You've probably never heard of Nathan Trapuzzano. He was not a pop singer nor a hollywood actor. He was not a professional athlete nor a politician. He was not a celebrity in any sense of the word.
Instead, Nathan was a 24 year old man who was married less than a year ago and who with his young bride was looking forward to the birth of their little daughter Cecilia next month. He was widely known by friends and family as a tremendously faithful, compassionate and decent human being yet, tragically, Nathan is no longer with us.
On Tuesday in Indianapolis, he was murdered.
If you're like me, your first reaction, particularly after reading more about what kind of man Nathan was, is... why? Why does something like this have to happen? You can't fault the question. It's a natural one.
But this morning, via Deacon Greg, I found the homily delivered by his priest at the funeral. It's a tough, but necessary read, one I'm posting in its entirety. I post it because Father Christopher Roberts chose to focus on a completely different question. Read what follows and seriously ponder its implications:
We begin with a very practical note. We celebrate a Solemn Requiem Mass at the request of Nathan’s wife, Jennifer, who indicated this would have been what Nathan wanted. This form of the Mass, even for practicing Catholics, can be a bit confusing. Like any Mass, we focus in this Solemn Requiem on the re-presentation of the One Sacrifice of the Incarnate Son of God on Calvary and His presence, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity under the appearance of bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist. This form of the Mass invites us to participate in this great mystery of Our Lord’s presence and sacrifice principally through contemplation and adoration.
Holy Communion will be offered only under one species, kneeling and on the tongue, not the hand, at the communion rail. It is not customary to make any response when one receives Holy Communion. If you are not accustomed to receive the Eucharist in this manner, observing others doing so can be a great help.
We welcome all those who are not practicing Catholics or who are ill-disposed to receive the Eucharist and invite them to remain in their pews and lift their minds and hearts by a spiritual communion with Almighty God when others are receiving the Holy Eucharist.
When Nathan asked me about a year ago which parish I thought would be a good one for him and Jennifer to attend after they settled in Indianapolis, I would have never imagined that when I put Holy Rosary on the top of the list I would be preaching at his funeral here before he had the chance to celebrate his first anniversary. Today is a heart-rending day for all of us.
There is so much that we could say and so much that has already been said about Nathan in the past week.
We could reflect at length about his involvement in the pro-life movement and how he would pray rosaries in front of the abortion clinic near his home in the hope that his prayers would save the lives of little unborn babies.
We could share stories about his great love for his wife Jennifer and his soon-to-be born daughter Cecilia.
We could reminisce about Nathan’s intelligence, goodness and deceivingly keen sense of humor.
We could marvel about the tremendous outpouring of goodwill that Nathan’s murder has created.
But rather than focus on these very worthy themes, we will focus today on forgiveness. We do so because Nathan Trapuzzano was a man who knew from his head to his toes that he was a sinner who was loved and forgiven by God. He wanted everyone he met to know the same love and forgiveness. I believe that he still does.
His friends report that during his college years he went to confession very frequently, even weekly, so that he could become more and more the man that God had created him to be. Less than a year ago when I celebrated his wedding Mass, he asked me to hear the confessions of all of the Catholics in the wedding party after the rehearsal. While I cannot remember his exact words, they were something like, “Father, don’t be surprised if some of them have not been to confession in a very long time.” His wife Jennifer wanted everyone to know that celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation was one of the last things that Nathan did, going to confession a day before he died earlier this week.
We know Nathan to have been an exceptionally good person. Why then, we might ask, did he confess his sins to a priest so frequently?
This special young man went to confession so often because he had a deep desire to love others with the love of the heart of Jesus and would stop at nothing until he did. He didn’t just want to be good as the world reckons it; he wanted to be like Jesus. He wanted to love others with a pure and humble heart. One of the most important aspects of having such a heart is being able to forgive unconditionally. Nathan knew that the best way to learn how to do that was to ask for such forgiveness for himself. He prayed the Our Father frequently and asked,
“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is not looking at an evil and being too cowardly to call it evil. Nor is forgiveness acting as if something that is a big deal really is not. Rather forgiveness looks at something done that is evil and recognizes it as evil, comes to a sober conclusion about the extent to which the guilty party is responsible and then extends love to the offender and hopes for repentance and change of heart.
Our Blessed Lord teaches us what forgiveness is from the Cross when He says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” He looked squarely at the crime being committed, namely the execution of an innocent man who also happened to be God in the flesh, and recognized that what was happening was an unspeakable injustice. He knew that those killing Him did not have full knowledge of what they were doing, which diminished their guilt. Most importantly, Our Lord did not withhold His love from His executioners, but desired their repentance and return to communion with His Father.
Nathan would have wanted everyone here to know something in our bones. Each one of us here is loved with an infinite, personal and unconditional love by a merciful God. There is nothing that we can do that God will not forgive. We can refuse to accept that mercy, but God will never stop extending it. God loves each one of us more than we can ever know. He wants nothing more than for us to return to Him and let Him fix His merciful eyes on us and say, “You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter, in whom I am well-pleased.” He wants to run out to meet us just as we decide to come back to Him, to embrace us and to shower us with kisses. This is true no matter how grievous our sins are.
We cannot be certain exactly what was going through Nathan’s mind in the last moments of his life. But as one who knew Nathan’s soul well as a priest, I believe that he would have desired to do God’s will with all his heart, just as he sought to do throughout the entire time that I knew him. For myself, I have little doubt that as his soul drew near to his particular judgment on Tuesday morning, perhaps even after he had passed out of consciousness, Nathan forgave his murderers. That was the kind of man that I knew him to be.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they have done.”
Like some of us here, I met Nathan when he was a parishioner at Saint Francis in Muncie. The last lines of the Prayer of Saint Francis capture the Christian mystery that gives us hope today: “It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;/ and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon him.
May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.
Dear God, your ways are not our ways. We are likely never to know why Nathan had to die so young. Neither however can we fully comprehend the necessity for the death of Your Son. Instead oh Lord, teach us to trust that good can come from evil and that Nathan's death was not in vain. Wrap your arms around his wife, watch over her future and the future of his soon to be born daughter Cecilia. This we pray in Christ's name.