Posts Tagged ‘Lent’

MERCY, MERCY, MERCY

Friday, February 26th, 2016

Regular readers of this blog know of my love for Pope Francis. So it is with unaccustomed temerity and alacrity that I have chosen in this diocese to highlight mercy in a different manner than Pope Francis has asked. Many of you know that he has asked that every Cathedral Church in the world be open this Saturday for twenty-four hours of confessional opportunity and we shall not be offering that at St. Jude’s as recommended. I hope what we will be doing will be found pleasing to him, to yourselves, and more realistic for our time and local setting.

You see, if we were to have at least one priest hearing around the clock at St. Jude’s, he would not be very busy – for a variety of reasons. Also, I would want to provide security for those who would come during the nighttime hours and that would mean hiring off-duty police, etc.

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God is pure mercy.

What we are doing beginning next Monday is offering eleven opportunities throughout the five counties for our people to experience the tenderness, compassion and mercy of our God.

Communal penance services will be held in each of the locations, which I will list below and will be presided over and preached by myself. In each of our deaneries, priests have been enlisted to hear confessions and absolve from sins. Many of them will help out at more than their own deanery.

To assist in hearing the sins and granting pardon and absolution, these penance services will utilize what is referred to as the “Second Rite of Reconciliation.” This is how it will work. The opening prayers, scripture reading, homily and examination of conscience will take about twenty-five minutes. There will also be a recited Act of Contrition after which those wishing to confess their sins will do so to individual priests who will be stationed everywhere. Let me emphasize several important things:

  1. Penitents should confess only mortal sins or those failings they truly believe to be serious.
  2. This is not a moment or a good occasion to seek counseling. If it is needed or thought to be needed by the priest, a recommendation will be made to return at a later time for a conversation with the/a priest.
  3. The priest will assign a penance to be said prior to leaving the Church but will not ask the penitent to say that Act of Contrition again.
  4. The priest will pronounce the words of absolution and the penitent will be sent forth assured that his/her sins are truly forgiven.

We used this form in 2000 during Lent of the Great Holy Year and several thousand people came to the sacrament or came back to the sacrament.

These diocesan-wide Penance Services should not be confused with the Third Rite of Reconciliation, which is called “general absolution.” In our form, every person approaches a priest, confesses their sins, and receives both absolution and a penance. My memory of the 2000 experience was that due to the number of priests hearing confessions each evening, we were able to reconcile and bring closure, peace and mercy to sometimes in excess of 1000 per night within about ninety minutes. At each service, if someone needs more time and attention, there will be one or two priests available to help.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation, aka confession, is one of Christ’s great gifts to us and it is within this context that we can most often and most appropriately extend the loving mercy of the Lord to many.

Try us – you will like us! Here is the schedule for the Diocese during the next few weeks of Lent- you can find parish addresses and directions on the diocesan website.

Mon, Feb. 29 St. Scholastica Lecanto 7:00 p.m.
Tues, Mar 1 St. Theresa Spring Hill 7:00 p.m.
Wed, Mar 2 St. Thomas Port Richey 7:00 p.m.
Thurs, Mar 3 St. Timothy Lutz 7:00 p.m.
Mon, Mar 7 St. Ann Ruskin 7:00 p.m.
Tues, Mar 8 Our Lady of the Rosary Land O’Lakes 7:00 p.m.
Wed, Mar 9 Incarnation Tampa 7:00 p.m.
Thurs, Mar 10 Cathedral of St .Jude St. Petersburg 7:00 p.m.
Mon, Mar 14 St. Jerome Largo 7:00 p.m.
Tues, Mar 15 Espiritu Santo Safety Harbor 7:00 p.m.
Wed, Mar 16 St. Rita (En Español) Dade City 7:00 p.m.

There will be other moments during this Holy Year of Mercy for other opportunities to experience God’s mercy. Like others, I am awaiting Pope Francis’ Post-Synodal Exhortation to perhaps shine some light on healing broken and re-marriages.

Come and join us during the next three weeks at the place most convenient to you to experience of your Church at its merciful best.

+RNL

CHRISM MASS 2015

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.

CHRISM MASS HOMILY 
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!”

+RNL

COMMITMENTS, COMMITMENTS

Monday, March 17th, 2014

I have not had an opportunity to return to this blog in too many weeks and yesterday my brother Tim asked if I was “all right?” since he had not read anything of my composition the last couple of weeks. It was a very busy time leading up to Ash Wednesday, made more complicated by the previously mentioned quick trip to London for the funeral of my friend, Canon Adrian Arrowsmith.

Quite unplanned during that soiree was that my presence coincided with the return to his archdiocese from the consistory which made him a Cardinal of my friend, Vincent Nichols. Off the plane, into the shower, and then to Westminster Cathedral for his Mass of Welcome. The new Cardinal is such a good preacher that though fighting it, I remained awake throughout his homily. The beautiful Cathedral was filled to the rafters for the occasion.

The funeral was in a parish Church in Ruislip, which is a London suburb near Heathrow airport where the Canon had served as pastor many years ago. The Church was quite full of friends and admirers of Monsignor Adrian, including the Academy Award winning English actress Maggie Smith (aka, “the Dowager Lady” on Downton Abbey) and Michael Crawford, the first Phantom in London and New York in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Phantom of the Opera.” With friends like that the aging bishop of St. Petersburg was hardly noticed. The funeral was over at 1215pm and I found myself at Heathrow Airport by 1245pm for a 205pm Delta flight to Atlanta and back to Tampa.

Up early the next day for Ash Wednesday. For a number of years I have been saying Ash Wednesday Mass next door to my office at St. Petersburg Catholic High School. I like saying Mass there as the students are quite respectful and well behaved, often joined by a good number of parents and this year the music provided by the assembled student choir was quite good.

Distributing ashes at Mass at St. Petersburg Catholic High School. Photo kindness of John Christian.

Distributing ashes at Mass at St. Petersburg Catholic High School. Photo kindness of John Christian.

I encouraged them to do more this year than simply give alms (money) to some cause for the poor but to personally deliver their Lenten sacrifice to some person, some face, somebody. I tried to build on the Holy Father’s challenge to go out of our individual comfort zones to share Christ with the poorest of the poor. Anyone can give money to a good cause, “do not sinners and tax collectors” do the same, but to see the face of God in another person who is not nearly as comfortable in life as perhaps we are is to be an authentic Christian during Lent and even beyond. I think I got through. I hope I got through. I trust that I believe it myself and will do the same.

My pastors reported astounding and outstanding crowds in Church to receive ashes this year. See some photos from Ash Wednesday around our diocese here.

The first Sunday of Lent brought the Rite of Election to the Cathedral and we had a record number in my eighteen years of catechumens and candidates (the former to be baptized, confirmed and first Eucharist and the latter to be received, first penance, confirmed and first Eucharist) to welcome into the Church at the Easter Vigil.

While I do not have the exact number of each at my disposal as I write this, memory seems to indicate that we had slightly over 1100 at the Cathedral for our two sessions. The place was packed with people standing at both services.

A "full house" at the 1:30PM prayer service. It was also a "full house" at the 4:00PM prayer service. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

A “full house” at the 1:30PM prayer service. It was also a “full house” at the 4:00PM prayer service. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Our wonderful Worship Office does a great job of preparing for this moment annually and those who come are amazed, first by the number of women, men and children, who like themselves are seeking entrance into the Church and then by the beauty of the Church’s Evening Prayer.

At the 1:30PM prayer service. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

At the 1:30PM prayer service. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

At the 1:30PM prayer service. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

At the 1:30PM prayer service. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

At the 4:00PM prayer service. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

At the 4:00PM prayer service. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

At the 4:00pm prayer service.

At the 4:00pm prayer service. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Among the firsts this year was that it was possible for those in wheelchairs to come to me in the sanctuary because of the newly renovated Cathedral and I had my first “selfie” request (see pictures below) (darn Pope!).

The selfie request. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

The selfie request. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

The selfie taken and shared  with me by Kathryn, a RCIA candidate from St. Lawrence Parish in Tampa.

The selfie, taken and shared with me by Kathryn, a RCIA candidate from St. Lawrence Parish in Tampa.

I always leave feeling that a mere handshake and brief greeting is not enough on my part for these courageous people but they leave swearing that they are not going to wash their hands for the rest of the day. God is good!

You can view photos from the 1:30PM Rite of Election Prayer Service and the 4:00PM Rite of Election Prayer Service by clicking on the included links.

Just before Lent began we had the annual Marriage Jubilee Mass with also an overflowing crowd. Close to 400 couples celebrating 25, 50, 60+ and even 70+ years of marriage joined me for Mass and a reception following at St. Jude’s Cathedral.

Talk about collective adrenalin, this Mass has it in super-abundance. Music this year was provided by the young women and men of Largo High School’s concert choir who, though many were not Catholic, rehearsed and led us in Catholic hymnody quite beautifully and this is a Mass at which there are no “strangers” to our liturgy so the singing and responses are always quite robust.

The special presentation of the longest married with to Ray and Marge Flack from New Port Richey who had been married for seventy-one years and behaved like two people just dating and falling in love in the front row of the Cathedral.

With Ray and Marge Flack. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

With Ray and Marge Flack. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

In an era when the very definition of marriage is being changed by society, it was quite comforting to spend time at prayer with couples who renewed their promises and commitments to one another during the year of a major anniversary celebration.

A couple renewing their marriage vows. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

A couple renewing their marriage vows. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

Another couple renewing their marriage vows. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Another couple renewing their marriage vows. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

It’s always a “kick” and thanks go to our Marriage and Family Life office and to the leadership of Marriage Encounter in the diocese, who annually direct, seat and assist those present. See more photos from the Marriage Jubilee Mass here.

Finally, while thinking of “commitment”, on the Friday prior to the Marriage Jubilee Mass I was at the White House in Washington. Let me begin by saying that none of the present four occupants of that real estate were anywhere to be seen.

Instead, in the First Lady’s reception room of the East End, our Father Michael Morris who is serving as an Air Force Chaplain was promoted from the rank of Major to that of Lieutenant Colonel.

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Colonel/Father Michael Morris during the promotion pinning on ceremony.

Colonel/Father Morris has been assigned for the past few years as Chaplain to the Military attached to the White House, a special honor to be sure in its own right.  That assignment is most likely how he earned the opportunity to be raised in rank in such distinguished “digs.”

Because it was happening at the White House, however, was not the reason I chose to attend. It is fairly well known that Father Michael is battling a very rare and aggressive form of cancer, which seems to be winning. In spite of chemo infusions and all that accompanies what millions of people go through with this disease, he carries on with his commitment to his God, church and nation. With both parents deceased and only his brother and sister-in-law in attendance as his family, I wanted to be present for this occasion as did Archbishop Timothy Broglio, Archbishop for the Military Services.

Myself, Colonel/Father Morris, and Archbishop Broglio

Myself, Colonel/Father Morris, and Archbishop Broglio

Both of us and everyone else the room on this occasion are proud of Colonel Morris and I ask you now to join the ever-widening cadre of people praying for him, his recovery if it is God’s will and his continued grit and determination to soldier on.

Enough for now. More about commitment later this week when I describe my visit last week to our two seminaries and to our seminarians.

+RNL

FISH FRIES, FRIES AND FERRIS WHEELS

Saturday, March 2nd, 2013
No worry about "empty nets" at this fish fry.

No worry about “empty nets” at this fish fry.

Tired of running around to local television stations and emotionally exhausted from watching the events of this week unfold, I thought it time to get out and connect with the daily and real life of the Church yesterday. Many of our parishes have started or continue the custom of having Friday Night Fish Fries for the parishioners and one of the more successful in this area has been running at St. Timothy parish in Lutz. When a friend told me that last Friday night they served an all-time high of 464 people, like the unbelieving Thomas I had to see for myself. So last night for dinner, off I went to the Friday Night Fish Fry. Father Ken Malley met me with his ever-present smile on his face and took me into the woefully inadequate (for this event) parish hall.

This works is both an inside job and an outside job!

This works is both an inside job and an outside job!

I met the members of the Men’s Club, all forty of them, dicing and slicing, frying and serving, filling and refilling. To my utter amazement, they were having a great time. By opening time at 530pm the hungry masses were assembled and by closing time at 730pm, this week about 445 were served fried fish, french fries (the best I have had anywhere and I fancy myself a connoisseur of fries), huge pizza slices for the kids or a big kid like myself who really doesn’t like fish all that much, cole slaw, a shrimp cocktail appetizer and an appropriate veggie. Father Malley was proud of this Lenten event and mentioned that it was a great “feeder” (no pun intended) for the weekly Stations of the Cross at 700pm.

An apprentice "fish man" and one of the several women who help their husbands.

An apprentice “fish man” and one of the several women who help their husbands.

The Saint Timothy Men’s Club has about ninety active members and the parish Women’s Club is also quite large. What amazes me are the number of younger men who belong and gift their time and talent to events like this. I met Jason for the second time last night. He approached me and said we had met several weeks prior and while I struggled to place the face with a moment in my life, he generously said that he came up with the parish at the Rite of Election as a “candidate” coming into the Church at the Easter Vigil. After I told him he did not miss any time in joining the Men’s Club of a religion he was not yet a member of, he smiled and said simply, “I love it here.” He then shared with me his journey in faith story which has led him to Catholicism and that his wife is also a convert. He introduced me to his sponsor in the RCIA whom he had never met prior to approaching the parish and asking to join this year’s list of candidates for full communion. His sponsor said, as many do, that he felt he had gotten as much out of the catechetical formation moment as Jason and they would be lifelong friends. Both wanted to extract a promise from me that neither Father Malley nor Deacon Jerry Crall would be transferred away from St. Tim’s. At this moment I was very happy that I am in the Diocese of St. Petersburg and not in Rome. What happens here is so real and so meaningful, even a fish fry.

Smiles reflect their happiness at the task at hand.

Smiles reflect their happiness at the task at hand.

The purpose of the Friday night fish fry is not to make huge sums of money for the parish, though there is always a profit from each of these evenings but it seems to me that the real purpose is creating a sense of unity and pride among the workers and those who come for their parish. Now I understand why parishes have carnivals during Lent. I am sure that they wish it might fall outside of Lent but these are probably the only weeks that the owner of the ferris wheel and merry-go-round have available and although such a good time seems contra the spirit of Lent, it can be and is exactly the opposite. If we are united with Christ in his suffering (and God knows we are indeed), then we can also be united with him as a community which pauses to pray and review its life and rejoice in our common desire to form a family in faith. There is indeed a place for these things in our parish life, even during Lent. Some might complain that real penance would better be served by offering an opportunity for bread and watered down soup. If it works, fine. But the spirit I witnessed last night and often see in other parishes in so many ways when they gather for Lent in other ways indicates a reality of unity which our Church badly needs.

I guess in the end, the people who fried the fish and the potatoes serve God as well as those who will gather in coming days to elect a new Pope. Unfortunately it is the latter which garners all the attention and the former and other good things which our Church does as Church is so often overlooked. Thanks to St. Timothy’s last night. I still have one carnival in a nearby parish to attend as well as one auction at the parish within which I live to go to before Palm Sunday. Once I might have considered my presence there a Lenten penance but more and more I find grace at fish fries, fries and Ferris wheels.

+RNL

WHAT A LENT THIS IS GOING TO BE

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

I am certain that almost every serious Catholic has spent the run-up this week to Ash Wednesday thinking about “Super” Monday. Here I use the word “super” only to emphasize the magnitude of the news to which we awakened some forty-eight hours ago. Pope Benedict’s momentous decision to stand down from his office of Pope later this month  commanded almost all of my energy Monday as I raced from one local TV station to another, answered phone calls and mail from friends and others, and had dinner with about twenty-six young men interested enough in a vocation to priesthood to come with their parish priests to dinner with the bishop (this latter group was full of good questions showing an interest in things “Churchy” that I found quite surprising.) As a consequence the time I would usually devote to preparing myself spiritually for Lent which began this morning was seriously encroached upon by the news coming from Rome and around the world.

Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Petersburg Catholic High School. Photo courtesy of Maria Mertens.

Distributing ashes during the Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Petersburg Catholic High School. Photo courtesy of Maria Mertens. View more photos by clicking here

Only last night, after coming home from my final confirmation for seven weeks (in this diocese we do not confirm during Lent), dead tired and knowing that I had my traditional Mass with the students of St. Petersburg Catholic High School this morning for Ash Wednesday in just a few hours, I retired to my chapel for some quiet time. It occurred to me that the three principal actions of Lent are all to be found in some way in Pope Benedict’s brave and humble decision. If fasting reflects sacrifice, imagine walking away in a few days from one of the world’s remaining spotlights. Even our critics acknowledge the continuing presence of the papacy and its influence in much of the world. While some might wish to write Popes off as irrelevant, they can not. Pope Benedict’s highly successful pastoral visits to Great Britain, to use only one example, showed that a politically neutral moral voice still has a role to play in the public square. This Holy Father can retire into the “wings” confident that he has made a difference. So he soon begins a life time fast of giving up the “spotlight” as you will, which has been his and watching the attention which remains with the office to come to his successor.

Pope Benedict has twice including this morning in his General Audience mentioned that he looks forward to spending his remaining days in prayer for the Church and (I am sure) for himself. During Lent we are all encouraged to look for more opportunities of communicating with our Lord in prayer. When Jesus grew weary and tired, the Gospels all tell us that he often went off to a “quiet place” to be alone in prayer. The Holy Father has chosen the same path in withdrawing from the glare of leadership of the Church and will spend his remaining time on earth praying for the Church, for us. In some ways, it would  not miss the mark too much to say that life will be one long Lent for Pope Benedict.

Finally, the thought occurred to me that in the challenge of “almsgiving” which is also a part of our Lent observance, there are many ways in which we can place ourselves at the service of others. Giving m0ney is one way but not the only way. It may come as a surprise to many, but the popes of the modern era are not rich men. I doubt if they ever receive a salary and while it is also true that they receive what they need to live and maintain a modest household, there is no such possibility as accumulated wealth derived from the papacy. They live simply in what I believe is incorrectly called a “palace” (sometimes “prison” would be a better word), spend a lot of their day seeing people and having little time for themselves, constantly preparing public statements, greetings, encyclical letters which have to be delivered within the next 24 hours, week or month. Benedict took time out from his little leisure time to write three wonderful books on Jesus of Nazareth, pure gifts – alms of another kind. He did not so much receive as a result of the office he held, but “spent” himself for us.

The Light Is on for YOU

The Light Is on for YOU

So, in these special forty days beginning today, each of us has an opportunity to join ourselves to him in the practice of this Lent by making more time for prayer, giving up something we hold precious but which might no longer be essential (at least for the next six weeks) and sharing our gifts, talents, selves with others even if we do not have the means to share “alms.” During Lent, giving of our “arms” can be just as fulfilling as giving of our “alms.” In  his final, humble and extraordinary gifting of himself, all of us can find something which we can do to make this Lent special. Confession and reconciliation are also essential and your parish will be having many opportunities for receiving the sacrament in the coming weeks, what with Penance Services and for the fifth year in a row, on Thursday, March 7th, “This Light is on for YOU” during which all our parishes will be open and priests available to hear your confession from 5pm until 7pm. Find out more information about “The Light Is on for YOU” by clicking here.

Lent 2013 begins with historic significance but at the personal level, the possibilities of turning away from sin and returning to the Gospel are even more awesome.

+RNL

ZERO SUM GAIN, OR WORSE

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

I had the occasion earlier this week to meet with about fifty of the parochial vicars which is our fancy or canonical term for “associate pastors”. The next day a similar number of priests gathered together again, this time for an Lenten moment of reconciliation and reflection. During the first, I outlined for my brother priests the results of my nine luncheon meetings with their pastors which I previously held from mid-January through the first week of February. The purpose of those meetings was to discuss a possible major appeal for funding for the education of our future priests (with our blessed numbers this year we are paying about $1.6 million out of operations funds for seminary education alone) and saving Catholic schools that are salvagable. However, I am off the point I want to make here.

The “mother of all ecclesial blogs” (aka “Whispers in the Loggia“) in commenting on the annual Rite of Election held nationwide either on or near the First Sunday of Lent made note of the fact that for every adult Catholic who enters the Church in a year, four leave the Church. I, for one, do not dispute his numbers and the second statistic which he cited and one that has been around long enough to also be verifiable is that the second largest Christian denomination in the United States behind Roman Catholics is “fallen-away” Roman Catholics (an estimated thirty million). Some of my brother priests seemed shocked or at least surprised at these numbers and we began a short discussion of why and what might we do as priests, diocese, Church to reverse these alarming numbers.

Obviously with fifty per-cent of Catholics in the US who marry and get divorced, it was suggested and I suspect that this may be a major reason for Church losses. Try as hard as we might to convince people that divorce does not mean automatically cut off from the sacraments and/or out of the church, it’s still out there. Second, we hold and teach some things which the current climate opposes: abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, “mercy”-killing, marriage as a sacrament between a man and a woman, immigration reform, every marital act must be open to the procreation of children, universal access to health care as a “right” not just a privilege if one can pay for it – issues the larger society, the media, political parties,  love to hammer us on. They would call these antiquated and antediluvian notions and who wants to own, drive and ride in a Model T Ford when something faster, sleeker, more modern can be had? Sometimes I am amazed and grateful to God and to many in the Church that we have the membership and practicing numbers we have, given the constant bombardment we are all subjected to. I also believe that the sexual-abuse of children and how it was handled by bishops and the Church at large has given many people an excuse to leave us and some indeed have.

We just finished the initial push of the “Catholics Come Home®” campaign. In the week following the publication or reading of my letter on the Health and Human Services regulations, I received a comment from a gentleman who said that he and his wife had been many years away from the Church and they returned as a result of the television commercials on the Sunday my letter was read. They left again and he assured me that we would never see the two of them. That hurt, believe me. But to be a Catholic today, to practice the faith fully beyond just week-end Church attendance, one has to embrace a lot of things that might be different were we in charge (for example, “like the dewfall”). Believe me that even being a Catholic all my life, there are aspects of the faith which I must struggle with but in the end I place my trust in the magisterial teaching and without the hierarchical governance structure, Christ’s Church today would be in far worse shape than the numbers above indicate. There is nothing I can find in Sacred Scripture, especially the Gospels, that suggests Christ wanted to establish a democracy. But Christ did want his leaders, his disciples, to also be good listeners and respond to the legitimate needs of His people with understanding, compassion and care.

An adult baptism at the Easter Vigil 2011 in the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle. Photo kindness of Walter C. Pruchnik III

So even if the First Sunday of Lent resulted in a zero sum gain or less, it is still encouraging given the things we often hear said about us that annually a good number of adults, families and youth  still seek baptism or full communion. It is not a numbers game we engage in, but the continuation of timeless truth, free from error, fulfilling Christ’s command to go forth and make disciples. It was tough in his time. It was tougher in the time of the early Church. It is tough today. But, so what? It seems  it has ever been thus and two-thousand years of history behind us seems to suggest that it is precisely at moments of trial and tribulation that our beloved Church does best and begins to flourish anew.

+RNL

ASHES

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

It’s time for you either to sell your McDonald’s stock or put it in blind trust because once again they have seen the last of me till Easter Sunday. No more sausage biscuits and truth to tell I will miss them more than they will miss me. In my younger days, I used to play with “going without something for Lent” like I played with New Year’s Resolutions, that is to say that they both made it only for a few days before they were broken. However, as I became older I could see deeper meaning in observing Lent by some small penitential act which perhaps only served to me as a reminder of what Jesus spent for all of us. Lent can be a time for great grace, growth in the spiritual life, and focusing on perhaps the more important things in life.

Among those important things are preparing for the great Triduum now little more than six weeks away. Easter can be just another Sunday if one has not experienced the desert of temptations, the call to conversion of the Samaritan woman, and all those wonderful Gospel accounts which we shall soon be hearing once again. The Lenten Gospels in my life can not be heard and contemplated on enough for they get at the root of our Christian lives and graft us even closer to the crucified and risen one.

The Church attempts to provide us time during Lent to truly concentrate on the meaning in history and in this moment for us of these forty days. You probably either forgot about the abstinence which accompanies Ash Wednesday today and accidentally, I hope, ate meat or you substituted something else and missed meat (it is admittedly hard preaching this message to vegetarians!) But it is OK. Get in synch for this Friday and every Friday right through Good Friday. If it hurts a little, you are entering Lent. If it distracts a little, you have more time to think about the true sacrifice. We try hard as a  local diocese not to witness marriages during Lent because there would be a distraction of the first magnitude. I do not confirm during Lent, not because I am lazy, but again the possibility of our beloved Church offering yet another distraction. The Church wishes all of us, bishops as well as every member to do penance, turn away from sin and evil, and embrace the Gospel.

And out of these ashes of our personal lives and preparedness will rise the Savior of the World, hung on the “throne” of a wooden cross for all of us to witness how He loved us to death. So long McDonald’s, I’ll see you in early April. Hello, blessed Lord, help me a sinner to properly prepare for the reenactment of the sacrifice that puts my own and all of ours to shame. With you, as we sing, we fast and pray.

Blessed Lent everyone.

+RNL

DRINKING AT THE WATERS OF LAKE JOVITA

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

The Abbey Church at St. Leo Monastery

Last Sunday night I celebrated the student liturgy at St. Leo University and confirmed six of their members and offered First Eucharist to one. First let me begin by saying that it was a lovely liturgy and they had a roughly ten person choir who provided very appropriate and beautiful music for the liturgy. Father Stephan Brown, S.V.D. is in charge of Campus Ministry and invited me to be with his community. Normally I do not ever confirm during Lent but I made an exception this time at Father Brown’s request since Easter falls so late and there are only ten days of sch0ol left at St. Leo after the Easter break.

The liturgy on Sunday night took place in the Abbey Church although it usually occurs in a room at the student union. I suspect that St. Leo had a large share of students who go home on week-ends because they live so close to the University. Attendance of students at this liturgy was not large and the fact that Sunday Eucharist is celebrated in the Board Room of the student union indicates the challenges inherent in a campus ministry program for a school such as this.

St. Leo University has grown significantly in the last twenty-five years, for the first ten or eleven under the leadership of Monsignor Frank Mouch and for the last thirteen under the current president, Dr. Arthur Kirk, Jr. While its residential program on campus numbers about 2000 traditional four-year students, its outreach through distance learning and programs on military bases makes St. Leo about the fifteenth or sixteenth largest Catholic university in the nation.

I know a lot of graduates of our high schools who attend St. Leo and love it. They are certain that they are getting a first rate education for life after college and the graduates students are grateful for for the opportunities afforded them as well. It’s local, it’s Catholic, it’s educationally sound. – all good things. Soon they will dedicate a new building housing the School of Business and the campus has experienced such growth that it is impossible for me to locate a single picture which does the whole justice. St. Leo Prep which preceded St. Leo College which preceded St. Leo University was for many years an apostolic work of the Benedictine monks of St. Leo Abbey. A number of years ago the title and ownership of the college was turned over to basically a lay board of trustees who have taken bold ownership while still remaining committed to the Benedictine spirit and tradition of ora et labora, or “prayer and work.” Another part of the Benedictine spirit from their founder is that of hospitality and it was certainly in evidence on Sunday night. Congratulations to the confirmandi, to the campus ministry and peer ministry program and to all who keep the light of Saint Benedict and his sister Saint Scholastica alive.

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THIS LIGHT IS ON FOR YOU

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Woman at the WellDid you notice how long you were standing for the Gospel this past Sunday? Hopefully not as you were most likely engrossed in the long dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well – in fact, the longest dialogue in all four Gospels between Jesus and any one person. Next week prepare yourself for a second long Gospel, the curing of the man born blind and in two weeks perhaps the longest until Palm Sunday (and the reading of the Passion according to Matthew) which will be the wonderful story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The Church chooses these Gospels and they are often used every year in conjunction with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults because they serve as a “triptik” (the old AAA words for the spiral bound road maps between two points or destinations) for those coming into the Church through baptism and confirmation and first Eucharist. If I were to pick one word for each of the areas where the first five Gospels of Lent take us, they would be in ascending order: temptation, epiphany, conversion, faith, and new life. We are now well past the half way mark between Ash Wednesday and the start of the Sacred Triduum of Holy Week on Holy Thursday.

The Church reminds us that we will all from time to time face temptation from the evil one and how we respond to these temptations is crucial. Jesus was not moved by the offer of power, domination, ownership. Jesus 1 – Devil 0. As he began his journey to Jerusalem and immediately following the scolding of Peter, Jesus takes his three closest friends up to the top of Mount Tabor and once again his divinity is made manifest. We are told to “listen to Him”. Jesus 1 – Three Apostles 0. Last Sunday among the many themes flowing from that well in Samaria that day was a call to conversion, to turn away from sin, and drink of the waters of living life. Jesus 1 – Disciples 0. Jesus heals the blind manNext week, the blind man asks for a favor, a healing, and his request is granted but there are still many who are in disbelief. The Gospel indicates that there is still time to sign on to the legion of Christ and make the journey with him. Jesus 1-witnesses to the miracle 0. And if we need any proof of the opportunity for redemption and resurrection with faith in Jesus brings, Lazarus. Jesus 1 – those still refusing to believe he is the long awaited Messiah 0. Jesus advances to top seed in the final four (Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil/Easter Sunday.

The three Gospel stories (Sunday, next Sunday and the following Sunday) all come from John’s Gospel and they exemplify so well the dualism found there between the Gospel of Light and the Gospel of Darkness. Listen carefully next Sunday and the following one to illusions as to light and darkness and draw your own conclusions as to which world you are living in. Time is a’wasting but if we listen to the words of Jesus this week and act on them, what a glorious Easter awaits us.

If you are desirous of emerging from the darkness of sin and/or guilt this Lent, Thursday may be just your lucky night. For the third year running, every Catholic Church in the diocese will be open and priests will be hearing confessions in each from five until eight p.m. Our priests are very desirous of making confession available to you during this Lenten season and they show their desire in three ways: the regular hours for confession in each parish church, the Lenten Penance Services which will be starting up in each parish soon and this unique and special opportunity for you this Thursday. Designed to make it easy for the busy person to stop by on the way home from work, the embarrassed person to have a chance to confess their sins in a place and to a person who is highly unlikely to know them, the harried parent who finds the Saturday hours impossible between dropping off and rooting for their children at sports, dance, gymnastics, etc., or catching up with chores around the house arising from another busy week, the lights of our churches will be left on and you are most welcome. Like the father who welcomes his profligate son home, try us again, you will like us. Most of all you will feel and revel in the healing touch of Christ. Thanks, dear brother priests, for the gift of your time and the treasure of your love and and extension of God’s forgiveness.

The Light is ON for You

+RNL

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

For the last ten years or so, it has been my custom to offer a Lenten Mission to parishes, which approach and ask me to do it. Last year because of my longer than expected recovery, I did not give any missions and I had promised Saint Catherine of Siena in Largo that I would. So this past weekend, I finally made good on my word and showed up. Let me begin by saying that I am not a “mission preacher” in the any sense of that word. Mission preachers do it about forty weeks of the year and travel throughout the country. They have a set presentation and a more generous approach than I am able to give. I preached at all the Masses this past weekend at St. Catherine to “warm” the congregation up and encourage them to attend the mission sessions on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Typical mission preachers will also give sessions in the morning as well as the evening. I am unable to do that because of the demands of my usual day job.

But in addition to the Sunday Masses, I did share some of my insights into our faith with the people who came on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights. At each parish they choose a different context in which I preached.  At St. Catherine of Siena on Monday night, Father Ken Malley the pastor asked if I would give the mission talk within the context of Mass, on Tuesday within the context of Evening Prayer, and on Wednesday night with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament following the talk. My evening talks usually run between thirty and forty minutes maximum so we try to have everyone in and out in just a little over an hour. The mind can only absorb what the “tush” can take.

For the past couple of years I have been using the triple themes of our Eucharistic Initiative, “gathered, nourished and sent” but within the context of the theological virtues of faith, hope and love. Or to put it another way, how can we live in Christ amid the challenges of daily living. The Gospel account of the Transfiguration was a great place to start this mission week off with the voice from the cloud saying so clearly, “listen to Him” (Jesus that is, not necessarily Lynch). Saint Catherine’s already had underway a parish commitment to “we believe, we remember, we celebrate” so I was also able to incorporate these ideas into my presentations as well.

On the final night of the mission, I offered myself to those who wish to stay at its conclusion and ask me any questions they might have: about the content of my talks, the Church in general, the diocese or the future of the faith. There has been good feedback from that opportunity to “Ask the Bishop.”

The attendance at the missions, which I already have given, has been quite good and I find that I often receive far more than I give to these occasions. Bishops are quite good at “one night stands”, like parish confirmations, but to be present and to share faith, hope and love for five days is a unique and, for me, very satisfying experience. Since this week was a “catch-up” experience from 2010, I will be giving a second parish (or the 2011) mission at St Ignatius of Antioch in Tarpon Springs, beginning on April 2, 2011 and in 2012 I will be at St. Cecilia in Clearwater and at St. Lawrence in Tampa in 2013, God willing.

At least the priests and deacons were listening! The two photos are through the kindness of parishioner Elaine Luker.

I was sorry last night to end my time with the faith community of St. Catherine of Siena who had received me so well.  As I said earlier, in the time just before the mission and as people were leaving, their stories of their faith journeys and the challenges of daily living would put my life to shame. There are a lot of holy people in this Church of ours. Thanks to Father Ken Malley and everyone at this wonderful parish in Largo for a great mission.

+RNL

 

 

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