Last night, I found out that my friend, Joe Marotta, died. He was with his young family on vacation in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and drowned. I found out through a Facebook post, as the news slowly began to spread among colleagues and friends. I just stared at his photo on the Facebook page. I could hear his voice and his laugh and just sat in shock at this loss. Joe was thirty-nine years old. He and his wife, Katie have five young children.
I first met Joe several years ago in Richmond, Virginia. He and I were team members ministering at an RCIA institute sponsored by the Diocese of Richmond and the North American Forum on the Catechumenate. Joe had been involved in initiation ministry in his parish and his enthusiasm was infectious beyond words. I guess he kind of looked up to me as a mentor and RCIA "guru." It was so obvious to me that this man was an emerging second generation leader in initiation ministry in North America. At the time, I told him that one of my favorite television shows was "John and Kate Plus Eight," the reality show that followed a family that had a set of sextuplets and a set of twins. He gave me a smile, telling me that his wife's name was Katie, and that they loved the show as well, because they had a set of triplets and another child. There are people you meet in life (and don't we all wish there were more of them) who just exude a simple goodness. Joe was one of those people in my own life.
Joe and I stayed in touch since that RCIA institute. He would phone or email me with questions or for advice. About a year and a half ago, I was leading a parish mission at a parish in Lynchburg, Virginia. Joe was from another parish in Lynchburg and he sent some of his catechumens over to the mission sessions. He came to one of the sessions and we had a chance to go out for a drink and some conversation. Joe had entered the diaconate formation program for the diocese and was so excited about his future as a deacon. He told me also at that time that he and Katie were expecting their fifth child. Again, the encounter filled me with such hope. Joe just made you feel like this whole Catholic journey is so worth it every step of the way.
While I was in Europe last month, Joe sent me a message, saying that he was hoping that somehow he would be able to go on the pilgrimage I hope to lead in 2014, visiting significant spaces for baptism in northern Italy. Well, Joe, your pilgrimage has taken you home now. When showing people photos of the ceilings of some of the great baptisteries, like this one in Parma,
I tell them that we live in the hope that one day, our own image will be added to those of the saints painted on these beautiful ceilings. When one emerges from the font, signalling the beginning of the Christian journey, and looks up, what one sees is the glory of heaven, with Christ and his mother, the apostles, and the saints, all, in a sense, beckoning the new Christian to the heavenly kingdom. Joe, you have made that journey, and now yours is an image that is painted on the ceiling as the angels and saints welcome you to paradise.
Friends, please pray for the gift of eternal rest for Deacon Joe Marotta. He was ordained a deacon on October 12, 2012. And please join me in praying for his wife, Katie, his parents Tony and Marge, his infant son William, daughter Caroline, and sons Jack, Michael, and Christopher.
Joe, may you be welcomed by the choir of angels.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.