September 28, 2020
KENDALL PARK – SOUTH BRUNWICK, NJ (MIDDLESEX)–Daniel Mark Anderl had just celebrated his 20th birthday.
A lifelong Catholic and the only child of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas and defense attorney Mark Anderl, Daniel Anderl gave his life to protect his mother and father, taking the shooter’s first bullet directly to the chest, when a man holding a package on their front door step opened fire into the family’s home on July 19.
“All of us here remember when we heard of the horrific news of Danny’s death and how he died,” said Father Robert G. Lynam, pastor of St. Augustine of Canterbury Parish, Kendall Park, where the family are parishioners. “Jesus said ‘there is no greater love, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (Jn. 15:13) – Danny did that. There is no question in my mind, from Mark’s testimony to me, that Daniel offered his life for his father and his mother.”
Speaking during his homily to those gathered in the church and those watching the private livestream of the Sept. 26 funeral Mass from a nearby tent, set up in order to respect social distancing measures and situated just steps away from the parochial Catholic school where Daniel Anderl spent eight years of his childhood, the pastor said that “faith is a gift.”
Since the day of their son’s death, “it has been the gift of faith that has sustained Esther and Mark. It has been the shining example of Daniel’s faith and selfless love that has sustained all of us,” he said.
As he arrived at the hospital that day, as Mark was in the operating room, the pastor said that he saw Daniel’s mother become “Mary at the foot of the cross.”
“In the blessing of Daniel’s body that night, in that room, it was Jesus being taken down from the cross,” he said. “On that night, I shared with Esther, ‘there is a woman here with us. Her name is Mary, the mother of Jesus. She knows your pain. She knows your sorrow,’” he said.
Reassuring the mourners present, Father Lynam said, “Mary is here with us. She knows faith; she knows sorrow; she knows pain, but she always knows Easter joy. Allow Mary to embrace you, as a mother, with a gift of love and the gift of her faith.”
The day after his death, Daniel Anderl’s school friends, together with Father Lynam, gathered to pray in the church, in the place where he was baptized into the Catholic faith as an infant and would later go on to celebrate his other sacraments.
Together, they shared stories about the life and friendships they had with Daniel Anderl and lit a candle in his memory, which burned on the altar for weeks until a funeral Mass could take place.
Looking toward the back of the church and then glancing again at the candle, Father Lynam said he would often see the candle’s reflection in the glass at the back of the church as he celebrated Mass and remember, “that is the light of Danny that is burning brightly now in heaven – there’s no question about that.”
As Daniel Anderl’s friends were praying in the church that day, the day after his death, his parents were in the hospital and “Esther received communion along with her family who were in her room,” said Father Lynam.
“Mark, who was in intensive care, was able to receive a small piece of the host and then he shared those powerful words to me: ‘I have forgiven the shooter,’” he said, echoing the wounded father’s words to those present.
In the past weeks, St. Peter was in the Gospels. The pastor shared how Jesus asked Peter the same question three times: do you love me? The question came as a gift of absolution for Peter, after he had already denied Jesus three times.
“Esther shared, when we had a moment at one of the Masses to quietly, privately bring an intention for the Mass, that as Jesus forgave Peter three times, she said to me, ‘I have forgiven the shooter three times and many more times since then,” he said. “Mark and Esther, there by the grace of God, you were and are able to say those powerful words.”
With a distant gaze of past reflection, Father Lynam fondly remembered his interactions with the family at parish Masses.
“Esther is a great listener when I preach. She is there with me, as is Mark, and Daniel would be walking around doing ushering and greeting people. Constantly walking, walking, walking,” he said, gesturing around the church and drawing laughter from the mourners.
The weekly Masses since with his family and friends “have truly been the Road to Emmaus,” he said, referencing the passage in the Gospel of Luke in which Jesus walks with two disciples, mourning the loss of Jesus, as they journey down the road to Emmaus.
“They were filled with sorrow, doubt, and questions. They were depressed. Has that not been our experience over the past weeks and even now as we gather today in prayer?” said Father Lynam. “He comes to them in their time of need. He comes to us now in our time of need.”
The funeral Mass for Daniel Anderl came just days after the New Jersey State Assembly unanimously passed A.B. 1649 on Thursday, legislation known as “Daniel’s Law,” that would bar the online posting of judges’ and prosecutors’ home addresses or phone numbers.
The church and outdoor tent were filled with family and friends, dignitaries and Church leaders, among them Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York; Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen, who celebrated the Mass; New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez; New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal; and President John Garvey of Catholic University of America, along with countless others.
Addressing Daniel Anderl’s parents, Cardinal Dolan said, “how often have we heard you say, since that Good Friday through which you traveled, that ‘we couldn’t have done it without our faith. Our faith is what has seen us through.’”
“We know one of the essentials of that faith is that God brings good out of evil and this is an unmitigated evil, but the Lord can bring good from evil,” said Cardinal Dolan. “Esther and Mark, the whole world bowed its head in prayer when they heard the sad news about Danny and the whole country has been inspired by his selfless act of sacrifice as he reminded them of Jesus on the cross. So, you see, God has already brought some good out of this.”
Daniel Anderl was remembered for having “lived his Catholic faith,” his life a witness of selfless love and steadfast faith. He was known to spend time in prayer in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, receive the gift of God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, and attend daily Mass at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where he would have been a junior this year.
It is his “great gift of faith” that leaves his loved ones behind both heartbroken and inspired, said Bishop Checchio.
“Esther and Mark, you raised such a lovely young man and the whole world can see what was in his heart by his actions,” said the bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen. “We’re so indebted to you and the good work you did, the love you brought him up with in your home, and the good work and cooperation of this parish, St. Augustine of Canterbury School, Saint Joseph High School and Catholic University of America.”
After sharing his own words of sorrow, Bishop Checchio read a letter sent to him by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Apostolic Nuncio, or liaison between the Holy Father and the United States, on behalf of Pope Francis.
In the letter, Archbishop Pierre said he wished to express the spiritual closeness and paternal affection of the Holy Father and “convey his profound solidarity and assurances of prayer to Daniel’s parents and all those affected by this tragedy.”
“Conscious of the wound inflicted on your entire community, His Holiness also prays that all will be affirmed in their resolve to bring an end to senseless violence and to work for justice, healing and peace,” the letter read. “Upon Daniel’s family, his friends and all who mourn him, the Holy Father cordially imparts his Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of consolation and strength in the Risen Lord.”
Also adding his own sentiments in the letter, Archbishop Pierre said he joined those in mourning “in giving thanks to Almighty God for young Daniel’s outstanding witness of faith and exemplary Christian life. Commending his soul to the infinite mercy of God, I also renew my fervent prayer that the faithful may be confirmed in charity, consoling one another with the hope in the Lord’s promise of the Resurrection.”
Once finished reading the letter, Bishop Checchio addressed those present, often seen comforting one another and wiping away their tears, one last time by saying, “Indeed, Esther, Mark and dear friends, it is only being gathered here around the altar of the Lord, being near the Lord and near our Mother, who experienced such violence in their own lives too, that we can work for that same healing, peace and justice of which the Holy Father wrote.”