Do You Love Me…Follow Me
Reading — John 21:15-19
We are here this evening to say goodbye to a man who was a son, a brother, an uncle, a priest, a pastor, a mentor, a friend, a role model, a hero, and a spiritual father to thousands. But most importantly, Fr. Francisco Vicente was a disciple of Jesus. Throughout his life, Fr. Vicente listened to and obeyed the voice of Jesus, his Master and his friend.
In the Gospel that was just read, Jesus and Peter are having an important conversation – the first opportunity for them to be alone together after Jesus’ resurrection – and, at one point, Jesus says to Peter that there will be times where he will be led where he might not want to go. Well, I believe that at several crucial times in Fr. Vicente’s life, Jesus said the same thing to him.
Thus, for example, when Fr. Vicente was a brand new Dominican priest in Spain, his provincial superior asked him to move to the United States. Those of us who knew Fr. Vicente, knew he loved his family, his friends, his country and his culture very much, and I am sure he did not want to leave them behind. Nevertheless, he said “yes” to his provincial and “yes” to Jesus, and he came to California…for the rest of his life. He even had to change the way he spoke Spanish by letting go of his Castilian accent!
So, for nearly 30 years, Fr. Vicente thrived as a priest and pastor in three parishes here in the Bay Area: St. Peter Martyr in Pittsburg, St. Mary Magdalen in Berkeley and Holy Rosary in Antioch. He was one of the most successful and beloved pastors in our entire province, and I am sure he could not imagine doing anything else but loving and serving people in this way. But once again, Jesus asked him to do something difficult and completely different. Fr. Vicente was chosen by the Master of the Dominicans to go to Rome to help the Master lead and serve the worldwide Order of Preachers.
Fr. Vicente had to change his entire approach to Dominican life, going from his rewarding and successful pastoral ministry to an administrative job which would require him to travel all around the world for nine years. Once again, Fr. Vicente said “yes” to the needs of the Dominicans and “yes” to Jesus.
After those nine years of traveling, Fr. Vicente returned to California and to Holy Rosary, which he loved so much, serving as pastor once again. Then, about 14 years ago, Fr. Vicente had to leave his ministry of leadership and move into retirement. Even though he continued to serve as a priest, I am sure it was difficult for someone like him who was so active and successful to let go of all he still wanted to accomplish, but Jesus was asking him to move into a quieter, slower and more reflective time of his life. Once again, Fr. Vicente let go of his own desires and said “yes” to the Lord.
Finally, all of us here at Holy Rosary remember a few years ago when Fr. Vicente began to show signs of dementia. This was perhaps the most difficult thing that he had to accept in his entire life. You could see and hear his frustration at not remembering things, at not being able to communicate well, at being disoriented, and finally, at not being able to celebrate Mass by himself. During this time, Jesus was leading him to a place he really did not want to go. With tears in his eyes and great heaviness of heart, Fr. Vicente had to let go of something he had done at least once a day every day of his life for more than 60 years as a priest – celebrating Mass by himself. I am happy to say that we Dominicans here at Holy Rosary were able to visit him almost every day so that he could celebrate Mass with us all the way to a week before his death. And we can testify to the fact that, no matter how bad he was feeling, no matter how tired or depressed he was, he always found the energy to say Mass with us.
There are many stories I could share with you about Fr. Vicente, and I am sure you have your own to share. But all those stories have one thing in common: Fr. Vicente made each one of us feel special and loved by God and by him…Fr. Vicente was a pleasure to live with. He was everything you all thought he was. He was an elegant, noble, grace-filled, generous, patient, humble and prayerful man who showed us how to live and how to die.
At each of the difficult moments of his life I have spoken about tonight, where Jesus led Fr. Vicente to a new place he did not want to go – and I am sure there were many more than these – the Lord asked him the same question he asked Peter in tonight’s Gospel: “Francisco, do you love me?” And each time, Fr. Vicente answered Jesus saying, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”