By Fr. Vinny Marchionni, SJ
“Help me to fall in love with your people, God.”
I asked for this grace over and over again this summer. This sense of falling in love with the People of God certainly intensified during my ordination and first mass festivities. But I feared it to be a mere adrenaline rush whereby once all the novelty wore off, I’d be going through the motions.
Not so this summer at Our Lady of Mount Carmel + Saint Benedicta + Saint Mary of the Assumption. My pastoral summer in Staten Island helped me experience God saying, “Absolutely,” to my prayer request over and over again. Each day brought new experiences with the People that pushed me to love without trying to actually do anything spectacular. No deadlines. No agendas. Just accompaniment as a conduit of God’s care. Sometimes it was something as simple as finding something fresh on which to preach for the regular daily Mass. Sometimes it was something as dramatic as rushing to the hospital to anoint a dying man and pray with his family. Sometimes it was sitting in the confessional for an hour or two, hearing the People entrust to me matters that could elicit a shared laugh, make me go numb in horror, and everything in between. And sometimes it was just getting to know the neighborhood deli owners from Mexico, the ice cream man from Egypt, and the wide array of guys at the gym – all of whom were so happy to know a priest who knew them.
But every time it was the People of God calling me to accompany them ever closer. That’s it. Their desires for God, peace, and consolation refocused my own desires for those gifts, and my love for them allowed me to love God more deeply throughout my pastoral summer. The People thus invited me into their relationship with God, and in so doing freed me of any other notions of God than what they wanted and needed. This freedom has been the true grace of my young priesthood and I cherish it as a gift from Staten Island.