No Idols! – Bishop’s Homily for Fr. Gary Norman Funeral 02.13.24

by Msgr. Robert Siler

“No Idols!”

Homily for the Funeral Mass of Father Gary Norman,
Priest for the Diocese of Yakima, Tuesday February 13, 2024
Job 19:1,23-27: Acts of the Apostles 10:34-36, 42-43 Matthew 5:1-2

Most Reverend Joseph J. Tyson, Bishop of Yakima

Peace be with you. When I think of Father Gary Norman, the first word that pops into my head is “cats.” As you all know, Father Gary Norman LOVED cats. This last weekend I happened to have been visiting the parish where he once served as pastor, Saint Joseph in Waterville. I told Father Taneo, who is the current pastor, that Saturday night was the first time I ever stayed in the rectory. I am allergic to cats. So much so that I depended on the hospitality of Deacon Greg Haberman as well as his wife Nona for hospitality in Farmer the few times I would visit. Cats.

When I think of Father Gary Norman, I think of cats for biblical reasons too. Throughout the Bible, there are numerous references to dogs. As a German monk once told me on a tour of his monastery, generously littered with numerous paintings that included dogs, dogs symbolize discipleship. They follow the master’s voice.

But there is only once clear reference to cats in the entire bible. It is from the Old Testament. The prophet Baruch. The overarching reference in the sixth chapter of Baruch is to idolatry. Idolatry, Baruch explains, is not simply worshiping an invisible, false god. No. False gods are embellished idols. Baruch goes on to explain the careful artistry that goes into making an idol. “Their tongues are smoothed by the craftsman…overlaid with gold and silver. People make crowns for the heads of their gods, as they would for a girl who loves ornaments” (Baruch 6:8-10).

And the cats? Baruch goes onto note that bats, swallows and birds who casually fly into the temple pay no heed of the idol. They treat the false god – in the words of Baruch – “…just like a beam of a temple…” and then Baruch tellingly adds that “even cats” are not fooled by idols.

If Father Gary Norman could be considered a “cat” person, it might be that he aligned his understanding of idolatry with that of the prophet Baruch. By nature, a strong personality, Father Gary Norman had no patience for idolatry. But he did have a passion for gospel infused by the simplicity of Jesus teaching the beatitudes.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” “Blessed are the meek.” “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” “Blessed are the merciful.” “Blessed are the clean of heart.” “Blessed are the peacemakers.” “Blessed are the persecuted.”

Countering the idolatry of our world, Father Gary Norman especially strived during his final years to uplift the beatitudes with his ministry promoting “Food for the Poor” – an international ecumenical organization committed to living the beatitudes by service to those living in poverty. In a world that idolized the rich and the powerful, the affluent and the well-endowed, Father Gary Norman focused his more limited energy in his final years on becoming “Food for the Poor.”

Father Gary Norman’s witness in this regard was one that grew from his own devotion to the sacred scriptures. Both our opening reading from the prophet Job as well as our reading from the Acts of the Apostles express confidence in God. In Job we hear the confidence that, despite all the evil and suffering he experienced, his vindicator and redeemer lives. And in the Acts of the Apostles, Peter, having listened to Cornelius, knows that all – Gentile and Jew – can receive forgiveness of sins because God shows no partiality. Everyone can be fed with the mercy of God.

Father Gary Norman had a strong personality and was a man of strong convictions. But those convictions came from that same scriptural confidence of a God that comes to save, of a God that destroy idols and of a God who readily forgives if our hearts are open.

So strong was Father Gary Norman’s personality that I suspect – and I can only suspect – that Father Gary carefully died knowing that I would be at his old parish in Waterville to personally announce his funeral mass to his former parishioners. To those of you who made the long drive from Douglas and Chelan County, as well as from Grant County and Benton County, where he also served, thank you. Thank you for being here today. And thank you for accompanying him during his time as your pastor.

While he was deeply committed to his cats, Father Gary Norman was even more committed to being present and living in residence in one of our more remote and rural communities. His commitment was to be a priest physically present and living among you.  I am keenly aware that you loved him, sometimes put up with him, but always were behind him living out the faith of Jesus Christ in ways hidden to those in more populated places. So again, my thanks to you.

Cats. That is the word that comes to my mind when I think of Father Gary Norman. Cats. That is the word that comes to mind when resisting the idolatry of the world. As Baruch might suggest, our mission is to be like cats in the face of idols. We pay them no heed. We go about our way. We live out the beatitudes giving witness and praise to Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen One. Perhaps this is what endeared Father Gary Norman to cats. It is certainly what endeared Father Gary Norman to all of us. Peace be with you!

Art: Father Gary’s current cats, Levi and Malachi.

Homily – Funeral Mass for Father Gary Norman_FINAL