Funeral Homily for Gaetano Gagliano (1917 – 2016)
St. Clare of Assisi Church – Woodbridge, Ontario
April 18, 2016
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO, Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation
Your Eminence Cardinal Collins,
Dear Sisters, especially of the Pauline Family,
Carissima Giuseppina and my adopted Gagliano brothers and sisters,
Friends in Christ,
Gaetano Gagliano would be thrilled to see this crowd assembled in his beautiful parish church of St. Clare of Assisi today – not because you have come to honor him, but rather that you have come to adore the Lord and thank God for Gaetano’s life.
The first reading from the Book of Wisdom describes so well what we now experience: “[Gaetano’s] passing away is thought an affliction and his going forth from us, utter destruction.” But Solomon’s Wisdom also offers us this reassuring message: “the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them…. They are at peace.” We grieve and are sad, yet isn’t it consoling to know that Gaetano, whom we loved so much, is now in the hand of God and he will not experience any torment or suffering again?
Gaetano was husband, father, grandfather, uncle, friend and business colleague to each of us because he was alive with God every day of his life. It was not only intelligence, savvy and success that made these things happen; it was also a humble, biblical wisdom that animated his life. Gaetano’s mantra was: “Never forget that money is useful, but it also dangerous. You have worked and received your reward. Many others cannot work or have not succeeded as we have. Do not be arrogant and selfish. Never close the door to those who ask for help.” It was from that storehouse of God-given wisdom that Gaetano nourished us. Gaetano was a clever man but also a very wise man because God was always at the centre of his life.
No one who knew Gaetano needed to ask what motivated and then sustained his profound familial, ecclesial, social and charitable concern. It was rooted in his belief that we are children of a good, just and loving God, and that every human life was sacred; each of us is our brother’s and sister’s keeper. Many speak of the Gagliano family philanthropy to so many causes. But this generosity finds its roots in the deepest meaning of the Greek word “philanthopia” which means hospitality, love of human beings and kindness. These were the gifts and qualities that Gaetano passed on to his entire family.
As we gathered around his deathbed in the family home in Woodbridge early last Thursday morning, the words of St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy were etched in our minds and hearts: “I have competed well; I have finished the race;I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance… . But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it.”
But it is today’s Gospel reading that provides us with a penetrating, personal insight into Gaetano’s life among us. This Easter Gospel story of Jesus and Peter is set against the incredibly beautiful backdrop of the Sea of Galilee. When Peter decides to go fishing, there is a certain feeling of resignation about it, alluding to the depression and discouragement he and the other disciples must have experienced after Jesus’ death. This simple narrative offers us one of the most personal and moving commissioning stories in the Bible. “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these? Do you love me? Are you my friend?” [Jn 21:15] Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus during the trial and crucifixion is now canceled out by the three-fold declaration of love. There are many other questions which we can imagine Jesus having asked Peter concerning his suitability for ministry. For example, “Simon, son of John, are you aware of the responsibilities that you are undertaking? Do you realize your weakness? Have you thought that it is difficult to bear others’ burdens? “Simon, son of John, do you understand? Are you aware of how many people about you are in need of help: the poor, the hungry, the sick, the needy, and the lonely? Where will you find bread enough to give them something to eat?” But Jesus sums them all up in a single, basic question: “Simon, son of John, do you love me? Are you really my friend?”
Ten years ago, as Gaetano and I were preparing to film one of the more than 150 episodes of “In Conversazione”, he arrived in our Salt and Light studios all ready to go. For Gaetano, it was always “lights, camera, action” no matter what the theme or the program! That particular episode was meant for the Easter season. Though his theological vocabulary was limited, Gaetano’s mind and heart were constantly on fire! I was planning to discuss with him today’s passage from John’s gospel. When I read the story to Gaetano before the cameras started rolling, he said to me: “Padre Thomas, why did Jesus have to ask Peter three times if he loved him? What’s wrong with Peter? You would think that Peter would have realized just who this man was and not need the question asked three times!” Gaetano told me: “If Peter were here now, I would let him know just who Jesus was!” We enjoyed a good laugh together! I am sure that Gaetano has had a few good conversations with Peter by now to clear this matter up once and for all!
Simon, son of John, do you love me? “Follow me.” Those words were also addressed to Gaetano at so many moments of his long, fruitful life. As a young boy Gaetano heard the Lord’s voice speaking to him: “Gaetano, son of Francesco, mi ami tu? Do you love me? Then leave your home in that small farming town of Cattolica di Eraclea in Sicily and go to Padre Giacomo Alberione in Alba to begin your studies for the priesthood.” But very frail health prevented this poor, young country boy from pursuing that path. Twice he was sent back home from the seminary by Fr. Alberione, who told Gaetano that perhaps another vocation awaited him. Gaetano followed the Lord’s voice through the guidance of that wise, holy priest.
Gaetano would hear the Lord’s summons again at age 38. “Gaetano, son of Francesco e Giuseppina, mi ami tu? Do you love me? Then leave your homeland and travel to Canada, with Giuseppina your wife, five small children and forty dollars in your pocket. Some would consider this leap of faith to be pure folly. For Gaetano, he had all that was necessary to begin a new life in a foreign land: faith, family and a desire to make a difference. By day he laid tracks for the railroad and by night he printed wedding invitations and business cards in his basement. Laid off from the railroad, he became the sole employee, working day and night at what would later become St. Joseph Corporation.
“Gaetano, son of Francesco e Giuseppina, mi ami tu? Do you love me? Let your family grow… five children would become ten. Gaetano followed the Lord once again in building a deeply Catholic, Christian family. Together with Giuseppina they would become grandparents to 35 beautiful grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.
Still another time Gaetano heard the Lord’s call, this time through a dream in which Fr. Alberione appeared to Gaetano in the late 1990’s. “Gaetano, son of Francesco e Giuseppina, mi ami tu? Do you love me? Then do something for mass media. You must start a television network!” What humor the Lord has when he invites people to follow him! A man who knew nothing about television and technology finds a priest who knows even less and together we decided to follow the Lord in this great adventure now known as Salt and Light Television. Little did I ever imagine that I, too, would be used by the Lord to help fulfill a dream and a vision passed on to an old man of 86 years who was truly evergreen! That dream, inspired by the Lord and mediated by Blessed James Alberione, founder of the Pauline Family – five Religious Congregations, four Institutes of Consecrated Secular Life, and a Lay Association – was the wind beneath Gaetano’s wings these past 13 years.
One year ago, Gaetano heard the Lord’s call once again. “Gaetano, son of Francesco, mi ami tu? Follow me on the cross of physical suffering.” A debilitating stroke did not make him waver, even in his inability to speak and move freely. Gaetano reminded us that aging and suffering are a natural part of being human. In a land where an insidious law of euthanasia seems to have the upper hand, and where the old and infirm are so easily put away in nursing homes and often forgotten, Gaetano was a timely and powerful reminder that our parents and grandparents, the sick, the handicapped and the dying have great value. How blessed we all were to witness his stamina, courage, faith and love even under the guise of physical suffering over the past year! How blessed was Gaetano to receive a care that was palliative, loving, generous and compassionate! Increasingly Gaetano entered into the communion of Christ’s sufferings; he understood the truth of the words: “Someone else will fasten a belt around you.” And in this very communion with the suffering Lord, Gaetano proclaimed the Gospel with the acceptance of his suffering.
How many times have those of us close to Gaetano heard his deep regret in not fulfilling his initial dream of becoming a priest with Fr. Alberione! Several years ago Gaetano and I had a heart-to-heart talk and I told him that to some along the way, Jesus issues the invitation “Come, follow me,” but to Gaetano, he says “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” I assured Gaetano that his was one of the most priestly lives I have ever encountered. For our baptism marks us all as a priestly people. A priestly person is one who spends himself gladly for others and lays down his life for his friends. The opposite of a priestly life is a consumer who merely buys, spends and amasses wealth and people for himself or herself. I reminded Gaetano that Jesus never rejected his application for discipleship and ministry, but accepted it fully. For who better than Gaetano Gagliano would have enough clout and credibility to preach the Jesus story? Who better than Gaetano would be able to speak with such conviction and passion about marriage, fidelity, family life, love, charity, kindness, business ethics, hope and generosity?
Early last Thursday morning, Gaetano heard the Lord’s voice for the last time on earth. “Gaetano, son of Francesco e Giuseppina, mi ami tu? Do you love me? Follow me.” I am certain that Gaetano’s response was very much like Peter’s: “Lord, You know everything. You know that I love you.”
The love of Christ was the dominant force in Gaetano’s life. Gaetano always recognized himself as a sinner in need of God’s boundless mercy. Let us give thanks to God for the life and witness of Gaetano Gagliano. Let us thank God for the myriad of ways that we were touched by him and for the lessons we learned from him. Let us commend him to God’s mercy and love, pray for the forgiveness of his sins, the repose of his soul, and beg the Lord to give Gaetano the crown of righteousness that awaits him because the Lord stood by him and gave him strength, so that through him, the proclamation of the Gospel was completed and many nations welcomed it because of him.
[L’amore di Cristo fu la forza dominante nella vita di Gaetano. Gaetano si è sempre riconosciuto come un peccatore bisognoso della misericordia infinita di Dio. Rendiamo grazie a Dio per la vita e la testimonianza di Gaetano Gagliano. Rendiamo grazie a Dio per la miriade di modi in cui siamo stati toccati da lui e per le lezioni che abbiamo imparato da lui. Affidiamo Gaetano alla misericordia e all’amore di Dio. Preghiamo per il perdono dei suoi peccati, il riposo della sua anima, e preghiamo il Signore di dare a Gaetano la corona di giustizia che lo attende, perché il Signore gli stava vicino e gli dava forza. Potremo dire con fiducia che attraverso la vita e la vocazione di Gaetano Gagliano, l’annuncio del Vangelo è stato completato e molte nazioni lo hanno accolto a causa di lui.]