Parishioner Witness Talk
Stewards of Christ’s Work
Parishioner Witness Talk January 21 – 22, 2017
My name is Curtis Russell and my wife Susan and I have been members of St. Philip the Apostle Parish since July of 2012. Previously Susan and I were members of St. Andrew’s Parish where we were married in 1982, but after moving to May Street in Clifton, we became members of St. Paul’s where each of our children, Brandon, Jessica and Sean received their Confirmation.
My awakening to the presence of the Holy Spirit began in 2006 through various events that couldn’t be coincidence. My heart began to unharden and by Spring of 2012 a spark was lit in me, and although I knew the steps, and understood the commitment, I still needed to connect my faith experiences and make a commitment to a denomination. My mother & sister were reborn and had renewed their spiritual relationships through their respective Protestant Churches. My mom asked Susan and I to visit her Church and meet the pastor but my stepfather, while supporting my mom by attending her church, would not give up his Roman Catholic commitments which he continues to this day at age 93. In the end, there seemed to be something much more going on, connecting me and pulling me forward to a relationship with Jesus through the Roman Catholic Church.
My RCIA journey officially began after Susan and I became members of St. Philip in July of 2012 and I told Father Kevin that I wanted to convert and become a Roman Catholic. At that time he indicated that RCIA would start in the Fall and I could sign up and that’s what I did. It was a great program with faith-filled staff and I met others who were all pursuing the Sacrament of Confirmation for various reasons.
My commitment to financially supporting St. Philip and the Diocese could best be described as Paul arriving in Damascus and the Lord telling Ananias to provide support. In this story, I am Paul and my wife Susan is Ananias. For her, my conversion was more shock and awe and the tithes that I was willing to give, were more than what she thought we could afford, so we met in the middle.
My faith, the support of the parish priests and extended parish family during the difficult times I’ve faced is quite extraordinary. During my RCIA journey, in the first days of February 2013, I received some bad news when I was diagnosed with cancer. After attending a St. Philip three day retreat given by the Franciscan Friars of Renewal at the end of February, I received the Sacrament of Healing. Then later after my Confirmation at Easter, I received Good News, my cancer went into remission without any treatment.
In September 2016 we received more bad news when Susan was diagnosed with a rare cancer. Like myself, she received the Sacrament of Healing and with chemo treatments, the Good News is, Susan is seeing positive results.
But, more bad news arrived when my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer in December and although she’s not Catholic, the Good News is I have been able to provide her with spiritual support as she faces an uncertain road ahead.
Throughout these trials my faith continues to grow and I trust more in God. The faith community has been nothing but supportive. I am confident that God won’t give me more than I can handle and it’s comforting to be able to unload my burdens through prayer and to discuss them with the parish priests.
Since my conversion, I have been actively involved in parish life for many years as a Lector and Eucharistic Minister at both Sunday and the 7am weekday masses, helping to bring me spiritually closer to the Sacred Mysteries. As a Religious Education teacher for 8th and 9th graders, it’s been amazing to be around the younger ones and be able to share what I have learned during my journey. I am also a 3rd Degree Knight, one among many in the parish who live by the principles of Charity, Unity, Fraternity and Patriotism. Last but not least, I also help out when needed for various parish functions and fundraisers. Being involved is rewarding both emotionally and spiritually and it provides the unique opportunity to spread the Good News and help keep our parish healthy and vibrant.
I am certain my story is not unique. We all have experienced the Good News of sharing our time to help others as well as the bad news in our lives that without our faith in God and the support of Church, who would we turn to? We have a responsibility to support our church so that the Good News can be shared and provide the opportunity for others to follow in our footsteps as we have followed those before us. I thank God for the generosity of the parishioners of St. Andrew’s, St. Paul’s and St. Philip’s, who set the cornerstones and continue to give their hard-earned dollars to ensure that future generations like Susan and myself and my children would have the opportunity to receive our sacraments, worship and be part of the parish community.
Susan and I have been pushing away from earthly things, lowering our cost structure and debt to be able to give more. With the recent diagnosis of my wife, we knew the medical bills would begin to roll in and put pressure on our financial situation, so we made sure to send in our yearly Partners in Faith and Bishop’s Annual Appeal contributions ahead of time. We give regardless of our personal financial circumstances because God and the St. Philip community continue to be the Good News and the cornerstone in our lives.
In closing, I think it apropos to share one of my favorite characters from the Bible who teaches us about true sacrifice, giving from the heart, giving to our faith and our church. She is the widow who shared her small mite. The way that the woman gave freely from the little she had and what Jesus said about her is inspiring to me. Jesus said, “For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.”
God knows what we give and is grateful for our participation in Christ’s work.
Thank You and God Bless.