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