Were he to preach about it, Msgr. Louis Gutierrez might have told his parishioners at St. Paul's Catholic Church not to be sad for the good man cut down by violence--for he is with God--but to lament a society where murder has become routine.
He would have told them that prayer is not enough in times such as these, that tears should not become indulgence, that anger must be channeled to good.
But others will have to tell this parable now.
Gutierrez, a former principal of Santa Clara High School in Oxnard who was planning to celebrate 30 years in the priesthood this weekend, was slain in San Diego on Tuesday, where he had gone on vacation with a longtime friend, a fellow priest.
Police said Gutierrez, 61, died of a single gunshot to the head. His friend, who was staying in an adjoining room at the beachfront Surfer Motor Lodge, reported hearing a crash in Gutierrez's room about 6:15 a.m., and then a slamming door.
Gutierrez, a marathon runner, may have been about to leave for--or just returned from--an early morning walk. He was wearing casual clothing and his running shoes.
"You could understand it in Los Angeles--murder happens here every day," said 13-year-old Krystal Hunt, an eighth-grader at the Mid-City parish's school who described Gutierrez as a friend, father figure and adviser. "But San Diego? I was thinking that San Diego was a really peaceful place."
Certainly more peaceful than here, thought Krystal and other children at the parish school. There are bars on the windows of St. Paul's for a reason, and the church doors are locked. Just around the corner are a methadone clinic, liquor stores and pockets of blight at every turn.
The children said they know enough not to wear certain colors so that they don't offend the gangs. They say that on the better streets, you hear gunshots only now and then.
And this is the neighborhood where Father Gutierrez felt at home.
He was the pastor of St. Paul's for nine years, leaving only last week to begin a new assignment at Holy Spirit Catholic Church.
At Oxnard's Santa Clara High, where he was principal from 1974 to 1978, Gutierrez was remembered as caring and dedicated.
"He was very vivacious and upfront," teacher Loraine Toucher said. "He took good care of the people who worked for him and he trusted us with whatever work we had."
Toucher said Gutierrez left the school when he became monsignor in 1978. But he kept in touch through the years, she said, occasionally attending school events.
Sister Anne Eugene, Santa Clara High's current principal, said the school plans to start a scholarship in the priest's memory.
Gutierrez preached his last homily at St. Paul's on April 17, and after Mass, 1,000 people attended a farewell party.
Earlier, the students at the school presented him with cards and gifts. He was to be invested at his new church on Mother's Day.
But Gutierrez had already preached one Sunday at Holy Spirit, and LaVerne Duncan, who has been a member of St. Paul's since 1965, said that for a reason she does not quite understand, she felt compelled to be there to hear what he had to say.
"Something kept telling me to go," Duncan said. "So I was up and dressed at 6 a.m. and went to Holy Spirit. The monsignor saw me and he said, 'There's my guardian angel from St. Paul's' and then he went ahead and preached his funeral.
"He started with when he was a little boy, about the green-eyed girl he fell in love with, and then the brown-eyed girl, and the school he went to, 28th Street School, and USC, and he told all about his life."
Duncan and other parishioners said that in hindsight, it seemed as if Gutierrez might have been giving his own eulogy.
"This tragedy has left such sadness in me," said Claude Jasmin, the organist at St. Paul's. "About three weeks ago, in a nice sermon he was giving, it seems he felt death. He was talking about what he would do if God gave him the choice between winning the Lotto and going to heaven. And he said, 'I'll tell him, I want to go to heaven right now!' "
But the message that Gutierrez often preached was that heaven, and God, can also be found on Earth.
"He would say, 'I was at the AIDS hospice and I saw God through each nurse, through each cleaning person, through each person there. Any time you act right, do good, that is the Lord Jesus Christ,' " Jasmin said.
Without a doubt, said those who knew Father Gutierrez well, he would have forgiven the person who took his life. Gutierrez was often asking forgiveness himself for doing wrong, but not in quiet apologies or letters of regret.
Instead, his friends said, he would stand at the altar of the church and ask forgiveness of all the parishioners and of God.
"The last Sunday that he preached here, he was talking about the AIDS hospital and about how because he had an operation on his foot, he didn't get a chance to go there," said Matthew Balthazar, a St. Paul's member since 1959.
"Well, one of the patients died and he didn't get the chance to see him. So he made that into a parable about how quickly these things happen."
The patient who died was Rodolfo Dominguez, and like all the other men at the nearby AIDS hospice, the Serra Project, he was a friend of Gutierrez. The priest--who also helped found a homeless shelter--visited the AIDS hospice every Saturday, just to sit with patients, listen, and share a meal of soup.
"It was just a great humanitarian relationship," said the hospice manager, Alfonso Green. "It wasn't about religion. It was about taking care of your fellow man. That was his whole approach."
Times staff writers Larry Stammer and Tony Perry contributed to this report.