Fr. Joseph Bragotti 1937-2023
Fr. Luca Roso delivered the homily at Fr. Joe Bragottie’s funeral on June 22, 2023. This is the text of his homily.
Gospel: John 10: 11-18
“Good morning, and thanks, brothers and sisters, to be here today.
I was surprised and even frightened to learn that Fr. Joe had expressed the wish that I lead a reflection on the occasion of his funeral.
Despite my difficulty with the language, Fr. Joe decided to choose the last arrival member in his community, who had known him for a shorter time. Probably so that we wouldn’t talk about him.
Fr. Joe has been called to the Father’s house near the end of the novena to the Sacred Heart. This has an important meaning, considering that Fr. Joe was a missionary son of the Sacred Heart.
The text of the Gospel that I have chosen and that we have just listened, has presented us with the image of Jesus, as the Good Shepherd.
Our former general superior, Father Pierli, had a splendid theological reflection on the Good Shepherd and the Sacred Heart, united in a single theological image: the pierced Heart of Christ the Good Shepherd.
There are many characteristics of the Good Shepherd. I would like to draw our attention to three: freedom, poverty, mercy.
First, the Good Shepherd has a free heart.
The Gospels amply describe to us the freedom of Jesus. He does not follow fashion, he does not compromise, he acts freely and many times “against the tide.” He has a free heart and does not lose himself in calculations of convenience; so free that he can leaves 99 sheep to go in search of the one he lost.
Where does this freedom come from?
His heart is firm, he has the foundations well laid in doing the will of the Father. Freedom comes to him not from being able to do or say what he wants, but from fulfilling the will of His Father and thus announcing his Kingdom. Jesus allows himself to be guided, seeks help in prayer and also in the Voice of the Father who speaks to him through the people who cross his path.
Jesus never lost that freedom. Not in the Garden of Olive nor in front of those who condemn him to death. He gave himself freely out of love. For love of the Father and for love of the Kingdom.
The two key words of the Our Father, a prayer that springs from the praying heart of Christ and that the liturgy recalls to us in today’s Gospel, are: Father and Kingdom. The two loves of Jesus, we could say. One determined by the other.
It was not easy for Fr. Joe to live his Comboni missionary life. He has never enjoyed extraordinary health, but that did not stop him from spending 12 years in troubled Uganda in the 1970s. Carrying his weakness and a suitcase of medicines, he went to serve, giving his limited strength and his gifted intelligence. And when he was over 70 years old, he embarked on the new experience of being a missionary in Guatemala. This was a mission he freely chose.
He could have stayed in Cincinnati and performed less difficult task, but, once again, he wanted to follow the example of the Good Shepherd.
Second, the Good Shepherd has a poor heart.
There are innumerable texts that testify to this. Jesus is born poor and lives in poverty. Although He is Lord of the Universe, He claims not to own even a stone where he can lay his head to sleep. The same scene in the Garden of Olives reminds us of this poverty, chosen and accepted. He knows of being weak, and the future scares him, but He prefers to trust and, once again, accepts the will of the Father, no matter where it leads.
Was there any other way possible than having to go through the Cross? Probably thinking about this approaching outcome, Jesus had identified another way out, another possible path that he, perhaps, could have followed successfully. But no, he prefers to trust and – once again – accepts the will of the Father, despite his fears.
In the following hours, Jesus will lose and give up everything: honor, freedom, friends, even his clothes and, finally, even his mother, whom he gives to the beloved disciple. The soldier’s spear will empty him even of what was left in his inert heart.
The entire human existence of the Son of God finds its fulfillment on the Cross.
The Cross in the place of the definitive sacrifice.
The last words of Jesus, in the Gospel of John, are precisely: “everything is fulfilled.”
On Sunday night, when I went to visit him, Fr. Joe told me that he felt like he was reaching the end. I replied that it was due to the difficult days he had because of his recent fall, but that he was an oak tree. He answered me: “Yes! a very old and moth-eaten oak. It’s time, for me, to be cut to be wood.”
I think it was his way of telling me that: “everything is fulfilled.”
Fr. Joe was afraid of being alone when the Lord called him. That is why he asked Fr. Louis to visit him that afternoon. But finally, the Lord came when Fr. Louis had already returned home to the community. God wanted to strip him of that too, so that he would be truly free.
Third, the Good Shepherd has a merciful heart.
Always surrounded by the poor, sick and sinners, Jesus’s heart is capable of being moved, of loving and forgiving everyone, thus showing us the secret of the Heart of God, because whoever sees Jesus sees the Father. He is the translation of the ineffable and invisible of the Father. He is the human translation of him.
In the image of the Good Shepherd, Fr. Joe has also sought to have a free, poor, merciful and grateful Eucharistic heart. In the manner of Saint Daniel Comboni, he wanted to live his consecration to God and to his brothers in this way: dedicated, sacrificed and grateful.
As a Comboni missionary, following the example of Saint Daniel, he felt called to trust in the love of Christ who has called us, and that does not guarantee that we will be freed from defects, temptations and difficult moments, but it does assure us of His constant help to be faithful.
Fr. Joe was a man who has lived as a convinced Christian, but always in search, who has breathed faith and lived Christian commitment as a Comboni missionary, as a priest and as a journalist. He was always proud to be a Comboni, a priest, and a journalist, and he has proud of his achievements.
A man who, with his life, has helped many to look for and find God –who is our Father- and whom Fr. Joe has always trusted, and whom he finally finds today, face to face.
To say goodbye to Fr. Joe here today is to make a Eucharist, a thanksgiving, for the life, testimony and legacy of this brother of ours.
It is to look at his experience as a man and as a missionary priest and to recognize in his experience a path persistence, dedication and also purification.
It is to remind us that our humanity and our consecration are not separate paths, that we have to travel in parallel as if they were self-sufficient and impermeable experiences.
Humanity and Consecration are the expression of the same call to holiness.
As in a perfect electrical system, our humanity and our consecration must remain connected to each other, at all times and circumstances, to allow the circulation of a single flow.
A flow of love, grace and mission that springs from the hearts of free, poor, merciful men and women.
With the bread and the wine, today we also offer our brother Fr. Joe to the Lord, so that his life, from today, may be a Eucharist, a perfect thanksgiving, because it is forever united to our Lord.
To the maternal embrace of the Virgin Mary, Our Mother, and to her Immaculate Heart, today we entrust her son Joseph, and we ask her to accompany him to the encounter with her Son Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd with the pierced Heart, our God.
He, the Blessed, He, the Living, yesterday, today, and always. Amen.”