This past week the Catholic Church in South Carolina suffered the loss of one of its younger priests. Father Marcin Zahuta, 42, sacrificed the opportunity of playing professional soccer in Poland to enter the seminary and come to the United States as a missionary. Filled with tremendous gifts that made him particularly endearing to the younger generation, Marcin thrived as the Catholic Chaplain of the University of South Carolina.
Known for his explosive laughter, sometimes edgy humor, virile piety and clear Gospel teaching, this Polish missionary priest was a whirlwind of grace and zeal to the growing Catholic community of the Palmetto State.
Although of strong athletic ability, Marcin suffered a massive stroke which took his life and concluded his priestly ministry among us. With university students still in shock, and the Catholic community still in disbelief, we are preparing to bid our final farewell to this ardent herald of the Gospel.
As believers attempt to make sense out of such an unexpected tragedy, we are consoled and guided by this Sunday’s Gospel reading. In the account, the Lord Jesus takes Peter James and John up the mountain and reveals a portion of his glory to them. This unique revelation was given to these key three in order to spiritually prepare them for the horror of the Lord’s Passion. Jesus gave these apostles a glimpse of the glory that was being won for them by his own torture and dejection and suffering.
The Lord continues to provide his people with those same glimpses today that can be seen in the heroic ministry of a tenacious priest and in his surprising death. We are reminded in the sorrows of life that the pain of today leads to the beauty of eternity.
Marcin kept a busy schedule, whether playing soccer with university students, making unannounced visits to the fraternities and sororities on campus, hanging out at local bars, sitting in the confessional for hours, taking phone calls at 2:00 am, pursuing doctoral studies in the thought of John Paul II, or sitting on a couch in the Catholic chaplaincy. He was always readily available to anyone who needed him.
When one senior priest of the diocese inquired about Marcin’s robust schedule, another priest responded, “He keeps the schedule of a priest who believes in heaven.” In its context, the comment was meant to show Marcin’s determination to help young people live the abundant life in Jesus Christ here on earth and so merit eternal life with God forever. In this week’s context however, the quote takes on a deeper meaning, since Marcin now is the recipient of this eternal life.
Although not liked by all, and “too much” for others, Marcin was always true to himself and to his strong beliefs in Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. Without apology, echoing Saint Paul, he was who he was.
Called by many names, and described as “a hoot” by many in Southern fashion, this younger priest always sought to take himself lightly and to share true joy with everyone he met. Against the sarcasm and negativity that is oftentimes seen in our world, this university chaplain sought to show the glimpses of God’s glory to those under his care.
From the Lord’s transfiguration, throughout his public ministry, and into the scandal of his passion, the Lord Jesus loved us to the end. All priests, configured to Jesus Christ, are called to continue this same selfless, sacrificial love in their lives and ministries throughout the ages.
As an ordained priest, Marcin willingly took this mantle upon himself. He fulfilled it in all that he did. All who knew him – even the naysayers – could agree, that in the case of this Christlike love, for Marcin: Mission accomplished!
May the oblation of his life merit him the everlasting joy of hearing those words, “Well done good and faithful servant.”
And so, as memories are shared and tears are shed, by old and young alike, the Diocese of Charleston says to Father Marcin Zahuta: “Thank you, farewell, and may the Lord give you peace.”
Follow Father Jeffrey Kirby on Twitter: @fatherkirby
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