Homily for the First Solemn Mass of Father Mark Garrett
Today is a day of thanksgiving to God for answered prayers. The Holy Spirit has answered many different prayers, each through the grace of this priestly ordination of Father Mark Garrett and here at his first Solemn Mass of thanksgiving.
May 31, 2020
Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church
Rockwall, TexasActs 2:1-11
Psalm 104: 1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34
1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13
First, the entire Church thanks God for the answer to Her prayers for the ordination of Father Mark Garrett and his classmates to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. The Church universal and the local church of Dallas, has prayed consistently that the Lord would send laborers into the vineyard, and He has sent Father Mark along with his classmates into the vineyard — each having answered that call through faith, hope, and love.
Father Mark’s brother priests are thankful for the answer of God to their prayers that Father Mark will now join them first at the altar and then in the pastoral care of God’s people as members of the same presbyterate and as members of the universal and ordained priesthood of Jesus Christ. Father Mark’s parents, David and Joan, having generously trusted God and supported Mark in his discernment and formation — along with his loving grandparents — thank God for the answer to their prayers, that their son has happily answered and arrived at what he is truly meant to do and what he will be happy doing for the rest of his life: serving God as a priest forever. Finally, Father Mark’s siblings, his sister Laura, and his younger brothers Danny, Matthew, and Christopher thank God not only for each of the previously stated reasons, but perhaps with even more fervor because God has answered their prayers with their brother seated in the vestments of a priest and a mask covering his mouth preventing both the spread of the coronavirus and unsolicited words of fraternal advice. As we just heard from Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”
God in His Providence has designed that Father Mark Garrett should offer his first Mass of Thanksgiving on the Solemnity of Pentecost. Pentecost redeems the sin of Babel. The events of Pentecost relayed in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles reveal God’s continued undoing of the effects of sin in the victory won by Christ over our accuser, the devil. Christ does so by keeping His promise in sending the Advocate who gives an accounting on our behalf in the face of the accuser, the devil, who is a liar and a thief.
Human beings at Babel sought to speak and to live according to their own word rather than receive, be blessed by, and proclaim the word that God had already spoken to them. Babel results in acrimony and anguish, mistrust and misery among human beings. In contrast, the Apostles at Pentecost received the Holy Spirit and His seven specific gifts, the power of grace, the theological and infused moral virtues, and the consolation of such fruits as joy and peace. As the theologian Joseph Ratzinger wrote, “Paul and John agree essentially on yet another point. John calls the Spirit “Paraclete,” that is, advocate, helper, defender, comforter. He is thus the adversary of the devil, the “prosecutor,” the “slanderer” who accuses our brethren day and night before our God” (Rev 12:10). The Spirit is the Yes, just as Christ is the Yes. Correspondingly, Paul emphasizes joy very strongly. We may say that the Spirit is the Spirit of joy and of the Gospel.”
Yesterday, Father Mark Garrett definitively said “yes” to Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, as he was ordained to the priesthood.
Babel does not give us diversity and creativity; it gives us cacophony and chaos. The Holy Spirit fosters our identity as unique individuals and unites us as members of the Body of Christ at the same time because the Spirit always selflessly draws our attention to the Word of God, the Word Incarnate, Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit draws us into the relationship of love between the Son and the Father that exists in the communion of the Trinity. The human word by itself cannot do that. In fact, the human word alone unaided by grace, frequently takes us farther away from both our uniqueness and our sense of belonging to others as part of a family or part of the communion of the Church. We see the ill effects of the rejection of the Word of God writ large across our nation today and we pray for peace.
In a very profound way, what the Sacrament of Holy Orders brings about is order out of chaos. Just as God created the ordered universe and all within it out of the primordial chaos of nothingness, and just as sin brought about disorder through abuse of all that is good, thus Christ restores order (beyond that of the original order of creation) sacramentally through the ministry of His priests in the pastoral care of His people — particularly in a priest’s ministry as a confessor. A priest as a confessor should be aware that he is a recipient of the grace of the Advocate — the Holy Spirit — and is an Advocate for the truth and mercy of God. In that way, the priest is compassionately an advocate for the penitent who is humbly present in contrition having been waylaid by the devil, the accuser. The ministry of a priest in confession includes listening, speaking with kindness, and instilling hope that Christ’s love is more powerful than sin.
At his ordination as a priest, the Holy Spirit conformed Father Mark to Christ so that Christ can live His one eternal priesthood through this man with compassion and mercy. Yesterday, at his ordination, Father Mark Garrett took a firm step in obedience to the Spirit that points to Christ and speaks humbly — a mode of discourse that incurs the contradiction of those who follow only the word of their own preferences and passions. He received a gift and so did we as the Church; today we joyfully say thank you to God, despite the rejection and indifference of Babel.
The harmony and right order of Pentecost is especially clarified by the obedience of priests. Priestly obedience is a grace of the Holy Spirit. Priests are obedient because they are configured with the Word Incarnate and by the grace of the Holy Spirit, they do not forget what they have received. Priestly obedience is more than simply external compliance or conformity to an abstract ideal or to an agreed upon set of policies or rules. A priest is configured to Christ, Head and Shepherd of the Church, whose obedience was an embrace of the Father’s will in selflessness and love for the Father and for each person. Obedience is neither a last resort among options, nor is it camouflage to hide behind to avoid the cultivation of virtue or personal responsibility. Obedience should strengthen the conscience with greater reliance upon the Holy Spirit in configuration to Christ, not replace the conscience substituting excuses for intentions. Obedience frequently requires a priest to subordinate his own preferences and priorities for the sake of a greater vision entrusted to the Office of the Bishop, a vision that both priest and bishop as earthen vessels are not always able to see nor to articulate well. Priest and bishop make that sacrifice in a spirit of trust; that trust is the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church.
The Holy Spirit is a gift and the ministry of priests is a gift. Yet, today we face another challenge in the attitudes of people who are not so much opposed to these gifts as they are indifferent to them. For priests and bishops, it can be very discouraging to receive such indifference towards what we have so gratefully and lovingly given our lives to. At times it can seem that we are trying to sell coal in Newcastle or ice in Alaska. That is precisely the time when priests need to return to the Holy Spirit in silence and ask for the gift of gratitude once again. That is the way we are renewed in the Word of God and not reliant only on our word, and we receive courage. As Saint Cyril of Alexandria wrote, “With the Holy Spirit within us, ‘it is quite natural for people who have been absorbed by the things of this world to become entirely other-worldly in outlook, and for cowards to become people of great courage.’”
This is precisely the courage that Christ desires to offer His Church today in the pastoral leadership of priests. It is how Christ desires to offer His Church the gift of hope that the Holy Spirit brings. The courage of priests today requires a vulnerability to be judged as foolish by the denizens of Babel who flourish today. That is, priests take the risk of being wounded for the sake of the love of God and the flock of His Church. There is no courage without vulnerability, and without courage there is no hope. Such courage on the part of the priest enables him to facilitate the appropriate mission and ministry of the laity without abandoning his essential vocation of the pastoral care of souls with which he is entrusted by the grace of his ordination and the assignment given him by his bishop. The essential and sacramental ministry of the priest cannot be delegated to a committee or to a staff. The priest is called to guide and to form the laity as the Church through his ministry as a priest, a ministry that is never simply functional but one that is essential and irreplaceable in the life of the Church.
So, now what? Where do we go from here? I have something to say to Father Mark. I have something to say to those gathered here. And, I have something to say to the laity and Father Mark together.
Father Mark, I share with you what a dear friend said to me on the occasion of my priestly ordination almost 26 years ago. My friend quoted from the Second Letter of Peter, “God’s flock is in your midst, give it a shepherd’s care.” Protect the flock from both the wolf and the hireling. There is nothing better or more precious that I could offer you on this joyful occasion, Father Mark. May God bring to fulfillment the good work He has begun in you.
To the laity gathered here I say, please welcome Father Mark as a true priest of Jesus Christ because that is what he truly is. Pray for him every day. Receive from him all that Christ would give you. Most especially, learn to love him as both a brother and as a father.
As a bishop and as a Successor of the Apostles, I say to Father Mark and the laity assembled here: It is high time for us to rise up and continue our pilgrimage, the journey to our Father’s House, our only true home, the only place where we truly belong, where already a banquet is prepared for us.