Posts Tagged ‘Ash Wednesday’


Monday, March 17th, 2014

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.

Distributing ashes at Mass at St. Petersburg Catholic High School. Photo kindness of John Christian.

Distributing ashes at Mass at St. Petersburg Catholic High School. Photo kindness of John Christian.

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.

A "full house" at the 1:30PM prayer service. It was also a "full house" at the 4:00PM prayer service. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

A “full house” at the 1:30PM prayer service. It was also a “full house” at the 4:00PM prayer service. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

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.

At the 1:30PM prayer service. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

At the 1:30PM prayer service. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.


At the 1:30PM prayer service. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

At the 1:30PM prayer service. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.


At the 4:00PM prayer service. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

At the 4:00PM prayer service. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.


At the 4:00pm prayer service.

At the 4:00pm prayer service. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

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!).

The selfie request. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

The selfie request. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.


The selfie taken and shared  with me by Kathryn, a RCIA candidate from St. Lawrence Parish in Tampa.

The selfie, taken and shared with me by Kathryn, a RCIA candidate from St. Lawrence Parish in Tampa.

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!

You can view photos from the 1:30PM Rite of Election Prayer Service and the 4:00PM Rite of Election Prayer Service by clicking on the included links.

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.

With Ray and Marge Flack. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

With Ray and Marge Flack. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

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.

A couple renewing their marriage vows. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

A couple renewing their marriage vows. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.


Another couple renewing their marriage vows. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Another couple renewing their marriage vows. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

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 Michael Morris during the promotion pinning on ceremony.

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.

Myself, Colonel/Father Morris, and Archbishop Broglio

Myself, Colonel/Father Morris, and Archbishop Broglio

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.



Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

I am certain that almost every serious Catholic has spent the run-up this week to Ash Wednesday thinking about “Super” Monday. Here I use the word “super” only to emphasize the magnitude of the news to which we awakened some forty-eight hours ago. Pope Benedict’s momentous decision to stand down from his office of Pope later this month  commanded almost all of my energy Monday as I raced from one local TV station to another, answered phone calls and mail from friends and others, and had dinner with about twenty-six young men interested enough in a vocation to priesthood to come with their parish priests to dinner with the bishop (this latter group was full of good questions showing an interest in things “Churchy” that I found quite surprising.) As a consequence the time I would usually devote to preparing myself spiritually for Lent which began this morning was seriously encroached upon by the news coming from Rome and around the world.

Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Petersburg Catholic High School. Photo courtesy of Maria Mertens.

Distributing ashes during the Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Petersburg Catholic High School. Photo courtesy of Maria Mertens. View more photos by clicking here

Only last night, after coming home from my final confirmation for seven weeks (in this diocese we do not confirm during Lent), dead tired and knowing that I had my traditional Mass with the students of St. Petersburg Catholic High School this morning for Ash Wednesday in just a few hours, I retired to my chapel for some quiet time. It occurred to me that the three principal actions of Lent are all to be found in some way in Pope Benedict’s brave and humble decision. If fasting reflects sacrifice, imagine walking away in a few days from one of the world’s remaining spotlights. Even our critics acknowledge the continuing presence of the papacy and its influence in much of the world. While some might wish to write Popes off as irrelevant, they can not. Pope Benedict’s highly successful pastoral visits to Great Britain, to use only one example, showed that a politically neutral moral voice still has a role to play in the public square. This Holy Father can retire into the “wings” confident that he has made a difference. So he soon begins a life time fast of giving up the “spotlight” as you will, which has been his and watching the attention which remains with the office to come to his successor.

Pope Benedict has twice including this morning in his General Audience mentioned that he looks forward to spending his remaining days in prayer for the Church and (I am sure) for himself. During Lent we are all encouraged to look for more opportunities of communicating with our Lord in prayer. When Jesus grew weary and tired, the Gospels all tell us that he often went off to a “quiet place” to be alone in prayer. The Holy Father has chosen the same path in withdrawing from the glare of leadership of the Church and will spend his remaining time on earth praying for the Church, for us. In some ways, it would  not miss the mark too much to say that life will be one long Lent for Pope Benedict.

Finally, the thought occurred to me that in the challenge of “almsgiving” which is also a part of our Lent observance, there are many ways in which we can place ourselves at the service of others. Giving m0ney is one way but not the only way. It may come as a surprise to many, but the popes of the modern era are not rich men. I doubt if they ever receive a salary and while it is also true that they receive what they need to live and maintain a modest household, there is no such possibility as accumulated wealth derived from the papacy. They live simply in what I believe is incorrectly called a “palace” (sometimes “prison” would be a better word), spend a lot of their day seeing people and having little time for themselves, constantly preparing public statements, greetings, encyclical letters which have to be delivered within the next 24 hours, week or month. Benedict took time out from his little leisure time to write three wonderful books on Jesus of Nazareth, pure gifts – alms of another kind. He did not so much receive as a result of the office he held, but “spent” himself for us.

The Light Is on for YOU

The Light Is on for YOU

So, in these special forty days beginning today, each of us has an opportunity to join ourselves to him in the practice of this Lent by making more time for prayer, giving up something we hold precious but which might no longer be essential (at least for the next six weeks) and sharing our gifts, talents, selves with others even if we do not have the means to share “alms.” During Lent, giving of our “arms” can be just as fulfilling as giving of our “alms.” In  his final, humble and extraordinary gifting of himself, all of us can find something which we can do to make this Lent special. Confession and reconciliation are also essential and your parish will be having many opportunities for receiving the sacrament in the coming weeks, what with Penance Services and for the fifth year in a row, on Thursday, March 7th, “This Light is on for YOU” during which all our parishes will be open and priests available to hear your confession from 5pm until 7pm. Find out more information about “The Light Is on for YOU” by clicking here.

Lent 2013 begins with historic significance but at the personal level, the possibilities of turning away from sin and returning to the Gospel are even more awesome.



Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

It’s time for you either to sell your McDonald’s stock or put it in blind trust because once again they have seen the last of me till Easter Sunday. No more sausage biscuits and truth to tell I will miss them more than they will miss me. In my younger days, I used to play with “going without something for Lent” like I played with New Year’s Resolutions, that is to say that they both made it only for a few days before they were broken. However, as I became older I could see deeper meaning in observing Lent by some small penitential act which perhaps only served to me as a reminder of what Jesus spent for all of us. Lent can be a time for great grace, growth in the spiritual life, and focusing on perhaps the more important things in life.

Among those important things are preparing for the great Triduum now little more than six weeks away. Easter can be just another Sunday if one has not experienced the desert of temptations, the call to conversion of the Samaritan woman, and all those wonderful Gospel accounts which we shall soon be hearing once again. The Lenten Gospels in my life can not be heard and contemplated on enough for they get at the root of our Christian lives and graft us even closer to the crucified and risen one.

The Church attempts to provide us time during Lent to truly concentrate on the meaning in history and in this moment for us of these forty days. You probably either forgot about the abstinence which accompanies Ash Wednesday today and accidentally, I hope, ate meat or you substituted something else and missed meat (it is admittedly hard preaching this message to vegetarians!) But it is OK. Get in synch for this Friday and every Friday right through Good Friday. If it hurts a little, you are entering Lent. If it distracts a little, you have more time to think about the true sacrifice. We try hard as a  local diocese not to witness marriages during Lent because there would be a distraction of the first magnitude. I do not confirm during Lent, not because I am lazy, but again the possibility of our beloved Church offering yet another distraction. The Church wishes all of us, bishops as well as every member to do penance, turn away from sin and evil, and embrace the Gospel.

And out of these ashes of our personal lives and preparedness will rise the Savior of the World, hung on the “throne” of a wooden cross for all of us to witness how He loved us to death. So long McDonald’s, I’ll see you in early April. Hello, blessed Lord, help me a sinner to properly prepare for the reenactment of the sacrifice that puts my own and all of ours to shame. With you, as we sing, we fast and pray.

Blessed Lent everyone.



Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

It has been my custom for more than a decade now to celebrate Ash Wednesday Mass for the St. Petersburg Catholic High School community and I did so today. Let me begin by saying that a more prayerful environment one could not ask for and the students both sang and responded to the Mass parts well (not always true of high school students). So it was a privilege to begin my Lenten journey to Holy Week once again with my neighbors to the east of the Bishop W. Thomas Larkin Pastoral Center.

I mentioned to the students that today we begin a journey which will last a number of weeks. I mentioned that throughout human history, when someone has an idea, or a concept, or something they wish to sell to others, they spend a great deal of time working on what would likely be called “brand identification.” McDonalds, when it started, began with the notion of the “Golden Arches” and when someone sees them, they do not even need to see the name, they know what those two yellow arches announce. Nike does the same thing with its “swoosh” logo – whether it is a hat, a shirt, shoes, “Nike” need not appear, just the logo or brand.

We Christians have a “brand” that no marketing department in its right mind would ever accept or suggest – a cross with a dead body hanging from it. Gruesome, ugly, terrifying, bloody – it is not a PR person’s dream nor is it a marketer’s concept. But tell me another “brand” or symbol that has endured for two thousand years, that marks one’s identity as a Catholic Christian than a cross with a corpus or body on it. It has endured because of what and who it represents rather than what it is trying to “sell.” Jesus died on the cross and thereby secured for us the best “life insurance” policy one could ask for, eternal life. Its message has outlasted the Rock of Gibraltar for Prudential, the breaching orca whale for Pacific Life. That cross on that Good Friday purchased our life, eternal life, insurance policy.

"Branding" Fr. Larry Urban, SDB, one of the Salesian priests who teaches at St. Petersburg Catholic High School.

So today on Ash Wednesday we begin our personal journey to Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We pay for our ticket for the journey by embracing prayer, fasting and charity to the poor. We prepare by denying ourselves in small ways to share in the death and resurrection of He who denied himself his very life to purchase our chance at eternal life.

When we baptize a child, what is the first thing we do? The priest or deacon and the parents and God parents “brand” the child with the sign of the cross ” By the sign of the cross the Christian community welcomes you” we say. When I confirm a person what is the main thing I do? I “brand” the confirmand with Sacred Chrism and the sign of the cross. When I administer the Sacrament of the Sick to a person, what do I do? I make the sign of the cross on their forehead and hands, “branding” them as Christians to whom Jesus is coming as healer.

I suspect I have made my point so I will close with this thought on this Ash Wednesday – today we wear the “brand” of our Christian identity in ashes on our foreheads to help us begin our Lenten journey so that in a few weeks we can reverence the real cross on Good Friday. Only God could give the world a symbol like the cross to bring us to our knees! Have a holy Lent, dear readers.



Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

At times it has seemed like Ash Wednesday would never arrive. With Easter this year being on the last possible date in April for it to occur, everything has been pushed back much farther into winter than usual. Last Sunday’s readings at Mass, for example, are seldom heard proclaimed due to the fact that ordinary time prior to Ash Wednesday usually goes to about six or seven weeks and then when it resumes again week eight often gets dropped in the count-down to Christ the King. Lent is a special time of grace for the Church and for Catholics. The traditional forms of observance which include prayer, fasting and sharing of blessings is often accentuated by the individual practice of “giving something up for Lent.” In my case McDonald’s stock will decline as I once again say farewell for a while to my morning sausage biscuit. Believe me, reader, for myself that is a sacrifice. All of us will abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, and the Friday’s of Lent. It is a reminder of the greater suffering which Jesus took upon Himself to enable our salvation. Fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday for those under the age of sixty is also recommended but it should not be viewed as a burden but a reminder that we too can “spend ourselves” to recall the sacrifice of Christ.. These are small little things that both help us prepare for the Easter event as well as remind us of the cost and sacrifice which led to it. We were just notified by our state Catholic Conference that the Superintendent of Florida’s Correctional Facilities (read that jails and prisons) has approved Catholic inmates this year being allowed to receive and wear ashes on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday (said permission has not always been given). How much more we who are sometimes imprisoned by the secular ideals of the age in which we live should remind ourselves on Ash Wednesday that all of us, Presidents and Popes, Kings and commoners, adults and children, were created by a loving God from ash and to ash we shall someday return. Enjoy the final week-end before Lent begins but prepare yourself to enter more deeply into the mystery, grace and holiness which these special forty days make possible. See you at daily Mass? I hope so.


LENT 2010

Thursday, February 18th, 2010
Bishop Lynch putting Ashes on a student's forehead

Bishop Lynch making the sign of the cross with ashes on the forehead of a student at Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Petersburg Catholic High School. Photo Credit: John Christian

Hard as it may be to believe, our celebration of Lent 2010 began yesterday with Ash Wednesday and now will continue through Easter Sunday on April 4th. I began my liturgical celebration of this holy and penitential season by celebrating Mass for the students of St. Petersburg Catholic High School. They are unfailingly attentive at Mass when I am there and make it a genuine pleasure. The provincial superior of the Salesians, Father Thomas Dunne, was present and preached the homily to the assembly.

Bishop Lynch and Fr. Tom Dunne, SDB

Bishop Lynch and Fr. Tom Dunne, SDB at Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Petersburg Catholic High School. Photo Credit: John Christian

On March 11, 2010 we will repeat last year’s highly successful The Light is ON for You event. If you recall, we promise that all 75 parish churches and missions will be open on that Thursday night from 5pm until 8pm for the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Most Churches will also continue their practice of Penance Services sometime during Lent, so what’s the big deal about The Light is ON for You? To begin with, it will be easy to go to confession. You need not call the parish and ask what time confession is because every parish in the diocese will offer confession between five and eight that night. If you find a place closed during those hours that night, I want to know about it.

Secondly, if you have been away for a while or wish true anonymity, you can go to confession at any Church. Perhaps you work in downtown Tampa and live and worship in New Tampa at St. Mark’s as an example. You could choose Sacred Heart downtown, Corpus Christi in Temple Terrace, St. Mary’s in north Tampa and just stop by on the way home. Chances are you would have the anonymity which you feel you need for peace. Just come in, reflect on your mortal sins and your life in general, enter the confessional space and talk to the Lord and the priest. Listen carefully to his words of absolution and leave feeling healed and clean.

You may recall that last year when I presented the idea of The Light is ON for You to the priests they were skeptical. Well, to their amazement many of them were slammed that night by the number of people who made use of this opportunity and they were pleased in the end. It is now the priests who have asked that this opportunity become an annual one and it will be repeated on the Thursday night of the second full week of Lent for the foreseeable future or as long as it meets a need. Word came to me that many were wonderful confessions of people who had been away from the sacrament for a long, long time.

This Sunday finds me  at the Cathedral of St. Jude for two “Rite of Election” ceremonies. This is always a day that makes a bishop feel particularly good as he officially and formally welcomes the catechumens (those who will be baptized at the Easter Vigil, confirmed and make their First Holy Communion) and the candidates (those who have already been baptized, perhaps in another religion or if Catholic it has been years since they practiced) and who will make a profession of faith, be confirmed and make their first communion. Next Sunday there will be 385 catechumens and 678 candidates for a grand total of 1063 coming into the Church and present at the Rite of Election (there are always those who are catechumens or candidates who are unable to make this ceremony but will still be received at Easter.) By the way, this year’s number is down by only nine from the number received at last year’s two Rites of Election.

From all of this, you should be able to tell that I am finally back at work. I will do all I am physically capable of doing but still am told and suspect that it will be the Fall before I can expect to be fully recovered and back at full strength. For this reason, I have reduced my confirmation schedule this year but expect to resume full service in the Fall for confirmations.

I hope that together we can spend these forty days fasting and praying so that we may fully comprehend the great Easter mystery all the more.


The Light is ON for You