Posts Tagged ‘Photo’

THE OLD MAN AND THE SEMS

Friday, October 28th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  I told the men that this was a largely unspoken and unpublished concept that had silently and secretly emerged in the late eighties and nineties, emanating from some US bishops serving in Rome.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+RNL

BEYOND THE WILD BLUE YONDER

Monday, October 24th, 2016
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Father Michael Morris

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

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

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

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

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

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

+RNL

SO NOW WE WAIT

Thursday, May 26th, 2016
Bishop Lynch Retirement Letter to Pope Francis

The letter that was sent to Pope Francis today.

Today marks only the beginning of the end of my service as Bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg. It is not the end. That moment comes when my successor who will be the fifth bishop is installed at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle. But today is still a special moment and I sign the letter to Pope Francis asking to be allowed to retire as required by Canon Law and I thank him for the incredible privilege of serving this terrific local Church.

Twenty and a half years ago when I first appeared at the cathedral for a press conference accompanying the announcement of my appointment, my heart and mind were are odds with one another. My mind said accept the honor with dignity and grace and my heart said it was almost criminal to leave the people of St. Mark’s parish in West Broward who in six months I had come to love. Even after coming here and starting, there was still that strange feeling of almost a “divorce” in which both sides lost something valuable.

This morning I woke up with the same battle of heart and mind. The mind said, “Enough is enough and it is time for me to rest and another to lead, be creative, take this local Church to a new level of coming to experience the presence of the Lord.” But my heart said, how can I leave my collaborators in ministry, my priests and deacons and religious women and men, my seminarians, my schools and faith formation leaders and teachers? I love them too much!

If you know me as well as I think you do, you know that while I am relieved, I am not entirely happy. I cried when in July of 1984 I drove out of the gates of St. John Vianney College seminary in Miami to begin my new assignment in Washington. I cried all the way to Hollywood that day but no one was in the car to witness it.

On February 3, 1995 I cried walking from the chapel at the headquarters of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops through a wall of people lining the hallway all the way to the front entrance and the parking lot, all crying as much as I. I cried that time all the way to Lorton and the Auto Train depot where a train would take my car and myself back to Miami for a new assignment.

On January 20, 1996 I cried as I said good-bye to my parish staff and teachers grade school children at St. Mark’s and climbed into my car to drive to St. Petersburg and my new assignment. Those tears lasted half way across Alligator Alley until a Seminole tribe sheriff stopped me and warned me that I was pressing the speed limit a tad too close. Just a warning, not a tearful ticket.

If you get the picture, it is that I do not handle major change and the fondest of good-byes well. I was proud of myself that only once and then unnoticed during the ordination last Saturday of the five new priests did I break down and it was after the greeting of peace with Father Felipe Gonzalez whose parents and family were unable to be with him/us in that moment. But at the end, in my own sacristy I shut the door and let loose knowing that I had ordained to the priesthood for the last time and would not have that privilege for the incredible men coming along in the next few years. They are as close to sons as any unmarried male can have but when I leave, they will be my brothers no longer my sons.

Today is not the time for tears. Work continues unabated. You will see that I will be very reluctant to begin new major initiatives or to spend new monies. If the transition were to take place tomorrow, the new bishop would inherit a great diocese made up of talent and treasure – probably the best in Florida and maybe even in the country. We have accomplished something beautiful for God in the last two decades. And you have helped me even in ways of which you are largely unaware. Rarely disappointed and forever grateful, I cannot thank you enough. You have tolerated my eccentricities and peculiarities, you have been loyal even when I have done something which may have hurt. Together we have lived our mantra to this local Church, “how can I help you.”

Today I think of Sue Tully, Vivi, Carmen, Malissa, Maria, Joan, Betty, Frank, Deacon Rick, and Michael, our team in our version of the “West Wing.” Today at this Eucharist which means “thanksgiving” I think of Monsignor Brendan Muldoon, Monsignor Robert Gibbons, Father Alan Weber, Monsignor Frank Mouch, and Monsignor Morris, absent this moment only because his dear Mom has a doctor’s appointment which cannot be missed. I have been the luckiest person in the Church in the United States to have been assisted by these competent, loving, patient people. Thank you Jesus!

So today for this local Church the clock of expectation and hope starts to tick. We are like that parable in the Gospel waiting for the bridegroom knowing neither the day, hour or time of his arrival. But today we start to pray for him and he will remain in our expectation, hope and prayers until he comes. I shall not end as did President Obama at the National Press Club banquet a few weeks ago by simply dropping the microphone and saying “Obama, out!” Rather I will say, “Lynch, on hold.” Thanks and God Bless all of you.

+RNL

P.S. I want to share with you a video that my staff put together for me that you might enjoy. I did.

 

FIVE GUYS

Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

Yesterday, Saturday, May 21, five men were ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of St. Petersburg. To a Cathedral packed to the rafters with a local Church loving and welcoming, these five men embraced the call to be good shepherds to the People of God whom they will soon serve.

May 21, 2016 - Fathers Felipe Gonzalez, Alexander Padilla, Bradley Reed, Jonathan Stephanz and Kevin Yarnell were ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Robert Lynch at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle. Please keep them in your prayers! (DOSP Photo / Maria Mertens)

With the newly ordained. Father Jonathan Stephanz, Father Felipe Gonzalez, myself, Father Alexander Padilla, Father Bradley Reed and Father Kevin Yarnell. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Elsewhere on the diocesan website you can see pictures of the ordination and, if you have 145 minutes, you can even watch the whole ceremony. Below I wish to share my words to the men, likely to be my last as the power and privilege of ordaining will pass to a new good, maybe even better shepherd.

ORDINATION TO THE PRIESTHOOD
Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle
St. Petersburg, FL
Saturday, May 21, 2016

Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop

“It is a reality that God often interacts with humanity through the medium of dreams. While few of us have the experience of St. Joseph to whom an archangel, no less, appeared in a dream with life changing news, most of us who are ordained or to be ordained began to seriously develop our notion of priesthood through dreams of some day becoming one. Throughout formation, we sometimes made it through the more challenging and darker moments by dreaming of our ordination day or our first Mass or our own image of what kind of shepherd we might ultimately become. But as our five deacons soon to be ordained will find out, reality can and often does supplant dreams and today I would offer my counsel that this can be tragic when unforeseen and ill-prepared for.

When tomorrow afternoon, they literally roll the proverbial stone before the tomb and all your family and friends withdraw leaving you alone with your new reality, I would counsel it is precisely then that you need to begin to fashion new dreams in which you see yourselves, Felipe, Alex, Brad, Jonathan and Kevin as good shepherd of God’s people. What you are soon to become is far deeper, richer, transforming than what you have dreamed you might be on the day of your ordination.

Pope Francis almost daily reminds his priests of what God wishes them to be and what they may or may not have become. His dream is that we become so attracted and attached to Jesus, the Good Shepherd that “we press forward in faith, to advance in the spiritual pilgrimage which is faith that is nothing other than to follow Jesus; to listen to him and to be guided by his words, to see how he acts and to follow in his footsteps to have his same sentiments. And what are these sentiments of Jesus? Humility, mercy, closeness to others but also a firm rejection of hypocrisy, duplicity, and idolatry. The way of Jesus is a love which is faithful to the end, and even unto sacrificing one’s life; it is the way of the cross.” [Pope Francis, Marian Day, 10,12,2013].

Francis is redrafting the dream of priesthood. It is far from an office of privilege for the ordained, but rather a privilege which through ordination allows us to be Christ to the terrified immigrant father and mother facing deportation, to the confused and wounded young mother who has chosen to take the life within her womb for fear of being unable to care for the child once born, to pray with the condemned prisoner on death row or the overnight visitor to the county jail who has been arrested for a DUI or a lesser offence, to promise a parent that their parish will work hard to improve literacy at the miserably failing local public schools their children are attending by working with FAST or HOPE in two of our counties, to comfort a dad who has just lost his job that while searching for new employment, we will work to retain his children in our parish or diocesan school even though we might be at a loss also of how to make ends meet. These are a few of the pastoral realities which must reshape the dream of how we are to become that good shepherd tomorrow when all withdraw and a lifetime of priestly ministry awaits and begins.

“Being Church means being God’s people, in accordance with the great plan of his fatherly love. This means we are to be God’s leaven in the midst of humanity. It means proclaiming and bringing God’s salvation into our world, which often goes astray and needs to be encouraged, given hope and strengthened on the way…. The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven, and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel.” [Francis, JG]

It is almost the nature of dreams, especially about priesthood, to see us as ministers of the sacraments and indeed that is an essential part of the job description of today’s priest. But that you can accomplish in several waking hours, what are you going to do in the remaining time – wait for the phone to ring or the doorbell to sound? Pope Francis calls us to dream of using more of our time as good shepherds in a different way – as ministers of God’s mercy, taking the initiative to seek out the lost, recapture and reclaim the disenchanted and disenfranchised, to get dirty in the hubris of daily living by giving special attention to the poor, to the lonely, to the forgotten, to the angry,

If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, might and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them; without meaning and a goal in life.

            More than a fear of going stray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within the strictures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us, “Give them something to eat.” [Francis, JG]

Dear Felipe, Alex, Brad, Jon and Kevin, I wish I were younger and could join with you and my brother priests who may live the dream of a new form of priesthood born of the vision and the conscience of Pope Francis. It is far more challenging and exciting than anything I have experienced to date in my life and even somewhat scary. But it is more faithful to the image of Christ the Good Shepherd whom I was to become at my priestly ordination than the “dream I dreamed in times gone by” [Le Miserable]. It is the Good Shepherd who loved us to death, the alter Christus who in a few moments you are to become and I once became.

Today this Church is filled with love and great expectations. Your soon to be brother priests are renewed that in these times and with these challenges, you have already said “yes” to the call of Jesus, “follow me.” Together with me, they welcome you as brothers. God’s people whom you will serve will honor you as “father”. May Jesus welcome you many years from now as “faithful servant.”

+RNL

CHRISM MASS 2016

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

 

Today was the Chrism Mass. You can watch a replay of the live video stream here and see more photos here. My homily is below should you wish to read it.

March 22, 2016 - Bishop Lynch presided at the annual Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle in St. Petersburg. Priests of the diocese renewed their commitment to priestly service, the Oil of the Sick and the Oil of Catechumens was blessed and the Sacred Chrism was consecrated. (DOSP Photo / Maria Mertens)

CHRISM MASS HOMILY 2016
Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop of St. Petersburg

            Twenty years ago January 26, 1996 at the end of a long ordination liturgy I spoke my first words to you as a bishop. I began my inaugural address, as it were, by calling to mind an old hymn entitled, “what a friend we have in Jesus.” Today, as at every Chrism Mass in the intervening years, we listen again to the inaugural homily, speech, or sermon of Jesus when at the very beginning of his ministry he reminds his fellow synagogue members in Nazareth of Isaiah’s depiction of the Messiah. From that moment forward Jesus fulfilled his ministry of mercy perfectly, just as the Father had commanded it and as the Son had embraced it.

At that precise moment, Jesus announced that a new era had begun, a time of God’s favor, God’s mercy. Jesus proclaimed a gracious God and a merciful God and both would be the hallmarks of his remaining life and ministry. He speaks of his “anointing” and the oils which today we bless and consecrate are reminders of God’s love and generosity. They will be used to remind parents of their children’s election by God in baptism and confirmation – they are anointed. They will be used to remind the sick and the scared that God often heals – they are anointed. And, thank God, they will be used in seven weeks to anoint the hands of five who will feed His people with the bread of life and the cup of salvation. That era begun in the Nazareth Synagogue that Sabbath has not ended, nor has its substantially changed in its essence. Each and every one of us has been anointed to bring the good news of God’s mercy.

Can it be that in 2016 the Church of Jesus Christ is the last hope for the poor? Who are the poor? They are indeed the needy, the homeless and the hungry, the vulnerable lonely and the parentless child, the wounded returning veteran home from armed conflict, the breathless masse yearning to be free and here in our midst, our brothers and sisters in the shadows fearing deportation, separation from loved ones and even exile. In his inaugural homily or sermon or discourse or teaching, Jesus makes it abundantly clear that these “poor” have first claim on his time and on his ministry and on his gifts. Francis, our Pope, says precisely the same thing and establishes precisely the same order for Christ’s church – the poor come first, whether it is the poverty of sins in need of forgiveness or the poverty of a paucity of love or the poverty of living in constant fear.

Jesus would go on to put flesh on every priority first enumerated by Isaiah in just the three years of his public ministry while we have struggled to do our part in twenty. Jesus taught us to build bridges and not walls. Jesus taught us to proclaim through our ministry what he carried out in the rest of this marvelous Gospel of Luke which graces us this year:

Blessed are the poor, the Kingdom of God is yours. (6:20)

The poor have the good news preached to them. (7:22)

When you hold a banquet invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind (14:13)

 And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus and covered with sores. (16:20)

“I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than the rest. (21:3)

            Together for the past two decades we have tried in many ways to proclaim, spread and incarnate the good news in the life and ministry of the Church. One can become sadly disillusioned if and when one solely concentrates on the enormity of the challenge. Yet every new child baptized and confirmed, reconciled and fed with the bread of life, every couple married in Church because they wish God to be the center of their promise of fidelity, every infirm person prepared for the journey from death to eternal life, all testify to the presence of the Lord in our life and ministry.

Our mother Church gives us moments not just to reflect on the enormity of the challenge of evangelization, but also the success of many of our efforts and the communal act of gratitude for our ministry which this liturgy uniquely evokes. There is room for humble pride as we have born the heat of so many challenges in the last twenty years. But the people of this Church have never lost confidence in you, their pastors and priests. They still love you and are grateful for your priestly presence in their lives and let me say, perhaps for the final time, so am I and forever will be.

Sitting in this sanctuary this morning and watching livestream in Rome are five men, Deacons Felipe Gonzalez, Alex Padilla, Bradley Reed, Jonathan Stephans, and Kevin Yarnell whom I now call to ordination to the priesthood of Jesus Christ, eight weeks from now on May 21st. You are signs of hope and examples to all of us to God’s goodness. Additionally serving in the Sanctuary and sitting in the congregation are twenty-three others discerning God’s call at various levels of formation for whom we pray daily and are grateful always. You also are a significant part of our hope for the future.

The married deacons and their wives, here always in great number in support of our priests, are a treasure I failed to recognize when I arrived twety years ago but which I have grown to treasure more with each passing year. You are and will be a gift and legacy which I will leave to my successor with love and admiration and heartfelt appreciation.

Religious women and men, what a gift you are to our community. Substantially fewer in number than when I came, nevertheless the powerful witness of your consecrated presence reminds us all that sacrifice is still possible for the good of the kingdom of God.

And finally, people of God of the diocese of St. Petersburg. Pray for your Church often. Pray that we may reclaim those who have left us as we bring glad tidings to the lowly, heal the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners. Pray that we may continue to offer hope to our sisters and brothers who think they are at risk of deportation, to the pregnant mother who fears she cannot cope with giving birth to a child but finds us even more ready to help if she chooses life and pardon and forgiveness to the woman who was not able to make that choice, a sense of security to the school child who fears their parents are going to divorce, to the elderly who fear they will not be able to access medical care or prescriptions when they need it, the gay or lesbian who may have previously felt impoverished by neglect and scorn, those living in second or third non-sacramental marriage who long for the Eucharistic connection, women who seek to share their unique gifts with the Church they love. This is the modern poverty of which Jesus speaks and these are those whom we are called to serve with mercy. Pope Francis has changed the prescription of the lens through which we are to examine our ministry and mercy now enters our purview with even greater clarity.

However poverty is defined and it has many shapes and images, may we keep it before our face as Jesus did and Pope Francis demands, ready always to respond with mercy, love and compassion. My brother priests, deacons, religious and lay, let our past acts of mercy be the legacy of the last twenty years and the foundation of hope for the future.

+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.

IMG_9998

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

FOUR DAYS AND TWO DECADES AGO

Friday, January 29th, 2016

Tuesday, January 26th marked my twentieth anniversary of episcopal ordination and brought to completion two decades of presence and, hopefully, service to this wonderful Church of St. Petersburg. For those who were here twenty years ago, it was quite a day. In attendance were six cardinals, fourteen archbishops, and sixty bishops from around the nation. St. Jude’s was filled to the rafters as I was and still am the first and only bishop to be ordained and installed in the diocese.

I have not been one for big celebrations of birthdays and anniversaries, having allowed my 25th anniversary of priestly ordination to pass largely unnoticed and we had small celebration of my tenth anniversary of episcopal ordination with only the priests of the diocese present in 2006. Last Tuesday I repeated the tenth year experience by asking my brother priests to join me for a simple celebration of the Eucharist and a simple dinner in the Cathedral hall. No gifts and no speeches being the mandatory rubric. About 137 priests were able to be present on Tuesday which was a gift and brought joy to my heart. A few photos are included below, you can see more here.

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Celebration of the Eucharist. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

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Starting from the far left of the photo: Msgr. Jude O’Dougherty; myself; Msgr. Daniel Hoye; Bishop Paul D. Etienne, Bishop of Cheyenne; Archbishop Emeritus John C. Favalora, the third Bishop of St. Petersburg and former Archbishop of Miami; and Bishop John Noonan, bishop of Orlando. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

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Talking to my brother priests. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

I also wished for one final time to have an opportunity to begin to say good-bye. I believe that on May 27th of this year, my seventy-fifth birthday, that we need to begin to prepare both our hearts and this church for its new shepherd, whomever that might be. I have outlined the procedure for the selection and appointment of a new bishop in this space and if you did not read it before, you may do so by clicking here now. However, I thought you might wish to read my homily to the priests last Tuesday (it’s far from “Lincoln-est” as the title of this blog might tempt you to believe) but it is my heart as I wind up my work among all of you.

Until my successor is named, expect more blogs but perhaps a few less as I am growing old and tired in unison – the only part of my life that works in unison at this age! God Bless.

+RNL

SUNDAY THE RABBI SLEPT LATE

Friday, November 6th, 2015

On Wednesday night, November 4th, Rabbi Jacob Luski, my dear friend, was honored along with two others by the Bon Secours Health Care System and its St. Petersburg units, Bon Secours-Maria Manor Nursing facility and Bon Secours Place Assisted Living and Alzheimers Care Unit for his presence and service in our community. I was there, proud of both my friend and the recognition our Catholic community would shower on him. It marked the third straight Wednesday night that the Rabbi, his wife Joann, and his parents and I spent together.

Readers of this space perhaps read my talk delivered at Rabbi Lusky’s Congregation Bnai Israel marking the fiftieth anniversary of the document of Vatican II on the Church and its relation to non-Christian religions.

Rabbi Jacob Luski giving his talk. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik

Rabbi Jacob Luski giving his talk. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik

On the following Wednesday night, Rabbi Luski came to the Cathedral of St. Jude  and spoke as I did and from his perspective of that significant watershed moment. Below is to be found his talk in its entirety. I recommend you read it in its entirety for further insights into this moment in Catholic-Jewish relationships and I renew my profound respect and affection for Rabbi Jacob and his family (natural and congregational).

FIFTY YEARS AFTER NOSTRA AETATE

Shalom! I am most honored to be here today as your guest. I was so pleased that Bishop Robert Lynch accepted the invitation to address our community, as he did last week at Congregation B’nai Israel. Your most eloquent and bold remarks presented a unique historic opportunity for our religious communities to address the state of Catholic-Jewish relations, fifty years after Nostra Aetate. This golden anniversary is an opportunity to encourage Catholics, Jews and all people of good will to learn more about Nostra Aetate and educate others, while celebrating and offering thanksgiving that we live in a post – Nostra Aetate world. We must nourish this achievement.

Bishop Lynch, I have enjoyed our relationship both on a professional and personal level. For almost twenty years we have shared so much, which brings us to this exciting evening. Joanne and I have enjoyed your warmth, friendship, openness, and sincerity throughout the years. We pray for your continued good health and enthusiasm as you lead the Diocese of St. Petersburginto the future. We appreciate you! And we love you!

Nostra Aetate is named for its opening words, “In our day.” Today, October 28, 2015 marks exactly fifty years from October 28, 1965, the date of the Nostra Aetate declaration by the Second Vatican Council, under the imprimatur of Pope Paul VI. Now dialogue and partnership among religious groups and religious leaders assume new urgency. There are representatives of religion in this country and throughout the world, who believe and proclaim that faith in God requires them to disrespect, oppose, persecute, or kill believers in the name of God. Torah, the foundation of the Jewish people, teaches respect for other faiths and other ways of practicing Judaism. Now, as ever, religious leaders must raise their voices for interreligious respect as loudly and persistently as we can.

A battleship was out on the high seas and there was a very heavy fog in the area. The visibility was so poor, the captain stayed on the bridge to make sure that everything was all right. Shortly before midnight, the lookout came to him and reported: “Sir, there is a light directly ahead of us.”

The captain asked: “Is it steady, or is it moving away?”

The lookout replied: “It is steady, captain, and it is right in front of us.”

The captain called the signalman and said: “Signal that ship ahead to change course by twenty degrees.”

The signalman did. And back came the reply: “You change your course by twenty degrees.”

The captain was insulted. He said: “Send back a message, ‘I am a captain, and so you change course by twenty degrees.’”

Back came the message; “I am the lighthouse.”

The captain changed his course at once.

I share this story, for it explains why we have come here tonight. We live in a foggy world, a world in which it is very easy to wander off course, and not even know it. We have learned the hard way that the lighthouse sees things more clearly than we do. That it has the power to cut through the fog that beclouds our vision, better than we can. These two weeks, Catholics and Jews in St. Petersburg, come together in order to check with the lighthouse, to make corrections in our course, as we move forward.

For that is what the Torah and your tradition are, they are lighthouses. They have been cutting through the fog and illuminating the world for all these centuries, and it behooves us, when the fog is thick, and we cannot find our way, to check our course with the help of the lighthouse.

Bishop Lynch, the message you presented fourteen years ago to the Jewish community in 2001 at Congregation B’nai Israel of St. Petersburg was an important one for Catholic-Jewish relations in the Tampa Bay area. The first time a Catholic Bishop, a religious leader made such a positive statement about the future relationship of our religious local communities.

The gathering in October 2004 for priestly renewal, where over 100 priests spent a day learning about Judaism with a dozen Tampa Bay Rabbis was an enormous step in creating understanding and newly found working relationships amongst our religious leaders.

Your message of continued support for such exchanges created avenues of discussion for our religious leaders of Tampa Bay.

And your message last week, enumerating the successes and challenges fifty years after Nostra Aetate was again a unique historic moment for our religious community. We have come a long way.

Let us review some of the milestones in modern Catholic-Jewish relations which have improved tremendously on local, national and international levels since the Second Vatican Council.

Many have noted that there have probably been more positive encounters between Jews and Catholics in the last fifty years than in the previous fifteen hundred. These years have been a time of renewal, hope and growing cooperation between our faiths, evidenced by the multitude of Catholic-Jewish dialogue groups, organizations and institutions that emerged throughout the world since the Second Vatican Council.

On October 28, 1965, fifty years ago today, the Second Vatican Council and Pope John Paul VI issued Nostra Aetate, the declaration on the relationship of the church to non-Christian religions.

This document in chapter four addressed the issue of Christian attitudes towards the Jewish people. This document marked the end to a long era in the history of Catholic-Jewish relations, and the beginning of a new age of dialogue between our two ancient communities.

What did Nostra Aetate say about Judaism? Why was it such a historic declaration?

It repudiated the long standing charge of deicide, that the Jews killed Jesus.

It affirmed the religious bond and spiritual legacy shared by Jews and the church.

It implied that God and the Jews abide in covenant, the brit, a recognition that was made explicit by John Paul II and subsequent Popes.

It deplored “all hatreds, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism directed at Jews at any time or from any source.”

It stressed the need for accurate biblical interpretation and religious education, so that negative views of Jews and Judaism are not presented as biblically based or as authentic Catholic teaching.

It called for respectful dialogue and collaborative biblical and theological inquiry between Jews and Catholics.

It expressed no interest in further efforts to baptize Jews.

It relegated the resolution of the Jewish and Christian disagreement over Jesus’ significance, to the end of history.

Nostra Aetate has been described as a “sea-change,” effectively reversing centuries of the teaching of contempt for Jews and Judaism, which held that the Jews were collectively and perpetually accursed for the death of Jesus, and that God replaced them with the church, as the new “Israel.”

Fifty years later, we can ask, did Nostra Aetate resolve all the issues between Jews and Catholics? No.

There are defining differences in how Jews and Catholics understand and relate to God. Nostra Aetate started a new age of respectful interaction, in which distorted and polemical claims about each other’s traditions can be corrected, while cherishing the distinctive identities and insights of each community.

In 1965 Nostra Aetate did not explicitly discuss certain topics, such as the State of Israel, the Holocaust, and whether Catholics should seek to convert Jews.

Since then, many have been the milestones.

In 1974 a new Vatican commission was formed and guidelines and suggestions for implementing the declaration were presented.

In 1978 Pope John Paul II began a twenty six year pontificate, and set out to build a new relationship between the Church and the Jewish people. The conciliatory 1965 document inspired Pope John Paul II not just to tolerate Jews, not just to have theological discussions with them… not just to meet with them… but to invite them into a providential, emergent partnership.

In 1980 pope John Paul II addressed the Jewish community in Mainz, West Germany, insisting on the eternal validity of God’s covenant with the Jews, a theme repeated in subsequent church teachings.

In 1986, John Paul II became the first Pope in history to visit Rome’s Great Synagogue. He reiterated the Second Vatican Council’s condemnation of all discrimination toward the Jews. He stated: “The Jewish religion is not ‘extrinsic’ to us, but in a certain way is ‘intrinsic’ to our own religion. With Judaism therefore we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religions. You are our dearly beloved brothers, and in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers.”

In 1993, Israel and the Vatican established full diplomatic ties, easing decades of diplomatic tensions between the two states.

In 1997 at a Vatican symposium “roots of anti-Judaism in the Christian milieu” John Paul II stated: “In the Christian world…erroneous and unjust interpretations of the New Testament regarding the Jewish people… have circulated too long, engendering feelings of hostility toward this people.”

 In 1998 in the long awaited document on the Holocaust, “We remember: a reflection on the Shoah”, the church expressed repentance for those Christians who failed to oppose the Nazi persecution of the Jews.

In the year 2000 Pope John Paul II undertook a historic visit to Israel, during which he visited Judaism’s holiest site, the Kotel Maaravi, the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Fifteen years ago a historic scholarly document ‘Dabru Emet’ presented suggestions about how Jews and Christians might better relate to one another.

In 2005 Pope Benedict’s first official correspondence as a Pope was a letter of congratulations to the Chief Rabbi emeritus of Rome’s Great Synagogue, Dr. Elio Toaff, on the occasion of his 90th birthday.

Pope Benedict visited synagogues in Cologne, West Germany, New York City, and the Great Synagogue in Rome in 2010, repeating the historic visit made there by his predecessor.

 Just ten years ago, Pope Benedict on the fortieth anniversary of Nostra Aetate wrote: “The Jewish Christian dialogue must continue to enrich and deepen the bonds of friendship which have developed, while preaching, we must be committed to ensuring that our mutual relations are presented in the light of the principles set forth by the council.”

In 2009 Pope Benedict visited Israel meeting with religious and political leaders in both Israel and the Palestinian territories, expressing the solidarity of the Catholic Church with the people of that region.

In March 2013 Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as Pope Francis. One of his first acts was to send a message to Rome’s Jewish community informing them of his election, and inviting their presence for his Installation Mass.

We quickly came to know that Pope Francis had a long standing and warm relationship with Argentina’s Jewish community and he had just published a book of his conversations with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a close friend and colleague. “On heaven and earth: Pope Francis on faith, family and the church in the twenty-first century.”

A year into his papacy, Pope Francis paid his first papal visit to the holy land, visiting Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories accompanied by his good friend, Argentinian Rabbi Abraham Skorka, Rector of the Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano.

These are some of the milestones in modern Catholic-Jewish relations.

Many rabbinic leaders and scholars have been involved in this Catholic- Jewish dialogue over the last five decades. Outstanding Jewish leaders as Rabbis Abraham Joshua Heschel, Leon Klenicki, Marc Tannenbaum, Mordecai Waxman and David Rosen.

Rabbi Irving Greenberg laid out the need to create a theology that acknowledges that both Judaism and Christianity are God’s messengers to humanity. Both communities must recognize that God has broadened the channels of redemption and that we are partners in spreading divine teachings and joint witnesses to modernity, adding our input of morality and the ethical, to science and democracy.

The ADL, the Anti-Defamation League sponsors the Bearing Witness program where Catholic educators travel to Israel, in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, improving Jewish-Catholic relations, teaching about Jewish theology, and anti-Semitism. A group was set to travel in the summer of 2014, but the rocket fire from Hamas in Gaza postponed the trip until this past summer. This program ensures that the next generation of Catholics, born decades after the Second Vatican Council and its Nostra Aetate declaration, understands its significance. The hundreds of Catholic educators who participated in the Bearing Witness program, influenced tens of thousands of young minds over the years.

There is much to build on here. The ancient Jewish text, the Tosefta, clearly states that the righteous of all nations have a place in the world to come. Jewish sources repeatedly proclaim the doctrine ‘mipnei darchei shalom,’ or for the sake of peace, which enjoins Jews to “seek peace and pursue peace” with everyone, including our non-Jewish neighbors. The rabbinic teaching of the Noahide commandments is relevant as are other such teachings, which are building blocks by which we can develop further dialogue.

Nostra Aetate has been liberating for both Christians and Jews. It has enabled Christianity to advance beyond its burdensome past regarding Jews and Judaism. It represents for Jews the possibility that Christianity would no longer threaten their security and well-being. For creative religious thinkers, it facilitated consideration of a positive role for Christianity in the divine plan.

Pope Francis emphasized commonalities between Judaism and Christianity in a meeting with members of the International Council of Christians and Jews, this July. He stated: “Christians, all Christians, have Jewish roots. Both faith traditions find their foundation in the one God, the God of the covenant, who reveals himself through his word. In seeking a right attitude towards God, Christians turn to Christ as the fount of new life, and Jews to the teaching of the Torah. This pattern of theological reflection on the relationship between Judaism and Christianity arises precisely from Nostra Aetate, and upon this solid basis can be developed yet further. Pope Francis once again declared, that Nostra Aetate is a “document which represents a definitive ‘yes’ to the Jewish roots of Christianity and an irrevocable ‘no’ to anti-Semitism.”

Just last month, Pope Francis met with Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin in Rome. In the exchange of gifts President Rivlin gave the Pope a replica of a tablet with the inscription “House of David,” the earliest known mention of King David that has been found outside of the Hebrew Bible. Pope Francis presented President Rivlin with a bronze medallion featuring a rock split in two held together by an olive branch emerging from the fissure, inscribed “look for what unites, overcome that which divides.”

A few weeks ago in Philadelphia, Saint Joseph University unveiled a new sculpture, “Synagoga and Ecclesia in our time.” The title is reference to a sculpture that adorned many medieval churches. It depicted the victory of Ecclesia, the church, over Synagoga, a blindfolded woman who, looking down, represented Judaism. In the new sculpture, both women are equal, sitting together and looking at each other’s holy text. Rabbi Abraham Skorka, Pope Francis’s good friend unveiled the statue. Pope Francis, Rabbi Skorka at his side, made a surprise visit to bless the sculpture symbolizing catholic unity with Jews, and to convey his own message of respect for the Jewish people. As Rabbi Skorka said, “Our friendship is a paradigm of what has to be the great relationship between Jews and Christians.”   The two religious leaders shared a moment at the new sculpture, as the pontiff blessed it with holy water. We witnessed another example of both their friendship and their shared commitment to bridging their distinct religious beliefs.

Just think, Bishop Lynch you began this process in St. Petersburg, on October 28, 1999, when His Eminence, William Cardinal Keeler, a member of the United States Bishop’s Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and your good friend and mentor in interfaith relations visited our community. You invited the Tampa Bay Rabbis to lunch, a kosher lunch catered by Jo-El’s Specialty Foods no less, here at the Cathedral, to meet with Cardinal Keeler. That afternoon a process of change began in our Tampa Bay area. Who could have predicted all the ensuing opportunities for dialogue and learning that have taken place, right here in our back yards?

As we stop and view the last two thousand years of history, one can proudly acknowledge that the Church has taken extraordinary steps at many levels, in a very short time, fifty years. We find ourselves in an extraordinary moment in Catholic-Jewish relations. There is a growing harmony and very satisfying level of discourse. The Catholic Church is working hard to make certain that the positions it has taken filter down to the parish level and are communicated sincerely and effectively. We want to be your partners in helping you make this happen.

As the fog continues to lift, as long-fraught relations between Catholics and Jews dramatically improve, we mark fifty years after Nostra Aetate. We look out into the future.

Bishop Lynch, as a Rabbi in the Jewish community and your friend, I declare that we are grateful and acknowledge the many advances that have been made. Your invitation tonight on the golden anniversary of this historic declaration, we graciously applaud, as another major positive effort.

In our Jewish tradition, we always conclude with a prayer, a request for peace:“Oseh shalom bimromav hu ya’aseh shalom, aleinu v’al kol yisrael, v’imru, Amen….” May He who establishes peace in the heavens, grant peace for us, for Israel and for all humankind, and let us say, Amen.

Talk given by Rabbi Jacob Luski

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THE PEOPLE OF GOD WON

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

 

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Why was the synod of the family and married life so successful? And why do I think it was successful in the first place? The synod process envisioned by the bishops attending the Second Vatican Council foresaw, as did Popes John XXIII and Paul VI, a church so large throughout the world and yet so close due to advances in communication that the one chosen to lead the Church would need guidance from time to time from those chosen to lead the local churches. Cultures often clash, languages often divide, custom often prevails in a polyglot mosaic which is the Church today. Peter needs to hear from the equivalent of today’s Paul, or today’s James,  Andrew,  Jude, etc. who lead the local churches. Except for the strictest of doctrines which form the core of who we are as Catholics and have been clearly defined as such, necessity has always been the mother of invention and the universal Church has often too slowly accommodated itself to the needs of the outliers.

Since the first Synod following the Council, these opportunities for collegiality have been manipulated, not by Popes particularly, except perhaps through disengagement, but by those charged with organizing them. I have already written that many of those serving closest to St. John Paul II believed they served him best by sheltering him from the truth which was often seen as shaking belief. “Please don’t upset the Holy Father” was a curial mantra for thirty years. So past Synods were carefully crafted to control the end-product, limit discussion in assembly, and, I am afraid and ashamed to say it, stifle genuine discussion among the leaders of the Churches.

Not this time, however! Pope Francis came to listen last year and this year. He wanted to hear the truth of the lived experience of the local churches which are his also by divine commission. He even said, don’t hold back for fear of upsetting me if you are yourself upset. He gave me, a local bishop of a mid-size U.S. diocese, the encouragement and opportunity to poll my people on their thoughts on the very hot-button questions which were at the core of the most animated and watched topics of the two synods. My people spoke, 9000 of you, in English and Spanish, and you confirmed what I already knew as a pastor how you felt about divorce and remarriage, marriage itself, co-habitation, lesbian and gays in the life of the Church and the Church in their lives. We were told not to publish the results but I had already promised as you were completing the surveys that I would share the results with you, long before the prohibition came. I did share the result and I have heard nothing from the Secretariat for the Synod either castigating me or complaining that I jumped the gun. I guarantee you I would have heard, quickly and strongly, from a less open process in the past.

So some of the discussion was messy. Most of us knew that would be the case before the Synod began but then life is often messy, the Church itself can be messy. Our Pope sat and listened to opposing viewpoints without flinching. He wanted to hear the hurts and hopes of the local churches as best as they could be expressed by their representatives. Most good pastors listen. I attempt to when it comes to my Presbyteral Council, my Diocesan Finance Council and my Diocesan Pastoral Council. They don’t hold back and I don’t hold their truthfulness and belief against them. Most of the time, they are right, as I have learned.

So the assembled Synod participants presented to the Pope their best thoughts on messy topics. Intelligently and fittingly, they left the sorting out, cleaning up, and eventually promulgating the fruits of their labor to him, to Peter. Wisely, they left ambiguity where some thought there needed to be certainty. He loved that! Did he not tell them a year ago that they have nothing to fear for Peter is listening, learning, and leading the Church? But he is not going it alone. Nor is he solely reliant upon those in the Curia though he knows the very talented ones who share his vision for the Church of the future. The synod’s work product is his now, and that is precisely what he wished for in calling this extraordinary approach to critical issues in the world today.

Pope Francis is merciful. We should expect that from the pope of mercy. As he admitted in his closing speech to the Synod, he heard some hurtful things coming from the minds and mouths of some, though, in “church-speak” not directly aimed personally at himself. He won’t punish, penalize, or push them out. Truth arises best from a diversity of opinion. Some people are scared of change. I am scared of not changing. Fifty more years of feel-good, manipulated and managed synods would definitely produce a Church more out-of-touch with reality. Even doctrine evolves, don’t let anyone tell you it hasn’t and doesn’t. The core remains intact more often than not but the application has changed over the centuries. So does language change, even if we regress in our public prayer. You won’t hear this Pope and I hope you never hear me speak of people living in second, non-sacramental marriages as “adulterers”. People of genuine mercy watch their language, always. Our language in dealing with people on the margins will change as a result of this Synod.

Finally, there is the near-reality that there will be no going back from the amazing progress made in the last two and a half years. Church leadership at all levels will continue to morph into more of a mirror image of Francis. Future popes will no longer come from the Roman Curia but rather, like Francis, will more likely come from farthest corners of the globe and how they lead will reflect in large part on their experience of living with Peter and under Peter. I noticed how quiet and reflective the synod members were this year chosen by the Pope from the Curia, save one and it is better having that one arguing inside the “tent” rather than outside it. The bishops of the world definitely won because Peter is leading us into a more discerning and reflective Church, free of fear, and interested mainly in being agents of mercy. The people of God won!

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POPE FRANCIS, BEN ZOBRIST AND THE AMAZING NEW YORK METS

Sunday, October 25th, 2015
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Photo via Google Image search

The very title of this blog entry contains the name of two of my heroes and a baseball team that for years has tried the patience of many and disappointed more than a few. Ben Zobrist is my favorite baseball player in the major leagues for a myriad of reasons. I was broken-hearted when the Rays traded him, even more so when it was to the Oakland Athletics. Last week I delighted in seeing Ben  shining once again on the diamond like a diamond. From midseason with the Kansas City Royals, Ben proved his staying power and then hit the home run in the final game with the Blue Jays his first time at bat,  often coming through in the clutch. Throughout the playoffs, Ben Zobrist was the consummate utility player, capable of playing at almost any position on the field, save catcher, and doing it well. He has always been and remains a player for all fans.

He and his wife are deeply devoted and committed Christians. They believe in God, live each day by God’s law and embrace the person of Jesus Christ as their savior. They make no bones about their Christian faith but they never boast or brag about it. Rather they live it. While among us here in Tampa, Ben visited the classrooms of children in what we now refer to as  ” failing schools”, giving them encouragement and hope. He could be seen from time to time at All Children’s’ Hospital spreading his message of mercy, hope and happiness. His priorities were always in this order, his faith, his family and baseball. Now he is off to the Big Show, baseball’s equivalent of the Catholic Church’s just now completed Synod on the Family. Read the book written by he and his wife, Julianna, (Doubleplay) and you will immediately notice the comparisons. The Zobrists live a family life lived with an abundance of mercy and forgiveness.

He reminds me in some ways of Pope Francis who had the courage to call these last two synod meetings to discuss both the family and family life in our day. This Pope understands the challenges of living in the real world and the necessity of the Church moving to understand, embrace and support those most in need of our presence and help, precisely as Church. Six weeks of his time in the past thirteen months have been spent listening to bishops from around the world describe the challenges of marriage and the family, from Africa to Asia to the Americas and all points in between. He listened, spoke only rarely but when needed forcefully, and I believe the Pope received from the assembled exactly what he wanted: namely enough room to take on some of the more challenging aspects of marriage and family life in our day in the months ahead. He did not ask for, want and probably would not have countenanced doctrinal change. Rather, he asked those present to hang out the dirty laundry of living marriage in this age and increasingly secular society and instead of condemning it, give him room to apply his two fold commitments to the applications of mercy and forgiveness.

I wasn’t there and most of the world’s bishops were not there either. No one who was there from the United States, nor did our national episcopal conference, ask for my guidance or that of the body of bishops as to how we felt about the problems and their possible solutions, but the Holy Father did in 2013. Yet I believe the innermost longings of my heart for my Church were spoken and heard. I have been on a three-week high just because that reality was finally being discussed and dissected. Who could ask for anything more?

Mets

Photo via Google Image search.

Pope Francis is a utility infielder capable of playing any position which will help his church race across the three pastoral bases: mercy, forgiveness, healing which will ultimately end in a home run for God’s people. And the Church today, Sunday, October 25, 2016 is like the New York Mets. Good things do come to those who patiently watch, wait, renew, rebuild, change managers, and eventually make it to the previously unthought-of – in baseball, the World Series, and in ecclesiology adapting to the present without forsaking the past.

Photo via @newsva Instagram

Photo via @newsva Instagram

Here are some take-home words from our manager as he sent his team home this morning, leaving to himself how to take advantage of all the possibilities and openings the Synod has given him:

This is the temptation: a “spirituality of illusion:” we can walk through the deserts of humanity without seeing what is really there; instead we see what we want to see. We are capable of developing views of the world, but we do not accept what the Lord places before our eyes. A faith that does not know how to root itself in the life of the people remains arid and, rather and oases, creates other deserts.

Moments of suffering and conflict are for God occasions of mercy. Today is a time of mercy!

Pope Francis is an incredible leader. He has the serenity of a man who does not worry about petty bickering but places great trust in the presence of the Spirit in all people, friend or foe. He got precisely what he wanted from these two gatherings – an opening to further his and our ministry of mercy, which is I believe, precisely what Jesus would want of his Church. I am in charge of the triage unit in these five counties and together with our priests, deacons, religious and laity, we shall step up our desire to stop the bleeding, heal the hurting, and show all that the Church is like the Mets, rising to the national championship of kindness, compassion, forgiveness and mercy. It is what the “emergency room” doctor, Pope Francis, asks of us at the end of the listening.

We are a family, sometimes dysfunctional but also desirous of welcoming more and more back, or for the first time to the family table of the Eucharist. The Synod was merely grace before meals for the Church family. Bless us O Lord for these your gifts, which we have received through your goodness and through Christ, our Lord.

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