By Lois Rogers|Correspondent
Gaudete Sunday, Dec. 16, found the faithful of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel, attending Mass with Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., accompanied by the Diocese’s 19 seminarians.
Photo Gallery from Bishop's Mass with seminarians
The annual Mass and Christmas dinner Bishop O’Connell hosts for seminarians was held at St. Benedict’s, which he pronounced doubly joyous, as it offered the faithful the opportunity to share the liturgy with future priests of the Diocese.
This year’s gathering began with Bishop O’Connell celebrating the parish’s 5 p.m. Vigil Mass. Concelebrating with the Bishop were Msgr. Thomas N. Gervasio, diocesan vicar general and moderator of the curia; Msgr. Thomas J. Mullelly, diocesan vicar for clergy and consecrated life and director of seminarians; Father Garry Koch, pastor of St. Benedict, and Father Daniel F. Swift, pastor of St. Mary of the Lakes, Medford, who are assistant directors of vocations; Father Roy Ballacillo, parochial vicar of St. Mary of the Lakes, and Father John Michael Patilla, parochial vicar of St. Benedict.
Also in attendance was Father Michael Wallack, episcopal secretary to Bishop O’Connell and diocesan director of vocations.
Preparing For Jesus’ Coming
The Bishop focused his homily on the day’s Readings preparing the way for the Messiah.
“While it is still Advent, the time when we commemorate the waiting for, the hope in, the expectation of the Messiah,” the Bishop said, "we are surrounded by all the sights and sounds of Christmas.”
Urging his listeners to keep focused on the sense of expectation of the Incarnation, he drew from Isaiah.The great prophet lived 800 years before Christ. Even still, the Bishop said, the Jewish people continued to take Isaiah’s words to heart as they waited with “incredible eagerness” for the Messiah to come.
The Bishop drew from the day’s Gospel, which “finally identifies the ‘voice in the desert’” Isaiah pointed to as John the Baptist, as the sign that “maybe, just maybe the event they had longed for, the Messiah they waited for over the centuries was finally here.”
The Bishop encouraged everyone to celebrate the threefold gifts of this season. “In Advent, we celebrate Christ’s coming in history: he has already come! We should live that belief. We celebrate Christ’s coming in mystery: he is still present all around ... We should live with that belief. We celebrate and anticipate Christ’s coming in majesty at the end of time ... We should live with that belief and continue to wait.”
Following the Bishop’s homily, parishioners were visibly uplifted as seminarian Rjoy Ballacillo, who is in his second year of theology studies in St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Wynnewood, Pa., received the Rite of Candidacy to the priesthood.
He stood in the first center pew before the Bishop, answering “present” in assent when Msgr. Mullelly, called his name. In the brief ceremony that followed, the Bishop welcomed him into the next step of his formation. The seminarian smiled warmly as the assembly of several hundred responded enthusiastically to Bishop O’Connell’s call for a round of applause at the conclusion of the rite.
As the Mass drew to a close, the Bishop shared some information on the backgrounds of the 19 seminarians, offering that among them are four transitional deacons, two have entered the seminary out of high school, three went to Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft, and others “products of good Catholic educations,” as well.
His parting words included appeals to pray for vocations in all facets of life and most especially to the priesthood. He encouraged young men who attended the Mass to consider “what the next step” in their lives will be. “Give [the priesthood] some thought,” he said. “I can offer you a good, white-collar job” with stable work and “benefits that are out of this world.”
The mood was upbeat among parishioners as they filed out into the wide expanse of the gathering area to greet the Bishop, the clergy and the seminarians after the Mass. “Having them here made this so special” said Carol Catalona. Their presence, she said, made Gaudate Sunday “more joyful than I can ever remember.”
Kevin Hrycenko, who attends Mount St. Mary Seminary, Emmitsburg, Md., called it one of the most important gatherings of the year. “It’s wonderful for us all to get together like this. It adds to us getting to know each other. We go to different schools and we don’t get to see each other very often. It’s great to see everyone here tonight.”
Brennan McCoy, who attends St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and is a member of Our Lady of Sorrows – St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton, said it’s good to have the opportunity to be with the other men studying for the priesthood.
Reflecting on the significance of the evening, Msgr. Mullelly called it very important to bring the men together. “Currently, they are pursuing studies for the priesthood in four seminaries. It is good to bring them together as often as possible.” Such meetings, he said, help the men develop the bonds so necessary after ordination.