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FROM THE PASTOR’S DESK…The Call to Serve!

I have often told the story of Fr. Carl Campanova, a young priest who served in my parish when I was a little boy, and truly was my “super-hero.” As a little boy, my parents would let me go at the end of Mass and I would run up the main aisle of the church, climb over the altar rail, and run into the priests sacristy (the room where the priest vests for Mass). Fr. Campanova, would see me coming, stoop down, stretch out his arms, and catch me as I leaped into his arms. From that point on he would throw me above his head, swing me around, and then carry me to the front of the church, where he would stand shaking hands and greeting the parishioners. Eventually he would hold me around my waist, pressing me against his left hip, while I squirmed to escape, (yet I secretly loved every minute of his love and affection). Sporadically, he would look down, extend his huge smile, and say, “and you….you are going to stay right there until I’m finished with you….because God loves you…and I love you…and don’t ever forget it.” Eventually, Mom and Dad would emerge through Father’s line, where he would promptly return me to my folks, but only after he pushed my little Fedora Church hat tightly on my head. This might explain a few things to the parishioners. First, now you know the reason why I plant myself at the back of Church after each Mass. And second; the call to priesthood in my life started in the way Fr. Campanova imaged the priesthood to me. That is, the priest was (and is) one in the community who gathers the people of God (with outstretched arms) and reminds them of God’s profound and constant love, evidenced by the way he personally witnesses that love in his own life. I kept thinking about this image throughout the week as we prepared to celebrate Vocation Awareness Sunday. During the week, I reflected on my journey of faith that led me to the priesthood. (Photo above is my first Communion day with Fr. Carl Campanova. By the way….I still have the statue, tie, and Rosaries from that beautiful day).

As I grew up, I wanted to be just like Fr. Campanova, my Super-hero priest. I remember being a young boy and playing priest by making my own little Altar, using construction paper candles (I wasn’t allowed to play with matches), wearing my Dad’s T-shirt (it made a great vestment) and consecrating more potato chips and soda in some of my mother’s finest paper plates and Dixie cups, than you could think possible. As I grew a little older, and was able to read, I took a missalette from church and learned to say the priest’s prayers as well. As I continued to develop, priesthood remained in my heart, so it seemed logical for me to enter the seminary as I went off to college. It was during those years I began to question my vocation, and wondered if, and why, God would call me to the priesthood. After college I left the seminary and opted to explore other career options. Trying to understand God’s will in life is not as easy as it appeared to be for the disciples. For Peter, Andrew, James and John, the Call to discipleship was quite direct. “Come, follow me!” However, most people do not grasp God’s plan with such clarity. For most, it involves a time of discernment. Yet in the end, it is always about letting God lead us where God wants us to be, and never the other way around. During those years I taught at Gloucester Catholic, worked as a music minister, and took a job working income-audit control at Resorts International. I liked what I was doing, and enjoyed the freedom of living in my own apartment, with an added benefit of a nice social life; something still seemed to be missing. Furthermore, the idea of priesthood kept emerging from time to time.

My struggle in all of this was that I did not feel worthy to be called to the priesthood. Again, why would God call me? I thought priests had to be wise and holy, like my super-hero priest, and I knew that I had several flaws and human weaknesses. However, the thought of priesthood kept surfacing and simply would not go away. I remember speaking to Monsignor James Tracy, another priest that I had admired; to talk with him about my unresolved conflict. (I really liked what I was doing, but the thought of priesthood would not go away.) I knew that priests often spoke of receiving “A Call” from God, and I presumed it was supposed to be as clear as the disciples’ call….”Come, Follow Me.” I hadn’t heard any voices nor experienced any visions. Msgr. Tracy laughed and said, “Louie, did you ever think that the desire itself it the call?” And to my question, “Why me?” Msgr. Tracy asked me to reflect on a different question…”Why Not Me?” Then he said, “Why don’t you let God lead you, instead of you trying to lead God? Such was the journey that led me back to the seminary. Throughout those years I prayed diligently, “If you give me the peace I am searching for, I will follow you anywhere!” and I have prayed that prayer for more than thirty years.

The morning of my ordination I was so nervous that I couldn’t button my shirt closed. My friend Scott, who was serving as the Master of Ceremonies for the ordination, helped me to get vested. He told me he would return to get me when it was time to line up. As I gazed out the Rectory window watching everyone walk into the church, I thought to myself….”Really, Lord….Why Me?….Why Not Me?” Within a few minutes, I felt my friend tap me on the shoulder to line up, and he asked “What are you thinking?” Still looking out the window, I said, I am really wondering “Why is the Lord really calling me to do this?” As I turned around, I stood face to face with Bishop Guilfoyle, the man who was about to ordain me. I will never forget the look of shock on his face and he stated, quite firmly, “The reason you were called was so that you would serve….and don’t forget it!” And with those words, I took my place in line for the ordination ceremony. However, as the procession moved closer to the church, I remember stepping into the street and felt the most intensive wave of peace come over me. It was as if the Holy Spirit blew right through me, and I felt the most incredible sense of joy, peace, and certitude that I was doing His will. The desire was the call and I was being faithful in my response.

On my ordination day, at the beginning of the ceremony, a question was asked in the church “Will he who is called to be priest, please come forward, Louis Anthony Marucci?” “Present” was the response as I stood and the rite of ordination followed. I cannot tell you the number of times I have had to say Present over the years. Present to accepting a chronic illness, Present to accepting paraplegia, Present to accepting Administrative Assignments in the Diocese, Present to serving in various pastoral assignments, and now Present to serving as Pastor of St. Andrew the Apostle. Simply put, Present to remaining faithful despite the circumstances.

One of the greatest memories of my priesthood occurred on the day of ordination. Among the many wonderful things that happened on such a day, was the deep and dramatic sense that I experienced in the first blessing that I gave as a priest. Immediately after the ordination ceremony, the Bishop knelt in front of me to receive the blessing of his new priest. Immediately following, he escorted my parents before me. I can hardly describe the intense feelings that overwhelmed me as I, a young priest, and yet their son, still wet with oils, hovered above my parents, to invoke God on their behalf. Despite a lifetime of being served by these two wonderful people, I was able to give them back a most precious gift, the blessing of God himself. Honestly, there are not enough words to express the feelings I experienced at that moment. And there are not enough words of gratitude to have them with me today, twenty-seven years later, to invoke God upon them once again.

For the past twenty-seven years, I have lived my life trying to be faithful to the words of the Bishop on my ordination day. The reason I was called was so that I would serve. I have tried to remain faithful when things were going great, and I have tried to remain faithful when things seemed too unbelievable to be true.

This weekend the church celebrates Vocation Awareness Sunday. I do not believe for one minute that God has stopped calling young men to the priesthood. I do not believe that God does not want women to consider Religious Life as a viable life option. However, I am convinced that numerous men and women have stopped responding to God’s call in their lives to serve as Priests or Sisters. Perhaps you have felt that you truly want to make a difference in the world. Perhaps you feel the loving presence of God in your life and want to deepen the relationship? Perhaps people have indicated that you might be a good priest or Sister, and/or may have asked if you ever considered the priesthood or religious life? If you think that God may be calling you….call me….so we can discuss and discern God’s plan in your life. Remember….Did you ever stop to think that perhaps the desire IS the call!

Perhaps, just perhaps, God is tugging at you to be one of His servants to bring hope into our world? Christianity requires hard work. People will not hear the Gospel unless Christians show it….preach it….and most especially….live it. It is intriguing that two thousand years ago Jesus chose the unlikely. Therefore, there is no reason to think that He is about to change. Vocation Awareness Sunday is an opportunity to discern our own call to discipleship. It provides the opportunity to prayerfully discern a lifetime commitment for service. For those whose circumstances allow, have you ever considered the Priesthood, Religious Life, or Permanent Deaconate, as a viable life option? Remember, if helping others is part of your life; why not make it the rest of your life? As we celebrate Vocation Awareness Sunday this weekend, Priests, Deacons, and Sisters are afforded the opportunity to reflect on their own journey to priesthood, and their lifetime call to service. As I reflect on my own vocation, I am grateful for all the blessings that God has given to me in this life and throughout my priesthood. And once again, I say, Present…to the next twenty-five years, or until the day the Lord calls me to my eternal home. Once again I say Present, for the reason I was called is so that I would serve.

With a loving and grateful heart….Msgr. Marucci

Father Michael Romano

Father Michael Romano

Father Michael Romano is the Director of Vocations for the Diocese of Camden and serves as the Priest Secretary to Bishop Sullivan.
Father Michael Romano

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