Msgr Marucci's Weekly Message

FROM THE PASTOR’S DESK -   28th Sunday in Ordinary Time   October 14-15, 2017

FROM THE PASTOR’S DESK . . .

It was quite a privilege to have attended the diaconate ordination in Rome last week of seminarian Joshua Nevitt, who spent a Pastoral Year in ministry among the parishioners of St. Andrew the Apostle.  And God willing, it will be another blessing to attend his ordination to the priesthood this spring, which will take place in our own diocese.  I hope that many of our parishioners will be able to attend this ceremony, for it is truly a beautiful expression of faith. 

     There are several beautiful moments during an ordination ceremony that evidence this faith expression, such as watching the man lie prostrate while the Litany of Saints is sung; experiencing the moment when the bishop calls upon the Holy Spirit and lays his hands on the candidates head which is repeated by every priest present; and experiencing the newly ordained vest as a priest for the very first time fills the church with joy.  That said, there is one moment in the rite of ordination that I believe is one of the most important aspects of the entire ritual, not because it begins the rite of ordination, but because it is a ritual that the candidate will repeat over and over and over during the course of his journey in faith with the Lord.  As the rite of ordination begins, a deacon who is present proclaims: “Let those who are to be ordained priests come forward”.  Those to be ordained are called individually and each one stands, turns toward the Bishop and answers “Present” offering a profound bow. One might think that this gesture is only part of the ordination ceremony, when in fact, it is a response that all of us are called to make numerous times in our life. When I was ordained thirty years ago I thought “Present” was a response only for the ceremony but would come to learn that God would require that faithful response over and over again.

Perhaps you can imagine how challenging life was for me nearly 30 years ago.  Having prepared for priesthood for eight to ten years, I had just been ordained and was ready, enthused, and energized to change the world (as many newly ordained priests think).  However, you know the old saying, “we make plans, and God Laughs.”  Approximately six months into my first assignment (with Msgr. O Mearain as my first Pastor) I began to trip and fall quite often.  I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a disease of the central nervous system, which causes attacks to the human body, resulting in loss of bodily function in various places.  Throughout the next six months, I utilized braces, canes, crutches and a walker to take a few steps.  I distinctly recall one August day when I witnessed my cousins wedding and tried to stand at the end of the ceremony to offer the nuptial (marriage) blessing.  Finding this task nearly impossible, I blessed the couple as I remained seated, concluded the ceremony, and watched the bride and groom exit the church. I tried with all my strength to get into a standing position from the presider’s chair, and could only do so with the help of my brother.  (Quite honestly, I was glad that everyone was watching the new bride and groom exit the church and not my own particular struggle at the chair).That evening I was admitted to the hospital with another significant flare-up.  The next day I attempted to get out of bed like I had for the past twenty-eight years of my life, and then simply fell to the floor.  The evening prior was the last day I recall walking, and the next three months in the hospital were geared toward learning to live my life, and my priesthood, all over again…now in a wheelchair. I know that I answered “present” during the ordination ceremony, but I never dreamed God would invite me into this garden of Gethsemane.  I wondered how this could happen.  I prayed, “Lord, I just devoted my life to you, what is going on.”  I recall writing in my journal one day, “Hey Lord….you’re picking on the wrong people.”  Yet, I was determined.  I come from a family of overachievers and thought this was an obstacle to overcome.  I remember confiding to a friend one day….I might have MS….but MS won’t have me.  Indeed those were difficult days, but throughout the years I have come to realize that living with MS is both a cross and a crown.  I am sure you can easily grasp the analogy to the cross….but what about the crown?

            Sometimes we might deceive ourselves to think that loyalty and obedience to God warrants consistent blessings or good fortune.  But Jesus never said it would happen that way….as a matter of fact…He said the exact opposite.  Realistically, loyalty and obedience to God requires one to pick up his/her cross and to follow Him with faith and with trust.  Last week’s Gospel revealed how our Lord shared the parable of the vineyard to His opponents, “the chief priests and elders of the people,” to show them that even though they were God’s Chosen People in the past, they had forfeited any claim to the new Kingdom of God because of their disloyalty and disobedience to Him.  What happened to the chief priests and elders can and will happen to unfaithful Christians if they persevere in their infidelity and disobedience.  But we can still put ourselves right with God.  However, it requires us to let God lead us through the path of life, as opposed to us trying to lead God where we think He ought to be.

            As I said earlier, I think you might agree that a newly ordained priest is certainly ready, enthused, and energized for ministry…but able to change the world is a pretty unrealistic expectation, don’t you think?  Like the story in last Sunday’s Gospel, isn’t it amazing how many times Jesus often surprises us with his answers?  Do you remember Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness?   Jesus had just told the disciples that he expected them to forgive those who sinned against them, each and every time the person sinned and repented.  What a difficult task.  It is probably easier to live with MS than it is to carry out that challenge.  Sometimes it seems as if God is asking us to do the impossible. No wonder the disciples registered shock and dismay over such a teaching.  They cried out to Jesus, how could you possibly expect us to do such a thing that is so overwhelmingly difficult?  And, if you really expect us to do the impossible…“Increase our Faith.” The answer that Jesus gave to his disciples that day has been a life lesson for me throughout the past thirty years.  Jesus calmly responded to his disciples and said; to be effective in the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with the size of one’s faith.  What matters is the object of one’s faith – namely, our Father in heaven.  According to Jesus, faith only needs to be the size of a mustard seed. And, He requires us to be present with a faithful response at all times, no matter the circumstances.

            Trust me, brothers and sisters, when you study for the priesthood for eight to ten years, you learn a significant amount of theology.  But the real question is…Did you really get to know God?  During those years of formation, did the candidate develop a personal and intimate relationship with God?  Did he really come to know that God exists?  Did he truly acknowledge that Jesus Christ was his personal Lord and Savior?  Did he merely learn facts about God, without developing a loving, intimate relationship with God?  And here is where the crown analogy emerges.  I would honestly admit that I learned much about God during those years of formation, but did not develop the authentic relationship with Jesus that I longed to achieve (and is necessary in the priesthood). I am a firm believer that God does not strike people with bad things simply to make their lives terrible.  I believe that God allows things to happen in our world.  Sometimes we are placed on our back, and learn the importance to look up. Someone once told me that “You never know that you have a need for God in your life…until something happens that makes you really need God in your life.”

     I truly believe that difficult circumstances occur in our lives as a result of human nature, not divine will. It is important to recognize that God promises to be the source of strength and hope to carry us through those circumstances.  You have heard me say this before, and it certainly bears repeating, “The difference between happiness and sadness never lies in your circumstances, but always in your attitude and in your faith.  I distinctly recall receiving the diagnosis of MS thirty years ago and praying like the disciples. “Lord, increase my faith.” And Jesus said, even the little (faith) that you have (at that time) would be enough to do marvelous things.  The lesson learned was to keep my faith and my expectations simple.  I learned to no longer depend on the depth of my belief, but rather in the depth of the One I believe in.  As stated, thirty years ago this newly ordained priest longed to change the world.  Today, being a man of faith, I pray that the world doesn’t change me.  By the way, living with MS is indeed a cross, but coming to know God intimately, as a result of MS, is the crown. 

     The life lesson that I pass on to you is this.  On the day of your Baptism and Confirmation, God called you to a life of faithful service. He longs to hear you answer “Present…Here I am Lord, I long to do Your Will.” I assure you, He continues to call you over and over again. And, despite the challenges that you might be asked to endure, He will give you the strength to endure it, if you open your heart to let in.  I know many of you have been asked to carry a heavy cross…but…Have you discovered a crown in your cross?             

With a loving and grateful heart,

Msgr. Marucci, Pastor, V.F.