This evening I preach from the altar. It was at this place that Fr. Bline brought me to pray. He invited me to pray the Eucharistic prayer and it was at that moment that I felt a deep sense of peace that I needed to go to the seminary. After many years of distress, in which I thank my family for journeying with me during that time, I finally knew what I needed to do. Now, I did not know that that “yes” would lead me back to this place some 12 years later! I never would have imagined it in a million years! But it happened. And here we are. We are at an installation of a pastor at St. Francis de Sales on the feast day of St. Francis de Sales. God is a providential God indeed. But I cannot talk about a pastor installation without talking about the pastors that have gone before us.
As soon as I stepped on campus, I heard many stories about the pastors before us. When it comes to Fr. Diederich, I have heard from many how he was not afraid to get his hands dirty, as he literally dug ditches here in the early days of the parish. He literally helped to build up the parish grounds to what it is today. I hear stories of Fr. Schleicher and his love for golf, cigars, cards, dogs, sports. When it comes to Fr. Bline, who is wearing the same vestment he wore at his own pastor installation on the feast day of the baptism of the Lord in 2010, I believe he lives up to our patron saint in a wonderful way. The countless hours he met with people, directed them and guided them. As St. Francis is the patron of spiritual directors, it makes full sense that Fr. Bline is doing what he is doing at the seminary. We have to be grateful and thankful for these pastors who have done well to foster so many vocations within the church. I find that many of the loves of these pastors resonate within my heart as well. While I love to build things, to get my hands dirty, to play golf, to have a dog, journeying with people and getting to know them and help them is the greatest passion I have.
I hope to echo their loves in the way I love in the days ahead.
It is interesting to note that I chose the music for this evening in light of each pastor’s favorite songs. Fr. Diederich loved “The Prayer of St. Francis”; Fr. Schleicher loved “Let There be Peace on Earth”; Fr. Bline loves “All in All”; St. Francis de Sales loved “The Memorare”. It’s also interesting to note that all the pastors here have had a combination of Irish and German in their blood. I, too, am Irish and German. I think Swaney and Merzweiler qualify, ha ha!
Lastly, when it comes to pastors, I wanted to share that I did a little research to see how old they were when they became pastors. Turns out that Fr. Diederich was 44 years old. Fr. Schleicher was 44 years old. Fr. Bline was 47 years old. I am merely 37 years old! This brings me to the wisdom of St. Francis de Sales. We know he was a great writer. I want to share from a letter he wrote that speaks to my heart and hopefully to your hearts as well. In a letter written to a person beset by many tasks, he writes this:
“Do not lose any occasion, however small it may be, for exercising gentleness of heart toward everyone, have patience with everyone but chiefly with yourself. I mean to say, do not trouble yourself about your imperfections and always have the courage to lift yourself out of them. I am well content that you begin again every day: there is no better way to perfect the spiritual life than always to begin again…”
Gentleness and Patience, that is what I seek from all of you. That is what I desire to offer you in the name of St. Francis de Sales. Remember, I should have a good decade till I am 47 years old or even 44 years old before you get impatient with me, ha ha!
In the gospel today, Jesus says to His disciples: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.” When I met with the Bishop, we had talked for a good 55 minutes, before he asked me what I wanted to do. I said: “whatever you want.” And he said: “I want you to be here.” I thank the Bishop for his appointment to this place. It brings great peace to say yes to what we are called to do in life.
In light of this, I want to take a moment and thank my two pastors, who I was appointed with my first two assignments. I spent 4 years with Fr. Fred, my first pastor, at St. Gabriel Parish in Concord, where Fr. Stavarz is now. In your first assignment, you try to do a lot, everything in fact. And there were two words that he spoke to me, perhaps a thousand times: “Go easy. Go easy.” Very wise words. I still hear them in my mind and heart at times.
In my second assignment, I was assigned with Fr. Bob Stec at St. Ambrose in Brunswick. While I was there only one year, I learned a lot, especially how to navigate through a pandemic. Thank you for that.
Lastly, I was never assigned with my uncle, Fr. David Merzweiler. But in essence, we are assigned to the same family. He Baptized me, gave me First Communion, attended my Confirmation, vested me at my Ordination and is now at my installation as pastor. I got to see how this works as he was installed at his 3rd parish just a couple years ago with Bishop Murray. It is funny to note that he too is assigned to the lakes, Lake Milton that is.
I want to close by sharing some words from a priest who was not a pastor here, but began his priesthood here and finished it here. Fr. Byrider said: “Christ never promised us a paradise here on earth. This is a valley of tears in which we are journeying toward our real home.” He said that “being a priest is a wonderful life, the greatest on earth. We are trying to get people to heaven.” That’s the goal in all of this: to get you to heaven!
So bishop, I thank you for coming here and helping me get rid of the “A” word – Administrator. With your help, I am privileged to become the pastor here. Yesterday, we heard from St. Paul that there are many parts to the Body of Christ. That some have gifts of healing, some have gifts of prophecy, some even have gifts of administration. I have to confess, administration may not be my gift. But there are many here, my staff, my parish council, my finance council, who do a great job at that, thanks be to God! This was St. Francis de Sales’ desire: That the people of God knew their calling in life and not be afraid to live their calling devoutly in life – that every person in the church has a calling to serve the church some how and some way.
I pray that God can give me the grace tonight and always to help you all figure out what God wants and desires in your life so that you can be devout and be who you were meant to be and be that well. Amen!
Yours in Christ,
Father Jeremy Merzweiler, Pastor