But I felt no emotion as they carried my friend in a black box up the altar steps. His friend Fr. Bill McDonald, the first to welcome him to Stockton as vocations director in 1990, spoke just about perfectly of his elder but younger brother in the priesthood. Many were wiping their eyes, and his poor father, Mario, seemed virtually crumpled by the ordeal. I sat with four brother priests looking on, we who had belonged to his priestly fraternity, who had gone through so many hopes and disappointments with him, who had spent many days off and vacations with him, in the mountains and at the beach, kayaking the rivers and swinging uselessly at little white balls, who had journeyed to Paris and Rome and Toronto with huddling hordes of young people to see the Pope. And yet, our eyes were dry as the funeral Mass continued.
Then came time for Holy Communion. They assigned his closer friends to various communion stations in the cathedral, and I began my simple task. “Corpus Christi” I began, offering the Divine Sacrament to the outstretched hands or (more frequently) open mouths of the people. Suddenly the floodgates opened, and my heart began to weep. “Why am I crying?!” I asked myself in frustration. I could hardly see, and barely talk. “The body….”—I couldn’t finish. To one man, the brother of one of our priestly fraternity, I couldn’t even say a word, just dumbly holding up the Body of Christ with watery eyes. “Get a grip!” I told myself. But the tears and the swollen throat persisted until I finished by last communicant.
Why at Holy Communion? Probably because Fr. Peter gave his life to this simple task of distributing Holy Communion. “Do you love me?” Christ had asked Fr. Peter’s namesake. “If you love me, Peter, you will feed my sheep.” I suppose I wept at the sheer beauty of such a simple vocation, to which I too have been called. I wept also because we have lost a priest who so faithfully fed us the Body of Christ. “Who will feed us now that you are gone?” my mind questioned. Thus the Apostles spoke when Jesus told them he would soon die. But, He assured them, I will not abandon you. “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
We followed Fr. Peter’s earthly remains out of the cathedral and stood before the hearse as they loaded him in. We sang an off-key Salve Regina. We took him to the cemetery, and lowered the box with his dear face, now decaying, into the ground. We tried the Salve Regina again, and this time got it right. He is with God now, and before long we will join him. May we priests feed Christ’s lambs faithfully as long as it pleases His Majesty, for He indeed is with us, until the end of our age. Requiescat in pace.