A Homily for Fr. Gary Hayes

Fr. Gary Hayes has gone home to the Lord.  I wish to express to his family sincere condolences on his passing.  While suffering with Cancer is extraordinarily painful, debilitating and frustrating, it brought Gary home to you because family is where we look for comfort.  Your brother once said, “What is most meaningful often comes from your worst suffering”. In his last suffering with cancer he found the most meaningful relationships, you his family.  He confided in me just a few weeks ago how incredibly happy he was to have rebuilt and strengthened his ties with each of you and how important those bonds were to his heart and to his healing.  He was eternally grateful for your love and incredible care.

Your brother was deeply wounded early in life and that wound festered throughout his life but I truly believe, with all my heart, the wound healed completely because of your love for him.  Because of that he died in Peace.

I have spoken, e-mailed or texted many of our friends across the country and each of them said to me, “He is finally at Peace”. Every one of them said exactly the same thing, “He has finally at Peace”.

My decades long friendship with Gary came about because we were both survivors of clergy sexual abuse and Catholic Priests.  Two things that are not normally put together, it was our long lasting and common bond. So my reflections are based on that reality.  

We shared with each other the details of our common painful past.  My abuse was bad but Gary’s was horrendous. The fact he survived it, is a testament to his resiliency and the miracle of his life.  When asked many years ago by a reporter how he could be a priest after what happened to him and after how horribly the Church treated him when he revealed it, Gary said, “God didn’t do this; man did.”  He understood the difference and lived it in his life.

I visited him when he was pastor of St. Anthony in Peonia, Kentucky in the Owensboro Diocese.  He picked me up at the nearest airport, which was in another state. We stopped at a Walmart on the way to the parish, I had never set foot in Walmart before.  He warned me that it was like the Mall back in East. The check out girl knew every customer on line by name, including Fr. Gary, but I stumped her that day!

He was pastor of St. Anthony in Peonia but also of St. Augustine in Grayson Springs and St. Benedict in Wax.  He was a circuit rider priest, traveling between these three rural parishes and for my time there I traveled the circuit with him.

The people there loved Fr. Gary and He loved them.  After the 4pm Mass at St. Augustine in Grayson Springs one of the men of the parish gave Gary some money and told him to take me to dinner at the finest restaurant in the area, “Golden Corral”, I think we drove over an hour to go to dinner that night, it was the nearest restaurant and the place to be seen at!

The 14th Century Dominican Friar and Rhineland Mystic, Meister Eckhart, who in his life was known as “the Man from whom God hid nothing”; taught; “You may call God love, you may call God goodness.  But the name for God is Compassion”.

“But the name for God is Compassion”.  Gary Hayes knew the name of God was Compassion.  Compassion comes from a compound of two Latin words, Cum and Passio.  Meaning literally “To suffer with”.

Gary was a priest who suffered in his life, he was also a man who suffered with others who suffered, his was a compassionate heart that knew the name of God was Compassion.

Meister Eckhart also taught, “As God finds me now, so God accepts me.”  Gary understood this in the depths of his soul. As a priest he was also accepting of others as he found them.

Gary died before the publication by Female Theologian Rocio Figueroa of her theological work entitled “When did I see you naked?”  Her conclusion is “Jesus himself was a victim of sexual abuse”. Gary would have loved to read and supported her work. She says her work touches on God’s Compassion.  

She proves that in Jesus passion he was sexually humiliated.  Three times in the Gospel Accounts he is forced to strip naked in front of cohorts of soldiers, a cohort being 500 soldiers.  She makes the point that there are different forms of sexual abuse including sexual humiliation in the form of; forced nudity, mockery, stripping, touching, sexual assault and other physical acts.

The common practice in the criminal torture process both by the Romans and Jews, in Jesus time, was sexual humiliation.  Add to this reality the fact Romans always crucified people naked, including Jesus.

She says, “The problem is that the Church has never faced the reality of sexuality in a healthy way and if they are not able to also see the sexuality of Jesus, the sexuality of human beings, they are not able to see the perversion that is sexual abuse”

She beautifully says, “If you follow Jesus and you see the victims, you will see the countenance of Jesus in the Victims, that Jesus suffered the same thing”.  Gary saw the sufferings of victims in the countenance of Jesus.

She supports her proposition from the passion accounts we will hear in just a few days time. Her work is supported by a fellow theologian David tombs.  Her work is timely as we approach Holy Week and the Lords Passion and Resurrection. Gary died at the beginning of April, which is Child Assault Prevention month and his funeral takes place just before Holy Week.  Gary lived the passion and the resurrection many times in his life as both a victim and a priest.

Gary experienced a lot of suffering and rejection in his life and he chose to become a priest, the image and likeness of Jesus.  In Ordination he configured himself to Christ Ontologically, meaning a permanent change of his soul.

One headline about him from almost two decades ago sums up what he did with his suffering and rejection, “Priest wants to help other abuse survivors”.  And he did. His compassionate care of thousands of clergy sex abuse survivors is his priestly legacy. He showed the world the beautiful side of the priesthood, of humanity, of the compassion of God.  He said in that article, “I am very glad about that, that I made a difference in peoples lives.”

Gary and I worked together on many projects.  We formed a support group for priests who were abused as children by priests called Jordan’s Crossing.  He served as President of Link-UP. During his presidency they were the largest support group for Clergy Abuse Survivors in the US.  He and I testified at the USCCB Dallas meeting on Clergy Sexual Abuse in 2002.

Long before Pope Francis called on the Clergy and the laity to go to the peripheries to minister, Gary was there.  Gary lived his priesthood on the peripheries of the Church, he embraced the marginalized and forgotten, he surrounded them with the Compassion of God.  

David Clohessy, the former Executive Director of SNAP said of Gary,  “It’s hard to say which was bigger: Gary’s heart, his laugh or his commitment to justice.”  

Those were three hallmarks of Gary’s life, his compassionate heart, his incredible sense of humor and his absolute commitment to Justice.  In the Book of the Prophet Daniel it is written:

“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake;

Some to everlasting life, others to reproach and everlasting disgrace.

But those with insight shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, And those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.”              

Gary accompanied and led many to justice in life, he was the guiding star for many and in death he still shines forth like the stars.

Gary spoke truth with bluntness and urgency.  His heart was open to the suffering of others and the Compassion of God. Like Meister Eckert he knew the name of God was Compassion and he lived that name in this life, May the God of Compassion embrace him in the next life.

In an interview we jointly gave, which he pushed me off the fence as he called it, he was asked what he hoped his legacy would be. He said there was a prayer that started ‘Lord, let me be a holy disturbance’ and added, “I’d like to think when it’s all said and done, that will be my calling and legacy.” I think he fulfilled it.

Leaving the last word to Gary, he said in another article, “I know what God thinks of me.  I like to think he’s proud of me. God ultimately honors the truth and those who speak it.” Amen!


This eulogy was delivered by John Bambrick, former leader of SNAP New Jersey.

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