In forty-one years of life, this is the very first Father’s Day that doesn’t include my Dad. On April 22, my father, Thomas M. Perna passed into eternal life after complications and an infection due to his forty year chronic suffering with Crohn’s Disease. Although it’s extremely difficult to write this post today, I know in my heart that Dad is with Our Lord no longer enduring the physical suffering he endured while on earth.
I can’t thank enough my friends as well as my co-workers and the parishioners at the parish who have prayed, supported, and prayed some more for our family at this time. Although we each have our bad days, and I imagine those days will continue for the months ahead, I know that Jesus Christ, his Blessed Mother, the Saints and Angels, as well as the Mystical Body of Christ in heaven, purgatory, and on earth will continue to hold us up in prayer.
It’s hard to explain to someone what this feels like unless you go through it yourself. The quote by Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete below is very fitting. My only advice to you is this – if your father is still on this side of Heaven, spend as much time with him as you can. A day doesn’t go by now that I wish I had just one more day with Dad, especially when our sports teams are playing or something good happens.
So to honor my Dad this Father’s Day, here is the eulogy that I gave at his Vigil and Visitation on Sunday, April 26 at the Queen of Heaven Mortuary and Cemetery –
For someone who talks about physical death, spiritual death, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the resurrection of the body, on a weekly basis as the Director of Adult Evangelization and Catechesis, I found the last few weeks to be some of the most difficult I have endured since I have not only have spoken about these topics, but with my family, we have lived and experienced this things with the entrance of my father, Thomas M. Perna, into eternal rest.
In a culture that wants to live forever, and when that’s not possible, to push death quickly away, to sweep it under the rug, so that it can get on with whatever is entertaining at the moment, I remember that death is just another step in life. The words of Gandalf in The Return of the King comes to mind when Pippin believes the end is near…Gandalf says,
“End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it…White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.”
Then Pippin says, “well, that isn’t so bad.” And Gandalf replies, “No. No, it isn’t.”
Even though this is from the novel and mind of J.R. Tolkien, our understanding of the heavenly realm isn’t far off from this understanding. I don’t know about you, but the words, “that isn’t so bad” seems perfect to me.
Although Dad is no longer with us here on earth, we are still connected to him, and all the dead, through the Mystical Body of Christ and the Communion of Saints.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states in paragraph #958…
“In full consciousness of this communion of the whole Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, the Church in its pilgrim members, from the very earliest days of the Christian religion, has honored with great respect the memory of the dead; and ‘because it is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins’ she offers her suffrages for them.” Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.”
Focusing on the great respect the Christian religion have for the memory of the dead, we should always remember Dad as he was – a strong, Italian man, originally from Newark, New Jersey, who loved the heat and sunshine much more than cold and snow.
I remember the year we moved to Arizona, it was 1983, I drove with him in the truck the entire 2600 miles that carried all of our possessions as well as a car in tow, as Mom, Carla, and the two dogs followed behind in another car. It was like the Scottsdale Hillbillies! In regards to the snow and ice, I will never forget the words of Dad when he said, if I never see ice and snow again that still won’t be long enough.
I can tell you that he loved his family very much. There wasn’t a time that went by when he wasn’t looking to provide for us. Even way into our 30’s, Dad always asked if we (Carla and I) had money on us. Every time I was at the house, he would ask – do you have money on you? Once I said, yeah…it’s called a debit card. He gave me that look like who are you fooling. Then said, you should always have cash on you. The socks I am wearing today Dad gave to me. Even the pocket watch I have on me gave from Dad.
At times, we would say – here’s 20 bucks…don’t tell your Mother. Or, when there were too many water bottles delivered to the house – take some water home with you. There are other countless examples, but in the end, Dad’s main concern was always his family.
The one thing about my Father that I will carry through the rest of my life is his zealous joy for the New York Yankees, Giants, and Rangers. It was Dad who taught us to cheer for Champions. At one time, Dad and I both had Yankee rooms filled with Yankee memorabilia. When you get to see Mantle, Maris, Yogi, and Whitey play ball, there is no way on this earth other teams even compare. His father, my grandfather, saw Ruth, Gehrig and DiMaggio.
I will always remember a few things Dad taught us – “don’t spend the principle”; trying to do the same thing over and over and thinking you will get a different result is the definition of insanity (although in recent months he told me that was actually Albert Einstein’s quote), and me personally…it doesn’t matter where I am, in my house, a friend’s house, a stranger’s house, and in a public one, I always put down the seat…you know what I am talking about, right?
His voice is ingrained in my head…there are ladies that live in the house. We always need to do it. Even at the age of 23, after studying three years of Philosophy at USF…there was Dad…put down the seat.
A more recent memory I have is a discussion that Dad, Mom, and I had back in 2011 –
Dad: I know I have to work, but is there a way to record tomorrow’s get away Yankee game?
Mom: No – there is no way to record it.
Me: If you had a DVR, you could record it easily.
Mom: That’s all I hear from Brandon and Carla, and now you. I need a new TV first.
Me: You guys have TV’s from the 1980’s.
Dad: As long as you are in the 23rd century.
Me: I am way ahead of you guys when it comes to technology. You don’t even know how to text. Mom knows but you don’t. I went to the kitchen and had a thought for Dad…Me: If the Pope can Tweet, you can learn to text. (Mom laughing in the background)
Dad: Good for the Holy Father.
And again, there are countless memories just like these that we will continue to cherish in our hearts today, next week, 6 months from now, and years from now.
So as we mourn the loss of a husband, father, brother, papi, cousin, friend, and a brother in Christ, let us turn our hearts to know that Dad is in the eternal rest of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s a natural feeling to mourn, to be in sorrow, and to cry, for the person we love has left us, but it’s not the end, and we will see him again, for his death helps us to keep our eyes on the home we are called from the moment our Baptism.
In his book, Seven Words of Jesus and Mary, Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen speaks of the many kinds of crosses we human beings must endure. When writing about the cross of grief and sorrow, Sheen says,
“When God takes someone from us, it is always for a good reason. When the sheep have grazed and thinned the grass in the lower regions, the shepherd will take a little lamb in his arms, carry it up the mountain where the grass is green, lay it down, and soon the other sheep will follow. Every now and then Our Lord takes a lamb from the parched field of a family up to those heavenly green pastures so that the rest of the family may keep their eyes on their true home and follow through.”
As we endure this suffering of losing Dad to physical death, let it be a reminder to us all that there is no resurrection with the cross. There is no eternity without suffering. The “hour” is always before us, even though we have been bought back with the death of Christ and are a resurrected people.
As I conclude, I leave you with these words from the Catholic priest and American theologian, Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, “Suffering is not a problem to be solved; it is a mystery to be lived.” (I repeated this quote).
Let us learn to embrace this, particularly today as we mourn the death and entrance into eternal rest of my father, Thomas Michael Perna.