Archive for March, 2015

CHRISM MASS 2015

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

Here are some photos from the annual Chrism Mass earlier today. To read my homily, scroll down below the photos. To watch the video recording of the Mass, please click here. To see more photos, click here.

Renewal of Priestly Promises. Photo kindness of Jeanne Smith.

Renewal of Priestly Promises. Photo kindness of Jeanne Smith.

 

 

Blessing the Oil of the Sick. Photo kindness of Jeanne Smith.

Blessing the Oil of the Sick. Photo kindness of Jeanne Smith.

 

 

Parish representatives holding their parish’s Oil of Catechumens as it is blessed. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Parish representatives holding their parish’s Oil of the Sick as it is blessed. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

 

Blessing the Oil of Catechumens. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Blessing the Oil of Catechumens. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

 

Parish representatives holding their parish’s Oil of Catechumens as it is blessed. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Parish representatives holding their parish’s Oil of Catechumens as it is blessed. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

Consecrating the Sacred Chrism. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Consecrating the Sacred Chrism. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

CHRISM MASS HOMILY 
March 31, 2015
Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop

The late bishop John Nevins of Venice with whom I spent five of the first six years of my priesthood would often tell the story of what happened to him late in his formation for priesthood, indeed just weeks before he was to be ordained a sub-deacon. An only child of an Irish mother and English father who separated and divorced shortly after young John was born, John J. Nevins could only find one religious order and no diocese which would accept him as a seminarian for the priesthood. That one community was called The Fathers of Mercy. Finishing his studies at Catholic University in Washington, John Nevins in the Spring of the final year came home from class to the Fathers of Mercy house only to be told that the community had been dissolved, its ordained were free to find any benevolent bishop or other order who would accept them and as for the seminarians, “clear your room out, move, stay warm and well fed.” As he approached the end of telling this story, he would always end it with this line: “There was no mercy to be found in the Fathers of Mercy, buster!” I know of few priests in my soon to be forty years who was kinder, more merciful and forgiving than John J. Nevins. He lived the virtue under whose title he longed to minister.

We have been hearing a lot about mercy the last two years, much of it emanating from the Holy Father. He has challenged the whole Church, all those who have been anointed with the sacred chrism in baptism, confirmation, and priesthood and episcopacy, to new heights of merciful ministry. He has preached forgiveness, inclusion, welcoming not just the sinner but also the foreigner, the immigrant, the poor. He has joined his ministry of words with a rich panoply of encounter and gesture. He has called us all, but especially we bishops to a simpler lifestyle more in touch with all God’s people which might make us more aware and understanding of the pain of poverty. The one constant through the first two years has been the bedrock belief in the mercy of God which we have both received as a gift of the spirit of God to share with the world and we have been anointed with oil to heal the wounds of people, some of which even the Church we love have caused.

Allow me for a few moments this Holy Week to reflect on the image of oil, noted in today’s very familiar readings by both Isaiah and Jesus. The glass jars which await our prayers of blessing contain simple olive oil though to the chrism will soon be joined an aromatic. All oil (olive and petroleum) has three aspects worth a few seconds: value, volatility and viscosity.

VALUE we have learned in recent times from oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, to wars of religion over oil in the Arabian gulfs, to four dollars a gallon at the pump to a 125% increase in the cost of Chanel No 5 in the last ten years. From King David through to the Saudi princes, oil is worth a lot, of money, sadly of lives lost and environment destroyed. So for moderns the oil has value and for the ancients it did as well. It healed the wounded, anointed the chosen leaders, was then and is now one of the more valuable fruits of God’s creation. And it is shared with us in sacraments. When we use it properly it dispenses mercy and love on the newborn, comforts the sick and aged and when accompanied by sacramental confession it too dispenses God’s mercy on the scared, the scarred, the solitary soul in search of God.

VOLATILITY – Oil also ignites more readily than other liquids. Jesus says that the anointing he received ignited in him a fierce blessed rage for order (in the words of David Tracy decades ago). It made him palpably burn within to bring healing to the sick, hope to the homeless, compassion for the poor, freedom not just to jailed prisoners pbut the freedom of mercy and the love of God and the presence of Jesus Christ to those imprisoned by addiction, by religious laws that limited love, and an end to tyranny from whatever source which limited mankind’s ability to drink at the cool well of mercy, kindness, love, compassion and forgiveness.

Tell me one sinner in the Gospel who having acknowledged his or her sin was dismissed by the Son of God without healing. The highly volatile oil of his anointing set Jesus on fire with the desire to establish his Father’s kingdom – a fire that did not cease within him until his penultimate breath in one Gospel account: “brother, this day you shall be with me in paradise! Has our anointing in baptism spent all its volatility or is the fire within us to reconcile the world heating up again to the point where we have a blessed rage for dispensing God’s mercy and compassion?

VISCOSITY – All oil is thick, gooey, and sticky, even olive oil. Just try to get it off your hands after confirming 150 youngsters – even lemon does not really cut it. My fingers continue to smell like PLEDGE furniture polish through at least three washings – but I digress! It is precisely the perfect image in a way to describe our ministry when it is working. What we do well sticks. What we offer is sometimes thick. Our ministry of mercy often moves far more slowly than we might wish. Maybe it is time in a sense to apply a merciful thinner to our passion for compassion. Pope Francis certainly does it, daily in his Mass homilies, in his brief but sticky audience teachings. Listen to how his words should stimulate all of us to a deeper engagement in social action ministry:

‘These days there is a lot of poverty in the world and that’s a scandal when we have so many resources to give to everyone. We all have to think about how we can become a little poorer.”

“A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just”

“We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, spread love, be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace.”

“Although the life of a person is in a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.

With Peter and under Peter my prayer is that today, recalling the awesome power of anointing in our own lives, everyone here has been anointed, most likely at least twice, we may ignite again in our hearts and in our ministry the joy in being agents of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “The joy of God is the joy of forgiveness. It is the joy of the shepherd who finds his lost sheep, the joy of the woman who finds her lost coin; the joy of the Father who welcomes home his lost son.”

Ah, the oil of gladness. My brother priests, this very Holy Father speaks to us often, challenges us, wants us to once again recover the fire of the day the sacred chrism was spread on our hands, the day of our ordination. He particularly it would seem focuses on our ministry of reconciliation. Most all of you have given of yourselves the past few weeks with penance services, The Light Is On For You, and hours in the box. You are very good, indeed wonderful at this expression of tender mercy. Your anointed hands and your blessed words become the sign of the forgiveness of God.

“The service that a priest assumes, a ministry, on behalf of God, to forgive sins is very delicate and requires that his heart be at peace, . . .that he not mistreat the faithful, but that he be gentle, benevolent and merciful, that he know how to plant hope in hearts and, above all, that he be aware that the brother or sister or sister who approaches the sacrament of reconciliation seeking forgiveness does so just as many people approached Jesus to be healed. . . .The penitent faithful have the right, all the faithful have the right, to find in priests servants of the forgiveness of God.

Lawrence O’Donnell, a commentator on MSNBC likened the Pope’s remarks on one occasion to his last Catholic school teacher, a Father Harrington. “Father Harrington knew that he was our last religion teacher,” O’Donnell said. “He didn’t use that final year of class time to cram our heads with rules and condemnations. . .Father Harrington talked only about the things that mattered the most in Catholicism, which meant he talked about God and love and goodness and kindness, and he never talked about sin. O’Donnell continued by noting that Pope Francis seems to be eager to deliver the same message. “The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The Church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrine to be imposed insistently. Indeed, O’Donnell noted, Pope Francis warned that the moral authority of the church could “fall like a house of cards” if its condemnations are the only thing people ever hear about. Quoting the Pope, “The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.” O’Donnell in that electronic moment ended his reflection with “If Father Harrington was still with us, he would like this pope. A lot.” 

Beginning soon we shall together plan for how as a local Church we shall observe the year of grace to begin in November called the Holy Year of Mercy. It could well be a very graced moment – a moment of mercy. Let no one in these five counties say of us what Bishop Nevins said of the manner in which he was treated by a community to which he had already given years: “There is no mercy to be found in this local Church, buster!”

+RNL

THE FICKLE FINGER OF FAITH?

Sunday, March 29th, 2015

Palm Sunday 2015
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch

Beginning today and continuing throughout this holy week, I have chosen as my theme, “What was Jesus thinking?” Admittedly the question reveals an “arrogance” on my part, but I hope that my humble effort at armchair psychology might be helpful in making the most of this important week of our faith.

So join me in attempting to discern what Jesus might have been thinking on that day when he entered Jerusalem for the final time. I wish to focus today on that singular moment captured in the Gospel read during the blessing of palms knowing that on Good Friday together we will have an opportunity to reflect at greater length on the Passion account.

I can see at least three important thoughts which Jesus might reasonably be expected to own in the account of his arrival at the portal to his death: fraternity, fickleness, and fulfillment.

Knowing that his days were surely numbered and a horrible and painful death was awaiting him in Jerusalem, he wished one final thing for himself and for his disciples – the opportunity to celebrate the Passover together one last time. Ever mindful of others and ever the teacher, the rabbi, the “master” Jesus knows that he and they will soon be put to the test. Were they ready for it? Were they sufficiently cognizant of his presence in their lives for the last three years that their memories would sustain and perhaps even overcome their doubts in the days to come? He must have sensed that day that if what he had done and what he would do would ultimately glorify the Father, then he had to teach them again about placing themselves at the service of others, becoming less to accomplish more.

He knew that those citizens of Jerusalem who hailed his arrival knew little about him except through rumor. In his public ministry, Jesus spent little time in Jerusalem, choosing instead the region of Galilee as the major locus for his ministry. So as he surveyed those throwing their cloaks before him and waving their palms, he must have known of their fickleness. All glory, laud and honor shouted in this moment, he knew would give way soon enough to “kill him”. Yet he took the chance to once again be seen by those who were basically fence sitters at best and fair-weather only friends at worst. Even those he sent ahead to gain his method of conveyance, a donkey, and secure a room for the last Passover supper, how would they measure up to the hostility to their friend and his message? Despite the romance of the scene of the so-called triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he knew they were fickle – all of them.

Finally there was the matter of fulfilling the will of the Father. No person seemingly in their right mind would say to themselves or to others: well it’s time for me to die so let’s get on with it. Only that deep commitment to the will of the Father could explain why he would set off to Jerusalem in the first place knowing what would await him. Obedience to the Father would find its finality in the fulfillment gained on the cross.

That inevitably begs the question of what does this entire moment mean for us on this Palm Sunday 2015? How close is our friendship to Jesus? Do we trust him, believe in him, follow him 24/7/365 or is he simply a historical figure of some attractiveness and interest but not a personal friend, an intimate. Is he truly our brother? Does his willingness to embrace pain, loneliness, and opposition to what he believes and preaches translate for us in our own faith commitment?

Are we fickle, fair weather friends who take comfort in our faith only when things are going well, only to abandon the same belief when faced with the inevitable crosses of everyone’s daily life? Is it easy to be a friend of Jesus unless and until we are challenged to stand for human life in all its phases of development, from conception to natural death? Can we also be seen as a follower of Christ’s teaching when friendship with him makes us seek genuine immigration reform while welcoming the stranger. Are we willing to question and challenge the death penalty in a state (in this we are one of only two of the fifty states) that requires only a simple majority of a jury’s vote? There are lots of things about Jesus we can love and embrace, but there are other things, which lay open our fickleness. What part of the crowd would we likely have been in: hosannas or kill him?

Finally, the cross was the fulfillment of our Lord’s mission. How well do we carry the crosses of our lives? Do we really believe that suffering, opposition and uncertainty, the hubris of daily life in our times, gain for us the favor of the Father for our future?

There was a lot which Jesus must have been thinking during these his final days. Join us this week, on Holy Thursday and Good Friday and next Sunday at Easter as we attempt to get into his mind and answer the question: what was Jesus really thinking?

+RNL

OF LIFE AND DEATH

Friday, March 6th, 2015
With the other Florida bishops waiting to meet with Governor Scott. Photo kindness of Bishop Parkes' Facebook page.

With the other Florida bishops waiting to meet with Governor Scott. Photo kindness of Bishop Parkes’ Facebook page. See more photos from Catholic Days at the Capitol here.

The bishops of Florida, minus our dear brother Bishop Gerald Barbarito of Palm Beach who is rapidly recovering from very serious surgery, met Tuesday and yesterday (Wednesday)  in the state capitol, Tallahassee. We do it every year, usually always during the first week of the annual legislative session and conclude it with a Red Mass at St. Thomas More Co-cathedral. During the bishops’ visit to Tallahassee, about 350 people, mostly women, come wearing red almost always and they call on their elected representatives to “lobby” for the province’s agenda for the session. They meet with the staff of the Florida Catholic Conference before invading the capitol and they have lunch with us at the Convention Center midday on Wednesday and prior to the Mass. A stirring call to religious liberty was delivered by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater to the assembled during the lunch. I hope to share the content of that talk with you soon.

It has been a long custom that during this visit to our state capitol we usually have a meeting with the Governor. In my now nineteen-plus years, I began with Governor Lawton Chiles, followed by Governor Jeb Bush, Governor Charlie Crist, and now Governor Rick Scott. All have been gracious hosts for these meetings, patiently listening and one of us after the other brings up matters of concern to the Church. For some inexplicable reason I have become the spokesman for “health care matters” which was not all that hard until the Governor was suddenly someone who spent his whole professional life in the health care arena.

One aspect this this year’s visits which I wish to share with you, especially in light of the fact that the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS later in this blog) will be hearing soon a case involving capital punishment is that very subject. I do this secure in the knowledge that my comment responses will be overwhelmingly negative and nasty (second only to the immigration issue I might add).

We also met Wednesday afternoon with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi who was also gracious and very hospitable.

On the death penalty, we bishops unanimously wish that it would be abolished in Florida. It is a natural, logical and responsible extension of our commitment to the protection of all human life, born and unborn, and flows from the basic belief that God is the author of all life and to God alone falls the task of determining both birth and death. Seven states in recent years have abolished the death penalty (either the legislative branch supported by the governors or the latter acting alone). There are now about two-thirds of the states where the death penalty no longer exists and then there are Florida and Texas which lead the others in annual executions.

A tandem issue is that Florida is only one of two states (Delaware is the other) which does not require a unanimous jury for the death penalty sentencing phase. We find that an embarrassment of the highest order.

We got no where with either the Governor or the Attorney General on either of these matters, although the former is willing to think through the unanimous jury question. Every Governor during my time here as bishop speaks, truthfully I think, of  how much they dislike having to sign the warrants which lead to an execution. I am sure that it is not easy. All have said that they have done so with a clear conscience that the one being executed was indeed guilty of the crime beyond a shadow of a doubt. I believe them also on that. And finally they seek the cover of fulfilling their oath of office to uphold the laws of the state of Florida which I can also understand.

Governors Bush and Scott have embraced our pro-life position on abortion and euthanasia. Governor Chiles respectfully demurred always and who knows what Governor Crist’s real position was/is. But it is so hard to get any elected official, pro-life or not, Republican or Democrat to see the natural extension that God alone should determine when we are born and when we will die. Saint John Paul II on the matter of the death penalty, said that while it might be justifiable in the rarest of instances, he knew of no good reason to justify it. Pope Francis has condemned it as barbaric as does the world community at large when it looks as us (the US) from a distance.

Yesterday, four Catholic newspapers/publications of very differing leanings and differences signed a single editorial against the death penalty. What may never be decided in Tallahassee, ever, may be decided soon by SCOTUS as they wrestle with “death by lethal injection” as a form of cruel and unusual punishment. With this court, who knows? Utah is thinking of reinstating the firing squad and will Florida return to using that never too certain to work “electric chair” if this form of execution is ruled unconstitutional.  It takes all the restraint which I can manage not to invoke recent images from other parts of the world.

I love my adopted state and I deeply respect everyone elected to public office. They have a hard job. In such cases, one can invoke instead the power of the Holy Spirit. That the same Spirit come upon all those who exercise any measure of control over the beginning and end of life and grant them wisdom to choose life over death, always. Hence, the Red Mass.

+RNL

FORTY DAYS OF GRAY

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

I bet at least I have your attention!

Some people look at and others believe that Lent is nothing less than forty days of penance, prayer, retreat into one’s own spiritual life to sift out all the accumulated weeds of the past year. Sackcloth and ashes or its modern day equivalents are the marks of the “darkest season” of the Church’s year. Baloney I say. Lent is also a period of great light, not just introspective light but ecclesial light as well.

True that Lent begins with ashes and a call to repentance. We need to hear that and we need to practice penance from time to time. Many have begun some form of personal sacrifice. I have given up fast food for Lent but have unleashed within my own office, which contains one theologian, whether or not Steak and Shake is fast food! (Steak and Shake says “no.” but I still stay away from them). But did not Jesus in the Gospel on Good Friday suggest that we should not put on the appearance of remorse and sacrifice? Vestments changed to violet. The “alleluia” bade us farewell for a brief period of time. We need some reminders of these forty days but there is also a lot to rejoice in as well.

Lent was no longer than four days when about 950 catechumens and candidates arrived at the Cathedral for the Rite of Election.

During the 1:30 p.m. Rite of Election. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

During the 1:30 p.m. Rite of Election. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

I wish the whole diocesan Church could be present for that simple moment in a person’s journey to baptism and full communion. They would have crawled to the Cathedral and simple gestures like a handshake and brief words of welcome were greeted by the broadest of smiles and words and gestures of thanks.

During the 4:00 p.m. Rite of Election. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

During the 4:00 p.m. Rite of Election. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

It is always a “wow” moment, for myself as bishop, for my pastors and priests who accompanied the candidates and catechumens to the Rite ceremony and to their sponsors, spouses, parents and others who accompanied them. So little brings such happiness to so many. You are an awesome God! And we are a great Church! You can see more photos by clicking here.

On Thursday night, March 12, every parish Church in the diocese will be open for confession.

LightIsOnForYou_2000x1000

If you need it, do it! Even if you don’t need it, think about doing it. You can pick a Church on your way home from work, school, gymnastics class or a work out and there will be a priest waiting who knows you not but is desirous of assuring you of forgiveness, mercy, compassion and love. This now annual exercise is called “The Light is on for You.” Darkness be damned.

How about the readings at Sunday Mass throughout Lent? They don’t get any better than the temptation of Christ, the Transfiguration, the Woman at the Well, the Prodigal Son, and so on. And the first readings from major moments in salvation history, however familiar, stir the imagination and challenge the life of every believer. Would you have sacrificed your children for God like Abraham thought he would? Lots of parents I know have had to do so for an endless variety of painful reasons, bearing their suffering with greater faith than I can sometimes muster up. They are truly people of the light who suffered through an incredible period of gray.

Bishop Robert W. McElroy. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of San Francisco's website.

Bishop Robert W. McElroy. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of San Francisco’s website.

And then there is the Holy Father! He surely has not taken Lent off as a time to retreat into a prolonged period of penance. Today one of the members of the U.S. episcopacy whom I have admired for his intelligence, compassion and mercy, and commitment to justice for all has been made bishop of the seventh largest diocese in the United States, San Diego. Bishop Robert McElroy is a “Francis”can bishop if there ever was one and the good Catholics of San Diego have won the “Powerball” lottery. With Archbishop Cupich in the Midwest and Bishop McElroy in San Diego in the West, this Pope is refashioning the American hierarchy. Only briefly, however, do I wish I were younger.

I conclude with the acknowledgment that I am writing these words on a Delta flight from Chicago Midway Airport to Atlanta and then on to Tallahassee for “Catholic Days” at the Capitol. It was snowing and sleeting in Chicago this morning and our plane was late arriving from Atlanta. The Delta captain approached me and began the conversation with this question: “How is your Lent going, Father?” “Well,” I responded, “and yours?” “Me too,” he responded with a smile. He told me that he attends St. Michael’s parish in Auburn, Alabama, his home and was looking forward to making the last two nights of his parish’s annual mission.

Lent is far from forty days of gray, but rather is forty days of dawn. Enjoy it! Thanks for putting up with me!

+RNL