Posts Tagged ‘Catholic’

THE OLD MAN AND THE SEMS

Friday, October 28th, 2016

I spent a few days in Rome this week, attempting to take care of a couple of matters as well as claim some personal belongings which I have stored there for twenty one years, viz., a cassock which I only wear when I am in the presence of the Holy Father.

From the General Audience on October 26. Photo credit: L'Osservatore Romano

From the General Audience on October 26. Photo credit: L’Osservatore Romano

We also have four men studying in Rome at the present time, Joshua Bertrand and Ralph D’Elia, III at the North American College (preparing for ordination to the priesthood) and Fathers Victor Amorose and Alex Padilla, who are working on advanced degrees. Last Saturday was a “quiet day”, free of other obligations, and the two seminarians and I spent about eleven hours together, mostly just talking.

Seminarians Ralph D'Elia III on left and Josh Bertrand on right.

Seminarians Ralph D’Elia III on left and Josh Bertrand on right.

At one point I mentioned that an American bishop had delivered a talk within the last two days in which he publicly embraced a position that it might be good for the Church to clear its membership rolls of many people and perhaps start to rebuild the Church from a smaller core of a more orthodox, committed few.  I told the men that this was a largely unspoken and unpublished concept that had silently and secretly emerged in the late eighties and nineties, emanating from some US bishops serving in Rome. Now it seemed to me that the strategy was finally publicly articulated. I also told them that I was appalled then when  I first heard of it decades ago and am even more so now because it would seem to me to be  a rejection of the pastoral vision of Pope Francis which I find so challenging and exciting.

For the next hour, these two “yearlings” led me on a journey through constructing an approach to guiding the Church through the coming epoch of its existence. “Epoch” was an important word for them because they felt that the world, not just the world but also including the Church, was at the end of one cultural epoch and beginning another.

One asked me if I had read the Holy Father’s talk to the Church of Italy given in Florence on November 14, 2015. He then retraced for me this Pope’s vision for how the Church is to survive this epochal change. At its center must be Jesus, always Jesus, but not only the Jesus of rules, regulations and judgments, but even more so the Jesus of accompaniment, discernment, and discussion.”It can be said that today we do not live in an age of change but in a change of age. Therefore the situations we are living in today pose new challenges which for us at times are difficult to understand. Our times require that we live problems as challenges and not as obstacles: the Lord is active and at work in the world. Therefore you must go out to the streets and to the crossroads; call all those you find; exclude no one. (Cf Matthew 22.9) Above all, accompany the one who remained at the side of the street. The lame, the maimed, the blind, the dumb (Matthew 15.30). Where ever you are, never build walls or borders, but squares and field hospitals.” Pope Francis, Florence address to leaders of the Italian Church.

I knew the minute the seminarian opened the conversation that here was an answer to the “purity of the Church” protestors within our ecclesial community. If the Church is to sustain membership with the new children of the present, enormous cultural shift, it cannot continue to do so with casting aside those members who may not be perfect, but to present them with a Christ far more loving, patient, kind, supple and flexible when possible. In other words what God has given us are precisely those to whom we must pronounce the Gospel of Joy.  These two men said that they looked forward to the challenge of the new era, they were not afraid, thanks to Pope Francis. Earlier this week, the Holy Father in his morning homilies at daily Mass had positioned a full scale attack on rigidity, especially legalism proposed in some quarters by Church leadership.

So there is little to be gained and lots to be lost by continuing to fight cultural battles in an evolving culture with worn out logic and words that today’s younger Catholic membership does not wish to hear or rejects outright. We will be far more attractive to the future generations by not pursuing a pastoral approach that is angry at those who do not “buy the whole package” but still wish to belong to a community which evinces Christ’s compassion and understanding of the moment. Will we still teach sin and forgiveness? You betcha! But if you are a believer in the inspiration which is Pope Francis, then you do so always with his openness to those who may not get it, in sum or parts, but who also wish to make Christ present in the world. Be glad there is some fruit on the tree still! Read the Holy Father’s full talk in Florence by clicking here.

So as I enter the remaining months of my leadership of the local Church of St. Petersburg I do so with the knowledge that almost all of my seminarians are not pursuing priesthood for respectability, ambition, power and influence but to be comfortable with a pastoral strategy that makes sense in a changing world and culture. The teacher last Saturday sat at the foot of his disciples last and then shared a peek at what most excites them about being a priest in the next epoch. Ralph D’Elia before retiring for the night, found the Florence talk of Pope Francis and I read it substituting the words “United States of America” for “Italy” wherever it appears. Try it, you might like it. Saturday brought me a lot of joy, peace and contentment, not doom and gloom. The very best things I bequeath to my successor are the future priests he will ordain for your service and that of the Lord.

I touch down in Atlanta in five hours now and my thoughts turn again to Father Michael Morris, whom I will bury tomorrow in Dallas. I would love to share with you the comments and responses which people have sent since the previous blog appeared. They are from people who knew him and loved him and in many cases whose lives were changed because of him. May he rest in peace! Finally to the fearsome-less foursome in Rome, thanks for the memories.

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BEYOND THE WILD BLUE YONDER

Monday, October 24th, 2016
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Father Michael Morris

At roughly six-thirty on Sunday night, the Lord’s day, Jesus came and offered his hand to our Father Michael Morris who went home to the God who gave him to us after a long period of battling cancer. From diagnosis to death he carried this cross with faith, with dignity and with resignation without resentment. All who knew him during these days, myself included, could do nothing but marvel at his resilience and trust in the Lord. He was a model for us of trying everything, even if there was little hope of a successful outcome while carrying on his duties as a chaplain on the United States Air Force.

Father Morris lived his life with certainty whereas I tend to live my life in a gray area which stretches from uncertainty more often to certainty ever so occasionally. Already a Captain in the Air Force and working for CENTCOM at McDill Air Force Base in Tampa about fifteen years ago, he walked into my office and said he was certain that God wanted him to be a priest, to be a priest working as an Air Force Chaplain and as a priest of the Diocese of St. Petersburg which would lend him back to the Military Archdiocese for service to God and nation. He was always so certain, assured, confident. When near the end of his seminary training I had doubts about whether or not be could be flexible enough for ministry in the Church, I hurt him by asking the formation faculty at the seminary to revisit their approval of him. Thank God I listen to others because he and they were right. He was capable of very successful ministry after ordination at his beloved Espiritu Santo parish in Safety Harbor. He was and is loved there even to today.

It would not be the only time that he taught me. His last and most perduring lesson taught was dealing with a form of cancer for which there had been practically no cure and submitting to one experimental treatment protocol after another – always with resignation even if it was likely that it would not work. He bore his suffering like one of those badges of honor he wore on his uniform and he continued to serve as White House chaplain liaison with the Defense Department and at Bolling Air Force Base. He was an iron man of iron will and the very thing which once worried me the most became the bulwark for his fight for life.

Monsignor Bob Morris and I  spent an evening with him and with his loving brother, Harry, and sister-in-law Lana in Dallas earlier this month. I went to say good-bye while he could still comprehend the challenge I was having, not he, with his impending death. Grateful for our presence, he ministered to us rather than the other way around. With tears I took my farewell and with tears he shared an embrace that did not wish to seem to have an end. A father, albeit a spiritual father, was saying goodbye to a son, albeit a spiritual son – but it does not hurt any less because it is a “spiritual” and not a blood relationship.

His Chief of Air Force Chaplains, now retired, who pinned his lieutenant colonel’s eagle on his shoulder, came to see him last week to say good-bye as did Bishop Hennesy of the Archdiocese of Military Services, at his bed side and in their home for last three months have been his loving brother and sister-in-law dedicated to taking care of him till it might no longer be possible. He died surrounded by love. I also wish to thank Father Kevin Larsen of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, who offered our Father Mike a home at St. Bernadette’s parish in Springfield, VA.,  when he was no longer able to take full care of himself and offered him a parish to inspire as he carried his cross until his separation for medical reasons from the Air Force in June.

With his funeral in Dallas on Friday I will have buried two of the men whom I ordained to priesthood (Father Thomas Tobin the other). It’s hard, know it hurts. I know my time, if not coming is closer than it ever has been before. I hope I can continue to minister, to love and to serve as did Reverend Michael Morris (Lt. Col., US Air Force retired). May life now far beyond the “wild blue wonder” be perfect and all you ever truly wanted.

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THE LORD AND THE RINGS

Monday, October 10th, 2016

It has been quite a week for this bishop. First, I spent three days with a majority of our priests in our annual convocation which was held at our Bethany Center. We had three superb presenters, we prayed well, and we recreated well. In all likelihood, this will be my final convocation with these priests for some time. As regular readers know, I intend to absent myself from the diocese for one year beginning on the evening of my successor’s installation. After that, late Spring, Summer, and most of October will be spent in Northern Michigan and traditionally the convocation is held the first week of October – a week or two before God’s manifestation of change and beauty, aka. “Fall foliage.” So there was some hidden, I hope, emotion surrounding my presence at convocation this week.

Yesterday (Saturday), we celebrated Hispanic heritage day with a joyous celebration at the Cathedral honoring this year Our Lady of Aparecida, patroness of Brazil.

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Processing in with Our Lady of Aparecida. Photo kindness of Oscar Calabi.

The Hispanic and Portuguese communities filled that worship space and prayed and sang their hearts out. You can watch the live streamed video of the Mass here. More photos will be posted on the diocesan website soon.

Bishop Etienne (photo courtesy BIshop Etienne's blog)

Bishop Paul Etienne (photo courtesy Bishop Etienne’s blog)

However, the larger Church I serve and love has been quite active in my life and not in the manner most of you who regularly read this would expect. First came the announcement last Tuesday that Pope Francis will transfer my dear friend, Paul D. Etienne, from serving as bishop of Cheyenne (all of Wyoming and all of Yellowstone National Park which lies within the state of Montana) to serve the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska as its fourth Archbishop. Archbishop-elect Etienne, 57, once worked with me, as a lay man at the time, on the 1987 visit of Saint John Paul II’s second visit to the United States. During that time we became very close, as collaborators and friends. I came to know his parents well, his hometown of Tell City, Indiana well (that didn’t take too long), his siblings Rick and Angela who are married, Nicolette who is a member of the Benedictine Community at Beech Grove, Indiana, Bernie and Zack who are priests of the Evansville diocese. The new archbishop extended to me the privilege of preaching at both his first Mass as a priest and at his episcopal ordination/installation seven years ago. He has been the spiritual moderator for one of our convocations for priests and they fell in love with him. I suspect that there might have been some local disappointment here, among the clergy, when Pope Francis announced “Anchorage”.

He has been a marvelous shepherd in a huge diocese and from all I have heard, there is ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth” there at the moment. For a lover of the outdoors, an avid hunter and fisherman, the new archbishop gets to change his prey to bears and moose and caribou and from trout and bass to salmon. Previously, driving for hours to be present in the Wyoming peripheries, he now will have to use float planes in a few instances and Alaska Airlines in others to reach his people. But, and this is important, this balanced and deeply spiritual  priest/bishop as an archbishop will have a role to play in further shaping the Francis vision of Church which the new archbishop enthusiastically supports.

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Bishop Kevin J. Farrell. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Callas.

This morning (Sunday) Pope Francis named three of my brother bishops to the College of Cardinals: Bishop Kevin J. Farrell, previously Bishop of Dallas, Texas, who the Holy Father asked to come to Rome to administer the new super congregation for life, laity and the pursuit of

Archbishop Blase J. Cupich. Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Archbishop Blase J. Cupich. Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

happiness; Archbishop Blasé J. Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago who has been in this diocese on numerous occasions, like Archbishop Etienne as spiritual moderator at one of our priest convocations and delivering talks on the new missal, new translation, and new vision for the Church. He also has on occasion found our locale useful for rest, reflection and writing;

Archbishop Joseph Tobin, CSsR at the Cathedral last year. Photo kindness of Dana Rozance.

Archbishop Joseph Tobin, CSsR at the Cathedral last year. Photo kindness of Dana Rozance.

finally, Archbishop Joseph Tobin, CSsR, Archbishop of Indianapolis, who one year ago almost to the day celebrated Mass and preached at our Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle as we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of “Perfectae Caritatis”, the Second Vatican Council’s document on religious life. After two terms as head of the worldwide Redemptorist order, Archbishop Tobin became Secretary at the Congregation for Religious at the Vatican. He is also a great choice. Today was a “red letter day” for myself and for the Church.

Now, what is all this business about the “Lord and the rings?” When I was announced as bishop of St. Petersburg a number of dear friends “showered” me with regalia. I am grateful for them all. The first was a gift from the late Archbishop Paul C. Marcinkus with whom I worked closely in the first visit of St. John Paul II to the US in 1979. He gave me a beautiful ring designed and struck by the Italian artist Scorzelli depicting Easter and the Resurrection of the Lord from the tomb. It was one of two prototypes which the artist had prepared in two sizes as gifts to Pope Paul VI. The Holy Father found the rings too large, too heavy for his personal use so he gave them to Archbishop Marcinkus who gave one to the late Archbishop John L. May of St. Louis (a Chicago seminary classmate of Marcinkus who sat immediately in front of his next in the alphabet friend for their entire seminary experience). That ring was subsequently given by Archbishop May to Bishop John Gaydos of Jefferson City, Missouri who wears it today. I wore it for my ordination day and on major occasions but gave mine which I cherished to Bishop Etienne within days of his announcement to Cheyenne.

The second ring I received was the night prior to my episcopal ordination and was given to me by the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin who came to preach the homily at my ordination the next day. It was a simple but beautiful episcopal ring, struck by a Chicago jeweler. All of his auxiliaries were given similar rings. I wore it from the day after my ordination on January 26, 1996 to the third week in October in the same year when I spent the night at his Chicago residence with the Cardinal only days before his death to cancer.

On that occasion Cardinal Bernardin lamented the changes which had taken place in the national episcopal Conference over the two and a half decades since he himself emerged as General Secretary and later its president. With me those special moments that night were Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly, OP of Louisville and Monsignor Daniel Hoye my predecessors in office. The Cardinal showed us some painful letters received from several of his cardinal colleagues, a supportive letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith, and recounted a phone call from the Holy Father expressing gratitude for his service to Chicago and the Church universal. That night he felt that the vision of the Council which he had devoted so much of his ministry to was on the wane. He died two weeks later and I removed his ring from my finger promising that I would wear it again when and if the pendulum would begin to swing again to the Council’s and my mentor’s, the Cardinal’s, vision for the Church.

Six months after my episcopal ordination I received what is called a “Council ring” gifted to me by Cardinal Roberto Tucci, SJ, Archbishop Emil Paul Tscherrig, and Dr. Alberto Gaspari, the “dream team” for planning papal visits. The ring is a simple gold band with the Apostles Peter and Paul standing at either side of Christ. I have worn it with the hope that the vision of the Council fathers, Blessed Pope Paul VI and the bishops it was my privilege to serve would begin to take root once again. I think it did today and the Bernardin ring is back on my finger till the Lord comes for me.

With deep gratitude to Pope Francis.

+RNL

THE SUN WILL COME UP TOMORROW

Friday, October 7th, 2016

Matthew has come, gone, and may make another appearance later next week. Matthew has left his path of destruction behind, a bad memory for a lot of people and a challenge for us all. Like many other Floridians I watched that storm for almost ten days, always with a funny feeling that “it is the one – the big one” and for the people of Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and the Bahamas it certainly was. For many in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, it will also be a bad memory, although we seem spared the worst of its powerful presence.

I am amazed at the ability which the National Hurricane Center possesses to warn us of the likelihood of getting to know a storm. In my lifetime we have progressed from “guess” to almost pinpoint accuracy in predicting which act of nature is likely to befall us. With their computer base and spaghetti models, the NHC called this one perfectly, if one allows for the fact that such storms have a mind of their own. Government acted as good government should and the population responded as expected (sometimes listening and acting and sometimes in either denial or rejection). Here in the states, we have the ability to react in advance. In our island nation neighbors there is no such freedom.

These words are being penned on Friday afternoon while Matthew continues to challenge northern Florida and later tonight Georgia and South Carolina. Yesterday a majority of the priests of the diocese and I finished three days together in our annual October convocation. We knew what some of the least among us would have to endure from this storm and we prayed for them.  We also resolved that we would do more than pray.

Our presenter yesterday was Carolyn Woo, the President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services. On your behalf, I presented her with a check for $250,000 to assist our brothers and sisters in the hemispheres most desperately poor nation, Haiti, as well as in the Bahamas. Even our government recognized that when it comes to disasters, CRS responds quickly, effectively and well in helping people survive, rebuild, and renew. US AID (a branch of the federal State Department) yesterday made a multi-million dollar donation of money, food and supplies to CRS and the Red Cross for help for Haiti.

As a diocese we do not have $250,000 to throw around but I simply advanced it as the pastors present for the convocation said they would appeal to their people, to you, this weekend and next in a special collection to begin to stitch together again the lives Matthew tore asunder. I hope our response might approach the $1.7 million we raised for the tsunami in the Indian Ocean a few years back or the $1.9 million we raised nine months later for Hurricane Katrina assistance. If we receive more than $250,000 in the next few weeks, we will keep an eye on the needs along our Florida and Georgia east coasts and share it with Catholic Charities USA. Here in Florida, we bishops have a disaster response program located within the Florida Catholic Conference which is being mobilized along our east coast as I write this. CRS will be present in Haiti and the Bahamas, making you proud. None of the money raised here will go to our national episcopal conference where in the recent past a portion is often used to rebuild church infrastructure but directly to Catholic Relief Services to help those people whose nearly hopeless faces appear on our TV screens tonight and in our papers and media tomorrow.

The sun will indeed come up tomorrow, for everyone in Matthew’s path, and for many, their future is a matter of our generosity. Please respond as lovingly as you have done often in the past. God bless you.

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MONSIGNOR LAURENCE HIGGINS

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

The Church of St. Petersburg bade a fond farewell to one of its best-known and beloved priests today. Monsignor Laurence Higgins, for forty-nine years the pastor of St. Lawrence parish in Tampa, went home to the Father’s House last week. The feelings of love and gratitude many felt for him was clearly demonstrated by the many who filed past his body at his beloved St. Lawrence.

He was just days shy of his eighty-eighth birthday when God came for him and sixty-three years a priest. I shall not repeat the biographical information here as the Tampa Bay Times did all that last week and they will cover the funeral as well, I am sure. I will try to share some thoughts from my perspective as his bishop for the last twenty-one years and perhaps let you see why he will be missed.

Monsignor Lawrence Higgins loved his faith and gave great credit to his parents for their role in raising him. He also loved Tampa (and disdained St. Petersburg). He loved sports, especially the Bucs, for whom he served as chaplain for as long as his health would allow. He always thought the Tampa Tribune was a great newspaper and the one across the bay was hopelessly liberal and anti-Catholic. He brought Larry Rothschild, the Ray’s first manager into the Church quietly (he did a lot of the sacraments “quietly”) and he adored John Lynch and Tony Dungy for their deep faith in God, Christ and humanity.

He was very proud of his parish, St. Lawrence, that he founded. He often said that the late Archbishop Hurley, when he assigned him to start the parish, told him to stop the invasion of the Jesuits from the South, the Redemptorists from the west and east (and there was no threat at the time from the North). Larry Higgins liked nothing better than a challenge.

St. Lawrence became a successful parish because he knew that if he ran a good school for children, their parents would follow and fill the pews on the weekends. To send your children to St. Lawrence School, one needed to register for the parish (no matter where you lived), attend Mass and support the parish through the Sunday collection, and volunteer on special projects when asked. In return, he guaranteed a first class education, almost automatic admission to Jesuit for the boys, and orthodoxy in religion. He built it and they came and they still come. Amazingly, the 2010 census identified St. Lawrence parish as having the highest concentration of Hispanic families in the whole diocese but the majority of its present worshipping community comes from outside the parish boundaries.

I always admired his ability to reach out to the underdog. He was a friend to those who suffered from many types of addiction and addictive behavior. His final community effort was in starting a program at USF in addiction and its cures. He loved St. Peter Claver, a small and always struggling parish in central Tampa with a school for mostly African-American children. In this he had two great allies whom I also admire deeply, Joe Capitano and Ted Couch. If it were not for the three of them, St. Peter Claver School would likely have closed long ago and to this day, though I have doubts about its long-term sustainability, I regularly ceded my judgments to the troika that believed, supported and sustained that important presence.

Back at St. Lawrence, Monsignor Higgins made his feelings known about a number of things from bishops to women serving Mass (he never allowed it), Eucharist under both species (he never allowed it) and married deacons (nowhere to be seen in his time as pastor). I could have forced him but he would have outwitted me some way so I took the road less travelled by. However, the community who gathered for prayer on weekends filled the Church, coming from all over Hillsborough county if they had children in the school and I would not want to begin to count the number of weddings, baptisms, and funerals the good Monsignor performed. Even after retirement, they still came knocking for his presence at major occasions and he obliged right up to the time his body would no longer allow it. Simply amazing in many ways.

About a year ago I stopped by St. Lawrence unannounced to see Monsignor Muhr, the new pastor, and Father Dornquest, the new associate. I was blocked by the police from entering the parking lot because my name was not on a list. I finally convinced the officer that I was the bishop and owned the property and I found a parking place and went into the Church (it was about four pm). It was full of the biggest men and women I have ever seen and there was Monsignor in his cassock and surplice preaching. Someone recognized me and came to my side. There was a huge coffin in front of the sanctuary. I said, “Whose funeral is it?” “Dusty Rhodes, the wrestler” came the reply and Monsignor was going on and on about the Brisco brothers and Florida Championship Wrestling. All of the WWE constituted the congregation that day. Dusty Rhodes was not a Catholic but he was a friend of Monsignor Higgins. I shook my head in amazement, wonderment and admiration.

But these last few days belonged to the simple people, parishioners of St. Lawrence, who saw Monsignor as the embodiment of the Good Shepherd of which Jesus spoke. They came to say “thanks, for what you did, for what you said, for whom you worked so slavishly.” Except for an annual vacation, like most of the Irish priests of his generation, he was on the job, 24/7, 330. When his friend from his earliest days of priesthood in Miami, Bishop W. Thomas Larkin, asked his assistance in managing the diocese as Vicar General he added that to his resume while still managing St. Lawrence. At that time he preached a “Gospel” that everything good in the Church originated in the central offices of the diocese. When he was no longer involved there, he changed the “Gospel” to the Church much be present in the larger community, at the Capitol in Tallahassee, at City Hall in Tampa, at the School Board in Hillsborough.

I will miss his presence. We had our moments but they were mostly minor and in the end, who could do anything but admire the accomplishments even if occasionally they were done, “his way, the Higgins’ way.” Of this I know – there shall never be another like him.

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HELP FROM ABROAD

Sunday, July 24th, 2016

Pope Francis gets (understands) the human condition as well as any Catholic I know. He also understands, appreciates and supports Church teaching and has changed nothing. Yet he gets a lot of flack from certain segments of our ecclesial community which is much more comfortable with “law and order” than “love and forgiveness.” Since the publication of his post-synodal exhortation, The Joy of Love dealing with love, marriage, family life, procreation, sexual attraction, doubts have been raised in certain sectors of our faith community about its teaching authority (is it a magisterial document?), its guidance in dealing with divorce, remarriage, and return to the sacraments, and voices have been heard questioning its authority as well as it meaning and interpretation.

I have now been a priest for approaching thirty-nine years and from the very beginning of my seminary training, I was introduced to something called “internal forum” solutions, which was available to me when I accompanied a divorced and remarried person or couple. We don’t talk about it or preach about it precisely because it is “internal forum” which means it is accorded the same level of secrecy as sins confessed in the sacrament of reconciliation.

I have always thought it is an inferior way to deal with these situations because almost inevitably a person in a second, non-sacramental marriage wants to remarry in a public ceremony which is not possible using this pastoral approach. Also for older Catholics something like this is not “real until there is a document saying that it is real” (a declaration of nullity, for example). Our diocesan marriage tribunals perform a needed, effective, and deeply pastoral ministry of mercy. The process is long, burdensome, almost always reopens old wounds, which have been psychologically cauterized following a divorce decree. The process is free in this diocese and has been for some time and thanks to Pope Francis, it has the potential to be speeded up.

But there are those cases where a previously married person deeply believes in good conscience that his or her first marriage was never sacramental but it just can’t be proven to or accepted by an ecclesiastical marriage tribunal. Pope Francis recently spoke a somewhat offhanded remark that a majority of young people getting married were probably in invalid marriages because they were incapable at the time of understanding the full measure and consequences of the sacrament into which they were entering. Many priests I know, and I myself, agree with that.

In the internal forum, priests for years have been accompanying the divorced and remarried back to participation in the sacramental life of the Church of their baptism. Probably not in great numbers (since it is internal forum or “under the seal” and there are no statistics), and I for one do not think the number is staggering because of the reasons outlined in the two proceeding paragraphs.

In the “The Joy of Love” I sense that this loving and caring pastor, Pope Francis, without changing any laws per se, wishes to remind priests of this option of accompaniment and accomplishment. So all of this is by way of sharing with you one of the best defenses of this document, which I have read since its publication, and it comes with the approval of the Holy See. It also joins a spirited defense of the same exhortation given by Cardinal Christoph Shoenborn of Vienna, no theological slouch!

As is often the case, I owe public thanks to the mother of all ecclesial blogs and to its doorkeeper, Rocco Palmo for making it available to me, to you and to a wider audience. A well-known and highly respected theologian Rocco Buttiglione worth your time to read the article pens it. It appeared last week in English in the normally all-Italian L’Osservatore Romano, and someone in our upper echelon of management had to look at it and approve it for publication. You may access it by clicking here.

I am going to begin a dialogue with the priests of the diocese about implementation of the apostolic exhortation locally and to see what, if anything. troubles them or excites them. It will also serve as a good reminder of a pastoral solution we have had for some time and which the Holy Father resurrects.

Please take time to read the article in its entirety. Thanks.

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ORLANDO, ORLANDO WE LOVE YOU

Monday, June 27th, 2016

Apropos recent comments concerning my last blog entry on the Orlando massacre I simply offer the following:

I think that the Church must not only ask forgiveness – like that “Marxist Cardinal” said (laughs) – must not only ask forgiveness to the gay person who is offended. But she must ask forgiveness to the poor too, to women who are exploited, to children who are exploited for labor. She must ask forgiveness for having blessed so many weapons. The Church must ask forgiveness for not behaving many times – when I say the Church, I mean Christians! The Church is holy, we are sinners! – Christians must ask forgiveness for having not accompanied so many choices, so many families… (Pope Francis’ in-flight press conference from Armenia, June 26, 2016).

The history of homosexuals in our society is a very bad history because we have done a lot to marginalize them, and so as church and as society we have to say, ‘Sorry’ (Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Trinity College, Dublin, June 23, 2016).

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SO NOW WE WAIT

Thursday, May 26th, 2016
Bishop Lynch Retirement Letter to Pope Francis

The letter that was sent to Pope Francis today.

Today marks only the beginning of the end of my service as Bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg. It is not the end. That moment comes when my successor who will be the fifth bishop is installed at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle. But today is still a special moment and I sign the letter to Pope Francis asking to be allowed to retire as required by Canon Law and I thank him for the incredible privilege of serving this terrific local Church.

Twenty and a half years ago when I first appeared at the cathedral for a press conference accompanying the announcement of my appointment, my heart and mind were are odds with one another. My mind said accept the honor with dignity and grace and my heart said it was almost criminal to leave the people of St. Mark’s parish in West Broward who in six months I had come to love. Even after coming here and starting, there was still that strange feeling of almost a “divorce” in which both sides lost something valuable.

This morning I woke up with the same battle of heart and mind. The mind said, “Enough is enough and it is time for me to rest and another to lead, be creative, take this local Church to a new level of coming to experience the presence of the Lord.” But my heart said, how can I leave my collaborators in ministry, my priests and deacons and religious women and men, my seminarians, my schools and faith formation leaders and teachers? I love them too much!

If you know me as well as I think you do, you know that while I am relieved, I am not entirely happy. I cried when in July of 1984 I drove out of the gates of St. John Vianney College seminary in Miami to begin my new assignment in Washington. I cried all the way to Hollywood that day but no one was in the car to witness it.

On February 3, 1995 I cried walking from the chapel at the headquarters of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops through a wall of people lining the hallway all the way to the front entrance and the parking lot, all crying as much as I. I cried that time all the way to Lorton and the Auto Train depot where a train would take my car and myself back to Miami for a new assignment.

On January 20, 1996 I cried as I said good-bye to my parish staff and teachers grade school children at St. Mark’s and climbed into my car to drive to St. Petersburg and my new assignment. Those tears lasted half way across Alligator Alley until a Seminole tribe sheriff stopped me and warned me that I was pressing the speed limit a tad too close. Just a warning, not a tearful ticket.

If you get the picture, it is that I do not handle major change and the fondest of good-byes well. I was proud of myself that only once and then unnoticed during the ordination last Saturday of the five new priests did I break down and it was after the greeting of peace with Father Felipe Gonzalez whose parents and family were unable to be with him/us in that moment. But at the end, in my own sacristy I shut the door and let loose knowing that I had ordained to the priesthood for the last time and would not have that privilege for the incredible men coming along in the next few years. They are as close to sons as any unmarried male can have but when I leave, they will be my brothers no longer my sons.

Today is not the time for tears. Work continues unabated. You will see that I will be very reluctant to begin new major initiatives or to spend new monies. If the transition were to take place tomorrow, the new bishop would inherit a great diocese made up of talent and treasure – probably the best in Florida and maybe even in the country. We have accomplished something beautiful for God in the last two decades. And you have helped me even in ways of which you are largely unaware. Rarely disappointed and forever grateful, I cannot thank you enough. You have tolerated my eccentricities and peculiarities, you have been loyal even when I have done something which may have hurt. Together we have lived our mantra to this local Church, “how can I help you.”

Today I think of Sue Tully, Vivi, Carmen, Malissa, Maria, Joan, Betty, Frank, Deacon Rick, and Michael, our team in our version of the “West Wing.” Today at this Eucharist which means “thanksgiving” I think of Monsignor Brendan Muldoon, Monsignor Robert Gibbons, Father Alan Weber, Monsignor Frank Mouch, and Monsignor Morris, absent this moment only because his dear Mom has a doctor’s appointment which cannot be missed. I have been the luckiest person in the Church in the United States to have been assisted by these competent, loving, patient people. Thank you Jesus!

So today for this local Church the clock of expectation and hope starts to tick. We are like that parable in the Gospel waiting for the bridegroom knowing neither the day, hour or time of his arrival. But today we start to pray for him and he will remain in our expectation, hope and prayers until he comes. I shall not end as did President Obama at the National Press Club banquet a few weeks ago by simply dropping the microphone and saying “Obama, out!” Rather I will say, “Lynch, on hold.” Thanks and God Bless all of you.

+RNL

P.S. I want to share with you a video that my staff put together for me that you might enjoy. I did.

 

FIVE GUYS

Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

Yesterday, Saturday, May 21, five men were ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of St. Petersburg. To a Cathedral packed to the rafters with a local Church loving and welcoming, these five men embraced the call to be good shepherds to the People of God whom they will soon serve.

May 21, 2016 - Fathers Felipe Gonzalez, Alexander Padilla, Bradley Reed, Jonathan Stephanz and Kevin Yarnell were ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Robert Lynch at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle. Please keep them in your prayers! (DOSP Photo / Maria Mertens)

With the newly ordained. Father Jonathan Stephanz, Father Felipe Gonzalez, myself, Father Alexander Padilla, Father Bradley Reed and Father Kevin Yarnell. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Elsewhere on the diocesan website you can see pictures of the ordination and, if you have 145 minutes, you can even watch the whole ceremony. Below I wish to share my words to the men, likely to be my last as the power and privilege of ordaining will pass to a new good, maybe even better shepherd.

ORDINATION TO THE PRIESTHOOD
Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle
St. Petersburg, FL
Saturday, May 21, 2016

Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop

“It is a reality that God often interacts with humanity through the medium of dreams. While few of us have the experience of St. Joseph to whom an archangel, no less, appeared in a dream with life changing news, most of us who are ordained or to be ordained began to seriously develop our notion of priesthood through dreams of some day becoming one. Throughout formation, we sometimes made it through the more challenging and darker moments by dreaming of our ordination day or our first Mass or our own image of what kind of shepherd we might ultimately become. But as our five deacons soon to be ordained will find out, reality can and often does supplant dreams and today I would offer my counsel that this can be tragic when unforeseen and ill-prepared for.

When tomorrow afternoon, they literally roll the proverbial stone before the tomb and all your family and friends withdraw leaving you alone with your new reality, I would counsel it is precisely then that you need to begin to fashion new dreams in which you see yourselves, Felipe, Alex, Brad, Jonathan and Kevin as good shepherd of God’s people. What you are soon to become is far deeper, richer, transforming than what you have dreamed you might be on the day of your ordination.

Pope Francis almost daily reminds his priests of what God wishes them to be and what they may or may not have become. His dream is that we become so attracted and attached to Jesus, the Good Shepherd that “we press forward in faith, to advance in the spiritual pilgrimage which is faith that is nothing other than to follow Jesus; to listen to him and to be guided by his words, to see how he acts and to follow in his footsteps to have his same sentiments. And what are these sentiments of Jesus? Humility, mercy, closeness to others but also a firm rejection of hypocrisy, duplicity, and idolatry. The way of Jesus is a love which is faithful to the end, and even unto sacrificing one’s life; it is the way of the cross.” [Pope Francis, Marian Day, 10,12,2013].

Francis is redrafting the dream of priesthood. It is far from an office of privilege for the ordained, but rather a privilege which through ordination allows us to be Christ to the terrified immigrant father and mother facing deportation, to the confused and wounded young mother who has chosen to take the life within her womb for fear of being unable to care for the child once born, to pray with the condemned prisoner on death row or the overnight visitor to the county jail who has been arrested for a DUI or a lesser offence, to promise a parent that their parish will work hard to improve literacy at the miserably failing local public schools their children are attending by working with FAST or HOPE in two of our counties, to comfort a dad who has just lost his job that while searching for new employment, we will work to retain his children in our parish or diocesan school even though we might be at a loss also of how to make ends meet. These are a few of the pastoral realities which must reshape the dream of how we are to become that good shepherd tomorrow when all withdraw and a lifetime of priestly ministry awaits and begins.

“Being Church means being God’s people, in accordance with the great plan of his fatherly love. This means we are to be God’s leaven in the midst of humanity. It means proclaiming and bringing God’s salvation into our world, which often goes astray and needs to be encouraged, given hope and strengthened on the way…. The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven, and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel.” [Francis, JG]

It is almost the nature of dreams, especially about priesthood, to see us as ministers of the sacraments and indeed that is an essential part of the job description of today’s priest. But that you can accomplish in several waking hours, what are you going to do in the remaining time – wait for the phone to ring or the doorbell to sound? Pope Francis calls us to dream of using more of our time as good shepherds in a different way – as ministers of God’s mercy, taking the initiative to seek out the lost, recapture and reclaim the disenchanted and disenfranchised, to get dirty in the hubris of daily living by giving special attention to the poor, to the lonely, to the forgotten, to the angry,

If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, might and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them; without meaning and a goal in life.

            More than a fear of going stray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within the strictures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us, “Give them something to eat.” [Francis, JG]

Dear Felipe, Alex, Brad, Jon and Kevin, I wish I were younger and could join with you and my brother priests who may live the dream of a new form of priesthood born of the vision and the conscience of Pope Francis. It is far more challenging and exciting than anything I have experienced to date in my life and even somewhat scary. But it is more faithful to the image of Christ the Good Shepherd whom I was to become at my priestly ordination than the “dream I dreamed in times gone by” [Le Miserable]. It is the Good Shepherd who loved us to death, the alter Christus who in a few moments you are to become and I once became.

Today this Church is filled with love and great expectations. Your soon to be brother priests are renewed that in these times and with these challenges, you have already said “yes” to the call of Jesus, “follow me.” Together with me, they welcome you as brothers. God’s people whom you will serve will honor you as “father”. May Jesus welcome you many years from now as “faithful servant.”

+RNL

MIRACLE OF MIRACLES? WELL NOT YET BUT MAYBE

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

In my younger days, long, long ago and far, far away I would never have imagined that I would see the destruction of the Berlin Wall, the dismantlement of apartheid in South Africa, an African American president and an American pope, yet all have come to pass. Now there is a glimmer of hope that in Florida there is a possibility, perhaps not yet a probability, that the death penalty will be abolished. I think of these words spoken by Simeon when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple, “now Master you have kept your word, you can dismiss your servant in peace.”

Several things have come together which place the death penalty in Florida on a new trajectory. First there was the recent decision of the United States Supreme Court which ruled that Florida law which made a jury’s deliberations about the death penalty in a case merely consultative and not deliberative (leaving it ultimately up to the judge) was unconstitutional. Bundled within this decision was that merely requiring a simple majority of the jury to recommend execution to the judge was also unconstitutional? As I have pointed out so often when addressing this topic in previous blogs, this minimalist approach to a life and death decision cried out to heaven for vengeance. Happily heaven can wait, the SCOTUS found similarly.

Florida is one of only three states (Alabama and Delaware) which do not require a unanimous jury and earlier this year, the Florida legislature took an easy path in applying what they hope is a “fix” by raising the number from seven jurors to ten. SCOTUS did not set a size for the jury’s vote but made it clear the seven was a legally unlucky number. Last week the Florida Supreme Court heard arguments derived from the U.S. “Supreme’s” decision in the case of the inmate on death row whose appeal formed the basis of the latter’s decision.

Then, manna from legal heaven descended yesterday upon the state when a Miami judge found the death penalty fix also to be unconstitutional. Now, before deciding the case heard last week, the Florida Supreme Court knows that a more foundational issue is on its way to them which may just skew their thinking in the earlier case. Wow!

Our Attorney General, Pam Bondi, has often said publicly and in conversation with the state’s bishops that she fully supports the application of the death penalty, fully supported the simple majority allowance in the Florida law, and is fully against any effort to require a unanimous jury. I suspect that she was pleased to argue the case before the Florida Supreme Court last week. She would have me say: make no mistake about it; I am 100% in support of the death penalty application and hopeful that it can be attained with the minimum roadblocks possible. At least she is clear, if wrong-headed. She assures us of her unambiguous pro-life position, which is strong when it comes to abortion. But for me, it is like asking Mary Todd Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre, “other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the first act?”

Governor Scott is a more interesting case. After many conversations, he has said that he is very uncomfortable signing the death warrants but is obligated to do so by oath and office. He has intimated that were the Legislature to outlaw the death penalty he would likely sign and not veto the bill. He has also said that he only signs those warrants where the evidence is rock-solid that the person accused and found guilty actually committed the crime. He is also fully supportive of most other pro-life positions and I actually believe his wrestling with his conscience when it comes to executions. Equally candidly, he has said, that one cannot be elected to any office in Florida if one is seen as “soft on crime and/or criminals.”

That leads me to the conclusion of this reflection. Those of us who see the death penalty in America as a pro-life issue need to ratchet up our opposition to Florida’s inhumane approach to capital punishment, using whatever means might be available to us to make our case. We can think of the Baptist Church congregation in Charleston, South Carolina who earlier this year, including survivors of those murdered, went to the prison to forgive the perpetrator. They surely did not tell him that it was forgive and forget, for they will never forget his atrocity and they don’t ever want him on the street again. The same for the Amish community in Pennsylvania whose children were massacred but who also marched to the jail to forgive the aggressor. And how about the early Christian community who found it in their heart to forgive Saul of Tarsus, directly responsible for the death of Stephen and the torture of many others. If as we say so pointedly and well in our pro-life effort that God alone has the ability to choose when life begins and when life ends, then justifying capital punishment is beyond the logical pail.

Step up Florida. End the barbaric death penalty in the sunshine state. While I feel deeply for those whose lives have been changed, transformed, deeply hurt by violent crime and we must do everything to see that it does not happen again and those who committed the crime are never free to do it again, it is time to take a deep breath and do the right thing. Finally, if any Catholic wishes to use Saint John Paul’s minuscule opening against me, bring it on, but recall the words of Pope Francis to the US Congress on this very topic.

+RNL