Posts Tagged ‘Lenten season’

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.

bishop_blog_1photo

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

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