About 75 cars gathered on Oct. 11 in the parking lot of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Tallmadge for one of the parish's regular (weather permitting) 11 a.m. outdoor Masses. Skies were slightly overcast and the 60-degree temperature was fall-like, as were the colorful leaves. Some parishioners sat in lawn chairs while other stayed in their cars and prepared to listen to Mass on the radio.
Parishioners were pleasantly surprised when the celebrant processed outside: It was Bishop Edward Malesic.
“This is the surprise I told you about,” Father Mike Matusz, pastor, said to parishioners as he introduced the bishop, who traveled from Cleveland to celebrate Mass. “I am so pleased we can have the bishop here with us today,” he added.
“And I am so happy to be here,” the bishop said. “It’s the first time since my installation that I can celebrate Sunday Mass at a parish.” He has celebrated Mass at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, but the coronavirus pandemic precludes him from having large gatherings to meet the faithful, which he said is disappointing. The bishop said he is eager to get acquainted with his new diocese and flock, but is mindful of the pandemic-imposed precautions.
“This (outdoor liturgy) reminds me of my campus ministry days (in the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania),” he said, telling the group that when it was too hot to celebrate Mass in the college chapel, they would move it outside. “Beware of the squirrels. Sometimes they take what you don’t want them to,” he quipped.
Bishop Malesic recalled another time when celebrating an outdoor Mass that he spotted a cat in a tree near where a blind man and his seeing-eye dog were sitting. The cat and dog spotted each other, but the man was unaware of the situation.
“I kept praying that they wouldn’t do it, but the dog took off after the cat and dragged the poor man with him,” the bishop said.
In the homily, Bishop Malesic reflected on the Gospel, which compared the kingdom of heaven to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. A group of servants summoned invited guests to the feast, but they did not come. The king sent a second group of servants. That time some of the invitees ignored the invitation while other abused and killed the servants. The enraged king destroyed those who harmed his servants. Then he sent other servants to gather anyone they could find and invite them to the wedding feast.
The hall was full, but one guest was not properly attired, so the king ordered him cast out. The point of the parable is that many are called or invited, but few are chosen.
The bishop said in our society, we see signs that say no shirt, no shoes, no service. And today, with the pandemic, signs remind people to wear a face mask. He shared a story about once when he was on vacation. The weather was hot and he was wearing shorts. He wanted to visit a church to pray before the Blessed Sacrament, but a sign indicated no shorts were permitted, so he left feeling dejected because he wasn’t properly attired.
“The Lord invites us to a banquet – the Mass – that is a precursor of heaven,” he said, explaining that we need to do more than just simply show up. He compared our “wedding garment” to our attitudes. “We need to have the right attitudes that are sewn together in the hope that God will provide for us,” he said. Those attitudes include humbly repenting our sins and walking with God. “Our ‘garment’ is sewn with hope and pieced together with love,” Bishop Malesic said. If we don’t wear this “clothing,” our souls won’t be properly dressed for the Lord, he explained.
St. Paul wrote to the Colossians that they should clothe themselves with kindness, humility, patience and love. “If we wear this inner ‘clothing,’ we will find peace.”
The bishop said some people believe in the structure of the Church, but lack love. Those who are filled with joy will be ready for the Lord’s kingdom, he added.
“This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad. Let us be clothed with our wedding garment. If something needs to be fixed, fix it. If it needs to be cleaned, clean it. It’s better to do it here. Confession is a great ‘dry cleaner,’” the bishop said.
“Be sure you’re properly ‘dressed’ for the Lord: shirt, shoes, masks; clothed in faith and most importantly, in love,” he added.
After Mass, Bishop Malesic said one of the things he’s supposed to do as a bishop is draw people together. “But I really can’t do that safely in a pandemic. It’s hard not to be able to do what comes naturally to us,” he said, mentioning hugging people, shaking hands and having physical contact with friends and family.
“Let’s pray for an end to the pandemic,” he said, but noted that we will be stronger a result of it. “I believe there will be a blessing from this,” he added. “And when we finally can reopen fully, we should have a great victory celebration.”
The bishop and Father Matusz greeted parishioners as the cars lined up to leave the parking lot. Several called out greetings and good wishes to the bishop, who waved back.