(I delivered this homily on November 19, 2014 at the Funeral Mass of my dear brother, Danny.)
Sebastian, all these people are here because they love your father. And why do they love your father? Well…because he was Danny! Danny would own a room the moment he walked in. He would flash his million-dollar smile and the party would begin. We are here because we loved Danny, and we are here, Sebastian to thank God for the gift of your father?
Yes Danny would do things that would infuriate us at times, but we know that inside that big firefighter was a heart that could only have been created by God himself. A heart where the seed of faith was planted by my parents: the same seed that they planted in my sister and me. Growing up, Jesus Christ was the center of our home. We would pray intensely before every meal. We were taught the meaning of love of neighbor. We were taught to love God and country since our parents and grandparent fled their own country so they could raise us in a free land. We were taught to open our hearts to the poor, to the less fortunate, to the stranger. Many people have always pointed out how different Danny the firefighter and his brother the priest are. I have said this many times and my own mother can confirm this, but my brother has a heart that is bigger than mine. It was a heart that even this priest envied. It was a heart that was raised in a loving home by two extraordinary parents who raised their three children exactly the same way. It was a home where three vocations of service were nurtured: a priest, a sign language interpreter, and a firefighter. My mother prided herself in telling anyone who asked that each of her children served the Lord in their own way because in our kitchen was a sign that displayed the Old Testament verse, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).” It was a home that was consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary that allowed each of us to answer God’s call and to utter in different ways: “Be it done to me according to thy word (Luke 1:38).” But it was my brother’s heart that was the biggest, and it impacted so many lives especially those he served in the line of duty as a firefighter.
My brother rarely talked or bragged about the heroism he displayed every day that he put on the uniform of a City of Miami Firefighter. But over the last few days, his brother firefighters have shared with me stories that show me and show my parents that the seeds of faith that they planted bloomed beautifully when he served the people of Miami. Not long ago, he showed a young firefighter what compassion was all about. This young firefighter wrote this to my brother on Saturday night: “I remember a homeless guy at 3am covered in urine and smelling awful with no real 911 emergency—we knew he just wanted out of the rain. You treated that man like he was an old friend. Talking to him kindly and being warm with him even though we were near our 20th call of the tour. When we left him at [Jackson], I watched you shake his hand. And the man thanked you. Your reply was to thank him for the “conversation” you shared in back of the rescue. I will remember you Danny as will so many others for being a good man with a good heart.”
This was my brother. He may not have gone to church every Sunday, but he lived the Gospel of Jesus Christ during every shift and every tour. He loved his vocation with reckless abandon. I’ll never forget his graduation from the academy when he scaled the ten story training building in Coconut Grove and came down headfirst! It was with that same reckless abandon that he played football (I still remember a game when he proudly wore the Columbus uniform in which he dislocated his finger, sat out one play, popped it back in, ran back on the field, only to break his finger on the next play…my brother!) But in the firefighter’s uniform, he exemplified what it meant to be a firefighter and a Christian. This is what our parents taught us and this is the legacy of service he leaves behind to all of his brothers who wear the uniform throughout South Florida in so many departments. May the Good Lord and St. Florian, the patron of firefighters, always protect you all.
Yet we gather this morning with a void in our hearts. It is a void that can only be filled by Jesus Christ and his merciful love. A wise nun told my mother on Saturday that the mercy of God is far greater than the justice of God. So we gather to pray for my brother and the repose of his soul comforted by the words we just heard from St. John: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2).” This is what our family spiritual director told us with firm conviction on that awful Saturday morning: “Now your brother is being embraced by God our Father with the unconditional love that he has for all of us. And now he sees all the Truth that he did not see before.” This is the same priest that baptized my brother in the waters of eternal life 35 years ago and who sprinkled him with those same waters this morning. And yesterday I reminded my mother who kept repeating that her son was now an angel, I said, “Mom, as Christians we don’t aspire to be angels, we aspire to be saints,” for the saints are the ones who are blessed to behold the magnificent face of our Father in heaven.
My friends, our Savior tells us “do not let your hearts be troubled…In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” We pray that Danny enter the dwelling place that Jesus has prepared for him: for he died for him, loved him and blessed that incredible heart of my brother in this life.
His was a heart that loved his son more than words can express, and now we need to shower my nephew with the same love of Jesus. Sebastian, who is the greatest gift that Danny gave our family, inherited the heart of his father and along with his mother we need to nurture, protect and fill that heart with unconditional love.
And now all of us who grieve lean on the Merciful Heart of Our Lord for consolation and strength. We look to Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Only with faith can we overcome this trial. Only by following the example of Mary who also had to bury a Son can we persevere through any dark hour. But we lean on Lord in this month of thanksgiving, to thank Him for the gift of Danny, for the gift of his smile, for the gift of his good looks, his charisma, his charm, his strength, his grit, his determination, his service, and most of all for that amazing heart of his. Thank you Lord Jesus! Thank you Lord Jesus! Thank you Lord Jesus, for the gift of my brother.
Rest well, little brother.
Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.