Oblate Updates

Mass of Christian Burial: Homily

Rev. John F. Kenny, OSFS
August 14, 2019

Our Lady of Light Chapel, Childs, Maryland
Celebrant: Fr. Lou Fiorelli, OSFS
Homilist: Fr. Bill McCandless, OSFS

The Book of Lamentations can seem so depressing and deprived of hope. This is certainly understandable when one considers it was written after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Why would we choose to read from such a book in a funeral mass to celebrate our brother John passing from this life to his eternal glory?

I think it is an important reading because it is a true reflection of what the Israelites were feeling and a true reflection of what we all sometimes experience in this life. It’s reality, and it is not always easy to face. This was the case for John, especially in these past few years when his health was failing.

The last heart-to-heart conversation I had with John was two days before he died. I was walking down the corridor as he sat on his scooter at the door to his room. He looked distressed. I said, “Are you ok, John?” He responded, “I’m mad at Jesus” and he began to cry. What a heartbreaking expression of lamentation.

John was upset because he was feeling so weak, he was losing his eyesight and was just tired; physically, emotionally and spiritually. He was mad at Jesus, not because he was looking to be cured of these afflictions, but because he wanted Jesus to come take him home. He thought maybe Jesus didn’t want him.

I don’t tell you these things to make you sad or to feel sorry for John. As a matter of fact, I’m sure he would not have liked me to share these things at all. As anyone who knew him could tell you, John was a bit of a macho-man and not given to sentimentality. Maybe this was a result of his years of military training. However, I wanted to share these things with you because they are real, and we all feel this way from time-to-time. If that was all there was to life, then it would be sad, and we would all be lost in lamentations.

There is more to John’s story, and to the story of every Christian who truly believes in the teachings of Jesus Christ. That’s why, although we began the readings with Lamentations, we end with the Gospel of St. John. It is in this Gospel reading we heard today, and the other teachings of Christ, that we find our hopes and joys that lift us up even in the face of situations that seem hopeless.

Jesus does not want us to despair, be worried or full of anxiety. He tells us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” As most of us know, John did suffer from anxiety and he found great comfort in this Gospel passage. I know this because we had a lengthy conversation about this message of Christ sometime last year and we revisited it a few times since. It’s a message that is appropriate for us to hear yet again.

Jesus said, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there where not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?” And here, just as important for us to know, “I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you will know the way.”

John intimately knew this Gospel and truly believed it. It was this faith that kept John going and, as St. Timothy said in the second reading, John’s belief that, “If we die with him, we also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.”

This word “endure” is purposely used by Timothy, and its not the only time he used it. The word “endure” was also used by St. Paul in the Letters to the Hebrews, the Thessalonians, the Colossians, and Corinthians 1 & 2. Endure was used in the Letters of St. James, St. Peter, the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, as well as other passages.

John endured a lot, and let’s face it, we endured a lot from John. Father Vince Smith shared with me that his dear niece Beth, who was so faithful to her uncle, referred to John a her “quirky uncle.” Yes, yes indeed. John certainly had his human side. Sometimes this human side even spilled over into his living of the Salesian Oblate charism which is built of what we call DI-CAR-VI (directory, charity and visitation). It was particularly the third part. John was known to have more visitations with his superiors and provincials then any other Oblate. Legend has it that these visitations were filled with many spirited exchanges of ideas.

Father John was only human, as are we all. Sometimes this humanness gets in the way of our faith and spiritual beliefs. Yes, these things not only happen to priests and religious, they have also been known to happen to saints.

Two days ago, we celebrated the Feast of St. Jane de Chantal. At the celebration, our resident Salesian scholar, Father Neil Kilty, reminded us that, “throughout her life, St. Jane was never free of the sense that she was deserted and abandoned by God.” This was typical of other saints, like St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. Although Father John may not have been a saint, he sometimes shared this same spiritual affliction. To be fair, I think we all do at some moments in our lives. That is why the ending of today’s Gospel is so important. We see St. Thomas, “doubting Thomas,” once again questioning Jesus.

When Jesus said, “Where I am you also may be. Where I am going, you will know the way.” Thomas responded, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” This fear and doubt are common for us humans, which Christ knew well. He doesn’t try to explain his message with some intellectual discourse. Instead he simply says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” It’s like Jesus is saying, “relax and don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of everything. Just believe and follow me.”

This was the culmination of the final conversation I had with John in front of his room two days before he died. I didn’t have to say much, only listen as John came to his own conclusions. Beginning with being mad at Jesus and why, to working all the way around the circle to saying, “but I know Jesus loves me and I’m going into my room right now and pray that he will forgive me and that tell him I know he is with me. I’m going to pray that he will take me home.”

The power of prayer is a funny thing. Sometimes the Lord answers in his own time and for his own reasons, which are often a mystery to us. But last week, Jesus aligned God’s time with John’s time. Twenty-two hours after that conversation, I was with John in his room administering the last rites of anointing. Twenty minutes later, Jesus took John to where he was, and so fulfilled the promise he makes to all good people of faith. “Where I am, you also shall be.”

We commend our brother John to the Lord. We rejoice in the certain hope, as we hear in the prayers of this liturgy, that John’s life is changed, not ended. We Oblates will continue to not only pray for John, but to pray for his family which was united with ours when John professed his religious vows. We thank his nieces and nephews that are present with us today. I’m certain your uncle John is so happy to know you are here. Please assure those who couldn’t make it today of our continue prayers and support.

May God be praised!

Mass of Christian Burial: Homily

Rev. Thomas J. Gillespie, OSFS
July 31, 2019

About a year into my time with Father Tom at Saint Ann Parish in Naples, I received a letter in the mail from the Bishop of Venice, a letter in which he asked all Pastors to consider offering varied and additional time for Confessions. This came from a general pastoral concern that some people just could never, especially because of work schedules, make it to the traditional times. I went to both Father Tom and to Father Steve Shott who ministered there with me and asked them to consider the possibility of offering Confessions Wednesday afternoons. People could take part of their lunch hour or stop into the parish office while running errands downtown to see the priest who was assigned that day. I thought we might just give it a try and Father Tom and Father Steve were enthusiastically on board. I think much to our surprise, it was an instant hit. People really took advantage of this opportunity. We had many stop in and we were delighted that our parish could fill a need for those in the area. While this was universally popular, I say without exaggeration (and Father Steve can verify this) that when Father Tom had the Confessions the line was out the door. We had to find extra chairs and bring them to the lobby. For many of the penitents, when Steve or I offered to hear their Confession, they made it plain. They were waiting for Father Tom. Because of this, I came to call him the Curé of Naples and I would get a laugh from him on that one. And that was a great laugh.

I was always so moved by this response to Tom. I don’t think that he was any more lenient or went softer with penances. I think, in the end, the reasons why people were drawn to Tom were his clarity and his authenticity. He had an incredibly strong but simple faith. When I say simple, I don’t mean, of course, lacking understanding. Quite the opposite. It was simple in the sense that it was clear and it was to be lived today. He knew that his Redeemer lives. The children at Saint Ann School heard every time he preached that God truly loved them. It was not merely the standard children’s homily. It was what he believed. It was how he lived. He conveyed it in every interaction, that as Saint Paul says in our Second Reading, nothing whatsoever can separate us from the love of God. I saw people come to Tom time and time again broken and through him they found that the Lord would make them whole again.

He embodied this love not only when people came to Confession or to talk out a family problem. He showed it in his presiding and preaching. And it was seen when the few dollars he had went to the large family in Naples with many children or were sent off to his former missionary area in Africa or given to the homeless man who came around on his bicycle. It was in the way, he reached out in true care during the hundreds of visits he made to the hospital. I received this email on Monday: “My name is Andrew. I’m from South Africa. I heard Fr. Gillespie passed away. He was like a father to me and he helped a lot of people here where I stay. He helped the poor and obtained clothing for a lot of children, especially school children. Fr. Gillespie was a good man. I saw him as a Saint. Please pray for his soul. We will continue to pray for him here. I met Fr. Gillespie as a boy in Nababeep here in South Africa and he changed my life. I’m very proud and grateful that I met a man of God of his stature. He was always humble, prayerful and a good listener.”

Tom did these good works without any fanfare, with no particular need to be in charge or to be recognized, always ready for any good work. That’s where I think the core of who Tom was as a Christian minister, as a priest came through. He never let himself get in the way of the work that God wanted to do through him.

I selected the Gospel today because I thought of the countless times that Tom took another by the hand and promised them that they would be in Paradise with God, a promise that we pray and know is fulfilled for him as well, a promise made through His baptism, affirmed by the blessings that Tom received and he accepted in the way he said Yes throughout his entire life. But Tom was also like the repentant thief himself, the first to call himself imperfect and to acknowledge himself as a sinner. He relied on the promise and today, he would want you and I to do the same.

This past Sunday’s Gospel was all about persistence in prayer. I can’t think of another person I knew who was that persistent. Those who heard Tom preach knew he would often implore us to “Pray! Pray! Pray!” so much so that parishioners in Naples made up a post card with his picture with that mantra printed underneath. He understood that it is in prayer that we remain near and aware of a God who is always near to us, who always answers our prayers and yes, who always loves us, that we don’t make God closer through prayer. He is always close to us but we must choose in our prayer to remain close to Him. That Tom did. That Tom modeled for all who knew him.

I want to acknowledge his sisters, his sister-in-law, his nieces and nephews. We are sorry for your loss- We know that you lost a giant in your family, a pillar. We pray with you today and extend our love and support. However, we know something of this. We truly lost a member of our family too, a pillar for us, not because of the leadership positions he held but because he got what it means to be an Oblate of Saint Francis de Sales; he was a model for so many of us. Mother Mary Chappuis, told us that it would take 30 years to be a good Oblate. When I was a new Oblate I thought “Good, I have some time.” Well I am coming up on 20 years and I am not sure I will have this all figured out in 10 more. But Tom had it figured out. He would be upset with me if I made it sound like he was perfect. But what made him a good Oblate was that he loved God, knew he needed God and that he was no better than his neighbor who needed God too. He brought comfort and joy in his approachability and his true concern. Some present here and throughout our province and some Oblates in South Africa had the blessing of having Tom as their Novice Director or the head of some other part of their formation. And these men universally, they acclaim his as wonderful. It is because they saw his authenticity, his true care for them and it became a model for how to live their Oblate life. Novice Directors and Formators are chosen not ultimately for what they preach in words but in how they model the life we are called to live.

Most of us here have known Tom for many years. He was my high school guidance counselor! And then when I was sent as a young priest to Naples, Florida and made a Pastor, he was there to be a cheerleader, mentor and guide, to help me keep perspective. When I would get worked up as a parishioner came up after Mass to complain about something he would tell me not to become discouraged but to simply look at the person and say: “Thank you for that information” and would remind me that we should neither give nor take offense at another’s words. The last time I had a visit with him, he got up out of his chair and for a person struggling to stand, It was a leap with true joy. He exclaimed: “Michael Vannicola! I am so happy to see you!” You all know the tone; you know that love. It’s how I know he will greet us all when we make our way home.

Tom, like us all, had crosses in his life. One of them was anxiety. And each time he faced it, it was his prayer that brought him back. He was a model for me not because he was perfect. He was a model for me because he was real and he was true in his trying. And his trying produced beautiful results, a trying that blessed the Church with a wonderful priest and religious. And for a person who suffered from anxiety at parts in his life, his quest for holiness brought him peace. When I last spoke with him, he was joyfully awaiting the promise of Heaven he had always anticipated and hoped for.

I can’t go on much longer because I know if I could have asked Tom for guidance or direction for this homily, he would say two words: “Be brief.” If anyone, including myself, made Grace Before Meals too long, he would just start eating before it was over, excited to enjoy his meal while still praying along.

For his liking, I have probably already gone on too long. So I remind you of what he would always say: God loves you. It’s the plain words that Jesus said to the repentant thief, the words that promise paradise and promise it today. They were words that Tom would say with confidence, the Confidence of our first reading, “I know that my vindicator lives” and Tom showed us that we would feel that love and live it out if we were willing to “Pray! Pray! Pray!”, for this good and holy man showed us above all that if we wanted peace in this life and the next, bringing ourselves close to God was the only way for that to be.

Rest well, dear brother and friend. Rest well, dear Father Tom.

May God Be Praised.

Mass of Christian Burial: Homily

Bro. Gerald Sweeney, OSFS
February 28, 2019

Studies tell us that Americans are probably the most mobile people in the world today. Last year alone – 36,000,000 Americans took up new residences – mostly in cities removed from their birthplaces. As a nation, we have been dubbed: “The Travelers of the World.” It seems we love to travel – visiting foreign countries, as well as, places right here in the USA! The total cost of American travel last year would be equal to almost 60% of the National debt!

Yet, from another perspective, we all fit into the category of travelers, and for the Christian, it weds together so magnificently.

The realities of life and death! In one of his letters to lady in Grenoble, St. Francis de Sales expressed it in this way. “The present life is given to us only to gain eternal life. And if we forget this, we tend to concentrate all our energies on the things of this world, where we are but birds of passage. And, so it happens that when we have to leave this world, we become frightened and upset! Believe me, if we want to live as “happy” pilgrims or travelers, we must always have in our hearts the hope of finally reaching that country where we will settle down forever. But, at the same time, we must believe and believe with all simplicity that God keeps a loving on eye on us as we journey toward Him, and that He never lets anything happen to us that is not for our greater good.” (XVIII, 343 1619).

Each of us travels as a pilgrim. No two routes or journeys are exactly the same since no two lives are exactly the same! God has given each of us a singular mission or vocation in this life to pursue. This is as St. Paul tells us how: “We are responsible to the Lord” - for we do not live for ourselves or die for oneself. Just like Jesus Himself who came to do his Father’s Will, so the pilgrim fulfills the will of God in his/her life. We must always remember that Jesus fulfilled His Father’s Will not only in his death, but especially in His Life – the nooks and crannies of life – the ordinary things of daily life. These are the things in God’s eyes that give substance and depth and direction to the pilgrimage.

Ordinarily, “the OSFS Constitutions say “the lay brothers shall devote themselves to manual labor and to the material needs of the community.” And Brother Gerry was right there for that, but he was on the “cutting-edge”, the 20th century brother – he was the “precursor” of a whole new concept of labor – Service to others: So we see the Brother “Fire-Company Volunteer” – working fire stations in Wernersville and Robesonia, PA. And, yes, there is a funny side to it. He misses the fires at Villa Maria where he lives. He slept through it all!

He served the people of Juniata in Philadelphia as one of their faithful Town-Watch volunteers. He gave tremendous service to the handicapped. He and Fr. Ed Simons organized and cared for a group of blind bowlers in Philadelphia. Every Saturday they would transport the men and women to and from their homes – set up the bowling alleys and supervise their activities. However, there was a “shady” side to all this. One day he was sitting in the dining room at North Catholic with a whole load of pictures. I was curious so I asked Gerry about the photos. He said they were the “blind bowlers.” He explained how he took their pictures – “charged” them for them, and gave them copies. I asked how do they know the pictures are of them – since they can’t see. Gerry didn’t give me any answer. Then he said maybe they could put them in their albums (utter simplicity).

One of the things he treasured most was his membership in the Knights of Columbus, which started out years ago in Philadelphia. Once again, he was always ready to be a man of service – like his fellow Knights. Service is never easy. It shows us our lives are not entirely our won, and it is at its brightest and best when lived in the service of others! Today we hear the term “entitlement” used a lot (almost the anti-thesis of service). Bro. Gerry was a Master of “entitlement.” That title – Brother – meant at least a 10% discount and in many restaurants – a free dinner [never backing down to a good freebie.]

The cover of the Mass program is a picture of the altar in our chapel in Annecy Hall. Actually, it was the original altar from the Northeast Catholic Faculty house chapel going back to 1928. Back in the 90’s, brother and myself would spend Saturday mornings from November to February sanding down that altar by hand. Brother was very faithful to this task. I don’t think he missed a Saturday! I remember one day some years later, we were chatting about the altar. He made one of his “rare comments” which I never forgot. “Sanding this altar is like cleaning away our imperfections, our faults – and making us more worthy of God!” This past year was difficult for brother, and he suffered a lot – it was like sanding away our faults, imperfections.

Now we should look at ourselves for a moment, for every death affects each and every one of us! For it reminds us so vividly, that this earth (only 12 years left, in the opinion of some!) is not our final resting place! All of us are pilgrims. All of us walk our unique path in life – hopefully with simplicity and service to others and love and perhaps too, like brother, a little sanding or suffering. We all hope to reach that same goal as brother has – that special dwelling place prepared for us by the Lord as we finally end our pilgrimage!

Mass of Christian Burial: Homily

Rev. Albert J. Smith, Jr., OSFS
December 31, 2018

Faithful Cross!
Above all other,
One and only noble tree,
None in foliage, none in blossom,
None in fruit thy peer may be.
These lyrics begin the 8th stanza of “Pange Lingua” by St. Fulgentius.

Dear Father Provincial, beloved brothers, cherished family and friends,

There is no better way for me to express my perception of Fr. Albert Smith than to say that the silver profession cross, laid over his shoulders at his first taking of vows, bloomed joyfully, prodigiously, and vibrantly his entire life.

Al was a cherished only son. I met him in junior year at North Catholic. I was awed when told me that he did 50 pushups every night! What’s more, that he got tea and a snack before 9:00 o’clock bedtime. Al threw the javelin for North Catholic’s track team. Once, a football player thought he would have some fun at Al’s expense. He grabbed the long, pointed pole and hurled it. It tanked. The javelin event took skill, not just strength. Al played baseball, too. He was given an athletic scholarship for it to Villanova. Al was an eagle scout, a lifeguard, and played guitar. He was also a sacristan as was I. Most of us entered the Oblates or went to St. Charles, the diocesan seminary. I could not then find in myself anything comparable to Al Smith’s talents, but he extended to me the gift of a lifetime of friendship. Both he and I had long and successful ministries in secondary school and as campus ministers.

In retirement, I joined Al at Villa de Sales and took stock of the man I had known for 65 years. When I arrived, he had been saying Masses for the Medical Mission Sisters and the Christian Brothers. He toiled sweat-hard on our four acres of land, making war on kudzu, planting new trees and bushes, and buying a birdbath. He got our pizza and cheese steaks faithfully every Friday night. And he was good for stories, long stories. They captivated many.

Al used Asian and native American spiritual traditions in his life of prayer. He liked praying outside on sunny mornings in the four directions. He had a Tibetan singing bowl in the prayer corner of his room. Framed Asian calligraphy silently spoke their wisdom from his walls. And I know that there’s Eagle’s feather tucked in there, somewhere.

On Alaska vacations, Al released the pent-up, caged huskies for the Iditarod and went trekking through Denali Park. He was the only priest on earth to run electric trains through an Alaskan village on a platform in his bedroom.

Al had developed multiple interests. He had gone to clown school. As a certified Tai Chi instructor, he exercised their graceful moves beside our carriage house. He printed two books of his poetry. Al joined a local barber shop group that practiced almost every Sunday in the great room of our house. He sang karaoke on Thursdays at the Whitemarsh Inn. He became a member of the elite Rittenhouse Singers. They with others came to him at the Villa a few weeks ago during our open house and sang exquisitely arranged carols. Though Al had already become weak, they got him to join them. It became a moving farewell.

A closer look at Al’s life reveals unrecognized generosity. As swim team moderator, Al had to rise at 5:00 AM for years while teaching a full load. When involved in athletic department work, he often had to miss the community dinner. At our home, Al had no second thoughts on getting up in the middle of the night to rake leaves from the sole drain that floods our parking lot. He worked as an instructor of Tai Chi for Catholic Social Services of Philadelphia and at Morris Arboretum. His teaching was gentle, compassionate, and flexible. His students, mostly ageing and fragile persons, many of low income, loved him.

Al was devoted to all his friendships, the graying members of the Ireton musicians and swimmers with Harry as their coach. Al has been the most requested Oblate by Ireton graduates attending the school when the Oblates staffed it. His trips to Alaska were made to see Dorothy, a sister of St. Joseph who directed catechesis for a diocese. While there, Al often took priests’ masses to give them needed rest. He recently gave a retreat for kids out on the Aleutians. His trips to Boston over several years were to keep the bonds he made with the brothers of Caroline, a School Sister of Notre Dame who, like him, died suddenly of cancer. Al took his friend Kathleen, a former cardiac surgical nurse, suffering from Alzheimer’s, while using a wheelchair, to comforting places outdoors, and to movies and dinners.

In Al’s day, the Oblates promised him “A Happy Way of Life.” He got it and shared it with so many. He lived in the shadows of God’s wings. Shouting for joy, his soul clung fast to God whose right hand upheld him. I heard, by phone, that he was the kindest man a person ever met; by email, that he always smiled; in person, that there wasn’t a mean bone in his body. In my entire life, I never heard him say a hateful thing. Never so much as a “damn,” his speech was always G-rated. He was a superb priest who smelled of his sheep.

When Al found out that his cancer was terminal, he entered the kitchen, opened wide his arms and silently said through wide eyes, goodbye. No hugger, he hugged me for the first time. Though stunned, Al accepted his swift death with abandonment. St. Francis de Sales speaks of Calvary as the Academy of Love. In his dying, Albert Joseph Smith completed what he began the day he received his cross. He shall now see God with his own eyes, and not another’s. In dying to self, he produced much fruit. He rests from his labors, and his works accompany him.

May God Be Blessed.

Mass of Christian Burial: Homily

Bro. Thomas P. Brophy, OSFS
December 22, 2018

“None of us lives as his own master, and none of us dies as his own master. While we live we are responsible to the Lord; when we die we die as his servants. So then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”

This the essence of obedience. And just to be clear, obedience is not simply doing what you’re told to do. In the Salesian tradition, obedience is the art and science of listening. Specifically, listening for the voice of the Lord in the simple, ordinary events of everyday life, and having the courage to say “yes” to that voice.

Bro. Tom’s personnel file is a testimony to a life dedicated to the practice obedience. It is filled with letter after letter in which this provincial or that provincial assigned him to this community or to that apostolate. Throughout his life as an Oblate, Bro. Tom never questioned his latest transfer. Tom went wherever he was asked to go – he said “yes” to the voice of the Lord wherever it sent him. And time after time after time, the voice of the Lord was asking Tom to serve the needs of others in simple, ordinary and everyday ways.

Bro. Tom knew his way around a kitchen. He knew his way around a supermarket. He knew his way around a balance sheet and a check book. He knew his way around a print shop. He knew his way around a library. He knew his way around a retreat center. Primarily, Bro. Tom served the needs of others through manual labor, a ministry highly praised by our founder, Blessed Louis Brisson.

Father Brisson observed:

“We reprint the Gospel by means of work. We must reprint the Gospel and reprint it page by page without omitting anything. Our Lord came upon earth and spent thirty years engaged in manual labor. His labor was not intellectual, even though he was the Light which enlivens every person coming into the world. It is precisely because he was a working man – because he worked with his hands – that he knew the language of divine science so much elevated above human thought, the language of union with the will of God. He dignified manual labor.”

Fr. Brisson continued:

“Without a doubt some people are better equipped at working with their hands than others, but there is a place for manual labor in all our lives. There is a library to be kept in order, a helping hand to be given, some shopping to be done, a little tiding up or organizing to be accomplished…I very strongly recommend devotion to manual labor. God has attached great graces to it. All religious communities that have held manual labor in high esteem have produced great saints. Therefore, be great lovers of manual labor.”

As devoted as Bro. Tom was to meeting the needs of others throughout his life, he struggled in retirement to allow others to meet his needs. As he aged and became more dependent on the manual labor of others, the voice of the Lord urged him to allow others to serve him. Frequently, he would ask, “Why won’t God just take me?” When asked the next day if he still wanted God to take him, Tom would reply: “That was yesterday.”

The power of the present moment.

Allowing others to do for him was perhaps the greatest challenge of all. But now, I pray that Tom is in a place where God himself will meet Bro. Toms needs – and allow Tom to rest from his labors – for all eternity.

We honor Bro. Tom’s life by following his example – by rolling up our sleeves and doing what we can in ordinary, everyday ways to continue Jesus’ saving work in our little corners of the world. As St. Francis de Sales challenges us, let us dedicate our hands to the service of others. Let us listen for the voice of the Lord who invites us each and every day to do perform simple, good works with great love. Likewise, let us also listen to the voice of the same Lord who invites us to allow others to perform good works with great love for us.

Together, we pray through the intercession of Bro. Tom that just today we might reprint the Gospel by working to meet the needs of one another.

Mass of Christian Burial: Homily

Rev. Charles C. Garst, III, OSFS
November 28, 2018

“Do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them.”

Throughout his priestly ministry, this admonition from Jesus was Charlie Garst’s guiding principle when it came to preaching - Charlie was a man of few words. As the person tasked with preaching tonight, I will endeavor to do right by him by emulating Charlie’s example…more or less.

“Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

Performing righteous deeds – doing what’s right – without people noticing? How does that work? Jesus’ teaching, preaching and healing were the talk of the town. Jesus’ attempts to stay under the radar were incredibly unsuccessful. Jesus’ suggestion to folks miraculously cured to keep it to themselves was almost universally ignored. Jesus’ life was an open book.

It’s not possible to do good for others without others eventually noticing – the challenge is to do good for others in ways that they take notice not so much of us but rather take notice of the God who is the source of our goodness. After all, how many times does Jesus himself tell his audience that it’s not his will that he’s come to fulfill but rather the will of his Father?

When it comes to performing righteous deeds, Jesus isn’t requiring us to be invisible any more than He was invisible! What Jesus is asking is for us to be transparent. Jesus is challenging us to do what’s right to draw attention to God, rather than to do what’s right to draw attention to ourselves.

St. Francis de Sales viewed John the Baptist as a shining example of the difference between being invisible and being transparent. When John famously said of his relationship with Jesus, “He must increase, and I must decrease,” John wasn’t putting himself down; John wasn’t saying that his life didn’t matter. John was simply naming and claiming his part in God’s plan of salvation. In his ministry along the River Jordan, John’s mission was to draw attention to Jesus without allowing himself to get in the way. John knew his place – and had the courage to take it.

Charlie Garst wasn’t invisible – anything but. Charlie was transparent. His ministry was never about him. Charlie was at home with himself. To the extent that he was comfortable in his own skin, Charlie was able to do lots of good for lots of people throughout his life as an Oblate and as a priest without the need to draw attention to himself. Like John – like Jesus – Charlie was humble and unassuming in accepting his part in God’s plan of salvation in drawing other people’s attention to God.

Be it teaching by word or example, preaching, counseling or presiding, Charlie knew his place – his place was mostly just being with people. Be it in the classroom, standing along a sideline, sitting in a confessional or spending time on a ride-along, Charlie had a knack for helping others to feel at home with themselves – Charlie had a knack for allowing others to be comfortable in their own skin – in ways that were known ultimately to God alone.

“Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them…”

Just last week, I learned about some righteous deeds done by this humble, practical and down-to-earth man who dedicated his life to doing good for so many others. How many of us know that on many occasions following 9-1-1, Charlie traveled to New York City to support first responders in their recovery efforts in and around ground zero? How many people know that he received an award recognizing him for his ministry?

How do you keep something like that a secret? I don’t know, but Charlie somehow managed to do just that.

“And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

If in fact the Father does reward in a particular way those who do good for others in unassuming, ordinary and everyday ways during this earthly life, I am confident that it will take an eternity for Charlie to enjoy his heavenly reward.

Each of us would do well to imitate Charlie’s example of how to spend one’s life doing good without drawing attention to oneself. Half the battle of following Jesus is just showing up – it’s simply being there for others. However obvious or obscure, we can pay tribute to Charlie’s life and legacy by doing one of the things he did best – simply making others feel at home.

As Charlie Garst – Oblate of St. Francis de Sales - clearly demonstrates, it is possible to accomplish many righteous things in this life without letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing, provided that your mind - and your heart - are in the right place.

Mass of Christian Burial: Homily

Re. Edward J. Roszko, Jr., OSFS
November 12, 2018

Fr. Ed Roszko, OSFS

Hat’s off to you!

On May 8, 2010 Betty White hosted Saturday Night Live. She revealed in her monologue that she was there after a grassroots campaign on Facebook got her the gig. She went on to say that she had never been on Facebook until then and frankly she thought it to be a “colossal waste of time.” I don’t have a Facebook account and tend to agree with her assessment. Should I need to see something, I go on using Jack Kolodziej’s password. If only he had a Netflix account!

Last Friday, I went on Facebook to the Fr. Judge page for it reported the news of Ed Roszko’s death. At a time when the church has almost given up on bishops and priests, this Facebook visit was inspiring, uplifting, humbling and on target. The alumni of Fr. Judge captured this fine man.

• They spoke of his humor with such gems whether original or borrowed as:

o I knew a little Russian, but she left town

o Do the right thing, wait for the ring

o Addressing a student during a test, “Hey son, are you Italian? You’ve got Roman eyes. Keep your eyes on your own paper.”

o He insisted that the Bible was a book about baseball for it starts with the words, In the big inning

• And with each of these you saw a beautiful and genuine smile as if he told it for the first time

• There were numerous entries that spoke of the man he was

o Fr. Roszko was a tremendous example of a Salesian Gentleman.

o A good man

o He was a really, nice guy…to which another alum added “couldn’t agree with you more.”

o Another remarked “one of my favorites.”

o Great guy. Came to every soccer game and gave a pre-game blessing.

o Good Man and role model. Supported ice hockey before it was recognized by the school.

o He loved Judge Basketball.

o I’ll never forget his inspirational prayers that he gave to the football team before we took the field. He then made his way to the booth to be the not-so-impartial stadium announcer. His passion and energy helped carry an average team to the championship my senior year in ’93. God Bless Fr. Roszko!

o Fantastic priest. He did a lot for the Class of 96.

o A true priest.

• Referring to his penchant for showing movies, one alum wrote “reels Roszko, outstanding in his field, and here’s the key point gentlemen, the hat stays on.”

• “The hat stays on.” Ed was known for his energetic pep rallies. At one early pep rally before the rival game with Archbishop Ryan for neighborhood bragging rights, Ed recalled for the students that the year previous Ryan played exceedingly well and took Judge to the cleaners, “hats off to them” he said. “But this year Crusaders” his voice rising to fever pitch, fists pumped to the sky, “the hat stays on, the hat stays on,” and this was repeated with thunderous applause to a raucous crowd at that rally and everyone after.

• Another comment read: The one thing I do remember, he was a principled guy. Ardent pro-life advocate.

Of course, it was easy to find his classroom door or car peppered with pro-life stickers. As Michael Murray wrote for Ed’s obituary, “while he was seen standing on the sidelines for many a football game during his nearly 45 years in secondary school education, he was not content to sit on the sidelines when it came to engaging in dialogue regarding matters of faith and culture of the day.”

In truth, Ed was ardent in all things in life especially his love for God expressed most faithfully in his vocation as an Oblate and priest. Ed loved being an Oblate and took a genuine, deep interest in your living out your vocation as well. Always, he took time to ask how you were doing, your family and maybe wanted your insights on how the Phillies would do this season.

With cassock, rule, office book and fervor, he epitomized “Be who you are and be that well.” No false pretenses, no guile, just a lot of gentleness, simplicity and love.

Our first reading from Wisdom was chosen not because it assures us that Ed, the just man, has his soul resting in the palm of God’s hands as comforting and reassuring as this is. It was selected for the line “as gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself,” and I’m not referring to his many years teaching sophomores.

I vividly remember Ed registering at one of our June convocations only to find out minutes later that he had fallen and was rushed to the hospital. On the lighter side of things, I probably commented that some people will do anything to get out of convocation. But sadly, Ed never seemed to recover. Soon this once vibrant and upbeat man became debilitated and a bit reserved. The change was remarkable and sadden me for some time. But as we often preach about Paul’s exhortation to us of “putting on Christ” and participating in the passion, the suffering of Christ, I began to realize that Ed was teaching another, new and profound lesson.

Still, I wrestled with the why? Why this freak fall? Why to such a good man? As Job asked the “why question,” and we have done so most recently with worshippers in a synagogue in Pittsburgh or college kids dancing at a bar in Thousand Oaks, tragedy, sadness and suffering are a part of life. Some of course need not be, and we must do all we can to stop needless suffering. But it’s Ed’s suffering and acceptance of such that touched me most. It was his willingness to be baptized with Christ and into his death, to be crucified with him.

I did not know Ed, the pep rally master. Those at Judge and later Bp. Ireton knew and embraced this Ed well. I taught with Ed after Ireton, when he came to Salesianum. He still tried to make an appearance at sporting events, but he took on another role, that of faithful and devoted son. Every day after class, Ed went to his ailing father’s house to minister to him and to give some relief to his stepmother. It was another acceptance of God’s will embraced lovingly, willingly, promptly and happily because he was also a son of deSales as well, and these are Francis’ four marks of devotion.

Ed knew and lived the devout life well, passionately well. His dedication to prayer, meditation, spiritual reading and the Eucharist made his devotion genuine and real. We may not all have followed the manner or detail in which he lived the devout life but we recognize it as genuine and holy. And, his fidelity to his dying and willingness to be crucified, will allow him to live with Christ, in the resurrection of the dead. For we recognize that Ed was prepared when his Master came for him this sixth day in this the month of souls.

We all have our stories of Ed, his love for his first alma mater, Notre Dame, and his daily love for “the” Notre Dame and her son, Jesus Christ. You may recall different sayings. For me, the one that hounds me daily “if you are too busy to pray, then you are too busy.” Such stories and memories we will continue to recall fondly. In this day when we need greater fidelity and devotion to our vocation and “who we are,” may we do that with a little more fervor to pick up what we will miss from Ed.

I will always be able to visualize Ed’s smile. I can’t wait to see it when we meet him again in heaven after having seen the God he loved and served so well. For now, I borrow a Facebook comment from a Judge alum recalling the famous pep rally chant and say “hat’s off to you, Ed, good and faithful servant.”

Readings

Wisdom 3: 1-9
Romans 6: 3-9
Luke 12: 35-40

Mass of Christian Burial: Homily

Rev. John J. Dennis, OSFS
October 13, 2018

On behalf of all my Oblate confreres, I extend our prayers and sympathy to you, the family, confreres and friends of Father John Dennis.

I believe it was Abraham Lincoln who spoke these words: “It is not the years in our life that count but the life in our years.”

It’s rare that someone is fortunate enough, as Father John was, to have both many years –almost a hundred of them! –and so much life in those years as well! In his fine homily, Father Dalton has spoken well of the “life” that Father Dennis spent while on this earth. The lives of the countless people to whom he ministered throughout his long and full life are better, richer, holier because of him.

I want to speak briefly of what struck me most about the life of Father Dennis. Every Christian is expected to live Jesus in the sense of imitating the manner in which he lived among us as “one who served.” We can imitate the humility and his gentleness of Jesus, as well as his compassion and foot-washing love. But how many of us can draw near and touch and heal lepers as Jesus once did?

John Dennis did that. At a time when people with AIDS were treated by others with fear and distance, John Dennis, in imitation of Jesus, drew near to them and touched them with compassion and love. He may not have performed a healing miracle for those suffering from AIDS as Jesus once did for the lepers of his day. Still, he was the face of Jesus for them, a caring, kind, non-judgmental and loving face; a healing presence to those who at that time were largely without any hope and little promise.

A few days ago when John went home to God, I can imagine him being greeted by his parents, relatives and friends who preceded him in death. I am sure our Salesian saints were there to greet him as well. But I can also imagine that many of those “modern day lepers” were there as well. Healed now and whole, they welcomed a good man who had once drawn near to them when most others had not.

John was a gifted educator and a true renaissance man who enjoyed music and the arts. But he was much more than that. He was a man who knew what Jesus meant when He asked us to love as he himself had loved: “As I have done for you, so you must do for one another.”

John Dennis did just that!

Mass of Christian Burial: Homily

Rev. Anthony J. Larry, OSFS
September 15, 2018

Anthony J. Larry was given by God on 10/14/39

Anthony J. Larry was given to God on 9/10/18

Tony was brought to the church many years ago to be baptized and to enjoy a new life, a new birth as a Christian and be a member of a faith community. And he is here today with his faith community, religious community, family and friends as he begins eternal life.

In the gospel passage from John which was just proclaimed, Jesus shows sensitivity to the fact that the disciples’ hearts are troubled. Death and grief are things that trouble our hearts.

There is nothing right, there is nothing good about the circumstances that have brought us together today.

One of the ironies of faith is that it is hardest to believe in God when we need him the most. Just before his death on the cross, Jesus said to his disciples, DO NOT LET YOUR HEARTS BE TROUBLED. HAVE FAITH IN GOD AND FAITH IN ME.

The Lord understands that our hearts are troubled now as we struggle with the fact that Tony will not be with us as he once was. In response, Jesus assures the disciples that they know where he is going and the way to get there.

Thomas perhaps speaks for all of us as he freely admits that they don’t know where Jesus is going or the way to get there.

And they find it hard to let go of someone they love as we do as well.

There is often a fine line between holding on and letting go. Everything human about us says to hold on to Tony, but our faith tells us to let go. We want to hold on to what we know and what we know is that a good person who has touched our live is gone!

While he has gone to Father, his spirit continues to live within each of us.

If we were to ask people to do a sketch of Tony to see how he lives within each person. We would all have a different perspective of him. We could see him as a gentle, humble, funy, gracious patient, lover of life and many other aspects that create this sketch.

For some he has been seen his brother, uncle, friend, classmate and as an Oblate and son of Francis de Sales

I believe the areas that would contribute to this sketch would be his love of being an Oblate priest, his love and dedication to his family, his great love for liturgy and church environment and many more.

He was ever so faithful to his priestly obligations and was a good source of inspiration. Tony was a man of prayer who was not showy but a true gentle priest who enjoyed his priesthood and celebrated it well be it in the classroom or in a parish. He served as pastor at St. Anthony’s, St. John Neumann and St. Bernard’s. Wherever he was, Liturgy was his passion.

His family could contribute much to the sketch for his love for them was evident at all times.

When the sketch is completed there will be a composite of a person we all came to love and will miss him.

Jesus has shown him that he is the way and the truth and the life.

It is only in letting Tony go that we might be able to eventually let ourselves go when it is our time to pass the same way.

Until then, let us be grateful that our lives have been enriched by this creative, dedicated hardworking and loving person who has shown us the way, some truth and a lot of love.

Anthony J. Larry given by God 10/14/39

Anthony J. Larry given to God: 9/10/18

Anthony may you rest in peace and may your spirit live in those you have touched by your faith.

May you be singing with the choirs of angels for all eternity.

May God Be Blessed.

Watch the Presentations from 14th Annual Live Jesus!

Watch the Presentations from 14th Annual Live Jesus!

The 14th Annual Live Jesus! morning of recollection was held at St. John Neumann Church on Saturday, March 18, 2017.  More than 800 disciples gathered to share faith, fellowship, and prayer as they were inspired to live Jesus, in the example of Sts. Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal.  Click on the watch the three major presentations from the event.