While I have not blogged in a little over a year, I felt a particular call to put down a few words in light of Tom's passing away this past weekend. As I type this, Tom's funeral arrangements are underway, and sadly, I can not be there physically. I hope that my attempt at writing connects me to him in a very spiritual way that transcends physical proximity. As a way of showing solidarity from a distance with Tom, his family, and his dear friends, I attended mass this morning for him. Fr. Tom, or Vigs, as some of us liked to call him, always made a point to teach us how connected we all are as a human family whenever we gather together around the altar to celebrate the Eucharist. Often, he would tell me, "I'll remember you at the altar where it matters most." I think I'm finally starting to understand it. If we can not be thankful for each other in this world that with which God has blessed us, then what else do we have?
Sitting in the quiet of St. Dominic's Church this morning, I listened to the words of the first reading from the Book of Genesis (Gen. 32:23-33), the Responsorial Psalm (Ps.17), and the Gospel from Matthew (Mt. 9: 32-38). Naturally, given where my thoughts were this morning, I found that all of the readings echoed memories and/or experiences that I have of Tom.
The first reading from Genesis tells the story of Jacob receiving the name Israel from God because Jacob had "contended with divine and human beings and [had] prevailed." Earlier in the reading, the Genesis author uses the word "wrestle" to describe Jacob's contention. If I had ever approached Fr. Tom seeking a solution to a personal struggle, he rarely, if ever, gave me a definitive answer. Rather, he would simply encourage me to continue "wrestling" with it through prayer and reflection because he knew that that's where I would learn the most about myself and God. This could be so frustrating because I just wanted him to tell me the "right" answer, but he knew that would not help me grow spiritually. I guess now I have to "wrestle" with the fact that my friend isn't a simple call or text away anymore but rather a simple prayer away. For teaching me how to "wrestle" with my faith and still be ok, thank you, Thomas.
The refrain in the Responsorial Psalm was "In justice, I shall behold your face, O God." If there is one major element of my faith that blossomed under Vigs, it was my understanding of social justice. To put it lightly, social justice involves becoming aware of and an advocate of change for those people, ideas, circumstances, environments, etc. that might in any way, shape, or form, hinder one's ability to maintain his or her God-given human dignity. As the refrain suggests, when one experiences true justice, one will see the benevolent face of God. The face of God sees and knows all who reach out in faith looking for justice. For teaching me that justice requires an infinite amount of compassion to sort through the gray areas in life, thank you, Thomas.
Lastly, the Gospel today could not have been more relevant in my reflection on my relationship with Tom. The story today speaks of Jesus casting out demons, curing illnesses, and being a shepherd to the people in ways that no one had ever seen before him. The Gospel goes on to speak of the work of God being an abundant harvest having very few laborers to complete the work. Fr. Tom, in the charism of St. Francis of Assisi, labored for God's harvest better than most of us will ever. He taught me that as a fellow laborer in Christ all I can do is try to center my life around perpetual attempts to follow Jesus through compassionate justice, endless peace, and unconditional love. For being a true laborer shepherd to me and countless others over your life time, thank you, Thomas.
peace and all good,
(From left to right: Fr. David Hyman, ofm., Me, Fr. Tom Vigliotta, ofm.)
May we be ever-faithful, ever-mindful, and ever-joyful.