He grew up like a sapling before him, like a shoot from the parched earth; There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him.
He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, One of those from whom men hide their faces, spurned, and we held him in no esteem.
Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, While we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.
We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; But the LORD laid upon him the guilt of us all.
Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth; Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth.
We were very fortunate today to be able to attend a beautifully reverent and somber Good Friday Commemoration of the Lord's Passion and Veneration of the Cross at Holy Ghost Church this afternoon.
This is the second day of the Triduum, the three days preceding Easter. These are some of the most beautiful liturgies in the Church. I am especially moved by the veneration of the cross, when the faithful are invited up to kiss the crucifix.
That reminds me of a story. Several years ago, two of my girls, Kateri and Lizzy, were preparing for the sacrament of confirmation. Their teacher was a young and very fit professional firefighter for the city of Denver. He could be rather intimidating sometimes because he didn't go for the type of confirmation class that involves playing "icebreaker" games or getting the kids to talk about themselves. I'm not even sure if he asked the kids to introduce themselves and I don't remember him smiling a whole lot, but I think that's because he took his job of preparing kids for confirmation very seriously.
I used to sit in on all the classes and listen to him talk while my fingers were busy knitting something. It was such a blessing for me to be able to sit in on that class and hear his stories. Sometimes he would talk passionately about his job as a firefighter. He would tell us about how a firefighter has to go into a dark and smokey building, and he has to rely on his protective clothing and his oxygen to keep him from being overcome with smoke. But sometimes he might run out of oxygen and be overcome by smoke and fall down unconscious. He might have a buddy who has to find him in the darkness, grab him by the ankles and pull him to safety, saving his life. He might wake up and find he is safe and well, having no memories of the danger he was in, or the buddy who pulled him from death into life. But he really owes his life to his fellow firefighter. Whether or not he acknowledges it, his life has been restored because of the actions of another firefighter. "That is exactly what Jesus did for us," he would say. "He saved us from death, even when we didn't know we needed to be saved. We owe him our lives."
Another time, he talked about the importance of owning a crucifix and hanging it in a prominent spot. He said, "One morning, you'll wake up, stumble out of bed to get your cup of coffee and you'll walk right past the crucifix hanging there on the wall. Then, maybe after you've had a cup of coffee, you'll wake up and you'll see the crucifix, with Jesus hanging there and you'll say, 'Wow! Jesus! I owe you my life!' And you'll go over and kiss the crucifix. You won't be able to stop it. You'll have to kiss him." Here was this big and burly firefighter telling a bunch of puny teenagers they would be unable to pass a crucifix without kissing it. I was always transfixed when he spoke. It was almost as if he had one foot in heaven and he really understood what it meant to love Jesus. I'm so thankful my girls had the chance to have Dan Pittaluga for a teacher.
When Archbishop Chaput came to confirm the kids, he spent about a half hour or so talking with them in the basement of the church before the confirmation Mass. The archbishop liked to quiz the kids who were going to be confirmed, to make sure they really knew their stuff. Archbishop Chaput commented that they were one of the best prepared classes he'd ever seen. And it was all thanks to Dan, who taught them well, without fun and games. It was also one of the most compacted confirmation classes my kids have ever attended. The class met every week for about three months. And he didn't even have them go on retreat!
That would be the last confirmation class Dan taught because he died suddenly and quite unexpectedly of a heart attack a few months later, leaving a wife and several young children behind. I can imagine him in heaven, walking up to Jesus and saying, "Wow! Jesus! I owe you my life...and here I am!"