Reflections on my beloved husband, shared during his funeral mass
Cor Jesu Chapel, Barry University, Miami Shores, FL, October 2 2021
This liturgy has been such a beautiful testament of Steffano’s life.
The first reader was his dear friend Cherry whom he met at St. Edward’s Youth Group; Iris, the second reader, is like family to him and whose husband was Steff’s godfather; Martha and Henrik who did the intercessions were friends from his fraternity days at FIU and Steff was the godfather of their son Axel. JoEmma who did the music, Fr. Cristobal and Fr. Jorge are connected with Barry University which was such an important part of both of our lives. We are blessed to have Fr. Tito Cruz here from Fordham where Steff lived out his dream of teaching and writing. Amy who read the poem and my friends Patty and Julie who helped with the liturgy became Steff’s friends with me over time. And of course Malaya, all his family and so many others.And so many of you joining online - from Boston, from the Laudato Si’ Movement, New York, California, and so many other places in between.
Before Steff died he had written me a letter where he said, “Others will love you differently than I, but you will always be loved by those around you.” This has never been so true during these days. I and Steff’s family have felt the incredible love and support from near and far during these days which has sustained us and we are eternally grateful.
It is so significant that we had the service here at Barry University. This is the place where Steff and I first met 10 years ago after I was offered his job as service learning coordinator for the campus ministry department, a job he was leaving behind because he was exploring becoming a priest. A job I was taking because I had just left a Catholic monastery after 3 years.
Which is why I used to joke with him that he had got lucky with timing because he was the first guy I talked to after being in silence. It was just 30 or so feet away from here in the campus ministry kitchen when during a meeting about my new role, Steff looked across the table and said, ““Tell me about yourself.” No one had asked me anything like that in 3 years. I was immediately taken. I told him he was just lucky to be the first one to talk to me. It could have been anyone. . And though there was an interruption of his several months in San Francisco exploring the priesthood (and for the record, especially for the Dominicans here, he swears that he didn’t leave the priesthood because of me), we started dating soon after and the rest is well history.
In our wedding vow, we wrote “God may we always remember that we have been brought together to become closer to you.” It was a reminder that our marriage, our relationship was never about just us, but a pathway to deepening love for each other, our daughter, God and our world. And so I just wanted to reflect on a few of the ways that Steff’s life has revealed God’s love to me and perhaps to many of you.
In so many ways Steffano revealed God’s loving kindness and acceptance.
Despite my joke about Steff having good timing, from the first times I spoke with him I could sense something special. During another moment in the campus ministry kitchen, I can remember saying something and Steff laughing in a way that made me feel warm inside and thinking, “wow, he thinks I’m funny.” It was the way he seemed to delight in me, in a way that enabled me to relax within myself. Though we had just met, he made me feel good about myself in a way that was rare.
I’d soon learn that this was just what Steff did: whether with me, his family, his friends, and strangers - he had a warm, kind receptive presence; it came without judgment. It allowed you to relax a bit more into who you are because you were in the presence of someone who was just accepting you for who you were, despite whatever flaws and mistakes. It was a magnanimous and gracious love that said you are OK. It was his presence and the way he listened made you feel you mattered.
I saw how he was like this with Malaya our daughter - with the loving patience with which he’d answer all her questions, help her with her schoolwork. Or play video games.
I saw Steff offer this warmth and presence to anyone he encountered - whether it was his friends of many years or the house construction contractor who visited our house. Steff revealed God’s loving kindness and acceptance to all that he met. I’m sure all of us here can think of a moment when we experienced this love from being with him.
Steff also revealed a deep faith in the mystery of God’s loving plan despite the many challenges he faced. He was a witness of a patience rooted in hope.
Steff did not live an easy life. He walked a Way of the Cross most of his life - from a childhood lung condition, years of deteriorating health, a lung transplant and the many complications that followed. There were constant hospitalizations. And so often he would be tired from the weight of this cross he carried, sometimes in the form of an oxygen tank. And yet he approached life with a loving acceptance. He carried it with so much patience. No bitterness or resentment. He focused on what he had - not on what he didn’t have. He delighted in the love of his family and friends, of his ministry of teaching and justice. Regardless of how he felt health wise, after he taught a class he would come into the room glowing and say “I love this.”
This way of patiently enduring his condition with hope and joy touched those that cared for him. Steff almost had this other hidden ministry of loving presence with the many nurses and doctors he encountered. I’d often hear laughter whenever nurses visited our home for his home visits. And a few days ago both his mom and I received calls from 2 of his doctors to tell us how much they had learned from him of how he carried this. His life was a testament of kindness and patient loving hope.
Steff also revealed God’s compassion and justice.
In our 10 years together, Steff only raised his voice once with me, and that was only because I intentionally provoked him with a toy in his face while he was driving, a few blocks away from here. I wanted to see what it would be like. I didn’t do that again.
And so while he wouldn’t get angry at me, he would be enraged by the injustices in the world. Treatment of refugees and immigrants, the persistence of racism in our relationships and institutions. This served as the foundation of his writing and teaching ministry. From coordinating service learning in the theology departner here at Barry to heping with the anti-racist committee in parish at Boston. To all his writing, research, and teaching around the gifts of the Latino community to US Catholic faith or anti-racist bias and education, It stings for me to see how much momentum and promise there was with his work just as his life ended. Yet the words of the poem that was just read that are often attributed to Oscar Romero give hope, which we adapted slightly.
He planted the seeds that we will watch grow.
He laid foundations that will need further development, from us.
He provided the yeast that produced far beyond his earthly capabilities.
Steff also helped to reveal God’s compassion and justice in the world through his support of my ministry. Behind the scenes he helped birth a thriving global Catholic environmental movement, the Laudato Si’ Movement, through his patient and loving support of me and the many long hours I spent helping to co-found it amidst out of town trips, being a sounding board, or even ghost writing. Indeed Steff both in big and small ways helped reveal God’s compassion and justice in the world.
And perhaps the most challenging aspect of God’s love that Steff is now revealing is that with love, death does not have the final answer.
So amidst the ache of loss there is an invitation to let go of the way things were and release into new possibilities of love. I recently read the words of the Catholic sister. Joyce Rupp who said “For the Christian, hello always follows goodbye in some form if we allow it.” How then can we say hello to Steff’s love in this new form and way.
Over this last week, as I’ve prayed to Steff I’ve imagined what he might say to help us live this love that he shared that never dies - that is rooted in the unconditional love of God.
The first think I think he would say is I love you. Each and every one of you. Thank you for the ways you’ve touched my life, supported me, loved me, laughed with me, taught with me, cared for me.
He might also say do what you can to bring kindness and justice in the world.
His life begs us to ask what we can do to bring about the kingdom of God. Not because you will see the finished product but because it is the right thing to do. As the poem says He could not do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This now enables us to do something, in turn.
And the third thing I think he might say is I am with you always. If you remain in the love that we shared, that I had for other and the world, I will always be present. I will always be with you. We now know we have a power intercessor there in heaven, who will continue to do good work there in ways only time will reveal.
I love you. Do what you can to bring kindness and justice to the world. I am with you always.
To close, I know Steff would want to make us laugh. During one of my last visits to him in the hospital we watched Sunday mass and the TV show Ted Lasso. And so dear Steff, in honor of you, the humor and joy you brought to me and the world and that we shared, I offer this to you, knowing it will make you smile up there in heaven, and I hope some of you Ted Lasso fans might join in:
Never gonna give you up
Never gonna let you down
Never gonna run around and desert you
Never gonna make you cry
Never gonna say goodbye
Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you.
I love you Steff. Thank you God for the gift of his life and love.