Emmitsburg Council of Churches

A Holy and Beautiful Man

Father John J. Lombardi

(Reflections from a Homily delivered at the Funeral Mass of Deacon Vincent J. Perticone-Aug 18, 2003)

C.S. Lewis, the great English-Christian apologist, once said that followers of Jesus, are called not only to be saved from despair and separation from God, but are also called to become "Little Christ's"-"mirrors" of Him on Earth.  Deacon Vince became a Little Christ. 

As I begin this homily I'm reminded of how Vince used to prepare his homilies, and how he would ask Agnes for her input. Vince listened and went back to change a piece here or there, and then Agnes would listen again and make more comments-"make it uplifting" or some other helpful hint. Sometimes Vince would agree, sometimes not. By the time Vince got to Church to deliver the homily, with Agnes sitting in the front row, she wouldn't recognize homily! It was all changed and different!

Last night at the funeral home many friends of Deacon Vince said how they would go out to lunch with him-Nick on Thursday, Joe on Tuesday and others on different days. Fr George, the pastor of St Joseph Church, and presider of the wake service, said:---"Is that all he did, was go out to lunch?"

Word and Sacrament-that is what a deacon is about: Preach the Bible and celebrate the Sacraments. That's how Deacon Vince became a "Little Christ".

Today's readings are about the Heavenly Father's Plan-his Divine Providence for His children in this world. We have these readings for Vince's good and our own: Do I really trust Him to take care of me? In the first reading from Ecclesiastes, we hear of how there is "an appointed time for everything under Heaven.  a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to mourn and a time to laugh; a time to seek and a time to lose.  " (3:1-6). We have "lost" a dear friend. Coming to the funeral home last night I met a friend and said, "We've lost a dear friend." And his immediate reply was: "One of the greats." Yes, one of the greats. 

Ecclesiastes is a pungent, no-nonsense view of reality, realistic and terse, in unflinchingly describing the trials and tribulations of reality, and the challenge of facing it all. It would be fatalistic if it was not for God saving us, if not for Jesus' coming to rescue us from the "vanity of vanities" (1:2 ). Vince's death was stunning and beautiful. Agnes, his lovely wife of forty-six years, was there throughout four days of Vince's suffering, belabored breathing and struggling. Vince's children-Vince Jr., Craig and Janine--were also there, along with the grandchildren. One of them slept at Pop-Pops feet, gently holding and sometimes caressing them. She held a rosary in her hand, as did others. As Vince died, they were praying the rosary, singing songs, hearing Bible readings, and the "Ave Maria" played on a tape recorder. Agnes said the picture on the television, previously displaying the Crucifix of Jesus, now showed the Tabernacle in the Chapel-Jesus in the Eucharist--He was near Vince and his family. Amidst all the torments God was comforting them.

And Vince's suffering was extended these last few days for a reason. Like a St. Bernadette who used her suffering, after seeing the Blessed Mother at Lourdes, and later becoming plagued by tuberculosis, offering up her suffering for the saving of souls, Vince used the opportunity to do the same. St Peter, the first Pope said: "Christ suffered for you and left you an example to follow in His footsteps" (I Pt. 1:21) Deacon Vince's death was beautiful and it affected everyone. This trial was not in vain. Fr Sal said the Blessed Virgin Mary orchestrated it so he would come to Jesus-in "an appointed time to die".

Today's second reading says: "Nothing can separate us from the Love of Christ. "Will anguish or distress or persecution or peril.  ? Neither death nor angels.  nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love off God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rm. 8:35-39).  With grandchildren, friends and family, Vince was always with God, reminding others of Him. His weekly lunches with Nick Dieter were filled with conversation about Jesus: "We would always talk about the Lord," Nick said. Nick's wife, who joined them a couple times over two years, said, "You said the same thing last year!"

One time we went to meet Mother Teresa on Vince's birthday. I can't exactly remember what Mother Teresa said to Vince, but I can remember that he was, on his birthday, like a little child-beaming. I think she said: "Listen to Agnes when she comments on your homilies." No, just kidding! But she did give him a Miraculous Medal of the Virgin Mary. For Vince, the Virgin Mary did not separate him from Christ but rather led him to the Lord. In praying the Rosary and thru his devotions to the Mother of God, Vince was led to Jesus and closer to a holy way of life. Perhaps you have not prayed the Rosary or it is a little "dusty," maybe placed out of the way. Pick it up, pray the Rosary, or pray a decade-with your heart--and, like the Pope encouraged in his recent encyclical on the Eucharist, embrace, with Mary, an "enraptured gaze upon the Lord". Mary brings us to Jesus.

Vince loved the Bible. We just heard one of his favorite readings, in Romans, chapter eight. While preaching on this text, Vince once said, "This is one of the most moving verses in all of Scripture: 'Come to Me all you who are weary and I will refresh you.' (11:28). Now, the Lord is refreshing Vince. So, daily, try to read the Bible as Vince did-cultivate a love for it and never be separated from God. Become a "Little Christ".

When Vince belonged to St Isaac Jogues Parish, he started a Vincent DePaul Society. He wasn't a deacon yet, and he didn't have to begin this venture, but because, as someone said last night, he loved the poor, he wanted to help them. He wanted no one to separate from Christ and took concrete steps to find Jesus in His "disguises". In this way he became a "Little Christ.".  As far as I know, Deacon Vince was not perfect-Agnes, you can have equal time here (!). He was not without sin-we are all sinners (Rm. 3:23)-all of us, laypersons, priests and seekers need God to polish us into "Little Christ's". Vince knew this. And so he partook of the Sacrament of Reconciliation: he regularly confessed his sins because he trusted in Jesus to forgive him. In this Sacrament we have a kind of portal or door to freedom and healing, thru the ministry of the priest and the Church. St. James says: "Is anyone among you sick? He should pray.  pray over him and anoint him.  If he has committed sins he will be forgiven" (5:13-15). Vince was not separated from God, because of this Sacrament, and, in a way because of it, he became a "Little Christ".

One time Vince and Fr Sal took a trip to Florida, to visit the baseball camps of spring training. Vince was a Baltimore Orioles fan and Fr Sal a New Yankees fan-what a trip that must have been! But, along the way of this vacation and journey, they were never separated from Christ: they prayed, attended Mass and spoke of spiritual things.  Vince is on a trip to Heaven now. We can pray for him that God remove any imperfection in him, fix any undone work and purify him totally to make him ready for the Beatific Vision--to be with Mary in God, the Most Blessed Trinity. 

In St John's Gospel, Jesus said, "In My Father's House there are many dwelling places.  I am going to prepare a place for you that where I am you also may be" (14:2). Jesus does not leave our Heavenly pilgrimage to chance or mere coincidence, but He goes before us "show us the Way"-so we may be with Him forever. That Way is not always what we have planned. Vince said at the beginning of this year that, when he received news of his illness, he was praying for three things: "That I accept this sickness. I ask for a healing, and that, no matter what, God's will be done." Those are words of a holy man. Vince knew, a la Ecclesiastes, that suffering and trials are part of life-and so he accepted God's allowing him this sickness-he was at peace with suffering for Jesus. In this way he was becoming a "Little Christ". But, like a Christian man, and is encouraged for us to do in the Bible and in our Religion, Vince asked for healing if it was God's will-that's intercessory prayer and trusting in God as a providential Father. And then, most importantly: He trusted God and His Will to be done, not his own. Like Jesus Who prayed the same prayers and sentiments, Vince was becoming a "Little Christ". He taught us how to live.  and how to die and suffer. Become a "Little Christ".

Last Fall Vince and his cousin Vince Perticone and Fr Sal, came to the Grotto and trip to the mountains. We had a great time laughing, talking, touring, and even went swimming-although the guys chickened out. After our venture we all decided, before getting dinner, to make a holy hour-praying before Jesus in the Tabernacle in the glass chapel-church. There was a family there before we arrived, elegantly and quietly sitting facing the altar and Christ in the Holy Bread of angels. We asked them if they would like to join us for a holy hour of prayer. They eagerly said "Yes!" and, and the little boy with them-about age three-sat there in holy silence the whole time, praying and loving the Lord. Vince loved this-adoration and comfort, peace in Holy Communion.

In yesterday's Sunday Gospel, Jesus says: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my Blood, will abide in Me and I in him" (6:56). Deacon Vince loved the Mass and the Lord in Holy Communion. We all knew this. Through Communion Vince became a "Little Christ". In yesterday's Mass, as she approached the Altar and Communion, Agnes said she got chills, recalling Vince's words: "Remember me in the Mass-you can always find me there around the Altar." Deacon Vince became a Little Christ

St Augustine once stunningly said, and Vince took these words to heart: "Receive what you believe, eat what you receive and become what you eat.".  Deacon Vince, we love you. 

Meditations: How can I become more holy- and follow Jesus more?  How can I go to Holy Communion, and Confession and let Jesus shape me into a "Little Christ?  How can I pray the Rosary with my heart and meditate upon the Bible to let God's Word dwell within me?  How can I devote more daily time to the Holy Trinity in meditative prayer? St Irenaus reminds us of our high-highest calling: to become "Little Christ's"-like God Himself: "God gave us Himself to us through His Spirit. By participation of the Spirit, we become communicants in the Divine Nature.  .For this reason, those in whom the Spirit dwells are divinized."

St. Augustine on "Friendship": "There were other things done in their company which completely seized my mind: to talk and to laugh with them; to do friendly acts of service for one another; to read well-written books together; sometimes to tell jokes and sometimes to be serious; to disagree at times, but without hard feelings, just as a man does with himself; and to keep our many discussions pleasant by the very rarity of such differences; to teach things to others and to learn from them; to long impatiently for those who were absent, and to receive with joy those joining us. These and similar expressions, proceeding from the hearts of those who loved and repaid their comrades' love, by way of countenance, tongue, eyes, and a thousand pleasing gestures, were like fuel to set our minds ablaze and to make but one out of many." The Confessions of St. Augustine, IV, 8.

Drawing Life From The Eucharist - The new Encyclical of Pope John Paul II: "In the Eucharist the Church is completely united to Christ and His sacrifice, and makes her own the spirit of Mary. This truth can be understood more deeply by re-reading the Magnificat in a Eucharistic key.  When Mary exclaims: 'My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior'.  she praises God 'through' Jesus, but she also praises him 'in' Jesus and 'with' Jesus. This is itself the true 'Eucharistic attitude'. At the same time Mary recalls the wonders worked by God in salvation history in fulfillment of the promise once made to the father (cf. Lk 1:55), and proclaims the wonder that surpasses them all, the redemptive incarnation.   Mary sings of the 'new heavens' and the 'new earth' which find in the Eucharist their anticipation and in some sense their program and plan. The Magnificat expresses Mary's spirituality, and there is nothing greater than this spirituality for helping us to experience the mystery of the Eucharist. The Eucharist has been given to us so that our life, like that of Mary, may become completely a Magnificat!"

Briefly Noted

Bible Readings: Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b; Ps 34:2-3, 16-21; Eph 5:21-32; Jn 6:60-69

If You can Help!-we are asking for donations to help pay for the recent renewal of our parking lot. Any donation would be greatly appreciated! Please mark check or donation "Grotto maintenance." We sincerely thank you for your charity!

Grotto Story: Just recently, a lady from Scotland was visiting and spoke of how her son, age 24, was sick with cancer. They came to the Grotto to receive healing and blessing prayers. Months later, in a diagnosis, the son's cancer was in remission. Now, fifteen years later, he is living a full life in work and is devoted to God in his work, family and travels. Remember: one percent of the work of a miracle is ours-fully disposing yourself to receive God's mercy and healing, becoming more supple and open-hearted. And one-hundred percent is God's-it is the Lord Who heals and grants favors. As you visit the Grotto, any shrine or church, or ask for healing in your life, ask for God's miraculous healing and also always remember: "They will be done". The mom's ebullience and thankfulness was evident in returning to thank God for His grace.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi