Full text of homily from funeral Mass for Deacon Andy Heckman
Editor’s note: Following is the full text of the homily given by Msgr. Charles Beebe at the funeral Mass celebrated Feb. 11 at St. Joseph’s Church in Roanoke for Deacon Andy Heckman. Deacon Heckman’s obituary appears here.
The life of each one of us can be thought of as a series of stories which come together over a lifetime to form one story ? a story that is profoundly ours and absolutely unique. Everybody’s story should be listened to because to know a person’s story is to understand that person.
When someone dies, their life becomes like an open book as their story passes before our eyes with its joys and sorrows, its successes and failures.
But even so, we still have but fragments of a life. And even the pattern of life eludes us because the full story is known only to God.
My first pastor, Father John Deane, used to liken our life to a tapestry. He would say that what we see is often the knots of yarn on the reverse side of the tapestry of life, while the beautiful pattern that they create on the front side is only seen by God.
The sad fact is, all of our stories end in death. And regardless, whether that death comes naturally at the end of a long and full life, or if it comes in middle age or youth, it always brings with it sadness. It is the sadness of saying goodbye. Our tears are the result of the hole in our hearts made by love and the knowledge that there is never enough time here on earth, for we are made for eternity.
We know that the love and affection that knit us together in life do not unravel in death. And, because we are eternal persons who had a beginning, but shall never have an ending, Jesus tells us today: “In my father’s house there are many dwelling places.” And every one of our stories is a story of a journey to that dwelling place.
In the book of Andy’s life titled “Divine Providence,” the first chapter that I read was “When Andy Met Charlie.” One day Father Stan Malinowski called me at the deacon office. He came to see me to tell me about this wonderful RCIA candidate he had who was a Methodist minister. He spoke what a wonderful gift he is to the church and asked me to suspend all of my rules — about being a Catholic for at least five years and undergoing an extensive interview process ? and accept him immediately into the formation Class 8 that had already begun. Only because Father Mal asked did I even agree to see Andy.
And so it was Andy and Jen showed up one day to meet Sister Diane and me. As I would later find out they left thinking that we didn’t like them very much. Of course that was not true. And we did suspend some of the rules and Andy and Jennifer entered into Class 8. I certainly did not need to teach Andy much about ministry.
But what happened during Class 8 was Andy and Jen became part of our diaconate community ? and because they did, from the day they entered the community, our lives were never to be the same as the pages turn to Chapter Two, titled “The Liturgical Nazi.”
The one thing that attracted Andy to the Catholic Church was the liturgy. He loved it all, ever smell, every bell! And every cathedral liturgy he deaconed.
And so as divine providence would have it, he became involved in his perfect ministry at St. John’s Chapel Newman Center at the University of Illinois. Here he had free reign of arranging Masses, training sacristans, and in general just bossing people around — which is why he proudly owned the nickname, “Liturgical Nazi.”
But Andy’s perfect job would come to an end when St. John’s downsized and cut staff. And the pages of the book keep turning as Andy searched for another ministry.
Chapter Three, “Andy and Family Move to Roanoke.”
It is God’s providence that knots the yarn that forms the patterns in the fabric of our life. So, if you would have told me on the day I met Andy that before the next class was ordained, we would have become friends and that he would be the deacon in my parish ? I would not have believed it. Yet, that is what happened when Andy found another perfect ministry as a member of the pastoral care department at St. Francis Medical Center.
When he began working in Peoria he searched for a place to live. He told me he din’t want to live in Peoria, preferring a more rural setting. I told him I didn’t care where he lived because he was going to be the deacon at Roanoke-Benson. He searched for a house and as April turned to July, he still had not found one.
One day, Sister Diane said to me: “We’ve got to find Andy a house because the girls will need to start school soon.” No sooner had she said that as a big “For Rent” sign appeared in the yard of the house on First Street. When I called, it was available and the rest, as they say, is history as Deacon Andy and his family became a vibrant part of our community.
This, too, was divine providence, as the finger of God tied another knot. I do not believe in coincidences. And so it was on Monday two weeks ago that Andy called to say he wanted to write a think you to the community for all they had done. The thank you appeared the day he received the call to go to Chicago for the transplant and in part it read:
“We are writing this note to thank you for the love and support you have shown us. You have truly blessed our family in so many ways. . . . Many times when a person or family faces a crisis there is support for a few days or a week and in today’s society we move on to the next thing. Not you! You have not abandoned us. We are grateful to live in a community of faith-filled families who live out their faith not just in kind words, but in real action. You have helped make a difficult situation bearable. We love you all and pray for you every day. We thank God for sending us to this parish.”
There are no coincidences. God knows what he is doing in our lives. As we read today in Sirach: “Accept what befalls you, and be patient. Trust in Him and He will help you.”
And now, very slowly, the pages have turned to the final chapter titled, “A Saint in the Making.” As Andy’s health deteriorated, his life of service as deacon did not. He continued to do as much as he could. He taught RCIA and most recently was the spiritual adviser to our newly formed junior high youth group. And he never stopped preaching.
Sporting a vest and a battery pack for his “heart,” he would roll his wheelchair to the center of the aisle and deliver the most amazing homilies. But the true inspiration for his community here was not the words he spoke. It was Andy, himself. For although he, like me, is a very proud son of St. Benedict, he truly lived the dictum of our patron Francis — preach the Gospel always and when necessary use words.
In this final chapter of Andy’s life what shall ever be etched into my life will be my memory of this Christmas. It was the early Mass at St. John’s. I was busy instructing the children about our entrance procession and how to place baby Jesus in the manger. When I emerged from the sacristy, there was Andy ? vested in his alb and sitting in the sanctuary. He rolled himself in front of me at the time of the Gospel to ask for the blessing, rolled over to the pulpit with the Book of Gospels, and willed himself to stand at the pulpit. And as he stood, he lifted up the entire congregation and I had received the very best of Christmas presents.
And then at offertory, he wheeled himself in front of me and said quietly “Time to go to work” as he went to the altar and prepared it. It would be the last time he would deacon.
There were two things that were of supreme importance to Andy ? being a husband and father and being a deacon. To be the father he wanted to be he was willing to risk everything. We all cried tears of joy as he went to Chicago for the surgery, but it was not to be and our tears of joy have turned to tears of sadness.
Yet, in our sadness, we know that everything in our lives happens according to God’s plan. And should we ever be tempted not to believe that, we need only remember the life of Deacon Andy Heckman.
And so, as God tied the final knot of the pattern of Andy’s life on earth he said: “Andy, you have suffered enough. You have become the saint I created you to be. Enter now into your father’s House.”
Eternal rest . . .