Saturday, March 18, 2017

Homily for Memorial Mass for Mike Giannattasio

Homily at Memorial Mass

for Mike Giannattasio[1]
March 17, 2017
Wis 4: 7-15
Rom 14: 7-12
Salesian Boys & Girls Club, East Boston, Mass.[2]

“The just man, tho he die early, shall be at rest.  For the age that is honorable comes not with the passing of time, nor can it be measured in terms of years” (Wis 4: 7-8).
Mike was very proud of his family. He sent me this photo at the time of young Mike's graduation from college,
which seems to have been in 2012. From left: Kathy, Mike jr., Mike sr., and Kevin.
Our friend Michael was taken from us far too early.  You all agree that he was a very good man, a good husband, a good father, a good friend—one of the finest guys in the Class of ’77.  In the world of the Old Testament, many people would have viewed his death at such a relatively young age as a sign that he was evil in some way and God was punishing him (altho in Old Testament days he’d have been seen as quite an old man already, given the average life span of the time; yeah, some of you guys do look like quite old men already!).
People took such a view—age, good health, an abundance of material goods were signs of God’s good pleasure—because this life was the only life they knew.  You got blessed by God here because “here” was all there was.
The Book of Wisdom, chronologically one of the last of the books of the Old Testament, offers a different perspective.  That perspective gives us a lot of consolation and abundant hope when we consider Michael.
After those opening verses, the Wisdom reading speaks of the just man’s virtues and how God had to remove him from our corrupt world “lest wickedness pervert his mind” (4:11).  “His soul was pleasing to the Lord; therefore he sped him out of the midst of wickedness” (4:14).
I hope you weren’t the wicked company from which the Lord rescued Michael!
Seriously, we don’t come to the Eucharist to canonize our deceased loved one—not Mike, not Rich Mercurio’s dad,[3] not anyone.  We come to pray for them, to ask the Lord to cleanse them of their sins—all of us are sinners—and make them just and “pleasing to the Lord” (4:14).  We ask the Lord to bring them into the heavenly kingdom among his chosen ones, his elect (cf. 4:15).
We may consider that Mike died young.  Certainly by American expectations he did.  In this he preaches a sermon to us.  Joe Ruggiero, since he deals with death every day,[4] probably could preach a better one.  A famous tombstone epitaph reads
          Remember, man that passeth by:
          As thou art now, so once was I.
          And as I am, so thou must be;
          Prepare thyself to follow me.
Where Mike has gone, you and I shall go in our turn.  St. Paul cautions us about that:  “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of God” and “each of us shall give an account of himself to God” (Rom 14:10,12).  We pray that our Lord Jesus recognized Mike as a good and faithful husband, father, and friend and welcomed him when he came to judgment.
Some of you have spoken about how much you treasure what you learned at Savio.  Certainly the book knowledge—the math, English, history, and all that—was important.  Friendship and life-knowledge were more important, as you have experienced so powerfully as a class.  [Name omitted] keeps telling me that was my doing.  You guys have known for 40 years better than to believe him, haven’t you?  [loud laughter]  Rather, I’d say it was God’s doing and your openness to God’s grace.
Many of you also learned the most important lesson of Dom Savio—what young Dominic himself lived:  my friends will be Jesus and Mary.  I’ll keep Sunday as a holy day.  I’ll go to confession and Communion often.  I’d rather die than commit sin.
When Mike came to God’s judgment a month ago, and when we appear there, Christ isn’t going to care how many books we read—believe it or not!  No quiz on A Tale of Two Cities or Jonathan Livingston Seagull.[5]  Nor about sinking a sky hook[6] now and then, or about the Pats or our fine suburban homes or even our marvelous class reunions.  Christ cares about our relationship with him, our having made him the center of our lives.  As St. Paul says, “None of us lives for himself….  If we live, we live for the Lord….  This is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living” (Rom 14:7-9).
The take-home from your Savio education and from these months that we’ve gone thru with Michael needs to be that Christ loves you, and he really wants to be part of your life:  in prayer, Scripture reading, the sacraments, and example, i.e., you try to model of your life and your attitudes on him.  He wants you to be in a strong, healthy relationship with him.  Keep that strong and healthy, or do something now if you need to, to make it strong and healthy.  (Both Fr. John and Fr. Jay[7] will be happy to help you get there; me too, while I’m here.)
If you don’t want to hear St. Paul appealing to you, then hear Michael appealing from eternity, just as he appealed to a good number of you to come and reunite with your classmates.  When our own time comes, early or late in life, to follow where Mike has gone, may it be said that the Lord found us pleasing to him, and so he snatched us away from the world’s wickedness and brought us home to live with him.
God bless you all:  Kathy, Mike, and Kevin; Class of ’77; and all who loved and mourn Michael G.
Members of the Class of '77 at the Great Savio Reunion in 2012.
Mike G. is at the lower right; your humble blogger at the lower left.

                [1] St. Dominic Savio HS, Class of 1977, member of the 1973-74 freshman class whose dean and English teacher I was.  He died on 2/15/17 at age 57.
                [2] The Club now uses one of the buildings that was St. Dominic Savio HS, specifically the one where the freshmen had their classes—which is one reason why the class chose to celebrate this memorial Mass there.
                [3] Who was buried that same morning.
                [4] Class member, owner of a funeral home.
                [5] Two not-very-subtle references to books they read in class or as optional reading for freshman English, which I taught.
                [6] Reference to a seldom-successful basketball shot by one of the class, present for the Mass.
                [7] Salesians at the Boys & Girls Club.

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