By Lois Rogers | Correspondent
Faithful filled row after row of pews the morning of March 3, settling in for a peaceful Rosary, reflection and remembrance before the sounds of pipes and drums filled Belmar’s St. Rose of Lima Church ahead of Mass celebrated by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.
“Top of the morning,” Bishop O’Connell said in his opening remarks for the 33rd Investiture Mass, held a day before the annual Belmar-Lake Como St. Patrick’s Day Parade, proclaiming it “a great day as Bishop to celebrate in advance of St. Patrick’s Day.”
Photo Gallery: 2018 St. Patrick's Day Investiture Mass
The Mass invested Dan Reilly of St. Denis Parish, Manasquan, as grand marshal and Patricia Jenkins of St. Rose Parish as deputy grand marshal for this year’s parade.
The church was filled with people, including former grand marshals and deputy grand marshals, relatives and friends, officials and the public at large.
St. Rose parishioner Jane Walsh, whose memories of the event stretch back the entire 33 years, shared with pride how the Belmar-Lake Como event has become the largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the state.
“People come from all over to be here now. We’ve loved it from the beginning,” Walsh said, explaining how at the start, “you just joined in. The first year, there were more fire engines than there were marchers.”
Mass began as the stirring sounds of the Pipes and Drums from the Jersey Shore and Old Bridge signaled the opening procession, and members of the parade planning committee, the Knights of Columbus and Irish dancers preceded Bishop O’Connell and concelebrating priests, which included Msgr. Edward Arnister, St. Rose Parish pastor, and Msgr. Casimir Ladzinski, who served as parish pastor for five years.
In his homily, Bishop O’Connell recognized the scope of the parade and offered congratulations and “slainte” (good health) to Reilly and Jenkins, “two great Irish folk who will serve as grand marshal and deputy grand marshal of the big parade. A thousand welcomes to all!”
Turning to the day’s Reading, the Bishop reflected on the First Reading from the Book of Micah, in which he noted how the prophet “urges us to follow God as a shepherd who leads us in life’s right paths as we honor all the covenants and promises God has made with us and we with God.”
The prophet, he said, reminds us that God “removes guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance … does not persist in anger forever” but delights in clemency.
“What a beautiful and consoling message for all of us who in this holy season of Lent are mindful of our sins and doing works of penance,” Bishop O’Connell said.
These words, he said, become even clearer in the day’s Gospel from St. Luke as Jesus relates the story of the Prodigal Son. “God, of course, is the father of two sons who represent us and two approaches we take to his great love.”
“The younger son turned from the father, squandering all his gifts, but when he realized the error of his ways, he returned home, repented of his misdeeds and was forgiven, while the older son grew resentful. But loving both his sons, the father invites him to reconsider.”
The takeaway, the Bishop said, is “whether we return sooner or later, God’s arms are always open.”
With a gentle nudge, he brought the parable around to the celebration at hand, drawing knowing glances and appreciative laughter from those in church.
“There’s an old joke that accuses the Irish of forgiving and forgetting everything … ‘but the grudge.’ Whether you’re Irish or not, today God reminds us all to ask him to forgive ‘us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’ and just one more thing: to forget ‘the grudge!’”
Prior to the final blessing, Bishop O’Connell led a ceremony in which he invested Reilly and Jenkins. The two were adorned with sashes of honor.
The Mass also honored parade committee members, grand marshals and deputy grand marshals who died during the year: Charles and Kathleen Donnelly, Jackie Cavanagh, Janet McGrath and Jack Rea. Also featured: “Danny Boy” by Bobby Byrne, an acclaimed Irish-American musician who is known around the Jersey Shore, the singing of the Irish national anthem and lunch.