Coming Home

“Be who you are and be that well”

Rejoice heartily…shout for joy!

These words from the prophet Zechariah resonated deeply within me when I received the call that I would be coming to serve at St. Francis de Sales!

What a reason to rejoice!  What a cause for joy!

…to be able to serve you, love you, and walk with you in this journey of life!

…to be able to come to a parish that loves Jesus, that is so intimately focused and engaged in relationship with our Eucharistic Lord!

It is awe-inspiring!  You are awe-inspiring!

Then it didn’t take too long before I realized…holy moly!  I’m going to become administrator of this parish!  And a plethora of thoughts came my way about how much I need to learn—so many questions were on my heart and mind!  Overwhelming!

The good news is that God provides in these moments!  The readings for this weekend are very providential, that while they begin with great joy, the gospel gets to the heart of the matter.  Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” 

Whenever we find ourselves overwhelmed, burdened by anything in life, where should we go, but to the LORD!  Jesus wants us to come to him with all of our struggles, our shortcomings to be like little children dependent on Him!  Because when we are dependent on Him, we can do all things!

Connected to this, ever since I found out I was coming to St. Francis, I thought it would be good to check the local news to see what new and exciting things were happening!  Providentially, as I was reading through the South Side News Leader, I came across an article about Manchester High School’s new head coach titled “New Manchester football head coach ready for ‘daunting’ challenge.”  It was a beautiful article about new coach Jay Brophy walking in the footsteps of legend Jim France.  He writes:

“You’re replacing a coach who won over 400 games. You’re replacing a guy who was there for 49 years, and the biggest thing is that he never had a losing season,” said Brophy about France, who retired from the head football coaching position after this past season. “I think that probably scared away half of the people who would have applied for it. I mean, where do you go from there? It’s a daunting task and a challenge, but I’m looking forward to it.”

This explains well my thoughts about entering into this assignment.  While Fr. Bline hasn’t been at the parish for 49 years, in the 13 years he has been here he has done so much for the people of God!  He has never had a losing season! He has helped so many people in so many ways, whether it is in his teaching about the saints, spiritual direction, helping to focus our lives on the Eucharist, and so on, he has been the ultimate gift to this parish.  Praise God!  Jay continues:

“I have just really loved what I’ve had out here. It just felt like I was home. I have felt really comfortable in what I’ve been doing,” he said. “Now, I can’t be Jim France. No one can. You get one of those guys once in a lifetime — a legend. So, I’m not going to be Jim France. I’m going to be who I am. But, at the same time, one of the nice things about this program is the culture, and I want to extend what Jim France has built…”

This beautifully put into words how I feel.  In a real way I feel like I am coming home.  Not only because I was born and raised in Akron and Canal Fulton, Ohio. Or that my sister, Alliree and family are across the street, and my parents, Michael and April and sister Emily and her family are in Wadsworth.  Or because my own grandparents, Bill and Gwendolyn Merzweiler began their early years of married life here.  Or because I know so many of you already from different moments of my life thus far.  While this is all a great blessing, I feel like it is home because, thanks to Fr. Bline, all of you have been praying for me since day one of the seminary.  Home is where prayer happens.  Family prays with and for each other.  You have done that for me.  For that I thank you!

And like Jay Brophy admits that he cannot be Jim France, I too admit that I cannot be Fr. Bline.  Like he says, no one can.  I am in debt to Fr. Bline for the rest of my life.  He is a legend.  He was my spiritual director for a couple years before the seminary.  He helped get me into the seminary.  He was my priestly mentor my first year of priesthood and he encouraged me to apply for this parish!  Without him, I wouldn’t be here!

But the one thing I can be certain of is this:  “I’m going to be who I am.”  This is at the heart of St. Francis de Sales, who invites us to “Be who you are and be that well.”  This is my goal.  To be who I am.  And that is my hope for you.  That together we can, each and every day, get to know ourselves better and better and see the beauty of who God made us to be.  And together, we can build on what Fr. Bline has built and make something truly beautiful together.

God’s peace and joy be with you,

Fr. Jeremy Merzweiler