Posts Tagged ‘St. Petersburg Catholic High School’

COMINGS AND GOINGS

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

I can see the light at the end of the annual “spring” tunnel and so can many of our priests, educators, parish personnel and others engaged in the enterprise of spreading the Gospel in the five counties of the diocese. As I write this, I have four more confirmations scheduled, one cook-out tomorrow night with those few seminarians remaining in the diocese for the summer and the graduation exercise next Monday night for this year’s participants in the Lay Pastoral Ministry effort. I have two commitments outside of the diocese in the next three weeks including a meeting in New York of the Catholic Medical Mission Board on which I serve and an invitation to give the first Bishop Joseph Sullivan lecture as the keynoter at the annual Catholic Health Association Assembly in Chicago. I think I’ll make it! So allow me a few paragraphs to do some summing up of the year in review.

First, I wish to express my profound gratitude to many of you who through comments, e-mails, and letters, etc., shared with me your sorrow for Father Vladimir Dziadek and your concern for myself. No blog entry has achieved the number of comments as did the last posted here and with a single exception of one person who utilized two comment opportunities, all have embraced the twin themes of forgiveness and mercy. Father’s funeral in Poland is today (June 3, 2014) and my Mass this evening will attempt to connect spiritually with those with whom he had familial ties as they grieve his loss. St. Joseph parish under their new administrator, Father Carlos Rojas, is recovering very well with renewed energy and commitment from everyone and that is reassuring.

My annual rounds of the high school baccalaureate Masses (Jesuit, Clearwater Central and Tampa Catholic) and graduations (St. Petersburg Catholic, the Academy of the Holy Names, and Bishop McLaughlin High School) are now history. I have listened to four salutatorian addresses (St. Petersburg Catholic had a tie for this honor), three valedictorian addresses, five lengthy remarks from school principals, and way too many acknowledgments of my presence at the events which reminded me too much of the old days when the bishop was treated like royalty.  I have been impressed with the seriousness of the graduates this year in particular, with the love and admiration they hold both for their sacrificing parents as well as their teachers (quite often mentioned by name) and their references to their basic faith in God. At times it has seemed like a long desert had to be plowed through, arid and with little water of refreshment and regeneration as neither God nor faith nor Catholic nor thanks were extended to those who really deserved the recognition. Don’t know what is currently in the air, but it is refreshing!

There is not much left of summer vacation, even though it has yet to begin. Our seminarians are either in Guatemala or Honduras studying intensive Spanish, in Omaha at Creighton’s Institute for Priestly Formation studying how to be holier, at Tampa General Hospital in Clinical Pastoral Education learning how to listen, or working in parishes with everything from youth ministry to painting. By my count they have only nine weeks until they are back in the seminary, scratching their heads and wondering where the time as gone. Teachers and school administrators are closer to reporting for the new school year today than recalling Easter Sunday and their Spring break. Such is the rhythm of life these days. When I recall that my summer vacation started a day or two prior to Memorial Day and ended a day or two after Labor Day, that was a real summer vacation.

Priests too used to take a month (or if you were from Ireland where there are six weeks in a month) off but now they are lucky to grab a few weeks. There are less of us which means less priests to cover and the shortened summer has shortened most summer vacations for your priests. We seem to all have become prisoners of a new reality which is more occasions of shorter times off. My men work hard for the most part and it is generally acknowledged that few of them take care of themselves in the manner in which they should. Sad really but something of a sign of the times. I wish them the best and begrudge them little. Understandable when a trip home means lengthy and challenging travel such as to Ireland, Poland, India and Africa, the time away should be a little longer as there is no home for these men to go to recover from Christmas and Easter and the mad and merry month of May.

Despite it all, the wonderful work of sharing the “Joy of the Gospel” continues unabated throughout the summer months. Where there was once a full choir at a Mass, there may now be only a cantor and organist; where there once may have been a youth group, there may now be only trips to Cove Crest. The Church, like nature, abhors a vacuum and the Spirit whose coming we recall this coming Sunday leads and guides us. I intend to continue posting from time to time throughout the summer because my mind never shuts down but my episcopal clock is still working its way toward ecclesial midnight. Like Robert Frost, I feel “I have miles to go before I sleep” and with you, to continue to choose “the road less travelled by.” Have a great summer.

+RNL

 

 

NOT EXACTLY THE RED SEA BUT A SEA OF RED

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

I am on the plane returning to the diocese from two recent board meetings which I serve on. The first is the Board of Directors of the Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB) which is located in and requires travel to and from New York five times a year.

CMMB has been around a long time but is not well known to most Catholics. With its origin and roots in the Society of Jesus, CMMB accepts donation of huge supplies of pharmaceuticals, hospital and medical equipment, etc. and distributes them for use in about nine poor “focus” countries and elsewhere in the desperately poor world. I will write more about CMMB soon.

From bitterly cold New York I flew Monday evening to bitterly cold Tallahassee for the annual Red Mass at which I was asked to be the homilist and the quarterly meeting of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Our day yesterday began with breakfast with Governor Scott at the Mansion. The governor has grown quite comfortable and relaxed with the bishops over the last three years and our conversation focused on many items of common concern. I brought up the subject of Medicaid expansion to allow access to non-Emergency but necessary medical care to the poor and indigent. Governor Scott would be supportive but the legislation has no “legs” in the present Florida House and Senate. This is a shame and an embarrassment.

After a morning of Conference business, we met our various delegations who descended on capitol city dressed in their traditional red clothes for Catholic Days at the Capitol, a two-day event for Catholics from around the state to gather and discuss human life and dignity issues with elected officials.

There were over 350 at the luncheon for the volunteers which the bishops host each Spring during the legislative session, including forty-seven from the Diocese of St. Petersburg, including a delegation from St. Petersburg Catholic High School who are pictured here with me prior to the luncheon.

With seniors from St Petersburg Catholic and chaperones "lobbying" the Legislature

With seniors from St Petersburg Catholic and chaperones “lobbying” the Legislature

Here is a photo of our entire delegation, graciously taken and shared with us by the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Our delegation. Photo kindness of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Our delegation. Photo kindness of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In the afternoon, the state’s now eight bishops gathered for the Red Mass in a jam-packed Co-Cathedral of St. Thomas More.

With the Bishops of Florida before the Red Mass. From left to right: Most Reverend Gregory Parkes, Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee; Most Reverend Peter Baldacchino, Auxilary Bishop of Miami; Most Reverend Felipe J. Estévez, Bishop of St. Augustine; myself; Most Reverend Thomas Wenski, Archbishop of Miami; Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito, Bishop of Palm Beach; Most Reverend John Noonan, Bishop of Orlando; and Most Reverend Frank J. Dewane, Bishop of Venice.

With the Bishops of Florida before the Red Mass. From left to right: Most Reverend Gregory Parkes, Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee; Most Reverend Peter Baldacchino, Auxilary Bishop of Miami; Most Reverend Felipe J. Estévez, Bishop of St. Augustine; myself; Most Reverend Thomas Wenski, Archbishop of Miami; Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito, Bishop of Palm Beach; Most Reverend John Noonan, Bishop of Orlando; and Most Reverend Frank J. Dewane, Bishop of Venice.

My homily which is solely based on yesterday’s two readings from Deuteronomy and Matthew follows, or you can read it as a PDF by clicking here. I hope I did not embarrass our beloved diocese.

SOMETIMES WE NEED A GENTLE TAP ON OUR SHOULDER
Homily at the Red Mass
St. Thomas More Co-Cathedral, Tallahassee, FL
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop of St. Petersburg 

            There are those moments in the Church, more rare than regular, when through the daily readings from Sacred Scripture and on special occasions such as this that one can feel the gentle touch of the Lord’s hand on our shoulder and his whisper, “this is meant for you.” The two readings just proclaimed are those for the day, everywhere, throughout the world, and yet they seem to have special import for us this evening gathered in this place.

            In God’s plan for His people, law has always occupied an important place. In the first reading, freed from the tyranny, slavery and wanton injustice of the Egyptian exile, God knew that his chosen people would need a framework of law by which to govern their life and actions upon their return to their homeland. Statutes, which would govern their relationship both with their creator as well as with one another. To Moses. their liberator and leader, he proposed ten simple statutes: thirty percent dealing with their relationship with Him and seventy percent dealing with their relationship with one another. Called “commandments” because they were to allow for no wiggle room of interpretation or appeal to a higher power, since there was no such thing, they set the framework for life which endures throughout the millennia to the present moment.

            Respect life, don’t take it. Never steal. Stealing the good name of another through calumny and slander has no place among God’s people. Honor your parents and ancestors. When you take someone to be your wedded partner, be faithful to that person. God knew well the weaknesses, which dwell in human hearts and he legislated primarily for the common good. In so doing, in the eyes of God and humankind, law became constitutive of the human experience, necessary to insure right conduct and hallowed by none other than the creator.

            Moses knew that ten laws would never be enough but were to provide the foundation, the framework for future guidance of human conduct. Centuries passed between Moses and Jesus, but the Lord himself underscored the need for law in the lives of us all. Pharaoh had been replaced by Caesar and divine law had been forced to give way to legislation enacted in far-away pagan Rome to be applied in far distant Jewish Palestine. But Jesus in the Gospel again affirms the place of law in the lives of a faithful person. Though not a lawyer, I find Jesus siding with the Scalia, Thomas, and Alito wing of the Supreme Court in a belief that law, at least divine law, is not organic but foundational. I think that is precisely what Jesus is suggesting in the Gospel tonight: “whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.” 

            Thus my second point is that God’s Word tonight touches us ever so gently on the shoulder to remind us that all law is founded on the twin pillars of love of God and love of neighbor. While a secular state must approach the former with great dexterity, the rule of law rooted in the love and care and welcome provided to one’s neighbor is embraceable by all the world’s great religions. If as Jesus affirms, his appointed task in becoming man and coming to earth was not to abolish the law but rather to fulfill it, then that fulfillment finds itself in his never-ending desire to place his life, his ministry, his mission at the service of others. Government works best when it is constantly at the service of others and not of itself.

            Third and finally, in most of our lives, we sin today not so often by commission but by omission. The commandments tell us what we must avoid doing. Our Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions tell us more about what we ought to be doing. Caring for the modern day equivalents of widows and orphans, the defenseless and the endangered, the lonely and the brave (especially those who bear the emotional and psychological scars of having served our nation in defense of the rights of others.) I am convinced that I will be judged not so much on how well I fulfilled the ten commandments but rather on how often I reached out to grasp the hand stretched out to me by a homeless man, a battered woman, a fear-filled immigrant, a family seeking medical care for a child which they can not afford, a single mom working at McDonalds forty hours a week but still not earning enough to support her two kids, a victim of sexual abuse by someone they should have trusted like a priest, scout leader, big-brother. So often these acts of loving outreach get filed away as what Jesus called tonight “the least of these commandments.” My generation has a lot to answer for to the Lord on Judgment Day, even if all we seek is entrance into and not the greatest place in the Kingdom of heaven.

            Governor, Senator, Representative, Judge, Bishops, Priests, Deacons, Religious and all of God’s people. Feel the touch. Listen to His voice as he says, this one’s for you. Often it is what we have failed to do which is more violative of the spirit of the law than what we do with the letter of the law. 

We do have some photos from the trip already, graciously taken and shared by Sabrina Burton Shultz, our Director of Life Ministry and Jackie Briggs, Campus Minister at St. Petersburg Catholic High School. You can see the photos by clicking here. More photos will be added to that album as they are received.

So it is back home this morning and hard at it till Easter.

Tonight I will be hearing confessions from five p.m. to seven p.m. as we offer our annual THE LIGHT IS ON FOR YOU opportunity for all to experience the healing graces of the sacrament of penance and reconciliation.

I invite you to come to Confession at one of our parishes tonight. EVERY Catholic Church in the diocese will turn on its lights and open its doors for YOU. Here is a short guide on Reconciliation in English and Spanish should you need it.

 2014_LIOFY_letter_final

 It will be nice to be back home.

+RNL

WHAT A LENT THIS IS GOING TO BE

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

I am certain that almost every serious Catholic has spent the run-up this week to Ash Wednesday thinking about “Super” Monday. Here I use the word “super” only to emphasize the magnitude of the news to which we awakened some forty-eight hours ago. Pope Benedict’s momentous decision to stand down from his office of Pope later this month  commanded almost all of my energy Monday as I raced from one local TV station to another, answered phone calls and mail from friends and others, and had dinner with about twenty-six young men interested enough in a vocation to priesthood to come with their parish priests to dinner with the bishop (this latter group was full of good questions showing an interest in things “Churchy” that I found quite surprising.) As a consequence the time I would usually devote to preparing myself spiritually for Lent which began this morning was seriously encroached upon by the news coming from Rome and around the world.

Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Petersburg Catholic High School. Photo courtesy of Maria Mertens.

Distributing ashes during the Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Petersburg Catholic High School. Photo courtesy of Maria Mertens. View more photos by clicking here

Only last night, after coming home from my final confirmation for seven weeks (in this diocese we do not confirm during Lent), dead tired and knowing that I had my traditional Mass with the students of St. Petersburg Catholic High School this morning for Ash Wednesday in just a few hours, I retired to my chapel for some quiet time. It occurred to me that the three principal actions of Lent are all to be found in some way in Pope Benedict’s brave and humble decision. If fasting reflects sacrifice, imagine walking away in a few days from one of the world’s remaining spotlights. Even our critics acknowledge the continuing presence of the papacy and its influence in much of the world. While some might wish to write Popes off as irrelevant, they can not. Pope Benedict’s highly successful pastoral visits to Great Britain, to use only one example, showed that a politically neutral moral voice still has a role to play in the public square. This Holy Father can retire into the “wings” confident that he has made a difference. So he soon begins a life time fast of giving up the “spotlight” as you will, which has been his and watching the attention which remains with the office to come to his successor.

Pope Benedict has twice including this morning in his General Audience mentioned that he looks forward to spending his remaining days in prayer for the Church and (I am sure) for himself. During Lent we are all encouraged to look for more opportunities of communicating with our Lord in prayer. When Jesus grew weary and tired, the Gospels all tell us that he often went off to a “quiet place” to be alone in prayer. The Holy Father has chosen the same path in withdrawing from the glare of leadership of the Church and will spend his remaining time on earth praying for the Church, for us. In some ways, it would  not miss the mark too much to say that life will be one long Lent for Pope Benedict.

Finally, the thought occurred to me that in the challenge of “almsgiving” which is also a part of our Lent observance, there are many ways in which we can place ourselves at the service of others. Giving m0ney is one way but not the only way. It may come as a surprise to many, but the popes of the modern era are not rich men. I doubt if they ever receive a salary and while it is also true that they receive what they need to live and maintain a modest household, there is no such possibility as accumulated wealth derived from the papacy. They live simply in what I believe is incorrectly called a “palace” (sometimes “prison” would be a better word), spend a lot of their day seeing people and having little time for themselves, constantly preparing public statements, greetings, encyclical letters which have to be delivered within the next 24 hours, week or month. Benedict took time out from his little leisure time to write three wonderful books on Jesus of Nazareth, pure gifts – alms of another kind. He did not so much receive as a result of the office he held, but “spent” himself for us.

The Light Is on for YOU

The Light Is on for YOU

So, in these special forty days beginning today, each of us has an opportunity to join ourselves to him in the practice of this Lent by making more time for prayer, giving up something we hold precious but which might no longer be essential (at least for the next six weeks) and sharing our gifts, talents, selves with others even if we do not have the means to share “alms.” During Lent, giving of our “arms” can be just as fulfilling as giving of our “alms.” In  his final, humble and extraordinary gifting of himself, all of us can find something which we can do to make this Lent special. Confession and reconciliation are also essential and your parish will be having many opportunities for receiving the sacrament in the coming weeks, what with Penance Services and for the fifth year in a row, on Thursday, March 7th, “This Light is on for YOU” during which all our parishes will be open and priests available to hear your confession from 5pm until 7pm. Find out more information about “The Light Is on for YOU” by clicking here.

Lent 2013 begins with historic significance but at the personal level, the possibilities of turning away from sin and returning to the Gospel are even more awesome.

+RNL

TWEET, TWEET

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Baccalaureate Mass at Tampa Jesuit High School Chapel

Last night I was given the privilege of celebrating and preaching at the 2012 Baccalaureate Mass for the graduating seniors of Jesuit High School in Tampa. In a normal year, which this has not been, I usually, as I have mentioned before, celebrate the Baccalauerate Masses for Jesuit High School, Tampa Catholic High School, and Clearwater Central Catholic High School while handing out diplomas at commencement ceremonies for St. Petersburg Catholic, the Academy of the Holy Names and Bishop McLaughlin High School. However, this year I only had the opportunity to join the Jesuit High School community on the night prior to the graduation ceremony for their 165 seniors.

For some time, I have observed the typical social interaction of young people with each other and with others through the use of the so-called “social media.” I know it is here to stay and to argue too strongly against it could put one in the category of simply being a “dinosaur.” But communicating and living the full message of our Christian life requires far more than tweeting and texting. To focus on one or the other to the exclusion of developing those conversational skills necessary to fully convey and proclaim one’s faith in Christ Jesus requires far more. So what follows is my farewell discourse to this year’s graduating class of 16o young men. I try to make the case for expanding beyond the social media while still acknowledging that even the Church can use it. For example, look at this blog or our Diocesan Facebook or Twitter. If you have time, read the homily below and let me know what you think.

One hundred and forty characters; one hundred and forty letters, numbers, spaces, and punctuation marks.  That is the limit of the length of a tweet.  That limit was originally established, as you may know, so that an entire tweet could fit into one text message.  It is short and efficient, but in that economy of length, depth of meaning is sacrificed.

It is not just in Twitter though where we find this kind of communication.  If one stops to look at today’s media as a whole, we find ourselves enmeshed in a culture of the sound bite.  News programs try to fit all stories into a segment that lasts 30 seconds, or perhaps a minute or two for a longer, feature report.  Today we tend to prefer reading headlines and/or watching highlights of speeches, debates, or even sporting events.  We can be inundated with information from countless sources, but it is all in short, snappy and slick snippets.  To communicate the truth of our faith, however, this kind of communicating will not work.  140 characters are simply not enough.

If the apostles in the upper room when Jesus appeared to them had simply reached for their iPhones and taken a photo of Thomas reaching out to Jesus and, tagged Thomas and Jesus, and posted it to Facebook with the caption “My Lord and My God,” would the depth of Thomas’s confession have been fully revealed?  I think not.  The story of our salvation is so immense, that simply sound bites or snapshots will take us nowhere.

How then, does one communicate the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ to a world that communicates today preferably with texts and twitter, Facebook and Linkedin and other ways, which personally I find incredibly impersonal? The computer, the smart phone, the iPad and iPod may take us to exciting technological places but far from the personal. Technology trumps the intimacy of personal interactions.

Nearly 2000 years ago, a small group of most-certainly illiterate fishermen used “The Social Network” of their time to do just this.  They did not have Facebook or Twitter.  They could not spread the good news of Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit by posting a video to YouTube.  They could, however, let it shine through their lives and their speaking, and this is precisely what they did.

As we heard in last Sunday’s first reading for Pentecost:  the Apostles went out after receiving the Holy Spirit and told of the wonders that God had done for them and everyone heard them speak in their own language.  They did this without Google Translate.  Rather they did it with their actions: curing the sick, healing the lame, casting out demons, feeding the hungry, caring for widows and orphans.

And people began to “follow” them.  They then did for others what they saw done by the apostles.  They did not retweet their words, they told and retold their stories and repeated their actions.

So, tonight, my dear brothers in Christ and soon to be graduates of Tampa Jesuit High School, I would like to propose that you are the answer to the question I posed earlier of how one can and should communicate the Gospel in a world sometimes seemingly limited to 140 characters and driven by the sound bite.  The answer has been with us from the beginning; it is, as St. Peter reminds us in the first reading simply to do as Jesus said, “be holy because I am holy.”

While we needed the words of Scripture to be written down, we will also need you to share your faith by words.  Use your education to argue rationally and passionately for what you believe.  More importantly, though, live what you believe.

Each of you has a unique character, which you have formed under the guidance of your first teachers, your parents, as well as your teachers here at Tampa Jesuit to be a witness to the Gospel.  You have been nourished in faith, given a magnificent education in the arts and sciences, and formed in the tradition of St. Ignatius Loyola to do all things for the greater glory of God and be truly men for others.  As you go forth tomorrow night from this Jesuit High School, I am convinced that with 160 human ” characters” constituting your senior and graduating class, you can and I pray you will communicate far more through your actions than simply 140 characters in a tweet.  That is how you will build up a social network for the Kingdom of God on this earth.

+RNL

I AM SIXTEEN GOING ON SEVENTEEN

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Yesterday marked my sixteenth anniversary of ordination as a bishop and the same for my service to this wonderful local church. I try to ignore these occasions and usually only a few friends with really good memories interrupt my private reverie. However, there is a little book published each year called an ORDO which while it mainly serves as a reminder of which Mass and Prayers of the Divine Office one should pray each day, also includes information like the anniversaries of the deaths of all priests in the province of Miami and other useless facts like which bishop was ordained and/or installed on which day. Were that information not there, then the day would pass a little more quietly.

There is also the challenge of a loving staff which though they know I wish such occasions to pass generally unnoticed still find some way of spreading the news. Yesterday the whole student body and most of the teachers of the adjacent St. Petersburg Catholic came secretly (500 strong, but traveling secretly into my office area), set up a sound system and had the Glee Club then sing my favorite song from the TV show GLEE entitled “Don’t Stop Believing.” In true GLEE style I could not restrain doing a typical “dance” which at my age and stamina lasted all of twenty-seconds. But to be truthful, I loved it.

There was a confirmation last night at St. Francis of Assisi parish in Seffner and prior to its start I had a chance to visit with its pastor emeritus, Father Chris Fitzgerald, a prince of a priest. The years are not all that kind to Father Fitz these days but we exchanged some thoughts of the challenges of getting older and quite simply told each other how much we loved one another. That affirmation from him, one of my heroes, was enough to make the day memorable and special. To all those who remembered and sent e-mails of good wishes thanks. To all those who were unaware or unable to acknowledge the day, even more heartfelt thanks.

Going to bed last night, tired but also exhilarated somewhat, preceded by Night Prayer in the chapel, gave me some moments to thank my God that if one had to be called to the ministry of bishop, this lovely church was and remains pure gift. There are other signs also that I have been blessed thus far with a “good ride” and for that my heartfelt thanks to my priests, deacons, religious women and men and the greatest accumulation of faithful and faith-filled laity one could ask for. In the words of that lovely lyric from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s THE SOUND OF MUSIC, I am “sixteen, going on seventeen” and still in love with my Lord and those whom He has sent to “dance” with me. God Bless You All.

+RNL

WEEK-END UPDATE

Monday, July 11th, 2011

So I lied! I know I said no more blog entries until early August since I would be spending all of July “fishin” but I can’t resist (and also I find that I have more time on my hands to think and write than normal). There can really be no secret about my whereabouts (and there need not be) as yesterday when filling in for the local pastor who began his two week vacation with my arrival at the parish church, the lector for the 1000am Mass is a parishioner of St. Paul’s parish in St. Petersburg. Additionally, the sister of one of our priests, Father Mike O’Brien, was in the congregation with her husband, baseball immortal and Bishop Barry graduate, Bill Freehan. So it is time to fess up. I am spending the month on Crooked Lake (named for its shoreline and not its property owners) which is about six miles east of Petoskey and a similar distance south-west from Harbor Springs in the far northern area of the lower peninsula of Michigan. I am the sacramental ministry presence for St. Francis Xavier parish in Petoskey for the next two weeks while the fine pastor, Father Dennis Stilwell is away for a brief vacation. The Church is beautiful, indeed bordering on spectacular, except it is not air-conditioned and yesterday, Sunday, was really the first super hot and humid day of the summer (guess who got blamed for the humidity – that visiting bishop from Florida, of course).

Last night I had the honor of being the guest of the bishop of the diocese in which I am vacationing, Bishop Bernard Hebda, Bishop of Gaylord. We had a super dinner together but even better conversation. Bishop Bernard told me that he has about 41 active priests in ministry of whom 19 are either right at retirement or serving beyond retirement. Two of his pastors are in their nineties. The diocese has quite a few square miles to cover but except for Traverse City, Petoskey, and Cheboygan the towns, villages and parishes are very small and very rural. The area is spectacularly beautiful but the winters are very cold and there is a lot of snow. The local Church is the reverse of our experience in the Diocese of St. Petersburg in that during the summer, the Catholic population grows with those seeking relief from the heat of the midwest and Florida and in the winter, the population decreases substantially. The bishop gets around. In fact the priests and people worry for his health as he seems to be omni-present to the point that almost everyone with whom I talk, and they love him, worries about his schedule. He has taken to this local Church (originally a priest of Pittsburgh with some time spent working in Rome) like all these ducks from Canada take to the local lakes around here. This is truly a mission diocese, even in Michigan, and since it is indeed in Michigan, the state with the nation’s highest unemployment, the challenges of the economic downturn are felt even more in the parishes. But he finds a very healthy local church with impressive and dedicated priests and people. The time spent with him last night was pure gift to me.

This morning my hosts asked their cleaning lady to take a quick turn at my apartment. I had known that she was a devout member of the Jehovah’s Witness congregation and I do not know if she knows that in trying to convert me, which she attempted this morning, she was dealing with a Catholic bishop. That might have made me “the catch of the day” for her. Clearly, as a church, the Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t particularly care for Catholics, in fact they are pretty certain where we will be spending the afterlife though this woman stopped well short of that assertion. She did tell me that we do not know the Bible (I countered that we were getting better all the time at that), that the end of time is just around the corner because quoting Matthew 24 “the world is rising up in war, nation against nation”. When I said that first happened with World War I she countered with “that’s when the end of time started.” I asked if we would live to see it and she assured me we would. Steadfast, firm, unfailingly polite, she gave not one inch to reason, logic, theology or scripture interpretation. She never in the fifteen minutes or so we spoke explicitly came after the Catholic Church (except that when they call on us, we don’t know the bible). She also said that the “Confraternity Bible” which we use never uses the name of God and that is shameful. I told her God’s name is everywhere in our bible and then she said just as strenuously, “no it’s not! God’s name is “Jehovah” and you won’t find that anywhere in your Bible.” I countered, the word “Yahweh” from which Jehovah comes is all over the  Old Testament and she said, “but that is not God’s name. It is Jehovah.” We parted friends and she said she would pray for me. I call that something of a pyrrhic victory but all in all I had met my match in debate points.

Two distinctly different conversations separated only by sleep, one so comfortable talking about our faith and what we might do to spread it and the other demanding total capitulation. I think I have two choices: either to mop my own floors or to be absent next week when she comes again. Although I don’t understand the nexus often in their faith belief based strictly on a fundamental interpretation of Scripture, I end this with some admiration for the strength of her faith which gave her the courage to open, guide, direct, manipulate the conversation. And I think of yesterday’s Gospel. This woman takes very seriously her responsibility to be both a hearer of the Word and a sower of the same. I think I know which category of earth she falls in as a hearer of the Word, but I wish more of us had the courage and strength of our convictions in sowing what she has heard.

That’s all the news for the week-end from Crooked Lake where the men are all absent, the women are all hard working and the children are all out on boats.

+RNL

COMMENCEMENT

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

The "cap toss" which has become a tradition at high school graduations. I have been cropped from the left side of this picture but I can assure you that with miters costing in the range of $500, I held on to my hat! Photo courtesy of John P. Christian

It has always been my custom except for one year to either celebrate the Baccalaureate Mass or attend the Commencement (Graduation) exercises for our six high schools in the diocese. Tomorrow night (Wednesday) I will have the privilege of doing the former at Tampa Jesuit High School and will then bring this high school graduation season to an end. I always begin with the actual graduation ceremony for the Academy of the Holy Names which by far is the most stylized graduation of the six. The young women all wear similar white floor length gowns and wear the most uncomfortable looking shoes I have ever seen. After receiving their diploma from me and posing for the official photograph, Academy’s graduates then go center stage and receive a dozen roses from flower girls chosen from the kindergarten class and both then curtsy to the audience and then the graduate returns to her place. It is a tradition at the Academy (and many private girls Catholic high schools throughout the country). Per graduate the Academy commencement ceremony easily takes the longest time but is very lovely. I was pleased this year that three young women from St. Peter Claver and two from Academy Prep received diplomas under the Academy’s “cultural diversity” program.

It is a work-out for me to attend all these end of the year ceremonies and sometimes can be quite challenging listening, as I have, to three salutatory and three valedictory speeches which often contain references that one can only understand if you are in the graduating class (even the parents often are clueless as to the allusions). I am always looking for references in the talk to their “faith formation” which the class has received or expressions of gratitude for having the chance to receive a Catholic secondary education. This year the three baccalaureate Masses which I have celebrated have been very prayerful experiences with super student participation. Last night at St. Timothy in Lutz, the students from Tampa Catholic provided a superb and very appropriate musical program and two of the graduates sang solos during the Mass and did an outstanding job. I was quite impressed.

It seems to me that this year’s crop of graduating seniors are far more serious and deferential to elders than some of my earlier experiences. The brief interchanges when I hand them their diploma or shake their hands at the end of Mass if it was a Baccalaureate moment have been far more substantive and gratitude far more genuine than in the earlier years. I hope I am on to something here in experiencing a trend of some kind.

Congratulations to our graduating seniors and heartfelt appreciation to the parents who made the moment possible and to the faculty and staff of our schools who sacrifice  great deal in order to teach our children. My interaction with all of you this year has been heartwarming and my prayers accompany the graduates as they move on.

+RNL

BRANDED

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

It has been my custom for more than a decade now to celebrate Ash Wednesday Mass for the St. Petersburg Catholic High School community and I did so today. Let me begin by saying that a more prayerful environment one could not ask for and the students both sang and responded to the Mass parts well (not always true of high school students). So it was a privilege to begin my Lenten journey to Holy Week once again with my neighbors to the east of the Bishop W. Thomas Larkin Pastoral Center.

I mentioned to the students that today we begin a journey which will last a number of weeks. I mentioned that throughout human history, when someone has an idea, or a concept, or something they wish to sell to others, they spend a great deal of time working on what would likely be called “brand identification.” McDonalds, when it started, began with the notion of the “Golden Arches” and when someone sees them, they do not even need to see the name, they know what those two yellow arches announce. Nike does the same thing with its “swoosh” logo – whether it is a hat, a shirt, shoes, “Nike” need not appear, just the logo or brand.

We Christians have a “brand” that no marketing department in its right mind would ever accept or suggest – a cross with a dead body hanging from it. Gruesome, ugly, terrifying, bloody – it is not a PR person’s dream nor is it a marketer’s concept. But tell me another “brand” or symbol that has endured for two thousand years, that marks one’s identity as a Catholic Christian than a cross with a corpus or body on it. It has endured because of what and who it represents rather than what it is trying to “sell.” Jesus died on the cross and thereby secured for us the best “life insurance” policy one could ask for, eternal life. Its message has outlasted the Rock of Gibraltar for Prudential, the breaching orca whale for Pacific Life. That cross on that Good Friday purchased our life, eternal life, insurance policy.

"Branding" Fr. Larry Urban, SDB, one of the Salesian priests who teaches at St. Petersburg Catholic High School.

So today on Ash Wednesday we begin our personal journey to Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We pay for our ticket for the journey by embracing prayer, fasting and charity to the poor. We prepare by denying ourselves in small ways to share in the death and resurrection of He who denied himself his very life to purchase our chance at eternal life.

When we baptize a child, what is the first thing we do? The priest or deacon and the parents and God parents “brand” the child with the sign of the cross ” By the sign of the cross the Christian community welcomes you” we say. When I confirm a person what is the main thing I do? I “brand” the confirmand with Sacred Chrism and the sign of the cross. When I administer the Sacrament of the Sick to a person, what do I do? I make the sign of the cross on their forehead and hands, “branding” them as Christians to whom Jesus is coming as healer.

I suspect I have made my point so I will close with this thought on this Ash Wednesday – today we wear the “brand” of our Christian identity in ashes on our foreheads to help us begin our Lenten journey so that in a few weeks we can reverence the real cross on Good Friday. Only God could give the world a symbol like the cross to bring us to our knees! Have a holy Lent, dear readers.

+RNL

THE ROAD TO HELL . . . .

Monday, February 21st, 2011

I have always loved and found generally true that old aphorism, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” It has been about ten days since I last logged on to share some of the things happening in the life of the diocese and each day I rise saying, I am going to write a blog entry and each night I go to bed saying, “shucks.” So there is a lot to cover in this entry.

VISIT TO OUR SEMINARIANS

Week before last I visited our seminarians at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami and St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary at Boynton Beach. We currently have eighteen on campus at the former in their college and pre-theology years and nine on campus at the latter plus two men currently in the diocese of what is called “Pastoral Year.” I try to give each seminarian twenty to thirty minutes for some private time with me, celebrate the Eucharist for them, take them en masse out to dinner and say prayer with them. This year our new diocesan Vocation Director, Father John Blum accompanied me and he too spends time with each seminarian. At the conclusion of our visit, we both meet with the Rectors of the seminaries to gain their perspective on  how they see our men doing in formation. Honest seminarians always admit to the challenges of pursuing their vocations. Think of what we ask of them: celibate chastity all their lives beginning when they enter the seminary gates, living in close proximity to others and constantly under a microscope (not necessarily of their superiors but even their peers) studying two intellectual disciplines which are largely abstract in their origins (philosophy and theology), living, studying and praying in multi-cultural, multi-language Miami and South Florida. There is little that is new here to priestly formation but the experience of recent years in the Church has shone a spotlight much more glaringly on seminary education and formation and our men sense it. Overall, they are doing quite well. Some have decided not to go on after this year and they spoke honestly to me of their reasons and I admire their decisions, hard as they were to arrive at. Most are content, challenged, and eager to move on eventually to priesthood. From the perspective of a soon to be seventy year old, I can not help but admire the sacrifice these young men are making in a youth culture, perhaps even in a secular culture which neither understands nor values a chaste and celibate priesthood. While I stop short of elevating our seminarians to the ranks of heroes or saints, I can not help but admire their generosity and commitment. I left my camera at home on this trip but here is a picture of the college seminarians and one of the theologians will follow as this week I must return to both seminaries for the twice yearly meeting of the Board of Trustees.

College Seminarians 2011 with Fr. Blum

The college seminarians with Fr. Blum.

ROMAN MISSAL WORKSHOPS

Over 750 people attended one of five workshops held the last ten days throughout the diocese on the introduction on the First Sunday of Advent of the new Roman Missal translation of the Mass. I was so proud of both the presenters and those who gave of their time and talent to come and learn about what will be happening and how best we might prepare our parishioners for it. Planned, organized and executed by the Diocesan Worship Office and Commission, I have to admit that I learned some new things myself, even though I had been actively involved in the process of vetting the translation recommendations. In a few days, and I will make note of it here in this space, a video of the two major presentations made during these workshops, one by Doug Reatini on the history of changes in the Roman Missal and the second by Father John Tapp on what to expect on “T DAY” (the last Saturday in November at the Vigil Masses for the First Sunday of Advent) will be available on our Diocesan Website to join the video of Bishop Blase Cupich’s fine presentation to our priests in December of last year. If you are truly interested and I hope you are, take the time to watch both of these videos and I guarantee you will be ready for T-Day. Thanks to all who worked so hard to make these workshops so beneficial. The “buzz” (“buzz” is different from the things which are said to the bishop to make him feel good) on these days has been overwhelmingly positive and grateful. I am proud of our diocese and I know in my heart and mind that we will be ready.

Workshop held at St. Timothy Church in Lutz on Feb. 12, 2011

THE CATHOLIC FOUNDATION DINNER

About 540 people joined me in our annual dinner for the Catholic Foundation which has as one of its principal goals raising money for tuition assistance for children attending our Catholic schools who might not otherwise be able to afford it. Last year they raised just over $150,000 for tuition assistance and this year appears that it will be about the same. It was truly “Women in the Church Night” at the A La Carte Pavilion in Tampa last Saturday a week ago.  Sometimes when our Church gathers there is this underlying feeling that unless one has a cardinal or well-known archbishop to give the major address, there is little reason to go. Well this year gave the lie to that line of thinking. The major address was given by a woman born in mainland China and the show was stolen by an eighth grade young lady from St. Raphael’s school.

The principal speaker for the evening Professor Carolyn Y. Woo, Dean of the Mendoza School of Business at Notre Dame University. Dean Woo told of her own personal debt to the Catholic schooling she received in Hong Kong at the hands of the Maryknoll Sisters who had been forced by the communists out of mainland China and had taken up both residence and mission in Hong Kong. It was the sisters who guided this young girl, the fourth of six children, through elementary and high school and gave her the courage to look to the United States for her college. With only enough money to pay for the first year of tuition at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, against her father’s wishes she made her way to the college of her choice, using $1800 (the cost for one year’s tuition in 1972 at Purdue) which she had saved from summer jobs, gifts from her siblings, and help from her nanny. Alone, afraid, but determined, she went to daily Mass at the student center at Purdue and almost immediately met the man to be her husband years later after she had completed her doctorate degree. Purdue hired her, first with a teaching job and then as a part of the University Administration. Fourteen years ago Notre Dame discovered her and asked that she come to South Bend to be Dean of their Business School. In the succeeding years she has led a major school on campus which this year in one ratings system is now first in Undergraduate Business schools in the nation and sixth in their Graduate Program. And she would lay it all at the feet of those noble women from the United States, the Maryknoll sisters, who taught her that a woman can become a leader, even in a culture (Mandarin Chinese) that relegates them to inferior positions behind men. Her story is one of amazing accomplishment and deep faith and one could hear a pin drop in the huge room while she was speaking.

Dean Carolyn Y. Woo, Dean of the Mendoza School of Business at the University of Notre Dame with Henry Jenkins, currently an ACE teacher at Holy Family Catholic School in St. Petersburg

But even Dean Woo would say the evening belonged to in the eighth grader at St. Raphael who won the diocesan first prize in an essay contest on what it means to be in a Catholic School. Speaking for about ten minutes from memory and with a super accompanying video which she herself put together, she won a long, sustained and enthusiastic standing ovation from those in attendance for her talk and presentation. It was stunning, even to me who sometimes callously thinks I have seen and heard everything. Her prize was full one year tuition which she will spend at St. Petersburg Catholic in the coming year. This young woman stands a great chance of being her generation’s Carolyn Woo. Here is Heather Finster, this year’s winner who has set the bar incredibly high for eighth graders who will attempt in future years to top her. Heather’s mom worked for many years for St. Joseph Hospital and her father died a number of years ago, making this achievement all the more beautiful. Congratulations, Heather, and it will be nice to have you in the neighborhood when you come to SPC.

Winner of the Catholic Foundation's First Annual Essay Contest on "What a Catholic School Has Meant to Me"

The Foundation made a special award to Mrs.Cecile Demers of St. Patrick’s parish in Largo  who with her husband have been strong supporters of  Catholic education, particularly at St. Patrick’s school , Clearwater Central Catholic High School and  St. Leo University. Although her husband is now deceased, Mrs. Demers continues to share the blessings of her life with young women and men who probably could not afford to be in a Catholic school were it not for her generosity and that of her late husband. Here is a picture of my presentation of this year’s Foundation Award to Mrs. Demers who used the moment appropriately enough to tell me to do more for Catholic school kids – truly an amazing woman.

Photo compliments of P. L. Carrillo

Finally, it has been “crunch time” for Confirmations and I have been doing about four a week since a month ago. There are eight more between now and the night before Ash Wednesday when we cease the confirmation circuit to better focus on Lent and preparing once again for Easter and the Triduum which precedes it. All toll, this year I will celebrate the sacrament of confirmation forty-four times before mid-June and will have served fifty-one parishes (some combine their young people and others come to the Cathedral for the two large group celebrations of the sacrament. Here one final picture of that special moment – in my life and hopefully in the lives of the young women and men who receive the sacrament.

Photo by Walter Pruchnik III

This completes the longest blog entry in the short history of this author. But now we are caught up for the moment. I hope reading it has not been something akin to walking that road to hell but in writing this, however late, I did have good intentions.

+RNL

Photos from Don Bosco’s Visit

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

Many people have generously made their photos and video of the visit of the Relic of St. John Bosco available, and I am excited to share them with you here.

Many thanks to Ed Foster Jr. for these photos.
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These photos are courtesy of the Knights of Columbus State Photographer Randy Hale; Rosa Harwell and John Christian from St. Petersburg Catholic High School; and Fr. Bruce Craig, SDB from Mary Help of Christians Parish, Tampa.

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