I am writing this on Easter Sunday afternoon after a beautiful, lovely and spiritually renewing and refreshing Holy Week. On Tuesday we filled St. Catherine of Siena’s new church to capacity (c. 1200) for the annual Mass of the Chrism. A large number of my brother priests showed up to concelebrate this Mass with myself and their brothers in priestly ministry. I am always curious about those few who did not attend, especially those who seem to make it their business not to attend on an annual basis. There are, for certain, occasional funerals and other unexpected events which crop up from time to time, but the date of the Chrism Mass has been set for some time so it is not a scheduling surprise. Those who may choose not to attend do so for other reasons which I suspect are somewhat selfish. Because a photographer was taking pictures of those attending and concelebrating, (the pictures are on the diocesan website and you may like looking at them to see your priests) I found myself on Tuesday night pretending to be a teacher taking attendance of their class. I know this, it hurts me when men I know who could come choose not to do so, and I think the brothers also feel it. Some bishops hold absent priests accountable – I will never do that – but it does hurt that some could be there but regularly choose not to do so. Anyway, that is the only even remotely unpleasant thing I could say about Holy Week 2013.
The Cathedral of St. Jude was a challenge this year but it turned out wonderfully well for everyone. I suspect if you queried those who attended any of the Holy Week services at St. Jude’s from Palm Sunday through today, Easter Sunday, they would say that the temporary space (used during the rebuilding of the Cathedral church) works well. It is more intimate and therefore we had a sense of “full house” on Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday and Good Friday, and everyone could witness the beautiful liturgies up close and personal. I always feel badly for the Cathedral priests because year after year the bishop who is the pastor of his Cathedral parish shows up and “bumps” the good priests who are there day after day but who do not get to be principal celebrant of the special liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil. This year, however, I asked them to preach and they did, very well. I preached only the shorter homilies accompanying the Palm Sunday Mass and Easter Vigil ceremonies. We baptized three and accepted into the Church and confirmed about fifteen others at the Vigil and if only you could see the smiles on their faces and in one case, the tears of joy which accompanied the moment. So the Cathedral worked thanks to the efforts of staff, sacristans, musicians and choir, deacon and priests, altar servers and God’s grace.
It has been hard since the election of Pope Francis to ignore his presence in the life of the Church. Every day I find myself several times a day scanning various resources online or in blogs to find out what new and distinct thing he has done this day. So many people have said to me how refreshing he is and how proud they are of him. Of course, it has been the honeymoon and he has not had to do some of the hard things which inevitably accompany leadership anywhere, even in the Church. I still think I was right on target in the Chrism Mass homily about what we might expect when the “good times” cease to roll and reality sets in.
Each day, however, Pope Francis amazes me. He preaches like a parish priest does and as a Jesuit does (almost always three points) and his homilies so far have not been written or delivered to wrest from St. John Chrysostom the title of “golden throat” or Aquinas or Theresa of Avila the title of “Doctor of the Church” but rather they are incredibly insightful in what it takes to be a true follower of Christ and how much joy awaits those who let Christ out of the places where they have locked him in. His glasses keep sliding down his nose like mine do and he looks at his watch like I do from time to time to see if something is going too long. But because of the Pope, we are so far witnessing to a Church which is rising again in the sights of many, our own adherents, people of other faiths, etc. Popes do make a difference and the papacy does mean something for everyone: just recall Blessed Pope John XXIII. From the top the process of renewal and reform might begin once again, only the Holy Spirit knows for certain. But when a renewal begins with the Holy Father, it is truly a reform underway. We shall wait and see and pray for him.
I also wish to mention that especially poignant for me this year was a last minute liturgy celebrated on Wednesday night of Holy Week at St. Scholastica Catholic Church in Lecanto for Father James Hoge, OSB. Father Hoge had started every parish in Citrus county and was involved in one way or another in the choice of sites for parishes and for building many of them. St. Scholastica was his final contribution as was Pope John Paul II elementary school. A funeral Mass was offered for him at St. Leo monastery, celebrated by his Abbot but I was able to be present to the priests of Citrus county and to about 350 people who knew Father Jim well and who loved him. After the Mass, I joined the priests for dinner and all came. There were wonderful stories exchanged and Monsignor George Cummings who is now our oldest priest (95 this year) and longest ordained (70 years this year) was in our midst to share his crystal clear memories of the birth of the Church in our northernmost county. He and Father Hoge went to the same minor seminary and were classmates so Father’s passing was particularly meaningful to Monsignor Cummings.
Finally, speaking of the Pope, the accompanying photo was taken at the end of the Easter Vigil last night by a friend of mine who is in Rome. I thought I would share it with you. Happy Easter all!