Posts Tagged ‘Pope Francis’

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  I told the men that this was a largely unspoken and unpublished concept that had silently and secretly emerged in the late eighties and nineties, emanating from some US bishops serving in Rome.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

THE LORD AND THE RINGS

Monday, October 10th, 2016

It has been quite a week for this bishop. First, I spent three days with a majority of our priests in our annual convocation which was held at our Bethany Center. We had three superb presenters, we prayed well, and we recreated well. In all likelihood, this will be my final convocation with these priests for some time. As regular readers know, I intend to absent myself from the diocese for one year beginning on the evening of my successor’s installation. After that, late Spring, Summer, and most of October will be spent in Northern Michigan and traditionally the convocation is held the first week of October – a week or two before God’s manifestation of change and beauty, aka. “Fall foliage.” So there was some hidden, I hope, emotion surrounding my presence at convocation this week.

Yesterday (Saturday), we celebrated Hispanic heritage day with a joyous celebration at the Cathedral honoring this year Our Lady of Aparecida, patroness of Brazil.

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Processing in with Our Lady of Aparecida. Photo kindness of Oscar Calabi.

The Hispanic and Portuguese communities filled that worship space and prayed and sang their hearts out. You can watch the live streamed video of the Mass here. More photos will be posted on the diocesan website soon.

Bishop Etienne (photo courtesy BIshop Etienne's blog)

Bishop Paul Etienne (photo courtesy Bishop Etienne’s blog)

However, the larger Church I serve and love has been quite active in my life and not in the manner most of you who regularly read this would expect. First came the announcement last Tuesday that Pope Francis will transfer my dear friend, Paul D. Etienne, from serving as bishop of Cheyenne (all of Wyoming and all of Yellowstone National Park which lies within the state of Montana) to serve the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska as its fourth Archbishop. Archbishop-elect Etienne, 57, once worked with me, as a lay man at the time, on the 1987 visit of Saint John Paul II’s second visit to the United States. During that time we became very close, as collaborators and friends. I came to know his parents well, his hometown of Tell City, Indiana well (that didn’t take too long), his siblings Rick and Angela who are married, Nicolette who is a member of the Benedictine Community at Beech Grove, Indiana, Bernie and Zack who are priests of the Evansville diocese. The new archbishop extended to me the privilege of preaching at both his first Mass as a priest and at his episcopal ordination/installation seven years ago. He has been the spiritual moderator for one of our convocations for priests and they fell in love with him. I suspect that there might have been some local disappointment here, among the clergy, when Pope Francis announced “Anchorage”.

He has been a marvelous shepherd in a huge diocese and from all I have heard, there is ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth” there at the moment. For a lover of the outdoors, an avid hunter and fisherman, the new archbishop gets to change his prey to bears and moose and caribou and from trout and bass to salmon. Previously, driving for hours to be present in the Wyoming peripheries, he now will have to use float planes in a few instances and Alaska Airlines in others to reach his people. But, and this is important, this balanced and deeply spiritual  priest/bishop as an archbishop will have a role to play in further shaping the Francis vision of Church which the new archbishop enthusiastically supports.

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Bishop Kevin J. Farrell. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Callas.

This morning (Sunday) Pope Francis named three of my brother bishops to the College of Cardinals: Bishop Kevin J. Farrell, previously Bishop of Dallas, Texas, who the Holy Father asked to come to Rome to administer the new super congregation for life, laity and the pursuit of

Archbishop Blase J. Cupich. Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Archbishop Blase J. Cupich. Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

happiness; Archbishop Blasé J. Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago who has been in this diocese on numerous occasions, like Archbishop Etienne as spiritual moderator at one of our priest convocations and delivering talks on the new missal, new translation, and new vision for the Church. He also has on occasion found our locale useful for rest, reflection and writing;

Archbishop Joseph Tobin, CSsR at the Cathedral last year. Photo kindness of Dana Rozance.

Archbishop Joseph Tobin, CSsR at the Cathedral last year. Photo kindness of Dana Rozance.

finally, Archbishop Joseph Tobin, CSsR, Archbishop of Indianapolis, who one year ago almost to the day celebrated Mass and preached at our Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle as we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of “Perfectae Caritatis”, the Second Vatican Council’s document on religious life. After two terms as head of the worldwide Redemptorist order, Archbishop Tobin became Secretary at the Congregation for Religious at the Vatican. He is also a great choice. Today was a “red letter day” for myself and for the Church.

Now, what is all this business about the “Lord and the rings?” When I was announced as bishop of St. Petersburg a number of dear friends “showered” me with regalia. I am grateful for them all. The first was a gift from the late Archbishop Paul C. Marcinkus with whom I worked closely in the first visit of St. John Paul II to the US in 1979. He gave me a beautiful ring designed and struck by the Italian artist Scorzelli depicting Easter and the Resurrection of the Lord from the tomb. It was one of two prototypes which the artist had prepared in two sizes as gifts to Pope Paul VI. The Holy Father found the rings too large, too heavy for his personal use so he gave them to Archbishop Marcinkus who gave one to the late Archbishop John L. May of St. Louis (a Chicago seminary classmate of Marcinkus who sat immediately in front of his next in the alphabet friend for their entire seminary experience). That ring was subsequently given by Archbishop May to Bishop John Gaydos of Jefferson City, Missouri who wears it today. I wore it for my ordination day and on major occasions but gave mine which I cherished to Bishop Etienne within days of his announcement to Cheyenne.

The second ring I received was the night prior to my episcopal ordination and was given to me by the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin who came to preach the homily at my ordination the next day. It was a simple but beautiful episcopal ring, struck by a Chicago jeweler. All of his auxiliaries were given similar rings. I wore it from the day after my ordination on January 26, 1996 to the third week in October in the same year when I spent the night at his Chicago residence with the Cardinal only days before his death to cancer.

On that occasion Cardinal Bernardin lamented the changes which had taken place in the national episcopal Conference over the two and a half decades since he himself emerged as General Secretary and later its president. With me those special moments that night were Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly, OP of Louisville and Monsignor Daniel Hoye my predecessors in office. The Cardinal showed us some painful letters received from several of his cardinal colleagues, a supportive letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith, and recounted a phone call from the Holy Father expressing gratitude for his service to Chicago and the Church universal. That night he felt that the vision of the Council which he had devoted so much of his ministry to was on the wane. He died two weeks later and I removed his ring from my finger promising that I would wear it again when and if the pendulum would begin to swing again to the Council’s and my mentor’s, the Cardinal’s, vision for the Church.

Six months after my episcopal ordination I received what is called a “Council ring” gifted to me by Cardinal Roberto Tucci, SJ, Archbishop Emil Paul Tscherrig, and Dr. Alberto Gaspari, the “dream team” for planning papal visits. The ring is a simple gold band with the Apostles Peter and Paul standing at either side of Christ. I have worn it with the hope that the vision of the Council fathers, Blessed Pope Paul VI and the bishops it was my privilege to serve would begin to take root once again. I think it did today and the Bernardin ring is back on my finger till the Lord comes for me.

With deep gratitude to Pope Francis.

+RNL

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

HELP FROM ABROAD

Sunday, July 24th, 2016

Pope Francis gets (understands) the human condition as well as any Catholic I know. He also understands, appreciates and supports Church teaching and has changed nothing. Yet he gets a lot of flack from certain segments of our ecclesial community which is much more comfortable with “law and order” than “love and forgiveness.” Since the publication of his post-synodal exhortation, The Joy of Love dealing with love, marriage, family life, procreation, sexual attraction, doubts have been raised in certain sectors of our faith community about its teaching authority (is it a magisterial document?), its guidance in dealing with divorce, remarriage, and return to the sacraments, and voices have been heard questioning its authority as well as it meaning and interpretation.

I have now been a priest for approaching thirty-nine years and from the very beginning of my seminary training, I was introduced to something called “internal forum” solutions, which was available to me when I accompanied a divorced and remarried person or couple. We don’t talk about it or preach about it precisely because it is “internal forum” which means it is accorded the same level of secrecy as sins confessed in the sacrament of reconciliation.

I have always thought it is an inferior way to deal with these situations because almost inevitably a person in a second, non-sacramental marriage wants to remarry in a public ceremony which is not possible using this pastoral approach. Also for older Catholics something like this is not “real until there is a document saying that it is real” (a declaration of nullity, for example). Our diocesan marriage tribunals perform a needed, effective, and deeply pastoral ministry of mercy. The process is long, burdensome, almost always reopens old wounds, which have been psychologically cauterized following a divorce decree. The process is free in this diocese and has been for some time and thanks to Pope Francis, it has the potential to be speeded up.

But there are those cases where a previously married person deeply believes in good conscience that his or her first marriage was never sacramental but it just can’t be proven to or accepted by an ecclesiastical marriage tribunal. Pope Francis recently spoke a somewhat offhanded remark that a majority of young people getting married were probably in invalid marriages because they were incapable at the time of understanding the full measure and consequences of the sacrament into which they were entering. Many priests I know, and I myself, agree with that.

In the internal forum, priests for years have been accompanying the divorced and remarried back to participation in the sacramental life of the Church of their baptism. Probably not in great numbers (since it is internal forum or “under the seal” and there are no statistics), and I for one do not think the number is staggering because of the reasons outlined in the two proceeding paragraphs.

In the “The Joy of Love” I sense that this loving and caring pastor, Pope Francis, without changing any laws per se, wishes to remind priests of this option of accompaniment and accomplishment. So all of this is by way of sharing with you one of the best defenses of this document, which I have read since its publication, and it comes with the approval of the Holy See. It also joins a spirited defense of the same exhortation given by Cardinal Christoph Shoenborn of Vienna, no theological slouch!

As is often the case, I owe public thanks to the mother of all ecclesial blogs and to its doorkeeper, Rocco Palmo for making it available to me, to you and to a wider audience. A well-known and highly respected theologian Rocco Buttiglione worth your time to read the article pens it. It appeared last week in English in the normally all-Italian L’Osservatore Romano, and someone in our upper echelon of management had to look at it and approve it for publication. You may access it by clicking here.

I am going to begin a dialogue with the priests of the diocese about implementation of the apostolic exhortation locally and to see what, if anything. troubles them or excites them. It will also serve as a good reminder of a pastoral solution we have had for some time and which the Holy Father resurrects.

Please take time to read the article in its entirety. Thanks.

+RNL

ORLANDO, ORLANDO WE LOVE YOU

Monday, June 27th, 2016

Apropos recent comments concerning my last blog entry on the Orlando massacre I simply offer the following:

I think that the Church must not only ask forgiveness – like that “Marxist Cardinal” said (laughs) – must not only ask forgiveness to the gay person who is offended. But she must ask forgiveness to the poor too, to women who are exploited, to children who are exploited for labor. She must ask forgiveness for having blessed so many weapons. The Church must ask forgiveness for not behaving many times – when I say the Church, I mean Christians! The Church is holy, we are sinners! – Christians must ask forgiveness for having not accompanied so many choices, so many families… (Pope Francis’ in-flight press conference from Armenia, June 26, 2016).

The history of homosexuals in our society is a very bad history because we have done a lot to marginalize them, and so as church and as society we have to say, ‘Sorry’ (Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Trinity College, Dublin, June 23, 2016).

+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.

 

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.

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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
zobrist

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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SUNDAY, SUNDAY

Monday, October 5th, 2015

IMG_1872I left Rome on Saturday to return to the diocese, mostly without interruption at least until the Christmas holidays. The “Roman Holiday” was not much of a holiday as I arrived in the Eternal City at 900 am on Wednesday and left at noon on Saturday – three days and three hours. The purpose of the trip was wonderful in that for the second year in a row one of our seminarians was ordained to the transitional diaconate, meaning that I will have the privilege of ordaining him to the priesthood this coming May. Alex Padilla, like Father Ryan Boyle who was ordained last year, has attended the Pontifical North American College for three years. During that time his studies have been at the Gregorian University (the Jesuits) and his formation at the North American College (NAC hereafter). He is among 270 seminarians enrolled this year at this seminary.

Alex is one of two early vocations coming from the diocese’s newest high school, Bishop McLaughlin in Spring Hill (well, really Hudson for everyone except the Post Office). Rajeev Phillip is the second vocation and he also is studying in Rome but for the Syro-Malabar Rite whose origin and strength is to be found in Southern India. His diocesan headquarters is in Chicago and there are two Syro-Malabar parishes located in Tampa so perhaps good fortune will bring Rajeev back to minister in his home area. Both McLaughlin graduates are outstanding candidates for the priesthood.

Alex was ordained a deacon on Thursday morning at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica by Timothy Cardinal Dolan along with thirty-eight other men. Twelve of his classmates were ordained deacons during the summer months in their own dioceses and by their own bishops. While his mother and father and brother were able to be present, only one other cousin who lives in Germany, and one other classmate from his days as a college seminarian at St. John Vianney were able to be present as well.

His rector from his days at St. John Vianney in Miami, Monsignor Roberto Garza, vested him in his diaconal robes during the ceremony, and his coach and mentor from Bishop McLaughin, Michael Zelenka, now principal at Incarnation Elementary School in Tampa, and I were able to be present.

Cardinal Dolan gave one of the finest homilies prior to the actual ordination ceremony itself I have ever heard. The ordination was lovely and the opportunity  to spend time with an ordinand and his family was special for myself as well.

On Friday and Saturday, the nine U.S. bishops who will be participating in the Synod on the Family, which began with a prayer service on Saturday night, arrived for their three hard weeks of work on a church event which, save for the Second Vatican Council, has captured the attention of the Catholic world. You may recall that almost two years ago I invited all of my diocesan family to complete a questionnaire on marriage and family life in the Church and world today.

More than 9,000 of you responded with a large majority asking for some type of relief for the divorced and remarried while maintaining the essential teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. You also spoke your minds and hearts in that survey about same-sex marriage, welcoming gay and lesbian Catholics back into the family if they felt estranged, cohabitation and many other matters.

I shared the results of the survey with all of you, even though I think I was not supposed to do that. That survey and its findings were sent to the Synod Office in Rome which prepared the working structure for both last year’s extraordinary Synod which led up to what starts tonight with a prayer vigil with the Pope in St. Peter’s Square and a Mass tomorrow morning. Then the “rubber will hit the road”. My suspicion is that there is sufficient division among the attending Synod members to bring about major change, but the Holy Father might well. He listens carefully and intently to what he hears, both the majority opinions and the minority opinions. If the minority has a point, whereas in the past it would never see the light of day at the conclusion of the Synod, he has minority opinions noted publicly and occasionally as he sees pastorally fit, useful and or necessary he implements some of the things he hears.

This man is not afraid of conflict. He has asked the Synod Fathers to speak the truth of their hearts and minds in love and to bear in mind that there is always “Peter” to make the final decisions. It is going to be an interesting and invigorating three weeks as the Francis wind continues to breeze through the Church and it could get seemingly ugly but I ask you “be not afraid” as the Holy Spirit is guiding us now as we seek to speak to the modern world. Keep your eye on this space during these three weeks for thoughts.

Congratulations Deacon Alex. As wonderful as Thursday was, May 21, 2016 will be even more joyous as a grateful church of St. Petersburg welcomes you, Bradley Reed, Jonathan Stephanz, Kevin Yarnell, and Felipe Gonzalez to the sacred priesthood.

Also, please pray for all your priests who will be spending three days together this week in a special, mandatory convocation to reflect on what we have accomplished as a local church in the last two decades and what we would like to see shape a vision that we can share with the next shepherd of this great diocese.

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