By Steve Neill, Of The Catholic Virginian
People sometimes worry that while they have Christian faith, they feel they don’t find significant signs of God’s presence in their daily life.
But it is the contention of Father Ronald Nuzzi that such moments are there but are missed because many don’t recognize God’s grace which is right in front of them.
“We get busy, we take things for granted,” said Father Nuzzi, Senior Director of the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program.
“We get so caught up in our daily existence that we sometimes fail to see the influence of God in our midst,” he continued.
“God is always present, but sometimes we’re not present to those beautiful moments in our life.”
Father Nuzzi spoke to a large crowd at St. Mary Catholic Church in Richmond Feb. 24 as part of the Msgr. Charles Kelly Faith Formation Forum.
Ordained a priest of the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio in 1984, he shared stories of growing up in an Italian-American family in Niles, Ohio. He also had stories of his current life with his neighbors on a cul-de-sac in a residential neighborhood in South Bend, Ind.
In a reference to his Italian heritage, Father Nuzzi said the family name of Nuzzi (pronounced like Fuzzy) is what he called “Anglicized.” In Italian the name would be pronounced “Newt-zee.”
Father Nuzzi acknowledged some might wonder why he, as a celibate priest, speaks often about family life and how parents can pass on their Catholic faith to their children. But he has a ready answer.
“Priests get to be part of a lot of people’s lives at various times in their life, both good and bad,” he explained.
He cited the example of Pope Francis who he called “a great example, especially for young people.”
“Who stops to pose for a selfie with a teenager?” Father Nuzzi asked rhetorically.
Behind him was a large photo of a smiling Pope Francis doing just that on a projection screen.
The priest evoked laughter when he said Pope Francis mentioned in one homily at morning Mass: “If you’re going to serve the Lord today, it’s really important that you don’t suck lemons.”
“Pope Francis has a disposition of a deep-seated joy that shows on his face,” Father Nuzzi asserted.
One can find God’s presence in all kinds of activities, Father Nuzzi maintains. He cited learning, drama, travel, sports and athletics among activities that fall under the domain of God and in which are examples of God’s grace.
“All learning, all growth, all life is somehow caught up in this mystery of the life of the resurrected Christ,” he said.
Father Nuzzi used stories from his neighborhood in South Bend to illustrate moments of God’s grace.
He lives on a cul-de-sac with 14 houses. The vast majority of the residents are Catholic families with children. There is also a retired couple, a young single man and himself. All the neighbors know that he is a priest.
Residents have reached out to the young man by inviting him to neighborhood gatherings, but he never attends and is somewhat of a mystery to them because he remains aloof.
Father Nuzzi told stories of his neighbors which shows their humanity and demonstrates how small personality traits and gestures can manifest God’s grace.
One story was about his neighbor Dan who had recently bought a large family van and wanted others to know about it. He and his wife, Laurie, have two sons.
“Dan’s showing it off to all the men in the neighborhood and bragging about the great deal he got,” Father Nuzzi said.
With others looking on, Dan then asked Father Nuzzi to bless the new vehicle. He obliged and prayed asking God “to keep Dan and Laurie and their boys safe.”
This blessing of Dan’s family vehicle was a simple gesture and an unplanned event. But it still had meaning, Father Nuzzi claimed.
“The love of God shines through in this simple expression of faith,” he explained.
Another neighborhood story was about Jennifer, a young girl who was sitting on her front steps crying and hyperventilating when Father Nuzzi saw her.
“Jennifer, why are you crying?” Father Nuzzi asked.
Between sobs, she told him that her dog, Rascal, had died.
Father Nuzzi, in an effort to calm her, used words which had the opposite effect.
“I said ‘Well, maybe Mom and Daddy will buy you a new dog.’
“I don’t want a new dog, I loved Rascal,” Jennifer replied as she continued to sob.
Hearing her daughter’s sobs, Jennifer’s mother came to the rescue when she suggested that “Father Nuzzi might say a prayer when the family buries Rascal in the back yard.”
“Would you?” Jennifer asked the priest with a hopeful look. Father Nuzzi, of course, agreed.
“We thank you, Lord, for all the good times Rascal has given us all these years,” Father Nuzzi prayed at the burial site. “We’re grateful, Lord.”
A sense of peace continued when the family gathered for a meal. Family members held hands while Jennifer’s mother offered a prayer for her daughter.
“I just loved the way Mom brought out the grace of the situation,” Father Nuzzi said. “We can mourn the loss of pets.”
The priest recalled a moment when he was the recipient of God’s grace through his neighbors. It occurred in early April 2005 after Pope John Paul II died.
Father Nuzzi was watching the funeral at the Vatican on TV. He was alone when the doorbell rang.
Opening the door he saw two teenagers from the block. They carried food and a bottle of wine.
“Father, Mom and Dad sent us over because they thought you might be sad because the Pope died,” they said.
Soon after another neighbor brought fried chicken. Then others came bringing more food.
“I live alone and all this food will go to waste,” Father Nuzzi told his neighbors who shared their condolences.
Not wanting their acts of kindness to go to waste, he quickly invited neighbors to an impromptu gathering in which all could partake of the food while sharing fellowship. The event had a simple yet profound effect on him.
“This was just one of the ordinary events of life, but with extraordinary insight and extraordinary grace,” Father Nuzzi said.
“What inspires this kind of thinking?
“We are caught up in the mystery of God’s love. We call it the Incarnation.
“The Incarnation is Jesus in the flesh. God is present in the flesh.
“These are everyday events of life.
“It is having an eye to see and an ear to hear what grace is unfolding at any given moment,” Father Nuzzi said.
Later in response to questions from the audience, the priest said he is excited about what he called a renaissance of the faith among young people of college age.
He had recently been on the campus of the University of Nebraska—Lincoln where Catholic Campus Ministry students get involved in community outreach at the secular university.
He was also asked how parents could best keep their teenaged children engaged in the Catholic Church. He responded that most teens share a hunger to be welcomed and asked to be a part of things.
But parents must not overlook what he hoped is obvious in a Christian response.
“Do the best you can and put it in God’s hands,” Father Nuzzi said.