Mass of Christian Burial: Homily

Rev. Charles C. Garst, III, OSFS
November 28, 2018

“Do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them.”

Throughout his priestly ministry, this admonition from Jesus was Charlie Garst’s guiding principle when it came to preaching - Charlie was a man of few words. As the person tasked with preaching tonight, I will endeavor to do right by him by emulating Charlie’s example…more or less.

“Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

Performing righteous deeds – doing what’s right – without people noticing? How does that work? Jesus’ teaching, preaching and healing were the talk of the town. Jesus’ attempts to stay under the radar were incredibly unsuccessful. Jesus’ suggestion to folks miraculously cured to keep it to themselves was almost universally ignored. Jesus’ life was an open book.

It’s not possible to do good for others without others eventually noticing – the challenge is to do good for others in ways that they take notice not so much of us but rather take notice of the God who is the source of our goodness. After all, how many times does Jesus himself tell his audience that it’s not his will that he’s come to fulfill but rather the will of his Father?

When it comes to performing righteous deeds, Jesus isn’t requiring us to be invisible any more than He was invisible! What Jesus is asking is for us to be transparent. Jesus is challenging us to do what’s right to draw attention to God, rather than to do what’s right to draw attention to ourselves.

St. Francis de Sales viewed John the Baptist as a shining example of the difference between being invisible and being transparent. When John famously said of his relationship with Jesus, “He must increase, and I must decrease,” John wasn’t putting himself down; John wasn’t saying that his life didn’t matter. John was simply naming and claiming his part in God’s plan of salvation. In his ministry along the River Jordan, John’s mission was to draw attention to Jesus without allowing himself to get in the way. John knew his place – and had the courage to take it.

Charlie Garst wasn’t invisible – anything but. Charlie was transparent. His ministry was never about him. Charlie was at home with himself. To the extent that he was comfortable in his own skin, Charlie was able to do lots of good for lots of people throughout his life as an Oblate and as a priest without the need to draw attention to himself. Like John – like Jesus – Charlie was humble and unassuming in accepting his part in God’s plan of salvation in drawing other people’s attention to God.

Be it teaching by word or example, preaching, counseling or presiding, Charlie knew his place – his place was mostly just being with people. Be it in the classroom, standing along a sideline, sitting in a confessional or spending time on a ride-along, Charlie had a knack for helping others to feel at home with themselves – Charlie had a knack for allowing others to be comfortable in their own skin – in ways that were known ultimately to God alone.

“Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them…”

Just last week, I learned about some righteous deeds done by this humble, practical and down-to-earth man who dedicated his life to doing good for so many others. How many of us know that on many occasions following 9-1-1, Charlie traveled to New York City to support first responders in their recovery efforts in and around ground zero? How many people know that he received an award recognizing him for his ministry?

How do you keep something like that a secret? I don’t know, but Charlie somehow managed to do just that.

“And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

If in fact the Father does reward in a particular way those who do good for others in unassuming, ordinary and everyday ways during this earthly life, I am confident that it will take an eternity for Charlie to enjoy his heavenly reward.

Each of us would do well to imitate Charlie’s example of how to spend one’s life doing good without drawing attention to oneself. Half the battle of following Jesus is just showing up – it’s simply being there for others. However obvious or obscure, we can pay tribute to Charlie’s life and legacy by doing one of the things he did best – simply making others feel at home.

As Charlie Garst – Oblate of St. Francis de Sales - clearly demonstrates, it is possible to accomplish many righteous things in this life without letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing, provided that your mind - and your heart - are in the right place.