Posts Tagged ‘Cathedral of St. Jude’

AN ALMOST ICONIC MAN OF FAITH

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Death came yesterday morning to William T. Tapp. For more than twenty-five years, Bill Tapp was Director of Music and organist at the Cathedral of St. Jude in St. Petersburg and after his retirement and following the death of a dear friend, he took on the responsibilities of directing the choir and organist at the same city’s St. Paul Church for an additional ten years. Every priest of this diocese ordained prior to 1998 has good memories of working with “Mr. Tapp” on the music for their ordination and many married couples will remember him for his presence at their weddings. Born, raised and educated in Philadelphia, Mr. Tapp served in the army during World War II and was wounded in the invasion which followed D-Day. He loved his regiment and faithfully attended annual reunions until he was no longer able to do so. Returning from the War, he pursued his love of music, particularly Church music in Philadelphia and while being the organist and director of music for Our Lady of Ransom parish, he taught and assisted throughout the archdiocese including occasionally even St. Charles Borromeo seminary and Villanova University. He was that good!

Bill Tapp with Kathy Ayo, his daughter in 2009

Responding to an invitation to audition for the Cathedral of St. Jude position and being given it, Mr. Tapp moved his wife and family of eight children (Kathy, Terri, Bill, John, Jim, Christopher, Mike and Mary Elizabeth) to St. Petersburg which would be his and their adopted home for the rest of his long life. I came to know him very well and wish to share with you one of the many things which I so admired about him. After the War when Mr. Tapp began to pursue his love of Church music, our musical idiom, liturgy, and worship were more a part of the rich patrimony of a Church which had undergone reform at the Council of Trent and invited the great artists of the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods (Mozart, Hayden, Bach, Palestrina, etc.) to compose a rich library of beautiful church music to be “performed” at Masses throughout Europe and parts of the New World. We listened as they sang and there is no doubt that our thoughts and prayers were enriched by the musical tradition of our Church. Mr. Tapp loved the library of sacred music which was his as he began his life working for the Church through the sharing of his musical and voice gifts. Then, with the Second Vatican Council and the changes in the liturgy which placed a new emphasis on the “full and active participation of the faithful at Mass,” this good man watched the patrimony give ground  to some pretty awful post-Council music. It was like the Church he loved had taken away from him something other than his family that he loved just as much. He adjusted, and this is the point I wish to make. His love for the Church, its bishops and priests, allowed him however sadly to make the change and he seldom if ever complained. He did not always “cotton” to what he thought was masquerading as the new music of the Church, but he gave his best to making it work. That is why today, one day after his death yesterday, I wish to pay him public thanks for his selfless and sometimes sacrificial service to our Church. I am not sure that we fully realize and/or appreciate the sacrifices we asked gifted people like Bill Tapp to make in the late sixties and seventies.

No one whoever sang for him had any feelings other than love and admiration for Bill. He was a very classy man. I remember how difficult it was for him to sit in the front row of the Cathedral with his wife Mary Ann and his growing family of children, their spouses and children (when he died I think I counted twenty-nine grandchildren and one great grandchild) while the choir out of love for their director sang their hearts out for him during his son John’s first mass following ordination the previous day (which found Bill, of course, in the choir loft). He lived a long life, even after losing his beloved wife Mary Ann some fourteen years ago but the last few were spent in that darkness which is the tragedy of Alzheimer’s. In life, Bill Tapp certainly paid his dues to his Lord and on Wednesday morning, I trust those angels came to greet him as he so often sang at funerals to lead him into paradise. What faith!

+RNL

 

 

GREAT WEEK-END TO BE A BISHOP

Monday, November 21st, 2011

With Sister Emeline Schneider, OSF, one of the three religious jubilarians celebrating 70 years professed. Photo courtesy of Maria Mertens.

People often ask me what gives me the greatest joy in being a bishop and I respond unfailingly, ordaining priests, rite of election, and acknowledging the talents and gifts of many people serving the Church in the diocese humbly and joyfully. Well this week-end I was on overload starting with a Mass and luncheon for nineteen religious women and men whose combined service to the Church as professed religious amounted to 1000 years. We had three seventy-year professed/ordained jubilarians, all of whom are still quite active in their ministry. Organized annually by our Office of the Vicar for Religious, I look forward to Mass and lunch with these great women and men. There is to be found not one scintilla of regret or unhappiness in the life lived, but a joy which is contagious, infectious and life-giving. If you wish to know the names of those jubilarians honored this year, click here.

On Sunday, the Solemnity of Christ the King, for the last twelve years we have honored women and men from almost all of the parishes and missions of the diocese for their service to their Church. When instituted there was some resistance to the idea of singling out people annually. First, there was a fear that to honor one person would upset others but that quickly went away when all came to realize the true servants of the Gospel in our parishes and missions do not seek or wish for any recognition and are embarrassed if given it. So from the outset, parish communities were proud of those whom either their parish council or pastor chose for the honor. A second concern was that it might be difficult to sustain an annual honoree since the pool was “limited.” I did not believe that for the moment as there is an endless pool of generosity in our parishes and many people who could in time be selected to receive the honor. We named it after the patron saint of the diocese, St. Jude the Apostle.

With the St. Jude the Apostle Medal recipient from St. Anthony the Abbot Parish in Brooksville, Dianne Swain, and Reverend Craig Morley. Photo courtesy of Ray Bassett from Maddock Photography.

The Cathedral of St. Jude was almost full to capacity yesterday afternoon as in addition to their pastors and spouses, the honorees often were accompanied by loving and admiring children and grandchildren. To a man and woman, they always approach me and say something like, “Bishop, I am embarrassed because I am not worthy of such an honor” and I know that is exactly the kind of person the award was designed to thank. They receive a beautiful medal bearing on one side the image of St. Jude the Apostle and on the other side the diocesan coat-of-arms with the inscription, “St. Jude the Apostle Award.” The list of those honored yesterday can be seen by clicking here.

Finally, today I celebrated Mass with and invited to lunch the retired priests of the diocese and others who served other local churches and religious communities but who are retired and living in the diocese. Our senior priest is Monsignor George Cummings who is well into his nineties and close behind is Father James Hoge, OSB of St. Leo Abbey. This too is an annual event in one of the three days that run up to Thanksgiving on Thursday. I had this idea the first year I was here, certain that some of these men had no where to go for Thanksgiving and we needed an annual opportunity to thank them and encourage them. Now that I am seventy and a half years old, you will probably find me putting into place a lot of things which will help guarantee that the local Church does not forget those who have served so well for so many years (there is a growing sense of self-interest I told my confessor).

With the retired clergy gathered for the pre-Thanksgiving Mass. Photo courtesy of Deacon Rick Wells.

We had sixty-one for Mass and lunch at the Bethany Center at midday today and any bishop who does not love the wisdom, wit and commitment of his retired priests is not living on planet earth. I love and respect these men so much. I know that one or more may not be here next year and that we are all preparing for the moment when we enter eternal life now more than perhaps when we were younger. I attach my homily this morning and you can read it, if you wish, by clicking here. By the way, the reference to my culinary nemesis “vegetables” is today’s first reading which is taken from the Book of Daniel, 1:8-20 in which Daniel and his brothers grew more healthy when sticking to a vegetarian diet. My how I am glad that such “penance” is not an article of faith!

+RNL

BISHOP, DIOCESE INDICTED

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

This morning while pulling around the drive-thru at my nearest “arches” the vending machine made visible the headline of today’s St. Petersburg Times, “Bishop, Diocese Indicted.” My first reaction was why did no one tell me? Then I saw it was a New York Times story emanating from Kansas City, Missouri. When I got home I accessed the story in its entirety online and found the reporting of what is tragic from many angles was basically fair reporting and acknowledged that there is a presumption of innocence and the bishop and his diocese have pled “not guilty” and will attempt to prove it in court and at trial. I feel for the thousands of victims of sexual abuse by priests, nuns, religious brothers, deacons and other employees of the Church whose own pain rises to the surface when ever a story like this appears and brings back the awful memories. I also feel for my brother bishop and the people of his diocese who find themselves in the vortex of this developing allegation and I feel for all of you whose faith may be shaken again or whose embarrassment of the Church you love once again surfaces. It was a bad start to an otherwise wonderful day.

Nuestra Señora de la Merced

Carrying in the flag of Peru. Photo courtesy of Maria Mertens.

In late morning, I celebrated Mass at the Cathedral of St. Jude for about seven hundred of our Hispanic brothers and sisters from throughout the diocese. It has become an annual event and each year we honor Mary under the patronage of one or the other country. This year we dedicated the Mass to Nuestra Señora de la Merced (in English, Our Lady of Mercy)  who is the patroness of the nation of Peru. We were honored to have with us the Peruvian Consul to our area, the Honorable Juan Carlos Ibarra Schambaher and his wife.

Prior to the beginning of the liturgy, the flags of twenty-three Hispanic countries were carried in procession. The homily was given by Father Eugeniusz Gancarz, pastor of Resurrection parish in Riverview. The spontaneity and joy of the hundreds in the Cathedral began to lighten the day’s mood in this bishop. Our Hispanic sisters and brothers are great witnessed of faith in our midst and are a blessing. Caring for them as they deserve is something which I have not been particularly good at but as I often point out, this last census last year shows that in another decade or two for sure, they will account for forty percent of all the people living in our five counties. About twenty-five of our pastors and four of our deacons gave up an otherwise busy Saturday morning to show their support and love for our hermanos y hermanas.

In the evening I was invited by Dr. Arthur Kirk, Jr., President of St. Leo University to formally bless the new Donald Tapia School of Business whose construction has just been completed on the main campus in St. Leo, Pasco County. The principal donor whose name the building bears lives in the Phoenix area and after retiring from a successful lifetime in business decided to acquire a Bachelor’s degree on line. He enolled in St. Leo’s on-line program and never set his foot on the campus until his graduation. Later he would earn an MA again on-line from St. Leo. He is now chairman of the Board of Trustees while in his seventies and proud of his alma mater. Joy and pride was also evident in this occasion as St. Leo University continues to grow in enrollment and respectability in academic world. The expansion of facilities in recent years has been truly amazing and every St. Leo student I meet, especially those who I know who have graduated from our high schools love going there. Signs of robustness and a growing Catholic identity mark our single local Catholic university and it makes me proud and I hope it does you as well. A dinner followed which I was happy to attend and now I am about ready to retire for a day which began poorly and with God’s grace improved throughout the day. It was fun and full of joy to be with two distinctly different but joyous Catholic communities.

One of my favorite writers on all things Catholic is John Allen and recently he was approached by one of his secular journalistic colleagues and interviewed about his feelings for the Church which he covers so fairly and well and its recent coverage in the media. As a last question, the interviewer  asked Allen what he thought was the best of Catholicism which may be missed by the mainstream media and he replied something to the effect of how much fun being a Catholic can be and how little coverage is given to those aspects of Catholicism in the United States which are fun or joyous. Ninety plus percent of my waking hours today have been spent surrounded by the “joy of being Catholic.”

St. Leo's new home for the Tapia School of Business

+RNL

HOLY WEEK IN PICTURES

Sunday, April 24th, 2011

Here are some random moments from last week’s Triduum at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle.

You can click on any of the photos to launch a photo gallery and if you mouse-over the photos, you can view the captions

HE IS NOT HERE

Sunday, April 24th, 2011

The Lighting of the Easter Fire which begins the Easter Vigil

If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. (1 Cor. 15:14) With his customary insight, one of the first great converts to Christianity, St. Paul sums up exactly what Easter means to us. It is the epicenter of our faith upon which all else hinges. Without the Resurrection, Jesus would most likely have been just another good person who did good things who history remembers kindly but who lived and died like everyone else. But precisely because he rose from the dead, he is more. He is truly the Son of God. For the next fews weeks we will hear testimony of his Resurrecti0n from people who went to the tomb, encountered Him in his resurrected form, talked to Him, continued to be taught by Him. Easter is far more than an empty tomb. Pranksters could accomplish that. Easter and our faith which flows from it is all about victory over death and sin and new life in a new form. Jesus in his public ministry had raised the son of the widow of Nain, the daughter of Jairus and Lazarus back to life and they simply returned in their human form to continue their life until again a second and final time they had to die. But the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is dramatically different. He does not simply return in his human form but in resurrected form, like we shall all assume one day. Yes, He walked and talked and looked enough like His old self to be recognized at times but he also could appear and disappear, be unrecognizeable, no longer needing human nourishment, sleep and the like. Nor would He ever taste death again but  would live  in eternity with the Father and the Spirit. His resurrection not only defines his divinity but fulfills countless prophecies from the Old Testament and gives us faith for our own futures after our deaths.  The Easter event defines Jesus and  ourselves, gives us hope for what is to come to  us if we too live a life of virtue, seek forgiveness of our sins, and imitate as much as we humanly can our Savior and Lord. Happy Easter to all who read these words and may the news that “He is not here, he has risen” give hope and consolation to you in whatever you may face in life.

The first of four Baptisms at the Easter Vigil, 2011

In addition to the four catechumens, fourteen others were received into the Church and confirmed at the Easter Vigil

+RNL

 

 

LAY DAY

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

The term “lay day” has nautical origins and refers to those days when a ship/boat/vessel is neither racing, working, loading, etc. The boat simply lays on its anchor, attached to its mooring, or simply secure to its dock and the crew gets a day off from their usual routine, an opportunity to sleep late, work on personal projects like laundry, write letters, etc. In highly competitive sailboat racing, these days are pre-built into the schedule. For bishops Holy Saturday is a “lay day” – a day without Mass and mostly without appointments or expectations. Pastors and priests in parishes are hard at work preparing and rehearsing for the Easter Vigil (no rest for them) and sacristans, trainers of altar servers, etc. also seldom get the day off. But I do have it off until 830pm tonight and the glorious Easter Vigil.

Here are some thoughts about Holy Week this far. I have witnessed a steady diminution of people coming to Holy Thursday and Good Friday liturgies over the last fifteen years. From standing room only in 1996 to at best two-thirds full this year. A part is due to the shifting demographics of the Cathedral parish over this period of time with many older Catholics for whom Easter meant the entire Triduum either moving or dying. A part is also generational with young parents not having has the experience of accompanying their parents to the Holy Thursday and Good Friday services. Yesterday from the altar I thought that if something is not done to reverse this trend, my successor will be celebrating in front of an empty house in ten years, or almost empty. Triduum, Holy Thursday, Good Friday are just names for days for many younger practicing Catholics and are largely devoid of any real religious need to be present.

Those who do come worship with great reverence and dignity. On Holy Thursday the procession to the altar of reservation was long, prayerful, and richly spiritual for the several hundred who remained to pray. We wash a good number of feet at our Cathedral representative of all age groups and that helps swell attendance slightly. Since we reverence one huge cross at our Cathedral which I hold for an excruciating approximately fifteen minutes or so, I can see two categories of those approaching to kiss the wood of the cross – grandparents and their grandchildren. Maybe the latter is a good sign. I would estimate we had about 500 for Holy Thursday Mass and 650-700 for Good Friday but this is in a Church which comfortably can seat 1,200. There is some “heavy weather sailing” catechesis which needs to be done and soon on the services of Holy Week.

The Easter Vigil begins with sunset at 830pm tonight at our Cathedral and will end about three hours later. Working from an aging memory I think there are about five to be baptized and another twelve to be received into full communion. If history runs it course, there will be about 400 people in the Church for this most beautiful and joyous of all liturgies, save ordination. Time flies for me at the Vigil and it is over before I even begin to fidgit about how long it is lasting. It is simply wonderful.

Holy Week is a lot of work for our priests, deacons  and parish staffs but they joyfully embrace it to hear that welcome news, “He is not here, he has risen!” which comes tonight. The Churches will be jammed tomorrow and at the end of the day, we will settle back and count our many blessings: that we are Catholic, that we journeyed through all of Holy Week with Christ, and that He is Risen. More tomorrow.

+RNL

I THIRST

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

One of my unfulfilled hopes is to some day before meeting the Lord preach the “seven last words” on Good Friday someplace. It will probably await my retirement if it ever happens at all. It would require abundant research, prayerful thought and a discipline which is not usually found in my preaching. Part of the reason which I would like to do this is because I have long been fascinated by the words and phrases attributed to the Lord in his final hours. I know they mean far more than their simple literal meaning. This year, again with the help of Pope Benedict XVI’s superb book on Holy Week, things which I have often played with in my mind take on a richer and deeper meaning and at least today have given me the springboard to reflect on one example of those last words, “I Thirst.” What follows is my homily for Good Friday 2011 at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle. Lent comes to an end at the conclusion of the liturgy today. I hope it was a truly blessed journey for you.

+RNL

HOMILY FOR GOOD FRIDAY 2011

I THIRST

“I thirst” Christ cries from the cross before breathing his last. The torture and terror of the day has drained his body of almost all of its strength, his breath is badly labored, blood and water are flowing from the wounds of his hands and side, the pain must have been excruciating and many of us have had the personal experience either of dehydration or an unquenchable thirst.  Christ’s cry for something to help him in his final moments is so very human, so very understandable, and seemingly so very simple.

Pope Benedict XVI in his new book Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week (pages 217-219) opens up a meaning of these two words far beyond their simplicity. The Romans were beastly cruel but even they offered to those who were to be crucified prior to standing them upright a drink which would reduce the pain and suffering somewhat, an anesthetic of sorts. Jesus had refused, wishing no compromise with the plan of the Father, which through his death would redeem all of humankind of its sins and failings. He sought no relief for Himself to bring relief to others.

In the heat of the midday sun, the response of those near him, perhaps even his executioners, was to offer him a “poor man’s wine”, almost vinegar. The Holy Father points out in his book that in making this request Christ and in recording it John are recalling the text of Psalm 69 “for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.”

The Pope adds that there is to be found in those two words, “I Thirst” also a reference to the great prophet Isaiah’s parable of the vine which envisions Israel as a vast vineyard planted lovingly, given a special place where its product might produce the finest of wine and over which loving care has been taken. “He looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.” [Is 5:2] From his summit on the altar of the cross, Jesus looked out at the vineyard he had planted for three years and found no harvest, no wine but vinegar, no justice and no apparent love beyond that which hung on the cross.

Pope Benedict once again for a final time on these last words; “…God’s suffering over his people in a way that far transcends the historical moment, so too the scene at the cross far transcends the hour of Jesus’ death. It is not only Israel, but the Church, it is we ourselves who repeatedly respond to God’s bountiful love with vinegar – with a sour heart that is unable to perceive God’s love. “I thirst”: this cry of Jesus is directed to every one of us.” [p.218-219].

So my dear brothers and sisters, today as then Jesus is crying out to us to quench his thirst for souls, his desire for believers who embrace him and his message, who wish to live a life of love and sacrifice. He would have died in vain and even today his suffering might be denied relevancy if all we can offer him is vinegar, not our best but our cheapest or easiest,

It is not the Roman centurions sent to guard him and assure and record his death that he gazes at this afternoon; it is not his loving, heart pierced mother or his beloved friend John that he sees, it is us. He thirsts for us, for our hearts, for our love, for our fidelity, for our willingness to make sacrifices for our love of him and our neighbor.

In so many ways Israel failed him. How about us? Is it all about us and little about Him?

There is much that he would see good in our life as Church today. We do care for the poor, we do act justly and love constantly as the prophet Micah suggests, but do we walk humbly before the Lord? Or perhaps more apropos to this moment are we sitting here, listening indeed but not internalizing the events, which for far too many are merely historical, and not of importance to this moment. He thirsts for you and I and we are unable to satisfy that thirst by simply recalling history. We must make the most of every moment given us in this life to spread and share his love – with joy. The parents who sacrifice for the education of their children give him more than vinegar to quench his thirst. The parish or people who work for justice in our world and community give him more than vinegar to quench his thirst. The couple that despite the occasional challenges of married life together renew their love for each other daily and remain faithful give him more than vinegar. The priest or religious who carry some of the crosses of always being on call to serve God’s people quench his thirst and give him more than vinegar. The teenager who says no to drugs, sex outside of marriage, use of alcohol quench his thirst and give him more than vinegar,

So those words, so seemingly simple, cry out to each of us today to examine our lives and check our response to Christ’s thirst born of his incredible suffering on the cross. They make his passion real once again in our lives. They make us more than bystanders who have gathered to hear once again a good story, reverence a cross, approach the Body of Christ automatically without thinking of the consequences, for Him and for us, of his sacrifice.

If Good Friday is truly to be “good” then we offer him a response to His thirst, which says, “I get it, Jesus.” I am yours and you are mine.

 

THIS IS MY BODY……..THIS IS MY BLOOD

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

I am not preaching this evening at the Holy Thursday Mass at the Cathedral as that task is being shared with the two priests of St. Jude’s this year. I will preach the homily at the Good Friday liturgy, however. Nonetheless, I wish to offer a few reflections on the incredible importance of tonight’s liturgy of the Eucharist. Three words only begin to capture the heart of what Holy Thursday is all about: service, eucharist, adoration.

Service is so plainly evident in the inclusion into the liturgy of the “washing of feet.” Recalling that Jesus, the host for the Passover supper evening in the Upper Room, took it upon himself to wash the feet of his disciples and then reminded them that he came “to serve and not to be served” is a constant reminder to me of my obligation to place others before myself, to assist more than be assisted, to share and give rather than always receive, to treat the homeless and incarcerated with the same genorsity as the greatest donor or friend, and to be at the service of all.

As we do every time Mass is celebrated we recall “the night before he died” or “the night before he suffered”. We hear the account from St. Paul of the institution  of the Eucharist, the first Mass as it were, and of the continual gift of self which Jesus made possible by his actions of taking break and wine and telling us that when we do it in remembrance of Him it becomes his body and his blood. This Eucharist is as we have often said over the past four years the source and summit of our faith and marks in a special way who we are as Catholic Christians. It is truly the moment of the institution, the beginning of his continuing presence in our midst when his earthly life was soon to end. How generous? How loving? How greatly he cared for us.

Finally, for those who can, there is some time to be spent with him “in the garden of sorrows” or Gethsemane. Those who attend the Holy Thursday liturgy know that at its conclusion, the Body of Christ consecrated at the Mass for use on Good Friday is carried in procession to another place, another altar, another tabernacle where the faithful gather in darkness to watch and pray with the Lord for a reasonable amount of time. The procession recalls the walk which Jesus and some of his disciples made from the Upper Room, down into the valley and to the Garden of Gethsemane. He asked his disciples to remain and pray for him and with him while he himself went off to ask the Father perhaps to let this coming suffering and sorrow pass from him. He did not get his wish, his prayer was seemingly unanswered, until the word of the Resurrection comes. I always end my day usually at a parish near my home where I try to spend an hour in prayer. It is hard not to fall asleep as did Peter and the others but it is a special time. I am always edified at the several dozen people who stay until the Blessed Sacrament is removed from the Altar of Repose and placed hidden for use tomorrow on Good Friday.

I hope you will derive great graces from these three days and I will return tomorrow with my Good Friday homily whose inspiration this year comes not only from the events of the day we recall, but Pope Benedict’s brilliant second volume of reflections on the life of Christ published in March and entitled JESUS OF NAZARETH: HOLY WEEK: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection. It is a wonderful book, exquisitely clear even for a non-scholar. Our Holy Father who last week celebrated both his 84th birthday and sixth anniversary of election is a gift to the Church.

+RNL

Chrism Mass

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

The oil which will be consecrated as the Sacred Chrism before Mass.

For fifteen years now I have both feared and loved the annual Chrism Mass which in this diocese occurs on Tuesday of Holy Week. I fear it because each year I have to preach before almost 200 of my brother priests using the same readings and the same themes each year. I love it precisely because I am with my brothers who animate this Church and make it great. In the end they are a loving and affirming group and I promise myself I will stop worrying about it.  Hope you enjoy it!

Dear brother priests, deacons, religious, seminarians and good people of faith gathered here on this day traditionally devoted to the ordained priesthood,

Approaching these holiest of days, one might easily find oneself preoccupied about many important things. Priests and deacons are busy about final preparations for the Triduum and all of us are looking forward to recall again the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is a day for celebrating and strengthening the bond between the bishop and his priests. In one major archdiocese in our own country, there is talk of a boycott by the priests of this Mass this year. It will not happen because the priesthood is too important1in their lives to use this day to send a message. In Australia, ten percent of the diocesan priests in the country have expressed “no confidence” in their bishops yet I know they love their priesthood too much to use this day to send a message. In Ireland, of all places, doubts and concerns have caused one fourth of that nation’s priests to call for an indefinite postponement of the “dewfall” of the new translation of the Roman Missal but the Irish priests will be present this week for the blessing and consecration of sacred healing and anointing oils. Today, I stand before you, my brothers and sisters, look at you, and count my blessings.

Deacons and Priests at the Chrism Mass

Over the past three years I have had the opportunity of gathering with and carefully listening to almost all of the priests involved in active ministry. I can safely say that generally they feel fulfilled in their ministry, consider themselves privileged to be of service to God’s people, and are happy in their priestly ministry to which they will recommit again later at this Chrism Mass.

However, during these days of sharing and reflection some concerns were also expressed by our priests, more pastoral than personal, and always spoken in love, not in anger. At several of the sessions one or more of the fathers stated that “they did not know what was happening to the Church for which they were ordained” and by that they generally meant that there seemed to be a withdrawal from commitment to liturgical renewal, from active pursuit of social justice, from the sense of the Church as being relevant to the people to whom they were ministering, from real concerns about declining membership and declining faith practice. Additionally, concerns about a growing feeling of alienation of many of the faithful which can be occasioned when we bishops choose to draw lines in the sand of who is a good Catholic or a bad Catholic, an uneasiness stemming from deep questions and real concerns about the need for the new translation of the Roman Missal concomitant with the perception caused by the seeming support in certain sectors of the extraordinary form or Tridentine Rite, the priests of this diocese see steps backward from the headier days of ecumenical enthusiasm and lament the lack of timely responsiveness to requests by the diocesan pastoral center, from the growing sense of our inability to reach the youth of our parishes and diocese, fewer priests but greater expectations placed on those presently serving, uncertainty about retirement and the future, dramatically fewer Catholic marriages, fewer funerals, fewer confirmations and the list could go on and on.

Again, I wish to be clear, our time together was far from being that of a gripe session but more an opportunity to speak to me and to one another about where that same spirit of the Lord first spoken by Isaiah and later embraced by Jesus Himself is taking us. What does “anointed in the Spirit” mean for the near future of the Church? What kind of Church can these twenty-nine seminarians with us this morning look forward to and, God willing, the seven who may join them this summer?

My response after thinking about the matters my brothers brought to the table may surprise some and perhaps even disappoint others but in my very deepest being I think that the dreams and decisions that drove our personal commitments to this holy ministry will survive us, and will survive this particular moment in the Church. I say this because I know that Christ is with His Church today and tomorrow and promised to be with His Church until the end of time. Isaiah could rhapsodize about the Spirit of the Lord present in a very tough time because for this prophet the future was to be found in faith in the future and not in the terra firma of the lived faith experience of his moment. Jesus could reaffirm from day one in his public ministry that he was willing to proclaim the good news to an audience that was known for being stiff-necked, intransigent, judgmental and argumentative, and dismissive at the least and bellicose at its worst. For both Jesus and Isaiah, it was neither the best of times nor the worst of times.

What is happening in the Church at this moment in history is also happening in the secular world. Narcissism flourishes while love of neighbor languishes. A decade of war and financial shenanigans leaves little left for the poor and vulnerable. Do unto others has diminished limits and a more muted call except for the catastrophic like the earthquake in Haiti and the tsunamis in Indonesia and Japan. The focus of our personal charity is more determined by media interest than Gospel imperatives. And no one, in the Church or in our nation wants to admit that by 2025 Catholic Hispanics will equal Catholic Anglos even in this diocese, a sure and certain moment for which we are poorly preparing.

Dear brothers, yours and my priestly pulse perks up when we proclaim the Gospel as counter-cultural to the world in which we live. For those of us who anguish about the direction of the Church today, we still most often feel at our best when preaching about what ought to be than necessarily what is. If the Church is to be ever more relevant to our people today, it gains the greatest credibility from what you say, how you act, than from the actions of a conference of bishops or even the Holy See and you have no idea how painful it is for me to say that. It is the Spirit of the Lord, which is upon you Sunday after Sunday as you bring good news to the poor, as you proclaim liberty to those who are captives of so many things. And when it comes to the sacred liturgy over which we preside, the true “clear voice” is not a commission of bishops meeting in Rome, but the parish priest and his deacon proclaiming and unpacking the Scripture withs clarity, applicability, passion, dignity and love Sunday after Sunday and celebrating the Eucharist and the other sacraments with reverence, wonderment, awe and beauty. Do that and God’s people will not care that the Lord is with our Spirit once again or that we will find the place under our roof unworthy as it may be for the Lord to come but we will believe that He only need to speak the Word and we can be made worthy. The relevancy of what we say, of what we teach, of how we act is a shared responsibility of priests and bishops. It is we who can and will renew the Church and the face of the earth with the help of the Holy Spirit. It is we and none other who can make the Spirit of the Lord take root in our five counties. And while it is to be expected that we might have concerns about the future, we can and should never despair of the future for it will be then as it is now presided over by none other than Jesus Himself.

It is clearer to me as I approach the final quarter of my time among you that the Church which you and I will leave to those who follow will be quite different than what we have experienced. It will be financially poorer but most likely spiritually richer. It will be more demanding but yet more rewarding. The new evangelization may well almost replace the traditional classroom as the engine of religious education. The role of the laity will be even more significant. The pendulum will once again swing from the current focus on the past to the genuine needs of the present and the future and, though not in my lifetime, to perhaps another Spirit-filled ecumenical council to restate, review, and renew the vision for Church articulated fifty years ago. The Church’s message to the world will cease being less “no” to more “yes” even while traditional values, morals and teaching remain in place as they must. Guiding the world in how to live in the midst of reality in a relevant way will bring back some of those whom we have lost along the way. Until that movement from the current global ecclesial inertia begins, progress from the present will come from you my brothers, for you have been anointed, chosen, assigned and empowered to make Christ present to the world and the world open to Christ.

The hope then for the present of our beloved Church rests with all of us here today who renew again our commitment to the priesthood we sought however long ago, received on the day of our ordination and day after day practiced. We make Christ present to the world when we act like Christ in the world. God’s people hear the words of Christ when we speak with compassion, understanding of human failure, with love and patience. Those words endure while others fade. You, my brothers, make Christ real, Christ present, Christ for today and tomorrow. If from time to time in the last 2000 years the Church of Christ has confronted its own weaknesses and failures, it is, as St. Paul said, Christ who has made it strong. You are to your people both the witnesses to hope and the bearers of the truth.

Finally in this context, I think of our four senior priests who this year are retiring from active ministry. Two are sons of Ireland and two are sons of Spain. Imagine the uncertainty that was theirs when they left to come to serve on the Florida peninsula. They left a majority Church in Spain and Ireland to preach to the minority of Catholics. For almost five decades they proclaimed the Good News, set people captive to all kinds of bad things free, and made Christ present day after day in so many ways. They began their ministry during the pontificate of Blessed John XXIII and lived much of it during the time, of soon-to-be Blessed John Paul II. Through an ecumenical council and its implementation, five popes, five bishops and God knows how many letters from the Chancery, they have served God’s people with fidelity to mission and message, with joy and sorrow, with grace and good will. They leave believing that the rest of us will strive hard to keep the flame of faith alive, and like they we shall succeed because our beloved Church belongs to Christ and to none other and we are servant shepherds, serving God’s people and proud of it! No person or scandal can remove from the face of God’s earth, the good we priests do in His name. We are like those courageous men who stormed Normandy’s beaches, often unknown to one another, united by a single commission to take the highest ground for virtue and charity whatever the cost for Christ Himself. We are indeed a band of brothers. Blessed be God forever!

+RNL

PALM SUNDAY 2011

Saturday, April 16th, 2011

In one of the Gospel accounts of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem for the final time, Jesus tells his disciples to go into Jerusalem, secure a room and prepare for the Passover Meal. His instructions are quite specific, as specific as today’s Gospel account of the securing of donkeys for the triumphal entry. I like the other account because it helps us understand the context and content of this very special week, which we are beginning today. Jesus specifies the place, the Upper Room, the occasion or context which is the remembrance of the Passover, and the reason, “celebrate.”

As we begin this Holy Week, the Lord invites us to enter into the context and content of what might arguable be called the most important week in human history – the week he bought with his own suffering and death our ransom from sin and our ticket, as it were, into eternal life. To do this properly and to experience it most deeply, we too must journey to Jerusalem, prepare a place in our hearts to recall these moments of our salvation, and celebrate even the most tragic of deaths, albeit with a great ending.

Jesus calls us to gather here, in our parish, on Thursday night to recall the moment of the twin institutions of Eucharist and Priesthood. He calls us to gather here, in this Cathedral on Good Friday to listen once again to the price he paid to redeem us and how he loved us to death, and to return on Easter to hear the angel’s news that he has risen from the dead, just as he said he would and that by that fact alone, if we live our life according to the commandments we shall reap the benefits of both his death and rising.

To me it is difficult to envision spiritually experiencing the joy of Easter without in some way experiencing the moments which led up to it. If you have time only for Good Friday, come and listen again to the passion account of the Evangelist John, reverence the cross on which hung the salvation of the world, and receive the bread of life which your Church does not wish to be long without. He is begging us to prepare a room for him in our lives this week, to recall, reenact, renew the three most important moments of Christianity. There can be no Easter without Good Friday preceding it.

This Cathedral or your parish Church is the place to which He is sending you to prepare to celebrate the true Passover from death into life, from evil into virtue, from failure into the greatest success in history. Don’t leave here this morning without planning to return, for part or all is the three most important occasions of our life.

+RNL