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funeral homily - Albert Gallegos


									                     ALBERT GALLEGOS FUNERAL HOMILY
                       March 19, 2007 – Our Lady of Belen

       How comforting and reassuring it is to hear Jesus’ promise to us that we’ll
all have a room prepared for us in the Father’s house! The only catch, of course,
is that someone, in order to occupy his new heavenly room prepared especially
for him…has to leave the place where he had been living. And a good man
named Albert, a much loved member of a wonderful family and of the Servite
community (for 56 years), a priest in the church, and a friend to so many, left us
rather suddenly in order to move in to his new room. Like the people in the 1st
reading, why someone who pleased God has been snatched away from us is
something we don’t understand. But even with our troubled hearts, filled with
feelings of shock, sadness, grief, and emptiness, we still come together in the
faith-filled assurance that someone who gave us so many hints and glimpses of
God’s goodness and compassion, continues to live…just in a radically different
way. And for that we are here to praise and thank God, in between the tears, for
the gift of Albert in our lives.

       I do so as a brother Servite, presently ministering as the assistant
provincial. And in the name of the provincial, who is recovering from surgery and
cannot travel, and the whole American Servite province, I offer my condolences
to you, the large, wonderful Gallegos family, to you, Archbishop Sheehan and the
Church of Santa Fe, especially to all the parishioners who have been served by
Fr. Albert……and also, mutually, we Servites grieve the loss of a very good
brother. But I’m still thinking about the gospel chosen for this celebration, and, if
a place/room is prepared specifically for each of us, don’t you wonder what the
room which Jesus prepared especially for Albert looks like??

       Let’s just use our God-given imaginations. I can only speak for myself, but
I think, if heaven is truly heaven, then the room prepared for Albert has got to
have a good desk with lots of writing material, a garden and a really big oven. If
not, what’s he going to do for all eternity? Heaven without stories and poetry,
beans and vegetables, without cookies and pies?? That I can’t imagine! But as I

                        Albert Gallegos, OSM Funeral Homily                             1
continued to reflect, what came to me is that as much as Albert loved to serve us
as priest, and by writing, gardening and baking…all of it was just a glimpse of the
writing, gardening and baking done by God’s own self, the God who was always
at the center of Albert’s life and ministry.

       Let’s say, for starters, that the priest known as a poet and story-teller has
himself lived his life as a love poem of God and a chapter of God’s really big
story, of which all of us are a part. One of God’s “characters” (take that however
you wish!) was named Robert, though he changed his name to Albert, as a sign
of his commitment to a God and to a religious community which he loved enough
to take on a new way of being identified. God didn’t always write the story of this
character with great logic (not Al’s strongest point), but rather God wrote in a
character with great beauty and surprise, with poetry and music, filled with the
kind of stories which children could understand, even as they moved the hearts
of adults. While some of us here have been in many chapters of this story, I
showed up for the first time in a paragraph of an earlier chapter, as a student in
Albert’s freshman religion class in Hillside, IL. Except for his numerous
references to Gibran and Guardini, I don’t remember much else about the
content of the class. But I do remember the kindness, humor and goodness of
the teacher…as do so many of us. In later chapters, when I visited him in Santa
Fe and Rio Rancho, I was reminded that it would be difficult to find anyone more
welcoming, hospitable and comfortable to be with than Albert. As one who is
known for living that part of the Servite spirit so well, he quickly made me feel at
home in his home. And I’m so thankful to have seen him in his last earthly home
just a couple of weeks ago, when the provincial council decided to have a very
rare meeting in Albuquerque. Only now do I know the real reason for our
meeting there: to thank, express our care and concern, and….though we didn’t
know it at the time, to say good-by to our Servite brother.

       Albert the gardener, the “down-to-earth” man who tended growing things,
and who believed in the healing capacity of things that grew from the earth, is
himself the result of God’s great nurturing care. We’ve been sharing so many of

                       Albert Gallegos, OSM Funeral Homily                             2
the fruits of God’s labor of love, in talking about the difference Albert has made in
so many of our lives, and in pointing to the books, stories, poems, video and
other products of his own growing and producing ministry. He’s left us owls,
turtles and a Santa who flies around in balloons! The fruits of his labor are felt in
schools, colleges, a hospital, neighborhoods, parishes and in local and national
media, but especially in parts of the Chicago area, and around the Santa Fe
archdiocese, within and beyond the world of Servite ministry. What we’re doing
now, even if it’s the season of the earth’s springtime, and the Church’s Lenten
springtime…is celebrating the harvest, since Albert has grown to the fullness of
his maturity, and is now being harvested by God in order to feed and nourish
even more people, in ways that we can’t even imagine. And we participate in the
harvesting of his life by gathering together his life with all the stories of the
seasons of his that we’re telling, and will continue to tell to one another.

       Some of those growing seasons of his life, some parts of his story, were
really difficult ones. We can’t simply romanticize a human life of someone who
struggled and suffered, even as he (in St. Paul’s words) continued to fight the
fight and keep the faith…until he finished the race. But here’s where God the
baker comes in. You know how a competent baker like Albert can have all kinds
of ingredients out on a table as he begins to make those famous cookies or pies
(or the form of chimichangas which he once referred to me as “Albert-changas.”
Some of the ingredients are incredibly sweet, while others, by themselves, are
bitter, sour or bland. But look what happens when those ingredients all end up in
the hands of a master baker, who combines them, and them exposes them to the
heat of the oven, and all the individual ingredients mysteriously become
something entirely new, which we may never have imagined possible when we
first got a taste of any one of them. God transforms all the elements of person’s
life, too. Some of them are sweet, like all the good, fun, happy, loving times with
family, friends, parishes, enjoyable workplaces and community. And some of the
ingredients are bitter, like the crises and the illness, the weakness and the pain,
the disappointments and the diminishments, which are all really hard to swallow.

                       Albert Gallegos, OSM Funeral Homily                            3
          But the divine baker is able to combine those diverse ingredients, and
though we’ll never see any of them again in the form they once had, the fire of
God’s forgiving, transforming love, like the heat of the oven, changes them all
into something new which stretches even the imagination of the poet, the hope of
the simple person, and the dreaming of a child or a lover. We believe that in the
new place prepared for each of us, there is still so much life and love that
continues after a person’s heart stops beating. Are any of us really surprised that
Albert’s earthly life ended with a crisis of the heart? In the simplest of terms, a
heart has to be able to receive blood, rest and then pump fresh blood out again.
Albert had trouble learning the part about receiving (except for the blessing of the
people he served), and when the first reading says that the just person will be
given rest…that “rest” will be a new experience for Albert! But beyond his prayer
leadership, writing, gardening, communicating and baking, the area where he
had the greatest expertise is his generous, whole-hearted giving to others. Albert
was a Servant…of God, of Mary, and of children, the needy, those who were
hungry (at least for cookies) and lots more. And his service was usually so
simple, as many people have attested to. When his brother Manuel mentioned,
in that wonderful article in the News-Bulletin, that he turned beans into rosaries, I
thought of how the simplest experiences can be turned into prayer, the simplest
acts become a way of praising and thanking God, a word or gesture speaks
volumes of love to people, and a children’s book can also remind adults not to
forget how to delight in the wonders and colors of life. Although a homily is not
supposed to be a eulogy, I’m talking about Albert because his simple but creative
way of living has been a proclamation and living witness of the Good News in

          We bring all of his life to the altar today, and then to the earth, and offer it
to the One who tells the great story, tends the earthly garden and transforms all
the ingredients of our lives into something that is even stronger than death!!
That’s what we celebrate, at this Eucharist, in the poetic words of the readings
and in the nourishing meal at the table. Let’s come to the table, bringing our

                         Albert Gallegos, OSM Funeral Homily                                 4
hungers, our emotions, our prayer for others, some simple food and the gift of
this beloved man…as our offering to God this day. And we’ll get a taste of life
beyond the horizon, a glimpse of what he now experiences, he who, after giving
so much, is finally at rest.

       Then again, maybe not…… if he who has taught us how the saints
continue to be present and active in our lives, just the other side of that thin veil
that separates us from them….then let’s not be surprised if he doesn’t just
playfully show up in the middle of something very simple, like our baking and
eating, planting and tending, writing and praying, giving and loving. For we often
sense the presence of those who have gone before us in the moments and
activities which the person liked doing the most. And when we sense him and
his spirit, there with us, he might just remind us that life and love never end, in
our memories and hearts, in our faith and hope, and in the continuing story of
God’s incredible love for us, seen in the One who is our Way, Truth and Life.
There is a place prepared for each of us. So let us continue to follow Jesus
toward that place…and, like Albert, before we die, let us really live!!

                       Albert Gallegos, OSM Funeral Homily                              5

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