Fr. Pervan's Homily For Fr. Slavko's Funeral
"OSTENDE MIHI, DOMINE, VIAS TUAS ET SEMITAS TUAS EDOCE ME"
Father Bishop, dear Franciscan brothers and priests, dear mother Lucia, brothers and sisters of our deceased Fr. Slavko, dear relatives and friends, dear faithful, dear pilgrims and our dear Fr. Slavko!
When they called me yesterday from the parish office of Medjugorje about which readings and prayers of the faithful to take for your funeral mass, I said simply: Let all the readings be from the Feast of Christ the King from year A, and the prayers of the faithful from the breviary for the feast with application to the deceased. I think that you would have agreed with that yourself if anyone had asked you which readings to take because the first one from the prophet Ezekiel talks about pastors, the second one from First Corinthians talks about the final victory of Christ over death when in the end everything is transformed so that God may be all in all, and the gospel passage talks about the final separation before the Lord's judgment seat when the Lord himself will separate people into two camps, depending on their attitude toward the little, toward the least, toward those for whom no one has either heart or soul.
At this place I would, first of all, like to express my great thanks and gratitude, in the name of my Province and in my own name, for the countless expressions of sympathy, the telegrams, the e-mails, the telephone calls, and also for your presence here on the occasion of this unexpected death. If the original Eucharist is an act of thanksgiving, a thanksgiving sacrifice and offering, then it is my petition and prayer to all of you that this Eucharist likewise also be a thanksgiving for this life, one that was human, Christian, Franciscan, religious, and priestly. A life that in everything was a great sacrifice, a great surrender, a great heart for all people. Therefore this is at the same time also a thanksgiving that we had Fr. Slavko, that he bloomed here in this Hercegovina and as a tireless harbinger was, according to the wish of Francis, a man of devotion and prayer, orationis et devotionis, completing the course of his earthly life over there to where he so gladly went: on Cross Mountain.
If I personally wanted to underline this life with a biblical thought, then for a guiding theme on Fr. Slavko's life I would take that prayer of the psalmist quoted above. That was Fr. Slavko's life wish: a prayer for the Lord to show him his ways, to walk in his paths, the paths of the Gospel and the way of conversion and religious pedagogy. Always to be in the school of our Lord and our Lady, in the Lord's ways and footsteps, every day searching out a new lesson.
For all of us this death is an unexpected shock. This death is premature, as the psalmist would say, in the midst of my days, at the peak of human strength. If for the psalmist the number of our days is seventy years, and eighty if we are strong, then these fifty five years of Fr. Slavko fall short of today's normal span of human life that people commonly expect to live on this earth. However, in this case I can freely say, with complete confidence, from my own experience, but also with your approval, that here before us there lies a life that, humanly speaking, filled up not just one, but three life spans. Not two, but three, because this life knew no fatigue, no letup, no rest. He never went to bed before midnight, and he never saw the sun come up in his room. As the psalmist says, he always prayed: Awake, my soul; awake, lyre and harp! I will wake the dawn. and in truth he would wake the dawn, with his prayer, his pilgrimage every day to the Hill of Apparition or to Cross Mountain. Day after day, year after year, in every kind of weather, he got up before the rest, he went out to pray. He used to say that the only time in the day left for him personally and as a priest was that time in the morning when, on awaking, he would go out to his mountains where also his all too early death took place, simply, a paralysis of the heart.
His heart could not hold out any longer. And Fr. Slavko had a heart that gave itself away to the end. He did not even have time to think about himself, about his own health, about sickness. He never complained about anything that bothered him, even though his health was fragile, especially when cold weather, flu and various infections came and acted negatively on his immunological system. He did not know how to take time out for himself from the unfinished business he undertook that daily drained him, and in that way, carrying his cross, Medjugorje's cross already for twenty years, he brought it to his and to our Cross Mountain and there under the Lord's cross he left his cross for it to be glorified in eternity. This Cross Mountain of his up which he regularly climbed in every kind of weather, together with pilgrims so they could have an experience of Tabor beneath the cross, was transformed into his Tabor: Calvary and Tabor, Cross Mountain and Tabor were in Fr. Slavko remolded into what Calvary was for Jesus according to John's gospel: the final glorification of the Son of God. When I am raised up, I will draw all to myself. . .Father, you have glorified my name. . .the cross like a final victory, the cross for which Tabor was a foreshadowing. Lord it is good for us to be here. . .And Slavko stayed there, beneath that vowed cross, on Cross Mountain, bearing their crosses, of countless pilgrims, the crosses of Medjugorje, the crosses of his people, of the Church and of this Province. He passed away just like his Lord did. Not on a couch or a bed, not surrounded by brethren or closest loved ones, but under the cross, on the cold rock of Hercegovina. How many are the symbols in that death? Fr. Slavko: You brought your cross here beneath the Lord's cross, you left it there, so that thereby in your own death you too would draw us all here in this great number: the local Bishop, the entire Province, so great a number of other brother priests, of the faithful, of pilgrims who covered thousands of kilometers to be able to say to you "Thank you and good-bye". A death that is like that meeting place which gathers us all as one and where we are all made equal.
Dear brothers and sisters!
What is there to say in this place about this life fulfilled? I have known him from way back, as far as 1961. I met him the first time at the first mass of Fr. Dobroslav Stojiƒ and Fr. Gojko Musa on St. Stephen's day in 1961. I had then already finished the first year of high school at the seminary in Visoko and he had just reported for the seminary. We got to know each other. That skinny lad told me he was accepted in the seminary and that he is going to Dubrovnik. After that we grew up and were formed together in this Province, we went together, supported each other, worked together, worked side by side, especially during the time I was pastor here in Medjugorje, through those six lead-like communist years, when under inhuman circumstances you had to bring out with God's help everything sought of us at that moment of grace from the days of the apparitions when the communist world and godless system began to crumble and there began the dawn of new freedom for the world and the Croatian people.
The great French thinker and writer Leon Bloy, a convert and zealous Catholic, gave expression to a wonderful thought. About it the first woman-author in the French Academy, the immortal M. Yourcenar said that it is one of the most beautiful lines in French literature, and it says: "There is only one misfortune, not to be a saint". The expression frightens us, but we have no right to be afraid of that expression. A person is a saint and only as holy as much as he or she wants to be. Whether we shall be more holy, better than we are, depends on us. Today's feast is speaking clearly right to us with God's voice and speech. He is speaking to us in all the events that are unfolding and happening around us. He is speaking to us through history and through people. But Christ as king said plainly and clearly: "I have come to cast fire upon the earth..." What else would Medjugorje wish and want, that is the Mother of God through Medjugorje and her presence, in today's world? She wants only one thing: To bring God's kingdom on earth. She wants what Christ came to bring to this world to be spread. It is summed up in one line: God is king. Christ is king of us all. Man is merely a weak creature and nothing more. What did our Fr. Slavko want? In all the prayers, countless adorations and sermons, conferences and writings, only one thing: Jesus is my God, him I adore, for him I live, he is everything to me! Him alone do I serve, him I adore, but also in my brother man. Per Mariam ad Jesum, per Jesum at Mariam! Through Mary to Jesus, but also through Jesus to Mary!
He found inspiration in Christ and in Francis. Christ who never wrote anything, who only sowed the word that his disciples wrote down. Christ knew that only some falls on fertile soil and in Fr. Slavko's life that word was fulfilled till the end. It fell on the fertile soil of the faith, of the heart, of the tradition from which he imbibed in the family home and it bore fruit a hundredfold.
Then the image of Francis that enthused him. Francis also like Christ, the teacher of us all. Francis, the greatest among the great, that one who threw his expensive suit down on the head of his father, a wealthy textile dealer, that one who loved poverty for the sake of poverty. That was also for our Fr. Slavko a daily inspiration: not to have anything, to give everything away, to be like Paul, all things to all men, that I might save some for Christ. He had so to say pockets that were always tattered, he gave out left and right, without asking who it is and who is what. He passed the test of faith in today's gospel reading because love for man and God were embodied in his person. He wanted to be a ray of light in the night of this world. Fr. Slavko had in himself a drive toward the Transcendental, toward the Eternal. We know that a few rays do not disperse the night, that a few waves do not raise or stir up the ocean, but if a man like our Fr. Slavko marvels at a flower or the piece of bread that he distributes to the poor, then the world is already changing for the better. That is exactly what today's gospel tells us about the final encounter with the Lord Jesus on judgment day, something that Fr. Slavko understood literally and lived.
Had the Lord sent word: Listen, Fr. Slavko, tomorrow you shall die, I believe that he would not have for one moment stopped doing what he did every day, because everything that he did had only one aim: To glorify God, to serve him. He would not have taken any kind of time-out to think over his life. He would not have given up his climbing Cross Mountain, he would not have given up prayer and adoration, nor would he have given up counseling so many people, or given up visiting the most lowly. If the Lord had perhaps sent such a message to us, we would have most probably withdrawn to our room, tried once more to review our life, take maximum advantage of that moment of mercy. Probably we would have thought over that word of God, made choices and tried to live intensely. But Fr. Slavko before that kind of word from God would have only continued doing what he was doing: be on fire for God and man. Once they asked a holy man why he never felt fear, why he was not afraid. The holy man answered: Because I think about my death every day! People are in fear because they are afraid of everything around them and for everything they possess. However, being face to face with death, everyday keeping one's death in view, everything becomes superfluous to a person. Death takes the real measure of life. It clearly sends the message about that from which man should live and draw his strength.
The thought of death should also make another dimension present to all of us: that is, one lives a short time and it is necessary to leave behind us clear signs, signals, road signs and directions for love. Traces that others gladly remember, tracks and ways on which others can pass. Jesus, knowing that his time had come, and because he loved his own who he had taken from the world, loved them to the end, took a towel and basin and washed his disciples' feet. The feet are man's most soiled members. In his love Jesus touched dirty but also wounded human feet, he touched the Achilles' heel of every person. What is there still to say about the tracks that Fr. Slavko left behind him? He went through this world doing good, proclaiming Jesus Christ, preaching the Gospel, celebrating the Eucharist, adoring Christ in the Eucharist and on the cross, touching the sore spots, the Achilles' heels.
However, Fr. Slavko did not just stay with words. He poured words off into deeds, forgetting himself. He poured himself out to the end precisely for those who had the most need of help. He was both a spiritual and material helper, a companion to so many. Beyond numbers. He left his trail, indelible, into himself he poured the word of Jesus: "As the Father has loved me, so I also love you." And "No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends."
Fr. Slavko laid down his life for everyone, above all he loved those that nobody else loved, the deserted and the abandoned who sin and human hatred had terribly wounded. He consoled, he healed wounds, he helped, he accepted. He forgot himself. And therefore he went away too soon because he spread himself out everywhere.
Our dear Fr. Slavko! We are grateful to God that we had you. We are grateful to him that he called you to our Franciscan community. We are grateful to him for the gifts with which he endowed you and that you utilized to the maximum. We are grateful to your family for giving you to our Province in which you will be one of its shining figures. We believe that in you we have in heaven both intercessor and helper, a healer of all those wounds that oppress this people and this Church, and at the same time also a reconciler who implores Christ's peace, the peace of Christ the King for us all.
We are confident that you have been able to meet the Lord, face to face, eye to eye, when you came before his throne, just like today's gospel that is read on the feast of Christ the King also tells us. You went through his school of serving, not of ruling, of giving away, not of keeping, of extreme poverty, not of wealth. And therefore we are confident that he is your reward.
And countless people after meeting with you will be able to say: "Thank you, Lord, that there existed such a being as Fr. Slavko. Thanks to that being through which God has loved me." And you, Fr. Slavko, were able in your life to say affirmatively: "There exist such beings through whom I have fallen in love with God, through whom God has become closer to me, Jesus and Mary."
You burned yourself out in the service of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, in the service of her presence here and in the whole world. You were the messenger and the propagator of her piety which for you was always Christocentric. We are confident that the Church of Christ will never forget that about you. St. Jerome expressed it this way: "It is not necessary to lament over the dead, but to be thankful that we lived with them and that we are still always connected to them. We believe that they are in God, and whoever is in God, is one connected with the whole family of God." With that thought I express my sympathy to your mother Lucia, your brothers, your sisters, and all your relatives. And I thank your house for giving you to us and that we had you.
And finally, our dear Fr. Slavko, I would ask you for one thing: Forgive us all if in our eyes or from our viewpoint you were not understood. You were and you wanted all the way to be vir catholicus, apostolicus, franciscanus, vir Croata hercegoviniensis, that is, a man catholic, apostolic, Franciscan, a Croat from Hercegovina. You went in front of us, often misunderstood. You thought beyond the rest, just like that mythical Prometheus, that one who thinks ahead and thinks up something new. One thing, however, remains plain and clear, namely, that word of Christ: By their deeds you shall know them. Your work is visible, permanent because it is woven and built on prayer, on your knees, in search of God's will through the signs of the times. You went away ahead of us, but you remain always connected to us, in our hearts. Therefore, once again, thank you for everything and may you rest in the peace of your Lord, in the shadow of the Church of Medjugorje, Cross Mountain and the Hill of Apparition. Amen.
Fr. Tomislav Pervan, Provincial.
in the midst of my days (Ps 102:24)