This morning I was moved almost to tears by this homily from Friday’s funeral mass for Spc. Stephen Fortunato of Beverly, MA, published in yesterday’s Salem Evening News. Here’s an excerpt from the end:
When Stephen entered into the valley of the shadow of death on a roadside in a faraway land, he was not alone. You � his family � made sure of that. You gave him something that lasts forever. When you carried him into this church 25 years ago, you introduced Stephen to the Good Shepherd. And Christ has never left the side of Stephen. “Even though I should walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. With thy rod and thy staff, thou givest me comfort.” Christ, the Good Shepherd, has led the way through the valley of death and in his resurrection, he has conquered man’s greatest enemy � death itself. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, went ahead of Stephen to prepare a place for him in the Father’s house. When Stephen closed his eyes to this world, Christ was beside him. And it is our Christian hope that when Stephen opened his eyes again, the Good Shepherd welcomed him to life eternal.
On an October morning 25 years ago, you carried your son into this church, and entrusted him to Christ the Good Shepherd. You trusted that Christ, the Good Shepherd would stay forever at his side and guide him beside restful waters and would refresh his soul. This morning, your family, your community, your parish, your country, carries your son again into this church. We ask God to have mercy on the soul of Stephen and to purify him. We give thanks to Almighty God for Stephen’s life and for his devoted and complete service. We also ask God to give to each one of us a deep and abiding friendship with Jesus Christ � for he is the way to the Father’s House. And apart him we can do nothing.
Stephen began his journey to eternal life here in this church � dedicated to Mary, Star of the Sea. Today marks the end of Stephen’s mission; of his journey. May Mary, Star of the Sea, now guide him from the troubled waters of Earth to the safe harbors of heaven. May Christ, the Good Shepherd, now open to Stephen the doors of the Father’s House, and may Stephen discover within its halls what he so willingly and valiantly sacrificed for others � true life, true liberty and everlasting happiness. Amen.
This morning as we went to mass for the last time at the parish where Dom and I met, where we were married and where Isabella and Sophia were baptized, I contemplated once more on the meaning of that baptism. We have set our daughters’ feet on the path to eternal life, we have given to Christ the Good Shepherd the souls he has entrusted to our care so that even when our frail humanity fails them, His shall not.
My mother’s heart quails when I think of the dangers my little girls could one day face. But I know that no matter what dark valleys they walk through, they will never be alone. There is no greater comfort.
May the souls of the faithful departed, and especially the soul of Stephen Fortunato, rest in peace. May God’s mercy bring them to share in the eternal wedding banquet of heaven. And God grant that one day I may see Him face to face and also see all of my children there in His kingdom, especially that small child who has proceeded me and whose face I have never yet seen.