For the last ten years or so, it has been my custom to offer a Lenten Mission to parishes, which approach and ask me to do it. Last year because of my longer than expected recovery, I did not give any missions and I had promised Saint Catherine of Siena in Largo that I would. So this past weekend, I finally made good on my word and showed up. Let me begin by saying that I am not a “mission preacher” in the any sense of that word. Mission preachers do it about forty weeks of the year and travel throughout the country. They have a set presentation and a more generous approach than I am able to give. I preached at all the Masses this past weekend at St. Catherine to “warm” the congregation up and encourage them to attend the mission sessions on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Typical mission preachers will also give sessions in the morning as well as the evening. I am unable to do that because of the demands of my usual day job.
But in addition to the Sunday Masses, I did share some of my insights into our faith with the people who came on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights. At each parish they choose a different context in which I preached. At St. Catherine of Siena on Monday night, Father Ken Malley the pastor asked if I would give the mission talk within the context of Mass, on Tuesday within the context of Evening Prayer, and on Wednesday night with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament following the talk. My evening talks usually run between thirty and forty minutes maximum so we try to have everyone in and out in just a little over an hour. The mind can only absorb what the “tush” can take.
For the past couple of years I have been using the triple themes of our Eucharistic Initiative, “gathered, nourished and sent” but within the context of the theological virtues of faith, hope and love. Or to put it another way, how can we live in Christ amid the challenges of daily living. The Gospel account of the Transfiguration was a great place to start this mission week off with the voice from the cloud saying so clearly, “listen to Him” (Jesus that is, not necessarily Lynch). Saint Catherine’s already had underway a parish commitment to “we believe, we remember, we celebrate” so I was also able to incorporate these ideas into my presentations as well.
On the final night of the mission, I offered myself to those who wish to stay at its conclusion and ask me any questions they might have: about the content of my talks, the Church in general, the diocese or the future of the faith. There has been good feedback from that opportunity to “Ask the Bishop.”
The attendance at the missions, which I already have given, has been quite good and I find that I often receive far more than I give to these occasions. Bishops are quite good at “one night stands”, like parish confirmations, but to be present and to share faith, hope and love for five days is a unique and, for me, very satisfying experience. Since this week was a “catch-up” experience from 2010, I will be giving a second parish (or the 2011) mission at St Ignatius of Antioch in Tarpon Springs, beginning on April 2, 2011 and in 2012 I will be at St. Cecilia in Clearwater and at St. Lawrence in Tampa in 2013, God willing.
I was sorry last night to end my time with the faith community of St. Catherine of Siena who had received me so well. As I said earlier, in the time just before the mission and as people were leaving, their stories of their faith journeys and the challenges of daily living would put my life to shame. There are a lot of holy people in this Church of ours. Thanks to Father Ken Malley and everyone at this wonderful parish in Largo for a great mission.