For our homily this week, I’d like to post the excerpt bellow from Father Martello’s Farewell Mass held at St. Joseph Parish in Amherst this past Sunday, June 28th.
-Fr. Michael Denk
My first memory of Father Martello, while I would like to say it was in my home parish as he was at Holy Family in Parma, but he left in ’77, and I was born in ’79 -so I actually don’t remember him from my home parish. However, over the years he would come back and I would get to experience him and know him -but I really didn’t know him well; I knew of him and I knew of his legend. I didn’t really know him until I actually came here to St. Joseph.
The first time we really began to know each other was about a week before I started my assignment -you come and you meet the parish and you meet the pastor and the staff. When I walked into the office the first thing I saw was Father Martello’s picture, his portrait, on the office wall. As I walked in, the door opened and Father Martello came and he gave me a big bear hug and I knew I was home. I felt like, from that first moment of meeting him, that I was going to be truly welcome here and at home here. You have made this really a home for me, Father Martello. So I thank you for that! As parishioners, I know that he’s done that for many of you too. He has made this a home for all of you for the last 26 years. I think about that need that we all have to be touched, the need that we all have to feel love.
In the Gospel, we hear two experiences of this. One is a woman who touches Jesus and another is one who Jesus touches.
The woman who touches Jesus is just yearning, she reaches out for Him and she gets this notion that if I could just touch the cloak or His tassel, I could be healed. So amidst of this whole crowd swarming around Jesus and pressing upon Him, somehow or another she manages to get through and touch Him. At that moment she’s healed, and the power drains out of Jesus. He feels the power come out of Him through touch.
The other moment is when Jairus asks Jesus to come visit his daughter. He says to Jesus, “If you could just touch my daughter, she would be healed.” And Jesus responds, “Do not be afraid. Just have faith.” As a father, Jairus had this longing to have Jesus touch his daughter, to lay His hands on her so that she may be healed.We all have this sense of the power of touch and the healing that it could do.
I’ve seen this especially in the last six months. As Father Martello has been in and out of the hospital and rehab, he’s been so good to me and allowing me to care for him. At one point he said, “I’m so sorry you have to do this.” And I said then, and I say now, what a privilege. What a privilege it is to be able to care for a brother priest. In some small way, I’ve been able to care for him. Of course there are others helping much more than I, but what a privilege it is to be able to care someone you love.
I think about your hands, Father Martello, and all the Sacraments that you performed over the years. Just think for a moment about the countless children that he has baptized; the countless times that he’s laid hands on someone for confession; the countless times he’s anointed. There were times in the last six months that I’ve anointed him, that I’ve laid hands on him and blessed him. And there’s even times I’ve asked him to anoint me and to pray with and over me, to calm my anxieties. He’s been such a wonderful pastor to me and a wonderful pastor to all of us.
I think about this touch. God gave us the Sacraments, ultimately, so he could touch us. God wants us to know what His touch feels like. At some point throughout our lives, I think we all encounter a moment where we wish we could be physically touched by God; we wish we could be held by God; we wish God would sometimes come and give us a hug when we are going through a rough time; we wish God had skin so that He could actually touch us.
We find that in the Sacraments we do, each and every Sacrament involves touch.Think about a baptism. The priest actually takes the child into his hands and pours the water over the infant. “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Some of you as adults got to experience that with Father Martello through the wonderful work that he did with RCIA.
At the end of every confession, the priests lays hands on the penitents and says, “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” I think about the power of touch. At that moment, I know Father Martello would see, just as me, a person’s body relax and release as the Holy Spirit comes over them.
In the Sacrament of the Eucharist, our source and summit, the priest’s hands pick up the bread and wine, and in those very hands they transform into the body and blood of Christ. The married couples that he has blessed over the years. The priest’s hands are extended over them in blessing. And then I think about the final burial- the hands are there to touch the casket, and to comfort the family members.
Over the years, 25 of them here at St. Joe’s, Father Martello has baptized 945 people; he sat in the confessional for over 945 hours; he has given children 2,196 First Communions; he’s seen over 1,354 Confirmed; and he has married 270 couples -all just here at St. Joseph. He has even had a newly ordained priest with Father Joe Warner and laid hands over priests. Father Martello has celebrated over 9,126 masses here at St. Joe’s, and he’s probably buried many of your loved ones. Over all of these times, I think about God’s touch, God’s beautiful touch through Father Martello’s hands -which is why, I want to end with a poem called “The Beautiful Hands of the Priest.”
The Beautiful Hands of a Priest
We need them in life’s early morning,We need them again at its close;We feel their warm clasp of true friendship,We seek it while tasting life’s woes.
When we come to this world we are sinful,The greatest as well as the least.And the hands that make us pure as angelsAre the beautiful hands of a priest.
At the altar each day we behold them,And the hands of a king on his throneAre not equal to them in their greatnessTheir dignity stands alone.
For there in the stillness of morningEre the sun has emerged from the east,There God rests between the pure fingersOf the beautiful hands of a priest.
When we are tempted and wanderTo pathways of shame and sin‘Tis the hand of a priest that absolve us.Not once but again and again.
And when we are taking life’s partnerOther hands may prepare us a feastBut the hands that will bless and unite us,Are the beautiful hands of a priest.
God bless them and keep them all holy,For the Host which their fingers caress,What can a poor sinner do betterThan to ask Him who chose them to bless
When the death dews on our lids are falling,May our courage and strength be increasedBy seeing raised o’er us in blessingThe beautiful hands of a priest.