Posts Tagged ‘Rite of Election’

FORTY DAYS OF GRAY

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

I bet at least I have your attention!

Some people look at and others believe that Lent is nothing less than forty days of penance, prayer, retreat into one’s own spiritual life to sift out all the accumulated weeds of the past year. Sackcloth and ashes or its modern day equivalents are the marks of the “darkest season” of the Church’s year. Baloney I say. Lent is also a period of great light, not just introspective light but ecclesial light as well.

True that Lent begins with ashes and a call to repentance. We need to hear that and we need to practice penance from time to time. Many have begun some form of personal sacrifice. I have given up fast food for Lent but have unleashed within my own office, which contains one theologian, whether or not Steak and Shake is fast food! (Steak and Shake says “no.” but I still stay away from them). But did not Jesus in the Gospel on Good Friday suggest that we should not put on the appearance of remorse and sacrifice? Vestments changed to violet. The “alleluia” bade us farewell for a brief period of time. We need some reminders of these forty days but there is also a lot to rejoice in as well.

Lent was no longer than four days when about 950 catechumens and candidates arrived at the Cathedral for the Rite of Election.

During the 1:30 p.m. Rite of Election. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

During the 1:30 p.m. Rite of Election. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

I wish the whole diocesan Church could be present for that simple moment in a person’s journey to baptism and full communion. They would have crawled to the Cathedral and simple gestures like a handshake and brief words of welcome were greeted by the broadest of smiles and words and gestures of thanks.

During the 4:00 p.m. Rite of Election. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

During the 4:00 p.m. Rite of Election. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

It is always a “wow” moment, for myself as bishop, for my pastors and priests who accompanied the candidates and catechumens to the Rite ceremony and to their sponsors, spouses, parents and others who accompanied them. So little brings such happiness to so many. You are an awesome God! And we are a great Church! You can see more photos by clicking here.

On Thursday night, March 12, every parish Church in the diocese will be open for confession.

LightIsOnForYou_2000x1000

If you need it, do it! Even if you don’t need it, think about doing it. You can pick a Church on your way home from work, school, gymnastics class or a work out and there will be a priest waiting who knows you not but is desirous of assuring you of forgiveness, mercy, compassion and love. This now annual exercise is called “The Light is on for You.” Darkness be damned.

How about the readings at Sunday Mass throughout Lent? They don’t get any better than the temptation of Christ, the Transfiguration, the Woman at the Well, the Prodigal Son, and so on. And the first readings from major moments in salvation history, however familiar, stir the imagination and challenge the life of every believer. Would you have sacrificed your children for God like Abraham thought he would? Lots of parents I know have had to do so for an endless variety of painful reasons, bearing their suffering with greater faith than I can sometimes muster up. They are truly people of the light who suffered through an incredible period of gray.

Bishop Robert W. McElroy. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of San Francisco's website.

Bishop Robert W. McElroy. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of San Francisco’s website.

And then there is the Holy Father! He surely has not taken Lent off as a time to retreat into a prolonged period of penance. Today one of the members of the U.S. episcopacy whom I have admired for his intelligence, compassion and mercy, and commitment to justice for all has been made bishop of the seventh largest diocese in the United States, San Diego. Bishop Robert McElroy is a “Francis”can bishop if there ever was one and the good Catholics of San Diego have won the “Powerball” lottery. With Archbishop Cupich in the Midwest and Bishop McElroy in San Diego in the West, this Pope is refashioning the American hierarchy. Only briefly, however, do I wish I were younger.

I conclude with the acknowledgment that I am writing these words on a Delta flight from Chicago Midway Airport to Atlanta and then on to Tallahassee for “Catholic Days” at the Capitol. It was snowing and sleeting in Chicago this morning and our plane was late arriving from Atlanta. The Delta captain approached me and began the conversation with this question: “How is your Lent going, Father?” “Well,” I responded, “and yours?” “Me too,” he responded with a smile. He told me that he attends St. Michael’s parish in Auburn, Alabama, his home and was looking forward to making the last two nights of his parish’s annual mission.

Lent is far from forty days of gray, but rather is forty days of dawn. Enjoy it! Thanks for putting up with me!

+RNL

COMMITMENTS, COMMITMENTS

Monday, March 17th, 2014

I have not had an opportunity to return to this blog in too many weeks and yesterday my brother Tim asked if I was “all right?” since he had not read anything of my composition the last couple of weeks. It was a very busy time leading up to Ash Wednesday, made more complicated by the previously mentioned quick trip to London for the funeral of my friend, Canon Adrian Arrowsmith.

Quite unplanned during that soiree was that my presence coincided with the return to his archdiocese from the consistory which made him a Cardinal of my friend, Vincent Nichols. Off the plane, into the shower, and then to Westminster Cathedral for his Mass of Welcome. The new Cardinal is such a good preacher that though fighting it, I remained awake throughout his homily. The beautiful Cathedral was filled to the rafters for the occasion.

The funeral was in a parish Church in Ruislip, which is a London suburb near Heathrow airport where the Canon had served as pastor many years ago. The Church was quite full of friends and admirers of Monsignor Adrian, including the Academy Award winning English actress Maggie Smith (aka, “the Dowager Lady” on Downton Abbey) and Michael Crawford, the first Phantom in London and New York in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Phantom of the Opera.” With friends like that the aging bishop of St. Petersburg was hardly noticed. The funeral was over at 1215pm and I found myself at Heathrow Airport by 1245pm for a 205pm Delta flight to Atlanta and back to Tampa.

Up early the next day for Ash Wednesday. For a number of years I have been saying Ash Wednesday Mass next door to my office at St. Petersburg Catholic High School. I like saying Mass there as the students are quite respectful and well behaved, often joined by a good number of parents and this year the music provided by the assembled student choir was quite good.

Distributing ashes at Mass at St. Petersburg Catholic High School. Photo kindness of John Christian.

Distributing ashes at Mass at St. Petersburg Catholic High School. Photo kindness of John Christian.

I encouraged them to do more this year than simply give alms (money) to some cause for the poor but to personally deliver their Lenten sacrifice to some person, some face, somebody. I tried to build on the Holy Father’s challenge to go out of our individual comfort zones to share Christ with the poorest of the poor. Anyone can give money to a good cause, “do not sinners and tax collectors” do the same, but to see the face of God in another person who is not nearly as comfortable in life as perhaps we are is to be an authentic Christian during Lent and even beyond. I think I got through. I hope I got through. I trust that I believe it myself and will do the same.

My pastors reported astounding and outstanding crowds in Church to receive ashes this year. See some photos from Ash Wednesday around our diocese here.

The first Sunday of Lent brought the Rite of Election to the Cathedral and we had a record number in my eighteen years of catechumens and candidates (the former to be baptized, confirmed and first Eucharist and the latter to be received, first penance, confirmed and first Eucharist) to welcome into the Church at the Easter Vigil.

While I do not have the exact number of each at my disposal as I write this, memory seems to indicate that we had slightly over 1100 at the Cathedral for our two sessions. The place was packed with people standing at both services.

A "full house" at the 1:30PM prayer service. It was also a "full house" at the 4:00PM prayer service. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

A “full house” at the 1:30PM prayer service. It was also a “full house” at the 4:00PM prayer service. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Our wonderful Worship Office does a great job of preparing for this moment annually and those who come are amazed, first by the number of women, men and children, who like themselves are seeking entrance into the Church and then by the beauty of the Church’s Evening Prayer.

At the 1:30PM prayer service. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

At the 1:30PM prayer service. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

At the 1:30PM prayer service. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

At the 1:30PM prayer service. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

At the 4:00PM prayer service. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

At the 4:00PM prayer service. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

At the 4:00pm prayer service.

At the 4:00pm prayer service. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Among the firsts this year was that it was possible for those in wheelchairs to come to me in the sanctuary because of the newly renovated Cathedral and I had my first “selfie” request (see pictures below) (darn Pope!).

The selfie request. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

The selfie request. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

The selfie taken and shared  with me by Kathryn, a RCIA candidate from St. Lawrence Parish in Tampa.

The selfie, taken and shared with me by Kathryn, a RCIA candidate from St. Lawrence Parish in Tampa.

I always leave feeling that a mere handshake and brief greeting is not enough on my part for these courageous people but they leave swearing that they are not going to wash their hands for the rest of the day. God is good!

You can view photos from the 1:30PM Rite of Election Prayer Service and the 4:00PM Rite of Election Prayer Service by clicking on the included links.

Just before Lent began we had the annual Marriage Jubilee Mass with also an overflowing crowd. Close to 400 couples celebrating 25, 50, 60+ and even 70+ years of marriage joined me for Mass and a reception following at St. Jude’s Cathedral.

Talk about collective adrenalin, this Mass has it in super-abundance. Music this year was provided by the young women and men of Largo High School’s concert choir who, though many were not Catholic, rehearsed and led us in Catholic hymnody quite beautifully and this is a Mass at which there are no “strangers” to our liturgy so the singing and responses are always quite robust.

The special presentation of the longest married with to Ray and Marge Flack from New Port Richey who had been married for seventy-one years and behaved like two people just dating and falling in love in the front row of the Cathedral.

With Ray and Marge Flack. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

With Ray and Marge Flack. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

In an era when the very definition of marriage is being changed by society, it was quite comforting to spend time at prayer with couples who renewed their promises and commitments to one another during the year of a major anniversary celebration.

A couple renewing their marriage vows. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

A couple renewing their marriage vows. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

Another couple renewing their marriage vows. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Another couple renewing their marriage vows. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

It’s always a “kick” and thanks go to our Marriage and Family Life office and to the leadership of Marriage Encounter in the diocese, who annually direct, seat and assist those present. See more photos from the Marriage Jubilee Mass here.

Finally, while thinking of “commitment”, on the Friday prior to the Marriage Jubilee Mass I was at the White House in Washington. Let me begin by saying that none of the present four occupants of that real estate were anywhere to be seen.

Instead, in the First Lady’s reception room of the East End, our Father Michael Morris who is serving as an Air Force Chaplain was promoted from the rank of Major to that of Lieutenant Colonel.

bishop_blog_1photo

Colonel/Father Michael Morris during the promotion pinning on ceremony.

Colonel/Father Morris has been assigned for the past few years as Chaplain to the Military attached to the White House, a special honor to be sure in its own right.  That assignment is most likely how he earned the opportunity to be raised in rank in such distinguished “digs.”

Because it was happening at the White House, however, was not the reason I chose to attend. It is fairly well known that Father Michael is battling a very rare and aggressive form of cancer, which seems to be winning. In spite of chemo infusions and all that accompanies what millions of people go through with this disease, he carries on with his commitment to his God, church and nation. With both parents deceased and only his brother and sister-in-law in attendance as his family, I wanted to be present for this occasion as did Archbishop Timothy Broglio, Archbishop for the Military Services.

Myself, Colonel/Father Morris, and Archbishop Broglio

Myself, Colonel/Father Morris, and Archbishop Broglio

Both of us and everyone else the room on this occasion are proud of Colonel Morris and I ask you now to join the ever-widening cadre of people praying for him, his recovery if it is God’s will and his continued grit and determination to soldier on.

Enough for now. More about commitment later this week when I describe my visit last week to our two seminaries and to our seminarians.

+RNL

OLD BUSINESS, NEW BUSINESS

Monday, January 6th, 2014

I find myself afflicted with yet another monster cold which has slowed me down slightly from things I intended to do this past week, including updating this blog site with a new post or two.

In the area of old business, I am deeply touched to once again point out to the readership how greatly generous the people of this diocese are when asked to help other people in desperate need. Remember Typhoon Haiyan (aka “Yolanda”) which devastated several islands in the Philippines? On the 23rd of December I was able to forward to Catholic Relief Services a second check in the amount of $500,000 (added to the $100,000 I had sent one day after the Typhoon passed). We have therefore sent $600,000 to CRS so far with a few parishes not yet reporting. Catholic Relief Services has responded with great gratitude for a level of generosity which ranks among the highest of any monies sent to them for this purpose. Please keep in mind that monies collected for disaster relief are forwarded in total to CRS and not sent to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Just prior to the beginning of the year, we closed out our consultation on the questions proposed by the Holy See on Marriage and Family Life in the United States. As most of you know, we used an on-line survey instrument. Once again I am proud to report the response of the faithful of this diocese to the survey questions: 6,462 people responded to the survey (4% were between the ages of 18-28), 21% were between 30-49 years of age, 47% were between the ages of 50-69 years, and 28% were seventy or older). 36% of the respondents were male and 64% were female. An amazingly high percentage of the respondents indicated that they were registered parishioners (85%) and 87% said they attend Mass: daily (9%), Sunday and Holy Days and some weekdays (37%), and Sundays and holy days (41%). 11% of the survey population indicated that they were single and never married, 61% currently married, 9% divorced and never remarried, 4% divorced and remarried in the Catholic Church, 4% divorced and remarried outside of the Catholic Church, 9% widowers. This is the easy part of summarizing the results.

At the outset there were questions about whether or not the Holy See wanted a broad consultation in the local Churches or were just expecting bishops to consult with Presbyteral and/or Pastoral Councils. That seems to me to have been answered, as broadly as one can given the time constraints. Then of late there has been a question of whether or not the results can be shared outside of the Synod office in Rome. The present answer seems to be a solid “no” to that at this moment. That raised a problem for me since when making the decision to go online (and make a paper survey available to those who could not access the on-line instrument) I said I would share the results. While I work on that an Executive Summary is being prepared by the Diocesan Pastoral Council which will be reviewed by the Priest’s Council and off the results will go to Rome. Stay tuned.

Finally, this afternoon (Sunday, January 5th) we held an Evening Prayer Service at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle for those who were baptized into the Church at the 2013 Easter Vigil. You may recall that because the Cathedral was under construction the important annual ceremonies of the Rite of Election were held at St. Catherine of Siena parish in Largo. I promised those in attendance at that time that when the remodeling project was complete, I would invite them to return to the Cathedral for a “Neophyte” gathering. I attach here my homily for that occasion.

Thirty archbishops and bishops from Wilmington, Delaware to Miami along the eastern seaboard and the Military Archdiocese will be gathering tomorrow for our annual retreat at The Bethany Center. I hope they bring their winter clothes because it, as you know, is supposed to get very cold tomorrow afternoon [Monday] and night. I know I will have to listen to a few voices which will say “why did we have to come all the way to Florida to freeze?” But by Thursday, they will know why. Pray for us as I shall for all of you. Happy New Year.

+RNL

OASIS IN THE DESERT

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

The Gospel reading for the First Sunday of Lent is always about the trip into the desert by Jesus immediately after his Baptism by John in the Jordan and Satan’s temptations which befell him there. I am certain that the Church wishes us to hear these readings year after year in order that we might enter into some kind of desert experience ourselves throughout these forty days. Deserts that I have known are barren, forbidding and foreboding places where one cannot escape the heat of the day or the chill of the night. There is little to admire and much to fear in crossing a desert. It is boring and easily can give way to hallucinations and anxiety. I doubt if even Jesus was totally comfortable in his desert experience but he could not have found a place more free of distractions to pray at the beginning of his ministry.

For many of us, we need not physically go to a desert to have a “desert experience” and we certainly don’t have to physically relocate to experience temptations to evil, to profound doubt, to deep distrust. The evil one who tempted Jesus still tempts us when we aspire to greater wealth and jealousy of those who have it. The evil one still tempts us when he fills us with unholy ambition that might suggest we walk all over someone else to get something that we want. The evil one still tempts us when he invites us to positions of power and prestige whose methodology of attainment is not that of God.

There are even temptations alive which can right now affect our lives of faith and in the Church. Let me enumerate just a few: (a) the Church is corrupt and I do not need it any more to gain my salvation; (b) I don’t need a human much less a priest to whom I will confess my sins and therefore I choose to go directly to God; (c) the Eucharist is  just a memorial, nothing changes so I sure don’t need to go every Sunday; (d) who needs God? I sure don’t. These temptations are not products of my own too fertile imagination but rather are fairly common in our Church today. At the end of it all, the spirit of evil uses the same temptation to narcissicism as did the evil one with Jesus – it’s all about me! Jesus saw through it all and so must we. It is all about God and God’s relationship with me and me with him. There are as many temptations in the spiritual life in our personal deserts as there are stories in a naked city.

Deacon Jerry Crall calls the 454 Catechumens to be baptized, confirmed and receive First Eucharist at the Easter Vigil this year in the Rite of Election Ceremony at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle today. Photo courtesy of John Christian

People who travel through deserts, however, look for and rejoice when they come upon an oasis. Just when you think it can not get any worse, there is that cool shade, that cool water, that relief from the heat and desert temptation. I find it amazing that when the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults was instituted following the Second Vatican Council, that the Church found that as Church we just might need an oasis as we begin our Lenten experience. With all the renewed negative publicity about the Church and doubts about its leadership, some of which right now is merited it seems to me, and when one might tend to become dispirited, the Spirit gives us The Rite of Election. Today at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle, it was my privilege to welcome  1,110 catechumens and candidates who will be received into the Church at the Easter Vigil this year. This is the highest number for this occasion in my fifteen years as bishop and quite frankly, I needed this oasis today more perhaps that those smiling and happy persons who shook my hand in the two separate ceremonies. I have several times mentioned before at this ceremony that it is second only to the ordination of priests in the happiness it brings to a bishop and his priests and deacons.

The Catechumens from Sacred Heart, Tampa, led by Father George Corrigan, OFM approach the bishop. Photo courtesy of John Christian

I know that there are many others preparing for the Easter sacraments who were unable to be at either of the two services held today and their number will make the number entering the Church even more impressive. Sixty-nine of our seventy-seven parishes and missions were present and the Cathedral was full with about 1,200 people at the 2:00pm and 4:30pm celebrations. Some approach me with tears in their eyes and others seem so grateful for the opportunity to be welcomed by the person who will be their bishop this Spring. A good number of children were present at both ceremonies and I counted about twenty families who would be coming into the Church together – Mom and Dad and the kids. Some also came forward who I would expect will get married this Spring and Summer and wish to become Catholic prior to that special moment. As I said earlier there are many stories in the “Naked City” as the old television show used to suggest.

So, if someone was having a desert experience today and could have been with me to share the joy of this annual moment, you would have been most grateful to God for the grace which is operative and obvious in this local Church.

Candidates (already have been baptized) for full communion with the Church at the Easter Vigil come forward for a "close encounter of the first kind" with me. Photo courtesy of John Christian.

IT’S SPRINGTIME ALREADY FOR THE DOSP

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

1063 catechumens and candidates came to St. Jude Cathedral yesterday (Sunday) for the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion. That is a great number for our relatively small diocese and to me it is always representatives of a new blossoming or Springtime for our beloved Church. I know we had probably an additional 300 who were unable to come to the Cathedral but who will either be baptized (the catechumens) or admitted to full communion (candidates) at the Easter Vigil.

The mother of all Catholic blogs, Whispers in the Loggia indicated that the Archdiocese of Atlanta had over 2200 for its Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion which is a wonderful number. That growing Archdiocese is approaching one million Catholics and most likely is the fastest growing local Church in the U.S. Philadelphia, it was noted, had a total of about 500 for their ceremony of welcome.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, we had nine less at the Cathedral this year than last year and our number stays pretty steady throughout the years I have been here (now beginning my 15th). Statistically, that means we have baptized and received over 15,000 during that time. How many we have lost in a similar amount of time is harder to calculate and during the years of the clergy misconduct scandal there is no question slightly more people abandoned “ship” than remained on board.

Each year the pastors and associates and their respective Directors of the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) come to the Cathedral beaming as they bring their prospective newcomers up to shake the bishop’s hand and receive his welcome. Some approach me crying, some saying they have never shaken the hand of a bishop before, and some just can’t believe that the journey they embarked upon to become Catholic has so many others interested as is witnessed by the two sessions of a full Cathedral. This much I know for sure, I have to go home and soak my right hand to reduce the swelling caused by 1063 handshakes. How sweet that pain is!

+RNL

LENT 2010

Thursday, February 18th, 2010
Bishop Lynch putting Ashes on a student's forehead

Bishop Lynch making the sign of the cross with ashes on the forehead of a student at Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Petersburg Catholic High School. Photo Credit: John Christian

Hard as it may be to believe, our celebration of Lent 2010 began yesterday with Ash Wednesday and now will continue through Easter Sunday on April 4th. I began my liturgical celebration of this holy and penitential season by celebrating Mass for the students of St. Petersburg Catholic High School. They are unfailingly attentive at Mass when I am there and make it a genuine pleasure. The provincial superior of the Salesians, Father Thomas Dunne, was present and preached the homily to the assembly.

Bishop Lynch and Fr. Tom Dunne, SDB

Bishop Lynch and Fr. Tom Dunne, SDB at Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Petersburg Catholic High School. Photo Credit: John Christian

On March 11, 2010 we will repeat last year’s highly successful The Light is ON for You event. If you recall, we promise that all 75 parish churches and missions will be open on that Thursday night from 5pm until 8pm for the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Most Churches will also continue their practice of Penance Services sometime during Lent, so what’s the big deal about The Light is ON for You? To begin with, it will be easy to go to confession. You need not call the parish and ask what time confession is because every parish in the diocese will offer confession between five and eight that night. If you find a place closed during those hours that night, I want to know about it.

Secondly, if you have been away for a while or wish true anonymity, you can go to confession at any Church. Perhaps you work in downtown Tampa and live and worship in New Tampa at St. Mark’s as an example. You could choose Sacred Heart downtown, Corpus Christi in Temple Terrace, St. Mary’s in north Tampa and just stop by on the way home. Chances are you would have the anonymity which you feel you need for peace. Just come in, reflect on your mortal sins and your life in general, enter the confessional space and talk to the Lord and the priest. Listen carefully to his words of absolution and leave feeling healed and clean.

You may recall that last year when I presented the idea of The Light is ON for You to the priests they were skeptical. Well, to their amazement many of them were slammed that night by the number of people who made use of this opportunity and they were pleased in the end. It is now the priests who have asked that this opportunity become an annual one and it will be repeated on the Thursday night of the second full week of Lent for the foreseeable future or as long as it meets a need. Word came to me that many were wonderful confessions of people who had been away from the sacrament for a long, long time.

This Sunday finds me  at the Cathedral of St. Jude for two “Rite of Election” ceremonies. This is always a day that makes a bishop feel particularly good as he officially and formally welcomes the catechumens (those who will be baptized at the Easter Vigil, confirmed and make their First Holy Communion) and the candidates (those who have already been baptized, perhaps in another religion or if Catholic it has been years since they practiced) and who will make a profession of faith, be confirmed and make their first communion. Next Sunday there will be 385 catechumens and 678 candidates for a grand total of 1063 coming into the Church and present at the Rite of Election (there are always those who are catechumens or candidates who are unable to make this ceremony but will still be received at Easter.) By the way, this year’s number is down by only nine from the number received at last year’s two Rites of Election.

From all of this, you should be able to tell that I am finally back at work. I will do all I am physically capable of doing but still am told and suspect that it will be the Fall before I can expect to be fully recovered and back at full strength. For this reason, I have reduced my confirmation schedule this year but expect to resume full service in the Fall for confirmations.

I hope that together we can spend these forty days fasting and praying so that we may fully comprehend the great Easter mystery all the more.

+RNL

The Light is ON for You

MONDAY MISCELLANY

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

The final number at the Cathedral yesterday for the Rite of Election was 1072 with about 40% catechumens preparing for baptism. It was a great afternoon. Stay tuned for some interesting entries, I hope.

+RNL

ONE TH0USAND WELCOMES

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

Tomorrow is not only the first Sunday of Lent but it is also the afternoon when at the Cathedral of St. Jude, the Diocese of St. Petersburg welcomes most of those preparing for baptism, confirmation and first Eucharist at the Easter Vigil ceremony throughout the Diocese on Saturday, April 11, 2009 (the catechumens) and many more who will be received into “full communion” with the Church and be confirmed and make their First Eucharist at the same Easter Vigil (candidates, they are called). Candidates will have experienced first Penance prior to the Easter Vigil and, of course, those being baptized are washed clean of all sins in that sacrament, not just Original Sin.

The Cathedral ceremony is called “The Rite of Election” and earlier in the morning, those present will be “sent” to the Cathedral following the homily at Sunday morning’s Mass. One of the great pleasures in my life as bishop takes place tomorrow when these 1000+ gather for Evening Prayer and the welcome. Catechumens come up into the sanctuary first, accompanied most often by their pastor or the person who has helped them through the whole Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) or the Order of Christian Initiation of Children (OCIC). They bring a “Book of the Elect” which contains their names inscribed and enrolled to remain forever a part of the history of the parish. They shake my hand and I congratulate and welcome them, in the name of the whole local Church. For much of their journey they think they are largely alone or making the pilgrimage of faith with a few other nice people who are doing the same. When they get to the Cathedral and see the vast throng of people coming into the Church, they often become even more excited about their journey.

The reading for Evening Prayer tomorrow is taken from St. Paul’s Letter to the Phillipians, (1:4-6, 8-11): Brothers and sisters: I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the Gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. St. Paul’s pride at the growth of the Church at Phillipi gives him “joy” and “confidence”. The number of converts was likely to be no more than several hundred at the most at any one time. Imagine St. Paul’s joy at receiving over a thousand into the Church. God is very good and continues to work in our midst through the modern day servants of the Gospel, those who guide and direct the RCIA/OCIC programs in the parishes, the sponsors of the catechumens and candidates and those whose example of faith (often a spouse) has moved the initiate to make the journey.

A great afternoon for our local Church is in store and a thousand welcomes to all who await the Easter Vigil for unity of faith with us.

+RNL

BWIPVDTPA

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Does the title seem to be gobbledgook to you? Not if you look at the Southwest baggage tags on my suitcase.  I left Tampa at 600pm on Wednesday night to attend an all day meeting at the headquarters of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington on Thursday. It was a meeting of the Committee on Budget and Finance which I have attended almost every year since 1984 and am once again a member on. The good news here, however, is that I stayed at the residence for priests working at the bishops’ conference and had a chance to spend some time with our own Father David Toups who is on the staff of the Conference in the areas of vocations, priestly formation, priestly life and ministry and deacons (talk about a “full plate”). Then at 520 pm yesterday afternoon, I flew from Baltimore Washington airport (BWI in the above) to Providence (PVD), rented a car and drove to my own alma mater, Blessed John XXIII National Seminary, to spend some time with Tim Corcoran, a seminarian for our diocese who is in his first year of theology studies. Father Len Plazewski always joins me for these annual seminary visitations so he is present here as well. Tim Corcoran is an attorney and served as a federal magistrate judge in Tampa for a number of years. Blessed Pope John XXIII is a seminary for older men pursuing the priesthood and they like Tim and Tim likes them.

I visited the graves of my parents at the parish cemetery in Canton, Massachusetts and my one surviving aunt and uncle prior to driving back to Providence for the flight home tonight. All the flights have been filled to the brim but they have been on time so far and for that I am grateful. This is a big week-end coming up for the diocese as we welcome to the Cathedral of St. Jude on Sunday afternoon all of the catechumens and candidates who can make it to the ceremony called “The Rite of Election.” I shake over 1000 hands every year and have to soak my hands in ice after it is over. But what nice pain to have.

+RNL