Italian Cardinal Agostino Cacciavillan died in Rome on March 5th at the age of 95. Cardinal Cacciavillan was a longtime Vatican diplomat whose most prominent assignment was his service as the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States from 1990 to 1998.
Our paths crossed on October 27, 1992 when in a telephone call, then Archbishop Cacciavillan informed me that I had been chosen to become a bishop. From his lips I heard: “The Holy Father has chosen you to be the Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh and, of course, you will accept.” After a pause and a deep breath, I responded, “Your Excellency, I don’t understand it, but if the Holy Father wants me to be a bishop, of course I accept.”
I received a similar call from the Archbishop in November of 1995 when he called to say: “The Holy Father has chosen you to be the new Bishop of Youngstown, Ohio, and, of course, you will accept.” Having now become familiar with the routine, I said, simply, “Of course; I accept.”
The voice that spoke those announcements has now been stilled by death. But the news of his passing brought back those memorable conversations. And it also got me thinking about how our destinies can be changed by just a few spoken words.
The young man gets down on one knee and says to his beloved, “Will you marry me?” Her answer will certainly change lives. And at the subsequent wedding the bride and groom exchange their “I dos” and, for better or worse, their fate is sealed.
At a baptism ceremony the priest says to the parents and godparents, “Is it your will that this child be baptized in the faith of the Church which we have all professed with you?” And they respond, “It is,” allowing the baby to be baptized and begin traveling the lifelong path of Christian Faith.
At a priesthood ordination ceremony, when the deacon is called forth, he responds simply, “Present,” and with that one word indicates his willingness and solemn promise to serve as a priest of Jesus Christ for the rest of his life. And in the same ceremony he says, “I do,” when the ordaining bishop asks, “Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?”
I don’t know how many millions of words we speak during our time on earth, but some, clearly, are more important than others. On those occasions, be careful what you say, for those few words might really change your life.
Something to think about: What are the most life-changing words you’ve ever spoken?