Archive for October, 2015

THE PEOPLE OF GOD WON

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

 

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Why was the synod of the family and married life so successful? And why do I think it was successful in the first place? The synod process envisioned by the bishops attending the Second Vatican Council foresaw, as did Popes John XXIII and Paul VI, a church so large throughout the world and yet so close due to advances in communication that the one chosen to lead the Church would need guidance from time to time from those chosen to lead the local churches. Cultures often clash, languages often divide, custom often prevails in a polyglot mosaic which is the Church today. Peter needs to hear from the equivalent of today’s Paul, or today’s James,  Andrew,  Jude, etc. who lead the local churches. Except for the strictest of doctrines which form the core of who we are as Catholics and have been clearly defined as such, necessity has always been the mother of invention and the universal Church has often too slowly accommodated itself to the needs of the outliers.

Since the first Synod following the Council, these opportunities for collegiality have been manipulated, not by Popes particularly, except perhaps through disengagement, but by those charged with organizing them. I have already written that many of those serving closest to St. John Paul II believed they served him best by sheltering him from the truth which was often seen as shaking belief. “Please don’t upset the Holy Father” was a curial mantra for thirty years. So past Synods were carefully crafted to control the end-product, limit discussion in assembly, and, I am afraid and ashamed to say it, stifle genuine discussion among the leaders of the Churches.

Not this time, however! Pope Francis came to listen last year and this year. He wanted to hear the truth of the lived experience of the local churches which are his also by divine commission. He even said, don’t hold back for fear of upsetting me if you are yourself upset. He gave me, a local bishop of a mid-size U.S. diocese, the encouragement and opportunity to poll my people on their thoughts on the very hot-button questions which were at the core of the most animated and watched topics of the two synods. My people spoke, 9000 of you, in English and Spanish, and you confirmed what I already knew as a pastor how you felt about divorce and remarriage, marriage itself, co-habitation, lesbian and gays in the life of the Church and the Church in their lives. We were told not to publish the results but I had already promised as you were completing the surveys that I would share the results with you, long before the prohibition came. I did share the result and I have heard nothing from the Secretariat for the Synod either castigating me or complaining that I jumped the gun. I guarantee you I would have heard, quickly and strongly, from a less open process in the past.

So some of the discussion was messy. Most of us knew that would be the case before the Synod began but then life is often messy, the Church itself can be messy. Our Pope sat and listened to opposing viewpoints without flinching. He wanted to hear the hurts and hopes of the local churches as best as they could be expressed by their representatives. Most good pastors listen. I attempt to when it comes to my Presbyteral Council, my Diocesan Finance Council and my Diocesan Pastoral Council. They don’t hold back and I don’t hold their truthfulness and belief against them. Most of the time, they are right, as I have learned.

So the assembled Synod participants presented to the Pope their best thoughts on messy topics. Intelligently and fittingly, they left the sorting out, cleaning up, and eventually promulgating the fruits of their labor to him, to Peter. Wisely, they left ambiguity where some thought there needed to be certainty. He loved that! Did he not tell them a year ago that they have nothing to fear for Peter is listening, learning, and leading the Church? But he is not going it alone. Nor is he solely reliant upon those in the Curia though he knows the very talented ones who share his vision for the Church of the future. The synod’s work product is his now, and that is precisely what he wished for in calling this extraordinary approach to critical issues in the world today.

Pope Francis is merciful. We should expect that from the pope of mercy. As he admitted in his closing speech to the Synod, he heard some hurtful things coming from the minds and mouths of some, though, in “church-speak” not directly aimed personally at himself. He won’t punish, penalize, or push them out. Truth arises best from a diversity of opinion. Some people are scared of change. I am scared of not changing. Fifty more years of feel-good, manipulated and managed synods would definitely produce a Church more out-of-touch with reality. Even doctrine evolves, don’t let anyone tell you it hasn’t and doesn’t. The core remains intact more often than not but the application has changed over the centuries. So does language change, even if we regress in our public prayer. You won’t hear this Pope and I hope you never hear me speak of people living in second, non-sacramental marriages as “adulterers”. People of genuine mercy watch their language, always. Our language in dealing with people on the margins will change as a result of this Synod.

Finally, there is the near-reality that there will be no going back from the amazing progress made in the last two and a half years. Church leadership at all levels will continue to morph into more of a mirror image of Francis. Future popes will no longer come from the Roman Curia but rather, like Francis, will more likely come from farthest corners of the globe and how they lead will reflect in large part on their experience of living with Peter and under Peter. I noticed how quiet and reflective the synod members were this year chosen by the Pope from the Curia, save one and it is better having that one arguing inside the “tent” rather than outside it. The bishops of the world definitely won because Peter is leading us into a more discerning and reflective Church, free of fear, and interested mainly in being agents of mercy. The people of God won!

+RNL

POPE FRANCIS, BEN ZOBRIST AND THE AMAZING NEW YORK METS

Sunday, October 25th, 2015
zobrist

Photo via Google Image search

The very title of this blog entry contains the name of two of my heroes and a baseball team that for years has tried the patience of many and disappointed more than a few. Ben Zobrist is my favorite baseball player in the major leagues for a myriad of reasons. I was broken-hearted when the Rays traded him, even more so when it was to the Oakland Athletics. Last week I delighted in seeing Ben  shining once again on the diamond like a diamond. From midseason with the Kansas City Royals, Ben proved his staying power and then hit the home run in the final game with the Blue Jays his first time at bat,  often coming through in the clutch. Throughout the playoffs, Ben Zobrist was the consummate utility player, capable of playing at almost any position on the field, save catcher, and doing it well. He has always been and remains a player for all fans.

He and his wife are deeply devoted and committed Christians. They believe in God, live each day by God’s law and embrace the person of Jesus Christ as their savior. They make no bones about their Christian faith but they never boast or brag about it. Rather they live it. While among us here in Tampa, Ben visited the classrooms of children in what we now refer to as  ” failing schools”, giving them encouragement and hope. He could be seen from time to time at All Children’s’ Hospital spreading his message of mercy, hope and happiness. His priorities were always in this order, his faith, his family and baseball. Now he is off to the Big Show, baseball’s equivalent of the Catholic Church’s just now completed Synod on the Family. Read the book written by he and his wife, Julianna, (Doubleplay) and you will immediately notice the comparisons. The Zobrists live a family life lived with an abundance of mercy and forgiveness.

He reminds me in some ways of Pope Francis who had the courage to call these last two synod meetings to discuss both the family and family life in our day. This Pope understands the challenges of living in the real world and the necessity of the Church moving to understand, embrace and support those most in need of our presence and help, precisely as Church. Six weeks of his time in the past thirteen months have been spent listening to bishops from around the world describe the challenges of marriage and the family, from Africa to Asia to the Americas and all points in between. He listened, spoke only rarely but when needed forcefully, and I believe the Pope received from the assembled exactly what he wanted: namely enough room to take on some of the more challenging aspects of marriage and family life in our day in the months ahead. He did not ask for, want and probably would not have countenanced doctrinal change. Rather, he asked those present to hang out the dirty laundry of living marriage in this age and increasingly secular society and instead of condemning it, give him room to apply his two fold commitments to the applications of mercy and forgiveness.

I wasn’t there and most of the world’s bishops were not there either. No one who was there from the United States, nor did our national episcopal conference, ask for my guidance or that of the body of bishops as to how we felt about the problems and their possible solutions, but the Holy Father did in 2013. Yet I believe the innermost longings of my heart for my Church were spoken and heard. I have been on a three-week high just because that reality was finally being discussed and dissected. Who could ask for anything more?

Mets

Photo via Google Image search.

Pope Francis is a utility infielder capable of playing any position which will help his church race across the three pastoral bases: mercy, forgiveness, healing which will ultimately end in a home run for God’s people. And the Church today, Sunday, October 25, 2016 is like the New York Mets. Good things do come to those who patiently watch, wait, renew, rebuild, change managers, and eventually make it to the previously unthought-of – in baseball, the World Series, and in ecclesiology adapting to the present without forsaking the past.

Photo via @newsva Instagram

Photo via @newsva Instagram

Here are some take-home words from our manager as he sent his team home this morning, leaving to himself how to take advantage of all the possibilities and openings the Synod has given him:

This is the temptation: a “spirituality of illusion:” we can walk through the deserts of humanity without seeing what is really there; instead we see what we want to see. We are capable of developing views of the world, but we do not accept what the Lord places before our eyes. A faith that does not know how to root itself in the life of the people remains arid and, rather and oases, creates other deserts.

Moments of suffering and conflict are for God occasions of mercy. Today is a time of mercy!

Pope Francis is an incredible leader. He has the serenity of a man who does not worry about petty bickering but places great trust in the presence of the Spirit in all people, friend or foe. He got precisely what he wanted from these two gatherings – an opening to further his and our ministry of mercy, which is I believe, precisely what Jesus would want of his Church. I am in charge of the triage unit in these five counties and together with our priests, deacons, religious and laity, we shall step up our desire to stop the bleeding, heal the hurting, and show all that the Church is like the Mets, rising to the national championship of kindness, compassion, forgiveness and mercy. It is what the “emergency room” doctor, Pope Francis, asks of us at the end of the listening.

We are a family, sometimes dysfunctional but also desirous of welcoming more and more back, or for the first time to the family table of the Eucharist. The Synod was merely grace before meals for the Church family. Bless us O Lord for these your gifts, which we have received through your goodness and through Christ, our Lord.

 +RNL

NO “TEN LITTLE INDIANS”.

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015

Agatha Christie, that marvelous writer of mystery fiction and plays once wrote for the stage a mystery play entitled “Ten Little Indians” about ten friends who gathered for a reunion and one by one they disappear, victims of murder perpetrated by some one among them. As in another of her dramatic mysteries entitled “The Mousetrap” she was clever enough to write several endings so that if you saw the play on Broadway and attempted to give the finale away to someone who was going to attend the play, there was a one in three chance that the ending would not be the same. Great stuff.

On Saturday last, I ordained ten married men to the order of deacon at St. Jude’s Cathedral in an ancient ceremony made new every time by the excitement and participation of those in attendance.

View of the Litany of the Saints from inside the Spirit FM 90.5 radio booth. Photo courtesy of John Morris.

View of the Litany of the Saints from inside the Spirit FM 90.5 radio booth. Photo courtesy of John Morris.

Prayer of Ordination over Mark Manko. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Prayer of Ordination over Mark Manko. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

Prayer of Ordination over Jorge Suarez. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Prayer of Ordination over Jorge Suarez. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

Prayer of Ordination over Elix Castro. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Prayer of Ordination over Elix Castro. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

Prayer of Ordination over Joe Zucchero. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Prayer of Ordination over Joe Zucchero. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

Prayer of Ordination over Glenn Smith. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Prayer of Ordination over Glenn Smith. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

Prayer of Ordination over Tony Quattrocki. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Prayer of Ordination over Tony Quattrocki. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

Prayer of Ordination over Ted Martin. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Prayer of Ordination over Ted Martin. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

Prayer of Ordination over Steven Girardi. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Prayer of Ordination over Steven Girardi. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

Prayer of Ordination over Greg Nash. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Prayer of Ordination over Greg Nash. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

Prayer of Ordination over Frank DeSanto. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Prayer of Ordination over Frank DeSanto. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

For most of these men, and their wives, it was the culmination of eight long years of preparation, some first in the Lay Pastoral Ministry Institute and then in the deacon formation program.

The wives bringing the newly ordained deacons their stole and dalmatic. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

The wives bringing the newly ordained deacons their stole and dalmatic. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

While it is always a joy to see the pride and happiness on the faces of parents, grandparents and siblings when I am ordaining priests, it is even more of a “kick” to witness the same on the faces of spouses, children, and even parents of married men being ordained.

Seminarian Elixavier Castro greeting his father, the newly ordained Deacon Elix Castro. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Seminarian Elixavier Castro greeting his father, the newly ordained Deacon Elix Castro. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

Newly ordained Deacon Glenn Smith offering the Blood of Christ to his father-in-law. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Newly ordained Deacon Glenn Smith offering the Blood of Christ to his father-in-law. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

We have a great diaconate program in this diocese and the formation is about as good as it can get given the first and overriding obligation of the candidate to his family. The path to priesthood is much longer, more intensive, and delves much deeper into the wonders and mystery of theology, scripture, and pastoral practice. But the four years of education and formation for these ten men was demanding and no small accomplishment, given their work and family responsibilities. Most of you who read this blog posting will encounter them on Sunday and when they are exercising their preaching office so I thought I would share my homily for the occasion with all of you. Men who get ordained in their own mind just to preach and teach do not comprehend the awesome nature of the order to which they have been ordained. But preaching is integral and should  be a small part of “witness.” Here is my homily for last Saturday and I hope it lived up to the high standard God’s people have a right to expect.

           Ten men supported by ten women have just responded that they are both present and willing to assume the ministry of deacon in our beloved Church. For each it has been a long journey and I am certain that on many occasions there must have been doubts in their minds as to whether or not this day would ever come. Well, dear brothers, never forget that on this, your ordination day, the New York Mets and the Chicago Cubs will be playing their first game in the National League Championship Series. Who would have thought?

            This morning I wish to devote a few moments to a sacred trust, which will soon be yours – the gift of preaching that accompanies this ministry in the Church. Preaching is a privilege. It often defines our ministry. We can have the finest bedside or graveside manner but if we strike out in the twelve minutes or so that are ours on Sunday, we have likely failed in the exercise of one of the most important aspects of our ministry.

            Good preaching begins with four verbs: receive, believe, teach and practice. Put another way, as you will hear when I place the book of Gospels your hands: Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.

            The prophet Jeremiah in the first reading of your ordination received from God the task of preaching to a resistant people. Each of us should be like Jeremiah and doubt whether or not we are truly up to the task for we certainly are not worthy. Yet faith affirms that God has chosen us for this task. Each of us must receive and embrace this privilege with genuine humility, knowing that only God can open our lips and invade our hearts.

            We do not approach preaching operating from a tabula rasa. We preach from the experience of the Church in defining and developing its beliefs over the course of two plus millennia. It is not the duty of the deacon, priest, or for that matter even the bishop to share his own personal core beliefs but rather to adopt, adapt, and apply the insights of God’s people from Abraham to the last apostle as well as the understandings of the faith community to the present moment. Breaking open the Scriptures means wrestling every time we preach with a well-defined belief system and making application to the present moment. Trust me, this task is not easy, and success is not guaranteed by the grace of ordination but most likely born from an acquired ability of trial and error. You must share with God’s people to whom you preach timeless truth and also present reality. That struggle is mirrored every day in the Synod on the Family now meeting in Rome on this weekend of your ordination. It is not an easy task but it is an essential task.

            Preaching is teaching and not just proclaiming. The best teachers we have had in our lives have reached that status because they inductively led each of us to a conclusion that we likely could not have acquired on our own. No one in your congregation is going to learn just because you said it. They will learn when like the wise teacher you lead them on a journey of discovery to a point where they say, “ah, now I get it.” Pope Francis on several occasions has reminded us that more often than not, those to whom we preach are likely smarter than ourselves. And, successfully teaching through preaching, today, is more Montessori than Mueller. Apodictic, non-apologetic statements of perceived facts are dismissed by today’s well educated Catholics as simply one person’s opinion where a didactic teaching, breaking open of the word has a better chance of ultimately taking root.

            However, the best weapon to be found in the arsenal of effective preaching and proclamation is to be found in the witness of your own personal faith practice. God’s people know a genuine article when they see one and even more when they hear one. “You are the light of the world” today’s Gospel quotes Jesus as saying. Jesus did not say, “You are the voice of the world.” He was pointing out that example trumps words on most occasions and here, dear soon-to-be-deacons, you have an advantage over we non-ordained clerics. Your love for your wives and children should always be the “take away” from those whose lives you will soon touch in your ministry. Your wives have accompanied you in this journey with loving patience, generous support and constant encouragement. They preach so eloquently as you will by continuing to live fully your first vocational commitment – together for life, practicing what you preach, loving one another constantly as the prophet Micah says.

            Finally, as the second readings from Acts notes, the early Christian church and its leaders needed help. It needed assistants. It needed workers and not itinerant preachers. It needed lovers who could lead if they must but who were more interested in helping the members on the margins. So it chose seven whose task was not specifically preaching but rather doing the ministry of mercy. I think it can be fairly said in this moment in the life of the Church in the world as said in Acts, “brothers, select from you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.” Today we have ten such men and brothers, as important as preaching may be in your ministry, practice what you preach in the less glamorous but more grace-filled ministry of caring for those on the periphery of society and our Church.

With the ten new deacons and members of the Office of the Diaconate. Deacon Peter Andre, Deacon Greg Nash, Deacon Jim Grevenites, Deacon Joe Zucchero, Deacon Mark Manko, Deacon Steve Girardi, Deacon Ted Martin, Deacon Tony Quattrocki, myself, Deacon Frank DeSanto, Deacon Jorge Suarez, Deacon Glenn Smith, Deacon Elix Castro, Deacon John Alvarez, and Father Ralph Argentino. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

With the ten new deacons and members of the Office of the Diaconate. Deacon Peter Andre, Deacon Greg Nash, Deacon Jim Grevenites, Deacon Joe Zucchero, Deacon Mark Manko, Deacon Steve Girardi, Deacon Ted Martin, Deacon Tony Quattrocki, myself, Deacon Frank DeSanto, Deacon Jorge Suarez, Deacon Glenn Smith, Deacon Elix Castro, Deacon John Alvarez, and Father Ralph Argentino. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Maria Mertens, who superbly manages our diocesan website and use of digital/social media, has some spectacular pictures of the event beyond those shown within this text, which you can see here. You can watch the video replay of the ordination ceremony here.

These were not “ten little Indians” ordained last Saturday but the latest additions to a “tribe” of incredible deacon ministers in the diocese. Blessings on their ministry.

+RNL

GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY OF A GOLDEN DOCUMENT

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

Last night (October 21, 2015) at the invitation of my great friend, Rabbi Jacob Luski, I had the privilege of joining with our Jewish sisters and brothers at Temple B’Nai Israel in St. Petersburg a reflection on the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s document on Catholic/Jewish relations entitled Nostra Aetate.

Giving my presentation. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik.

Giving my presentation. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik.

 

With my good friend Rabbi Jacob Luski. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik.

With my good friend Rabbi Jacob Luski. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik.

 

 

A wonderful evening. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik.

A wonderful evening. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik.

I have invited Rabbi Luski to present his reflections, fifty years out, next Wednesday at the Cathedral of St. Jude at seven p.m. and I hope you might think of attending his presentation as he reflects on that moment five decades ago from his, Jewish perspective. Below is my presentation as delivered:

The 50th Anniversary of the Promulgation of The Second Vatican Council’s Nostra Aetate: Declaration on the Church’s Relationship with Non-Christian Religions—Highlights and Ongoing Contemporary Challenges presented by Bishop Robert N. Lynch, Roman Catholic Bishop of St. Petersburg, at Temple B’Nai Israel, October 21, 2015 

Among the many gifts that Pope John XXIII, now a saint,  provided the Church via his call for aggiornamento, i.e., “renewal”, when he announced the convening of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) was his guidance in seeking a new disposition on the part of the Church towards our Jewish brothers and sisters.  Pope John’s personal experiences as an apostolic delegate in Turkey from 1935-1944 informed his commitment to the Council’s statement on the

Church’s relationship with Judaism articulated in section 4 of Nostra Aetate, i.e., The Declaration on the Church’s Relationship with Non-Christian Religions, as did his visit with the noted Jewish historian Jules Isaac during the Council’s preparatory phase in 1960. Isaac’s presentation to the Pope regarding Christianity’s history of Anti-Semitism via its perpetuation of a “teaching of contempt” which suggested Providential punishment of the Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus—with the accompanying charge of deicide—as well as Christianity’s supersessionistic tendencies (suggestions that Judaism had been eclipsed as God’s promises were diverted unto Jesus and as Jesus’ teachings replaced/fulfilled the teachings and prophecies of Judaism) had a transformational effect upon the Pope who, in turn, utilized the Council as a means to move the Church beyond a teaching of contempt into to a teaching of respect.

Producing a Conciliar text on Jews and Judaism was a priority of Pope John XXIII and he utilized the leadership genius of Cardinal Augustin Bea, S.J. (one of whose main advisors was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel) and the Council’s Committee on Christian Unity to ensure that the question of the Church’s relationship with Judaism remained a focal point throughout the various stages and draft documents of the Council.  Their efforts gave us Nostra Aetate #4 which, in turn, ushered in an attitude of respect towards Jews and Judaism within Catholicism.

(See Elena Procario-Foley’s, Heir or Orphan? Theological Evolution and Devolution before and after Nostra Aetate in Vatican II Forty Years Later edited by William Madges).

This new attitude of respect towards Jews and Judaism outlined in the seminal document we recall this evening outlined for we Catholics a new appreciation for Judaism which can be said to be nothing short of a conversion of heart, mind, theology and Church. Pope Francis recently stated that the document represents a definitive “yes” to the Jewish roots of Christianity and an irrevocable “no” to Anti-Semitism. Nostra Aetate, in contrast to the historical attitude of contempt mentioned moments ago, acknowledged and affirmed that Judaism:

  1. Provides Christians the beginnings of our understanding of God’s revelation and Providential designs for the redemption and salvation of all people via the promises and word God spoke through the Jewish patriarchs, matriarchs and prophets

 

  1. Is the root from which Christianity derives its sustenance for from Judaism comes God’s promises and covenant…and for Christians it also yielded Jesus, Mary, the disciples and the apostles

 

  1. Has not been deprived of the call and gifts God issued to its people

 

  1. Ought not be charged with Jesus’ Passion nor attributed guilt associated thereunto

 

  1. Has not been rejected nor cursed by God in light of the Jesus Event

 

Additionally, these few paragraphs of such significance called upon Catholics to:

 

  1. Ensure that our teaching and preaching convey this new attitude of respect

 

  1. Oppose any and all forms of persecution and expressions of Anti-Semitism

 

  1. Engage in dialogues such as this very one tonight which seek to advance mutual understanding and respect between our two great faiths

With Nostra Aetate and its inspired renewal of our relations with one another as our springboard, may we now consider some of the advances that the Catholic Church has made towards a teaching of respect toward Judaism in the 50 years since its promulgation. These focal points are by no means exhaustive of the great work towards greater respect, understanding and reconciliation between our two faith traditions that has been made over the past 50 years but, rather, highlights which not only illuminate the progress we have made but also shed light on the challenges we still face:

Vatican Commission for Catholic-Jewish Relations (CCJR) and International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee (ILC)

1974 Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews Guidelines for Implementing Nostra Aetate

1985 Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews Notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis

1998 Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews Reflections on the Shoah

Each of these three documents produced by the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews continues and expands upon the positive trajectory towards Jews and Judaism introduced by Nostra Aetate.

Each of the documents:

  1. Increasingly emphasize that Jesus, Mary, the disciples and majority of the early

apostles were Jewish so as to accentuate the Jewish origins of Christianity…

  1. Therefore, call for expanded dialogue and joint theological undertakings between the two faiths
  1. Repudiate characterizations of the Jewish people as Christ-killers with accompanying charges of deicide and/or suggestions that Jews are cursed by God
  1. Affirm that the Jewish people remain dear to God for the sake of the patriarchs/matriarchs and maintain that God has not taken back the gifts He bestowed upon the Jewish people nor His choice of them as His people
  1. Call for an appreciation of the liturgical links between the two traditions and cautions Catholics against liturgical aspects which might present the Jewish people in an unfavorable light
  1. Affirm the theocentric anthropology and commitment to social justice shared by the two faiths
  1. Consistently reject Anti-Semitism of any kind

The ILC has met regularly since 1970, drawing together the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (including participants from the World Jewish Congress, Synagogue Council of America and American Jewish Committee) together with the Vatican’s Committee on Catholic-Jewish Relations in order to improve mutual understanding between the two religious communities and to exchange information pertinent to greater collaboration. A most significant outcome of the work of the ILC is a renewed understanding of the Church’s missionary and evangelization efforts which precludes seeking to proselytize/convert Jews.

 

Pope John Paul II

From his 1979 prayers at Auschwitz…to his 1986 visit to the chief synagogue in Rome (the first pope in history to do so and which spawned a life-long friendship between John Paul and the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Elio Toaff)…to the establishment of diplomatic ties between the Holy See and Israel in 1993…to his prayers for forgiveness offered at Yad Vashem and before the Western Wall in Jerusalem in 2000, the late Pope utilized his papacy to help build a new relationship between the Church and the Jewish people. John Paul II frequently referred to the Jewish people as the elder siblings of Christians, noting that the Christian relationship with Judaism is unlike its relationship with any other religion—Judaism is intrinsic to Christianity and to be ignorant of Judaism is to be ignorant of Jesus, Mary, and the disciples. Perhaps most powerfully, John Paul II consistently insisted on the eternal validity of God’s covenant with the Jewish people—a covenant, the pope maintained, never revoked! The pope consistently affirmed the ongoing validity of the divine election of the Jewish people—an existence he attributed to a supernatural commitment.

Additionally, under John Paul’s leadership, the Bilateral Commission of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and the Holy See was established has met annually since 2002.

A challenge moving forward entails significant theological inquiry regarding soteriology— theology of redemption and salvation—in light of covenantal theology and Christology and understandings of God’s Word (Logos/dabar)…While the enduring nature of the Jewish covenant has been consistently affirmed by the Church, the Magisterium nonetheless rejects theological explanations which suggest that there are two distinct covenants—Jewish and Christian—which serve as equally viable means of salvation. Therefore the contemporary theological challenge is one confronted with the challenge of considering how Jews and Christians are united in a single covenantal relationship with God which is meaningful and salvific to both traditions from their respective experiences and convictions (Cardinal Kasper).

Moving forward there can be no place for any trace of former supersessionist, replacement or fulfillment theologies and the Christ Event cannot be used in any way which devalues Judaism.

Exclusivist covenant language cannot be placed in opposition to God’s creative and redeeming love which is universal in scope.]

(See Elena Procario-Foley’s, Heir or Orphan? Theological Evolution and Devolution before and after Nostra Aetate in Vatican II Forty Years Later edited by William Madges).

 

Pontifical Biblical Commission

The Pontifical Biblical Commission’s The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scripture  (2002) challenges Christian readers to appreciate the dignity of a Jewish reading and understanding of the Bible as well as addresses how Christians ought to address certain New Testament passages which convey anti-Jewish sentiments. This text expands upon Nostra  Aetate’s directives regarding Church teaching and preaching to encompass each and every Christian’s responsible reading of Scripture thereby rendering an attitude of respect and understanding a duty incumbent upon every Christian to be assimilated into one’s own reading of Scripture and personal piety. Additionally, the document offers an appraisal of messianic expectations within Judaism acknowledging that the messianic character of Jesus was a possible interpretation but not the sole nor necessary interpretation of messianic prophecies, therefore suggesting that Jesus is not the only possible fulfillment of messianic expectations.

The challenge moving forward is empowering each and every person with the wherewithal to critically read, interpret and understand Scripture sensitive to issues such as context, climate, culture, respect for respective religious sensitivities, etc. Institutionally, greater sensitivity to potentially anti-Jewish sentiments in preaching (stereotypes of Scribes and Pharisees; Lenten devotions which may depict Jews as hypocritical; characterizations/presentations in the Liturgy of the Hours which are suggestive of Jews lacking faith), liturgical art, etc. is also warranted for what the Church prays is an expression of what the Church believes (Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi).  On the theological level there is much to consider in terms of messianism and eschatology, i.e., as God draws us all proleptically to His consummating designs for humanity might we all be drawn unto Him in ways yet made known? .

(See James M. Barrens’ In Our Time (Nostra Aetate): How Catholics and Jews Built a New Relationship; The Catholic and Church and The Jewish People: Recent Reflections from Rome edited by Philip A. Cunningham, Norbert J. Hofmann and Joseph Sievers and Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue by Edward Cardinal Cassidy).

Local Steps Toward Mutual Respect

Walking God’s Path

Closer to home we, too, have experienced the fruits of what Nostra Aetate began.  Within the Diocese which I shepherd we have partnered with numerous Jewish communities to advance mutual respect and understanding by teaming with one another in parish/synagogue hosted considerations of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Walking God’s Paths  (2004) series which draws us together in order to realize Nostra Aetate’s instruction to dialogue and learn from one another. Walking God’s Paths is a six-session process to stimulate candid conversation between Jewish and Christian congregations. Produced by the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College on behalf and with the oversight of the National Council of Synagogues and the Bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the series enables participants to experience each tradition’s understanding of how it walks God’s path and how the two faith communities could relate to one another in positive ways (See Walking God’s Path website).

The Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops together with The National Council of Synagogues USA and other Jewish bodies have worked together to produce over a dozen documents over the past 35 years alone—Uniting our faith traditions in efforts to promote peace, protect children and the environment, combat religious intolerance, end the death penalty and promote moral education within schools. (See the USCCB website).

A challenge moving forward is maintaining such grassroots efforts as the zeal and fervor of the Vatican II generation wanes. How do we continue to foster and promote continued dialogue whereby we authentically strive to enter into the experience of the other?  How do we accentuate our commonly shared commitment to preparing for God’s Kingdom?

We must also broaden our dialogue to include other faiths and people of good will.

A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People

In 2008 the Diocese of St. Petersburg helped to sponsor the exhibit: A Blessing to One  Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People at the Florida Holocaust Museum. The exhibit illustrated the steps Pope Saint John Paul II took to improve the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people noted above, and reflected the continuing relevance of Nostra Aetate.

Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies

Together with my fellow Bishop from the Diocese of Venice, the late Bishop John J. Nevins, the American Jewish Committee and the Catholic University within our Diocese, Saint Leo University, the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies was established in 1999 with the mission of building mutual respect, understanding, and appreciation between Jews, Catholics, and all  people of good will by providing opportunities for interfaith education and dialogue. The objectives of the Center are to educate the public on issues germane to both religions and to foster intellectual discussion, as seen from both points of view. Together in the spirit of the Hebrew Tikkun Olam (trying to repair/improve the world), the Center models and promotes tolerance, justice, and compassion in a world torn by strife and prejudice among religions and nations. These objectives are met through conferences, town hall meetings, interreligious dialogue, and gatherings of young Jews and Catholics sharing their faith together.

Over the course of the next 8 weeks the Center is sponsoring a series of events much like this one devoted to understanding contemporary interfaith challenges in light of the seminal teachings of Nostra  Aetate. (See Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies website). Over 40 such centers now exist in the United States.

As the sun more rapidly sets on my privilege of serving my church in the five counties, I see God’s hand in my presence among you this evening. Twenty years ago this coming January 26th, Jacob Luski patiently set among an overflow crowd at St. Jude’s Cathedral for my ordination as bishop. He was among the first I greeted. He and JoAnn have had me as a guest in their home and at the one child’s wedding I was able to attend. When the moment arrived two years ago for the rededication of the remodeled Cathedral of St. Jude, I came here to learn from the master how to interpret the scripture passage from Nehemiah about the Temple and he taught me well enough that citing my source, I used his material for part of my homily that evening. I learned from him that one never answers a direct question if one can first tell a story.

Above all, he taught me how to be reflective, reconciling, and renewed in understanding contemporary Judaism in America. Little wonder that at my invitation he spent a morning with seventy-five per cent of my priests which they still remember with fondness and gratitude. For myself, he has been my Rabbi Skorka. Though our schedules often preclude many opportunities to meet and share, I will walk into retirement and eternity forever grateful to my personal rabbi and friend, his wife and family.

Pope Francis

I think it appropriate that we gather this evening—not only to celebrate the gift that Nostra Aetate has been to our two faiths over the past 50 years and to consider the contemporary challenges which still confront us– but also as we look ahead in the midst of new leadership within the Catholic Church under Pope Francis on the eve of what he has called to be an upcoming year of mercy! Like both Pope John XXIII and John Paul II before him, Pope Francis is truly a people’s pope—a pope pastorally inspired to discover new ways and means to convey the love, mercy and joy of our God unto greater inclusivity and solidarity among all peoples. A jubilee year reminds us all of God’s ultimate sovereignty over all and calls upon us to surrender anew unto Him and His Providential designs.  It is a call for forgiveness, new beginnings and humility before God and one another.  It is a call to discover how we are to understand our relationship with one another through the lens of our relationship with the one and same God whom we serve.  Towards that end, allow me to close with the words of Pope Francis voiced in his first apostolic letter which summarizes succinctly and well the attitude of respect that Nostra Aetate inspired 50 years ago:

  1. We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked, for “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). The Church, which shares with Jews an important part of the sacred Scriptures, looks upon the people of the covenant and their faith as one of the sacred roots of her own Christian identity (cf. Rom 11:16-18). As Christians, we cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion; nor do we include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God (cf. 1 Thes 1:9). With them, we believe in the one God who acts in history, and with them we accept his revealed word.
  2. Dialogue and friendship with the children of Israel are part of the life of Jesus’ disciples. The friendship which has grown between us makes us bitterly and sincerely regret the terrible persecutions which they have endured, and continue to endure, especially those that have involved Christians.
  3. God continues to work among the people of the Old Covenant and to bring forth treasures of wisdom which flow from their encounter with his word. For this reason, the Church also is enriched when she receives the values of Judaism. While it is true that certain Christian beliefs are unacceptable to Judaism, and that the Church cannot refrain from proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Messiah, there exists as well a rich complementarity which allows us to read the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures together and to help one another to mine the riches of God’s word. We can also share many ethical convictions and a common concern for justice and the development of peoples.

Evangelium Gaudium

SUNDAY, SUNDAY

Monday, October 5th, 2015

IMG_1872I left Rome on Saturday to return to the diocese, mostly without interruption at least until the Christmas holidays. The “Roman Holiday” was not much of a holiday as I arrived in the Eternal City at 900 am on Wednesday and left at noon on Saturday – three days and three hours. The purpose of the trip was wonderful in that for the second year in a row one of our seminarians was ordained to the transitional diaconate, meaning that I will have the privilege of ordaining him to the priesthood this coming May. Alex Padilla, like Father Ryan Boyle who was ordained last year, has attended the Pontifical North American College for three years. During that time his studies have been at the Gregorian University (the Jesuits) and his formation at the North American College (NAC hereafter). He is among 270 seminarians enrolled this year at this seminary.

Alex is one of two early vocations coming from the diocese’s newest high school, Bishop McLaughlin in Spring Hill (well, really Hudson for everyone except the Post Office). Rajeev Phillip is the second vocation and he also is studying in Rome but for the Syro-Malabar Rite whose origin and strength is to be found in Southern India. His diocesan headquarters is in Chicago and there are two Syro-Malabar parishes located in Tampa so perhaps good fortune will bring Rajeev back to minister in his home area. Both McLaughlin graduates are outstanding candidates for the priesthood.

Alex was ordained a deacon on Thursday morning at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica by Timothy Cardinal Dolan along with thirty-eight other men. Twelve of his classmates were ordained deacons during the summer months in their own dioceses and by their own bishops. While his mother and father and brother were able to be present, only one other cousin who lives in Germany, and one other classmate from his days as a college seminarian at St. John Vianney were able to be present as well.

His rector from his days at St. John Vianney in Miami, Monsignor Roberto Garza, vested him in his diaconal robes during the ceremony, and his coach and mentor from Bishop McLaughin, Michael Zelenka, now principal at Incarnation Elementary School in Tampa, and I were able to be present.

Cardinal Dolan gave one of the finest homilies prior to the actual ordination ceremony itself I have ever heard. The ordination was lovely and the opportunity  to spend time with an ordinand and his family was special for myself as well.

On Friday and Saturday, the nine U.S. bishops who will be participating in the Synod on the Family, which began with a prayer service on Saturday night, arrived for their three hard weeks of work on a church event which, save for the Second Vatican Council, has captured the attention of the Catholic world. You may recall that almost two years ago I invited all of my diocesan family to complete a questionnaire on marriage and family life in the Church and world today.

More than 9,000 of you responded with a large majority asking for some type of relief for the divorced and remarried while maintaining the essential teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. You also spoke your minds and hearts in that survey about same-sex marriage, welcoming gay and lesbian Catholics back into the family if they felt estranged, cohabitation and many other matters.

I shared the results of the survey with all of you, even though I think I was not supposed to do that. That survey and its findings were sent to the Synod Office in Rome which prepared the working structure for both last year’s extraordinary Synod which led up to what starts tonight with a prayer vigil with the Pope in St. Peter’s Square and a Mass tomorrow morning. Then the “rubber will hit the road”. My suspicion is that there is sufficient division among the attending Synod members to bring about major change, but the Holy Father might well. He listens carefully and intently to what he hears, both the majority opinions and the minority opinions. If the minority has a point, whereas in the past it would never see the light of day at the conclusion of the Synod, he has minority opinions noted publicly and occasionally as he sees pastorally fit, useful and or necessary he implements some of the things he hears.

This man is not afraid of conflict. He has asked the Synod Fathers to speak the truth of their hearts and minds in love and to bear in mind that there is always “Peter” to make the final decisions. It is going to be an interesting and invigorating three weeks as the Francis wind continues to breeze through the Church and it could get seemingly ugly but I ask you “be not afraid” as the Holy Spirit is guiding us now as we seek to speak to the modern world. Keep your eye on this space during these three weeks for thoughts.

Congratulations Deacon Alex. As wonderful as Thursday was, May 21, 2016 will be even more joyous as a grateful church of St. Petersburg welcomes you, Bradley Reed, Jonathan Stephanz, Kevin Yarnell, and Felipe Gonzalez to the sacred priesthood.

Also, please pray for all your priests who will be spending three days together this week in a special, mandatory convocation to reflect on what we have accomplished as a local church in the last two decades and what we would like to see shape a vision that we can share with the next shepherd of this great diocese.

+RNL