Archive for May, 2015


Thursday, May 21st, 2015

Almost without fail, every year around the same time as ordinations a local church (diocese) will lose at least one priest to death and the same was true of this year. Just before the ordinations, Father Raymond O’Neill who only retired from active ministry last July suffered a heart attack and went home to the Father’s house. On Monday we beautifully bade him farewell at the parish where he had served for well over the last decade. Born in Ireland, Father Ray was …..well, I will share with you my homily at his funeral Mass and perhaps you will come to know this gentle servant of the Gospel better. Three of the five ordained the previous Saturday came to the funeral which gave my heart great joy and the fourth took the Masses at his home parish so his pastor could attend. The bottom line: the Lord gives His Church new priests but he also takes and only a Christian can rejoice in both realities.

It could be said that Father Ray O’Neill ate and drank too much but it was not what caused his death but rather is likely to be what guaranteed his entrance into heaven. “He who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal and I will raise him up on the last day. [JO 6:54]. To know Father O’Neill was to know from his personal witness as well as his preaching that hardly a day went by when he did not say Mass, eat the flesh and drink from the cup. He took the words of Jesus literally and spent his life breaking bread and sharing the cup with many of you. So much of our memory of him is painted with this altar as well as in Gulfport, St.Joe, Pinellas Park, Dunedin and St. Petersburg. He was never happier than at the table of the Lord.

And he was a just man. Can anyone who ever went to confession to him suggest that he was never anything but unfailingly kind, quietly but effectively compassionate, and just. Is there a person here who does not think that he is now in the hands of God? And when he was down the street at the funeral home, his quiet presence brought or restored calm to the torment, which touched so many people in their hours of dealing with death.

In his priestly ministry he craved anonymity. When he was at Sacred Heart-St.Joseph, he prayed that we in the Pastoral Center would forget about him, lose his Rolodex card. From Gulfport to Pasco County, he hid from me but not from God. I can still remember the sigh when I called him to ask him to come here in 2001 – he greeted my voice on the phone with that quiet compassionate Irish sigh which translated, “you again, hopefully not me again!” But he was always a good priest, a good soldier, ever reluctant to journey forth into virgin territory but never needing to be dragged while screaming.

The great movie producer John Ford made a movie in 1952 and filmed much of it at Ashford Castle, north of Galway, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara and the quintessential Father O’Neill like Barry Fitzgerald and called it the “Quiet Man.” However I should point out that Fitzgerald did not play the parish priest in the movie, Ward Bond did. And the town is called Innisfree. I don’t to this moment know why this has anything to do with Father O’Neill except he was in every way a quiet man, a gentle man, a kind and loving man. He would be embarrassed to hear my speak of him in this way as he never bragged about his virtues and he didn’t have but one vice – formula one racing.

When he told me of his love for their noise polluting cars, I could not believe my ears – perpetually quiet man in love with racings most expensive, noisiest and most dangerous cars. When my wonderful chancellor Joan Morgan told me of his sudden and unexpected death, my first thought was to call Marie Dupheney and tell her, “let’s delay the funeral Mass until next Monday and I promise to be finished with it before the start of the Indianapolis 500.” He would have been happy. He has a collection of Formula One cars, which he treasured and when asked why, he simply said in his usual understated terms, “I can talk to them and they don’t talk back to me.”

But we commend him back to God just hours and days before Pentecost – this coming weekend. As most of you know, Father O’Neill was born in July of 1966 in Dublin but ordained as a member of and for the Congregation of the Holy Spirit. They sent him to Africa for six years and like most young newly ordained serving in Africa, he taught high school and served as a pastor. I think of yesterday’s Gospel for the Ascension and how Jesus told his disciples that they needed to get off their “duffs”, spread out and bring the kingdom of God to many places. He came to us and auditioned us in 1986. We briefly failed the audition because he left rather soon and went to Australia but that was for a year and then he returned to remain until God came for him last Wednesday.

For vacation he would travel home to Ireland where he is survived by his brother but every year after a short visit, he would take off for the continent and take bus and riverboat tours covering all of Europe. He understood the history and culture of every place he visited and never met a fellow bus traveller again after the final day.

Today we celebrate his goodness and the grace of his presence in our midst. If you are like me, there is a little tinge of anger at God in my mind for not giving me the opportunity to say “farewell” and “thanks” one more time. He was as good to priests as he was to all of you and both Fathers Rebel and Madden felt the loss deeply. But it is hard to be too angry and he would have none of it because Father O’Neill was comforted by Paul’s words to the Romans “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we are also live with him.”

Father Ray ate often of the bread of heaven. He was never better or more of a priest than when he would stand behind that altar and effect the great mystery. We already miss him though there were already signs that his remaining days on earth would most likely be challenging. I think a provident, loving and gracious God afforded a provident, loving and ever gracious priest a happy end to a life of service. A quiet man. A deep and pensive thinker. He has gone home to the Father and in that light and with his faith, we rejoice that on May 13th, God visited his servant Raymond and beckoned him to Himself.



Saturday, May 16th, 2015

Father Carl Melchior, Father William "Bill" Santhouse, Father Ryan Boyle, Father Steven “Chuck” Dornquast, myself, Father Anthony Ustick and Father Curtis Carro. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Father Carl Melchior, Father William “Bill” Santhouse, Father Ryan Boyle, Father Steven “Chuck” Dornquast, myself, Father Anthony Ustick and Father Curtis Carro. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens. See more photos from the ordination here.

Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle
St. Petersburg, FL
Saturday, May 16, 2015

Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop

Hebrews 5:1-10
2 Corinthians 5:14-20
John 15: 9-17

The entire Church of St. Petersburg rejoices this morning that these five young men, Curtis, Ryan, Chuck, Anthony and Bill are offering their lives to Christ and his Church in priestly ministry. It is worth noting  that this morning’s ordination is of the largest class since 1991. God is good and these men are incredibly generous.

They chose the readings for their ordination Mass and their choices they reveal to me, and I hope to all of you as well, their hopes and aspirations for their priesthood beginning in just a few minutes.. For a few moments then, I wish to reflect on what we might expect from our new priests based on the readings they have chosen (five points): from Hebrews: deal patiently with the ignorant and the erring, reverence, and obedience. From 2 Corinthians: being an ambassador for Christ; and from the Fourth Gospel: love without limit.

Earlier this week, research from the Pew Foundation revealed two things that I suspect we all knew but were reluctant to admit. First, Pew said, for every new convert to Catholicism, six people leave our Church. Second, Catholicism in this country would be in deep decline numerically were it not for the Hispanic immigrants we currently enjoy and even there thirty-five percent of all Hispanic Catholics are leaving the Church of their baptism for other religions. In fairness I have to admit that we are not alone in the loss category and we know that America is becoming less Christian.  Nonetheless, we as Church have a Gospel challenge to face, meet and defeat.

We don’t teach what we believe as well as we should. We rely perhaps too heavily on old methods of communication and put too much reliance on traditional vestige, hierarchy of orders and judgment. We often hide in the clothes of the past as well as some of the ideas of the past, disregarding the fact that to today’s younger generation not only are these things devoid of meaning and anachronistic but also some can suggest tendencies that may not otherwise be present.

Dear brothers, we can basically only choose two paths to our ministry: to cling to a notion of priesthood and ministry and see our older Catholics and ourselves off to eternity, or adapt when possible and stop fighting some of these the new realities. Your generation will never be content with simply embracing a religion that they feel helped their moms and dads but has little meaning and relevance to their own lived experience. They are there, this younger generation of the baptized Catholic,  ripe for the picking, when approached with a reasoned, kind, patient, welcoming ministry, which includes not only we who are ordained, but people like themselves as well, the people of God.

Reverence is a two-way street, not one way. God so loved the world that even Jesus’ “prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death” to many seemed unanswered. The Son was forever and always reverent to the Father, BUT he continually showed reverence to those to whom he ministered. If we are indeed made in the image and likeness of God, then every person you meet expects to be treated with reverence. And that is not an easy task, especially when someone is mad at you, frustrated with you or with the Church and to them the Church is nothing more than a  seemingly endless list of do’s and don’ts. Allow me Just a hint from a thirty-seven year old veteran: cry out and cry to the Lord, not to the person in front of you remembering that God still asked his Son, the great high priest, to die for us.

Obedience today is elusive. It may mean something to you today when you already know where you are being assigned and are happy with it and it will mean something else to you when you are asked to go somewhere, do something, which you really do not want to do. Obedience this morning is easy, tomorrow it might be difficult. But here the writer of Hebrews points out something I hope none of we priests ever forget: Jesus “learned obedience from what he suffered.” If you wish to act in persona Christi then like Christ himself, accept the tough, the unattractive, the taunts and taints, yes, even the sufferings as he did. He could have exempted himself from this passion but he did not and why should we? Understand well the deep meaning of the promise of obedience and respect and make it a part of your regular prayer.

In Paul’s words to the Church in Corinth, all of us are to be ambassadors for Christ. When the President of the United States appoints a “fat cat” who contributed millions to his or her campaign to serve as the United States Ambassador to the Court of St. James (Great Britain) that person surrenders their personal agenda, their personal ideas of defense and finance, their personal likes and don’t likes, part of their intellectual independence to the will and person of the President who appointed them. They carry both the message and agenda of their President and his ideas, his mission in service, his goals and objectives to the government and people where they serve, and not their own. In other words, apart from their personal and private lives, ambassadors become more than merely a representative but they take on the persona of the person who sent them. If we are to be ambassadors for Christ, we should never be content with just being his emissary but rather we should strive to present his persona: kind, compassionate, loving, forgiving, merciful, healing, non-judgmental except and unless all else has failed.

Style your ministry after Pope Francis. Ever the teacher, he is a master of the use of the gesture which captures the hearts of the world. Why, because he acts like most of us think Christ would act. He speaks with authority only when he has to but with wisdom and understanding and openness. He doesn’t hide behind rich vestments and vestiges of power and privilege but leads by example using words only when absolutely necessary. When Raul Castro can suggest that this Pope is truly an ambassador for God, we least of all,  should never take him for granted.

Deacons Ryan, Bill, Anthony, Curtis and Chuck – for God’s sake and the people’s good, be the first of the Church’s Francis priests. It means you will always make yourselves  open to vulnerability, ever in search of the lost, truly satisfied with little material things, consistently a lover of the poor, forever a true promoter of justice –  in other words, ambassadors for Christ.

Finally, try to remember the motto of the man who in moments will lay hands on you and anoint your hands for God’s work. Love one another and stay close to each other as friends in the priesthood, which for a few years will be tricky given Ryan’s ministry. You have chosen the chapter and verse of John’s Gospel from which nineteen and a half years ago I chose the words by which I would try to live out my ministry in this great diocese.  God chose you, I did not. Others have formed you, I did not. Love God, love one another, and join me in loving and working tirelessly for our friends. Priesthood is a privilege but not a privileged place. Like the master, choose always to serve and not to be served. Love one another as he has loved us.