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‘My greatest inheritance’

June 3, 2020

Editor’s note: This is an installment of an ongoing series featuring how Catholics of the Diocese of Ogdensburg are living out their faith. To suggest an individual to be featured in this series, please call the North Country Catholic at 315-393-2920 or email dfargo@rcdony.org.

By Darcy Fargo

MASSENA – While she was raised in the faith, Massena resident Sylvie Marion said she was just “going through the motions” until a series of experiences in 2015 changed her relationship with the Lord and her faith – relationships that have changed her life.

“I’m a cradle Catholic,” Marion said. “I went to Catholic School through eighth grade at Sacred Heart. I received my sacraments. I did my duty going to Mass. But I was never engaged. I went because I had a sense of duty, and because it had become routine and habit.”

Then, in 2015, St. Mary’s Church in Massena offered an eight-week course, “Unlocking the Mystery of the Bible.”
“As a robotic churchgoer, I had never really listened to the stories from the readings and the Gospels,” Marion said. “I learned a lot about my faith. The Old Testament and the Jewish roots had never meant anything to me. I guess what struck me most was that how the Israelites were God’s chosen people, but a lot of what they did – let’s just say it wasn’t nice things. There was a lot of violence, cruelty, immoral acts. But God always forgave them. It was like a repeating journey of straying and coming back, but they were forgiven every time. I thought, ‘If God can for give them for all the atrocious things they’ve done, surely I can be forgiven, too.’”

Shortly after completing the series, Father Mark R. Reilly, pastor of St. Peter’s Parish, gave a Sunday homily encouraging the faithful to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation.

“I hadn’t been to confession in 28 years at that point,” Marion said. “When I went, it wasn’t like I remembered confession – just spewing off things that are meaningless. It was a good experience. I felt really forgiven.”

That experience led Marion to attend a weekend retreat with other women.

“On Sunday, as the retreat was closing, we were sitting in the living room area, and we were asked to sit in silence, close our eyes and ask the Lord to come into our lives,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ But I did it. I closed my eyes and invited Jesus into my life. It was a cloudy day, and I remember that at that moment, the clouds broke, and the sun came out. I felt like the sun was shining just on me, and I felt this warmth I’ve never felt before. I felt Jesus coming into my life. I knew Jesus loved me, despite my brokenness. I knew that my life, from that moment on, would never be the same. Although I was scared, I knew things would change for me. And they have. Things have changed in wonderful ways.”

The first change: Marion became engaged in the Mass.

“Going to Mass had a different significance,” she said. “I started listening to the readings. I started to participate. I never used to sing, and I started singing. I didn’t care that I’m tone deaf. I started noticing who was attending. I made friends. I started looking forward to going to Mass and to the experience of Mass. It wasn’t just routine or habit anymore. It was something I enjoyed and needed. I started volunteering for the parish. I became the Lighthouse Catholic Media kiosk coordinator for our two churches. It meant a lot to me, even though it was a minor job. That following spring, I went on a pilgrimage to Italy with Bishop LaValley and then Father Doug Lucia, now Bishop Lucia.”

That pilgrimage further changed Marion’s faith life.

“I had had that encounter a year before, but I was still hovering around not knowing what to do or where I fit in,” she said. “When I went on that 14-day pilgrimage to Italy, it was the first time in my life I went to daily Mass. It was the first time in my life I said a rosary. I didn’t even own a rosary. We’d get on the bus, say a prayer and say the rosary on the way to the next destination. Both daily Mass and the rosary have become routine in my life. I say the rosary daily and, up until this pandemic, I attended daily Mass.”

The pilgrimage also helped Marion develop a community of faithful friends.

“I made lifelong friends on that trip,” she said. “A few of us were the ‘back of the bus people’ – the loud, raucous ones in the back. I met people from around the diocese and people from out of state.”

While the Lord had already changed her and her life in many ways, more changes were on the horizon.

“After I came back, I remember a couple people told me that I had changed,” she said. “I reflected on it and realized that as my faith became more important to me, I had changed – almost without my knowledge. At the time, I was property manager for the St. Lawrence Centre Mall. Circumstances evolved in my employment, and opportunities changed. I was offered a job as business manager at St. Peter’s Parish, where I work now.”

Working for a parish creates both additional challenges and additional blessings in her life, Marion said.

“It was a huge change in lifestyle financially,” she said. “I had to simplify the way that I live. Some of the things I had – the extravagance – had to be eliminated from my life. In simplifying my life, I’ve found joy where I know I wouldn’t have found it before. And I can say that working for the parish has its ups and downs – there are moments when I feel I’m on a roller coaster. Some days, I can’t imagine being in a better or more rewarding place in the whole world. But it’s a consolation/desolation thing. Other days, the desolation is definitely there, and I think ‘what have I done? Why am I here and what does it matter?’ Typically, after prayer and reaching out to some close friends, I can come back to consolation. And it’s been well worth the ride.”

Marion also noted that working in the parish has helped her learn to surrender her will.

“I came from a very task-oriented professional life,” she said. “I’d start every day making a list of tasks to check off as I completed them. As I started with the parish, I noticed my lists were never completed. I’d often get distracted or delayed. I expressed frustration about it to Father Mark (Reilly). I thought I was failing because I was consistently only getting to one or two things on my list. Father Mark listed other things I had accomplished that particular day and asked, ‘are those on your list?’ They weren’t. He said, ‘it’s apparent God has a different list than the one you wrote out.’ That was quite a revelation. I still write out my lists, and I’m happy to check off a couple things, but I’m less harsh on myself if I don’t finish it. I’ve had to re-evaluate the way I see things, present things and my expectations of the world.”

While she recognizes that the last few years have been years of change and transition for her, Marion said it’s her outlook that has changed the most.

“I think that the biggest change in my life through all this transition is that I found that every single person can make a difference; every single person matters,” she said. “That perspective has made me see that our journeys are meant to be shared with other human beings. We’re not here to simply do our own individual tasks and get to our next destination as a single entity. And the way I was living before, I never saw God’s hand in anything. Every goal I reached, everything I achieved, I saw as something I did on my own. Now, I see nothing I do was on my own. Albert Einstein once said, ‘There are two kinds of people – those who believe nothing is a miracle, and those who believe everything is a miracle.’ That really defines where I was and where I am today.”

Marion also said she has found joy in her life in the Lord.

“My faith is like the compass in my life that gives me a reason to get up in the morning,” she said. “I look forward to what adventure will come or what will happen to me during the day. I used to get up and just go to work. I had mulled over the idea that there has to be more to life than this for years. I knew there had to be more to life than just going to work, coming home and checking things off that list I had created that morning. Now, I know there’s more to it. I create my list, and I know God will add things that I didn’t see coming, and they will be awesome things. That doesn’t mean they’ll always be things I enjoy or things I wanted on my list, but I’ll know they were meant to be there. And maybe I’ll look back on those additions to my list at some point and see some fruits from them. My faith gives me that joy, that eagerness to start the day. I know I have a ways to go. I learn something every day about my faith, I learn something about myself every day, and I learn about others every day. Most of it is amazing to me. And I realize that I am here because God willed it. The people in my life are here because God willed it. It’s not for me to question it. It’s for me to embrace and love, serve and praise my God.”

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