First, allow me to wish all who read this post a most happy, healthy and holy New Year. For everyone it is a year with a higher level of uncertainty in many ways but like every New Year it also contains the possibility of great promise. May the latter overshadow the former and bring you peace and serenity.
Now this is blog post number 739 and the last. I cannot tell you how many times I have attempted to begin to organize these thoughts only to abandon the effort for largely emotional reasons. It is truly time to say good-bye, solely from the ”blog perspective” as I am not yet calling to the Lord to come and get me and look forward in twelve months to returning to the diocese and being of whatever assistance I can be to Bishop Parkes or no assistance while becoming again a part of a great family of faith.
Twenty-one years is a long time for any bishop to serve a community of faith but such has been my privilege. Throughout that time I have tried to communicate my own thoughts, hopes, fears, perspectives, etc. to the Catholic people of the five counties in various ways. Initially there was a daily radio program with my partner Mary Jo Murphy called “On the Air with Bishop Lynch”. At the same time, there was a weekly column (then bi-weekly) in the Florida Catholic entitled “Out of the Ordinary.” More recently, inspired by the BlogSpot “Whispers in the Loggia” and its author Rocco Palma, while riding AMTRAK home from a November meeting of bishops in Baltimore, I decided to take a turn at sharing my thoughts and perspectives on matters ecclesial but hopefully of interest. In the intervening years, 739 times I have thought of something I wanted to share. There are 36 efforts which never saw the light of day (or the internet), for whatever reasons and I would admit that several addressed topics I ultimately deemed too hot to handle or not what a local bishop should be saying.
Often the Spirit worked in me by giving me first a title and then from that spur the energy to sit down and compose. I have never used my blog to attack any person and even in disagreement (and as I aged I have become somewhat more disagreeable) I have addressed issues, which I hope and pray have been mildly topical. When controversial you might be interested in knowing that the comments, which I always have read, which were inimical to my point or to me personally almost always came from readers outside the diocese and not from those who knew me personally as their bishop from whom I mostly derived support. Blogs can be dangerous because they are unsupervised, unregulated and opportunities for calumny and slander and I never wanted to go there or even approach such shameful misuse. Ideas are fair game for intelligent discourse, people are not or so I have felt.
It is an interesting time in the Church with a Pope who is out-front in understanding the challenge of every day living and is desirous of recapturing the Spirit of the Second Vatican Council. He has his opponents, not only among those who work with and for him and should be supporting him but, I would say, even among bishops here in the US and elsewhere. I entered the priesthood inspired by Pope Paul VI and I conclude my active ministry, at least as an ordinary, inspired by Pope Francis. He is the only reason I wish I were younger and had the time and opportunity to assist him in establishing his vision for our beloved Church. But it is always a grace to know when it is time to go and I get that, however painful it may be. I have had my moment, did the best I could, and now it is very appropriate that the local lantern of leadership be passed to another. Bishop Parkes, day after tomorrow, will become my bishop for whom I will daily pray at Mass and he will have my support at all times.
Allow me, then, to close these reflections with some thoughts about the past twenty-one years and hope for the future:
- The Diocese of St. Petersburg is a tremendous presence in this community of the five counties because of its increased presence in Catholic Charities, in opening up opportunities through school choice to children who might not otherwise be able to access it, in addressing creatively and successfully the challenge of homelessness by providing a refuge of hope and in collaborating in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties with other Churches in social action ministry through FAST and HOPE.
- The diocese has the human and financial resources to expand outreach to the newly arriving and terrified immigrant community who are overwhelmingly Catholic on their arrival and only if and when they feel unwelcomed and unappreciated by the Church of their baptism will they turn to other more welcoming non-Catholic denominations. We have grown in numbers in the last two decades because of the new arrivals from the South (note not the North as was the case decades ago) and we can care for them, protect them, and integrate them into society if allowed to do so.
- I have devoted a great deal of my time to patiently pursue young men and women for lives of service in the priesthood and religious life. It was my highest priority when I arrived and slowly but surely as a local Church we are beginning to benefit by all the time, effort and finances spent. Thirteen ordinations in the last two and a half years and looking to perhaps twelve in the next three years is a sign of the possibilities which are out there and I have shared with Bishop Parkes my belief that my greatest legacy I leave him is the service of our clergy, old and young, and the talent, commitment and potential of those to be ordained. These men are not interested in lace and maniples, but smelling the sheep and working hard on the peripheries. I am very grateful to the seminaries, which we use for training pastors who embrace the vision of the Pope and not the seeming romance of the past.
- We are not a large bureaucracy at the diocesan level. Transparency, Accountability, and Safety of Children have seen the departments of finance and the protection of children and the vulnerable elderly grow in my time but it is money well spent. An extremely competent and committed staff has supported me throughout my years whose love of the Church has surpassed simply having a job but sacrificing salary at times for the good of the faith. We will miss each other, as has become increasing clear in the last four weeks. They remain.
- The Church is losing an alarming percentage of the younger generation. We are only worth a look for many younger baptized Catholics if we acknowledge the challenges, which they and society face. They will only be proud of their church when we bundle life issues to include far more than simply the “right to life” issue solely of abortion. They are settled in their tolerance and acceptance of what were once seen as alternate lifestyles. They don’t like the inconsistency of matters like capitol punishment, unfettered gun control, alleviating homelessness and guaranteeing their children a nuclear free world. The twin pastoral letters on war and peace and the economy in the ‘80’s made a generation proud to be Catholic, even if it irritated an older and smaller generation of Catholics, but sadly this generation has not seen their Church address forcefully and realistically much other than abortion, euthanasia and immigration. It’s time to bring back Cardinal Bernardin’s “seamless garment” approach or watch the exit doors of our parishes and churches. Keeping this generation will, indeed, require more than simply the above but Pope Francis is right when he suggests that a Church of love can sometimes be more important than a Church of law.
So there are five parting thoughts for blog post number 739. It is time to say good-bye. If you have enjoyed what I have written, then I suggest you continue to read the thoughtful commentary on “Whispers in the Loggia” and the insights of Michael Sean Winters in the National Catholic Reporter. Locally, beginning on Wednesday, Bishop Gregory Parkes will be the voice of the Church in St. Petersburg and accord him the loyalty you have shown me. Together let us listen to our new shepherd. Thank you for your love and support through the last twenty-one years. Lynch out!