Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

IT CAME UPON A MIDNIGHT CLEAR

Wednesday, December 25th, 2013

On Christmas eve I celebrated three Masses for Christmas around the diocese as has been my custom almost every year since coming in 1996. I try for the first Vigil Mass for Christmas to go north in the diocese since they often feel left out on many things.This year I was the celebrant and homilist for the 400pm Vigil Mass at St. Benedict Catholic Church in Citrus county. At almost every parish in the diocese, the first Mass on Christmas eve targets children and families and this was no exception. The parish is largely a retirement community so there are not an awful lot of children to begin with but add to their number the grandchildren and nieces and nephews who travel at Christmas and we had about forty kids between the age of 3 and 7. I invite them to come forward to the altar after the Gospel proclamation and there I tell them my favorite Christmas story. Here are some of the pictures from the Mass yesterday afternoon.

Mostly all ears!

Mostly all ears!

 

Land the plane, Bishop. one of the kids was thinking

Land the plane, Bishop. one of the kids was thinking

 

With special thanks to Father Ryszard Stradomski. gracious host and splendid pastor of St. Benedict parish

With special thanks to Father Ryszard Stradomski. gracious host and splendid pastor of St. Benedict parish

With  barely two hours to spare, seminarian Joseph Plesco who was driving for me last night as well as assisting in the ceremonies and I left for ninety mile trip to Nativity parish, Brandon. I wanted to go there because Christmas is, after all, the feast of the Nativity for birth of our Lord and they had a scheduled Spanish Mass for 730pm, giving me time to celebrate the Mass and be back in St. Petersburg with time to spare prior to the Midnight Mass at the Cathedral of St. Jude.  So off we went to Brandon.

Nativity is our largest parish in the diocese and from its inception under the pastoral guidance of Monsignor Jaime Lara, retired and still very much a force major, Nativity has always been a happy home for and mixture of the Hispanic as well as Anglo cultures. It produces the greatest number of vocations for the diocese and is known for its excellent liturgies. Last night was no exception, except maybe for the principal celebrant whose Spanish sometimes cries out to heaven for vengeance.

About 800 people came for Mass in the Main Church while another 800 attended Mass in English in the parish hall. With full choir and my discovering my voice once again, we sang the newborn Christ Child into life.  The liturgy was reverential yet lively, congregation fully participating and the celebrant singing away in Spanish. Sometimes I do find I make less mistakes singing the Mass parts in Spanish than in simply reciting them because I go much slower when musically inclined.

Here are some pictures from the liturgy in Spanish a Nativity. A last minute decision was made to have Father Nelson Restrepo preach the homily whiles yours truly at the end invited the children between 3 and 7 years old to come forward for a second retelling of my favorite Christmas story. Once again the kids “got into it” and their parents also full participated.

IMG_9351

By the time Midnight Mass had begun at the Cathedral I had failed to hand my camera over to anyone to take pictures of that beautiful setting. But if you wish to see the whole Mass, you are in luck. Simply log on to www.dosp.org and click on “Click here to watch Christmas Midnight Mass at the Cathedral.” You and those lucky people will not and did not hear my favorite children’s Christmas story.

I write these thoughts with two hours remaining in Christmas of 2013. I am exhausted and going to bed but there will be least two more posts before we call 2013 a wrap. Merry Christmas all.

Bishop Robert N. Lynch aka +RNL

FAITH IN PRISONS

Sunday, January 29th, 2012

Friends of the Women's Faith-based Correctional Institute in Riverview protesting the closing of this highly successful experiment. Photo from Google Images and WTSP, Tampa Bay

For a number of years, if you wanted to find me on Christmas morning you just needed to come to the Women’s Correctional Facility (aka “prison”) in Riverview (Sun City Center) in southern Hillsborough County. I found the true meaning of modern Christmas there with about fifty inmates who would come to Mass on Christmas morning and a cadre of incredibly dedicated women and men, mostly from Prince of Peace parish in Sun City Center. There was more “joy to the world” to be found in that facility on Christmas day than I or anyone else ever had a right to expect. I was unable to make it this year which I now regret more than ever as Governor Rick Scott’s administration has decided to close the facility for lack of funds. What made this prison so different?

During the administration of Governor Jeb Bush, it was decided that the state would experiment with “faith based” prison facilities. Its population would consist of men and women (separate facilities around the state) who petitioned to be sent to an incarceration facility during the time  of serving their sentence where they could do a number of things to prepare better for the time when they would be released or paroled. In the case of the Hillsborough facility, the women applied, were recommended by their present prison staff, and allowed to transfer to not exactly a minimum security facility, but one which would allow them more freedom inside and give them an opportunity to deepen their faith and their skills. I think it worked beautifully and so would many of those volunteers in prison ministry who went there every week to meet, pray with, and support the prisoners. How I will long remember the great Gospel choir that would spend time every December preparing to sing Christmas carols at the Catholic Mass. Several of the inmates were confirmed by me while present and others entered the Church. It was all good from my perspective and for the state spending money on a type of prison where select inmates could prepare more easily for the day of their release. Governor Bush’s idea worked in Riverview by almost everyone’s judgment.

Now it is to close and the women returned to the more challenging environments from which some of them already had come. While not privy to the details of daily life and working, I am under the impression that there were far less inmate problems there than in the other state facilities. And to add insult to injury, in my judgment, some local politicians see the possibility of an empty prison as an answer to Hillsborough county’s woeful neglect of the homeless. If I had a wish, it would be that this facility not close but should it that a prison is the worst place to house the homeless, especially one which can only be reached by transportation in a police car or van.

Why do great ideas seem to fall as first victims to the budget axe? Heartfelt thanks to the volunteers from Sun City Center who befriended these women behind bars, led them back to faith, and lightened their lives not just on Christmas but throughout the year. Our state is making a bad mistake closing these facilities and it is a tragic and almost heartless consequence of these times in which we are living.

To the women of the Riverview Correctional Facility, thanks for the wonderful memories and the most precious Christmas gift I have received over the years, spending that morning with you praising God and searching for peace on earth and good will among all women and men.

+RNL

A GREAT WAY TO FINISH 2011

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

Worshipping together - seminarians and family on the Feast of the Holy Family. Photo kindness of Walter C. Pruchnik, III

Last night at the Bethany Center I attended, perhaps even hosted, the annual Christmas dinner for our thirty-four seminarians and their families. If most bishops were to tell the truth, attending banquets and dinners while a part of our job description are not those things which we most like to do. We do them because it is expected and more often than not our presence lends some importance to the event which can be anything from an annual affair of a diocesan organization to a major fundraiser for something important in diocesan life. For myself, the annual Christmas gathering of the seminarians and their families has always been something I both look forward to and enjoy. Usually it occurs just prior to Christmas when the sems have just arrived back from their semester of studies but this year we had to delay it because the major seminary calendar went right up to three days prior to Christmas – thus last night. Everyone was there except for our first year theology student, Ryan Boyle, who is attending the North American College in Rome. However, Ryan’s parents were present.

Deacons Victor Amorose and Timothy Corcoran will be ordained priests in mid-May. Photo by Walter C.Pruchnik III

The dinner is preceded by Mass and occasionally there is a ministry or candidacy to be conferred but last night gave me a rare opportunity to reflect on five of the major figures of our faith who get lost in the days between Christmas and New Years: St. Stephen the first martyr for the faith, John the Apostle, the Holy Innocents, St. Thomas Becket, and because Sunday is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of the Church, last night the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph was transferred to Friday this year. Each of these major figures gives to the community of Christ a gift: for Stephen it was courageous proclamation of Christ, for John the Apostle, it was loyalty to the charge given to him by Christ on the cross, for the Holy Innocents it was their unknowing sparing of the life of Jesus, for Becket it was the supremacy of conscience, and for the Holy Family it was bearing the sword of life’s unpredictables with faith and hope.

A good dinner followed the Mass and we adjourned for another year in about three hours. As the photos which accompany this entry show, Bethany is an absolutely beautiful place to gather all together and starting next Tuesday, thirty cardinals, archbishops and bishops of the east coast from Delaware to Miami will gather for their annual retreat, their second here with us. I shall be on that retreat myself.

Almost all of the seminarians were accompanied by their pastors or association pastors. Photo kindness of Walter Pruchnik III

Pray for our seminarians. If you knew them as I know them, you would be very proud of their sacrifice in today’s secular culture, their commitment to pursuing ministry in today’s Church and world, and their hopes for the future of us all. Their hope and enthusiasm is infectious and every once in a while, even a bishop needs to catch the “fever” which today’s candidates for priestly ministry have.

+RNL

 

 

 

THERE IS ROOM AT THIS INN

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

“She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” [LK2:6]

At this "Inn" the Holy Family occupies the same kind of tent as those residing at Pinellas Hope.

 Two years ago this very night, literally wrapped not in swaddling clothes but rather three blankets covering those pitiful, ill fitting and impossible to wear with dignity hospital gowns, I was rolled in a wheel chair to St. Anthony Hospital Chapel for a Christmas Eve vigil Mass. I will readily admit to being an emotional wreck that night as my endocrinologist had visited my room within the hour before Mass to tell me that there was strong evidence that my kidneys may be failing, dialysis at least temporary, was a strong possibility and the reality of going home in two days as planned could be discarded. I was lonely, depressed, and fearful for the future, and weeks since offering or attending Mass. I was essentially spiritually homeless. At some point in the journey from hospital room and bed to the chapel, I had a moment to look out that evening on what was an unusually cold night here, and saw about ten homeless people along St. Petersburg’s Fifth Avenue, making their way slowly to their overnight accommodations outside and underneath the expressway adjacent to St. Vincent de Paul and across from the hospital. I thought to myself, “Lynch, you have little to complain about or to fear. You at least are being taken care of. Someone is watching over you.”

Before Christmas Eve dinner about 150 residents gathered for Carols, a reading from Luke's Infancy Narrative and some prayer and reflection which I felt privileged to lead.

Earlier this evening, I led an interfaith Christmas prayer service at Pinellas Hope. It was entirely optional for the 396 residents living there tonight, in tents and tiny wooden casitas and it preceded the annual Christmas eve dinner, which for five years have been the gift of one of my colleagues and his family. Two homeless people brought a small plastic replica of the baby Jesus seemingly out from nowhere and placed him into a manger scene consisting of, you guessed it, the same kind of tent they live in 24/7 at Pinellas Hope for however long they reside there. Those in attendance were proud that their baby Jesus had a place to stay, which they had erected and prepared. We fed 176 on this Christmas Eve and as two years ago, it is from the homeless I have learned a sense of gratitude and a deeper meaning of Christmas.

Homelessness is a central part of the Christmas story. The long awaited Messiah and King of Israel was born essentially homeless but still loved, longed for, and embraced. It is so often when we are encumbered by the stress especially of this season, that we lose as I did two years ago the sense that it is precisely in adversity that God works His best wonders. Someone historically anonymous made room for Mary and Joseph that night, gave them a place where a child could be born, and to which visitors, unlikely visitors at that, could come and pay their respect and their reverence.

Mrs. Kurci and Ed, the gardener who lovingly cares for "The Garden of Hope" where fresh vegetables are being grown for use in feeding the homeless housed there.

Those visitors, the shepherds were also homeless. Nomadic by nature and vocation, they had no way of knowing for sure where they might be the following year or what challenges might await them. Yet, they saw a star and heard the voices of ones sent by God and for a time left behind every worldly possession they owned to share this seismic moment in human history when God took on our human form and dwelt amongst us.

And while the Christmas story is so charming it is also challenging. Homelessness for Mary, Joseph and Jesus did not end when the new mother and her child were capable of travelling safely and securely back to their home in Nazareth, but rather because of jealousy they would soon flee and become illegal immigrants making their way to alien Egypt, living essentially homeless until it was safe to return home and begin again their life as a family.

The Kurci Family baked 30 sweet potato pies from sweet potatoes grown and harvested from the "Garden of Hope" inside of Pinellas Hope.

We come to Church tonight to sing ancient hymns of joy and happiness reminding us of that “holy night”, to hear again the story of the dear Savior’s birth. Tonight Christ is not born again in human history but Christ can be reborn in each of us. However, we cannot and must not leave him homeless but rather make a home for him within ourselves. The Christmas story can match every longing, fear and anxiety we have tonight and as in the game of poker, “raise it” as well. But the love of God, the trust and faith in God and the hope in God which marked the central figures of that first Christmas assures us that we need not be homeless but have found Him for whom generations longed to see, to experience, to know.

Every year for five years on Christmas Eve, the Murphy family and their neighbors have purchased and served the Christmas Eve dinner at Pinellas Hope. Here are just a few of them before the "rush" begins.

Spiritual and religious homelessness also means that all of us need to recommit to meeting Christ regularly in the sacraments of the Church. It is time for Catholics to Come Home. Sadly but realistically, we know that the second largest Christian body in the United States, behind practicing members of the Catholic faith, is to be found in Catholics who have left us or fallen away from their faith. Perhaps you have seen in recent days the invitations conveyed on television asking those who have been hurt, felt alienated, perhaps embarrassed by the patent sinfulness not of the Church but of some of its leaders and members, to return. We promise a better reception should you return than whatever the circumstances were which caused you to leave. Just as we want and work to alleviate the pain of homelessness in our society, county, city, and neighborhood, we want to alleviate also the pain of spiritual homelessness. Our priests, our deacons, our religious and our lay leaders have all been working to provide a genuine welcome. My two homeless friends at Pinellas Hope could only bring to the manger tent an image of Jesus. We want those who are spiritually homeless to receive the real thing, Jesus, body and blood in the Eucharist and other sacraments of the Church.

There is room within the “Inn of Christ’s Church” and we promise to do everything we can to make you feel at home again.

I cried two years ago at that Mass I described at the beginning, not knowing if I would ever see another Christmas. I now truly believe that God heard the prayers of many and of myself that night, for I was released the day after Christmas as planned and now wish to devote my remaining energy to spreading the truly good news of Christmas and Easter: Christ was born, Christ has died, Christ has Risen, and while Christ will come again, He is among us tonight and every day, just for the asking. In the name of the Word made flesh, I beg you to come home not just for Christmas but for the rest of your life.

Wishing all God’s people, Catholic and non-Catholic, the greatest of blessings this Christmas day and peace to all people of good will. Merry Christmas.

Bishop Robert N. Lynch

CHRISTMAS SEASON ENDS – FINALLY

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

The Christmas season which began in 2010 and ends today with the Baptism of the Lord will forever hold many memories for me but I thought you might enjoy some of them in pictures of the last sixteen days:

The newly renovated Holy Family Church on Christmas Eve, 2010

The new transitional apartments for the homeless at Pinellas Hope who have jobs and are transitioning to independent living

The Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus at the Cathedral of St. Jude present me with a picture just prior to Midnight Mass of the reception of the relic of St. John Bosco last September

Pausing for private prayer at the Cathedral creche prior to Midnight Mass

Midnight Mass over at 1:15am and I am off to bed and the Women's Prison on Christmas morning. Cameras are not allowed there. Cathedral pictures were taken by Brendan J. Stack.

THE WEEK THAT WASN’T

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

Today also belongs to the Mother of the Redeemer as the Church pauses between Christmas and the Epiphany of the Lord to remind us of the significance of Mary in the story of our salvation. We celebrate her solemnity which is interesting because the only thing one can reasonably glean from the scriptural references these past few weeks is her “humility.” The joy of successful childbirth preceded by weeks of uncertainty, physical dislocation and discomfort, and giving birth without the known assistance of a mid-wife or what she might have had available to her in Nazareth quickly gives way to more uncertainty, physical dislocation, discomfort, and outright fear as she, Jesus and Joseph flee Herod’s jealousy. This is not a story that would play well on ET or make the cover and front pages of PEOPLE magazine. The solemnity is to be found in her incredible faith and trust in the Lord, in her religious belief and practice, and in her trust. How I long to comfortably possess in my own life those foundational elements of a person of true faith. Remember at Christmas I spoke of the “risks” one must take to come to Jesus? Tomorrow three more “risk-takers” show up on the scene, the Magi or “Wise Men.” They come to see Jesus bearing gifts, a message, and an uncertainty that quickly turns to an investment in faith when in the presence of the Lord, his mother and his foster-father. What happened in the week or days between Christmas and their arrival on the scene is silent and somewhat lost in Scripture, like the last seven days were for most of us, unless like Mary we took time to contemplate the place of Christ in our lives.

Christmas 2010 is mostly a blur to me already. I was planning to make a quick trip to see a friend who is an Archbishop and papal diplomat serving in another country but the great blizzard of Christmas in the Northeast left me sitting on the tarmac of my house wondering what to do, so I changed directions, literally and figuratively and went west to spend some days with a family in St. Louis with whom I have been very blessed with friendship for almost forty years now. Among the opportunities afforded me this past week was one to go and see what I consider one of the most extraordinary and compelling movies I have seen in some time. Titled The King’s Speech and now showing in this area at only three theaters (including the Tampa Theatre), this movie is definitely worth the look and if it does not win the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Actor for Colin Firth and best supporting actor for Derek Jacoby, then it will be a travesty. Rated as an “R” film, there is absolutely no sex in the flick at all. There is, however, the repeated use in several momentary segments of a four-letter word which is always inappropriate in daily speech. The story is about King George VI of England, Queen Elizabeth’s father, who was second in line of succession to the throne but succeeded when his older brother who most of us remember not as King Edward but the Duke of Windsor abdicated to marry an American woman and divorcee, Wallace Simpson. George VI was born with a stutter and stammer and wanted no part of being King until thrust into it by the decision of his brother David (aka, King Edward). His wife seeks out a speech therapist and therein lies the story. Want to feel good in the early moments of 2011, go see this one.

My Christmas Day was full as expected and also as expected the day’s climactic moment of Mass at the Hillsborough Correctional Institution for Women was the highlight. My how they sang and prayed. I confirmed two of the inmates during the ceremony who had been prepared for the sacrament by the wonderful women and men who work there as volunteers, mostly from Prince of Peace parish in Sun City Center and Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission in Waimauma. My deep sleep Christmas night was interrupted by a phone call at 4 a.m. informing me of the flight cancellations. I went back to sleep dreaming not of sugar plum fairies but of the faces of those who had come in the previous twenty-four hours to see Jesus.

Yesterday, I joined about  dozen of our priests and offered the Funeral Mass for Clarice Larkin, the sister of our beloved former bishop, W. Thomas Larkin. With her passing, a chapter in the emerging history of the Diocese of St. Petersburg comes to a close. May she rest in the peace which she found difficult to find in this life and take her place alongside her beloved brother and parents in everlasting life.

Happy New Year, all

+RNL

IT BECAME A TAD CLEARER AT MIDNIGHT

Saturday, December 25th, 2010

As promised, I offer my thoughts this Christmas as well as those of Pope Benedict XVI which I think to be one of the shortest, clearest and most readily embraceable summary of the importance of this day I have either read or heard in a long time.

CHRISTMAS 2010 – Midnight Mass at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle – Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop of St. Petersburg

Earlier this week, Pope Benedict XVI taped a message to the people of the United Kingdom, which was broadcast today on the BBC. I can’t remember a time in my soon to-be fifteen years as a bishop ever quoting either Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict at length in a homily I have delivered, but I am so taken by the Holy Father’s summary of the Christmas event, that I wish to begin with his own words and then will add a few more of my own.

Our thoughts turn back to a moment in history when God’s chosen people, the children of Israel, were living in intense expectation.

They were waiting for the Messiah that God had promised to send and they pictured him as a great leader who would rescue them from foreign domination and restore their freedom.

God is always faithful to his promises, but he often surprises us in the way he fulfills them.

The child that was born in Bethlehem did indeed bring liberation, not only for the people of that time and place – he was to be the Savior of all people throughout the world and throughout history.

And it was not a political liberation that he brought, achieved through military means; rather, Christ destroyed death forever and restored life by means of his shameful death on the Cross.

And while he was born in poverty and obscurity, far from the centres of earthly power, he was none other than the Son of God.

Out of love for us, he took upon himself the human condition, our fragility, our vulnerability and he opened up for us the path that leads to the fullness of life to a share in the life of God himself.

As we ponder this great mystery in our hearts this Christmas, let us give thanks to God for his goodness to us and let us joyfully proclaim to those around us the good news that God offers us freedom from whatever weighs us down; he gives us hope, he brings us to life.

Those are the words of the Holy Father to the people of Great Britain. I believe they so beautifully encapsulate the awesome mystery of the great feast we tonight recall that in the fullness of time, these words alone might rank with the Christmas sermons of Pope Leo the Great whose thoughts on the birth of Jesus have set the bar so high for preachers throughout the ages.

I am always amazed at the unpredictability of the Christmas event. Who were the first to learn of it? The Sadducees, the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees, the Rabbis of Israel – those men of faith, importance and position in the Jewish religion. No way, “now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them. . . .” The first recipients of the news of Christ’s birth were not even believers but non-religious Bedouins. They were not on anyone’s “watch list” nor were they watching and waiting for a coming Messiah. They were, quite simply minding their own business. Go find this child, the angel said. To the most unlikely of that time and place the news was broken and they left everything they owned to do as the angel directed. They took a risk to see Jesus.

Others would soon take a risk to see Jesus. None of the others recorded in the Gospels were of the Jewish faith or tradition: the Magi or Wise Men, for example. And what drove them to come and see: In Him we see the God made visible and so are caught up in the love of God we cannot see.” [Preface of Christmas I]. They came to see God in the person of a totally innocent newborn child and to place all their hope and all their trust in Him.

On this Christmas night, 2010, there is admittedly a lot of darkness: economic uncertainty, homes “underwater” or repossessed, high levels of unemployment, fear of a destructive strike by enemies of our nation and way of life, challenging access to good health care. But we pause tonight, because there is a ray of light, a ray of hope, a light penetrating the darkness seen first by those who were not believers and then seen and embraced by those who had been watching and waiting. In the Christ child God indeed offers us freedom, God indeed gives us hope, God indeed brings us to life. The innocent child matures to become the face of God to the weary, downtrodden, ill, blind, lame, uncertain and too certain. And our task is to be the face of Christ to those in our time and our place who need God, who need hope, who need the promise of life. Only then can we truly mean what we just sang: Glory to God in the Highest, and peace to His people on earth.

Merry Christmas, dear friends, and peace to you all.

+RNL

TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

Christmas eve is now less than twenty four hours away and I have just finished the first draft of my homily for Christmas. Tomorrow my public day begins at 1230pm with the official Blessing and Opening of PINELLAS HOPE II, eighty new very low cost ($300 per month) transitional apartments for homeless who have found jobs but do not yet have the money for their own totally independent living arrangement. Built with money from a grant from the State of Florida and furnished mostly by the great people of Anona Methodist Church through donations of furniture, cookware, glass and table ware, sheets and towels, etc., the amazing one room efficiency apartments are just steps from the former resident’s tents on the property of PINELLAS HOPE. The certificate of occupancy has been given and the first several people who qualified are ready to move in. What a great day to open a new form of shelter ministry – on the day before the Holy Family was told thousands of years ago, “I’m sorry, Joseph, there is no room at the Inn.”

In a few hours, at four precisely, I will offer my first Mass of Christmas at St. Rita parish in Dade City. Usually and today likely also to be a Mass for Children and Families, the first Mass on Christmas Eve has become the most attended Mass of Christmas in almost all of our parishes. This is a big change since my childhood when Midnight was the earliest one could offer and/or attend Mass on Christmas Day. Now there is a tendency in many places, including St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, to move even the Mass at Midnight to earlier, 10:00 pm. After the Mass it is a quick drive back to Pinellas Hope to serve dinner with the Frank Murphy family to all the residents. This year after a two year absence (more about that in a moment), I will be back at St. Jude’s Cathedral for Midnight Mass which means home and in bed around two o’clock in the morning, depending on how long I preach.

Christmas morning finds me continuing a practice I began when I first came of offering Christmas Mass in one of the jails or prisons located in the five counties of the diocese. Saturday morning will find me offering Christmas Mass, hearing confessions, and also confirming one inmate, at the Hillsborough Correctional Women’s Prison which carries a Riverview address but is closer to Sun City. It is a privilege to offer Mass for these women and to join them in prayer for their children and families who will be unable to be present to them on this special day.

The only thing different about this year from my past practice is that I used to faithfully offer a third Mass on Christmas eve, starting in Citrus County with the first, and then coming down to Hernando or Pasco or Hillsborough for the second around 800pm and often in Spanish before winding up at the Cathedral a little before midnight. When he was working outside of the diocese, I was accompanied and driven on these rounds by Father David Toups but he now has his own parish so I am alone again – thus one less Mass. Next year I will return to Citrus County. It is my love and privilege to serve five counties and I have always thought that on Christmas the bishop should imitate Santa and be everywhere (well, permit me a slight hyperbole).

My final thought is that last year on Christmas eve I was in St. Anthony Hospital. I attended Christmas eve Mass literally wrapped in swaddling clothes (blankets) and while not lying in a manger, I was in a wheelchair at the back of the chapel. Just before Mass my nephrologist had visited my room and said that my kidneys were of great concern and that dialysis was looking more likely. He ordered two tests for right after Mass, neither of which was pleasant. I cried throughout Mass, missing being among my people, angry that I was not getting better, afraid of the immediate future, scared that I would have one of my uncontrollable bowel movements right in the chapel, feeling very alone though surrounded by loving people. By the end of Mass, a certain peace had settled in, resignation had taken the place of resentment, and when being wheeled by the front entrance of the hospital on the way to the elevators, I could see the homeless gathering against the cold night air, ready to bed down near St. Vincent de Paul’s Sampson Center and an inner voice said, “stop complaining”. The tests were negative and I was discharged the day after Christmas. Dear people of God, there is always hope; we abandon it, it never abandons us. Even a bishop can be humbled and learn a lesson from time to time.

Still to come, my Christmas homily posted tomorrow on Christmas Day and some reflections on what it takes today to be a “holy family” on Sunday. Enjoy these final hours of the run-up to the annual memory of when the Word Became Flesh and dwelt amongst us.

+RNL

TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

twas the night before Chistmas and all through the Hospital

not a creature was stirring, not even the new battery power-gerbil…..

Not a stocking was hung from any ceiling with or without care,

and no one expected St. Nicholas to be here.”

Well that is more than enough of a teaser but, yes, I am still in the hospital and will remain so probably till Saturday. As the world prepares to celebrate the birth of the Messiah, I have had some time today and last night to think about my own celebration of this singular moment in Christian humankind’s history. I can look our the window of my hospital room and look down on today equivalents of urban shepherds or “bedouins.” They are the homeless sleeping tonight and almost every night under the interstate outside of St. Vincent de Paul headquarters and across from the hospital here in St. Pete. It seems to me that they are more alike the people to whom the angels appeared in the Gospel tonight than I. I have it so much better – heat, warm water, food, loving care and concern, blankets that protect me from the unusual chill of these last few nights. It seems to me that the Lord is using me this Christmas to reflect on how lucky I really am, not how unfortunate to be in the hospital this Christmas eve and day.

Usually on Christmas eve I celebrate three Vigil Masses for Christmas – somewhere in Citrus or Hernando County for the early Mass for Children, a Mass in Spanish somewhere in Pasco County or Hillsborough around 830pm and Midnight Mass at the Cathedral of St. Jude followed by Christmas day mass in the morning at a local prison, jail or detention center. Tonight, like most of the rest of you, I will simply attend Mass celebrated by someone else. The hospital has a Mass at 730pm tonight, Christmas eve, which I hope to simply attend, in my wheel chair with the others here who are well enough to come down for Mass. I am a lucky man, Christmas, Eucharist, celebrating Christ’s birth in a far more simple and much more appropriate way perhaps than in the past. God is truly good.

So while I might have felt a little sorry for myself when it was decided (largely by myself) to remain through Christmas, I have been graced with new insights about how God today, December 24th and 25th, 2009 interacts with humanity and how lucky we are to be children of the Lord who cared enough on a cold winter’s night to send him Son to earth as a harbinger and bringer of peace. Tonight I find Mary and Joseph in the lives and love of my doctors, my incredibly patient nurses and hospital caregivers, and family and friends who tonight pray for me. I am blessed beyond belief. I have had neither the time nor the energy this year to buys gifts, sign and send cards. Maybe, just maybe in this simplicity I am coming closer and closer to the true spirit of Christmas – sharing hope in the Lord, trust in His ways, preaching his Gospel of compassion and acceptance of suffering and bringing confidence to others. Who knows? Merry Christmas to all and to all a GOOD NIGHT.

Bishop Robert N. Lynch

Christmas 2009



A FAREWELL HOMILY PRIOR TO TODAY’S SURGERY

Thursday, December 10th, 2009
Laying Hands on Bishop Etienne as part of the Rite of Ordination.  Photo courtesy of John Christian.

Laying Hands on Bishop Etienne as part of the Rite of Ordination. Photo courtesy of John Christian.

Yesterday, December 9th, I flew out and back to Cheyenne, Wyoming for the ordination of my friend and former colleague, Bishop Paul Etienne, as a bishop. It would never have been possible for me to do that were it not for a generous friend who made his private plane available for the round trip in one day.  I attach here my Homily for the Occasion which I hope you will enjoy as the people of the Church of Wyoming seemed to appreciate it.

Preaching the Homily at Bishop Paul Etienne's Ordination.  Photo courtesy of John Christian.

Preaching the Homily at Bishop Paul Etienne's Ordination. Photo courtesy of John Christian.

No more blogs from me till I am well enough  to resume, probably in about one week. Let us pray for one another and seek God’s help as we prepare to celebrate again the birth of the Messiah.

+RNL