Posts Tagged ‘Second Vatican Council’

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!

+RNL

GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY OF A GOLDEN DOCUMENT

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

Last night (October 21, 2015) at the invitation of my great friend, Rabbi Jacob Luski, I had the privilege of joining with our Jewish sisters and brothers at Temple B’Nai Israel in St. Petersburg a reflection on the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s document on Catholic/Jewish relations entitled Nostra Aetate.

Giving my presentation. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik.

Giving my presentation. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik.

 

With my good friend Rabbi Jacob Luski. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik.

With my good friend Rabbi Jacob Luski. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik.

 

 

A wonderful evening. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik.

A wonderful evening. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik.

I have invited Rabbi Luski to present his reflections, fifty years out, next Wednesday at the Cathedral of St. Jude at seven p.m. and I hope you might think of attending his presentation as he reflects on that moment five decades ago from his, Jewish perspective. Below is my presentation as delivered:

The 50th Anniversary of the Promulgation of The Second Vatican Council’s Nostra Aetate: Declaration on the Church’s Relationship with Non-Christian Religions—Highlights and Ongoing Contemporary Challenges presented by Bishop Robert N. Lynch, Roman Catholic Bishop of St. Petersburg, at Temple B’Nai Israel, October 21, 2015 

Among the many gifts that Pope John XXIII, now a saint,  provided the Church via his call for aggiornamento, i.e., “renewal”, when he announced the convening of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) was his guidance in seeking a new disposition on the part of the Church towards our Jewish brothers and sisters.  Pope John’s personal experiences as an apostolic delegate in Turkey from 1935-1944 informed his commitment to the Council’s statement on the

Church’s relationship with Judaism articulated in section 4 of Nostra Aetate, i.e., The Declaration on the Church’s Relationship with Non-Christian Religions, as did his visit with the noted Jewish historian Jules Isaac during the Council’s preparatory phase in 1960. Isaac’s presentation to the Pope regarding Christianity’s history of Anti-Semitism via its perpetuation of a “teaching of contempt” which suggested Providential punishment of the Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus—with the accompanying charge of deicide—as well as Christianity’s supersessionistic tendencies (suggestions that Judaism had been eclipsed as God’s promises were diverted unto Jesus and as Jesus’ teachings replaced/fulfilled the teachings and prophecies of Judaism) had a transformational effect upon the Pope who, in turn, utilized the Council as a means to move the Church beyond a teaching of contempt into to a teaching of respect.

Producing a Conciliar text on Jews and Judaism was a priority of Pope John XXIII and he utilized the leadership genius of Cardinal Augustin Bea, S.J. (one of whose main advisors was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel) and the Council’s Committee on Christian Unity to ensure that the question of the Church’s relationship with Judaism remained a focal point throughout the various stages and draft documents of the Council.  Their efforts gave us Nostra Aetate #4 which, in turn, ushered in an attitude of respect towards Jews and Judaism within Catholicism.

(See Elena Procario-Foley’s, Heir or Orphan? Theological Evolution and Devolution before and after Nostra Aetate in Vatican II Forty Years Later edited by William Madges).

This new attitude of respect towards Jews and Judaism outlined in the seminal document we recall this evening outlined for we Catholics a new appreciation for Judaism which can be said to be nothing short of a conversion of heart, mind, theology and Church. Pope Francis recently stated that the document represents a definitive “yes” to the Jewish roots of Christianity and an irrevocable “no” to Anti-Semitism. Nostra Aetate, in contrast to the historical attitude of contempt mentioned moments ago, acknowledged and affirmed that Judaism:

  1. Provides Christians the beginnings of our understanding of God’s revelation and Providential designs for the redemption and salvation of all people via the promises and word God spoke through the Jewish patriarchs, matriarchs and prophets

 

  1. Is the root from which Christianity derives its sustenance for from Judaism comes God’s promises and covenant…and for Christians it also yielded Jesus, Mary, the disciples and the apostles

 

  1. Has not been deprived of the call and gifts God issued to its people

 

  1. Ought not be charged with Jesus’ Passion nor attributed guilt associated thereunto

 

  1. Has not been rejected nor cursed by God in light of the Jesus Event

 

Additionally, these few paragraphs of such significance called upon Catholics to:

 

  1. Ensure that our teaching and preaching convey this new attitude of respect

 

  1. Oppose any and all forms of persecution and expressions of Anti-Semitism

 

  1. Engage in dialogues such as this very one tonight which seek to advance mutual understanding and respect between our two great faiths

With Nostra Aetate and its inspired renewal of our relations with one another as our springboard, may we now consider some of the advances that the Catholic Church has made towards a teaching of respect toward Judaism in the 50 years since its promulgation. These focal points are by no means exhaustive of the great work towards greater respect, understanding and reconciliation between our two faith traditions that has been made over the past 50 years but, rather, highlights which not only illuminate the progress we have made but also shed light on the challenges we still face:

Vatican Commission for Catholic-Jewish Relations (CCJR) and International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee (ILC)

1974 Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews Guidelines for Implementing Nostra Aetate

1985 Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews Notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis

1998 Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews Reflections on the Shoah

Each of these three documents produced by the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews continues and expands upon the positive trajectory towards Jews and Judaism introduced by Nostra Aetate.

Each of the documents:

  1. Increasingly emphasize that Jesus, Mary, the disciples and majority of the early

apostles were Jewish so as to accentuate the Jewish origins of Christianity…

  1. Therefore, call for expanded dialogue and joint theological undertakings between the two faiths
  1. Repudiate characterizations of the Jewish people as Christ-killers with accompanying charges of deicide and/or suggestions that Jews are cursed by God
  1. Affirm that the Jewish people remain dear to God for the sake of the patriarchs/matriarchs and maintain that God has not taken back the gifts He bestowed upon the Jewish people nor His choice of them as His people
  1. Call for an appreciation of the liturgical links between the two traditions and cautions Catholics against liturgical aspects which might present the Jewish people in an unfavorable light
  1. Affirm the theocentric anthropology and commitment to social justice shared by the two faiths
  1. Consistently reject Anti-Semitism of any kind

The ILC has met regularly since 1970, drawing together the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (including participants from the World Jewish Congress, Synagogue Council of America and American Jewish Committee) together with the Vatican’s Committee on Catholic-Jewish Relations in order to improve mutual understanding between the two religious communities and to exchange information pertinent to greater collaboration. A most significant outcome of the work of the ILC is a renewed understanding of the Church’s missionary and evangelization efforts which precludes seeking to proselytize/convert Jews.

 

Pope John Paul II

From his 1979 prayers at Auschwitz…to his 1986 visit to the chief synagogue in Rome (the first pope in history to do so and which spawned a life-long friendship between John Paul and the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Elio Toaff)…to the establishment of diplomatic ties between the Holy See and Israel in 1993…to his prayers for forgiveness offered at Yad Vashem and before the Western Wall in Jerusalem in 2000, the late Pope utilized his papacy to help build a new relationship between the Church and the Jewish people. John Paul II frequently referred to the Jewish people as the elder siblings of Christians, noting that the Christian relationship with Judaism is unlike its relationship with any other religion—Judaism is intrinsic to Christianity and to be ignorant of Judaism is to be ignorant of Jesus, Mary, and the disciples. Perhaps most powerfully, John Paul II consistently insisted on the eternal validity of God’s covenant with the Jewish people—a covenant, the pope maintained, never revoked! The pope consistently affirmed the ongoing validity of the divine election of the Jewish people—an existence he attributed to a supernatural commitment.

Additionally, under John Paul’s leadership, the Bilateral Commission of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and the Holy See was established has met annually since 2002.

A challenge moving forward entails significant theological inquiry regarding soteriology— theology of redemption and salvation—in light of covenantal theology and Christology and understandings of God’s Word (Logos/dabar)…While the enduring nature of the Jewish covenant has been consistently affirmed by the Church, the Magisterium nonetheless rejects theological explanations which suggest that there are two distinct covenants—Jewish and Christian—which serve as equally viable means of salvation. Therefore the contemporary theological challenge is one confronted with the challenge of considering how Jews and Christians are united in a single covenantal relationship with God which is meaningful and salvific to both traditions from their respective experiences and convictions (Cardinal Kasper).

Moving forward there can be no place for any trace of former supersessionist, replacement or fulfillment theologies and the Christ Event cannot be used in any way which devalues Judaism.

Exclusivist covenant language cannot be placed in opposition to God’s creative and redeeming love which is universal in scope.]

(See Elena Procario-Foley’s, Heir or Orphan? Theological Evolution and Devolution before and after Nostra Aetate in Vatican II Forty Years Later edited by William Madges).

 

Pontifical Biblical Commission

The Pontifical Biblical Commission’s The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scripture  (2002) challenges Christian readers to appreciate the dignity of a Jewish reading and understanding of the Bible as well as addresses how Christians ought to address certain New Testament passages which convey anti-Jewish sentiments. This text expands upon Nostra  Aetate’s directives regarding Church teaching and preaching to encompass each and every Christian’s responsible reading of Scripture thereby rendering an attitude of respect and understanding a duty incumbent upon every Christian to be assimilated into one’s own reading of Scripture and personal piety. Additionally, the document offers an appraisal of messianic expectations within Judaism acknowledging that the messianic character of Jesus was a possible interpretation but not the sole nor necessary interpretation of messianic prophecies, therefore suggesting that Jesus is not the only possible fulfillment of messianic expectations.

The challenge moving forward is empowering each and every person with the wherewithal to critically read, interpret and understand Scripture sensitive to issues such as context, climate, culture, respect for respective religious sensitivities, etc. Institutionally, greater sensitivity to potentially anti-Jewish sentiments in preaching (stereotypes of Scribes and Pharisees; Lenten devotions which may depict Jews as hypocritical; characterizations/presentations in the Liturgy of the Hours which are suggestive of Jews lacking faith), liturgical art, etc. is also warranted for what the Church prays is an expression of what the Church believes (Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi).  On the theological level there is much to consider in terms of messianism and eschatology, i.e., as God draws us all proleptically to His consummating designs for humanity might we all be drawn unto Him in ways yet made known? .

(See James M. Barrens’ In Our Time (Nostra Aetate): How Catholics and Jews Built a New Relationship; The Catholic and Church and The Jewish People: Recent Reflections from Rome edited by Philip A. Cunningham, Norbert J. Hofmann and Joseph Sievers and Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue by Edward Cardinal Cassidy).

Local Steps Toward Mutual Respect

Walking God’s Path

Closer to home we, too, have experienced the fruits of what Nostra Aetate began.  Within the Diocese which I shepherd we have partnered with numerous Jewish communities to advance mutual respect and understanding by teaming with one another in parish/synagogue hosted considerations of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Walking God’s Paths  (2004) series which draws us together in order to realize Nostra Aetate’s instruction to dialogue and learn from one another. Walking God’s Paths is a six-session process to stimulate candid conversation between Jewish and Christian congregations. Produced by the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College on behalf and with the oversight of the National Council of Synagogues and the Bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the series enables participants to experience each tradition’s understanding of how it walks God’s path and how the two faith communities could relate to one another in positive ways (See Walking God’s Path website).

The Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops together with The National Council of Synagogues USA and other Jewish bodies have worked together to produce over a dozen documents over the past 35 years alone—Uniting our faith traditions in efforts to promote peace, protect children and the environment, combat religious intolerance, end the death penalty and promote moral education within schools. (See the USCCB website).

A challenge moving forward is maintaining such grassroots efforts as the zeal and fervor of the Vatican II generation wanes. How do we continue to foster and promote continued dialogue whereby we authentically strive to enter into the experience of the other?  How do we accentuate our commonly shared commitment to preparing for God’s Kingdom?

We must also broaden our dialogue to include other faiths and people of good will.

A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People

In 2008 the Diocese of St. Petersburg helped to sponsor the exhibit: A Blessing to One  Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People at the Florida Holocaust Museum. The exhibit illustrated the steps Pope Saint John Paul II took to improve the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people noted above, and reflected the continuing relevance of Nostra Aetate.

Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies

Together with my fellow Bishop from the Diocese of Venice, the late Bishop John J. Nevins, the American Jewish Committee and the Catholic University within our Diocese, Saint Leo University, the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies was established in 1999 with the mission of building mutual respect, understanding, and appreciation between Jews, Catholics, and all  people of good will by providing opportunities for interfaith education and dialogue. The objectives of the Center are to educate the public on issues germane to both religions and to foster intellectual discussion, as seen from both points of view. Together in the spirit of the Hebrew Tikkun Olam (trying to repair/improve the world), the Center models and promotes tolerance, justice, and compassion in a world torn by strife and prejudice among religions and nations. These objectives are met through conferences, town hall meetings, interreligious dialogue, and gatherings of young Jews and Catholics sharing their faith together.

Over the course of the next 8 weeks the Center is sponsoring a series of events much like this one devoted to understanding contemporary interfaith challenges in light of the seminal teachings of Nostra  Aetate. (See Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies website). Over 40 such centers now exist in the United States.

As the sun more rapidly sets on my privilege of serving my church in the five counties, I see God’s hand in my presence among you this evening. Twenty years ago this coming January 26th, Jacob Luski patiently set among an overflow crowd at St. Jude’s Cathedral for my ordination as bishop. He was among the first I greeted. He and JoAnn have had me as a guest in their home and at the one child’s wedding I was able to attend. When the moment arrived two years ago for the rededication of the remodeled Cathedral of St. Jude, I came here to learn from the master how to interpret the scripture passage from Nehemiah about the Temple and he taught me well enough that citing my source, I used his material for part of my homily that evening. I learned from him that one never answers a direct question if one can first tell a story.

Above all, he taught me how to be reflective, reconciling, and renewed in understanding contemporary Judaism in America. Little wonder that at my invitation he spent a morning with seventy-five per cent of my priests which they still remember with fondness and gratitude. For myself, he has been my Rabbi Skorka. Though our schedules often preclude many opportunities to meet and share, I will walk into retirement and eternity forever grateful to my personal rabbi and friend, his wife and family.

Pope Francis

I think it appropriate that we gather this evening—not only to celebrate the gift that Nostra Aetate has been to our two faiths over the past 50 years and to consider the contemporary challenges which still confront us– but also as we look ahead in the midst of new leadership within the Catholic Church under Pope Francis on the eve of what he has called to be an upcoming year of mercy! Like both Pope John XXIII and John Paul II before him, Pope Francis is truly a people’s pope—a pope pastorally inspired to discover new ways and means to convey the love, mercy and joy of our God unto greater inclusivity and solidarity among all peoples. A jubilee year reminds us all of God’s ultimate sovereignty over all and calls upon us to surrender anew unto Him and His Providential designs.  It is a call for forgiveness, new beginnings and humility before God and one another.  It is a call to discover how we are to understand our relationship with one another through the lens of our relationship with the one and same God whom we serve.  Towards that end, allow me to close with the words of Pope Francis voiced in his first apostolic letter which summarizes succinctly and well the attitude of respect that Nostra Aetate inspired 50 years ago:

  1. We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked, for “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). The Church, which shares with Jews an important part of the sacred Scriptures, looks upon the people of the covenant and their faith as one of the sacred roots of her own Christian identity (cf. Rom 11:16-18). As Christians, we cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion; nor do we include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God (cf. 1 Thes 1:9). With them, we believe in the one God who acts in history, and with them we accept his revealed word.
  2. Dialogue and friendship with the children of Israel are part of the life of Jesus’ disciples. The friendship which has grown between us makes us bitterly and sincerely regret the terrible persecutions which they have endured, and continue to endure, especially those that have involved Christians.
  3. God continues to work among the people of the Old Covenant and to bring forth treasures of wisdom which flow from their encounter with his word. For this reason, the Church also is enriched when she receives the values of Judaism. While it is true that certain Christian beliefs are unacceptable to Judaism, and that the Church cannot refrain from proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Messiah, there exists as well a rich complementarity which allows us to read the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures together and to help one another to mine the riches of God’s word. We can also share many ethical convictions and a common concern for justice and the development of peoples.

Evangelium Gaudium

COME THOU LONG, EXPECTED REPORT ON U.S. RELIGIOUS

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Within days of opening the year of Consecrated Religious Life by Pope Francis and near the anniversary of the key document on religious life of the Second Vatican Council, Perfectae Caritatis, the Holy See yesterday published the concluding report of the “Investigation and Visitation of U.S. Women Religious”.

When the news broke that yet a second investigation of women religious, this time involving visitations of many of the religious orders, was to be begun, I remember writing in this space that our sisters should not worry about the eventual outcome. Like the first study, chaired and overseen by Archbishops John Quinn and Thomas Kelly and Bishop Raymond Lessard, no conclusion other than religious have been and continue to be a gift to the Church was possible.

What prompted me then to predict this week’s outcome? In our Church when there is a concern raised often enough and loud enough by certain people, the institutional response is almost always, “well, let’s have an investigation and visitation to fix what is either wrong or we do not like.” Twice in twenty years we bishops without asking for help have had to endure two long, expensive pontifical studies and investigations of our priestly formation programs (i.e., seminaries) and the result has always been the same. Not too much wrong, not too much that needs fixing, and nothing happens.

I think that my article at the time understood the angst of the women religious. They seemed to be singled out for no apparent reason, the decision was understood as coming from an all-male Roman Congregation leadership with little reason given for the action, there was no ground-swell of US bishops indicating even privately that “it’s about time” (the USCCB was never asked); therefore it did not seem to the women to be matter of high moment to most of the Church in the U.S. and probably a host of other reasons too long to spell out here. And, quite frankly, it did not help when Archbishop Joseph Tobin, C.SS.R. now of Indianapolis but then Secretary of the Congregation (appointed after the visitation and investigation was announced) who both understood and appreciated women religious was transferred from Rome to Indiana.

On Tuesday, the Congregation, now under a gentler, kinder administrative hand, introduced their final report which can and should be read in its eleven page entirety by clicking here. It is a sensitive and sympathetic assessment of religious life in the United States today. It rightly praises the work of religious women in US yesterday and today. It does not tilt at all in favor of what some call the more traditional religious communities over those who took Perfectae Caritatis seriously in the years following the Council and chose the path to renewal. Also it laments, as every Catholic should and as the religious themselves do, the declining numbers of women religious. So what happened to effect this kinder, gentler result?

I think much praise should be directed to the woman who was placed in charge of the project, Mother M. Clare Millea. At both the beginning and end she and her co-workers faced a monumental and thankless task. Suspicion in the early days ran so high that a few religious orders refused to cooperate, but most did. The visitations were largely affirming in their results (ahem, just like the two seminary visitations) and they listened, at least in part, to the “push-back” of many US Catholics who love the sisters. If there was indeed even-handedness about the project, I believe Mother Mary Clare Millea deserves the thanks of many.

 

Then, a new Pope did not hurt either. He must have known the skepticism and even distrust which was held throughout most of the world toward those previously charged with overseeing consecrated life. He appointed a new, savvy and sympathetic Prefect and Secretary. That did not hurt either as both quietly worked to turn the distrust into openness. How I hope that when their work is finished, these two men will be replaced by at least one, if not two, religious women. That would have helped a long time ago when this brouhaha began.

 

Finally, I wish that we lived in a Church when what happened on Tuesday is greeted with joy and not simply relief. Pope Francis is moving us steadily in that direction. And tons of people are ready to follow his example of mercy and forgiveness, especially U.S. sisters who have had to live it existentially in the Church for some time. While I do not personally know the sister who heads the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious in the U.S., I personally know and deeply admire Sister Sharon Holland, IHM who is the current President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. She is more of a woman of the Church than I can be accused of being a man of the Church. Serving for years on the same Vatican Congregation as an intelligent and sensitive staff person, she lives, breathes and sleeps the Church and her religious vocation. LCWR’s membership is in awesome hands as the women prod the rest of us to live the Gospel ever more fully. I’ll say it again, the Holy Spirit is alive and active in the Church we love.

+RNL

THE LION OF THE LITURGY

Friday, August 17th, 2012

There is little to be said for getting old, as I am sure many people my age would admit, and one of the challenges of aging while remaining in position is saying farewell to esteemed and great friends. Recently it was announced that Pope Benedict XVI had accepted the resignation of Bishop Donald W. Trautman as bishop of Erie, Pennsylvania, and had named his successor. I have long admired Bishop Trautman for reasons I will offer in a few moments but in a sense we grew up together in the episcopal conference and he is one more person of my generation to be moving on. For him I am happy, but for our Church a strong and brave vote for the continuing implementation of the vision of the Second Vatican Council will be lost (but perhaps not the voice).

For those readers who do not know Bishop Trautman, a few facts may be helpful in understanding my sense of passing with his retirement. Post-ordination, graduate degrees in the Church are not easily gained. They require intellect, hard work, dedication and study, sometimes even exceeding secular degrees at our major universities. Bishop Trautman has one of those degrees which is extremely challenging, a Licentiate in Sacred Scripture (SSL) which has such strict requirements for facility in the biblical languages that few American priests pursue it. After gaining that degree, he also studied for and received a doctorate in sacred theology (STD). Early in his priesthood, he put that background at the service of the Church of Buffalo for which he was ordained by teaching in the seminary. Upon becoming a bishop, our conference twice elected him as chairman of the Liturgy Committee (generally regarded then and now as a “death wish”) and once as chairman of the Committee on Doctrine. In other words, on three occasions, the body of bishops of the United States turned to Bishop Trautman to lead us through difficult moments. Not as well known but equally important has been his service as official episcopal liaison to the Diocesan Fiscal Managers Conference where he has also been a strong voice for transparency, accountability and procedures which will safeguard against fraud and embezzlement.

But it is precisely in his love for the liturgy that I love this man. His was the liturgy committee which in the mid-nineties convinced the body of bishops with only thirty-three in the negative to adopt a new ICEL English Translation of the Roman Missal. That translation was a 100% improvement on that which we had used right up through the Solemnity of Christ the King last year, elegant, understandable, prayable (I know, a new word). Some in the minority appealed to Rome and we know the rest of the story. As General Secretary of the then NCCB (now the USCCB), I accompanied Bishop Trautman and others on his Committee to the Congregation for Divine Worship to make the strongest case for gender sensitive (aka “inclusive”) language only to have him treated very shabbily by an American Jesuit either still in or just finished graduate education at Rome’s Gregorian University. That was an awful moment that the bishop took far better than I did. In the so-called “liturgy wars” that marked the USCCB’s decade from 1999-2009, Bishop Trautman was on the floor often asking his brothers for prayers that could be recited in one breath, understood in one moment, and vocabulary choice which had one clear meaning for the listener. He knew by then he was fighting a lost cause but his voice was not to be stilled. Like that proverbial dog with a bone in his teeth, this lion of the liturgy soldiers on, even today. Happily for some of the rest of us, his voice can still be heard in future discussions, even though his vote has now been lost.

As most of you know, with the exception of one year (1995), I have been associated with the episcopal conference of the United States as either principal staff or member since 1984, soon to be thirty years. It is sad for me to see my living heroes like Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, Bishop Anthony Pilla, Cardinal William Keeler, and Bishop Donald Trautman leave the stage of our national ecclesial theatre. That does not mean that Christ’s church is in any danger for the younger generation of bishops will also leave their mark and it is Christ’s church and not mine or my like-minded friends. But to Bishop Trautman I wish through this blog to say “thanks for the memories” of battles fought and both won and lost. You have been and will continue to be a “gift” to the Church in this country. Enjoy the rest from your labors that is rightly yours.

+RNL

SUMMER READING

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

There have been some interesting (to myself at least) articles recently dealing with various aspects of Church life. I would like to share several with you for your thoughts and consideration knowing that you may very well his disagree with me in part or in whole or agree with me or the growing and newest complaint – think I am not bold enough. The first was a speech given by Monsignor Andrew Wadsworth, the current CEO of ICEL (International Commission for English in the Liturgy) recently to a meeting of Church musicians in Salt Lake City. Until reading this article I thought ICEL’s sole purview was to be translating the texts of the Roman Missal (they just finished that as you know) and translating other liturgical documents like the Rites used for Marriage, Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders, etc. Monsignor Wadsworth whose organization has given us the recent translation of the Roman Missal and new vocabulary like “abasement” from last Sunday’s opening prayer pines in his speech for even more of a return to the traditional liturgy of the Church. He makes some valid points and I recommend that you read his whole presentation before reacting to what I am about to say by clicking here. He uses a reading of a letter from Pope Benedict to the closing of the Eucharistic Congress in Ireland in June as his platform and then offers some of his own thoughts as well.

My personal memory of the liturgy prior to Vatican II is an awful one. I remember the daily Requiem Masses screeched by the eighth grade girls of St. Charles Borromeo parish in Peru, Indiana, mandatory prior to the start of every school day, and even with their screeching, the Mass gratefully only lasted about twenty minutes. Communion distributed to the kneeling at the altar rail was more comic than reverent (remember hearing the words “Corpus Domini. . .as the priest started at one end and then  eternam” as he reached the thirtieth person kneeling?). Also strong in my memory remain Masses on Holy Days of Obligation when at the beginning of Mass, during the Offertory and at the Pater Noster, the assistant priests would come out and give communion to anyone who needed to “duck out” and get back to work (this was especially true at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York even when the Cardinal was the celebrant). Adult choirs attempting Mozart were only slightly better in most churches than the eighth grade girls at St. Charles.  My grandparents and parents taught us to distract ourselves during Mass by following their example and either praying the Rosary continuously throughout Mass or attempting to follow along using a Missal which had Latin on one side of the fold and the English translation on the other. It was mystery, for sure, but not the kind of mystery which is reverentially spoken of now for the past. Monsignor Wadsworth calls in his talk for more attention to be paid by celebrants to the General Instruction to the Roman Missal which guides the liturgical celebration. I agree but he had better be careful for the growing practice of shielding the celebrants from congregants with candles and crosses of such size as to block the vision of many at Mass is explicitly forbidden in the same GIRM. In this diocese, we have a diocesan sponsored Latin Mass in what is called the Tridentine Rite each Sunday at the Cathedral. About 150 people attend. I increased its opportunity from every other week to every week when I came. There is also a Latin Mass offered in Hernando county and a Tridentine Mass offered in Pasco county. Work is being done to see about the possibility of the same for Hillsborough county. But there is far from a deafening roar of the crowd for such opportunities. I am on vacation as I write this and substituting for the pastor of a one priest, large parish who uses the opportunity of my presence to get about the only genuine vacation he can. The people in this parish sing beautifully, participate fully and reverently, receive the Eucharist with great respect and the older congregation would not like to return to what they knew as I knew when we grew up. There is always work which needs to be done to achieve a beautiful and spiritually inviting celebration of the Eucharist. However, I hope ICEL which is predominantly paid for by U.S. Catholics will keep its focus on better rendering of texts and not on “the style of celebration.” I also found very painful the Monsignor’s slam at the closing Mass of the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin last month. Applause came at very appropriate moments during the closing liturgy (e.g., at the conclusion of the Holy Father’s words) and not for performance as he suggests and the bishops of Ireland with all they are dealing with were hoping that up-until-now a largely non-participatory membership would find in the style of celebration something to long for in their home parishes.

A second article which I found spot-on appeared in the WALL STREET JOURNAL by William McGurn last Tuesday. You can access it by clicking here. (Please note that the online version is password protected. You would need an account to view it.) McGurn shows what would happen in CHItown if and when the HHS mandate as currently read becomes the law and clearly makes the case that the Church is not out to change the nation’s contraceptive policies except when and if they contradict the institutional conscience of the Church. That’s the heart of the religious liberty issue of which I have written and spoken so often.

The third article was written by Russell Shaw, a former colleague of mine at the NCCB/USCC and someone whom I still respect though occasionally with whom I  respectfully differ. Shaw’s article, which you can read by clicking here, concerns the appointment of a veteran American journalist as a communication specialist for the Holy See (make that the Pope and his curia). Greg Burke knows the inner workings of the Vatican as well as any outsider which makes me amazed that he agreed to accept the position. A number of years ago, the late Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia convinced his friend Pope John Paul II that he needed an American communication specialist and suggested his own diocesan editor, the late Cardinal John Foley. Foley’s bags were yet unpacked when some in the curia went to work to minimize his influence and presence. Burke should well remember that story and sad outcome. Anyway, if he can get them to understand that the manner of the message is just as important as perhaps its content, he will have made a major contribution. It is my understanding that he will not be the spokesman for the Holy See but a behind the scenes consultant. The question is, “how much behind the scenes?” The U.S. bishops also think we  need a “new face” in the face of media hostility. Good luck when the new face makes one or two particular bishops mad.

Along the same line is a fourth article made available once again by the “mother of all ecclesial blogs,” which you can access by clicking here. Several years ago the Vatican’s daily newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano employed a woman columnist named Lucetta Scaraffia to write occasional pieces on women in the Church for the paper. While the world does not need another Maureen Dowd of the New York Times it is breathtaking to me that someone in the Church in Rome felt strongly enough to have a woman attempt to speak to and for women. We are a male dominated Church and that is very true of the central administration. Here in the United States, bishops increasingly bring women into every important position in administration which does not by law require ordination. For most of my time here, I have had the incredible, loyal to the Church and loving of it, even in its faults and failures, presence of women in my highest positions. There is indeed something called feminine intuition and the Church would do well to pay more attention to it. I wish the columnist well at the principle information organ of the Holy See, but we shall see. In the end, a successful administration boils down to consultation, collaboration, and commitment to sharing responsibility. As a Church, I agree that we can be a little short on some if not all three.

The late Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston was fond of saying this about the Church: “we may be difficult but we are never boring.”

Now its back to reading my fourth novel of the last ten days.

+RNL

COUNSELS FROM COUNCILS

Friday, March 23rd, 2012
With members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council. Photo kindness of Frank Murphy.

With members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council. From left to right: Pat Wiand, Linda Patterson, Linda Waggoner, Kelly Wilson, and Sylvia Sanchez. Photo kindness of Frank Murphy.

I happened to note in the “mother of all ecclesial blogs”  yesterday that the Archbishop of Philadelphia has just announced that he would soon be establishing the first Archdiocesan Pastoral Council in the long history of that local Church. I know something of how he feels in that this diocese did not have such a council until about five years ago which is somewhat amazing in that such structures were highly recommended in the days and years following the Second Vatican Council. So I thought the readers of this blog might be interested in learning something about all the advisory groups which assist a local bishop in administering a local Church.

The law of the Church (aka “Canon law”) mandates every diocesan bishop to establish and meet with several bodies within his diocese. Every bishop must have a “College of Consultors” and he is required to “listen” to their wisdom and counsel on a number of matters (largely financial). For instance, a local bishop is not allowed to borrow sizeable sums of money or float bonds binding the diocese financially without seeking their approval first (after which he must secure the permission of the Holy See for, in our case, amounts in excess of three million dollars). In the event of the death of the bishop, the Consultors elect an administrator and with him govern the diocese until a new bishop is installed. There are many other matters which a bishop either must or should listen to his Consultors, but this is the first of those advisory bodies which the church requires. I have a seven member College of Consultors who were appointed by myself last year and whose terms will last until my successor is in place.

The Presbyteral Council is the second body required by Church law and the ordinary (another name for the bishop) must seek their wisdom and advice also on a number of matters. In addition to financial matters, the Presbyteral Council must advise in the closing or merging of parishes in a diocese. From a strictly church law perspective, the Presbyteral Council does not have an extensive required portfolio, but from a practical and pastoral perspective (I like to alliterate as you can see) any bishop is foolish not to bring them in on many others matters affecting a local Church. From the beginning of my time, I think I have worked very hard to place before the Presbyteral Council all matters of major substance concerning the diocese and I have tried to listen and follow their advice. We just finished extensive discussions on the possibility of a diocesan capital funds drive and a strategic plans for our schools. The “Light is On For YOU” effort held Thursday a week ago when every parish heard confessions from five to eight p.m. and the “Catholics Come Home” effort which found it way onto our TV screens in December and January were agreed to in advance by the Council. I have found throughout my time as bishop that this group serves an indispensable service to the diocese.

The final consultative body required by Canon Law is the Diocesan Finance Council. About sixteen men and women (three pastors and myself are the only clerics on the Council) meet at least five times a year to monitor and guide me and the diocesan Finance Office in the management of the funds entrusted to us by the faithful. They approve an annual budget and monitor it throughout the coming year. They supervise the investment portfolio and its managers monthly as to performance and risk. They receive the annual audit and choose the auditing firm. At my insistence (and this in no way binds my successor as Church law does not require it), they must approve any expenditure of more than $50,000 outside of the annual budget. At the moment they are meeting with and quite concerned for those parishes consistently unable to pay their bills to the diocese or others. This men and women on this Council are also indispensable, at least for this bishop, for their knowledge of finance, insurance, investment strategies is incredibly helpful. These women and men serve a term, which generally does not exceed ten years and love their faith and Church enough to share their time and talent with me. If you were able to watch these people in action, you would have a very fine feeling about their stewardship of the treasure, which you share for the spread of the Gospel.

That brings this discussion to the final advisory body, the Diocesan Pastoral Council. Here we have about twenty-four women and men, almost all lay, who meet five times a year to discuss major pastoral issues facing the diocese. When I began this Council about five years ago, their first task was to assess the effectiveness of the diocesan newspaper (the St. Petersburg edition of the Florida Catholic) and to recommend new ways of communicating with God’s people in our five counties. They worked hard for over a year and recommended that we leave the family of the paper and strike out on our own. Amazingly, there was very little push-back from this decision and, while admittedly I miss being able to pick up the paper every other week and read and through pictures see what is going on throughout the diocese, I think pastorally it was an acceptable initiative. Their advice and counsel has also been sought on all the major plans and programs of the diocese. While Church Law does not require “Pastoral Councils,” I am pleased that we established one here as how else would the laity who are not auditors, accountants, investment managers or finance related, give input into the life and operation of the Church they love?

All four bodies have recently given me the support which I need to initiate three major projects about which you will be hearing a lot more in the months ahead: a remodeling and renewing of St. Jude’s Cathedral, a restructuring of some of our elementary schools, and a capital funds drive to ensure the continuation of faith education in Catholic schools and religious education programs, as well as to provide for the costs of educating our future priests.

Thanks for your time and patience in reading this “primer” on why a “bishop is not always right and needs the help of others.”

+RNL

IN THE SHADOW OF ST. STEPHEN

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Deacons' Annual Mass of Recommitment. Photo kindness of Barbara Wells.

One of the major developments in the life of the Church, which followed the end of the Second Vatican Council, was the restoration of the order of the diaconate by allowing married men to be ordained. My study of the background at the Council was that the discussion of the Council Fathers envisioned a vibrant and vigorous married diaconate in countries throughout the world where a celibate priesthood would, by sheer terms of numbers, require assistance from the diaconate (too few priests and no major increase likely). I clearly remember in a small group conversation, the Apostolic Delegate to the United States in the seventies, Archbishop Jean Jadot, a Belgium by birth who had been sent to the US by Pope Paul VI, noting the immediate interest in the US of the permanent diaconate and saying that in the Cameroons, where he was assigned prior to arriving on our shores, the Church would never consider ordaining married men, period. It preferred instead to build up catechists in lieu of an ordained diaconate. That prediction has remained largely true and intact in mission countries.

In the years since the Council, the United States has led all other nations in the world in the number of ordinations of married men to the diaconate. It all began in a period when a shortage of priests was considered on these shores unthinkable (perhaps it was indeed the presence of the Holy Spirit which encouraged this local Church to pursue the restored diaconate). The service of these generous men and their equally generous wives and families, who share their husbands and dads with us, has been laudable, helpful and gifted. Deacons may baptize, witness marriages outside of Mass and communion services, preach, and assist at the altar. But, in our living out the post-conciliar married diaconate, they are especially helpful to their parishes in preaching, in preparing the faithful for baptism, confirmation, and marriage, and in conducting wake services and graveside ceremonies. They may not administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick since that sacrament includes the hearing of confessions and sacramental reconciliation. What they can do to be helpful far outpaces what they are not able to do and therein is to be found the blessing.

Deacons' Annual Mass of Recommitment. Photo kindness of Barbara Wells.

On May 2 of this year, our first diocesan class of “married” deacons will celebrate their silver anniversary of ordination. On that day twenty-five years ago, thirty men were ordained deacons for the Diocese of St. Petersburg at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle by Bishop W. Thomas Larkin. Throughout their formation, this class was guided and directed by Monsignor Colm Cooke, who was assisted by Joan Morgan (our present diocesan Chancellor). Some of those ordained have died subsequently, some are now mostly retired, some have lost their spouses in the intervening years, and two have left diaconal ministry. On Saturday last, we had our annual Mass of Recommitment for our deacons. I am not certain of the exact number, but I think there is somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 active and with faculties to function as deacons here. We have had five other ordinations for the diocese in the twenty-five years since and currently have about fifteen in some stage of education and formation. They are here as a ministry to stay and most of your priests and pastors would strongly support their presence and assistance in our local Church. I know I certainly am grateful to them and to their wives and families. Almost all, at one time or another in their ministry as deacons, have held “day jobs” and since the diaconate does not pay a salary (unless they are in full-time employment by a parish or institution), they depend on outside employment for their daily bread.

Many deacons come to us, as do many parishioners, from other dioceses and while, perhaps retired from their former and principal employment, they still wish to be helpful to the Church. After the necessary background check, we accept them and grant them faculties.

So even though the diaconate was not restored for service in the “first world” by the Council Fathers, the Church in the United States and in St. Petersburg and our five counties owes it a lot. Blessings, please, Lord, on all our deacons and their wives and families as we take note this year of the ordination of our first class twenty-five years ago.

+RNL

CARDINAL JOHN FOLEY – RIP

Sunday, December 11th, 2011

John Cardinal Foley, 1935-2011

Word came to  me late on Saturday on the “mother of all ecclesial blogs” of the death of John Cardinal Foley, a man whom I admired as a churchman, professional, and media-saavy representative in Rome. If any reader has ever heard of him, it is likely in connection with his annual voice-0ver of Midnight Mass from St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome with the Holy Father celebrating. There was much more to this grand man, however, than that annual ninety minutes of international exposure on NBC and other media outlets worldwide who carried the Mass. Born and raised in Philadelphia and ever proud of that fact, Cardinal Foley was tapped early on in his priesthood by the late John Cardinal Krol, Philadelphia’s archbishop at the time, for further studies in journalism. Following the Second Vatican Council, Cardinal Krol realized that if the Church was indeed to engage the modern world, it would likely have to do that in and through the media. Father Foley was sent to Columbia where he received a doctorate degree in journalism. Returning to his diocese, he became editor of the archdiocesan newspaper as well as teaching theology courses at St. Charles Seminary in Overbrook, Pennsylvania.

When Cardinal Krol followed the first post conciliar president of the episcopal conference of the United States, John Cardinal Dearden of Detroit (both Krol and Dearden were priests of the Cleveland diocese before being raised to the episcopacy), Krol listened intently to the arguments raised in the Fall meeting of the US bishops by the recently deceased  Archbishop Phillip Hannan, then an auxiliary in Washington, DC, that if the Church was truly to engage the modern world, then it made sense that the annual meetings should be open to the press and to appropriate observers making working behind closed doors a thing of the past in the United States. As one might expect there was considerable opposition to the Hannan proposal but Cardinal Krol turned to his journalism pro, Father John Foley, who persuaded him that there was a far more to be gained from openness in the modern era than secrecy and the body of bishops soon agreed to open their meetings.

With the election of the Polish pope, John Paul II, in 1978, Krol was consulted about a new head for a recently established post-conciliar “council” within the curia entitled, “The Pontifical Council for Social Communications.” Its first leader, a close Polish friend of the new Pope, then Archbishop Andrzej Deskur had suffered a stroke. Krol recommended his young editor to the Holy Father who agreed that by both background and disposition, John Foley could be the man. Think the early eighties and the Holy See and the press. Those who think the relationship is strained now should have been around in those days. Foley arrived with the title of “Archbishop” but was treated very badly by a few well placed people in the curia. Deskur had as his responsibilities as President of the Council for Social Communications the following offices and functions: (the Press Office of the Holy See – quickly removed from any connection with Archbishop Foley’s office; Vatican Television which while still embryonic Foley found to be full of potential, also removed from Archbishop Foley’s purview; Vatican Radio and to a lesser extent, Osservatore Romano, the six times a week newspaper of the Holy See, removed from Archbishop Foley’s responsibilites). It soon left him with little more than a voice crying in the wilderness of the Holy See at times but he never once complained or asked to be reassigned to the United States, he soldiered on making progress where he could and accepting in the words of Francis of Assisi, “those things which I cannot change.”

When the US media would arrive en masse or separately at the Vatican, they would always begin with Archbishop Foley. He and his faithful assistant, Marjorie Weeks, would do what they could to gain access and arrange for location shooting. Sometimes the Archbishop would even have to fight for that but he did, endearing him to all who knew of the challenges which he faced often in attempting to make the message of the Church in the modern world accessible, intelligible and timely. A great friend of the President whom I served for two of my six years as General Secretary, Cardinal Keeler of Baltimore, we often would share a table with the Archbishop and even though I would sometimes attempt to “bait” him into expressing what must have been his professional crosses carried, I never would receive more than a message conveyed not by words, but by his eyebrows. The curia for the most part had an intense dislike of the media and did not understand it unless they could control it. They were always uneasy with Archbishop Foley’s inherent trust that truth served the church better than evasion, and proactive nine times out of ten would trump reactive. How sweet it was when Pope Benedict XVI finally recognized the “gem” long in the service of the Holy See and made the long-serving President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications a Cardinal. Lots of hearts were overjoyed with that news and I, for one, will always be grateful to his Holiness for that courageous message delivered five years ago.

So now Cardinal Foley has no more commentary to give, no more deadlines to meet, no more people to welcome to the threshold of the successor of St. Peter. A great man of the Church known to too few Americans has gone home to rest in eternal life. I have lovely and lasting memories of a man much like my friend, the late Archbishop Paul C. Marcinkus who taught me how to carry the cross of Christ at times in the service of the Church we love. Rest in peace, Your Eminence. I won’t forget you.

+RNL

Chrism Mass

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

The oil which will be consecrated as the Sacred Chrism before Mass.

For fifteen years now I have both feared and loved the annual Chrism Mass which in this diocese occurs on Tuesday of Holy Week. I fear it because each year I have to preach before almost 200 of my brother priests using the same readings and the same themes each year. I love it precisely because I am with my brothers who animate this Church and make it great. In the end they are a loving and affirming group and I promise myself I will stop worrying about it.  Hope you enjoy it!

Dear brother priests, deacons, religious, seminarians and good people of faith gathered here on this day traditionally devoted to the ordained priesthood,

Approaching these holiest of days, one might easily find oneself preoccupied about many important things. Priests and deacons are busy about final preparations for the Triduum and all of us are looking forward to recall again the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is a day for celebrating and strengthening the bond between the bishop and his priests. In one major archdiocese in our own country, there is talk of a boycott by the priests of this Mass this year. It will not happen because the priesthood is too important1in their lives to use this day to send a message. In Australia, ten percent of the diocesan priests in the country have expressed “no confidence” in their bishops yet I know they love their priesthood too much to use this day to send a message. In Ireland, of all places, doubts and concerns have caused one fourth of that nation’s priests to call for an indefinite postponement of the “dewfall” of the new translation of the Roman Missal but the Irish priests will be present this week for the blessing and consecration of sacred healing and anointing oils. Today, I stand before you, my brothers and sisters, look at you, and count my blessings.

Deacons and Priests at the Chrism Mass

Over the past three years I have had the opportunity of gathering with and carefully listening to almost all of the priests involved in active ministry. I can safely say that generally they feel fulfilled in their ministry, consider themselves privileged to be of service to God’s people, and are happy in their priestly ministry to which they will recommit again later at this Chrism Mass.

However, during these days of sharing and reflection some concerns were also expressed by our priests, more pastoral than personal, and always spoken in love, not in anger. At several of the sessions one or more of the fathers stated that “they did not know what was happening to the Church for which they were ordained” and by that they generally meant that there seemed to be a withdrawal from commitment to liturgical renewal, from active pursuit of social justice, from the sense of the Church as being relevant to the people to whom they were ministering, from real concerns about declining membership and declining faith practice. Additionally, concerns about a growing feeling of alienation of many of the faithful which can be occasioned when we bishops choose to draw lines in the sand of who is a good Catholic or a bad Catholic, an uneasiness stemming from deep questions and real concerns about the need for the new translation of the Roman Missal concomitant with the perception caused by the seeming support in certain sectors of the extraordinary form or Tridentine Rite, the priests of this diocese see steps backward from the headier days of ecumenical enthusiasm and lament the lack of timely responsiveness to requests by the diocesan pastoral center, from the growing sense of our inability to reach the youth of our parishes and diocese, fewer priests but greater expectations placed on those presently serving, uncertainty about retirement and the future, dramatically fewer Catholic marriages, fewer funerals, fewer confirmations and the list could go on and on.

Again, I wish to be clear, our time together was far from being that of a gripe session but more an opportunity to speak to me and to one another about where that same spirit of the Lord first spoken by Isaiah and later embraced by Jesus Himself is taking us. What does “anointed in the Spirit” mean for the near future of the Church? What kind of Church can these twenty-nine seminarians with us this morning look forward to and, God willing, the seven who may join them this summer?

My response after thinking about the matters my brothers brought to the table may surprise some and perhaps even disappoint others but in my very deepest being I think that the dreams and decisions that drove our personal commitments to this holy ministry will survive us, and will survive this particular moment in the Church. I say this because I know that Christ is with His Church today and tomorrow and promised to be with His Church until the end of time. Isaiah could rhapsodize about the Spirit of the Lord present in a very tough time because for this prophet the future was to be found in faith in the future and not in the terra firma of the lived faith experience of his moment. Jesus could reaffirm from day one in his public ministry that he was willing to proclaim the good news to an audience that was known for being stiff-necked, intransigent, judgmental and argumentative, and dismissive at the least and bellicose at its worst. For both Jesus and Isaiah, it was neither the best of times nor the worst of times.

What is happening in the Church at this moment in history is also happening in the secular world. Narcissism flourishes while love of neighbor languishes. A decade of war and financial shenanigans leaves little left for the poor and vulnerable. Do unto others has diminished limits and a more muted call except for the catastrophic like the earthquake in Haiti and the tsunamis in Indonesia and Japan. The focus of our personal charity is more determined by media interest than Gospel imperatives. And no one, in the Church or in our nation wants to admit that by 2025 Catholic Hispanics will equal Catholic Anglos even in this diocese, a sure and certain moment for which we are poorly preparing.

Dear brothers, yours and my priestly pulse perks up when we proclaim the Gospel as counter-cultural to the world in which we live. For those of us who anguish about the direction of the Church today, we still most often feel at our best when preaching about what ought to be than necessarily what is. If the Church is to be ever more relevant to our people today, it gains the greatest credibility from what you say, how you act, than from the actions of a conference of bishops or even the Holy See and you have no idea how painful it is for me to say that. It is the Spirit of the Lord, which is upon you Sunday after Sunday as you bring good news to the poor, as you proclaim liberty to those who are captives of so many things. And when it comes to the sacred liturgy over which we preside, the true “clear voice” is not a commission of bishops meeting in Rome, but the parish priest and his deacon proclaiming and unpacking the Scripture withs clarity, applicability, passion, dignity and love Sunday after Sunday and celebrating the Eucharist and the other sacraments with reverence, wonderment, awe and beauty. Do that and God’s people will not care that the Lord is with our Spirit once again or that we will find the place under our roof unworthy as it may be for the Lord to come but we will believe that He only need to speak the Word and we can be made worthy. The relevancy of what we say, of what we teach, of how we act is a shared responsibility of priests and bishops. It is we who can and will renew the Church and the face of the earth with the help of the Holy Spirit. It is we and none other who can make the Spirit of the Lord take root in our five counties. And while it is to be expected that we might have concerns about the future, we can and should never despair of the future for it will be then as it is now presided over by none other than Jesus Himself.

It is clearer to me as I approach the final quarter of my time among you that the Church which you and I will leave to those who follow will be quite different than what we have experienced. It will be financially poorer but most likely spiritually richer. It will be more demanding but yet more rewarding. The new evangelization may well almost replace the traditional classroom as the engine of religious education. The role of the laity will be even more significant. The pendulum will once again swing from the current focus on the past to the genuine needs of the present and the future and, though not in my lifetime, to perhaps another Spirit-filled ecumenical council to restate, review, and renew the vision for Church articulated fifty years ago. The Church’s message to the world will cease being less “no” to more “yes” even while traditional values, morals and teaching remain in place as they must. Guiding the world in how to live in the midst of reality in a relevant way will bring back some of those whom we have lost along the way. Until that movement from the current global ecclesial inertia begins, progress from the present will come from you my brothers, for you have been anointed, chosen, assigned and empowered to make Christ present to the world and the world open to Christ.

The hope then for the present of our beloved Church rests with all of us here today who renew again our commitment to the priesthood we sought however long ago, received on the day of our ordination and day after day practiced. We make Christ present to the world when we act like Christ in the world. God’s people hear the words of Christ when we speak with compassion, understanding of human failure, with love and patience. Those words endure while others fade. You, my brothers, make Christ real, Christ present, Christ for today and tomorrow. If from time to time in the last 2000 years the Church of Christ has confronted its own weaknesses and failures, it is, as St. Paul said, Christ who has made it strong. You are to your people both the witnesses to hope and the bearers of the truth.

Finally in this context, I think of our four senior priests who this year are retiring from active ministry. Two are sons of Ireland and two are sons of Spain. Imagine the uncertainty that was theirs when they left to come to serve on the Florida peninsula. They left a majority Church in Spain and Ireland to preach to the minority of Catholics. For almost five decades they proclaimed the Good News, set people captive to all kinds of bad things free, and made Christ present day after day in so many ways. They began their ministry during the pontificate of Blessed John XXIII and lived much of it during the time, of soon-to-be Blessed John Paul II. Through an ecumenical council and its implementation, five popes, five bishops and God knows how many letters from the Chancery, they have served God’s people with fidelity to mission and message, with joy and sorrow, with grace and good will. They leave believing that the rest of us will strive hard to keep the flame of faith alive, and like they we shall succeed because our beloved Church belongs to Christ and to none other and we are servant shepherds, serving God’s people and proud of it! No person or scandal can remove from the face of God’s earth, the good we priests do in His name. We are like those courageous men who stormed Normandy’s beaches, often unknown to one another, united by a single commission to take the highest ground for virtue and charity whatever the cost for Christ Himself. We are indeed a band of brothers. Blessed be God forever!

+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.