Posts Tagged ‘Father Michael Morris’

THE OLD MAN AND THE SEMS

Friday, October 28th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  I told the men that this was a largely unspoken and unpublished concept that had silently and secretly emerged in the late eighties and nineties, emanating from some US bishops serving in Rome.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+RNL

BEYOND THE WILD BLUE YONDER

Monday, October 24th, 2016
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Father Michael Morris

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

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

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

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

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

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

+RNL