For Whom He Laid Down His Life

These past couple weeks I became deeply involved in putting together a proper tribute to Fr. Mark Garrow, MIC, the Marians' beloved prefect of formation - among many other roles he played - who died of cancer a year ago at the age of 52.

This remembrance and tribute by the spiritual sons of Fr. Mark Garrow, which you can read here, began with a simple question I asked this summer of Br. Angelo Casimiro, MIC: "How do you thank someone like Fr. Mark for all that he laid down for you?"

I knew that Br. Angelo often finished his morning jog by stopping at Fr. Mark's gravesite here on Eden Hill, home of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, in Stockbridge, Mass. It was obvious to me that Fr. Mark Garrow was still much a living presence to Angelo. I had heard Fr. Mark's other spiritual sons speak of him that way. It fascinated me.

Brother Angelo took the creative challenge and widened the scope: Why not ask this of all of Fr. Mark's sons? All eight contributed to this testimonial by words, actions, and prayers. Their collective response reminds me of something pure, innocent, and good - like, perhaps, seeing a mother stoop over her sleeping child and place a tender kiss on the forehead or watching a bird drink from a puddle on a warm, spring day.

As you can see by reading for yourself, I presented these testimonials separately, but each is a part that adds up to an excess of the whole. In their words, the seminarians have tried their best to convey an appreciation of their "spiritual dad." Their willingness to touch the secret things of God for the rest of us have made of these testimonies a choral constancy of love and appreciation.

Finally, I offer special thanks to Br. Angelo for his guidance along the way in helping me pull this together. In an e-mail to Angelo, I said the main writing challenge would be to "find my way" into the material. I found it daunting.

Brother Angelo wrote back with his usual expert counsel: He advised me to pray to Fr. Mark. I did that, literally. And that, I believe, made all the difference.

I wish to note a thing or two about Fr. Mark's spiritual sons: Br. Ken Dos Santos, Br. Ron McBride, Br. Jason Lewis, Br. Andy Davy, Br. Jim McCormack, Br. Michael Gaitley, Br. James Cervantes and Br. Angelo Casimiro.

These are the men formally called to God by a religious vocation, that bewildering condition so hard for the contemporary world to understand. These are the men who left their old lives to become born again on a steep spiritual staircase. The stairs, as they do for everyone, go in both directions - only for those with an authentic religious vocation, the steps are steeper. They have chosen to tangle actively in that primary conflict brought on by sin in a life that God meant solely for love and goodness.

The history of their individual lives ended in a central moment when they surrendered to God's call and became a band of Marian brothers. I see no symbolism in their decision to enter religious life. They left homes, quit careers, had a final drink with friends, and bade goodbye to family. They emptied bank accounts and gave up going to the beach. They broke off engagements. They said "yes" to a series of revolutions arranged not by themselves but by ... by what only they can describe. We who witness their choice from the outside reflect on their movement (and isn't that an alternate meaning of "revolution"?).

How I admire these young men for their spiritual courage in taking on the heavy lifting for the rest of us. To be asked by them to work on this remembrance of Fr. Mark is an assignment I shall treasure the rest of my life. To be honest, I felt a little of Simon of Cyrene, who was pressed into service to help Jesus carry His cross. I stumbled upon the scene at the right time and got pressed by circumstance into service. I fantasize that countless ages hence, I shall still be smiling over my attempt at framing this tribute to Fr. Mark Garrow.

His spiritual sons are the men for whom Fr. Mark laid down his life - in the morning, when he cooked them breakfast; in the afternoon, when he taught them lessons; in the twilight-hidden dusk, when he led them in prayer; and in the darkening slope of evening, when he prayed not for himself but only for them.

Buoyed by Fr. Mark Garrow's exuberance for life, these eight men of God found their souls reclaimed in the early morn of their vocations. I know all of these fine fellows personally. They are counted among the best relationships of my life. These "new" Marians form a tsunami-like tidal wave of goodness that even now begins to sweep over people and circumstances that now have, have had, or will have the good fortune of "getting in their way." They are undeniable, life a shaft of heat, a touch of cold, a sudden breeze, a strong fragrance. They form the Passionate Body within the Mystical Body.

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.

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