Growing Accustomed

Back in the day, I was part of a small advanced team that began the turn-over process for a fleet ballistic missile submarine as one crew relieved another crew. Our small team from the Gold Crew rode a tug into outer Apra Harbor, Guam, where we transferred to the submarine and were taken down the hatch. As soon as we were below, we instantly knew something was wrong. We had descended from the clear Pacific island breezes into the “locker room from hell.” It was though the fragrance from every high school football locker room had been concentrated in the confined space of a submarine. While you might think that description is exaggerated or part of a “sea story,” let me just say, the locker room analogy was kind compared to actual ambiance. Continue reading

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A Pattern of Life

In a 13th-century text called the Il Foretti (The Little Flowers), a story is told about St. Francis in which a brother friar came to him and asked, “Why after you? Why is the whole world coming after you, wanting to see you, to hear you, to follow you?” Some 800 years after the life of St. Francis, this question remains. What is it about this unpretentious figure from the early 13th century that continues to exert such a perennial fascination for Catholics and non-Catholics, believers and agnostics alike? What is it that has made Francis the subject of more books than any other saint? Why has he inspired artists, ecologists, peace activists, and advocates for the poor to claim him as a patron? Why has he inspired countless tens of thousands of men and women to follow his Rule of Life in religious and secular communities? Continue reading

to think about file

I like writing – even if it is a struggle at times. There is something—I don’t know— compelling about it when the germ of a thought begins to take shape and forms itself into a more complete thought. The preparation of a homily is often like that. You sit with the readings for the coming Sunday and let one or more points rise to the surface. Some ideas will be interesting, some will make the list for some future weekend, and every once in a while, the idea is just self-evident. The homily has a beginning, a pointed end, and a clear pathway to get from one to the other. In those moments, it just seems to flow. Continue reading

Words for our times

There are times when I am celebrating daily Mass, I can drift off in thought. It mostly occurs during the readings as I mentally make last-minute adjustments in my homily. I have a theme, a reflection, and I always wonder what connections I should make with what going on in the world. I was thinking about – what seems to me – a recent uptick in the virulent and harsh commentaries online. You name the topic: health care, DACA, racism, border security, immigration, refugees, and much much more – and the dialogue (if you can call it that) is ever more vitriolic, acrimonious, rancorous, bitter, caustic, spiteful, savage, venomous, poisonous, and malicious. Continue reading

In Maria’s wake

In thinking about this morning’s gospel, I begun to muse about the women in Jesus’ life and public ministry. The ones mentioned today, the ones at the foot of the cross, the ones who helped to grow and sustain the nascent Christian church. I have always wondered if those at the foot of the cross – those who witnessed the horrific death of Jesus – saw the Resurrection with different eyes and heart. Was it different to have been at Gethsemane, run away, heard about the crucifixion, and then be there in the upper room to witness to the resurrected Jesus? Was it different from those who saw the fullness of His suffering and death and to experience in their hearts what it truly meant to conquer death? Continue reading

What equals 9?

An accelerated bulletin schedule due to Hurricane Irma, a deadline moved up, and busy about hurricane prep, left me without a fresh idea for this week’s pastor column. But some recent events made me recall this previous column which I again offer for your consideration.

One of the interesting things about “blogging” is what happens off-line. WordPress has a feature for “comments” and it is a controllable feature. You can allow all comments and then remove inappropriate ones as you see fit. But then that means you have to monitor it constantly. Sometimes manners and charity are not hallmarks of text and comments left behind. It takes time. Not willing to dedicate time to the supervising task? The blog administrator cannot allow any comments at all. That takes no additional time to oversee. There is at least one “middle way.” You can allow comments but require that all comments be approved before they are posted on one’s blog. That takes some time, but you have the luxury of getting to such things when you have time. Continue reading

A Prayer for Safety from the Storm

O Good and Loving God, you so loved the world you sent your only Son to live among us and to experience the fullness of humanity in all things except sin. As we wait for the approaching storm, we experience the full range of human emotion, sure and certain, that Jesus our Savior knows our anxiety, our fear, and our trepidations. And so we pray:

God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in distress.
Thus we do not fear, though earth be shaken
and mountains quake to the depths of the sea,
Though waters rage and foam and mountains totter at its surging
God will help at the break of day (Psalm 46)

In the days and hours to come, O heavenly Father, as you have revealed yourself to us in your Son, be near to us now in this time of pending harm. Save us from the tempests and waves, draw us ever closer to you as we confidently seek your protection from the destructive force of this storm.

May the Lord bless us and keep us;
May He show His face to us and have mercy.
May He turn His countenance to us and give us peace.

Amen.

Sacred Heart and Hurricane Irma

As the whole State of Florida prepares for Hurricane Irma’s approach and landfall, we ask you all to keep the people of the Sunshine State in your prayers. The southwest coast of Florida seems to be in for the worst of it. Tampa and Tampa Bay region will also feel the full brunt of the storm. May God watch over us all and keep us safe.

For local followers of this blog, you can keep posted on parish events via our website.

Water in Florida – part two

Last week we introduced you to the wonderfully-made complexity of Florida’s water. The ecosystem of aquifer, rain water, surface water and more that we enjoy for recreation and use for homes, agriculture, and industry. We hope you took a moment to watch the first six minutes of “Troubled Waters: Consequences and Connections”  which clearly explained how nature works to supply the city of Tampa with drinking water.

From the Green Swamp to headwaters of the Hillsborough River, to our water processing facilities to a faucet in your home – it is marvelous and mysterious and, sadly, we never give it a second thought. At least not until something horrific happens

Just several months ago, a massive sinkhole opened underneath a processed-gypsum retention pond at a Mosaic phosphate plant in Mulberry. It is estimated to have dumped at least 215 million gallons of contaminated water into the Floridian Aquifer. The water was highly acidic and laced with sulfate and sodium; an unknown amount of gypsum, a fertilizer byproduct with low levels of radiation also was dumped into our aquifer.

The big disasters get our attention, but stress on the ecosystem of our water is a daily occurrence. Who is to blame? Everyone who uses water is contributing to the problem. According to the High Springs Institute, Floridian aquifer levels have fallen below what is necessary to maintain a healthy aquifer-spring system. A 10- to 20-foot reduction in aquifer levels is enough to stop a spring from flowing. The water flowrate from Silver Springs near Ocala already is reduced 60 percent. Some urban areas have recorded 30- to 90-foot drops. According to the United States Geological Survey, groundwater in the Tampa–St. Petersburg area has been pumped to the point that saltwater has entered the supply, a series of sinkholes have formed and surface water has been depleted.

The lack of flow to the springs can be devastating on both an environmental level and an economic level because so many tourists and residents come to the springs for recreational purposes. Water flow is the lifeblood of the springs, so when you reduce their flow, more algae forms reducing water clarity and resulting in the stagnant, brackish water that repels both people and wildlife. If the spring goes dry, it can turn those vibrant natural resources into waterless holes in the ground – and cause downstream problems.

Here in the Tampa Bay area we are familiar with the red tide algae blooms in the Gulf, but we also need to be attentive to the green algae blooms in the springs, rivers, and swamp areas. An overabundance of nutrients and nitrogen from agriculture (9.5 million acres of farmland/ fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides), septic tanks (did you know there are 2.7 million septic tanks in Florida?), construction-site runoff, licensed industrial waste, illegal dumping, and other sources are endemic in Florida. And all of this only will increase as development continues, adding more contaminants and using more water.

Just to the northeast of us in Osceola County, major changes are under way. The County Commissioners have adopted a plan that would transform 133,000 acres of ranchland (Deseret Ranch) into a major new urban area of 500,000 people. When it all comes to pass, one of the least populated areas of Florida (straddling Osceola, Orange and Brevard counties) would blossom into a megalopolis larger than Orlando, Kissimmee, Apopka and Winter Park combined. Think about the amount of ground that will be covered in concrete, no longer able to absorb rain water. Also consider where the 500,000 new residents will get drinking water. While this affects the St. Johns River system, the effects echo through the aquifer to us.

“…we come together to take charge of this home which has been entrusted to us, knowing that all the good which exists here will be taken up into the heavenly feast. In union with all creatures, we journey through this land seeking God, for ‘if the world has a beginning and if it has been created, we must inquire who gave it this beginning, and who was its Creator.’ Let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope.” [Laudato si, 244]

 

Irma Comes A Calling

Sacred Heart is a traditionally beautiful church – not too far off the path of Hurricane Irma. We are located in Tampa, right there in the middle of the “cone of uncertainty.”

As you might imagine, we celebrate lots of weddings. We had four scheduled for this weekend. Then Irma came a calling. Bridal party reservations for receptions were being cancelled, hotels were closing, wedding guests asked to evacuate, and it was just becoming a bride worst nightmare on the most special day of their lives.

If we are anything, we are adaptable. Thanks to the great staff here at the parish, we moved everything to Friday – all four weddings. As I write we have celebrated two of them and have two more to go. Here was the gospel the couple had picked for the next wedding. Rather appropriate don’t you think?

Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.” (Mt 7:26-28)

By tonight the newly married couples and their guests will start evacuating to other places. I am glad we could help them celebrate.  May God bless them and the staff of Sacred Heart.