So today is the feast day of St. Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter and the first to recognize the messiah. He was a fisherman who became a fisher of men. He was crucified on an x-shaped cross and thus that has become known as St. Andrew’s Cross.
However, I’d like to talk about another Andrew who I believe is in the communion of saints. That unofficial saint, is my wife’s Uncle Andy, who died a few years back (pictured here with his lovely daughter Christine on her wedding day). This year would have been his 50th anniversary with his wife, our Aunt Carole.
Andy was a Deacon in the New Jersey diocese of Paterson. He served at St. Pius X in Montville, just outside of Parsippany (to give a reference point). A fine preacher and a great servant, Andy was quite the guy.
I noticed a few things about Andy in the short time I knew him. The first was that because he lived near his mother, my wife’s grandmother, he’d come by probably once a day just to check in on her. He was quite the devoted son and his children and grandchildren have come to value family just as much as he did.
He was also a devoted mentor for me. I used to send him notices of upcoming young adult retreats and he always would call me as soon as he’d get them. “I hear there’s a heretic in New York who’s coming to New Jersey to do some kind of Young Adult Retreat. You hear about him?” I’d just laugh and usually reply, “Yeah, he’s bad news. Make sure you don’t tell anyone he’s coming.” Our conversation would quickly shift to how ministry was going in our respective areas. He’d speak about his young pastor and how much he respected him and loved being a mentor to him. He’s talk of baptisms in his parish as a hitter would of a lofty batting average. He’d be honored to just spend time with people who were in recovery who thought he might be able to help them. (one woman at his funeral came up to me in tears and said, “He helped me kick the booze and he gave me my life back.”)
His very public wake, a long day, because the parish came out in droves for it, was truly inspiring. The doors to the church never closed for four straight hours. It was an unexpected death from a botched outpatient surgery. A good man, who died too young by our estimation.
Andy would have none of that kind of sob story though. Andy had what many of us lack–a unwavering faith that even made him unafraid of death. He was a man who loved life and who lived each day to the full. He ran the New York City Marathon in memory of his beloved sister, Vera, my wife’s mother–bad knees and all.
Two final stories, one from that same wake. A young man at his wake was uncontrollably sad at Andy’s death. Andy had been his spiritual director and had inspired him to study theology at Seton Hall. I sat with him and listened to how this Deacon was a driving force in his life. “I can still hear his voice telling me that ‘the truth is sometimes scary’ and the truth is that Deacon Andy was right. It’s scary to know that he’s dead and that I have to go the rest of the way without him. It’s scary to know that God is really all I need when I think I need so much more. It’s even scary to know that God expects a lot me. Andy let me believe in myself and led me to believe that that truth can set me free.”
I hope that young man never forgets that.
When Andy’s mother died, not long before him, she was the matriarch of the large Italian family. Pictures of her were all over the funeral home. Andy’s sister, our Aunt Ro, remarked that these were pictures of happy times. Andy replied, “What are you talking about? There were no other times.”
And while there may have been times of struggle, Andy always had that optimism, at least while I knew him. He was a strong man of family and conviction who always had time for everyone. As I finish my final decisions about whether or not I am to apply to the diaconate here in Buffalo, I can still feel Andy’s strong hand guiding me.
I’m sure his parish doors are still open for your prayers, not just for him and his family, but also for your own. Deacon Andy wouldn’t have it any other way.
And so we lift our prayers today and ask simply and humbly, much like the man himself and say:
Deacon Andrew Cavaliere, pray for us.
Happy Feast Day, Uncle Andy.