Last week, I spoke of my gratitude to, and admiration for, our priests. I also invited all of us to pray for our priests by invoking the mercy of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This week, I would like to make that appeal personal by expressing my gratitude to God for two particular priests: Father James Ruggieri and Father Joseph Brice.
Early on, after my arrival in Rhode Island, I noticed that priests often referred to a “Father James,” whom they admired. One priest went so far as to describe Father James as a combination of Mother Theresa, St. John Vianney and Padre Pio. I was intrigued by this description as it was hard to imagine that particular combination! I made a point of asking to meet with Father James. In that first conversation, I was curious to see the remarkable person that I imagined when thinking of three such wonderful saints. As I spoke with Father James, he clearly and decisively let me know that he is no more than a priest of Jesus Christ grateful for his people and his ministry. Of course, that clear lack of ego only reinforced my conviction that this was a man who could give me good guidance in my new ministry. When I followed up with a meeting with Father Brice, I was impressed by a young priest with joyful zeal for service to God’s people.
Since that day back in February, I have had several opportunities to visit the parishes of St. Patrick and St. Michael, where these priests serve. I have seen their people at prayer, enjoyed their hospitality, toured the wonderful St. Patrick Academy and spent an evening with the “SPRED” program, which ministers to those with developmental disabilities. I witnessed moving interactions between these priests and their people, and I have learned to appreciate the added presence and goodness of the resident chaplain, Father Jacques Chavannes. These remarkable communities are alight with the joy of the Gospel and living in solidarity and compassion, one with another. The celebrations of Holy Mass there have been deeply meaningful to me – it has been so clear to me that the Spirit of God is at work in these parishes and communities. I have also seen how the ministry of these priests has inspired others to take up projects and ministries in the parishes and beyond.
I do not have the words to fully express my gratitude to God for the work of these good priests. I find myself inspired by their self-gift and have challenged myself to do more. Their communities have responded to them with such generosity and goodness – such that I cannot help but remember the words of the Lord: “you are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world!” Please God that he may give us more such priests and more such communities alive with the Spirit.
In the Gospels, it is moving to note how intently the Lord Jesus focused on persons before all else. He saw those who were unnoticed or overlooked. He saw into hearts and brought healing, reconciliation, and renewal. That same mystery and miracle of Divine Love is alive and well in our own time and place. May it fill our hearts to overflowing!