From the paper in his hometown, Lynchburg, Virginia:
Hundreds of people, including dozens of clergy members, gathered at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Lynchburg on Monday to remember the life of one of their deacons.
Joseph Marotta, 39, drowned June 5 while on vacation at the Outer Banks with his family. He was ordained a permanent deacon at the church last fall and also was employed at Randolph College as a controller.
Several deacons who spoke at Marotta’s funeral Mass expressed astonishment he was taken so young in his life and ministry.
“I was and remain shocked, stunned and in disbelief … We’re not supposed to be here today bidding farewell to Deacon Joe,” fellow deacon and friend Frank Leaming said.
But they also reaffirmed their faith in a reading chosen for the Mass, taken from the Gospel of John, in which Jesus tells the disciples he is going to prepare places in his Father’s house for the devout.
“I am certain God will look favorably on Joe and his life,” Leaming said.
“We can see all around us the testimony to a life spent in service,” he said to the packed church, where members of the congregation spilled into adjoining rooms and halls.
The congregation listened to a reading about the first Catholic deacons, a ministry clergy said Marotta served with enthusiasm and humility.
“We still cannot grapple with this loss. We can’t understand it … We looked forward to years and years of Joe and your family being part of the deaconate,” Deacon Bob Ewan, who studied with Marotta, told his wife and five children.
“All of us enjoyed listening when he had something to say in class,” Ewan said.
Though much of the musical liturgy focused on salvation, the congregation sang a hymn called “The Servant Song” after hearing of Marotta’s dedication to service.
“We are pilgrims on a journey, we are trav’lers on the road; we are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load,” they sang as the Eucharist was presented, their voices echoing off the walls of Holy Cross.
During the homily, Leaming read from one of Marotta’s sermons. He chose a passage from Marotta’s homily the Sunday after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown,Conn., in which 26 people were killed.
The address was one of faith and hope. Leaming recited Marotta’s words:
“We rejoice today because we have a God who is with us through it all, who will wipe away every tear.”
photo: Parker Michels-Boyce/The News & Advance
UPDATE: Joe’s classmate, Deacon James Conklin, sent me the following:
Beautiful. Packed. Heartbreaking. Surreal.
Before Mass began, the casket was open. Joe was vested in his ordination dalmatic & stole. A few notes rested on his chest, one a loose leaf page with handwritten “Daddy” in pencil.
Of our class of 39 deacons, 31 were able to make it. There were at least 15 more from the previous, much older class. A Half dozen concelebrating priests attended also.
As we awaited the procession, we stood aside in a hallway through which the family would enter the narthex commons. Katie and the kids and extended family passed through this gauntlet of 50 deacons and priests. Perhaps 800 people almost immediately became silent out of respect. Astonishing.
We processed in behind Christopher, Joe and Katie’s eldest son, who served the altar as Cross Bearer.
Frank Leaming, Deacon of the Word, delivered a beautiful, personal Homily on the mystery of the human condition in the fallen world and the promise of the Resurrection. Frank nailed the right notes, speaking directly to Katie and the children, calling each by name.
Dick Surrusco served as Deacon of the Eucharist. As he deftly completed the many tasks of set up and service for such a huge Mass, it was clear to me that he was in some sort of physical pain. I asked him about it later. He grimaced and said only, “We’re all in pain.”
Our rites are beautiful and substantial without embellishment. The Mass was simple and personal. Msgr. Ken Rush did a great job explaining what we were doing to those unfamiliar with our Mass.
Graveside, about 150 people poured out of a line of cars blocks long. As the short Final Commendation began, rain started to fall. Umbrellas went up, everyone stayed.
Minutes later it was done.
As Katie and the children piled into the van to begin their utterly changed lives, the rain began to fall in earnest and the wind picked up.
There was nothing timely or reasonable, predictable or just in this death. It is a raw tragedy. At this moment, the only thing I can glean from burying such a good man under such heartbreaking circumstances is that faith which can survive such a blow is perhaps a faith worth a great deal.