Posts Tagged ‘Chrism Mass’


Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016


Today was the Chrism Mass. You can watch a replay of the live video stream here and see more photos here. My homily is below should you wish to read it.

March 22, 2016 - Bishop Lynch presided at the annual Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle in St. Petersburg. Priests of the diocese renewed their commitment to priestly service, the Oil of the Sick and the Oil of Catechumens was blessed and the Sacred Chrism was consecrated. (DOSP Photo / Maria Mertens)

Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop of St. Petersburg

            Twenty years ago January 26, 1996 at the end of a long ordination liturgy I spoke my first words to you as a bishop. I began my inaugural address, as it were, by calling to mind an old hymn entitled, “what a friend we have in Jesus.” Today, as at every Chrism Mass in the intervening years, we listen again to the inaugural homily, speech, or sermon of Jesus when at the very beginning of his ministry he reminds his fellow synagogue members in Nazareth of Isaiah’s depiction of the Messiah. From that moment forward Jesus fulfilled his ministry of mercy perfectly, just as the Father had commanded it and as the Son had embraced it.

At that precise moment, Jesus announced that a new era had begun, a time of God’s favor, God’s mercy. Jesus proclaimed a gracious God and a merciful God and both would be the hallmarks of his remaining life and ministry. He speaks of his “anointing” and the oils which today we bless and consecrate are reminders of God’s love and generosity. They will be used to remind parents of their children’s election by God in baptism and confirmation – they are anointed. They will be used to remind the sick and the scared that God often heals – they are anointed. And, thank God, they will be used in seven weeks to anoint the hands of five who will feed His people with the bread of life and the cup of salvation. That era begun in the Nazareth Synagogue that Sabbath has not ended, nor has its substantially changed in its essence. Each and every one of us has been anointed to bring the good news of God’s mercy.

Can it be that in 2016 the Church of Jesus Christ is the last hope for the poor? Who are the poor? They are indeed the needy, the homeless and the hungry, the vulnerable lonely and the parentless child, the wounded returning veteran home from armed conflict, the breathless masse yearning to be free and here in our midst, our brothers and sisters in the shadows fearing deportation, separation from loved ones and even exile. In his inaugural homily or sermon or discourse or teaching, Jesus makes it abundantly clear that these “poor” have first claim on his time and on his ministry and on his gifts. Francis, our Pope, says precisely the same thing and establishes precisely the same order for Christ’s church – the poor come first, whether it is the poverty of sins in need of forgiveness or the poverty of a paucity of love or the poverty of living in constant fear.

Jesus would go on to put flesh on every priority first enumerated by Isaiah in just the three years of his public ministry while we have struggled to do our part in twenty. Jesus taught us to build bridges and not walls. Jesus taught us to proclaim through our ministry what he carried out in the rest of this marvelous Gospel of Luke which graces us this year:

Blessed are the poor, the Kingdom of God is yours. (6:20)

The poor have the good news preached to them. (7:22)

When you hold a banquet invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind (14:13)

 And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus and covered with sores. (16:20)

“I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than the rest. (21:3)

            Together for the past two decades we have tried in many ways to proclaim, spread and incarnate the good news in the life and ministry of the Church. One can become sadly disillusioned if and when one solely concentrates on the enormity of the challenge. Yet every new child baptized and confirmed, reconciled and fed with the bread of life, every couple married in Church because they wish God to be the center of their promise of fidelity, every infirm person prepared for the journey from death to eternal life, all testify to the presence of the Lord in our life and ministry.

Our mother Church gives us moments not just to reflect on the enormity of the challenge of evangelization, but also the success of many of our efforts and the communal act of gratitude for our ministry which this liturgy uniquely evokes. There is room for humble pride as we have born the heat of so many challenges in the last twenty years. But the people of this Church have never lost confidence in you, their pastors and priests. They still love you and are grateful for your priestly presence in their lives and let me say, perhaps for the final time, so am I and forever will be.

Sitting in this sanctuary this morning and watching livestream in Rome are five men, Deacons Felipe Gonzalez, Alex Padilla, Bradley Reed, Jonathan Stephans, and Kevin Yarnell whom I now call to ordination to the priesthood of Jesus Christ, eight weeks from now on May 21st. You are signs of hope and examples to all of us to God’s goodness. Additionally serving in the Sanctuary and sitting in the congregation are twenty-three others discerning God’s call at various levels of formation for whom we pray daily and are grateful always. You also are a significant part of our hope for the future.

The married deacons and their wives, here always in great number in support of our priests, are a treasure I failed to recognize when I arrived twety years ago but which I have grown to treasure more with each passing year. You are and will be a gift and legacy which I will leave to my successor with love and admiration and heartfelt appreciation.

Religious women and men, what a gift you are to our community. Substantially fewer in number than when I came, nevertheless the powerful witness of your consecrated presence reminds us all that sacrifice is still possible for the good of the kingdom of God.

And finally, people of God of the diocese of St. Petersburg. Pray for your Church often. Pray that we may reclaim those who have left us as we bring glad tidings to the lowly, heal the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners. Pray that we may continue to offer hope to our sisters and brothers who think they are at risk of deportation, to the pregnant mother who fears she cannot cope with giving birth to a child but finds us even more ready to help if she chooses life and pardon and forgiveness to the woman who was not able to make that choice, a sense of security to the school child who fears their parents are going to divorce, to the elderly who fear they will not be able to access medical care or prescriptions when they need it, the gay or lesbian who may have previously felt impoverished by neglect and scorn, those living in second or third non-sacramental marriage who long for the Eucharistic connection, women who seek to share their unique gifts with the Church they love. This is the modern poverty of which Jesus speaks and these are those whom we are called to serve with mercy. Pope Francis has changed the prescription of the lens through which we are to examine our ministry and mercy now enters our purview with even greater clarity.

However poverty is defined and it has many shapes and images, may we keep it before our face as Jesus did and Pope Francis demands, ready always to respond with mercy, love and compassion. My brother priests, deacons, religious and lay, let our past acts of mercy be the legacy of the last twenty years and the foundation of hope for the future.



Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

Here are some photos from the annual Chrism Mass earlier today. To read my homily, scroll down below the photos. To watch the video recording of the Mass, please click here. To see more photos, click here.

Renewal of Priestly Promises. Photo kindness of Jeanne Smith.

Renewal of Priestly Promises. Photo kindness of Jeanne Smith.



Blessing the Oil of the Sick. Photo kindness of Jeanne Smith.

Blessing the Oil of the Sick. Photo kindness of Jeanne Smith.



Parish representatives holding their parish’s Oil of Catechumens as it is blessed. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Parish representatives holding their parish’s Oil of the Sick as it is blessed. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.



Blessing the Oil of Catechumens. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Blessing the Oil of Catechumens. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.



Parish representatives holding their parish’s Oil of Catechumens as it is blessed. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Parish representatives holding their parish’s Oil of Catechumens as it is blessed. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.


Consecrating the Sacred Chrism. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Consecrating the Sacred Chrism. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

March 31, 2015
Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop

The late bishop John Nevins of Venice with whom I spent five of the first six years of my priesthood would often tell the story of what happened to him late in his formation for priesthood, indeed just weeks before he was to be ordained a sub-deacon. An only child of an Irish mother and English father who separated and divorced shortly after young John was born, John J. Nevins could only find one religious order and no diocese which would accept him as a seminarian for the priesthood. That one community was called The Fathers of Mercy. Finishing his studies at Catholic University in Washington, John Nevins in the Spring of the final year came home from class to the Fathers of Mercy house only to be told that the community had been dissolved, its ordained were free to find any benevolent bishop or other order who would accept them and as for the seminarians, “clear your room out, move, stay warm and well fed.” As he approached the end of telling this story, he would always end it with this line: “There was no mercy to be found in the Fathers of Mercy, buster!” I know of few priests in my soon to be forty years who was kinder, more merciful and forgiving than John J. Nevins. He lived the virtue under whose title he longed to minister.

We have been hearing a lot about mercy the last two years, much of it emanating from the Holy Father. He has challenged the whole Church, all those who have been anointed with the sacred chrism in baptism, confirmation, and priesthood and episcopacy, to new heights of merciful ministry. He has preached forgiveness, inclusion, welcoming not just the sinner but also the foreigner, the immigrant, the poor. He has joined his ministry of words with a rich panoply of encounter and gesture. He has called us all, but especially we bishops to a simpler lifestyle more in touch with all God’s people which might make us more aware and understanding of the pain of poverty. The one constant through the first two years has been the bedrock belief in the mercy of God which we have both received as a gift of the spirit of God to share with the world and we have been anointed with oil to heal the wounds of people, some of which even the Church we love have caused.

Allow me for a few moments this Holy Week to reflect on the image of oil, noted in today’s very familiar readings by both Isaiah and Jesus. The glass jars which await our prayers of blessing contain simple olive oil though to the chrism will soon be joined an aromatic. All oil (olive and petroleum) has three aspects worth a few seconds: value, volatility and viscosity.

VALUE we have learned in recent times from oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, to wars of religion over oil in the Arabian gulfs, to four dollars a gallon at the pump to a 125% increase in the cost of Chanel No 5 in the last ten years. From King David through to the Saudi princes, oil is worth a lot, of money, sadly of lives lost and environment destroyed. So for moderns the oil has value and for the ancients it did as well. It healed the wounded, anointed the chosen leaders, was then and is now one of the more valuable fruits of God’s creation. And it is shared with us in sacraments. When we use it properly it dispenses mercy and love on the newborn, comforts the sick and aged and when accompanied by sacramental confession it too dispenses God’s mercy on the scared, the scarred, the solitary soul in search of God.

VOLATILITY – Oil also ignites more readily than other liquids. Jesus says that the anointing he received ignited in him a fierce blessed rage for order (in the words of David Tracy decades ago). It made him palpably burn within to bring healing to the sick, hope to the homeless, compassion for the poor, freedom not just to jailed prisoners pbut the freedom of mercy and the love of God and the presence of Jesus Christ to those imprisoned by addiction, by religious laws that limited love, and an end to tyranny from whatever source which limited mankind’s ability to drink at the cool well of mercy, kindness, love, compassion and forgiveness.

Tell me one sinner in the Gospel who having acknowledged his or her sin was dismissed by the Son of God without healing. The highly volatile oil of his anointing set Jesus on fire with the desire to establish his Father’s kingdom – a fire that did not cease within him until his penultimate breath in one Gospel account: “brother, this day you shall be with me in paradise! Has our anointing in baptism spent all its volatility or is the fire within us to reconcile the world heating up again to the point where we have a blessed rage for dispensing God’s mercy and compassion?

VISCOSITY – All oil is thick, gooey, and sticky, even olive oil. Just try to get it off your hands after confirming 150 youngsters – even lemon does not really cut it. My fingers continue to smell like PLEDGE furniture polish through at least three washings – but I digress! It is precisely the perfect image in a way to describe our ministry when it is working. What we do well sticks. What we offer is sometimes thick. Our ministry of mercy often moves far more slowly than we might wish. Maybe it is time in a sense to apply a merciful thinner to our passion for compassion. Pope Francis certainly does it, daily in his Mass homilies, in his brief but sticky audience teachings. Listen to how his words should stimulate all of us to a deeper engagement in social action ministry:

‘These days there is a lot of poverty in the world and that’s a scandal when we have so many resources to give to everyone. We all have to think about how we can become a little poorer.”

“A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just”

“We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future, spread love, be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace.”

“Although the life of a person is in a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.

With Peter and under Peter my prayer is that today, recalling the awesome power of anointing in our own lives, everyone here has been anointed, most likely at least twice, we may ignite again in our hearts and in our ministry the joy in being agents of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “The joy of God is the joy of forgiveness. It is the joy of the shepherd who finds his lost sheep, the joy of the woman who finds her lost coin; the joy of the Father who welcomes home his lost son.”

Ah, the oil of gladness. My brother priests, this very Holy Father speaks to us often, challenges us, wants us to once again recover the fire of the day the sacred chrism was spread on our hands, the day of our ordination. He particularly it would seem focuses on our ministry of reconciliation. Most all of you have given of yourselves the past few weeks with penance services, The Light Is On For You, and hours in the box. You are very good, indeed wonderful at this expression of tender mercy. Your anointed hands and your blessed words become the sign of the forgiveness of God.

“The service that a priest assumes, a ministry, on behalf of God, to forgive sins is very delicate and requires that his heart be at peace, . . .that he not mistreat the faithful, but that he be gentle, benevolent and merciful, that he know how to plant hope in hearts and, above all, that he be aware that the brother or sister or sister who approaches the sacrament of reconciliation seeking forgiveness does so just as many people approached Jesus to be healed. . . .The penitent faithful have the right, all the faithful have the right, to find in priests servants of the forgiveness of God.

Lawrence O’Donnell, a commentator on MSNBC likened the Pope’s remarks on one occasion to his last Catholic school teacher, a Father Harrington. “Father Harrington knew that he was our last religion teacher,” O’Donnell said. “He didn’t use that final year of class time to cram our heads with rules and condemnations. . .Father Harrington talked only about the things that mattered the most in Catholicism, which meant he talked about God and love and goodness and kindness, and he never talked about sin. O’Donnell continued by noting that Pope Francis seems to be eager to deliver the same message. “The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The Church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrine to be imposed insistently. Indeed, O’Donnell noted, Pope Francis warned that the moral authority of the church could “fall like a house of cards” if its condemnations are the only thing people ever hear about. Quoting the Pope, “The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.” O’Donnell in that electronic moment ended his reflection with “If Father Harrington was still with us, he would like this pope. A lot.” 

Beginning soon we shall together plan for how as a local Church we shall observe the year of grace to begin in November called the Holy Year of Mercy. It could well be a very graced moment – a moment of mercy. Let no one in these five counties say of us what Bishop Nevins said of the manner in which he was treated by a community to which he had already given years: “There is no mercy to be found in this local Church, buster!”



Saturday, April 19th, 2014


Easter 2014 is almost history but I wish to share some final thoughts with you before we move on to this coming weeks canonizations of Blessed Pope John XXIII and Blessed Pope John Paul II which will take place next Sunday in Rome. Holy Week 2014 was special for me and will always be because we were finally in our new space at the Cathedral of St. Jude. Pictures of the Chrism Mass last Tuesday morning/afternoon show some of the magnificence of the new space for the liturgies which we held there but you almost had to be there to achieve the whole effect of how our architecture and rites can combine magnificently.

Our liturgies were wonderful beginning with Palm Sunday and journeying right through the Easter Vigil last night. The Cathedral choir is beginning to show the signs of excellence that I hope come with their renewed energy because of the space they now sing and praise in and Chris Berke, their director and our principal organist, prepared wonderful settings and music for the whole week.

Father Joseph Waters and Father James and Deacon John Shea backed by a hard-working staff largely of volunteers made space, action, and support into one mosaic of prayer and piety. I have a wonderful Master of Ceremonies for Cathedral events who has been at my side in one way or another for nineteen years almost, John Christian. He works with the young men and women who serve both as Cathedral altar servers and members of the “Bishops’ Corps”, present most of the time when I am there for major ceremonies.



At the Easter Vigil Mass, we were able to use the immersion baptismal pool for the first time and it was wonderful, for those being baptized who literally came up out of the waters and for the rest of us baptized who were more engaged than usual, I suspect, because of action and place being new and forceful. There were catechumens who were baptized, confirmed and made first Eucharist and candidates who having previously been baptized were confirmed, made first penance, and first Eucharist.

Finally, I want to share with you my homily last night at the Easter Vigil. Since the Fifth Sunday of Lent I have been repeatedly hitting the theme of the signs that accompany us on our journey to and through Holy Week to the tomb on Easter Sunday and how we need to pay as much attention to them as we pay to the universal signs like the red octagon which signals “STOP” everywhere in the world. They are the scriptural signs which God gives us along the way to help us on our journey of faith. I suspect that at least the priests of the cathedral will be happy when I move off this theme and onto something else in the days and months ahead but I like it when I can weave one major theme through many successive liturgical events.



Happy Easter to all. As Pope Francis pointed out in his Easter Vigil homily, Jesus invites all of us to journey again to our personal Galilees where we first met him and renew and strengthen our acquaintance. See you there?

Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle
Saturday, April 19, 2014
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop of St. Petersburg

        Beloved sisters and brothers and tonight dearly beloved catechumens and candidates,

       For those soon to receive the Easter sacraments and indeed for all of us, a long journey is merely minutes from completion. We have heard the word that he has risen. We can leave Jerusalem soon and return to our homes secure in the knowledge that death has been overcome, evil conquered, and eternity secured because of the love of one man for us all.

       Like all long journeys, sometimes into less than certain realms, we have relied on directions and signs. Putting aside Garmin, Google, Microsoft and Apple, we have followed the path outlined in sacred scripture to get us to this moment. Scripture has taken us on this journey in recent days to Bethany and the home of Lazarus and Martha and Mary, to the main road leading into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, to the Upper Room on Thursday night, to Pilate and Herod Antipas, to Golgotha and to tomb yesterday and tonight we are told by the angel that Jesus wishes us to once again take to the road and return to Galilee to meet with him once again.

      Wanting us never to wander too far afield, we have been given signs along the way. Tonight’s second reading told us of the journey into the countryside of Abraham and his beloved son in whom he and Sarah were well pleased and so happy. Abraham is willing to slaughter his long sought-after child to do the will of God the Father, but God spared him only to have God the Father choose not to spare his only begotten Son the death on a cross. It was meant as a sign and its significance only became clear tonight with the angel’s news.

      The third reading tonight told us of the journey of the Jews out of Egypt to freedom from slavery, to freedom of religion, to freedom to feed themselves from the land of both milk and honey, but reminded that a part of the human condition would sometimes seem like there was never enough.

      And the Gospel reading told us of the journey of the women to the tomb, suggested the sound of the giant stone being rolled back so that Jesus could exit and we, by the events of these days, would also be freed, free of our sins of pride and selfishness, free of the fear of death because now for the faithful people there is a clear alternative to nothingness called heaven and life with God and with the saints.

      For slightly more than forty-eight hours, all our weakness, all our fears, all our unanswered prayers, all our selfishness, all our anger, all our jealousy, all our hopelessness, all our directionless, all our lust, all our lies, all our prejudices, all our inclinations to slander and gossip, all our laziness in practicing our faith, all our weakness lay hidden, dormant, dead in that tomb – death seemed to have won, evil seemed to have triumphed, inhumanity seemed to have ruled over hope, kindness, generosity and forgiveness. But then that stone was removed revealing an empty tomb and each and every one of us was invited to come out and begin a new, in Him, and through Him and with Him. The stone rolled back from before the tomb becomes a sign of the invitation to embrace Christ more closely and live our life with Him more clearly, day by day. A journey which might have been expected to have ended has instead just begun anew, again, amen.

       How should we behave once again in the light of the day as Catholic Christians? What does our faith which should be strengthened by the journey we have taken with Jesus look like after Easter. We do have a choice. We can remain in the tomb and do little or nothing, or we can help others on their journey of faith while at the same time strengthening our own journey.

       In 1968 when this local Church of St. Petersburg was established as a diocese and this parish of St. Jude the Apostle was chosen as its first and only Cathedral, there was an organist, a director of music by the name of Carroll Thomas Andrews. He was forty-eight years old when he played and directed the choir for the installation of our first bishop. In the intervening years he composed beautiful liturgical music in the English and set it to equally beautiful score. He died and went home to God last Monday and was buried in a simple but elegant Liturgy of the Word and Final Commendation on Thursday morning. I share with you a story and a challenge given to all of us in attendance by his priest son, Father Greg Andrews. The words I am about to share with you were written by the fine historian Walter Lord whose two most famous works were A Night to Remember recalling the sinking of the Titanic and Day of Infamy about the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 when Andrews was twenty-two years old at Hickam Field on Oahu on that fateful day.

Pfc Carroll Andrews was one man with a definite objective. He and a buddy started off through the noncom housing area, running in short spurts between the strafing. Once they ducked into the kitchen of an empty house. Bullets ripped the stove, and they marveled at the splintering porcelain – it was the first time they realized how the stuff could shatter. On they ran, and then another interruption. This time it was a soldier who had seen Andrews playing the organ for Catholic services on the base. He asked Andrews to help him say the Catholic’s Act of Contrition. He explained that he had not been to Mass or confession for years and needed an emergency peace. Andrews stopped and repeated the words with him. They dashed on. Soon a Filipino woman ran up with a tiny baby. She too had seen Andrews in Church, and wanted him to baptize the baby. By now mildly exasperated, Andrews asked her why she did not do it herself. She said she was not sure how. So he went into another empty house, tried the kitchen faucets (they did not run), found a bottle of cold water, and baptized the baby. The mother burst into tears and ran off.

         None of us knows where our journey in faith may eventually take us what or our love of Christ may ultimately entail of us but this is how one man, one of our own, lived out his baptismal commitment on one fateful day. Next to the cross, it was for me this year the most potent sign I received of this Lenten season.



Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

As I begin to pen these words, it is “spy” Wednesday of Holy Week, the day when the Gospel reading at Mass prepares us for the Sacred Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil) by reminding us of the treachery of Judas who sold his friend Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. I always have varied thoughts entering these most sacred of days which range from some discomfort with “bumping” the Rector and priests of the Cathedral parish from celebrating and preaching these days to the exhilaration and excitement of the Chrism Mass and the Easter Vigil.

Yesterday we had the annual Chrism Mass with an unexpectedly high attendance of 186 priests (we ran out of seats I am told), about 100 deacons, most of our seminarians (some are studying outside of the state or abroad and four who will be ordained to the transitional diaconate a week from Saturday were on their canonical (read that “required”) retreat, and a standing room only crowd in the Cathedral.

The magnificence of that new space for large ceremonies like yesterday’s was obvious to all in attendance.

Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.


The Oil of the Sick, designated by the letters OI, is presented by a representative of those who minister to the sick or by someone who works in the healing profession. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

The Oil of the Sick, designated by the letters OI, is presented by a representative of those who minister to the sick or by someone who works in the healing profession. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.



The Oil of Catechumens, designated by the letters OC or OS, is presented by a representative of those who minister in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults from each parish. Photo kindness of Jeanne Smith.

The Oil of Catechumens, designated by the letters OC or OS, is presented by a representative of those who minister in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults from each parish. Photo kindness of Jeanne Smith.


Consecrating the Sacred Chrism. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Consecrating the Sacred Chrism. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.


The Liturgy of the Eucharist. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.


Invitation to Communion. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Invitation to Communion. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

My homily for the occasion is shown below (note that there is more blogging after the homily and you can read the homily as a PDF here) but I pulled a “popey” which is something like a “selfie” by departing from the text near the end to ask questions of segments of the congregation. For that you will need to watch the video replay which you can do by clicking here. As of this writing, about 1,300 people have watched the Chrism Mass online with about 700 watching live during the ceremony. The ability to share these moments with anyone who has the time, inclination and a computer or mobile device is wonderful. You can see more photos of the Chrism Mass here.

Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle
Tuesday, April 14, 2014
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop 

            Once again we have heard the words of Isaiah, now so familiar to us. Twice in this Liturgy of the Word alone, every year at this Mass, quite often at our ordinations as priests and/or deacons, these familiar and haunting words of Isaiah are heard: “the Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord, and a day of vindication by our God, to comfort all who mourn. . .”

            In the Gospel passage this morning Jesus uses this passage from the great prophet when he returns very early in his public ministry to his home town, to his friends and family, to his Jewish co-religionists with whom for some thirty years he joined in the local synagogue to learn the law, approach its application to daily life, to challenge, to encourage, to fortify their faith. However,  one cannot fully embrace this passage from Luke’s Gospel without spending some time analyzing its context. The verses we have heard are easy enough. The total package of the passage is a “horse of another color.” It is worth, I believe, a moment or two of our time this morning.

            Situated early in Luke’s Gospel account, Jesus comes back home from his baptism in the Jordan, having survived his temptations in the desert and on the way back to Nazareth, beginning to preach and teach, to heal and to challenge – four important pillars of his public ministry. He does some of this in Galilee and word of his power, of his preaching, of his proclamations and of his presence elsewhere has already come to Nazareth. The town is waiting for him. His return home is a moment of great expectations. The locals want him to do the same things in Nazareth that he has done from Jerusalem to Jericho, to Capernaum. I can imagine the sentinels dispatched by the locals to announce his imminent arrival in Nazareth as he climbed from below sea level to his mountainside home village.

            When he preaches God’s word, challenges the locals to action, he disappoints. They want him to do for them what it has been said he has done for many others – give us a miracle or two Jesus, not just words. If you take time to read the very next verses of this famous passage and listen to the response of his own townsfolk as they turn from anxious anticipation to dangerous anger. It is produce, Jesus, or perish. They become so angry with him that they attempt to kill him but he slips away, likely never to return to family or friends in Nazareth. What could have been a moment of unity and reunion becomes instead a moment of threats and rejection, of jealousy and resentment, of criticism, carping and complaining. And that was the Lord’s early experience of ministry.

            Today the message and mission of those prophetic words from Isaiah remain the same, but the reception as well as the atmosphere is no less problematic. We are the bearers of the message, dear brothers. We are the deliverers of the mission. And if, at times, our audience seems out-of-touch with the Gospel of Joy which we try to live out, preach and deliver, the temptation can more easily turn to run, to anger and frustration at the worst and disappointment at best. Making Jesus Christ present, real, embraceable, believable, acceptable, even within our own faith community can be as difficult today as it was for Him on that return to his hometown. That is setting the Scriptural stage for the second and third part of this reflection I wish to share with you today.

            There is no day in the yearly calendar of the Church to rival this one for providing us a sense of unity in mission, commitment and fraternity.  It is the day when the greatest number of us gather during the year to concelebrate the Eucharist, recommit ourselves to our priestly ministry together, and to experience a sense of unity in the work of service. Nineteen times I have had the privilege of doing what I am doing right now, truly and always supported by your presence, your witness, our communal prayer of Thanksgiving. There is no other time when I feel more like being a servant leader, a bishop, than this day. For a little more than ninety minutes we set aside our individual identities, our ecclesial offices, our disagreements and disappointments and recall the intensity of our desire for service. We lose our identity and assume that of Jesus, healer, teacher, catechist, anointer, blesser, and source of hope, messenger of justice. And we are joined by a good segment of God’s people who love us, support us, assist us, lift us up when we fail or disappoint and sometimes even challenge us in ways once thought unimaginable.

            If I feel this unity annually on this occasion, I hope and pray that you do as well. We are in communion with Christ and with one another. There are moments in each year when we can sometimes share the feelings of the townsfolk of Nazareth. It is the dark side of the humanity of most of us all. But there is something about this Eucharist, which enlightens our ministry. Pope Francis on February 27, 2014 said this: brothers who love each other despite their differences in character, origin or age. . . this testimony gives birth to the desire to be part of the great parable of communion that is the Church. When a person feels that mutual love among the disciples of Christ is possible and is capable of transforming the quality of interpersonal relations, he/she feels called to discover or rediscover Christ, and opens to an encounter with the Living and Working One.[Pope Francis to Bishops and Friends of Focolare].

            Dear brothers, unity, patience, forbearance and, yes, even love are contagious. If we are to ultimately be successful in encountering and encouraging and accompanying others, it surely begins with us, here, now and when we leave this place for another year. We need to resolve to care for each other better. I will try in the time remaining to me.

            Finally, preaching the “Gospel of Joy” sometimes comes at a high price – not unlike the Nazareth experience of Jesus in the whole of Luke 4. Many of you have more years in the priesthood under your belt than I but in my thirty-six years of priestly ministry I have never felt the challenge, which I feel today, and it is coming from a man we hardly knew at this Mass a year ago.

            There is no part of my ministry that is untouched in the last thirteen months, from where and how I live, to whom I give central focus upon in my ministry, to what I assign pastoral priority, to how best to deliver. The world and in a special way our Church has quickly fallen in love with Francis because of how he lives out his life and ministry – simply, humbly, with Jesuitical clarity, with firm resolve, and living comfortably on planet earth as first among sinners ever needing and feeling the warmth of God’s mercy and kindness. He has set the bar high for we bishops. Nothing, which might once have been a treasured “perk”, is any longer to be treated as “sacred.” He is redefining episcopal ministry, which will quite quickly redefine priestly ministry.

            And just like in Nazareth, there is a certain “grumbling” to be heard in a few quarters. In a short time, he has given new strength and vitality to the three-fold challenge of this morning’s readings: you/we are fulfilling your ministry best when you leave the comfort of your safety zone to preach the Gospel to the poor; you/we are best when you/we devote more time to proclaiming release to those captive to sin, addiction, serious physical and psychological illness; when we help those who are spiritually blind see that God, the Church, we ministers love them more than we judge them; and we welcome back those who felt oppressed by anything which might be more of our creation than that of the Creator.

            I close by appropriating the words written by Peggy Noonan for a former president of my generation, changing them only slightly: there is a new dawn breaking over the Church. Some of us will not live to see the high noon which this new day heralds, but I, and I hope you do as well, thank God that my ministry, your ministry has survived whatever darkness we may have felt enveloped our hopes and dreams and have lived to witness this dawn. For with Francis, and through Francis, and, yes, even under Francis , we can affirm this morning that ours is a great Church, capable of stirring the imaginations of many and embracing all. That, or so it seems to me, is today’s “spirit of the Lord which is among us.”  What a great Church to which we have devoted our lives.

Following the Chrism Mass, my Clergy Personnel Board met for the rest of the afternoon. It is that time of the year.

For the last couple of years, I finally adopted some advice given to me long ago by one of my “hero-bishops”, Bishop Anthony Pilla, (retired bishop of Cleveland) and allow the Board to meet by themselves to discuss the changes. The discussion is led by my wonderful Vicar General, Monsignor Robert F. Morris. When they have “shuffled the deck” and are ready to show the “cards” they call for me to recommend the changes they have been able to determine.

I then approve or raise questions and concerns and when there is unanimous consensus among us, I begin to call the pastors who will be affected. Sometimes the call is easy and that is the case when someone has put in writing their interest in being assigned to an opening. We “bulletin” our parish vacancies most of the time as they become open so priests can, if they wish, show interest. However, sometimes we must ask someone who is comfortably positioned and serving their parish well and ask them for the good of the whole church to accept a change of assignment. To the credit of our good priests who find themselves in this unexpected predicament, I normally do not have to play the “obedience” card. Often sadly, somewhat reluctantly, they accept the new assignment. Those are tough phone calls.

Some lay people in the parishes are consulted in the process and they usually are the staff, the parish finance and pastoral councils, the school administrators, etc. Unlike some of our Protestant sisters and brothers, the Catholic Church does not engage congregations per se in choosing their ordained leadership. At the end of the afternoon yesterday, I was weary. Pumped by the Chrism Mass and sad about the work which followed. Show me any bishop who loves moving priests around and I will find a psychiatric ward that might help him. Too many lives are at stake.

Today (Wednesday) is quiet and tomorrow evening starts the Triduum with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. The priests who will concelebrate with me tomorrow night and I will first go to a neighborhood Italian restaurant and then move to the Lord’s table. By 8:30pm we should be finished at the Cathedral and then I make a round of the parishes for private prayer in the places of reservation which follow the Holy Thursday liturgy until around midnight. I will try to continue these thoughts on Good Friday when I have the morning free.

Try to join your faith community at all or as many of the ceremonies of the Triduum you can make. You won’t regret it.



Sunday, March 31st, 2013

I am writing this on Easter Sunday afternoon after a beautiful, lovely and spiritually renewing and refreshing Holy Week. On Tuesday we filled St. Catherine of Siena’s new church to capacity (c. 1200) for the annual Mass of the Chrism. A large number of my brother priests showed up to concelebrate this Mass with myself and their brothers in priestly ministry. I am always curious about those few who did not attend, especially those who seem to make it their business not to attend on an annual basis. There are, for certain,  occasional funerals and other unexpected events which crop up from time to time, but the date of the Chrism Mass has been set for some time so it is not a scheduling surprise. Those who may choose not to attend do so for other reasons which I suspect are somewhat  selfish. Because a photographer was taking pictures of those attending and concelebrating, (the pictures are on the diocesan website and you may like looking at them to see your priests) I found myself on Tuesday night pretending to be a teacher taking attendance of their class. I know this, it hurts me when men I know who could come choose not to do so, and I think the brothers also feel it. Some bishops hold absent priests accountable – I will never do that – but it does hurt that some could be there but regularly choose not to do so. Anyway, that is the only even remotely unpleasant thing I could say about Holy Week 2013.

The Cathedral of St. Jude was a challenge this year but it turned out wonderfully well for everyone. I suspect if you queried those who attended any of the Holy Week services at St. Jude’s from Palm Sunday through today, Easter Sunday, they would say that the temporary space (used during the rebuilding of the Cathedral church) works well. It is more intimate and therefore we had a sense of “full house” on Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday and Good Friday, and everyone could witness the beautiful liturgies up close and personal. I always feel badly for the Cathedral priests because year after year the bishop who is the pastor of his Cathedral parish shows up and “bumps” the good priests who are there day after day but who do not get to be principal celebrant of the special liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil. This year, however, I asked them to preach and they did, very well. I preached only the shorter homilies accompanying the Palm Sunday Mass and Easter Vigil ceremonies. We baptized three and accepted into the Church and confirmed about fifteen others at the Vigil and if only you could see the smiles on their faces and in one case, the tears of joy which accompanied the moment. So the Cathedral worked thanks to the efforts of staff, sacristans, musicians and choir, deacon and priests, altar servers and God’s grace.

It has been hard since the election of Pope Francis to ignore his presence in the life of the Church. Every day I find myself several times a day scanning various resources online or in blogs to find out what new and distinct thing he has done this day. So many people have said to me how refreshing he is and how proud they are of him. Of course, it has been the honeymoon and he has not had to do some of the hard things which inevitably accompany leadership anywhere, even in the Church. I still think I was right on target in the Chrism Mass homily about what we might expect when the “good times” cease to roll and reality sets in.

Each day, however, Pope Francis amazes me. He preaches like a parish priest does and as a Jesuit does (almost always three points) and his homilies so  far have not been written or delivered to wrest from St. John Chrysostom the title of “golden throat” or Aquinas or Theresa of Avila the title of “Doctor of the Church” but rather they are incredibly insightful in what it takes to be a true follower of Christ and how much joy awaits those who let Christ out of the places where they have locked him in. His glasses keep sliding down his nose like mine do and he looks at his watch like I do from time to time to see if something is going too long. But because of the Pope, we are so far witnessing to a Church which is rising again in the sights of many, our own adherents, people of other faiths, etc. Popes do make a difference and the papacy does mean something for everyone: just recall Blessed Pope John XXIII. From the top the process of renewal and reform might begin once again, only the Holy Spirit knows for certain. But when a renewal begins with the Holy Father, it is truly a reform underway. We shall wait and see and pray for him.


Photo courtesy of Christopher Graff

I also wish to mention that especially poignant for me this year was a last minute liturgy celebrated on Wednesday night of Holy Week at St. Scholastica Catholic Church in Lecanto for Father James Hoge, OSB. Father Hoge had started every parish in Citrus county and was involved in one way or another in the choice of sites for parishes and for building many of them. St. Scholastica was his final contribution as was Pope John Paul II elementary school. A funeral Mass was offered for him at St. Leo monastery, celebrated by his Abbot but I was able to be present to the priests of Citrus county and to about 350 people who knew Father Jim well and who loved him. After the Mass, I joined the priests for dinner and all came. There were wonderful stories exchanged and Monsignor George Cummings who is now our oldest priest (95 this year) and longest ordained (70 years this year) was in our midst to share his crystal clear memories of the birth of the Church in our northernmost county. He and Father Hoge went to the same minor seminary and were classmates so Father’s passing was particularly meaningful to Monsignor Cummings.

Finally, speaking of the Pope, the accompanying photo was taken at the end of the Easter Vigil last night by a friend of mine who is in Rome. I thought I would share it with you. Happy Easter all!



Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Nearly one hundred and fifty priests either living or serving in the diocese joined me at St. Catherine of Siena parish in Clearwater (the Cathedral is under renovation and will be re-dedicated on September 12, 2013) for the annual Chrism Mass during which the three oils used throughout the year for the sick and infirm, for catechumens, and for baptism, ordination, consecration, confirmation are blessed.

Blessing the Oil of the Sick. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Blessing the Oil of the Sick. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.


Blessing the Oil of Catechumens. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Blessing the Oil of Catechumens. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

The latter oil is called Sacred Chrism and has a very special place in the Church’s life.

Consecrating the Sacred Chrism. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Consecrating the Sacred Chrism. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Every parish in the diocese is represented annually and during the Mass the three oils used during the coming year are blessed by the bishop.

Parish representatives holding their parish's Oil of the Sick as it is blessed. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Parish representatives holding their parish’s Oil of the Sick as it is blessed. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.


Parish representatives holding their parish's Oil of Catechumens as it is blessed. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Parish representatives holding their parish’s Oil of Catechumens as it is blessed. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

But it is also the Mass at which our priests renew their priestly promises and their commitment to the ordained ministry which Christ has called them to.

Renewal of Priestly Promise. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Renewal of Priestly Promises. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

To see more photos from the Chrism Mass, please click here.

Giving the homily to a packed St. Catherine of Siena. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Giving the homily to a packed St. Catherine of Siena. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

As I have mentioned before, it is always something of a homiletic challenge for the bishop of a diocese since the readings are always the same and the congregation is mostly the same. I offer you here my thoughts during this amazing Lent and beginning springtime in the Church. To read the homily in a PDF version, please click here. To listen to audio recorded by Spirit FM 90.5, our Catholic radio ministry, during their live broadcast of the Mass, please click here.

Dear brothers in the priesthood and brothers and sisters all.

            It’s Springtime in Rome, both climatologically and ecclesiologically. The stunning events of this Lenten season will not soon be forgotten and the election of Pope Francis has captured both the imagination and attention of the world – not just the Catholic world.  Why, one might ask? What can we as ordained and baptized expect from our new Holy Father?

            In reply I would offer three words: continuity, compassion, and simplicity. Each noun for me has a deeper meaning and each noun might possibly have special import today at our annual Mass of recommitment. The readings for this Mass are very familiar. In his first return to his own synagogue in Nazareth where he had for three decades attended, worshipped, listened and believed, and even though he was sent by the Father as the deliverer of a New Covenant, Jesus emphasized continuity with the past by choosing well-known words from the prophet Isaiah and applying them then to himself. Though a new day had dawned in his preaching and missionary work since leaving his hometown, yet he soon returned and immediately established compatibility with the past and continuity with its ages long teaching of right conduct towards God and our fellow women and men. Greatest of the prophets, greatest of the priests and the great High Priest at that, and a king in the sense that his generation would find difficult to accept and understand, Jesus offered a New Covenant consistent with all Israel had been preparing for. Jesus offered an outline for his ministry consistent with his tradition yet expanding its scope and mission.

            In his very first recorded sermon in that synagogue, he chose a passage from the great prophet, which emphasized both the source of his strength for his mission and compassion for others. He had come to bring glad tidings to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed. There was no trace of human narcissism in this man as he placed the crosses of life of others before his own well being. He clothed himself in Isaiah’s words and then by his actions in his public ministry did everything and wrapped himself within the context of his two great loves: love of the Father who sent Him and love of his neighbor.  In three years, he not only restored physical sight to the blind man but spiritual sight to the woman at Jacob’s well, he challenged the rich young man who in the end could not leave all to follow him, and comforted countless others.  He told his twelve to travel light, accept what their hosts offered in terms of food and shelter, asking not for the first places or special treatment or deference. Knowing that there were many more people in his society who were caught under the unjust heel of economic oppression, he worked to give them their freedom. His only enemy was the status quo, not the Roman occupiers, not scribes and the Pharisees, but oppression, which cried out to heaven for vengeance. And his love was unconditional; it cared not for caste or class, male or female, pagan or believer, rich or poor. Every man or woman on the face of God’s earth on Friday if they choose to do so can gaze at that figure on the cross and see in his outstretched arms, I did this for you.

            And then there was his simplicity. The author of the words from the Book of Revelation, which was our second reading understood the need for simplicity as he writes, Jesus Christ is the faithful witness. . .the ruler of kings of the earth…who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father….and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him….all the peoples of the earth will lament him. The words are simple enough; the example is very hard to live out. I see in this passage not a Lord who comes in judgment and says, “I told you so” but one who comes and simply says, “I begged you so.” I did not pull rank, I did not strike you dead or deaf in your disobedience, rather I left the door of reconciliation open until we both breathed our last on earth. Take up your cross, understand that every day you will not always smell the roses, love the Father and I, care for your neighbors, eat my flesh, drink my blood.

            He chose Peter to lead his Church after his death. Not the smartest, not at all educated, impetuous and given to constantly sticking his foot in his proverbial mouth, a denier, a fair-weather friend on occasion, and on occasion also a coward. But due to his dedication to continuity with his Master’s teaching and example, he and now two hundred and sixty-five chosen who have followed have kept the bark of the Church afloat, as beloved Pope Benedict said in his final discourse, sometimes on smooth seas with gentle winds and sometimes in the turbulence of the times.

            So what can we expect of today’s Peter? Francis will maintain the continuity of the Church’s teachings, certainly on doctrinal matters and on most if not all-disciplinary matters. But he has already demonstrated that he has, like us, lived, preached, ministered, administered in the real world of this hemisphere. He will, I suspect, be more practical and pragmatic and perhaps less dogmatic.                                    

We know his heart is full of compassion for the poor and I see the Church’s magnificent social teachings rising once again rightly to their preeminent place in our beloved Church’s life. The unfinished work of Gaudium et Spes will begin to bloom again in this new Spring time. Quite frankly, the actions of our Church often speak louder than its words and to the extent that the Church in the modern world shows compassion and understanding through actions, not words, towards women, towards the poor, towards immigrants and other powerless, toward those trying to cope with their sexual orientation, deal with a mistake made in their youth in choosing a spouse and watching the dream evaporate and the relationship no longer sustainable. Compassionate words accompanied with compassionate action will give witness once again to Christ’s presence in and power over his Church. Paraphasing the great St. Francis, and recalling Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta’s use of the same idea, act always and then use words only if you absolutely need to.

I ask each and every one of you my brothers as well as myself, have you, have we done enough in taking on the challenges of poverty and injustice in our small part of the vineyard? Our new Pope has taken on the political leaders of his country time and time again for justice for that nation’s poor, Yesterday came assurances that he would support the cause for canonization of Archbishop Oscar Romero. May  I ask you to think again about the ecumenical justice ministries of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, FAST and HOPE. If the cost of belonging is an obstacle for your parish belonging to either, then today I offer you the opportunity to deduct your membership fee in either from your APA goal and we at The Pastoral Center will make the sacrifices that will occasion. There is no easy, politically correct way to advocate for the poor but it did not stop our Lord and it has not stopped Jorge Bergolio, Pope Francis. There will be those who criticize and most of us are accustomed to that and accept it as the price of doing something good for the forgotten and neglected. Not to decide, however, is to decide to leave our brothers and sisters largely without a voice.

            Finally, Pope Francis leads us by his  simplicity. Every morning this week, he has invited to his morning Mass, the gardeners of the Vatican, the street-sweepers, and the chair placers/removers from the square, the switchboard operators. At the Eucharistic table of the Lord he has invited those who labor for him but never get a chance to meet him. It’s springtime in Vatican City as well as here. In renewing our commitment to priesthood this morning, join me in asking the Lord who gave his all for me, for us, to give us now or once again the gifts of accepting continuity, increasing our compassion for those we serve, and allowing us to set aside passions for status and standing for an exercise of a simpler priesthood so that with love, faith, and hope we might help Francis our Pope rebuild Christ’s Church. Can it not also be Springtime for the Church in Central West Florida? Let us pray so.



Thursday, March 21st, 2013
Father Hoge

Father Hoge. Photo courtesy St. Leo University.

Word has come to me through St. Leo University that God called Father James C. Hoge, O.S.B. to Himself last Saturday afternoon. Father Hoge was 96 years old and had been professed with the Benedictine community of St. Leo Abbey since 1938. Had he lived long enough to come to next Tuesday’s Chrism Mass I would have honored him on the occasion of his 70th anniversary of his priestly ordination. What makes Father Hoge so unique in our diocesan history was his service to this local Church in its northern counties (Pasco, Hernando and Citus). Instrumental in the establishment and founding of all six parishes in Citrus country, he became known and beloved by almost all Catholics living in our northernmost county. He also was instrumental in pushing for the establishment of Pope John Paul II elementary school which began its life as “Citrus County Catholic Elementary School.”

St. Benedict, in founding the religious community which bears his name, told his monks in their “way of life” that two things were absolutely essential: “ora et labora” or “Prayer and work.” Tireless in spreading the Gospel in the church, first as a teacher at St. Leo Prep School in Pasco County, and then for many years as a parish priest and pastor, this man was truly a builder. He was a model of Benedict’s view of the perfect monk, working hard and praying harder. It was painful for him when retirement finally came and he did not take to it well. Ever ready to help out in parishes on weekends, especially in those he founded and where he left such great friends, returning to the routine of monastery life was hard for him.

So many people were the beneficiaries of his priestly presence, diocesan priests, religious women, lay men and women, children. He was there for them all. To be cut off from his pastoral life-blood was very hard and he suffered physically and emotionally in his final years. I, too, dread the time when my medical-surrogate, a long time priest friend, comes and says to me , “Bob, I need the car keys.” I hope I will be more at peace in that moment than dear Father Hoge was for most of the time it is a moment of “tough love” of those who care for us in our old age. When he was a the “top of his game” the priesthood was very much in vogue for Father Hoge and he gave it his all, and wished to do so until his last breath.

In addition to being a great pastor of souls, Father Hoge was born in Charleston, West Virginia, as I was, and he loved railroads, as I do. He would bring me books about the railroads of west central Florida, where they went and what they carried. It was great fun for me when I first came to the diocese to learn the history of the “northern exposure” of the Church of St. Petersburg. What he did not share with me, Monsignor George Cummings did, and he would have been sitting right next to Father Jim next Tuesday at the Chrism Mass. See, Monsignor George will be ninety-five this year and will observe very quietly he has warned me, his seventieth anniversary of priestly ordination. These men were truly priestly pioneers, giants of their time, and devoted evangelizers of the Gospel. Father Jim, rest in peace, dear friend, with Benedict and his sister Scholastica, with your parents, the five abbots of St. Leo whom you knew and under whom you served and your many deceased Benedictine brothers. We send our prayers and sentiments of sympathy to the monks of St. Leo Abbey and the Sisters of Holy Name Monastery and members of your family on the occasion of this significant loss.

When Hoge was in vogue, the faith was alive and the love of Christ abounded.

NOTE ADDED 3/22: I will be celebrating a Memorial Mass for Father Hoge at 6:00PM on Wednesday, March 27, 2013, at St. Scholastica Parish in Lecanto. All are invited to attend.



Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

The opening prayer. My brother priests celebrating 25 and 40 years of priesthood are on the altar to my right, with half of my brother priests in attendance behind them (the other half in attendance were behind those celebrating their 50th and 60th years of priesthood to my left). Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

This morning was the annual Chrism Mass for the diocese at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle in St. Petersburg. It is one of my favorite moments in my service as bishop as all my brother priests gather together annually publicly to recommit themselves to their priestly ministry, and the oil of the catechumens, infirm and sacred chrism are blessed in the case of the first two and consecrated in the case of the third. The Cathedral is always packed as each parish sends representatives, at least one for each of the oils and priests and deacons are present in great number. I have always thought that our diocesan Office of Worship as well as the staff of the Cathedral really knock themselves out to provide a glorious liturgy which makes all present proud. A large choir gathered from the parishes of the diocese sing their hearts out as well. There is nothing like a full Cathedral, brother priests united with me in our privileged and blessed ministry, the singing of the “Gloria” sneaking back into Liturgy having largely been absent for these thirty-eight days of Lent to reassure all present that the Church remains vibrant and strong.

Blessing the Oil of the Sick. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

I mentioned above that the oils in use throughout the coming year are either blessed or consecrated during this annual Mass. The Oil of Catechumens is used at baptism as the first of the two sacred oils which are parts of this sacrament of initiation. The Oil of the Infirm is used only during the administration of the Sacrament of the Sick. Both of these oils come from a type of Olive Oil and they are blessed both in large urns and also in other containers brought today from the parishes and held up during the part of the ceremony which comprises the blessing (following the promise of recommitment of the priests and the homily.) Olive oil was both precious but plentiful at the time of our Lord and when mention was made yesterday in the Gospel for Monday of Holy Week of Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus breaking out a precious alabaster jar and anointing the feet of Jesus, one senses its intrinsic value in Jewish life two thousand years ago. Sacred Chrism is the same olive oil to which is added a perfume, making it even richer. Used in ancient times to anoint kings, chrism has a special place in the life of our Church today. It is an integral part of the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and ordination to the priesthood and to the episcopacy (in the former the ordaining bishop anoints the palms of the hands of the one just ordained as a priest and in the latter, the ordaining bishop pours the oil over the head of the man being ordained as a bishop). There is only one other moment in Church life when the oil of Sacred Chrism is used for something other than the administration of the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and holy orders and that  is when an altar is consecrated in a new Church or a remodeled Church and in the case of the former, it is also used on the walls of a totally new Church. The Cathedral asks for a small stipend of each parish to cover the cost of the oils/perfume and that has remained the same ever since I arrived (making me perhaps the only oil producing leader who has not raised oil prices in sixteen years).

Breathing into the urns holding the oil. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Finally, at one point during the consecration of the Sacred Chrism, the bishop breathes into the urns holding the oil. Approaching seventy one years of age, I notice that the length of time I am able to breathe is becoming less and less with each passing year. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the Chrism Mass (and it still is in Rome at St. Peter’s Basilica) was celebrated on Holy Thursday morning and the priests had to rush out immediately for their parishes to prepare for the celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper later that night. After the Council it began to be moved from that date to another day either in Holy Week or the week just prior because of distances to be travelled. Think of this for a moment. The Diocese of St. Petersburg and its five counties (Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus) is only 4,500 square miles roughly. My friend Bishop Paul Etienne who  is the bishop of Cheyenne, Wyoming has the whole state or 100,000 square miles. Some parishes drive six hours to attend the Chrism Mass there. I am so lucky in so many ways, including and especially the priests and deacons who share the mantle of pastoral ministry and leadership with me. If you are in search of cheap oil but rich in symbol, cast a glance at the ambery in your parish where the oils are displayed and thank the Lord for this great sign of blessing and consecration.

Finally, click here if you wish to read my homily at today’s Mass of the Chrism. You can click here to watch the video of it. To see more photos taken during the Chrism Mass, click here. More Thursday on the first night of the Triduum.


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!



Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Here are some pictures from today’s Chrism Mass at St. Jude Cathedral. My homily can be read by clicking here.

Update: You can listen to my homily on our diocesan podcast.

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