Reflections on life and death

In recent years, in quiet moments of reflection, Uncle Joe, like Simeon, righteous and devout, expressed his gratitude for many blessings and his love for all in his life. Indeed, God allowed his servant to go in peace on the morning of the feast of the Holy Family …

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
During the morning of the Feast of the Holy Family, Dec. 29, 2019, in the heart of the Christmas season, my Uncle Joe Calomino peacefully died at the age of 96 on his birthday. I was blessed to be on my annual holiday to the Northeast to be with family at this noteworthy moment when the curtain fell on the last member of that generation, respectfully referred to as the greatest.
There were nine siblings on my mother’s side and seven on my father’s. My Uncle Emil died this past summer at the age of 94 and he and Uncle Joe braved stormy winter weather on Feb. 6, 2014 to be present at my ordination and installation as the 11th Bishop of Jackson. Both lived lives of loving service that were deeply rooted in faith in the Lord Jesus and love for him in the Eucharist. Daily Mass, with the rosary beforehand, was the bedrock of Uncle Joe’s day, providing his daily bread and inspiring him to hold fast to our ultimate goal of having communion with Jesus Christ forever. A stroll down memory lane provides the background for why our family celebrated his funeral with joy and pride and a small measure of sadness, a life well lived.
Uncle Joe was born in 1923 and graduated from high school in 1942 as World War II raged. Immediately, he enlisted in the Army and was sent to southern England to be part of the effort that would crest with the invasion of Normandy. There were six brothers in this branch of the Calomino clan and five of them served in WWII. The sixth was heartbroken when he was not able to enlist because of disqualifying physical impairments. Families and the nation were overwhelmingly of one heart and one mind in the 1940s in defense of our allies and freedom, perhaps for the only time in our history.
Afterwards, like countless others, Uncle Joe returned home to marry and build a life with his beloved Angeline, Aunt Lena, a marriage of 62 years that ended when she died in 2009. They were not blessed with children, but the extended family would have had a gaping hole without their loving presence. At the funeral we were unable to count how many godchildren they had together, perhaps a dozen or more. After his retirement at the age of 65 as a warehouseman for food distributors, he began volunteering at the food stand at the local playground association, serving baseball and soccer players and their families until this past October when the season ended. Over the course of this extraordinary life, he was a blessing for family, for neighbors, for the church, for the community and for the nation.
Reflecting upon his life and death, I am drawn to the figures of Simeon and Anna who were the venerable ones featured in the Infancy narrative of Saint Luke’s Gospel during the Presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple by Joseph and Mary. Their lives were a testimony to faith and hope, faithfully waiting for and actively praying for the fulfillment of the promise of the Messiah. There would be a gaping hole in the Christmas story if not for these elders who were there to encourage and spiritually support Mary and Joseph in God’s plan of salvation for them and for all the nations.
Recall these inspired words in Saint Luke’s Gospel. “Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. … When the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God saying: Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” (Luke 2:25-32)
In recent years, in quiet moments of reflection, Uncle Joe, like Simeon, righteous and devout, expressed his gratitude for many blessings and his love for all in his life. Indeed, God allowed his servant to go in peace on the morning of the feast of the Holy Family when he was born into eternal life.
This weekend is the culmination of the Christmas season with the Baptism of the Lord Jesus in the Jordan River at the hands of John the Baptist. Through faith and baptism, we become members of the Body of Christ and the family of God, adopted children, no longer slaves to sin, but heirs to eternal life. We are God’s children, sisters and brothers of the Lord Jesus, and Temples of the Holy Spirit. May we not receive the gift of God in vain, squandering our inheritance on the vanities of life. Instead we are invited to make our lives something beautiful for God. May we be inspired by others in our lives, in every generation, who daily respond to God’s call with wisdom, knowledge and grace.
Requiescat in pace, Uncle Joe, as you join the Cloud of Witnesses who encourage us to fight the good fight, stay the course, and finish the race in eternal life. (2 Timothy 4:7)