One for the Ages

"Tell the formators to love the young men in formation. Tell the young men to love their religious vocation. It is a gift from God. If they don't love their vocation, they will not be able to see it as a gift and to grow in it as God wants them to." - Fr. Mark Garrow, MIC

This is what a death in the family was like for me.

One year ago, the Marian family tasted of life's wake. Wake is the word that pops to mind for its levels of meaning: wake, v., to arouse from sleep; n., the trail an object leaves behind as it moves through and disturbs the air or water; n., the vigil held beside a dead body.

First, it wafted in on the air, like the post-surgical smell of a heroic, though failed, attempt at recovery from a sickbed. Then it hit the taste buds. It tasted like rain. It also had love's ability to fly. That is, the experience had wings and seemed to bear no image of death's dark portal - just that of birth, where all becomes new after all is stilled.

One year ago, a man died. The breath of Fr. Mark Garrow, MIC, stilled for the soul's safe keeping, did not stay long for the weeping. Father Mark, then Provincial Superior of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, died of cancer. He battled to the end but knew when to let go and let God. Father Mark Garrow: truly, one for the ages.

A Day for Dying and Living
On Oct. 19, 2007, 14,400 people died throughout the world (source: Boston Museum of Science). We who remained that day and now say they were "called back to the Lord," a feeble cliché oddly resilient in power, for we make this claim on faith. In the light of faith no greater than a mustard seed, not even doubt can hug a casket for long.

Each of those persons who died on Oct. 19, 2007, represented a life mourned on earth by someone else, missed by someone else, somewhere, somehow. We stand dumbstruck with the poet John Donne, who wrote, "Every man's death diminishes me." Grief testifies to mortality's bitter truth, and even Jesus wept outside of his friend's tomb. However, grief has a rhythmic impulse much like joy, and it is, like joy, perhaps the only human bias by which the soul may be classified.

Grief is the knife of rage turned upon itself, but we are on the earth not of it. Though dust returns to dust, within us - by no balance of reason - exists an infinite happiness, something supernatural. It springs from a combination of associations shared as sons and daughters of God. Family.

October 19, 2007 - Every life lost was the opportunity for life ended and, in the eternal scheme, the beginning of the phase of life ahead. Not "old" life and "new" life, but a seamless "eternal" life.

We who are left to carry on the morning after death must abide. Getting up and on with life the morning after losing a family member is "the solemnest of industries enacted upon the earth" (Emily Dickinson), for it is we who are left alone in this veil of tears. It is our air that becomes thick and heavy. We experience a new kind of possession, owned by our broken bodies. The sky seems like prey caught in a net, but - just when all seems lost and we stand hopeless on the edge of despair - we see the hunting bird that swoops down is actually a dove.

The paraclete (from the Greek, parakletos, "called in aid") moves in not for the kill but for the rescue, to redeem us from the outcast hour where, so that we might gain all, all at first seems lost. The bird is God on the wing - the Holy Spirit - taking a person like Mark Garrow to an ocean, where he can hold a shell to his ears and hear instantaneously and forever all the spirits of love in Love, "the choir of angels" in another failed attempt of words. He hears and sees God in all His glory, and he sees that God is Love. This is what I believe Fr. Mark Garrow sees now, at this moment.

Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online. Read the reflections he put together on Fr. Mark Garrow, MIC, from the Marian seminarians who were inspired by this humble and faithful priest, and read how that tribute came together.

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