Posts Tagged ‘Blog’

STRONGEST CHALLENGE YET

Monday, February 16th, 2015

Yesterday in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Pope Francis gave the strongest, clearest, and most concise homily he has given yet of his vision for Church leadership and membership. In speaking on the occasion of the creation of new Cardinals from throughout the world, the Holy Father used the Sunday Gospel to remind them, the world’s bishops, myself, and all who are involved in the ministry of the Church of the Gospel account of the curing of the leper. in so doing he told  once again that maintaining what we have is not enough, indeed far from enough. Rather  the spread of the Gospel and the success of the presence of Jesus in our world must penetrate every corner of our world and force us to look to the peripheries for the modern day equivalents of the leprosy so that they can feel the healing touch of Jesus.

A local pastor shared with me before the weekend this point, which would be a part of his homily; “Such behavior [he was speaking of the Gospel note that the priests who thought that people had leprosy, banished them to the outskirts of town and forced them to announce their presence by shouting, ‘unclean, unclean’] is abhorrent to us. How could someone who is ill be treated so heartlessly? But perhaps we are no different than those priests of Levi. Think of how we treat or avoid those who are of a different race, culture, religion, sexual preference, political persuasion, age group or economic status. The list is endless.”

There is a natural tendency of all religions and maybe especially ours to “preach to the choir” or put another way to concentrate our ministry on those people and aspects with which we personally are most comfortable. For the last twenty-five years, we bishops in the United States spent perhaps entirely too much time on liturgical language, battling politicians, threatening sanctions (the result is driving more good people out of the church and into the peripheries), whining against an admittedly dangerous secularism and seemingly ever stronger perversion of our Judeo-Christian culture (should we not soon add “Islamic” to the preceding hyphen?).

Politicians and their advisers learned long ago that the majority of Catholics don’t listen to their leadership when we engage in what is mostly verbal sparing. They would be a lot more worried about us if we took to heart the social justice aspect of both the Gospel and our ecclesial mission. If we were unanimous, for example (or close to it since I think that even the Nicene Creed would garner two negative votes at USCCB General Meetings) in supporting President Obama’s first small step at immigration reform (how many homilies have you heard this mentioned in?). In my seventy-three plus years, the Church never had the credibility outside and within its own membership that we did in the 1980’s with the twin pastoral letters on War and Peace and Economic Justice for All. Even those who disagreed took us far more seriously that many do today.

For the last thirty years, the Catholic Church in the United States has been much too content to pitch its tent on a safe island assuming that the surrounding seas were serene. Fear took hold of bishops and bishops’ conferences, the theological enterprise, and relationships with exempt congregations of religious women and men. At the same time, truthfully we watched tons of people abandon the Church for many reasons. And here in the United States, we are told, the periphery became the second largest religion in the nation: lapsed Catholics.

Now there is a voice, Peter’s present successor, who challenges Church leadership to get off that island and listen to and heal, comfort and don’t condemn, the sores of alienation of many while all the time listening to the cries of the immigrants and others for help. Rediscovering the “soul” of Catholicism is what this pontificate is all about, with an enormous reliance on the Holy Spirit.

I suspect and am afraid that there are those within our ranks who hope and pray that this Pope does not live long. Sad, isn’t it, that we would wish that on the most popular Holy Father in recent history (he will eclipse St. John Paul II in the hearts and minds of the people of the world, believe me). His challenge is not with God’s people but with those of us who promised obedience and respect for him and his successors as well as those who promised the same for their local bishops and religious superiors. (For a masterful review of the present current of dissent and unhappiness with this Pope, click here for a blog posting this past weekend by Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington)

Pope Francis is dealing with major issues of humanity which preclude far too many from a relationship with Christ the healer. He basically said to the world’s Cardinals in his homily that maybe those rich red robes were fine for that occasion but get out of them as soon as possible and get to work touching people like Christ touched the leper. “Sir, I know you can heal me if you just touch me.” God’s people do not care what we wear but that we care. There is a new freedom in the Church of Christ and only we can determine whether we are “players” or content to simply “sit this one (papacy) out by sticking to the safer sidelines”.

The Holy Father’s homily, which you can read by clicking here, said to me: you have ears to hear but are you listening? In my following blog entry I shall attempt an answer as to what I as a bishop, my priests, religious and members can do to respond to the Holy Father’s challenge. It may take me a few days.

 

+RNL

APOLOGIES

Monday, September 17th, 2012

I have been working for some time on a post on the upcoming elections. It is still very much in draft form and subject to substantial revision. To my horror, a comment received from a reader indicated that the “not-ready-for-prime-time” and still unedited version was already up on this site for four hours. I have removed it while I continue to refine it. Hope those who have seen it will forgive the spelling and punctuation errors and it should see the “light of day” sometime tomorrow. Thanks and apologies

+RNL

MAN WAS I EVER HACKED OFF!

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Some of you are surely saying to yourself, “what now, my love?” and others are probably saying, “uh-oh, Obama again!” (more about that later). But what I wish to convey in this entry is that I have been literally hacked off for the last week. Someone, somewhere, managed to hack into the large server which WordPress uses for many of their blogs and randomly render them ineffective and inaccessible. It has taken the host servers and my wonderful dedicated IT staff here at the diocese a week to restore what little you see here and allow me the opportunity to start sharing again.

At the moment, your ability to send me your comments is not possible but it will return. Also, the archives which date back to the beginning of this effort seem at this writing to be unrecoverable but they are still working on it and hope springs eternal. I want my postulator for sainthood to have access to my writings but not the devil’s advocate (I hope you know I am kidding!) All joking aside, I have learned a few things about patience in this last week and a deeper admiration for those who work for and with me in making this blog possible.

So, slightly wounded but still kicking, here we go again.

+RNL

500th “ANNIVERSARY”

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Typing this 500th blog entry.

This is the 500th “anniversary” of the beginning of this blog, FOR HIS FRIENDS. “Anniversary” is in quotation marks because obviously the blog is not 500 years old but the server which handles this blog informed me that this would be the 500th entry since my first offering in October of 2008. I have been reflecting on this in recent days and thought I would dedicate the “anniversary’ post to what has been, is now, and is to come.

Three things drove me to consider beginning to write a blog. First was the decision to leave the family of the Florida Catholic. As Bishop of St. Petersburg I had at my disposal two ways of communicating with the people of the diocese: my occasional column in the Florida Catholic entitled “Out of the Ordinary” and a five minute spot daily on SPIRIT-FM, the diocesan radio station which we called “On the Air with Bishop Lynch.” In the early days, when I was a lot younger and far more energetic, meeting the weekly deadlines for the paper and recording two weeks of five minute radio programs with Mary Jo Murphy were relatively easy. In the latter case she would pick the topics and I would talk non-stop for five minutes whether I knew much about the subject or not. As time wore on, I sort of wore out. The deadlines for the paper and the recording sessions for the radio program became burdensome. By way of parenthesis, I am an avid listener on SIRIUS/XM radio to Archbishop Dolan’s weekly one hour program entitled “A Conversation with the Archbishop.” Though he probably would not admit it I can tell that there is already some stress in scheduling the time for recording his show and there are now many more “Best of Archbishop Dolan” than originally. I feel his pain.

While I was growing weary I became acquainted for the first time with two places in the “blogosphere”, a place where I had never dared to venture. The first was the “mother of all ecclesial blogs” called Whispers in the Loggia. Every day would conclude with a visit to Whispers where I learned not only things which were about to happen but a very reasonable interpretation of things that had happened. Rocco Palmo, the author of “Whispers” wrote only when he had something to say and did not have to meet deadlines or expectations (I sense life has gotten worse for him as well as he sometimes apologizes for not posting anything for several days). I like to write and I thought to myself, I could do that and only when I want and when I have something I want to share. The second blog to which I was hooked and still am is radically different from the first. Albert VanSchoonderbeek is the Master or Captain of a Holland America Cruise Line ship and for the three months in which he is on duty, he writes an entry in Captain Albert’s Blog each day about life in charge of a vessel. It has lots of nautical information in it which always intrigues me and through his eyes, I feel I have visited almost all of the great ports, oceans, and seas of the world. I don’t know how he does it every day he is on board but he does and I love it. I thought to myself, lots of people might like to know what it is like to be a bishop in today’s Church. Both fountains gave birth to this child. It also helped to have in our employ an incredibly gifted young man, Walter Pruchnik, who worked with the server and was forever at the end of a phone call from me which began with “help.” Walter left diocesan employment and is now in the formation program for the Congregation of  Holy Cross. His place has been taken by Maria Mertens who is also a gift in this endeavor.

I know I will never be a saint recognized by the Church and do not deserve such. But when a bishop writes as much as I have written, there is a lifetime of “fodder” for a devil’s advocate. Initially I received a lot of comments but when it became clear that this blog was to be a positive place and not another source within the Church for disputatiousness, calumny, slander, internecine warfare within the Church, the comment opportunity is now utilized mainly by people who express their gratitude, support, and occasionally a proper correction. It was a good decision to keep the comments private. Today’s Church does not need another outlet for complaints and criticism.

Most of what I write about pertains to our situation in this diocese and does not have national interest. One blog entry on the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin made it into Origins and other Catholic publications and a number have been used by other authors in the blogosphere, including the “mother of all ecclesial blogs.” I write for the people I love and serve and not for a larger constituency.

There has been a lot of affirmation along the way and I know that many people of different ages read the blog. We have a limited access to information on the number of hits, how often and how long they stay on, and where they are from. All encourage me to keep at it. I find writing cathartic but only when I am in the mood. Thus, a blog which has no deadlines and sets no demands is perfect for me. There have been 1138 days since my first blog entry in 2008 and today marks the 500th entry so the well is not running dry, yet. Tomorrow there will be a posting about my Mass with judges and attorneys in Tampa this noon but today I am merely waltzing through 500 posts. Thank you to the readers, thanks to the inspirers, thanks also to my colleagues in IT over the last three years. But the greatest thanks are reserved today to you wonderful people of the diocese wh0 are often the inspiration for these random thoughts about life in our Church today. It is a great Church. It is a great diocese. It is great to be your bishop. Now it is on to 1000.

+RNL

WEEK-END UPDATE

Monday, July 11th, 2011

So I lied! I know I said no more blog entries until early August since I would be spending all of July “fishin” but I can’t resist (and also I find that I have more time on my hands to think and write than normal). There can really be no secret about my whereabouts (and there need not be) as yesterday when filling in for the local pastor who began his two week vacation with my arrival at the parish church, the lector for the 1000am Mass is a parishioner of St. Paul’s parish in St. Petersburg. Additionally, the sister of one of our priests, Father Mike O’Brien, was in the congregation with her husband, baseball immortal and Bishop Barry graduate, Bill Freehan. So it is time to fess up. I am spending the month on Crooked Lake (named for its shoreline and not its property owners) which is about six miles east of Petoskey and a similar distance south-west from Harbor Springs in the far northern area of the lower peninsula of Michigan. I am the sacramental ministry presence for St. Francis Xavier parish in Petoskey for the next two weeks while the fine pastor, Father Dennis Stilwell is away for a brief vacation. The Church is beautiful, indeed bordering on spectacular, except it is not air-conditioned and yesterday, Sunday, was really the first super hot and humid day of the summer (guess who got blamed for the humidity – that visiting bishop from Florida, of course).

Last night I had the honor of being the guest of the bishop of the diocese in which I am vacationing, Bishop Bernard Hebda, Bishop of Gaylord. We had a super dinner together but even better conversation. Bishop Bernard told me that he has about 41 active priests in ministry of whom 19 are either right at retirement or serving beyond retirement. Two of his pastors are in their nineties. The diocese has quite a few square miles to cover but except for Traverse City, Petoskey, and Cheboygan the towns, villages and parishes are very small and very rural. The area is spectacularly beautiful but the winters are very cold and there is a lot of snow. The local Church is the reverse of our experience in the Diocese of St. Petersburg in that during the summer, the Catholic population grows with those seeking relief from the heat of the midwest and Florida and in the winter, the population decreases substantially. The bishop gets around. In fact the priests and people worry for his health as he seems to be omni-present to the point that almost everyone with whom I talk, and they love him, worries about his schedule. He has taken to this local Church (originally a priest of Pittsburgh with some time spent working in Rome) like all these ducks from Canada take to the local lakes around here. This is truly a mission diocese, even in Michigan, and since it is indeed in Michigan, the state with the nation’s highest unemployment, the challenges of the economic downturn are felt even more in the parishes. But he finds a very healthy local church with impressive and dedicated priests and people. The time spent with him last night was pure gift to me.

This morning my hosts asked their cleaning lady to take a quick turn at my apartment. I had known that she was a devout member of the Jehovah’s Witness congregation and I do not know if she knows that in trying to convert me, which she attempted this morning, she was dealing with a Catholic bishop. That might have made me “the catch of the day” for her. Clearly, as a church, the Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t particularly care for Catholics, in fact they are pretty certain where we will be spending the afterlife though this woman stopped well short of that assertion. She did tell me that we do not know the Bible (I countered that we were getting better all the time at that), that the end of time is just around the corner because quoting Matthew 24 “the world is rising up in war, nation against nation”. When I said that first happened with World War I she countered with “that’s when the end of time started.” I asked if we would live to see it and she assured me we would. Steadfast, firm, unfailingly polite, she gave not one inch to reason, logic, theology or scripture interpretation. She never in the fifteen minutes or so we spoke explicitly came after the Catholic Church (except that when they call on us, we don’t know the bible). She also said that the “Confraternity Bible” which we use never uses the name of God and that is shameful. I told her God’s name is everywhere in our bible and then she said just as strenuously, “no it’s not! God’s name is “Jehovah” and you won’t find that anywhere in your Bible.” I countered, the word “Yahweh” from which Jehovah comes is all over the  Old Testament and she said, “but that is not God’s name. It is Jehovah.” We parted friends and she said she would pray for me. I call that something of a pyrrhic victory but all in all I had met my match in debate points.

Two distinctly different conversations separated only by sleep, one so comfortable talking about our faith and what we might do to spread it and the other demanding total capitulation. I think I have two choices: either to mop my own floors or to be absent next week when she comes again. Although I don’t understand the nexus often in their faith belief based strictly on a fundamental interpretation of Scripture, I end this with some admiration for the strength of her faith which gave her the courage to open, guide, direct, manipulate the conversation. And I think of yesterday’s Gospel. This woman takes very seriously her responsibility to be both a hearer of the Word and a sower of the same. I think I know which category of earth she falls in as a hearer of the Word, but I wish more of us had the courage and strength of our convictions in sowing what she has heard.

That’s all the news for the week-end from Crooked Lake where the men are all absent, the women are all hard working and the children are all out on boats.

+RNL

GONE FISHIN!

Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

It is that wonderful time of the year again when I can find some time to get away, rest and relax. This year, for the first time in my episcopal ministry, I will be taking the whole month of July. There is nothing to be done, places to visit, just pure rest and relaxation. The pastor of the parish where I am visiting is alone so I will be helping in his parish on Sundays starting a week from today and since he takes two weeks himself each year in the middle of July but has had the custom of returning for the three week-end Masses, thereby interrupting his time away, I will cover for him the week-end of July 16/17 giving him for the first time two weeks away. While I like to keep the location in the US where I am vacationing a secret, I can tell you that under cloudless blue skies yesterday the high reached a whopping 77 degrees and the low last night, my first here, was 57, necessitating a blanket (my hosts had to explain to me what a”blanket” is!). The diocese is never out of my thoughts and you are never out of my prayers.

A month ago I wrote a letter which was distributed in the parishes about the diocese’s history since 1991 in dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct against minors, our process and its procedures. The letter has been very well received and the feedback overwhelmingly positive. However, two people very respectfully asked for a clarification of the statement that we have not used Annual Pastoral Appeal monies to pay the costs of dealing with these sad issues. I reaffirm that the statement is correct but it does raise the question as to whence do the monies come if not from the people. At no time did I ever mean to imply that monies used for this purpose comes from anywhere other than the parishes and, therefore, the people. Every parish and institution in the diocese is “taxed” or “assessed” for certain things which are not directly related to pastoral programs which the APA funds. For example, parishes and schools pay a significant amount each year for the health and welfare costs of their employees, likewise for unemployment compensation insurance and pension fund contributions. All of that is deducted mainly from offertory contributions. A fourth and final category of parish and parishioner support is for “Property and Liability Insurance.” We maintain a reserve here to cover some deductibles and catastrophic losses due to hurricanes and storm damage, legal claims and settlements for things like “slip and falls”, fires, etc. We have dipped occasionally and as needed into this reserve to pay what we identified as the costs associated with the diocese’s history of settling with victims in the hope of giving them some sense of pastoral care and solicitude for the immense harm done to them. Anticipating the next question which likely is, “well, has the diocese raised its tax against the parishes to build up this reserve” and the answer is in the negative. From time to time our Property and Liability Insurer, Catholic Mutual, has raised premiums against the parishes and institutions because either the property is seen to have increased in value or risk but this has nothing to do with sexual misconduct claims and payments. So, yes, parishes and parishioners as well as high schools and other diocesan institutions have been the ultimate source of these funds but that fact has not impacted the assessment parishes have been paying because we have had the funds in reserve. I hope this is helpful.

So, the fish are calling and I will sign off, not to be heard from again until sometime in early August. May the Lord spare us storms this hurricane season and may each reader also have an opportunity at some rest and relaxation from the normal. God Bless.

+RNL

 

OUT OF AFRICA – 2

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

Robert Angel, First Theology, St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary and currently a summer intern with Catholic Relief Services, Sierra Leone

As mentioned in an earlier blog post, there are two seminarians and a junior attending Notre Dame University who have been sponsored by the diocese to spend eight weeks this summer as an intern with Catholic Relief Services in Africa. Bob Angel is already on post in Makene, Sierra Leone, about 100 miles northeast of the capital of Freetown. His brother Dan who is a senior at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami leaves next Tuesday for eight weeks in Liberia and Christophers Mertens, the junior pre-med student from Notre Dame has just arrived in his eight week posting in Tamale, Ghana. Bob and Dan have established a blog site and it can be reached by clicking here http://african-angels.blogspot.com. Bob’s early postings reveal the challenges of an American spending any time, much less two months in a strange culture, challenging climate, and without the support systems which often sustain us in manners and ways unknown to us when we take them for granted. It is a superb blog and I strongly recommend that you add it to your regular reading for the next few weeks.

Christopher sends me a long e-mail which I convert to a Word file and which I will edit and present here from time to time. I am sure that Walter, my cyberspace guardian angel will find a way to make it accessible so that I do not have to add the full text to this blog spot each time but will share with you his experiences as well. He will be assisting in a clinic and working with a physician who treats a lot of HIV-AIDS cases and other diseases which affect people in that part of the African continent. Needless to say, none of these men are enjoying anything near the “lap of luxury” but rather are experiencing the desperate poverty and living standard of most of the world in which we live.

I hope you enjoy their reports back as much as I am enjoying hearing of their experiences coming from “Out of Africa.” I am very grateful to the staff of Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore and in the host countries and regions of those countries who are welcoming these men and guaranteeing their experiences.

What follows now is Christopher’s first two impressions of Ghana.

Accra, Ghana, greeted me as the sun rose on our plane and we prepared to land after a ten hour flight across the Atlantic. I didn’t get much sleep on the overnight flight, a result of what I believe was a combination of restless anxiousness to arrive and the bright flickering movie screens on the bulkhead of the plane playing various romantic comedies in succession. The thing that struck me the most as I peered at the landscape while stretching my neck to see around those sitting in the window seats was that most of the roads were not paved for the city where we landed. I know this shouldn’t be a shock to me, but it did drive home the reality that I was truly someplace far removed from Tampa and South Bend, my two homes.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) had a driver awaiting me as I cleared customs at the airport, a process that was also surprisingly painless and quick, at least in my case. The heat and humidity that greeted me outside is a close family member of the climate of Tampa, and the sweat that immediately appeared on my face and arms confirmed this observation. The 7-8 mile drive to the CRS offices took nearly 45 minutes thanks to the narrow roads of Accra and the explosion of car ownership in the city that far outpaced the road capability. As we crept along the streets, various venders would hold their wares up to the window. I have been told that it is possible to leave your house here in Accra with just the clothes that you are wearing, and you would be able to purchase almost anything you could possibly need to take on vacation somewhere.

At the CRS office, I was warmly welcomed and introduced, and then briefed on not only my stay, but also on the major programs that were being run within Ghana. CRS is involved in many programs, most of which are focused on the 3 northern regions of Ghana (Upper East, Upper West, and the Northern regions), and dealt with issues ranging from pre-natal care and early childhood care, HIV and AIDS treatment, prevention, and education, and agricultural programs aimed at assisting small villages and farmers that struggle to live even on a subsistence basis from the farms they live and work upon. Although I will be primarily stationed at the Shekhinah Clinic in Tamale, it is planned that hopefully I will be able to travel out to some of these program sites while in Tamale so that I may more fully see the scope of the work and good that CRS is doing.

After waiting out the 2-hour downpour that is beginning to signal the start of the rainy season in the southern part of Ghana, I left the office and arrived at my lodgings in a guesthouse for the night. After a much welcomed 3 hour nap, I arose and headed to the small 4 table restaurant downstairs to catch some dinner. After hearing the options, I decided that I would forego the familiar food from home (such as spaghetti) and try a local dish that came with tilapia. Now, being from Florida, and a fan of seafood, I thought it would be great to see what they used as spices for it. When the plate came, it seemed I did “catch” some dinner, as the fish was present in whole on my plate, eyes gleaming, and mouth and teeth open in an eternal grin. The waitress, smiling, told me that usually it is customary to eat this meal without utensils, and I took that as a challenge to be accepted. Unfortunately, I didn’t foresee dinner being such an entertaining event, and left my camera locked in my room, so I will let you imagine the rest of the dinner, as I tried to delicately remove the skin of the fish and scrape out the tasty meat and seasoning while trying to avoid any guts, bones, or brains on the fish.

Today I fly up to Tamale where I will be greeted by the CRS office there, and then after a little time to orient myself there, I hope to be off to the Shekhinah clinic with Dr. Abdulai in a day or two. I was fortunate to have a great internet connection this past night, but I believe it will be a bit more sporadic for the weeks ahead, yet I will still try to jot down notes, observations, and experiences on paper so that I may commit them to type to send out. The graciousness and generosity of those that I have met so far has truly been a blessing, and I hope that God will help me to remain open to meeting and getting to know people here on my stay.

 

Christopher Mertens and myself outside of Corby Hall on the Notre Dame campus in October 2010

There are two major reasons why I think our local Church will benefit from young women and men having opportunities such as this. First and foremost, we are a universal Church and although we share the same doctrines and disciplines throughout the world, every local Church is different. The Diocese of St. Petersburg is different from the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, for example. To have priests and lay people who have first-hand experience of the Church Universal will broaden our own horizons and make the universal nature of our faith better known. The second reasons is the profound love which I hold for Catholic Relief Services. They do incredibly good work in incredibly difficult working circumstances. They make we Catholics in the United States look good by their presence in over 110 countries throughout the world. I want these two men studying for the priesthood and the one studying for a possible lifetime as a doctor to share their experience with CRS and their sense of its presence and effectiveness throughout this diocese. I also hope that more young women and men will choose CRS for a life’s profession. All of this is possible with “apostles” of CRS spreading out throughout the diocese and country and telling its amazing story.

I am leaving in a few moments for Chicago and the final meeting of the Search Committee seeking a new President and CEO for Catholic Relief Services. It is the least I can so and sharing with the organization some of our women and men and allowing them to tell their amazing stories of their experience is a part of my DNA.

+RNL

 

 

 

 

 

 

THIS CANDLE IS ON FOR YOU

Friday, April 1st, 2011

Our third diocesan opportunity to make the Sacrament of Reconciliation available and easy for as many people as possible was for the second year in a row accompanied by torrential rainfall, lightning and thunder and countless other disincentives. In fact in some of our parishes, the electricity was out and only a candle could shine for those who braved the elements to experience the healing power of this great sacrament. My thanks to the priests of the diocese who made themselves available for the three hours and to those who chose like the U.S. Postal Service to come despite rain and cold, etc. We will have to evaluate the collective experiences throughout the diocese to discern whether we should continue the practice but for the moment we all agreed that the Thursday of the Third Week of Lent would be the annual date. A reader took exception to my use of the word “lucky” in several past blogs and one of them was from the previous blog entry where I mentioned that if you were looking for a convenient and anonymous opportunity to experience the sacrament, yesterday would be your “lucky” day. He thought Divine Providence was more at work than pure “luck.” I don’t want to blame yesterday’s weather on Divine Providence!

 

+RNL

ET ALIA #4

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

Many things on my mind today and the week just ended has been one of the most physically taxing in a long time since the normal Advent and pre-Christmas schedule was interrupted by a trip to Baltimore for a meeting at Catholic Relief Services. So, here goes,

Bishop John Noonan was installed as fifth bishop of Orlando on Thursday at the Shrine Basilica of Mary, Queen of the Universe. A congregation in excess of 2,500 warmly welcomed their new shepherd and in his homily, the new shepherd demonstrated the warmth of his love and fondness for his new diocese. The ceremony was quite lovely and lasted less than 105 minutes which is a miracle in itself. Bishop Noonan did a wonderful thing at the end of Mass when in speaking of Advent as the season of hope, he invited all the seminarians present to come forward as witnesses to hope which the faithful should have for their Church. The bishop has spent almost seventeen of his twenty-seven years in the priesthood working in seminary formation at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami, as Dean of Men and then for a good number of years as President-Rector. About eighty seminarians came forth to a standing and prolonged ovation from the people at the Shrine and proudly I could identify about twenty-five as being from our diocese.

Last night saw the annual Christmas dinner for our seminarians and their families (about 190 persons), their pastors and priest friends, and myself. Following Mass in the St. James Chapel we proceeded to Archbishop Favalora Hall where we had dinner and bade farewell with great gratitude to Father Leonard Plazewski who has held the position of Vocation Director of this diocese for twelve and a half years. An earlier post here indicated the transition and who his replacements would be in that very important position within the diocese. The seminarians are fond of Father Len and so the leave-taking was not that easy for him or for many but the Church of St. Petersburg owes him a debt of thanks for his hard work over the years recruiting and assisting seminarians through to priesthood. It is always wonderful to see our men and their families in a relaxed atmosphere and to begin to acknowledge the coming of Christmas with their return to their homes.

Fr. Len Plazewski

Father Len Plazewski saying his good-by and thanks to those present for the annual Christmas dinner for our seminarians and their families. (Photo courtesy of A. Padilla, seminarian)

The Bethany Center is fast becoming my second home as I seem to be spending many nights there lately. Prior to last night, I held the third of my overnights with our priests, this time being the international priests (born and formed in other countries like Poland, India, African nations, the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, and Central and South America). Our lengthy conversations about their experiences in coming to minister in the United States and in this diocese were both illuminating and helpful to me. They are a great and generous group of men who understand the challenges of language, culture, accent, etc. and who wish nothing more than to be accepted by me, by you, and by their brother priests as no longer a category (e.g. “international priests”) but just as priests of the diocese.

I have had only one angry over-the-top “comment” to a blog entry here which focused on the lack of a “corpus” (figure of Christ) on the large crucifix at Holy Family Catholic Church and made much of the stained glass window of the “Risen Christ” in the rear of the sanctuary. I regret ruining this readers day then and now as I failed to mention that the wood-carved body of Christ did not arrive on time to be installed on the cross and is due in a few weeks and as for the “stained-glass window”, it was in the church since its first dedication and was a sine qua non for the older parishioners in the renovation. When the figure of Jesus arrives and is placed, I will put a picture here in the profound hope that the reader will calm down but I would bet not. He was from Michigan, anyway, not the parish or the diocese.

This evening a number of the staff of our Pastoral Center gathered at Pinellas Hope to prepare, serve and feed the 262 residents on this cold Florida night. Working without a raise for the last two years, this group paid for the food, prepared it, and served it. I lent them my presence and not my culinary expertise of which I have none.

Pastoral Center staff serving one line at Pinellas Hope on December 19, 2010

Father Bob Morris and his mom also helped out

When the new year begins, forty bishops from the East Coast (the Wilmington diocese down to Miami) will gather for their annual retreat from the 3-7 of January at the Bethany Center. Several Cardinals, four archbishops and the rest bishops will spend their first visit to Bethany being led in our prayer and reflection by Bishop Jaime Soto who is the bishop of Sacramento, California. They are all looking forward to coming back to the Diocese of St. Petersburg after having spent a week here this past summer, hoping for warm weather (a coin toss in early January as we locals know), and ready to enjoy our hospitality and the beauty and comfort of Bethany. So I still have some blogs left in me right up to and including the Feast of the Holy Family a week from today but after that – SILENCE until the 7th of January.

That just about empties the file I have in my mind. Enjoy this final week of hope and expectation.

+RNL

TRAINING

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Two years ago I took AMTRAK back to Tampa from the Fall General Meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and during that trip I wrote my first entry on my new blog site. You know the rest of the story. Well, this evening I am on the “SILVER METEOR” which is neither silver nor meteoric in its speed. As a matter of fact, we are this moment stopped at the station serving Richmond, Virginia. But it is a very restful way to ease back into diocesan life and gives me ample opportunity to reflect on the week that was.

Our agenda this week was light and there were no good arguments which serve to liven up the long sessions of presentations and listening. My vote for the new President of the Conference was in vain as my Vice-Presidential preference leap-frogged my Presidential preference.

Tonight, however, my mind seems intent on focusing on whether or not we did anything helpful for the priests, deacons, religious and faithful of the St. Petersburg diocese and my instinct says not really. We seem, to my mind, these days to spend a lot of time “navel-gazing” – talking about budgets and assessments, etc., at least in the public sessions. The Executive Sessions did address issues of greater concern to pastoral ministry but I respect the confidential nature of those discussions.

I have been thinking a lot about the number of people who are leaving the Church and the possible reasons for this. I am thinking about the sacrament of marriage which is under challenge from several directions such as its very definition which we do talk about but today there were results announced of a recent Pew Research Study which found that 39% of adults surveyed said that “marriage is becoming obsolete,” that couples that do get married do so later in life (28.6 for men and 26.1 for women) and therefore, no surprise 44% of adults lived together before marriage among whom 64% said they considered it a step towards marriage. While we have expressed strong support for the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman, I don’t think we have ever pastorally addressed what every priest in my diocese knows, couples are not coming to the Church to get married in significant numbers or at least the same numbers.

Then I think about my task of being a leader to my priests. There is theologically one priesthood in the Diocese of St. Petersburg but there are at least three different categories of priests: those sixty and above who see the end in sight, those forty-five through sixty who sometimes dread the way in which they see the priesthood and Church in the U.S. going, and the younger priests filled with enthusiasm who seem to say that we are not adapting quickly enough to what is needed, sometimes what was a part and parcel of the past but which fell into some disuse following the Second Vatican Council which for them is largely a historical moment as Trent is for me.

Then there are the youth. I had lunch with two young students of Loyola Baltimore during my stay this week and their love for their faith and the amount of time they give to sharing it with their peers is just this side of incredible – a sign of hope in an ocean of disconnect for many their age.

These are some of the pastoral challenges which it would help for me to spend time on and perhaps at some moment they will be resolved. Until then I can only listen and lead. Arriving in Petersburg, Virginia, the porter wants to put my bed down for me (so he can go to bed himself I suspect for a precious few hours). It’s a cold night in southern Virginia but tomorrow morning I will wake up in Florida warmth and so will my hope and love for the Church.

All Aboard!

+RNL