In his letter from jail, St Paul tells the Ephesians to spiritually shape us: the first two virtues he mentions are humility and gentleness. Being asked to write an article on Bishop Garcia for this weekend, I feel like the 2nd Reading gives me a perfect introduction.
When the clergy had our first meeting with Bishop Rich in the parish hall at Spreckles, we learned two things right off the bat. He revealed that he was deaf in one ear as a result of brain surgery. From then on I would always note the gentle nod of his head to facilitate hearing. And then he told us he was son of an alcoholic. Being one myself, I appreciated his candor. He didn’t have to tell us that but I sense he was trying, from day one, to form a bond with us by being transparent.
I appreciated that Rich was obviously a person of affection and devotion. Mention of his all enveloping bear hugs raised a knowing laugh during the superb funeral homily. But Bishop’s devotion led him to often kiss religious icons (sometimes also kissing his fingertips and touching a statue) or to stand facing the tabernacle till the Blessed Sacrament was reposed after Holy Communion. He amazed people who’d met him years ago by warmly greeting them by their first name.
I have a good friend, a convert, who often accompanied the Bishop in his ministry to farm workers; he wanted someone along for the ride so they could just talk. He had a special place in his heart for the incarcerated as well, going to Soledad Prison especially during the holidays. One of his gifts wherever he was was the ability to preach in both Spanish and English, using his ever present yellow note pad.
Before he had to stop working, we both had an encounter in the rectory where Fr Emil was preparing a room for him to rest during the workday at the Pastoral Office. He came to my quarters and I could see he was weary, confused and sad. Though the diagnosis of his last illness confuses me, it was apparent from our conversation he was in distress. Other words of St Paul now come to mind as I reflect on the last part of his life: ‘carrying about in the body the sufferings of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus might be revealed’ (2 Cor. 4:10). That underlines not only the last days of Bishop Garcia’s life but all the decades of love and service that preceded them. I trust in Rich’s continuing ministry, his loving prayers for all of us he all too soon has left behind.
Rev. Patrick Dooling