I have not had an opportunity to return to this blog in too many weeks and yesterday my brother Tim asked if I was “all right?” since he had not read anything of my composition the last couple of weeks. It was a very busy time leading up to Ash Wednesday, made more complicated by the previously mentioned quick trip to London for the funeral of my friend, Canon Adrian Arrowsmith.
Quite unplanned during that soiree was that my presence coincided with the return to his archdiocese from the consistory which made him a Cardinal of my friend, Vincent Nichols. Off the plane, into the shower, and then to Westminster Cathedral for his Mass of Welcome. The new Cardinal is such a good preacher that though fighting it, I remained awake throughout his homily. The beautiful Cathedral was filled to the rafters for the occasion.
The funeral was in a parish Church in Ruislip, which is a London suburb near Heathrow airport where the Canon had served as pastor many years ago. The Church was quite full of friends and admirers of Monsignor Adrian, including the Academy Award winning English actress Maggie Smith (aka, “the Dowager Lady” on Downton Abbey) and Michael Crawford, the first Phantom in London and New York in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Phantom of the Opera.” With friends like that the aging bishop of St. Petersburg was hardly noticed. The funeral was over at 1215pm and I found myself at Heathrow Airport by 1245pm for a 205pm Delta flight to Atlanta and back to Tampa.
Up early the next day for Ash Wednesday. For a number of years I have been saying Ash Wednesday Mass next door to my office at St. Petersburg Catholic High School. I like saying Mass there as the students are quite respectful and well behaved, often joined by a good number of parents and this year the music provided by the assembled student choir was quite good.
I encouraged them to do more this year than simply give alms (money) to some cause for the poor but to personally deliver their Lenten sacrifice to some person, some face, somebody. I tried to build on the Holy Father’s challenge to go out of our individual comfort zones to share Christ with the poorest of the poor. Anyone can give money to a good cause, “do not sinners and tax collectors” do the same, but to see the face of God in another person who is not nearly as comfortable in life as perhaps we are is to be an authentic Christian during Lent and even beyond. I think I got through. I hope I got through. I trust that I believe it myself and will do the same.
My pastors reported astounding and outstanding crowds in Church to receive ashes this year. See some photos from Ash Wednesday around our diocese here.
The first Sunday of Lent brought the Rite of Election to the Cathedral and we had a record number in my eighteen years of catechumens and candidates (the former to be baptized, confirmed and first Eucharist and the latter to be received, first penance, confirmed and first Eucharist) to welcome into the Church at the Easter Vigil.
While I do not have the exact number of each at my disposal as I write this, memory seems to indicate that we had slightly over 1100 at the Cathedral for our two sessions. The place was packed with people standing at both services.
Our wonderful Worship Office does a great job of preparing for this moment annually and those who come are amazed, first by the number of women, men and children, who like themselves are seeking entrance into the Church and then by the beauty of the Church’s Evening Prayer.
Among the firsts this year was that it was possible for those in wheelchairs to come to me in the sanctuary because of the newly renovated Cathedral and I had my first “selfie” request (see pictures below) (darn Pope!).
I always leave feeling that a mere handshake and brief greeting is not enough on my part for these courageous people but they leave swearing that they are not going to wash their hands for the rest of the day. God is good!
Just before Lent began we had the annual Marriage Jubilee Mass with also an overflowing crowd. Close to 400 couples celebrating 25, 50, 60+ and even 70+ years of marriage joined me for Mass and a reception following at St. Jude’s Cathedral.
Talk about collective adrenalin, this Mass has it in super-abundance. Music this year was provided by the young women and men of Largo High School’s concert choir who, though many were not Catholic, rehearsed and led us in Catholic hymnody quite beautifully and this is a Mass at which there are no “strangers” to our liturgy so the singing and responses are always quite robust.
The special presentation of the longest married with to Ray and Marge Flack from New Port Richey who had been married for seventy-one years and behaved like two people just dating and falling in love in the front row of the Cathedral.
In an era when the very definition of marriage is being changed by society, it was quite comforting to spend time at prayer with couples who renewed their promises and commitments to one another during the year of a major anniversary celebration.
It’s always a “kick” and thanks go to our Marriage and Family Life office and to the leadership of Marriage Encounter in the diocese, who annually direct, seat and assist those present. See more photos from the Marriage Jubilee Mass here.
Finally, while thinking of “commitment”, on the Friday prior to the Marriage Jubilee Mass I was at the White House in Washington. Let me begin by saying that none of the present four occupants of that real estate were anywhere to be seen.
Instead, in the First Lady’s reception room of the East End, our Father Michael Morris who is serving as an Air Force Chaplain was promoted from the rank of Major to that of Lieutenant Colonel.
Colonel/Father Morris has been assigned for the past few years as Chaplain to the Military attached to the White House, a special honor to be sure in its own right. That assignment is most likely how he earned the opportunity to be raised in rank in such distinguished “digs.”
Because it was happening at the White House, however, was not the reason I chose to attend. It is fairly well known that Father Michael is battling a very rare and aggressive form of cancer, which seems to be winning. In spite of chemo infusions and all that accompanies what millions of people go through with this disease, he carries on with his commitment to his God, church and nation. With both parents deceased and only his brother and sister-in-law in attendance as his family, I wanted to be present for this occasion as did Archbishop Timothy Broglio, Archbishop for the Military Services.
Both of us and everyone else the room on this occasion are proud of Colonel Morris and I ask you now to join the ever-widening cadre of people praying for him, his recovery if it is God’s will and his continued grit and determination to soldier on.
Enough for now. More about commitment later this week when I describe my visit last week to our two seminaries and to our seminarians.