Posts Tagged ‘Mercy’

FINAL SALUTE TO A GOOD MAN

Monday, October 3rd, 2016

Doctor David Abdulai, a hero to me, went home to the Father last night. He died of stage four thyroid cancer after a life of public service in his native Ghana and years of medically treating the poorest of the poor and the most destitute in his two free clinics in Tamale, Ghana. I grieve his loss today deeply. Those readers who had children confirmed by me this year know that I devoted my homily to this good man in the hopes of striking a chord in the hearts of the young for service to the poor.

Doctor David Abdulai, his wife, Christopher Mertens and I last Christmas.

Myself, Doctor David Abdulai, his wife, and Christopher Mertens last Christmas.

David Abdulai was born a Muslim in northeast Ghana almost seven decades ago. His father had died of Hansen’s disease (leprosy) when David was still a young boy and most of his eight siblings also suffered from the disease. Irish missionaries saw intelligence and fire in the young boy and approached his single mother asking her permission to allow David to attend a Catholic boarding/elementary school in the small city of Tamale. She agreed and David started a Catholic education in the first grade that would accompany him until secondary school graduation. He was bright, exceedingly bright and an outstanding student.

After winning a scholarship to and graduating with highest honors from the University of Ghana in Accra, he chose medicine as his profession, specializing in surgery. He won a fellowship in surgery to a Medical College in Liverpool, England and came home with a wife and family and practiced his calling in Accra, the capital city.

As an adult, having been surrounded by Christianity and Catholicism in his formative years, he decided to become a Catholic and entered the Church with baptism, confirmation and first Eucharist on the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord. He recounted to me that moment last Christmas when I met and visited with him for what for me, sadly, would be my first and last time, that the readings that day from the Old Testament offered this line: “Comfort my people O Lord, comfort my people.” It would serve to drive his ambitions and desires for the rest of his life.

With his children largely grown, he returned to Tamale and served as the Minister of Health for that Ghana province. But soon he would make a life-changing decision, give all his fame and fortune up and open a clinic for the nation’s poorest of the poor. With acreage given to him by a tribal chief, he built and opened the first of what today are two Shekinah clinics. Here he treated all who came and who could not access, for whatever reason, the government health care system. And they came, for over twenty years.

He would arrange his daily schedule so that he could see 120 patients each day, ninety new cases and thirty follow-up cases. He erected an operating theatre where he would perform some minor surgeries, like hernia repairs.

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The operating room at the clinic.

He scrounged and managed to stock a pharmacy. He built wards for the surgical patients to recover and huts for the lepers in which to live.

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Wards and residences for patients and Hansen’s disease residents.

Through volunteers with gifts of food (Catholic Relief Services through US AID for many years provided food) he served all who came to the clinic, those who lived there and those who were simply overnight residents.

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The kitchen and cooks at the Shekinah Clinic.

Several times the government tried to shut his clinic down but they never succeeded because everyone knew of the work of this great man, his wife and his volunteers.

So magnetic was his personality and deep his devotion that he assembled a team of volunteers who assisted him 24/7/365. No one was paid. Not even the doctor who lived off what he had saved from his earlier practice of medicine. He opened a second clinic, as people would cross the border from Burkina Faso to see him. When confronted with a patient with such a serious disease that he could not treat them, he would have them wait for him to finish his daily work and then would drive them in his jeep to the local government hospital and insist that they be cared for, not leaving until it was done.

Every Christmas he and his wife would feed Christmas dinner to the poor of the region at their home, a total numbering in excess of 3200 last Christmas. On the 27th, the day I arrived, he had a second Christmas dinner for the blind, deaf, lame, widowed and leprous who for physical reasons could not come on Christmas. Talk about feeding the 5000. My task that day was to simply give them a Christmas present of one super large bar of shea butter soap (from the region) and a new dishtowel plus some candy (all donated).

They called Dr. Abdulai “the male Mother Theresa of West Africa”. To watch him work and interact with people lacking in hope was life changing. His energy level far exceeded anything I could give. His love of his Catholic faith and the joy that Pope Francis brought to him was palpable. In both clinics there is to be found a small mosque at the entrance, a chapel where Mass is celebrated at times throughout the week, and a Star of David is painted on the wall of the examining room – his desire to show and share that all are welcome regardless of faith.

How did I come to know him? That is a story in itself but I will make it short. One summer two seminarians at that time, brothers, and one sophomore at Notre Dame talked to me about spending the summer working in Africa. I called my beloved Catholic Relief Services knowing that they had such a program, and they arranged for the three to spend ten weeks in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Ghana. The Notre Dame student, Christopher Mertens, an Eagle Scout, the St. Petersburg Times male scholar athlete of the year in his senior year at Palm Harbor University High School, a member of the Diocesan Youth Council and son of an elementary school teacher at Guardian Angels school in Clearwater, was sent to the Clinic in Tamale and spent the summer with the Doctor.

His emails home to his parents and to myself radiated a respect for Dr Abdulai that spanned the ocean. Then Chris came down with malaria. Doctor Abdulai rushed to his side and prescribed the necessary medicines. Chris could have come home because of the malaria but he stayed. He lived in the clinic at bare subsistence level, but every new day brought new patients to the clinic and he helped as best he could. The love that the staff and the doctor had for Chris was abundantly evident when Chris took me to Tamale and to the doctor on Christmas day last year.

I’m off to my chapel to offer Mass today for this great man, thankful to God for having had the opportunity to meet him and see where and how he performed the works of mercy. I am thankful to Catholic Relief Services for their help to the clinic in the past and I am grateful to Christopher Mertens for unwittingly and unknowingly being the catalyst for allowing me one of the great moments of my adult lifetime. Dr. David Abdulai and the clinic staff welcomed us on December 27th and he was proud that his young American was then in his fourth semester of Medical School at Tulane in New Orleans. God takes and God gives. It happens all the time and we just don’t seem to want to notice it.

Rest now in the peace of the Lord you servant, good doctor to the poor, and may the Divine Physician embrace you for your life lived on earth.

+RNL

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

A KINDER, GENTLER PROCESS

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

By now, most of you have heard that Pope Francis has “made annulment of marriages cheaper and easier,” as one news source hastily reported. This report has resulted in many questions concerning what was actually stated in the Pontiff’s Apostolic Letter issued motu proprio (of his own initiative), which was released on September 8th, although the letter was dated August 15th. It is surprising that the content of this letter had not leaked out before its release!

The Latin title of the letter, Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus (“The Lord Jesus, Gentle Judge”) is an accurate description of our Lord and a model for the Church to emulate. As an Apostolic Letter, it lays out new ecclesiastical (Church) laws in addition to or in place of existing laws. The purpose of the letter is to describe certain reforms of the canonical (the Church’s legal) process used when determining whether a marriage should be declared null. Or, to use the common but inaccurate expression, whether an “annulment” of a marriage should be granted.

As is the case with most new laws issued for the universal Church, a preparation period of three months is given before the law becomes effective, in order to allow bishops the opportunity to instruct and prepare the faithful in their dioceses concerning the meaning and impact of the new law. In his letter, Pope Francis established December 8, 2015 as the date on which this new law will take effect. In a style that is typical of our Holy Father, it is fitting that the effective date should coincide with the beginning of the Year of Mercy.

While only released in Latin and Italian, below are a few key points which were outlined in the pope’s Apostolic Letter:

  1. The Church continues to view marriage as indissoluble (permanent), based on Christ’s teachings in Sacred Scripture (Mark 10:2-12, Matthew 19:3-12). Even if a divorce decree has been granted by a civil authority, this does not change the fact that the marriage continues to exist. “Therefore what God has joined together, no one must separate” (Mark 10:9).
  2. There was a need to reconsider the existing nullity process: Pope Francis has consulted with numerous experts in canon law, theology and pastoral practice before proposing changes in a marriage nullity process that had become long, burdensome and often frustrating for many who questioned whether their failed marriage was ever valid (binding) to begin with. It was not uncommon that, in some parts of the world, the “annulment process” took more than two years to complete. To use an old quote from civil law, “justice delayed is justice denied.”
  3. Only one decision in favor of nullity is necessary: Under the current law, if one or both parties in a failed marriage believe that the marriage was never valid due to a flaw in the consent of one or both persons, two Church tribunals (courts) must agree that this flaw existed, declaring the marriage invalid (non-binding) and rendering the parties free to remarry. Under this new legislation, a decision from only one court is required, saving a significant amount of time.
  4. The bishop can permit an even shorter process in some cases: By his office, the diocesan bishop already possesses full judicial power and may function as a judge in cases where both ex-spouses agree that their marriage should be declared null and there is clear and abundant proof to support their assertion. This proof would include witness testimony, expert testimony (such as evidence provided by a counselor, psychologist or other qualified professional), and written evidence attesting to the nullity of the marriage.
  5. Additional reasons for nullity: The Holy Father, in describing the shorter process mentioned above, provided additional reasons for why a marriage might be declared null. It could be that one or both parties lacked the faith to understand marriage as an indissoluble bond, ordered toward the good of both spouses, open to the possibility of children, with the full intention of fidelity. It is possible that a spouse elected to abort a pregnancy to avoid procreation, or intentionally remained in an affair at the beginning of the marriage or shortly thereafter. Perhaps a spouse has concealed the fact of children born from a previous relationship or a pre-existing and incurable disease. Such hidden factors might have caused the other party to enter the marriage with erroneous presumptions about the qualities of the person he/she married.
  6. A party still has the right to appeal: Whenever one of the former spouses feels that the tribunal’s decision was unjust for any reason, he/she will have the right to approach the Metropolitan Tribunal (in our case, the Archdiocese of Miami) in order to make a complaint. This right exists in our current law and continues under the new law, in order to avoid abuses among diocesan tribunals and to protect the rights of both former spouses. Appeals may also be made to the Church’s marriage court in Rome, the Rota, if the concerned party chooses to do so.
  7. One judge is as good as three: While it is preferred that marriage cases are reviewed by a panel of three ecclesiastical judges (a “Collegial Tribunal”), a single judge may hear the case, as well. While this is also a reiteration of an existing law, it is most helpful for those diocesan tribunals with limited personnel and resources. However, the pope advises bishops to exercise caution that the process does not become “lax.” The long-held requirement of a tribunal staff member who functions as “Defender of the [marriage] Bond” continues, in order to provide potential arguments against assertions made by judges prior to a final decision regarding whether the marriage should be declared null.

In addition to the previous points, I would like to add some helpful information that was not addressed at length in the Apostolic Letter:

  • Although commonly referred to as an “annulment,” the accurate term for the Church’s procedure is “declaration of nullity.” This means that the tribunal has reviewed the evidence and has discovered that, for one or more reasons, a truly binding marriage never existed from the beginning. The tribunal then declares the marriage to be null.
  • This “declaration of nullity” does not mean that children born from the union are “illegitimate” (unlawful). Our existing law states that children born from a marriage that was presumed to be valid by at least one of the spouses at the time of consent are legitimate, regardless of a later discovery by a Church tribunal.
  • The purpose of this process is always to discover the truth about the marriage, whether it was truly valid (binding) or invalid (null, or non-binding). It was never intended to be merely a “rubber-stamp” process.
  • From the moment a case is received, every Church tribunal begins with the presumption that the marriage is valid. It is then up to the single judge or panel of three judges to determine whether there are any reasons to overturn that presumption (e.g. immaturity of one or both spouses; pressure to marry due to age, premarital pregnancy or other reason; intention of one or both parties at the time of marriage not to include fidelity, permanence or openness to children; and various psychological disorders, such as substance addiction, narcissistic personality disorder, etc.).

The Tribunal Office for the Diocese of St. Petersburg offers some very helpful resources, for those who would like to know more about the marriage nullity process. To view some of the available resources, please click here.  Also, in keeping with Pope Francis’ desire that all parties should be permitted to participate in the process with minimal expense, there are no fees for services offered by our Tribunal.

My hope is that all bishops and pastors, as well as parish and tribunal staff members will take the Holy Father’s letter to heart and more closely imitate Jesus, the Gentle Judge, by offering healing and guidance to those who suffer from the pain of separation and divorce.

+RNL

THE FICKLE FINGER OF FAITH?

Sunday, March 29th, 2015

Palm Sunday 2015
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch

Beginning today and continuing throughout this holy week, I have chosen as my theme, “What was Jesus thinking?” Admittedly the question reveals an “arrogance” on my part, but I hope that my humble effort at armchair psychology might be helpful in making the most of this important week of our faith.

So join me in attempting to discern what Jesus might have been thinking on that day when he entered Jerusalem for the final time. I wish to focus today on that singular moment captured in the Gospel read during the blessing of palms knowing that on Good Friday together we will have an opportunity to reflect at greater length on the Passion account.

I can see at least three important thoughts which Jesus might reasonably be expected to own in the account of his arrival at the portal to his death: fraternity, fickleness, and fulfillment.

Knowing that his days were surely numbered and a horrible and painful death was awaiting him in Jerusalem, he wished one final thing for himself and for his disciples – the opportunity to celebrate the Passover together one last time. Ever mindful of others and ever the teacher, the rabbi, the “master” Jesus knows that he and they will soon be put to the test. Were they ready for it? Were they sufficiently cognizant of his presence in their lives for the last three years that their memories would sustain and perhaps even overcome their doubts in the days to come? He must have sensed that day that if what he had done and what he would do would ultimately glorify the Father, then he had to teach them again about placing themselves at the service of others, becoming less to accomplish more.

He knew that those citizens of Jerusalem who hailed his arrival knew little about him except through rumor. In his public ministry, Jesus spent little time in Jerusalem, choosing instead the region of Galilee as the major locus for his ministry. So as he surveyed those throwing their cloaks before him and waving their palms, he must have known of their fickleness. All glory, laud and honor shouted in this moment, he knew would give way soon enough to “kill him”. Yet he took the chance to once again be seen by those who were basically fence sitters at best and fair-weather only friends at worst. Even those he sent ahead to gain his method of conveyance, a donkey, and secure a room for the last Passover supper, how would they measure up to the hostility to their friend and his message? Despite the romance of the scene of the so-called triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he knew they were fickle – all of them.

Finally there was the matter of fulfilling the will of the Father. No person seemingly in their right mind would say to themselves or to others: well it’s time for me to die so let’s get on with it. Only that deep commitment to the will of the Father could explain why he would set off to Jerusalem in the first place knowing what would await him. Obedience to the Father would find its finality in the fulfillment gained on the cross.

That inevitably begs the question of what does this entire moment mean for us on this Palm Sunday 2015? How close is our friendship to Jesus? Do we trust him, believe in him, follow him 24/7/365 or is he simply a historical figure of some attractiveness and interest but not a personal friend, an intimate. Is he truly our brother? Does his willingness to embrace pain, loneliness, and opposition to what he believes and preaches translate for us in our own faith commitment?

Are we fickle, fair weather friends who take comfort in our faith only when things are going well, only to abandon the same belief when faced with the inevitable crosses of everyone’s daily life? Is it easy to be a friend of Jesus unless and until we are challenged to stand for human life in all its phases of development, from conception to natural death? Can we also be seen as a follower of Christ’s teaching when friendship with him makes us seek genuine immigration reform while welcoming the stranger. Are we willing to question and challenge the death penalty in a state (in this we are one of only two of the fifty states) that requires only a simple majority of a jury’s vote? There are lots of things about Jesus we can love and embrace, but there are other things, which lay open our fickleness. What part of the crowd would we likely have been in: hosannas or kill him?

Finally, the cross was the fulfillment of our Lord’s mission. How well do we carry the crosses of our lives? Do we really believe that suffering, opposition and uncertainty, the hubris of daily life in our times, gain for us the favor of the Father for our future?

There was a lot which Jesus must have been thinking during these his final days. Join us this week, on Holy Thursday and Good Friday and next Sunday at Easter as we attempt to get into his mind and answer the question: what was Jesus really thinking?

+RNL