DIVORCED AND REMARRIED – CAN THEY OR CAN THEY NOT?

September 22nd, 2016

 

This particular blog subject has been “stewing” in my mind for some time now. Quite simply put, can some divorced and remarried be readmitted to the sacraments? The question has received a lot of mileage of late due to a reading of Chapter Eight in Pope Francis’ Post-Synodal Apostolic Instruction entitled Amoris Laetitia (simply “AL” from this point on in this reflection).

The simple and plain fact of the matter is that some divorced and remarried have been returned to the sacraments for years by virtue of what is referred to as the “Internal Forum Solution” or perhaps more simply put, advised by a priest within the sacrament of confession to do so. It is not an approach with which I personally and pastorally feel comfortable as I think most couples who find themselves in this situation want something more than a single priest’s adjudication of their situation. When it is working well (which is not always the case), the annulment process provides a measure of healing and authentication that many Catholics wish and need. It also allows for a marriage ceremony of some type while the “internal forum” approach allows the couple a secret and furtive (in some minds) return to the sacraments.

 

Internal forum solutions have been applied when one or both of the couples in the second marriage morally and with a deeply formed conscience feel that their first marriage was never a sacramental or real marriage but they just cannot prove it in a canonical procedure. Properly used, the internal forum solution usually follows an unsuccessful search for an annulment decision and rarely should be the first response to the desire for a return to the sacraments.

 

Neither I nor any bishop has any way of knowing how many Internal Forum Solutions are being utilized in a given diocese for even reporting a number would likely be a violation of the seal of confession.  It is simply a pastoral application which begins and ends with a priest in confession.

 

Some say that “AL” encourages greater and perhaps a more liberal use of this opportunity. Several bishops of this country and of two provinces of Canada have recently said, “oh no it doesn’t.” Several bishops in the area of Buenos Aires, Argentino, have said “yes” it does, only to receive a letter of encouragement from Pope Francis saying basically, “keep at it men, you are on the right track.” So what’s a local bishop like this one to do? In one word, punt.

 

I have not yet suggested that my priests signal “fair catch,” and then run with the ball. I think the game has yet to begin and it is too early. There is an ambiguity to be found in “AL” which I think is purposely placed there by Pope Francis. I believe he wishes the church universal to talk about this pastoral issue of the divorced and remarried and their readmission to the sacraments in a deeper and more penetrating way than simply a knee-jerk reaction to wrap oneself in history or in the reverse, anything goes. He wishes a conversation, a dialogue and has opened up possibilities of pastorally assisting our sisters and brothers in this situation. He knows that someone who murders another can, if truly contrite, receive absolution for his/her sin, almost instantaneously but someone who made a mistake in choosing a marriage partner at ages 20-26 cannot be as easily forgiven, if ever. He wants his shepherds to accompany them, dialogue with them, explore the possibilities with them, reconcile them whenever possible and recognize the new realities of culture and human behavior, for weal or woe. So how do we move from ambiguity to acuity? Slowly, deliberately, patiently.

 

First, we bishops should have listening sessions with our priests to gauge their pastoral opinions on this since they deal with it regularly.  Many bishops come from academic backgrounds or, as in my case, from bureaucratic backgrounds and don’t always personally feel the human pain and suffering. Our priests can teach us a lot that we have only read or heard about. A presbyterate needs to be as close to one mind on this matter so that a local church responds consistently and clearly. I see this matter as so important that here in the Diocese of St. Petersburg I think that with a new bishop months away, the discussion should await his arrival and participation.

 

Second, once we bishops have the smell and feel of the sheep from our presbyterates and those who work in tribunals and with marriage cases and particularly with the RCIA program, we need to have an open conversation among ourselves because I feel territorial morality creeping in on this issue. Several bishops (as is their right) have already published guidelines for their dioceses but I know sometimes their next door neighbors do not fully concur. The danger here is something akin to “geographical morality.” There is a committee dealing with this which has been formed but its chair is one who has already spoken his mind on the matter.

 

Third, lots of other people with fine backgrounds have much to say and offer on this subject. If I had my way, which I do not and will not, I would love the USCCB to hold geographical listening sessions on “AL” before we issue anything – much like was done on the peace and economy pastoral. Father only knows best when he knows the minds of the experts, the daily practitioners, the wise and sometimes even the foolish (not always any harm done).

 

These are some pastoral thoughts ruminating through my mind. I’m sure I will hear from more than a few in reaction but all I am doing is what Pope Francis asks: discernment, dialogue and accompaniment.

 

+RNL

FAITH CENTERED CHOICE FOR LIFE

September 16th, 2016

I have been made aware of a recent advertisement that appeared in the Tampa Bay Times as well as a number of other publications throughout the United States which offer us an opportunity to proclaim with renewed vigor that God, the author of life, is a God of love Who has endowed every human being with a sacred and inviolate dignity which bears His very image and likeness and which has been touched by the Incarnation of His Son, Jesus.  Together with the prophets of sacred Scripture, our Catholic Social Teaching heralds that God has known each and every human being from the time of conception within the womb and values human life from this moment until natural death.

Our Catholic faith calls us to champion a consistent ethic of life and to commit ourselves to working for a social reality which evidences God’s own preferential option for the most vulnerable. Therefore, the Church steadfastly and irrevocably condemns procured abortion as a moral evil which fails to honor that every human being is a child of God who bears the image of Christ.  Together with Pope Francis, we proclaim the joy of the Gospel which inspires us to show particular love, concern and care for the unborn and commit ourselves to reject contemporary efforts aimed at denying the dignity of these most innocent and defenseless among us.  Our conviction is that a human being is always sacred and inviolable in any situation and at every stage of development (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium #213).

Because of this consistent teaching of the Church, even any slightest inference that being “pro-choice” is compatible with Catholic social teaching is simply not true and is disingenuous. If those who paid at great expense for this advertisement in the nation’s major newspapers truly embrace Catholic social teaching, they might best have spent the money on post-abortion trauma counseling, residences for pregnant women facing birth alone or in desperate poverty, or providing for homeless families with small children bereft of employment and sometimes even hope. That’s what the socially conscious and committed baptized Catholic does and that is what the Catholic Church in America does.

Therefore, as we prepare for Respect Life month, let us re-double our efforts to be heralds of human dignity and commit ourselves to social action which seeks to ensure the protection of all life and to create a society which reflects and gives witness to the values of God’s Kingdom. There is no commitment to the common good if there is not a commitment to all life.  Below please find links to some of our Diocesan and National resources which provide us with opportunities to serve life and to learn more about Catholic Social Teaching.

+RNL

Life Ministry Pregnancy Center Alliance:

http://dosp.org/life/pregnancy-centers/

40 Days for Life:

http://dosp.org/life/40-days-for-life/

Project Rachel Post Abortion Healing:

http://www.ccdosp.org/project-rachael-post-abortion-healing/

Catholic Social Teaching:

http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catholic-social-teaching/seven-themes-of-catholic-social-teaching.cfm

 

 

 

 

MONSIGNOR LAURENCE HIGGINS

August 31st, 2016

The Church of St. Petersburg bade a fond farewell to one of its best-known and beloved priests today. Monsignor Laurence Higgins, for forty-nine years the pastor of St. Lawrence parish in Tampa, went home to the Father’s House last week. The feelings of love and gratitude many felt for him was clearly demonstrated by the many who filed past his body at his beloved St. Lawrence.

He was just days shy of his eighty-eighth birthday when God came for him and sixty-three years a priest. I shall not repeat the biographical information here as the Tampa Bay Times did all that last week and they will cover the funeral as well, I am sure. I will try to share some thoughts from my perspective as his bishop for the last twenty-one years and perhaps let you see why he will be missed.

Monsignor Lawrence Higgins loved his faith and gave great credit to his parents for their role in raising him. He also loved Tampa (and disdained St. Petersburg). He loved sports, especially the Bucs, for whom he served as chaplain for as long as his health would allow. He always thought the Tampa Tribune was a great newspaper and the one across the bay was hopelessly liberal and anti-Catholic. He brought Larry Rothschild, the Ray’s first manager into the Church quietly (he did a lot of the sacraments “quietly”) and he adored John Lynch and Tony Dungy for their deep faith in God, Christ and humanity.

He was very proud of his parish, St. Lawrence, that he founded. He often said that the late Archbishop Hurley, when he assigned him to start the parish, told him to stop the invasion of the Jesuits from the South, the Redemptorists from the west and east (and there was no threat at the time from the North). Larry Higgins liked nothing better than a challenge.

St. Lawrence became a successful parish because he knew that if he ran a good school for children, their parents would follow and fill the pews on the weekends. To send your children to St. Lawrence School, one needed to register for the parish (no matter where you lived), attend Mass and support the parish through the Sunday collection, and volunteer on special projects when asked. In return, he guaranteed a first class education, almost automatic admission to Jesuit for the boys, and orthodoxy in religion. He built it and they came and they still come. Amazingly, the 2010 census identified St. Lawrence parish as having the highest concentration of Hispanic families in the whole diocese but the majority of its present worshipping community comes from outside the parish boundaries.

I always admired his ability to reach out to the underdog. He was a friend to those who suffered from many types of addiction and addictive behavior. His final community effort was in starting a program at USF in addiction and its cures. He loved St. Peter Claver, a small and always struggling parish in central Tampa with a school for mostly African-American children. In this he had two great allies whom I also admire deeply, Joe Capitano and Ted Couch. If it were not for the three of them, St. Peter Claver School would likely have closed long ago and to this day, though I have doubts about its long-term sustainability, I regularly ceded my judgments to the troika that believed, supported and sustained that important presence.

Back at St. Lawrence, Monsignor Higgins made his feelings known about a number of things from bishops to women serving Mass (he never allowed it), Eucharist under both species (he never allowed it) and married deacons (nowhere to be seen in his time as pastor). I could have forced him but he would have outwitted me some way so I took the road less travelled by. However, the community who gathered for prayer on weekends filled the Church, coming from all over Hillsborough county if they had children in the school and I would not want to begin to count the number of weddings, baptisms, and funerals the good Monsignor performed. Even after retirement, they still came knocking for his presence at major occasions and he obliged right up to the time his body would no longer allow it. Simply amazing in many ways.

About a year ago I stopped by St. Lawrence unannounced to see Monsignor Muhr, the new pastor, and Father Dornquest, the new associate. I was blocked by the police from entering the parking lot because my name was not on a list. I finally convinced the officer that I was the bishop and owned the property and I found a parking place and went into the Church (it was about four pm). It was full of the biggest men and women I have ever seen and there was Monsignor in his cassock and surplice preaching. Someone recognized me and came to my side. There was a huge coffin in front of the sanctuary. I said, “Whose funeral is it?” “Dusty Rhodes, the wrestler” came the reply and Monsignor was going on and on about the Brisco brothers and Florida Championship Wrestling. All of the WWE constituted the congregation that day. Dusty Rhodes was not a Catholic but he was a friend of Monsignor Higgins. I shook my head in amazement, wonderment and admiration.

But these last few days belonged to the simple people, parishioners of St. Lawrence, who saw Monsignor as the embodiment of the Good Shepherd of which Jesus spoke. They came to say “thanks, for what you did, for what you said, for whom you worked so slavishly.” Except for an annual vacation, like most of the Irish priests of his generation, he was on the job, 24/7, 330. When his friend from his earliest days of priesthood in Miami, Bishop W. Thomas Larkin, asked his assistance in managing the diocese as Vicar General he added that to his resume while still managing St. Lawrence. At that time he preached a “Gospel” that everything good in the Church originated in the central offices of the diocese. When he was no longer involved there, he changed the “Gospel” to the Church much be present in the larger community, at the Capitol in Tallahassee, at City Hall in Tampa, at the School Board in Hillsborough.

I will miss his presence. We had our moments but they were mostly minor and in the end, who could do anything but admire the accomplishments even if occasionally they were done, “his way, the Higgins’ way.” Of this I know – there shall never be another like him.

+RNL

GRAY SKIES ARE GOING TO CLEAR UP, PUT ON A HAPPY FACE

August 17th, 2016

There is a plethora of good news which I would like to share with you today. First, yesterday Florida’s First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee ruled against the Florida Teachers Union and in favor of low-income and at-risk children whose parents can exercise “freedom of choice” in picking a private school for their children. The appeals court, like the trial court below it, found that the union did not have standing to bring the legal action since monies for this program come from private businesses directly to a foundation. In other words, those businesses get a tax credit and the children get a better chance at a future. The program is called “Step Up Florida”.

 

Eighty per cent of the students receiving this scholarship assistance are in private schools primarily serving African American and Hispanic children. While historically this is not an initiative of anyone to populate Catholic elementary and secondary schools, there are a small percentage of children in our schools who gain access only because of the law. Qualification and need is assessed by the private foundation which awards the scholarship assistance to the students.

 

A great deal of time, energy and money has gone into defending this program against the legal assault of the state teachers union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The presence of the latter as plaintiffs baffles the black pastors of the state as well as the principals of largely black schools where the children are getting a better chance at success than they would elsewhere. The Florida Association of School Boards were initially plaintiffs but they subsequently withdrew.

 

Then there are the public school teachers whose union is spending a king’s ransom to overturn the law even though as both the trial and appeals court pointed out, there is absolutely no guarantee that the money now being used in the form of a tax credit would, if the law were to be declared unconstitutional, be directed to public education. I believe in teachers unions. I even started one in Columbus, Ohio in 1967. Florida’s union is rated as one of the most inefficient and unsuccessful unions among the fifty state teacher associations. On this law, they are out to prove their reputation correct. Drop the suit, teachers, and continue to enjoy the support of many for millage increases and other ways of assisting your school districts in raising standards and retaining good teachers.

 

Today word from Pope Francis brought the news that one of the more gifted bishops in the United States would be going to Rome to take a lead position in the curia as first head of a new department merging the Pontifical Councils for the Laity, Youth, Family and Life. Bishop Kevin Farrell will be leaving the Diocese of Dallas which he has shepherded for ten years to assume this position and thus become the highest ranking American in the Roman Curia. I admired Bishop Farrell from my perch as General Secretary of the USCC/NCCB and he was a gifted priest of the Archdiocese of Washington. We also served on the USCCB Finance Council together where I witnessed his wisdom and compassion. He writes, thinks, administers and dreams like Pope Francis and that is all good!

 

School is open in the diocese once again and I am happy to indicate that enrollment is slightly up which is far better than being slightly down. Among the high schools, there are significant increases at Tampa Catholic (its highest enrollment in my twenty plus years here), Clearwater Central Catholic and Bishop McLaughlin (also its highest enrollment since opening). While some of the elementary schools are down slightly, enough of them are showing enrollment increases to give a bishop temporary heart relief. Soon our Christian Formation programs will resume in the parishes of the diocese and I hope there will be more young people involved there as well.

 

Finally, in the category of “if you build it, they will come”, last week with a number of other people I broke ground for a new Catholic residence hall adjacent to the Catholic Student Center at the University of South Florida. To be built and opened in two phases, hopefully, the combined occupancy of the facility will eventually be over 416 undergraduate students (208 in the first building). The new hall has already been named and is to be called “Bellarmine Hall.” Each student will have their own bedroom in either two or four bedroom units with an efficiency kitchen and a common space and bathroom. There will be ample parking at the three story residence hall and easy access to the campus ministry chapel, and facility. Each of the two wings (two when totally built out) will have rooms for common activities, meetings, prayer services, etc.

 

The diocese is partnering in this effort with Newman Student Housing who has built similar Catholic residence halls around the country. Father Justin Paskart is the chaplain at the moment but this has been a dream of two of his predecessors, Father Alan Weber and Father Michael Smith. My successor will surely get to bless this facility as I suspect I shall be gone, but like that “field of dreams” in the baseball movie, I can’t wait to come back and behold what has transpired. Parents, if you have a son or daughter likely to attend the main campus of USF, and you will be looking for a faith-based residence facility for them, think Bellarmine!

+RNL

HELP FROM ABROAD

July 24th, 2016

Pope Francis gets (understands) the human condition as well as any Catholic I know. He also understands, appreciates and supports Church teaching and has changed nothing. Yet he gets a lot of flack from certain segments of our ecclesial community which is much more comfortable with “law and order” than “love and forgiveness.” Since the publication of his post-synodal exhortation, The Joy of Love dealing with love, marriage, family life, procreation, sexual attraction, doubts have been raised in certain sectors of our faith community about its teaching authority (is it a magisterial document?), its guidance in dealing with divorce, remarriage, and return to the sacraments, and voices have been heard questioning its authority as well as it meaning and interpretation.

I have now been a priest for approaching thirty-nine years and from the very beginning of my seminary training, I was introduced to something called “internal forum” solutions, which was available to me when I accompanied a divorced and remarried person or couple. We don’t talk about it or preach about it precisely because it is “internal forum” which means it is accorded the same level of secrecy as sins confessed in the sacrament of reconciliation.

I have always thought it is an inferior way to deal with these situations because almost inevitably a person in a second, non-sacramental marriage wants to remarry in a public ceremony which is not possible using this pastoral approach. Also for older Catholics something like this is not “real until there is a document saying that it is real” (a declaration of nullity, for example). Our diocesan marriage tribunals perform a needed, effective, and deeply pastoral ministry of mercy. The process is long, burdensome, almost always reopens old wounds, which have been psychologically cauterized following a divorce decree. The process is free in this diocese and has been for some time and thanks to Pope Francis, it has the potential to be speeded up.

But there are those cases where a previously married person deeply believes in good conscience that his or her first marriage was never sacramental but it just can’t be proven to or accepted by an ecclesiastical marriage tribunal. Pope Francis recently spoke a somewhat offhanded remark that a majority of young people getting married were probably in invalid marriages because they were incapable at the time of understanding the full measure and consequences of the sacrament into which they were entering. Many priests I know, and I myself, agree with that.

In the internal forum, priests for years have been accompanying the divorced and remarried back to participation in the sacramental life of the Church of their baptism. Probably not in great numbers (since it is internal forum or “under the seal” and there are no statistics), and I for one do not think the number is staggering because of the reasons outlined in the two proceeding paragraphs.

In the “The Joy of Love” I sense that this loving and caring pastor, Pope Francis, without changing any laws per se, wishes to remind priests of this option of accompaniment and accomplishment. So all of this is by way of sharing with you one of the best defenses of this document, which I have read since its publication, and it comes with the approval of the Holy See. It also joins a spirited defense of the same exhortation given by Cardinal Christoph Shoenborn of Vienna, no theological slouch!

As is often the case, I owe public thanks to the mother of all ecclesial blogs and to its doorkeeper, Rocco Palmo for making it available to me, to you and to a wider audience. A well-known and highly respected theologian Rocco Buttiglione worth your time to read the article pens it. It appeared last week in English in the normally all-Italian L’Osservatore Romano, and someone in our upper echelon of management had to look at it and approve it for publication. You may access it by clicking here.

I am going to begin a dialogue with the priests of the diocese about implementation of the apostolic exhortation locally and to see what, if anything. troubles them or excites them. It will also serve as a good reminder of a pastoral solution we have had for some time and which the Holy Father resurrects.

Please take time to read the article in its entirety. Thanks.

+RNL

ORLANDO, ORLANDO WE LOVE YOU

June 27th, 2016

Apropos recent comments concerning my last blog entry on the Orlando massacre I simply offer the following:

I think that the Church must not only ask forgiveness – like that “Marxist Cardinal” said (laughs) – must not only ask forgiveness to the gay person who is offended. But she must ask forgiveness to the poor too, to women who are exploited, to children who are exploited for labor. She must ask forgiveness for having blessed so many weapons. The Church must ask forgiveness for not behaving many times – when I say the Church, I mean Christians! The Church is holy, we are sinners! – Christians must ask forgiveness for having not accompanied so many choices, so many families… (Pope Francis’ in-flight press conference from Armenia, June 26, 2016).

The history of homosexuals in our society is a very bad history because we have done a lot to marginalize them, and so as church and as society we have to say, ‘Sorry’ (Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Trinity College, Dublin, June 23, 2016).

+RNL

ORLANDO, ORLANDO WE LOVE YOU

June 13th, 2016

Today I write with a heavy heart arising from the tragedy which occurred in the early morning hours yesterday at a Gay, Lesbian, Transgender night club in Orlando, our neighbor to the east. Yesterday, the best I could muster was to send these words by text message to my brother, Bishop John Noonan, bishop of Orlando: “John, I am so sorry. With love to and for all.” Today with a new dawn, I once again have some thoughts which I wish to share.

 

Our founding parents had no knowledge of assault rifles which are intended to be weapons of mass destruction. In crafting the second amendment to the Constitution which I affirm, they thought only of the most awkward of pistols and heavy shotguns. I suspect they are turning in their graves if they can but glimpse at what their words now protect. It is long past time to ban the sale of all assault weapons whose use should be available only to the armed forces. If one is truly pro-life, then embrace this issue also and work for the elimination of sales to those who would turn them on innocents.

 

Second, sadly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence. Those women and men who were mowed down early yesterday morning were all made in the image and likeness of God. We teach that. We should believe that. We must stand for that. Without yet knowing who perpetrated the PULSE mass murders, when I saw the Imam come forward at a press conference yesterday morning, I knew that somewhere in the story there would be a search to find religious roots. While deranged people do senseless things, all of us observe, judge and act from some kind of religious background. Singling out people for victimization because of their religion, their sexual orientation, their nationality must be offensive to God’s ears. It has to stop also.

 

Third, responding by barring people of Muslim only faith from entering the country solely because of their stated faith until they can be checked out is un-American, even in these most challenging of times and situations. There are as many good, peace loving and God fearing Muslims to be found as Catholics or Methodists or Mormons or Seventh Day Adventists. The devil and devilish intent escape no religious iteration.

 

Will we ever learn? I hope so but until the above three points are taken seriously by society, sadly, tragically, we can expect more Orlandos. May the souls of those faithful departed who met their God early Sunday morning rest in peace, and those recovering from deep wounds heal, help and hope.

 

+RNL

 

SO NOW WE WAIT

May 26th, 2016
Bishop Lynch Retirement Letter to Pope Francis

The letter that was sent to Pope Francis today.

Today marks only the beginning of the end of my service as Bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg. It is not the end. That moment comes when my successor who will be the fifth bishop is installed at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle. But today is still a special moment and I sign the letter to Pope Francis asking to be allowed to retire as required by Canon Law and I thank him for the incredible privilege of serving this terrific local Church.

Twenty and a half years ago when I first appeared at the cathedral for a press conference accompanying the announcement of my appointment, my heart and mind were are odds with one another. My mind said accept the honor with dignity and grace and my heart said it was almost criminal to leave the people of St. Mark’s parish in West Broward who in six months I had come to love. Even after coming here and starting, there was still that strange feeling of almost a “divorce” in which both sides lost something valuable.

This morning I woke up with the same battle of heart and mind. The mind said, “Enough is enough and it is time for me to rest and another to lead, be creative, take this local Church to a new level of coming to experience the presence of the Lord.” But my heart said, how can I leave my collaborators in ministry, my priests and deacons and religious women and men, my seminarians, my schools and faith formation leaders and teachers? I love them too much!

If you know me as well as I think you do, you know that while I am relieved, I am not entirely happy. I cried when in July of 1984 I drove out of the gates of St. John Vianney College seminary in Miami to begin my new assignment in Washington. I cried all the way to Hollywood that day but no one was in the car to witness it.

On February 3, 1995 I cried walking from the chapel at the headquarters of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops through a wall of people lining the hallway all the way to the front entrance and the parking lot, all crying as much as I. I cried that time all the way to Lorton and the Auto Train depot where a train would take my car and myself back to Miami for a new assignment.

On January 20, 1996 I cried as I said good-bye to my parish staff and teachers grade school children at St. Mark’s and climbed into my car to drive to St. Petersburg and my new assignment. Those tears lasted half way across Alligator Alley until a Seminole tribe sheriff stopped me and warned me that I was pressing the speed limit a tad too close. Just a warning, not a tearful ticket.

If you get the picture, it is that I do not handle major change and the fondest of good-byes well. I was proud of myself that only once and then unnoticed during the ordination last Saturday of the five new priests did I break down and it was after the greeting of peace with Father Felipe Gonzalez whose parents and family were unable to be with him/us in that moment. But at the end, in my own sacristy I shut the door and let loose knowing that I had ordained to the priesthood for the last time and would not have that privilege for the incredible men coming along in the next few years. They are as close to sons as any unmarried male can have but when I leave, they will be my brothers no longer my sons.

Today is not the time for tears. Work continues unabated. You will see that I will be very reluctant to begin new major initiatives or to spend new monies. If the transition were to take place tomorrow, the new bishop would inherit a great diocese made up of talent and treasure – probably the best in Florida and maybe even in the country. We have accomplished something beautiful for God in the last two decades. And you have helped me even in ways of which you are largely unaware. Rarely disappointed and forever grateful, I cannot thank you enough. You have tolerated my eccentricities and peculiarities, you have been loyal even when I have done something which may have hurt. Together we have lived our mantra to this local Church, “how can I help you.”

Today I think of Sue Tully, Vivi, Carmen, Malissa, Maria, Joan, Betty, Frank, Deacon Rick, and Michael, our team in our version of the “West Wing.” Today at this Eucharist which means “thanksgiving” I think of Monsignor Brendan Muldoon, Monsignor Robert Gibbons, Father Alan Weber, Monsignor Frank Mouch, and Monsignor Morris, absent this moment only because his dear Mom has a doctor’s appointment which cannot be missed. I have been the luckiest person in the Church in the United States to have been assisted by these competent, loving, patient people. Thank you Jesus!

So today for this local Church the clock of expectation and hope starts to tick. We are like that parable in the Gospel waiting for the bridegroom knowing neither the day, hour or time of his arrival. But today we start to pray for him and he will remain in our expectation, hope and prayers until he comes. I shall not end as did President Obama at the National Press Club banquet a few weeks ago by simply dropping the microphone and saying “Obama, out!” Rather I will say, “Lynch, on hold.” Thanks and God Bless all of you.

+RNL

P.S. I want to share with you a video that my staff put together for me that you might enjoy. I did.

 

FIVE GUYS

May 22nd, 2016

Yesterday, Saturday, May 21, five men were ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of St. Petersburg. To a Cathedral packed to the rafters with a local Church loving and welcoming, these five men embraced the call to be good shepherds to the People of God whom they will soon serve.

May 21, 2016 - Fathers Felipe Gonzalez, Alexander Padilla, Bradley Reed, Jonathan Stephanz and Kevin Yarnell were ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Robert Lynch at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle. Please keep them in your prayers! (DOSP Photo / Maria Mertens)

With the newly ordained. Father Jonathan Stephanz, Father Felipe Gonzalez, myself, Father Alexander Padilla, Father Bradley Reed and Father Kevin Yarnell. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Elsewhere on the diocesan website you can see pictures of the ordination and, if you have 145 minutes, you can even watch the whole ceremony. Below I wish to share my words to the men, likely to be my last as the power and privilege of ordaining will pass to a new good, maybe even better shepherd.

ORDINATION TO THE PRIESTHOOD
Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle
St. Petersburg, FL
Saturday, May 21, 2016

Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop

“It is a reality that God often interacts with humanity through the medium of dreams. While few of us have the experience of St. Joseph to whom an archangel, no less, appeared in a dream with life changing news, most of us who are ordained or to be ordained began to seriously develop our notion of priesthood through dreams of some day becoming one. Throughout formation, we sometimes made it through the more challenging and darker moments by dreaming of our ordination day or our first Mass or our own image of what kind of shepherd we might ultimately become. But as our five deacons soon to be ordained will find out, reality can and often does supplant dreams and today I would offer my counsel that this can be tragic when unforeseen and ill-prepared for.

When tomorrow afternoon, they literally roll the proverbial stone before the tomb and all your family and friends withdraw leaving you alone with your new reality, I would counsel it is precisely then that you need to begin to fashion new dreams in which you see yourselves, Felipe, Alex, Brad, Jonathan and Kevin as good shepherd of God’s people. What you are soon to become is far deeper, richer, transforming than what you have dreamed you might be on the day of your ordination.

Pope Francis almost daily reminds his priests of what God wishes them to be and what they may or may not have become. His dream is that we become so attracted and attached to Jesus, the Good Shepherd that “we press forward in faith, to advance in the spiritual pilgrimage which is faith that is nothing other than to follow Jesus; to listen to him and to be guided by his words, to see how he acts and to follow in his footsteps to have his same sentiments. And what are these sentiments of Jesus? Humility, mercy, closeness to others but also a firm rejection of hypocrisy, duplicity, and idolatry. The way of Jesus is a love which is faithful to the end, and even unto sacrificing one’s life; it is the way of the cross.” [Pope Francis, Marian Day, 10,12,2013].

Francis is redrafting the dream of priesthood. It is far from an office of privilege for the ordained, but rather a privilege which through ordination allows us to be Christ to the terrified immigrant father and mother facing deportation, to the confused and wounded young mother who has chosen to take the life within her womb for fear of being unable to care for the child once born, to pray with the condemned prisoner on death row or the overnight visitor to the county jail who has been arrested for a DUI or a lesser offence, to promise a parent that their parish will work hard to improve literacy at the miserably failing local public schools their children are attending by working with FAST or HOPE in two of our counties, to comfort a dad who has just lost his job that while searching for new employment, we will work to retain his children in our parish or diocesan school even though we might be at a loss also of how to make ends meet. These are a few of the pastoral realities which must reshape the dream of how we are to become that good shepherd tomorrow when all withdraw and a lifetime of priestly ministry awaits and begins.

“Being Church means being God’s people, in accordance with the great plan of his fatherly love. This means we are to be God’s leaven in the midst of humanity. It means proclaiming and bringing God’s salvation into our world, which often goes astray and needs to be encouraged, given hope and strengthened on the way…. The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven, and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel.” [Francis, JG]

It is almost the nature of dreams, especially about priesthood, to see us as ministers of the sacraments and indeed that is an essential part of the job description of today’s priest. But that you can accomplish in several waking hours, what are you going to do in the remaining time – wait for the phone to ring or the doorbell to sound? Pope Francis calls us to dream of using more of our time as good shepherds in a different way – as ministers of God’s mercy, taking the initiative to seek out the lost, recapture and reclaim the disenchanted and disenfranchised, to get dirty in the hubris of daily living by giving special attention to the poor, to the lonely, to the forgotten, to the angry,

If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, might and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them; without meaning and a goal in life.

            More than a fear of going stray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within the strictures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us, “Give them something to eat.” [Francis, JG]

Dear Felipe, Alex, Brad, Jon and Kevin, I wish I were younger and could join with you and my brother priests who may live the dream of a new form of priesthood born of the vision and the conscience of Pope Francis. It is far more challenging and exciting than anything I have experienced to date in my life and even somewhat scary. But it is more faithful to the image of Christ the Good Shepherd whom I was to become at my priestly ordination than the “dream I dreamed in times gone by” [Le Miserable]. It is the Good Shepherd who loved us to death, the alter Christus who in a few moments you are to become and I once became.

Today this Church is filled with love and great expectations. Your soon to be brother priests are renewed that in these times and with these challenges, you have already said “yes” to the call of Jesus, “follow me.” Together with me, they welcome you as brothers. God’s people whom you will serve will honor you as “father”. May Jesus welcome you many years from now as “faithful servant.”

+RNL

MADAM SECRETARY

May 16th, 2016

I am still on the airplane flight coming back from Minneapolis-St. Paul (see preceding blog entry) and there is yet a second topic which I would like to share with my readers. Several topics came together recently so I am “lumping” them together even though each could be treated separately and on their own.

The national Catholic media noted the passing of a “lioness in winter”, Sister Margaret Brennan, IHM. Her influence on post-Vatican Council II religious life was profound and her leadership of her community was quite simply extraordinary. I found myself the beneficiary of Sister Margaret’s vision and leadership in the Church and thought you might be interested in how that came to pass.

Shortly after the Council, Sister Margaret Brennan who was superior of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters of Monroe, Michigan knew that renewal and reform of religious life was going to happen and likely to usher in significant change. She also knew that many of her sisters while educated well enough to teach in elementary and secondary schools, could contribute far more to a post-conciliar church if they were even better educated so she started sending sisters off to obtain terminal degrees in theology, economics, education, etc.

She also saw that religious life was going to be challenged to its roots in its basic construct and she aided and contributed a great member of her community to something called “the Sister Formation Conference.” The purpose of this work was to prepare every religious of whatever community to be better prepared to accept, embrace and enhance what would become of religious life in the last decades of the twentieth century.

While a seminarian in 1976 at Boston’s Pope John XXIII National Seminary I found my way into taking two “moral theology” courses from an IHM sister whose name was Mary Emil Penet at the Weston School of Theology in Cambridge. Twice a week in my car to sit at her feet. She was teaching moral theology to Jesuit seminarians and an occasional “drifter” like myself after having spent a number of years in Rome assisting and learning from the great Jesuit moral theologian, Joseph Fuchs, SJ. She returned alive with the potential for applying moral theology to a church in the midst of renewal. Sister Mary Emil prior to her Roman “holiday” had been the head of the nascient Sister Formation Conference I mentioned earlier, travelling throughout the US to assist communities deal with what was happening.

This was no liberal nun but a deeply devoted woman of the Church who wished its priests would have a solid foundation of Catholic social teaching and moral theology to lead a changing Church. She continued to wear a veil and a blue skirt with a white blouse but the mind inside that whimple was bright, alert, challenging, penetrating and perceptive. What she was, I and the church partially owed to the vision of Margaret Brennan.

While Rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami, I was fortunate to engage Sister Mary Emil Penet as a faculty member and at the same time to capture the retiring President of Barry College (now a University), Sister Mary Trinita Flood of the Adrian Dominicans to join our faculty. Those were the days and every seminarian who came under the influence of either of these two women would tell you that they became the “soul of the seminary.” Both are now deceased but their memory lingers, in my mind in gratitude and in the hearts and minds of many others whose lives they touched. To Margaret Brennan for one and to Mother Genevieve Weber for the other, I shall always be profoundly grateful.

They proved to a skeptical audience that smart women were a gift to the Church and their presence was genuine ministry to which all religious are called. So it was with some interest that I noted earlier last week that Pope Francis in responding to a question from a large group of religious women with whom he was meeting at the Vatican responded to a question about the possibility of women deacons in the Church. He simply said it was worthy of study and a commission might be formed to address the matter. All of a sudden we were bombarded with headlines and stories suggesting this major change was just around the corner.

The best analysis of what the Pope actually said and what he might do can, as usual, be found in the mother of all ecclesial blogs http:’’’www.whispersintheloggiablogspot. com. To what is there I would add several of my own reflections:

  1. Although I personally see no great problem in women in the diaconate for a local diocese like ours, if put to a vote in our episcopal conference at this time it would not stand a chance of passing;
  2. Pope Benedict XVI when he was Josef Ratzinger and prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had the matter studied under the lens of historically have there ever been women deacons, especially in the early Church and his study group could not find support for the affirmative
  3. Because we sometimes pay a heavy price for being a universal church (much, much larger than these United States) what might be acceptable in one cultural milieu would be unacceptable in another (think the Church in Africa on the homosexual matter, for example). The rest of the Catholic world generally is uncomfortable at best and openly hostile to exports from the United States and Canada (be it McDonald’s or women deacons). And we have the highest percentages of permanent deacons in the world!
  4. Large parts of the Catholic world are less interested in more clerics and more in greater engagement and involvement by a well trained laity (count the number of married deacons in Africa and Asia, for example).
  5. What Margaret Brennan and Genevieve Weber contributed was probably far greater than if they had been ordained. They sure had more freedom to lead.

All of which brings me to my third and final observation. Also from last week. Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, publicly exclaimed the obvious which was that there was nothing to exclude a woman from being “Madame Secretary” for the Holy See. What a TV series that would make and how I would love to be the script writer!! I know in my heart that Pope Francis wants to name a woman to a high curial position, breaking the glass ceiling of time and tradition. He even said that to those same religious who asked him about the chance of women in the diaconate, and that he had approached a women for a high ranking position and she had declined. It’s coming and to me it is more important than the ordination question. It might pave the way better for the ordination of women to diaconal ministry. This much I know and to this I can attest: if good things have happened in the Diocese of St. Petersburg much of it can be attributed to the presence of highly competent and capable women in the administration of the diocese and its offices. And they can’t take that away from me!

 

+RNL