Archive for April, 2015

DEAR BOY

Saturday, April 18th, 2015

They buried a friend of mine Friday in Rome and how I wished to fly over there for just the day to say farewell and thanks. Cardinal Roberto Tucci, SJ was and remains a man I deeply admire. I came to know him from the second (1987) and third (1993 World Youth Day) trips of Pope John Paul II to the United States.

In 1979 I came to know and become a close friend with the late Archbishop Paul C. Marcinkus, close enough to have been asked to preach his funeral homily at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. He was the Holy See’s organizer for papal trips outside of Rome from Pope Paul VI to Pope John Paul II. He was succeeded by Father Tucci. He even supported the choice of Father Tucci and his two conferrers, Monsignor Emil Paul Tscherrig (Now Archbishop and Apostolic Nuncio to Argentina) and Doctor Alberto Gasbarri (currently in charge of papal visits for Popes Benedict and Francis.)

There was a seismic shift in approach and personalities between Archbishop Marcinkus and Father Tucci, but the two admired and in a way deeply admired each other. Father Tucci, a Jesuit, born in Naples and baptized an Anglican, converted to Catholicism as a young man. He earned a doctorate in theology and was a peritus at the Second Vatican Council, having helped in the final drafting of two important conciliar documents. After the Council, the Jesuits placed him in charge of the important publication Civilta Catholica and later as manager of Vatican Radio. Even while planning and executing the many travels of John Paul II, he retained his position within the Vatican.

He had the largest set of eyebrows I have ever seen and when perplexed, he utilized them perfectly, non-verbally, to proclaim his bewilderment. When he was certain that something would not work, he would preface his response always with “dear boy”. A good listener always, with his team, they were models of patient endurance with the US Secret Service, all kinds of political leaders, episcopal conferences insisting on things which were impossible and the papal apartment, which meant largely working with Monsignor Stanislaw Dziwisz.

Father Tucci knew the limits of the Pope’s energy and was protective, particularly in later years. He had little patience for higher-up curial officials who were always pushing for pride of place at the pope’s side and earned occasional enmity for shoving some higher up so that some regular people who could never see the Pope could get close.

Word always had it that he was a runner-up to Father Hans Kolvenbach in the election which followed the resignation of Father Pedro Arrupe, S.J., the famous former Superior General. I remember Pope John Paul II saying to me on one occasion, looking at Father Tucci, “Poor Father Tucci, such a great theologian and now my travel agent.” I also remember Father Tucci at a meeting at the then high school seminary for the Los Angeles Archdiocese when four U.S. bishops addressed the Holy Father with four areas of concern here in the U.S., saying: “dear Archbishop Quinn has just taken the Pope to the theological mountaintop and the Holy Father could barely make it to the basecamp” (a clear comment on the inadequacy of the papal response).

Another great moment in planning the same trip was when Lew Wasserman, the CEO of all of Universal (the studios, the theme parks, the movies and TV) asked Father if the Pope while on the property of Universal in Los Angeles could be seen on the theme park ride which parts the Red Sea into two while one rides through it on a carriage. Father Tucci said to Wasserman, (dear boy, I don’t think so but we will ask him). Two weeks later I was in Rome and Father Tucci and his team and I were invited to pranzo (Lunch) with the Pope, and Father said, “Father Lynch, ask the Pope about Mr. Wasserman’s request.” I then described the “parting of the Red Sea” ride to which the Pope responded, “I don’t think so, Moses has already done that.”

There could be many more stories. Pope Benedict finally relieved him of his duties and made him a Cardinal when he was past eighty years old. He chose not to be ordained a bishop (as did his American Jesuit brother, Avery Dulles). It made no difference to him, he still lived in his small room at the Bellarmino and enjoyed being surrounded by the “company of Jesus” or the Jesuits. I have not seen him in over fifteen years but he and Archbishop Tscherrig and Dr. Gasbarri are ever with me even to today. They held a 50th birthday party for me in Rome on May 27, 1991 and in 1996 when I was made a bishop, the three of them presented me with a silver Council Ring which I still wear every Lent.

Having said all this, however, I loved the man for his elegant, gracious, patient presence in my life through two papal visits (he actually brought the Pope back two more times after I left the General Secretariat of the USCC-NCCB) and those who worked with me and with my successor, Archbishop Schnurr of Cincinnati would embrace without qualification everything which I have written here in his honor upon the news of his death.

If I make it to heaven, I know he will seek me out and say, “dear boy, where have you been?”

 

+RNL

THANK YOU LCWR AND ARCHBISHOP SARTAIN AND COMMITTEE

Friday, April 17th, 2015

Three years ago when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced a full-scale examination of the statutes and procedures of THE LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE OF WOMEN RELIGIOUS (LCWR), like many others I wrote in this space that I was sorry this action had been taken but indicated that I felt it would all end well even with the concomitant pain and angst it raised. I was criticized in certain circles for seeming to side with the LCWR (guilty), not supporting the CDF (guilty) and worse, being a bit Pollyanna-ish about the whole matter and much too positive (also guilty).

Now three years later, the dossier is closed, CDF and LCWR have managed to conclude their discussions and what I would call less than seismic changes have been made to the organization’s statutes and modus operandi. I was thrilled that this result was reached, though not surprised. I wrote then the following excerpt from that particular blog.

  1. So my words to my sisters in this diocese would be to relax somewhat. You are still loved and appreciated by your Church. The appointment of an incredibly fair and compassionate man like Archbishop Peter Sartain to see this process through is a hopeful sign in itself and I am not simply trying to apply “a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.” There have been other bishops appointed over the last few decades to “study American religious life and make appropriate changes” such as the one in the eighties chaired by Archbishop John R. Quinn. Disaster has never struck.
  1. American Catholics who read the secular media are getting an introduction to how terribly the media understand the Church. Editorials have appeared all over the place supporting the sisters and condemning the Pope, Rome, bishops, men, etc., etc. The notion of a hierarchical Church is both foreign, inimical and anathema to current liberal, freethinking and secularist thought. I laud the media for their support of religious women in the United States but I also find something almost comical about how they visualize Church structure. They will not be around in a few years when the leadership of LCWR and Archbishop Sartain ascertain a way in which both can peacefully co-exist because there will be no story there. Yet that is precisely the story. From moments like this, monumental change rarely results and sometimes a deeper relationship replaces something which is frayed, tattered and/or torn. I have great faith that as in the past, both sides will make this work. Sisters love the Church which they have served because they love its founder, Jesus, who at times called all of us to live a radical ethic. The current seeming tempest at sea can and will be calmed and we will continue to love and support our sisters.

What have we learned from this experience?

  1. The Sisters have more credibility in this country than some might have expected when the process was begun. Pointedly, they had the high road all to themselves because of their selfless dedication to teaching, healing and caring for the poor than even our Bishops Conference in the height of its credibility could not lay claim.
  2. The appointment of Archbishop Sartain was crucial. Throughout the process with people attacking him and his two fellow bishops, he never uttered one word of protest or called into question the sincerity of the sisters or the process he was undergoing.
  3. The election of Sister Sharon Holland, IHM as President for this conclusive and final year was a gift of the Spirit. Her predecessors in office did extremely well in keeping their cool, speaking in measured terms even in the midst of their suffering at the embarrassment, holding their ground on a few non-negotiables and discussing and negotiating even the neuralgic. Sister Sharon having served for over twenty years in a high position within the Congregation for Religious and one of the foremost Canon Lawyers in the U.S. was pure gift from the Spirit and the membership of LCWR.
  4. Then there was Pope Francis who was elected after the study was announced. He took most of the wind out of the sails of the study by a talk he gave to the International Union of Superiors General and conversations with the religious men and women of the countries in CELAM (Conference of Bishops for Latin America) where he said, “don’t worry too much about letters from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith accusing you of things.” Any Jesuit knowing the history of his community understood what the Holy Father was talking about.

It is a shame in some ways that the process was wrought in the first place. But, as all sides are now saying, they were able to turn it into a graced moment of dialogue, greater understanding of genuine concerns on both sides, and a reaffirmation of the gift of religious life to the United States. In the end, it is an “Easter Event” – a provident Lord turning something difficult into something useful. It takes all the restraint I can muster to stop from saying, “I told you so.” For two decades the leadership of LCWR has sought and failed to gain anything approaching a private audience with St. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict. Yesterday they had one hour, alone except for a priest translator with Pope Francis.

+RNL

OPPOSITION, OBSESSION, OBEDIENCE

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

GOOD FRIDAY, 2015

Dear sisters and brothers,

Throughout this week, beginning last Sunday, Palm Sunday, I have made it my task to attempt to get into the mind, the thinking of our Lord during these climactic events which we call Holy Week and to offer to myself and hopefully to you as well, some take away thoughts which together we might ponder in the days ahead. To help with the “take away” of my thoughts, each day I have attempted, using alliteration to give you three words which might serve as a beginning for thought and prayer.

Today in listening to Isaiah, St. Paul and to Jesus in John’s passion account, I offer these three words: opposition, obsession, and obedience. The first thought, opposition, is easily seen in the passion account just proclaimed. In fact, all of you acted in opposition to Jesus, by using words like “Crucify him” and “if he were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you” to use but two examples. The opposition, which Jesus encountered not just today but throughout his public ministry at the hands of religious representatives, was a steady current in his life and ministry. No matter how much good he did, it only seemed to excite opposition. Yet he persevered. During his final hours, he had to ask himself, “What in God’s name have I done to warrant this hatred, this vicious vengeance, this anger?”

The application for today, the connection to our lives, between the events we recall this afternoon and our daily lives is not hard to fathom. Can we become so stubborn that we no longer can find any good in a person? Can we become so emotional that we do not allow right judgment, logic and wisdom to control our thoughts and words when we are in the presence of someone with whom we may not agree or do not like? Finally, do we on occasion get mad even at God because we do not get what we wish, when we want it, and in the way we want it? The natural tendency of humanity is always directed towards complaint, contempt and contradiction. We can sometimes all too easily become an opponent of Jesus.

Jesus was obsessed with the task the Father had given him this day. It did not allay or lessen his physical suffering but in his mental anguish, he knew he was doing the right thing in sacrificing his life so that we might live. He surely must have known of the prophet Isaiah’s words foretelling this moment: “Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, while we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins . . .we had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way: but the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all. Though he was harshly treated he submitted and opened not his mouth. . . “

Why was he obsessed with the thought of his terrible sacrifice of self? The author of Hebrews this afternoon said, “for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.”

Are we obsessed by our love of God or is it like our TV set, we can turn it on or off at will? Are we obsessed enough to serve our sisters and brothers often enough with love and sacrifice to imitate in part the events in the life of Jesus we today recall? Is our obsession with our God like a spigot in the sink of our lives, able to flow both freely and hot and cold or worse yet, only lukewarm? Jesus got through these hours because he was obsessed with saving us, sacrificing for us, loving us to death. Is our love for Him and our desire to continue his saving work on earth simply a passing thought or a genuine obsession? Hebrews, one final time on the obsession of Jesus from the second reading: “In the days when Christ was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and with tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.”

For the saved, among whom you and I are numbered, it was the obedience of the Son to the will of the Father, which should be the main “take-away” from today’s liturgy. “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the course of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” [Hebrews in the second reading] I could go on for a good hour about the role of obedience in our life. “Christ died once for our sins, the just for the unjust . . .he bore our sins in his body upon the tree.” [1 Pt 3:18 and 2:24.] 

Obedience is a tough marker in checking our lives. To many adults it is an abhorrent notion, which, again in our minds, can often though not always lead to no good. We obey traffic laws easily enough and we pay taxes, which we think are too high and too unnecessary. But obedience to the law of God often seems more negotiable. We sin. We err. We fail. We forget. The cross, which in moments we will reverence, is nothing if not a reminder of the cost of obedience. Jesus today gives us the example. The author of the letter to the Hebrews says: “You have not resisted unto blood.” So we should not fear the anxieties, which our own lives and troubles occasionally cause. We will never have borne as much as Christ did. Obediently he shed his blood for us and obediently, willingly, totally, spent himself for you and I. Remember always, for Jesus it was not just an easy promise, which often flows from our lips. He really did love us to death. Obedience to the will of God and sacrificing his life for others is what this all about.

+RNL

HOSPITALITY, HUMILITY, AND HORROR

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

HOLY THURSDAY 2015
St. Jude the Apostle Cathedral

Because of the succession of small West Virginia and Virginia towns we lived in as a child, I only attended one Catholic elementary school in the first eight grades of my education. The school was run and taught by the Sisters of Providence of Terre Haute, Indiana. We lived right next door to the church, school and convent and whenever they needed someone to serve, the good sisters would call my parents and off I would go. I remember very well the three Holy Thursday liturgies from those days and especially the procession, which we will do at the conclusion of this Mass. I would carry a candle and the choir would sing something which sounded like Tom Tom Arrow but there would be a break in the music and Sister would use her cricket and all of us would turn to the priest holding this gold vessel with Jesus under class and together we would say, “O Sacrament most holy, O Sacrament Divine, All praise and all Thanksgiving be every moment thine!” Then the cricket would sound, we would turn and face forward and off we would go again.

It was hard for a child to understand and embrace the importance of this day in both the life of Jesus and of the Church. So, following upon the theme I set on Palm Sunday, I would like to take just a few moments to reflect on what must have been on the mind of Jesus on this night long ago. Again, following the formula I have used throughout this week and will employ again tomorrow and on Holy Saturday night, I would focus on three things which might have been on his mind: hospitality, humility and horror.

It was Passover night and Jesus wished to celebrate this massive moment in the religious life of every observant Jew with his friends. Knowing that his life was down to minutes and hours and not days, he wished to do the hospitable thing and welcome them to share one final meal together. A preacher’s trick on Holy Thursday is to often ask the congregation, if they knew they had only a day to live, with whom and how would they wish to spend that time. It is was a slam dunk for Jesus – he would spend it with his friends, even inviting the one he knew would betray him – Judas.

However, he did not wish to leave them or us alone and so he used the occasion to institute the Eucharist taking the very bread and wine, two elements on every table at Passover in those days and telling them that they were to do the same. The perfect host, wishing the friendship, the relationships might never end and at the last supper he would institute for the first time the first supper, which we do two millennia later when we gather for Mass. What truly magnanimous host ever wishes to say goodbye to those whom he or she loves? Even though tragedy would precede triumph, Jesus was ever solicitous of his friends as he is of each of us. Are we hospitable to the foreigner, the stranger, the homeless, the hungry, the medically indigent? Have we learned anything from this night and this example of the Lord?

But during the meal, he also knew that he had one more lesson to teach his friends who would outlive him on earth. Try as hard as he might, and he tried often; they just never learned the fundamental lesson of discipleship, which was humble service to others. They would quarrel among themselves and then ask him who would have the first places at his side in the life, which was to come. Wrong question, he replied. Did he not say, “The Son of Man has come to serve and not to be served.”? The miracles, the teachings, the healings had all gone to their heads and they naturally thought that their inheritance would be a life of relative ease and comfort. After all, they had walked the dusty paths, slept in strange beds and it would be their time to be waited on. Humble they were not – none of them at this moment, so the greatest among them put on an apron and proceeded to wash their feet, the dirtiest and filthiest part of their bodies. The ministry of humble service was once more put before them and they still did not get it. He tried. He humbled himself. We priests are privileged to serve you, hopefully always with the deepest humility. Even approaching this altar tonight, it must be and always will be a service of love. We are humbled before our God each and every time we raise the bread and wine and it becomes his body and blood. Sometime we may forget that, as did the disciples, who could not understand why in the world he would wash their feet.

Finally, and perhaps the easiest thing to understand is that his thoughts and his head were full of horror at what he knew was likely to happen to him. In a matter of minutes, he would one more time ask the Father to allow the cup of pain and suffering to pass from him. One thing our Lord was not was a hopeless romantic. From the circumstances of his birth, throughout his life, and especially in the three years of his ministry, he knew it was going to end badly for him. But he persevered, he plowed on, he trusted His Father in heaven right to the end. There was hope to be found this night in horrors of his mind. Only hope can overcome horror. Only hope in God can help one through loneliness, through a sense of failure, through the inevitable rough patches od daily living. Jesus knew that soon, perhaps not soon enough, he would once again be united with his Father and our Father and the horror of that which was to come would itself be overcome with a sense of accomplishment.

Soon the priests and I will have the true privilege of washing the feet of some of you. It is a reminder that He whom we wish to serve and make present to you later in this Mass humbled himself in the penultimate symbol of service, the cross being his last act of humble sacrifice. We wish to serve you. It is our mission. It is our life. It is our hope. And should we fail, it is also our horror. Jesus gave us this night long ago the gift of sharing with you the bread of life, the sacrament most holy, the sacrament of his divinity. Tonight we welcome him into our lives; we offer him the hospitality of our hope and our faith. Truly all praise and all thanksgiving should every moment be his, thine.

+RNL