The Fatherhood of Jesus Christ
Homily for the Mass of Resurrection for Father Gary Desharnais
Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 23; Acts 10:34-43; John 19: 25-30
Most Reverend Joseph J. Tyson, Bishop of Yakima
Peace be with you! What does “fatherhood” look like in a Catholic priest? My first conversation with Father Gary Desharnais as the newly appointed Bishop of Yakima was about his children. Gary graduated from Marquette High School with my Uncle Bud, so we sometimes talked about memories of Marquette. But even more, I cannot recall a single conversation I had with Gary when we didn’t talk about his children. Gary’s gift to the Yakima presbyterate lies in the very fact that he offered his very life helping all of us bring together the “fatherhood” of family life with the fact that – as celibate priests – we are addressed as “father” by those we serve in our parish communities.
Our scriptures provide us some interpretive keys for all of us to understand the steep demands of “fatherhood” expected even of celibate priests. When we hear Peter – the first spiritual father of the Church – boldly proclaim in our second reading from the Acts of the Apostles that “…God shows no partiality…” Peter uplifts a fatherhood that is all inclusive where – as priests – we feed all people irrespective of their race, language, culture, or documented status. Like good fathers who provide food for their children, the grace of celibacy unlocks for us the capacity to feed and nurture our parish communities, where all are welcomed and no one has a prior claim on the heart of the priest.
In a very unique way, Gary learned to live this embracing celibacy later in life precisely because of you – his biological children – and even more – in no small measure the offering of thanksgiving we make for Gary’s life this day comes because – you – his children – brought him to this altar with the gifts of bread and wine.
That’s the precise movement we hear in the Acts of the Apostles when – after proclaiming the impartiality of God’s love – Peter provides the core summary of the Christian faith – the bodily dying and rising of Jesus Christ. Far too often when we hear about death, we have the image of the soul floating off and the body deteriorating into the ground. In our popular imaginations, there’s very little beyond our becoming – to cite the astronomer Carl Sagan – “star stuff.”
Indeed, the opening reading from Isaiah – also read on Passion Sunday – and our Gospel from St. John with the dying Jesus entrusting his mother to his best friend John – bookend this miraculous message of resurrection we hear St. Peter so boldly proclaim.
Peter’s proclamation provides us with a truth based on a deeper beauty about our destiny as humans. In death, the body separates from the soul but on the “final” day – a finality not counted by minutes and hours – like Jesus we rise through the animation of the Holy Spirit with a resurrected body more real and more solid than the deteriorated body in which we current dwell, with its tendency towards sickness and death. The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that the Eucharist is “…the foretaste of the resurrection…” where, standing around the table being equally fed by the Body and Blood of Christ, we catch of glimpse of what awaits us in eternity.
Indeed, in the same way a physical father and a physical mother stand in a ordered generation of having received the gifts of their lives from their parents and giving the gift of their lives as parents for the next generation, the resurrection of Jesus Christ gives purpose, direction, orientation and meaning to our spiritual lives. Just like physical DNA, embedded in our very restlessness and yearnings is our desire for God who gives our life meaning. Indeed it’s wise to recall that when St. Augustine gave that famous phrase in his “Confessions” – “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee, O God,” he wrote those lines after he had fathered a son whom he dearly loved who was named – “Adeodatus” – which might best be translated roughly as “given back to God.”
That’s what we do this day. In the same way we received Gary as a gift, we give him back to God, offering him back to God grateful for what we have already received. As bishop I am deeply grateful for the gift that Gary’s family has made over these many years, patiently allowing him to bring together both his physical and his spiritual fatherhood into this family of faith that is the Church. You, his children, were very close to Gary – in every conversation I had with him – hopefully this Eucharist reminds you not only of how close you are to all of us but how very close and precious you all are to our Heavenly Father. Likewise, prayer this day is that the “fatherhood” of Jesus exercised in Gary’s priestly ministry might be a reminder to us – his brother priests and bishops – of the deeply imbedded meaning of why we are addressed as “Father.” Let us give thanks for the gift of Father Gary Desharnais. Peace be with you!