will quite quickly redefine priestly ministry.

            And just like in Nazareth, there is a certain “grumbling” to be heard in a few quarters. In a short time, he has given new strength and vitality to the three-fold challenge of this morning’s readings: you/we are fulfilling your ministry best when you leave the comfort of your safety zone to preach the Gospel to the poor; you/we are best when you/we devote more time to proclaiming release to those captive to sin, addiction, serious physical and psychological illness; when we help those who are spiritually blind see that God, the Church, we ministers love them more than we judge them; and we welcome back those who felt oppressed by anything which might be more of our creation than that of the Creator.

            I close by appropriating the words written by Peggy Noonan for a former president of my generation, changing them only slightly: there is a new dawn breaking over the Church. Some of us will not live to see the high noon which this new day heralds, but I, and I hope you do as well, thank God that my ministry, your ministry has survived whatever darkness we may have felt enveloped our hopes and dreams and have lived to witness this dawn. For with Francis, and through Francis, and, yes, even under Francis , we can affirm this morning that ours is a great Church, capable of stirring the imaginations of many and embracing all. That, or so it seems to me, is today’s “spirit of the Lord which is among us.”  What a great Church to which we have devoted our lives.

Following the Chrism Mass, my Clergy Personnel Board met for the rest of the afternoon. It is that time of the year.

For the last couple of years, I finally adopted some advice given to me long ago by one of my “hero-bishops”, Bishop Anthony Pilla, (retired bishop of Cleveland) and allow the Board to meet by themselves to discuss the changes. The discussion is led by my wonderful Vicar General, Monsignor Robert F. Morris. When they have “shuffled the deck” and are ready to show the “cards” they call for me to recommend the changes they have been able to determine.

I then approve or raise questions and concerns and when there is unanimous consensus among us, I begin to call the pastors who will be affected. Sometimes the call is easy and that is the case when someone has put in writing their interest in being assigned to an opening. We “bulletin” our parish vacancies most of the time as they become open so priests can, if they wish, show interest. However, sometimes we must ask someone who is comfortably positioned and serving their parish well and ask them for the good of the whole church to accept a change of assignment. To the credit of our good priests who find themselves in this unexpected predicament, I normally do not have to play the “obedience” card. Often sadly, somewhat reluctantly, they accept the new assignment. Those are tough phone calls.

Some lay people in the parishes are consulted in the process and they usually are the staff, the parish finance and pastoral councils, the school administrators, etc. Unlike some of our Protestant sisters and brothers, the Catholic Church does not engage congregations per se in choosing their ordained leadership. At the end of the afternoon yesterday, I was weary. Pumped by the Chrism Mass and sad about the work which followed. Show me any bishop who loves moving priests around and I will find a psychiatric ward that might help him. Too many lives are at stake.

Today (Wednesday) is quiet and tomorrow evening starts the Triduum with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. The priests who will concelebrate with me tomorrow night and I will first go to a neighborhood Italian restaurant and then move to the Lord’s table. By 8:30pm we should be finished at the Cathedral and then I make a round of the parishes for private prayer in the places of reservation which follow the Holy Thursday liturgy until around midnight. I will try to continue these thoughts on Good Friday when I have the morning free.

Try to join your faith community at all or as many of the ceremonies of the Triduum you can make. You won’t regret it.

+RNL

HOLDING FAST TO SOCIAL JUSTICE

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Last night, approximately 3100 people gathered at Tropicana Field for the annual Spring Nehemiah Conference of FAST (the acronym for “Faith and Action for Strength Together.”)

fast1

 

fast2

FAST and the Nehemiah Conference are no strangers to this blog as I have written about them now almost yearly. Each year I am strengthened by the growing participation of the various church and synagogue communities which belong to FAST, by the dramatic increase in attendance by committed congregants, and by the growing political maturity of both the organization and the elected representatives they invite to come and participate.

Once again this year, they asked me to open with Nehemiah Conference with a prayer and I want to include it here because I hope it set the proper tone for the evening. By the way, accountability and transparency mandate that I share with you that I am not the author of the prayer, Father John Tapp of Holy Family parish composed it for me, but I embraced it fully:

Father of Mercy, Father of Justice,
        we thank you for gathering us together this evening
        for our 10th Nehemiah Action Assembly in Pinellas County.

In the spirit of your prophet Nehemiah,
      we assemble here this evening
      because we have listened to and heard the cry of those most in  need.

We come from different backgrounds, religions, and ethnic traditions,
      but you have joined us together as one,
      working as one,
      so that YOUR justice may rain down upon the earth
      and guide the hearts and minds of those who lead us. 

In this time when our Jewish sisters and brothers anticipate
      the great feast of Passover,
      we think of Moses demanding that Pharaoh “Let my people 
go.”

We think of the new life won for your Chosen People,
      the journey from slavery to freedom,
      from scarcity to abundance,
      because of his selfless dedication to the Lord and his people.

Give us that same spirit this evening.
      May our focus be on your people – especially those most in 
need.
      May we constantly commit ourselves to the good work of 
justice.
      May our efforts be mighty and fruitful.

      As we celebrate Passover as a perpetual institution,
      May we continuously work for greater justice in our world.

We also find ourselves in this holy season of Lent – a time of
prayer, fasting and giving alms.
      During this time, we remember the words of the prophet
      Isaiah:

      “THIS is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound
      unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free
      the oppressed, breaking every yoke.”

Give us the grace, the courage, the persistence, the wisdom
      to do this great and holy work.
      May we always be aware, that what we do for others,
      we do for you.

May our quest for justice in Pinellas County
      serve to build up your Kingdom in our midst.
      And may those who see our work give glory to you, our living
      and true God.

We offer this humble prayer in faith,
      confident that you hear us and help us,
      giving us what we need – today and at every moment.

And let us all cry out together: AMEN!

This year, FAST chose three areas of concentration and I wonder what person of sound mind could object to any of the three.

First, a note that last year the City of St. Petersburg committed to requiring that any city funded construction contract in excess of $700,000 would only be awarded to contractors binding themselves to hire local labor, which includes people who have committed felonies in the past but have reformed their lives in the present. Now, again, in the interest of honesty, I have to admit that because of our SAFE ENVIRONMENT PROGRAM put in place to protect children, this diocese and its entities can not hire or allow to volunteer anyone convicted of having committed a felony. I regret this but understand it, hoping that some day we can move beyond it.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman was unable to be present but his deputy mayor was present and indicated that the Mayor would like to expand the commitment to construction projects well below the $700,000 threshold. That was a YES even though the exact threshold amount could not be identified last night.

The second area of concentration focused on youth arrest for less serious crimes. Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and State Attorney Bernie McCabe were asked if they would work to implement a program which would direct first-time offenders for less serious crimes away from jail time and toward programs of changing behavior leading to non-repeat. Florida, by the way, arrests and places in jail more youth that any other state in the union, many for crimes which, while felonious, are by their nature less serious than others.

Both men affirmed their intention to use alternate forms of punishment short of incarceration for such crimes and McCabe passed the proverbial football right back into the laps of the attendees saying that the communities’ best interests were best served when the whole community works together to see that youth and law enforcement never meet. Another YES recorded to the delight and satisfaction of those in attendance.

The third and final issue of the evening was addressed to the Pinellas County Commission which had four of its members in attendance. This issue concerned making dental care available to the indigent and poor and a story was related by a member church of a woman who died because she was unable to access care for a dental abcess. The request made of the commissioners was to use $5.9 million dollars of the projected county surplus (due to an improved economy and rise in taxes and assessment revenues) which is currently estimated to be about $20 million for this fiscal year to give access to no-cost dental coverage for the truly indigent. All four commissioners promised their support but one noted that the spurplis predicted needed to be attained before a final number for the program could be agreed to. The assembled took these responses as another YES.

As the Catholic bishop for this area, I am proud of the achievements of FAST and its Hillsborough counterpart HOPE which is holding its annual conference tonight (I am with the Franciscan fathers this evening for Mass at St. Joseph in south St. Petersburg and then dinner with Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiga who is their guest for a chapter meeting so I am unable to attend). But I swell with pride when I see my pastors and associates sitting either on the dais or with their people in the crowd.

And I am even prouder of the Catholic participation in FAST which is substantial. To those priests and parishes which have not yet chosen to participate, I simply remind them that FAST is a good way to reach out to Pope Francis’ “peripheries” and bring Christ to the desperate poor. The elected officials are learning how to handle FAST better than some of our own people.

A great night at the TROP and as Father John Gerth, who summarized the results said at the end of the evening, a “grand slam” had taken place on the Trop’s outfield.

Congratulations, FAST, and good luck tonight, HOPE.

+RNL