Last night I attended a wake service for Mark Pacione. St Pius X church on York Road just north of the city/county border just outside Baltimore City was packed to standing room only. The line of people waiting to say something to Carol Pacione and her family was amazingly long before the service and went for an amazingly long time after the service. The church was supposed to close at nine. There were still dozens of cars in the parking lot well after nine when Sherry and I left the building.
I have not been to many Catholic wake services. But this was amazing. I won’t claim this is a play-by-play recounting. By to help me continue to process the passing of someone who was only 60, I am going to reflect on the elements on the evening I found most moving.
First, the church’s worship band played some prelude music and throughout the program. Their prelude music—when I believe it is appropriate to have as many solos as they might like and the music is intended for contemplation—was lovely. I quickly noticed that the piano was being played by someone other than the typical piano player these days. The typical piano player is a wonderful person whose piano playing is usually a nice accompaniment to what the guitars are doing. The piano player last night is just at a different level and added some improvisations that brought the music to life in a different way. There may be some who would debate just how much improvisation there should be and how much the piano or the guitar should lead, but my personal preference is for the type of piano/guitar mix I heard last night.
Second, the fact that the church was full was amazing—because nearly everyone sang. It sounded like everyone sang even if there may have been a few listeners in the crowd. That, more than anything else, made the evening an incredible one. The opening song was Come Holy Spirit. For those who believe there is such a thing as the Holy Spirit, there was no question of the presence of the Spirit last night. Before the song, during the song, after the song, the entire time. This part of the experience reminded me of Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” The gathering last night was much more than two. And God was certainly in our midst last night.
Third, the singing. There was a version of Amazing Grace in the program that the worship band has played dozens of times. And it usually played in a way with at least some of the verses of the original Amazing Grace being sung by a soloist with the congregation then singing the modern added refrain. While the song started with only one singer from the band, the congregation quickly joined in. (Not everyone was from St. Pius X and used to the way it is usually done.) To hear the entire congregation sing out the verses of Amazing Grace with strong voices almost brought me to tears. I had a hard time holding it together to sing. But that is what worship and praise music means to me. Worshipping as a congregation. Praising God as a congregation. In this case, celebrating the life of a great man as a congregation.
Fourth, Father Sam Lupico was on fire. His homily was amazing. So much near shouting—for joy! So much emotion. So strong a representation of what everyone hopes will carry on long after Mark’s life. Even before the homily, when he read the Gospel he talked about switching from what was listed in the program to a reading from Matthew. When he began the reading with “When he saw the crowds he, he went up on a mountain…” I knew where this was going. He had preceded the reading with a comment on how discussion with the family had led to this reading. I knew what the reading would be. The Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes that are written on the eight stained glass windows around the church. The Beatitudes that Fr. Sam focuses on in his homilies even in weeks when we are not reading from Matthew 5. The Beatitudes that, to paraphrase Fr. Sam, if anyone believed and lived them it was Mark. Fr. Sam’s homily last night was the closest I have ever experienced to a Catholic revival. Everyone cried and laughed and shouted Amen and understood just what Mark believed and lived. It reminded me of a meeting for this year’s youth who will be confirmed at St. Pius X. Mark had shown a video that led in with “don’t get confirmed, BE confirmed.” In other words, live your faith. And Mark certainly did that.
Fifth, there were several speakers who had the opportunity to make comments about Mark after the singing of Amazing Grace. One focused on how mark was present for everyone. I try to be present for everyone. I know I fail sometimes. But it was clear that Mark was able to capture that feeling of just being there for you. I have already commented on the presence of the gathering last night. It was wonderful. I try to live my life with presence for others. Being present has a lot to do with being a symbol of God for others—going back to being confirmed rather than just getting confirmed. That goes along with recognizing God in others and living a life of gratitude when you tell others what you appreciate. That symbol is a part of my goal (3) for the coming year (I talked about this on December 31, 2014)—to say thank you even for little things. I was able to put that to work immediately after we left the church last night. We stopped at the grocery store and I chose to go to a cashier rather than going through the self-check line. The young man took the time to carefully and thoughtfully bag everything to use the smallest number of plastic bags and not risk crushing anything. The care that he took was notable and I made sure to say “Thanks. Not everyone does that.” And he seemed to appreciate that. A reminder that there is the opportunity to be grateful to and present for everyone in our lives.
Sixth, one gentleman who had worked with Mark for more than 30 years including when Mark helped to organize World Youth Day in Denver and then the Pope’s visit to Baltimore in the 1990’s. This gentleman commented that Mark is probably already on the planning committee for the Jesus’s second coming. That got a laugh from the entire congregation. Mark was an organizer. And could inspire others to work with him for the faith.
Seventh, the other thing that many mentioned was Mark’s focus on family, friends, and faith. I have already discussed faith, the Holy Spirit, the gathering, and the presence that was felt at the church. But it was clear that Mark also loved his family and was appreciated by many friends. And the line between who was just a friend and who was part of Mark’s family was a very blurry one. Everyone there last night was clearly family in some sense of the word.
Eighth, while at the service and waiting in line after the service to give my condolences to his family, I saw so many families and so many youth and young adults whom I had known for the 18+ years we have been at St Pius X—or at least as long as they had been alive. Some of them I had taught when they were 9 or 10 or 12. Others I had simply watched. The passing brought together families in some amazing ways. And seeing kids whom I have known for so long is always a heart warming experience.
Ninth, it allowed me to connect with some friends in faith I have not seen for quite some time. So important at a time like this.
Finally, when Sherry and I reached Mae and then Carol and her family the length of the hugs exchanged when there was nothing to say but “I’m here.” Mae said “Thank you for being here.” All I could think of to say was “Of course.” And when I reached his daughter, I actually had a story to share. I recalled her running the Chicago marathon. I recalled both her mom and her dad being worried. And I recalled the day when she did it as one on which there was tension and a sense of relief and pride when she finished. She talked about her dad joining her to finish. I talked about sharing my running with two of my three boys. She also mentioned not running now as she is expecting and we joked about the very pregnant woman who had run the Chicago marathon and given birth almost immediately afterward. That joking was a light moment. But more importantly, the primacy of family lives on in a new generation who were already and will continue to be inspired by Mark’s example.
Mark’s niece restated something that had been noted in the eulogies—keep saying Mark’s name to keep his spirit and all he stood for alive. I don’t think there will be any shortage of thoughts and discussions of Mark in the coming week or weeks or even months or years. And everyone last night will be inspired to keep the vision that he provided for the life of the laity in the Catholic church alive.