For 80 of his 94 years, Joe Lazzara dipped his fingers into the baptismal waters in Saint Joseph parish in South Bend, Indiana. On December 5, 2016, those same waters were sprinkled on his casket, to bless him for the last time.
Joe stood next to those waters every Sunday at the 10 a.m. Mass to welcome parishioners and visitors alike, ushering them to their seats, and chatting with everyone about everything. He stood next to those waters to watch countless children and adults receive the gift of Baptism and he walked his own children past those waters into the community of faith, week after week. The parish is a stable community of the faithful (CCC 2179) and Joe both found and gave stability to his parish since before the outbreak of World War II. His stable presence in the stable community allowed the faithful to know him and now to remember and miss him. Not so much because he was an extraordinary man (though he was) but more because of his ordinary, regular commitment, Joe was conformed to the gift those baptismal waters initiated in his life as he became a gift for others.
One month earlier Joe was part of the surge of liturgical celebration that surrounded our daughter’s Baptism as our alleluias rang out in the company of the saints. It was easy to sing “alleluia” that morning. The alleluias were more difficult to summon with Joe’s body lying lifeless before the altar and the baptismal sprinkles evaporating before our eyes. And yet the liturgy led us to sing “alleluia” with the same saints in gratitude for this singular life and in trust that what Christ promises his faithful will be fulfilled for Joe, and for us with him. Our parish—Joe’s parish—gave us words to speak that did not come easily and it gave us space to be silent and to weep together.
How many places in the modern world allow us to be so human together—to weep and sit with each other in silence? It was the silence that was most striking in his funeral liturgy: the silence of each of us mourning over our own memories, the silence of children (especially my own) who are otherwise typically fidgety, and the silence of a man who talked and laughed and talked some more all the days that his body drew breath. Now his breathless body lay before us, baptismal waters drying out, as we sat with our tears, silently summoning alleluias.
This is the gift of the parish: a stable community of the faithful. It gives itself as a place for life and death, as a teacher to guide us into what we cannot quite will for ourselves, as a home where—if we remain faithful in our commitment—we come to know and even love each other. There will be a certain emptiness at the 10 a.m. Sunday Mass because we will notice Joe’s absence. In a world where absences go unnoticed because presence is ephemeral, our parish gives us the gift of missing Joe. This is the fruit of stability.
And as the fruit of this particular Eucharistic liturgy, we processed with Joe’s blessed body through the streets of our hometown, to the cemetery where we laid him to rest. Into the very earth that he walked upon for 94 years, we offered the precious remains of a life lived in Christ. In Christ, we offered to our Lord and our God a man who prayed each night to live into the gift he had received in his own Baptism, a gift that he practiced becoming in our community of faith:
My Lord and my God,
I adore thee my Jesus,
I adore you.
I love you my Jesus,
I love you.
Grant to me and all my family
a holy life and a happy death.