Father Andrew Stanko is the son of an Army infantryman who went into the bitter battle of Guadalcanal right behind the Marines in World War II. There he contracted a jungle disease that was incurable, and came back home to marry his sweetheart Ann Mley, to father Andrew, and much too early to go to the Lord. Uncle Andrew was also, just before his death, my sponsor at confirmation in St. Emerich’s Church in Johnstown (in the district of Cambria City). Father Andrew has been the joy of his parents and our whole family for many years. Entered below is the homily Father Andrew recently preached, in his accustomed simplicity and depth, at the funeral Mass of Uncle Chizie Mley, another World War II vet, a Marine, and parishioner of St. Therese of Lisieux parish in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
By Father Andrew Stanko
My dear family in the Lord, especially Aunt Bernie, Chiz’s wife, Betty, his sister, his entire family, and all the parishioners of St. Therese parish gathered here today, and all the friends of Chiz who have come to his funeral. Certainly, my Aunt Bernie is grateful to all of you for taking the time to honor Chiz by your presence.
The last of September Chiz had a fall and was admitted to the hospital. At first, it didn’t look too bad, but one thing led to another, and things went downhill. I remember visiting Chiz when he was first admitted, and his greatest concern was that he would probably have to miss the novena in honor of St. Therese.
However, his sorrow was mitigated when Father Karmanocky visited him and brought him a blessed rose. Father Bernie, many thanks for this act of compassion. You don’t know how thankful Chiz was for that favor. I also noticed that he got a get well card from the parish.
Taking after the Little Flower, who based her spirituality on doing the little things well, this parish really follows the example of your patroness – you do the little things well. This is one of the things that sets this parish apart from so many other parishes. The Little Flower said that she would spend her heaven by doing good on earth. She does this through her “little way.”
One of the things that I always do is to pay attention to the day on which a person dies. So many times God has a hidden meaning to send to us. Chiz died on the Solemnity of the Epiphany, when the three magi went to visit the Christ Child. This Solemnity reminds us that Christ came to save all peoples, all nations. One thing about Chiz was that everyone liked him. I never heard a negative word about him. He didn’t present gifts like gold, but he gave the simple gift of himself. Chiz always had stories of how he came to the church hall to help make pyrohy. Most of the time he just did the simple things, but there were times when he was promoted to “potato peeler.” (This was piece work for him.)
When I was in the seminary, usually Uncle Chiz and Uncle Andrew had to take turns driving me back to school. I remember that Chizie had to take me back in the midst of a snow storm. When we got to the Ebensburg – Loretto road, he told me that he would have to put the chains on. No problem, he got me there. Then, he always gave me a few bucks on the side for some spending money.
Of course, Chiz, like all the Mleys, liked to talk. One of his favorite pastimes was to go to McDonald’s with his buddies to drink coffee and talk. When I was at St. Stephen’s, I joined them on a few occasions. It was a lot of fun and Chiz always had something to say. He was the only one who could rival my mother in the “gift of gab.”
I bring in some humor because we cannot allow ourselves to be overcome by grief. Chiz lived a long and good life. He loved his country as he served in World War II as a Marine. He loved being called a Marine; this was something special for him. He worked at Bethlehem Steel as supervisor of the real estate department. We must keep his memory alive by remembering stories about his life.
He has left us but only physically. His body has died but his soul lives on. His relationship with us still continues in what we as Catholics call the Communion of Saints. He can help us now from his place in eternity. We pray for the happy repose of his soul, but we must remember that he can help us who remain in this life, in ways that he could not help us when he was in this life.
We must also today reflect upon the message of God’s Word. The first reading gives us the prophetic word of Isaiah the prophet. He has a vision of eternal life. He pictures it as a life where “the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces. ... Let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us.”
Saint Paul reminds us in the second reading that “this momentary light affliction is producing in us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” Chiz did suffer in his last days, but those sufferings cannot be compared to the eternal weight of glory that he now enjoys.
The Gospel from Saint Matthew is about the eight beatitudes. Let us focus our attention on: “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” In order to mourn, we have to love. We mourn for Chiz because of our love for him, and also because of his love for us. We must remember that love is eternal because God is eternal. Our love for him and his love for us does not end with this life, but remains for eternity.
I have a few words that I would like to direct in a special way to Aunt Bernie. Aunt Bernie, you have exhibited great strength during this whole affair. You were a tower of strength. It was difficult, but you showed a perseverance that reveals a great faith in God. You were a faithful wife to the end. Also, thanks to Bill and Eli for your great help. You helped to hold up Bernie during these trying times, and I thank you on behalf of Bernie. Also, thanks to little Joshua who brought Chiz a lot of joy.
Today, say “farewell” to Chiz, but just to his physical presence. Actually, Chiz is better off than all of us. His pilgrimage is ended, but we are left to continue our pilgrimage back to the Father. We say farewell to a humble man of simple pleasures – a man who loved God, his Catholic faith, his wife and family; a man who loved his country, who loved life, and who loved people. At the visitation, someone asked, “What do you think Chiz asked when he saw the face of God for the first time?” The answer was, “Take care of Bernie.” So, so long Chiz, until we all meet again. May God bless Bernie and all of us gathered here.