Posts Tagged ‘priest’

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

LETTERS, I GET LETTERS, LOTS AND LOTS OF LETTERS

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Regular readers of this blog may recall that every year, it seems, I write something about the difficulties involved with transferring priest personnel.

It is a hard job. It is sometimes almost a seemingly heartless job and always a thankless job. And it is something which I do not undertake alone but with a committee of priests, almost all pastors, who don’t like it anymore than I do. Every transfer messes with someone’s life and many transfers can wound parish communities who have come to love and respect their pastor or associate pastor.

In other words, this is not a responsibility anyone in their right mind loves to do. But it is necessary and there are policies and procedures to be followed, many of which are unknown to many of you. So let me enlighten you, if I can, on exactly what is more often behind the decision to transfer your pastor or your associate.

The process begins early in every calendar year when all priests receive a letter asking them if they wish to be considered for a transfer or would they like to remain in place. Generally, pastors choose the latter and many associate pastors choose the former.

For pastors, there is an agreed upon term of office, which is for six years. After six years, the pastor can be transferred at any time but it is also generally understood that at twelve years, he will be transferred unless he is over the age of sixty, when he generally can expect to remain. This “tenure” for pastors allows some of my brothers to ask for a change at special moments after their initial six years. Our Priest’s Council passed this guideline a number of years ago. Imagine my surprise when a pastor asks to be transferred and then when he goes back to his parish, he says it was the bishop’s wish and decision. Then everyone gets mad at me and do I get letters, lots and lots of letters.

I personally think that a carefully followed policy in this regard is best, but the proverbial devil is sometimes in the details. For example, a pastor may ask to extend beyond the normal twelve years because he is involved in a building project that is nearing completion, or he needs to be near his doctors and health care facility, or he is over sixty and therefore now grandfathered into his position.

Most all of my priests will change when asked to do so. They know that the diocese and/or myself are up against it and they have something which is badly needed in another place. They may not like it but they remember their promise of obedience.

Like most requirements of Human Resources, I am not free to disclose the reason a priest is being moved. Associates generally need two assignments of different varieties prior to being named a pastor. Priests seeking to join the ranks of the priests of St. Petersburg generally must have five years of experience and two assignments before they will be incardinated. A recommendation for incardination comes to me from yet another committee of priests and seldom starts with me but comes to conclusion with me.

And, I do get letters, pro and con, at this time. Every bishop I know has a philosophy of the assignment of priests and whoever follows me will do exactly as I did in my first year, move a lot of people who have been a long time in their assignments, perhaps even regardless of the tenure requirement. He will get letters, lots and lots of letters.

Sometimes a priest is transferred because he has done something which damages his credibility as a servant leader. I can’t think of a single person in this category who has not been given a second or even a third chance at exercising leadership.

You see, priesthood is like marriage, at least in this regard. On the day of one’s ordination the Church agrees to in a way be a priest’s spouse (in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death do us part) and the priest does not have to worry about being “fired” save for the worst of offenses like sexually abusing minors, for example. So the priest is ours, all of us, not just me the bishop, but the whole diocese or his religious community. Few people have that sense of job security in life. On the other hand, their promise of obedience means that they must ultimately serve where the bishop (with a lot of help from their priest friends) feels that they are both needed and will thrive.

I can assure you that there is no bench available to me of priests waiting to be sent up to the majors! Everyone is presently in the line-up and a single death, serious illness, or departure from ministry for whatever reason starts a ripple effect among the priests of the diocese, like the proverbial pebble in the smooth lake. We currently provide three men as full time members of the faculty of our two seminaries that we use and I have always prayed that their presence will spur the Good Lord to reward us with many vocations and great young priests. There is ample evidence of that happening, but Lord how I could use those three men back.

Finally, I do not mind getting letters which are displeased with me because I have transferred a priest. That means that that man is respected, loved and missed. Some of the rhetoric in letters can sometimes make me question whether sufficient teaching on Christian love is being taught in a parish, but at least it is a sign of life and vitality in our diocese.

The real heroes are the priests, however, who go where asked when asked and give their best.

+RNL

THREE NEW “LINEMEN”

Monday, May 19th, 2014

In a week which witnessed this writer on an emotional roller-coaster, Saturday was a beautiful day of rejoicing and being glad.

Somehow, with God’s help, I squeezed the ordination of three new priests and two weddings into the daylight hours. Our Cathedral of St. Jude, newly remodeled, was the scene for the ordination as well as one of the weddings and the new space works magnificently.

Filled to over-flowing, the ordination ceremony is certainly the most beautiful liturgy at which any bishop presides. You can relive the two-hour and twenty-minute ceremony by watching the archived “livestream” replay of the ordination ceremony by clicking here.

Should you not wish to watch the whole ceremony, you may look at a few photos that I am including below (see more photos by clicking here). You may also read my homily on the occasion which is included below the photos (click here for a PDF version of my homily). However, if you wish to merely listen to the homily and neither watch it nor read it, that too is possible by clicking here. Isn’t technology amazing?

Deacons Jonathan Emery, Fabiszewski and Kyle Smith processing in at the beginning of Mass. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Deacons Jonathan Emery, Brian Fabiszewski and Kyle Smith processing in at the beginning of Mass. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

The Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle was full for this glorious occasion. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

The Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle was full for this glorious occasion. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

Litany of Supplication (Saints).

Litany of Saints. Photo kindness of Mike Donovan.

Laying on of Hands upon Deacon Kyle Smith. Photo kindness of Mike Donovan.

Laying on of Hands upon Deacon Kyle Smith. Photo kindness of Mike Donovan.

Anointing the hands of Father Brian Fabiszewski with the sacred Chrism. Photo kindness of Mike Donovan.

Anointing the hands of Father Brian Fabiszewski with the sacred Chrism. Photo kindness of Mike Donovan.

Greeting Father Jonathan Emery during the "Kiss of Peace". Photo kindness of Mike Donovan.

Greeting Father Jonathan Emery during the “Kiss of Peace”. Photo kindness of Mike Donovan.

The new fathers at their seats among the priests while the congregation spontaneously applauds. Photo kindness of Mike Donovan.

The new fathers at their seats among the priests while the congregation spontaneously applauds. Photo kindness of Mike Donovan.

Liturgy of the Eucharist. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Liturgy of the Eucharist. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Father Brian Fabszewski, Father Jonathan Emery, myself, and Father Kyle Smith after their ordination to the priesthood. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Father Brian Fabszewski, Father Jonathan Emery, myself, and Father Kyle Smith after their ordination to the priesthood. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Ordinations to the Priesthood
Saturday, May 17, 2014
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop of St. Petersburg
Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle
Acts 10:37-43; Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13; John 15:9-17

            Barely nine days ago, much of the attention of the nation seemed to be directed toward the annual National Football League draft. Countless commentators spouting off on who might be chosen first, second, and third in the draft all listed the following requisites: height, weight, size. This morning the Church of St. Petersburg’s annual “draft day” has all that going for it and far more.

For these three men there was no suspense about whether or not their names would be called; there certainly was no “money sign” given by any of the three a few moments ago when we signaled our pleasure at their generosity, courage and determination, and in thirty to forty minutes, each of these men will “don” our equivalent of the “team jersey” – the chasuble worn at Mass.

            Our new “offensive linemen” will not get monetarily rich either. Their agent, St. Paul, in lieu of telling them how much their life and talent is worth in worldly terms, instead “urged [them] to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Clearly this isn’t the football of Vince Lombardi. This is the priesthood of Jesus Christ.

            In our world, love trumps violence. These men came today with excellent coaching: by their parents, by the example of priests they came to know and admire; by women and men in formation who shaped their vision of vocation and service. They did not have to first go to Indianapolis, to try out, prior to being called. Brian, Jonathan and Kyle’s calls came much earlier in their lines, as we heard moments ago in the Gospel, “it was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain. . . .This I command you: love one another.” Quietly, humbly, patiently, persistently, presently, fully and completely, these three men are in a very real way laying down their lives for the friends of Jesus.

            And when they might wish to be watching football on a Saturday afternoon, they will more likely sit in the dim light of the confessional waiting for that someone who has not darkened the door of the same for years to arrive seeking the reassurance of God’s mercy and compassion.

          When they might wish to be watching football on a Sunday afternoon or spending time with their family at both the end and the beginning of a long week, they will instead be pouring the water of new life over the head of a child screaming as if he or she wants God in heaven to know that they are free of original sin, the devil’s grasp and now here present, in His Church.

          And in that daily split-second of Divine accomplishment when the bread and the wine, the body and blood of the Lord is raised aloft at the words of institution, at the Great Amen, or at the invitation to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, all eyes and all light will focus on the Eucharistic Lord, not the person of the celebrant. It’s a whole new world. It’s a whole new way of loving. It’s a whole new manner of self-giving. It’s not about us, no matter how long we have been waiting for the moment. It’s all about Jesus and his love for us. We cannot give what we do not have but what we have to share is worth spending the rest of our lives for.

           Today, then, is not draft day. Jesus took care of that nine years ago, or seven years ago when these men first entered the seminary. And today is not the Super Bowl either, for that moment of glory in the sun is all too fleeting. Luke’s words, quoting Peter in the first reading from Acts, capture the essence of this moment perfectly as he reminds us of: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power.

            So Brian, Kyle and Jonathan, after invoking on you the assistance of the saints, laying my hands joined by those of the presbyters on your heads, and anointing your hands with the same Holy Spirit and power, you shall take your place at the altar of God. It’s absolutely amazing. After multiple years of preparing for, dreaming about, working hard for this moment, it will be over very quickly. But a wonderful, rich lifetime of ministry is only just beginning. Priesthood is more than just a moment. It is a way of life.

          Everything that the NFL, major league baseball, the New York Times and CNN or Fox and the media in general think are the true markers of success in life are merely passing idols. For you and me, for your brother priests, Jesus Christ is the constant and like him, as Pope Francis constantly reminds us, we must be humble, gentle, patient, forbearing messengers of his presence. Today and perhaps even tomorrow you and I are dressed in our finest. These are signs of celebrations, of a festive occasion but they are not what Christ would have worn today. We earn our stripes which identify who we are and what we do not by what we wear but how and to whom we minister.

            Brian and Kyle, please give me just a moment for a special word to Jonathan. Many here present today do not know that from the second to the sixth year of my priesthood I served as Rector/President of St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami. For two of those five years I had a student named Robert Emery, Jonathan’s Dad. He was a larger man than even his son and at times he was even larger than life. He could be a handful. But Bob Emery was at his best when he was on his knees in the chapel and at prayer, often asking God if he should continue in the seminary perhaps not putting up with the likes of me. After I left St. John Vianney, he left the priestly pursuit and we did not meet again until twelve years later when I confirmed Jonathan and he told me, “this one has a true vocation.” I have thought about your Dad, bigger “Bob”, a lot these last couple of days, Jonathan, and I know he could not be prouder of this moment and the other good things which have happened to his family following his sudden, unexpected death seven years ago. I truly sense a presence among us this morning, a twelfth player, if you will, very proud for sure, but telling his son, it’s past time to get on with the rest of your life.

            Three great men present themselves to the Church today. But we reaffirm that there is, “one Lord, one faith; one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” This you can take to the bank: rejoice and be glad for this is the day the Lord has made!

Newly ordained celebrate what is somewhat inaccurately called their “First Mass” following the ordination rite and normally on the next day, Sunday. Father Kyle Smith left the cathedral, went home for a few minutes, and then was off to his parish church, Our Lady of the Rosary for his Mass on Saturday afternoon.

Father Kyle Smith celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of Our Lady of the Rosary in Land O' Lakes. Photo kindness of Ron Ludwin.

Father Kyle Smith celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of Our Lady of the Rosary in Land O’ Lakes. Photo kindness of Ron Ludwin.

 

Father Kyle Smith celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of Our Lady of the Rosary in Land O' Lakes. Photo kindness of Ron Ludwin.

Father Kyle Smith celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of Our Lady of the Rosary in Land O’ Lakes. Photo kindness of Ron Ludwin.

Click here to see more photos from Father Kyle Smith’s first Mass at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish.

I did the same thing thirty-six years ago, having been ordained on the Saturday just prior to Pentecost and managed to get everything out of the way by sunset on the day of ordination itself. The other two priests celebrated their Masses on Sunday. Truth to tell, they actually concelebrate their first Mass with their bishop following the ordination rite itself but we all know what they mean when they invite you to their “First Mass of Thanksgiving.”

Father Jonathan Emery celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of St. Clement in Plant City. Photo kindness of Carol Rodriguez.

Father Jonathan Emery celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of St. Clement in Plant City. Photo kindness of Carol Rodriguez.

 

Father Jonathan Emery celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of St. Clement in Plant City. Photo kindness of Carol Rodriguez.

Father Jonathan Emery celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of St. Clement in Plant City. Photo kindness of Carol Rodriguez.

Click here to see more photos from Father Jonathan Emery’s first Mass at St. Clement Parish in Plant City.

Father Brian Fabiszewski celebrating his First Mass at his home parish of St. Catherine of Siena in Clearwater. Photo kindness of Wayne Clegg.

Father Brian Fabiszewski celebrating his First Mass at his home parish of St. Catherine of Siena in Clearwater. Photo kindness of Wayne Clegg.

 

Father Brian Fabiszewski celebrating his First Mass at his home parish of St. Catherine of Siena in Clearwater. Photo kindness of Wayne Clegg.

Father Brian Fabiszewski celebrating his First Mass at his home parish of St. Catherine of Siena in Clearwater. Photo kindness of Wayne Clegg.

Click here to see more photos from Father Brian Fabiszewski’s first Mass at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Clearwater.

So now they are priests and are given some time to relax between seminary, ordination day, and reporting for their first assignment. The faithful parishioners of St. Cecilia, Our Lady of the Rosary, and Most Holy Redeemer will now have the task of “breaking them in” as their associate pastors and I am sure that these three communities, led by loving and hard-working pastors, will see to it.

But it will still be some days before the applause of gratitude and affirmation dies down in their memories, the love and pride of their families diminishes once again in commands to clear the family table or dry the dishes, or do your own laundry, the joy of their brothers already in priestly ministry subsides. Saturday was a great day for the ordained, for their families and friends, and for their bishop who badly needed such a wonderful moment. (Apropos of the difficulties of last week, please watch this space the next several days as I attempt in homiletic form and information source to share with you what I know and believe relative to the death of Father Vladimir Dziadek).

The country singer Glen Campbell, back in the age of dinosaurs when I was growing up, sang a song called “Wichita Lineman” which began with these words, “I am a lineman for the county. .  . .” Our three new priests are “linemen for Christ” and we wish them many happy, wonderful years of playing in the “big leagues” of ministry and service.

+RNL

HOLY WEEK AND THE BISHOP

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

As I begin to pen these words, it is “spy” Wednesday of Holy Week, the day when the Gospel reading at Mass prepares us for the Sacred Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil) by reminding us of the treachery of Judas who sold his friend Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. I always have varied thoughts entering these most sacred of days which range from some discomfort with “bumping” the Rector and priests of the Cathedral parish from celebrating and preaching these days to the exhilaration and excitement of the Chrism Mass and the Easter Vigil.

Yesterday we had the annual Chrism Mass with an unexpectedly high attendance of 186 priests (we ran out of seats I am told), about 100 deacons, most of our seminarians (some are studying outside of the state or abroad and four who will be ordained to the transitional diaconate a week from Saturday were on their canonical (read that “required”) retreat, and a standing room only crowd in the Cathedral.

The magnificence of that new space for large ceremonies like yesterday’s was obvious to all in attendance.

Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

The Oil of the Sick, designated by the letters OI, is presented by a representative of those who minister to the sick or by someone who works in the healing profession. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

The Oil of the Sick, designated by the letters OI, is presented by a representative of those who minister to the sick or by someone who works in the healing profession. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

 

The Oil of Catechumens, designated by the letters OC or OS, is presented by a representative of those who minister in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults from each parish. Photo kindness of Jeanne Smith.

The Oil of Catechumens, designated by the letters OC or OS, is presented by a representative of those who minister in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults from each parish. Photo kindness of Jeanne Smith.

 

Consecrating the Sacred Chrism. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Consecrating the Sacred Chrism. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

The Liturgy of the Eucharist. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

Invitation to Communion. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Invitation to Communion. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

My homily for the occasion is shown below (note that there is more blogging after the homily and you can read the homily as a PDF here) but I pulled a “popey” which is something like a “selfie” by departing from the text near the end to ask questions of segments of the congregation. For that you will need to watch the video replay which you can do by clicking here. As of this writing, about 1,300 people have watched the Chrism Mass online with about 700 watching live during the ceremony. The ability to share these moments with anyone who has the time, inclination and a computer or mobile device is wonderful. You can see more photos of the Chrism Mass here.

CHRISM MASS 2014
Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle
Tuesday, April 14, 2014
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop 

            Once again we have heard the words of Isaiah, now so familiar to us. Twice in this Liturgy of the Word alone, every year at this Mass, quite often at our ordinations as priests and/or deacons, these familiar and haunting words of Isaiah are heard: “the Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord, and a day of vindication by our God, to comfort all who mourn. . .”

            In the Gospel passage this morning Jesus uses this passage from the great prophet when he returns very early in his public ministry to his home town, to his friends and family, to his Jewish co-religionists with whom for some thirty years he joined in the local synagogue to learn the law, approach its application to daily life, to challenge, to encourage, to fortify their faith. However,  one cannot fully embrace this passage from Luke’s Gospel without spending some time analyzing its context. The verses we have heard are easy enough. The total package of the passage is a “horse of another color.” It is worth, I believe, a moment or two of our time this morning.

            Situated early in Luke’s Gospel account, Jesus comes back home from his baptism in the Jordan, having survived his temptations in the desert and on the way back to Nazareth, beginning to preach and teach, to heal and to challenge – four important pillars of his public ministry. He does some of this in Galilee and word of his power, of his preaching, of his proclamations and of his presence elsewhere has already come to Nazareth. The town is waiting for him. His return home is a moment of great expectations. The locals want him to do the same things in Nazareth that he has done from Jerusalem to Jericho, to Capernaum. I can imagine the sentinels dispatched by the locals to announce his imminent arrival in Nazareth as he climbed from below sea level to his mountainside home village.

            When he preaches God’s word, challenges the locals to action, he disappoints. They want him to do for them what it has been said he has done for many others – give us a miracle or two Jesus, not just words. If you take time to read the very next verses of this famous passage and listen to the response of his own townsfolk as they turn from anxious anticipation to dangerous anger. It is produce, Jesus, or perish. They become so angry with him that they attempt to kill him but he slips away, likely never to return to family or friends in Nazareth. What could have been a moment of unity and reunion becomes instead a moment of threats and rejection, of jealousy and resentment, of criticism, carping and complaining. And that was the Lord’s early experience of ministry.

            Today the message and mission of those prophetic words from Isaiah remain the same, but the reception as well as the atmosphere is no less problematic. We are the bearers of the message, dear brothers. We are the deliverers of the mission. And if, at times, our audience seems out-of-touch with the Gospel of Joy which we try to live out, preach and deliver, the temptation can more easily turn to run, to anger and frustration at the worst and disappointment at best. Making Jesus Christ present, real, embraceable, believable, acceptable, even within our own faith community can be as difficult today as it was for Him on that return to his hometown. That is setting the Scriptural stage for the second and third part of this reflection I wish to share with you today.

            There is no day in the yearly calendar of the Church to rival this one for providing us a sense of unity in mission, commitment and fraternity.  It is the day when the greatest number of us gather during the year to concelebrate the Eucharist, recommit ourselves to our priestly ministry together, and to experience a sense of unity in the work of service. Nineteen times I have had the privilege of doing what I am doing right now, truly and always supported by your presence, your witness, our communal prayer of Thanksgiving. There is no other time when I feel more like being a servant leader, a bishop, than this day. For a little more than ninety minutes we set aside our individual identities, our ecclesial offices, our disagreements and disappointments and recall the intensity of our desire for service. We lose our identity and assume that of Jesus, healer, teacher, catechist, anointer, blesser, and source of hope, messenger of justice. And we are joined by a good segment of God’s people who love us, support us, assist us, lift us up when we fail or disappoint and sometimes even challenge us in ways once thought unimaginable.

            If I feel this unity annually on this occasion, I hope and pray that you do as well. We are in communion with Christ and with one another. There are moments in each year when we can sometimes share the feelings of the townsfolk of Nazareth. It is the dark side of the humanity of most of us all. But there is something about this Eucharist, which enlightens our ministry. Pope Francis on February 27, 2014 said this: brothers who love each other despite their differences in character, origin or age. . . this testimony gives birth to the desire to be part of the great parable of communion that is the Church. When a person feels that mutual love among the disciples of Christ is possible and is capable of transforming the quality of interpersonal relations, he/she feels called to discover or rediscover Christ, and opens to an encounter with the Living and Working One.[Pope Francis to Bishops and Friends of Focolare].

            Dear brothers, unity, patience, forbearance and, yes, even love are contagious. If we are to ultimately be successful in encountering and encouraging and accompanying others, it surely begins with us, here, now and when we leave this place for another year. We need to resolve to care for each other better. I will try in the time remaining to me.

            Finally, preaching the “Gospel of Joy” sometimes comes at a high price – not unlike the Nazareth experience of Jesus in the whole of Luke 4. Many of you have more years in the priesthood under your belt than I but in my thirty-six years of priestly ministry I have never felt the challenge, which I feel today, and it is coming from a man we hardly knew at this Mass a year ago.

            There is no part of my ministry that is untouched in the last thirteen months, from where and how I live, to whom I give central focus upon in my ministry, to what I assign pastoral priority, to how best to deliver. The world and in a special way our Church has quickly fallen in love with Francis because of how he lives out his life and ministry – simply, humbly, with Jesuitical clarity, with firm resolve, and living comfortably on planet earth as first among sinners ever needing and feeling the warmth of God’s mercy and kindness. He has set the bar high for we bishops. Nothing, which might once have been a treasured “perk”, is any longer to be treated as “sacred.” He is redefining episcopal ministry, which will quite quickly redefine priestly ministry.

            And just like in Nazareth, there is a certain “grumbling” to be heard in a few quarters. In a short time, he has given new strength and vitality to the three-fold challenge of this morning’s readings: you/we are fulfilling your ministry best when you leave the comfort of your safety zone to preach the Gospel to the poor; you/we are best when you/we devote more time to proclaiming release to those captive to sin, addiction, serious physical and psychological illness; when we help those who are spiritually blind see that God, the Church, we ministers love them more than we judge them; and we welcome back those who felt oppressed by anything which might be more of our creation than that of the Creator.

            I close by appropriating the words written by Peggy Noonan for a former president of my generation, changing them only slightly: there is a new dawn breaking over the Church. Some of us will not live to see the high noon which this new day heralds, but I, and I hope you do as well, thank God that my ministry, your ministry has survived whatever darkness we may have felt enveloped our hopes and dreams and have lived to witness this dawn. For with Francis, and through Francis, and, yes, even under Francis , we can affirm this morning that ours is a great Church, capable of stirring the imaginations of many and embracing all. That, or so it seems to me, is today’s “spirit of the Lord which is among us.”  What a great Church to which we have devoted our lives.

Following the Chrism Mass, my Clergy Personnel Board met for the rest of the afternoon. It is that time of the year.

For the last couple of years, I finally adopted some advice given to me long ago by one of my “hero-bishops”, Bishop Anthony Pilla, (retired bishop of Cleveland) and allow the Board to meet by themselves to discuss the changes. The discussion is led by my wonderful Vicar General, Monsignor Robert F. Morris. When they have “shuffled the deck” and are ready to show the “cards” they call for me to recommend the changes they have been able to determine.

I then approve or raise questions and concerns and when there is unanimous consensus among us, I begin to call the pastors who will be affected. Sometimes the call is easy and that is the case when someone has put in writing their interest in being assigned to an opening. We “bulletin” our parish vacancies most of the time as they become open so priests can, if they wish, show interest. However, sometimes we must ask someone who is comfortably positioned and serving their parish well and ask them for the good of the whole church to accept a change of assignment. To the credit of our good priests who find themselves in this unexpected predicament, I normally do not have to play the “obedience” card. Often sadly, somewhat reluctantly, they accept the new assignment. Those are tough phone calls.

Some lay people in the parishes are consulted in the process and they usually are the staff, the parish finance and pastoral councils, the school administrators, etc. Unlike some of our Protestant sisters and brothers, the Catholic Church does not engage congregations per se in choosing their ordained leadership. At the end of the afternoon yesterday, I was weary. Pumped by the Chrism Mass and sad about the work which followed. Show me any bishop who loves moving priests around and I will find a psychiatric ward that might help him. Too many lives are at stake.

Today (Wednesday) is quiet and tomorrow evening starts the Triduum with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. The priests who will concelebrate with me tomorrow night and I will first go to a neighborhood Italian restaurant and then move to the Lord’s table. By 8:30pm we should be finished at the Cathedral and then I make a round of the parishes for private prayer in the places of reservation which follow the Holy Thursday liturgy until around midnight. I will try to continue these thoughts on Good Friday when I have the morning free.

Try to join your faith community at all or as many of the ceremonies of the Triduum you can make. You won’t regret it.

+RNL

THEY ROLLED THE STONE BEFORE THE TOMB, AND ALL WITHDREW

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

The warm afterglow of yesterday’s ordination (see photos here) at St. Jude Cathedral was still with me upon waking this morning (Sunday). After the ordination I had a confirmation at 530pm at Sacred Heart, Tampa, for forty young women and men and today I have the Commencement Ceremony for St. Petersburg Catholic High School and tonight confirmation at St. Paul parish in Tampa for in excess of two hundred confirmandi. In sixteen years since becoming bishop, I have never attended a First Mass of a newly ordained. There is a very good reason for it. The first Mass at which he is the principal celebrant is a major moment in the life of every priest, something they dream of. Invite the bishop and the spotlight is at a minimum shared or sometimes “copped” as I can out-dress him any day! So despite some invitations from time to time, I make it a practice to stay away – it is the new priest’s day and his and Christ’s alone. As I pointed out in yesterday’s blog, the new priest concelebrates his first Mass at his ordination at my side.

I suspect but can not prove that every seminarian dreams more of his First Mass in his home parish more than the ordination day rite. Who will preach or should I, he might ask. Most choose someone else for this moment as they are nervous enough just being principal celebrant. I was ordained on the Saturday before Pentecost at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Miami at 11am and celebrated my First Mass as principal celebrant at 5pm at St. James parish in North Miami that same evening – getting everything over in nine hours but I do not recommend it as I was totally “wiped” by the end of the day and the dinner/reception at the parish hall which followed. I told both Fathers Amorose and Corcoran that they needed to especially enjoy this week-end as it would probably be the last time till their 25th anniversary that they would not have to worry about a homily for Sunday.

Generally the first Mass following ordination is in the ordinand’s home parish (see photos below) but today it does not end there. In successive weeks, they will both be celebrating “First Masses” in parishes where they have served as seminarians and deacons (St. Paul , Wellesley, Massachusetts and another parish in Newton for Father Corcoran and Nativity, Brandon, St. Joan of Arc, Boca Raton, and St. Paul’s, Tampa for Father Amorose to name just a few, I suspect). By that time the nervousness and anxiety has worn off and they are comfortable in their new roles. A very generous diocese has given them until July 2nd to report for their first assignments. Additionally, both of these men plan to attend the ordinations of some of their classmates around the country (Fr. Corcoran) and state (Fr. Amorose).

Parish communities rejoice in ordinations and first Masses and in addition to choirs preparing and servers polishing up, usually the Women’s Club works on a lovely reception for all who attend the First Masses immediately following. The Church celebrates its new ministerial life as well as the ordinand. But, for both men, there will come that moment in a few weeks when all the celebrations, concelebrations, ordinations, first Masses, etc. are over and Father reports to begin his first assignment and the beginning of the rest of his life. It is at that moment that he will experience that Gospel passage which is the title for this reflection of mine, “they rolled the stone before the tomb and all withdrew.” My associate Maria Mertens and her family have long been friends with the Amorose family and she attended Father Victor’s First Mass with her camera and took some pictures which I share with you below. Tom Wineman, a parishoner of Sacred Heart parish in Tampa, took a few photos of Father Timothy’s First Mass and graciously shared them with me to post as well.

Father Victor Amorose celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of Light of Christ in Clearwater. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

Father Victor Amorose celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of Light of Christ in Clearwater. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

Father Timothy Corcoran celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of Sacred Heart in Tampa. Photo kindness of Tom Wineman.

 

Father Timothy Corcoran celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of Sacred Heart in Tampa. Photo kindness of Tom Wineman.

 

Hope you enjoyed those. I am off to hand out sheepskins!

+RNL