Father Gregory Hart Mass of Christian Burial

Published: November 20, 2017

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock on Monday, Nov. 20, 2017. It is based on the following readings: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and Matthew 25:1-13.

Bishop Taylor

On Nov. 1, I went to Rick and Melani’s house to celebrate All Saints Day Mass with Father Greg. I thought it was quite appropriate that we were sharing this Mass on the day when we celebrate all those who are already in heaven, our true home.

And when I arrived I could tell how much he really wanted to be able to celebrate that Mass with me. Due to his condition, it took him a long time to get out of bed. He got up gingerly on his swollen legs and then shuffled shakily with the help of a walker over to the table that served as our altar.

Then we celebrated an especially beautiful, reverent, heartfelt Mass — our last Mass together and I think we both knew it. We talked about his approaching death and about his funeral, about the futility of the treatments he was receiving and how much he loved his family and how grateful he was for how well they were taking care of him and how ready he was to return to the Lord.

Then we celebrated an especially beautiful, reverent, heartfelt Mass — our last Mass together and I think we both knew it.

We spoke at length about his vocation, the priests in his family, his uncle Father John Kordsmeier, his cousins, Fathers Andrew and Stephen Hart, his seminarian nephew Ben Riley and about how deeply he loved his priesthood these last 33 years.

We spoke about the people he loved in his various assignments, most recently in Tontitown and before that in Harrison. How he was using the time left to him to make amends and tie up loose ends, setting things right, putting his house in order.

I have often said that people of faith die differently and in every encounter I had with Father Greg, ever since he was diagnosed with amyloidosis six months earlier, I saw a man who had learned to view everything in his life, including most obviously this terminal illness, through the lens of faith. He said: “Whatever God wants, that’s what I want.” He knew that if this was God’s will, it would be redemptive for himself and for others. If it was God’s will, it would be for the best.

An example of this occurred eight days ago, his last Sunday in this life. Do you remember what the readings were for that Mass? Father Andrew told me that those readings spoke to him so personally that he wanted to use them in his funeral Mass. He watched that Mass on EWTN and it was especially inspiring.

Father Andrew sent me a link so that I could hear this homily that meant so much to Father Greg as he prepared to leave this life. And the main thing the homilist spoke about was about being prepared for the Lord’s coming.

Father Greg saw the Lord’s hand in what others might have thought just a mere coincidence, but viewed through the lens of faith, he realized that the Lord was using that broadcast, those Scripture readings and that homily to prepare him to welcome "sister death" with joy two days later.

First he heard St. Paul reassure the Thessalonians: “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like those who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”

Words that Father Greg had heard countless times in the funerals of others came to him in advance of his own funeral so that he would be strengthened with the same message of hope with which we are being strengthened now.

And then he savored the encouraging words of Jesus’ beautiful parable of the wise and foolish virgins. The wise virgins were ready. They were ready when the bridegroom came and so were welcomed into the great banquet and I think we all know that when the bridegroom came for him last week, Father Greg was ready! He brought plenty of oil. Especially in his case the oil on his hands from the day of his ordination.

Hands that day in and day out offered the perfect sacrifice of the Mass in English and in Latin. Perfect because it was Jesus he was offering to the Father, and perfect because he was also offering himself to the Father too, in union with Jesus. Hands were anointed on June 30, 1984 — the feast of the first martyrs of the city of Rome, the city in which he completed his studies for the priesthood.

There are a lot of ways to be a martyr, to give witness to Jesus Christ. We call those who shed their blood martyrs not merely because they died a violent death but rather because in doing so they gave witness to Jesus Christ — for instance, Blessed Stanley Rother — otherwise they would have been merely victims, not martyrs.

But there are other kinds of martyrdom too, other ways of pouring out one’s life giving witness to Christ, and Father Greg clearly gave witness to Christ both by the way he lived his priesthood for 33 years and then by the manner in which he embraced with sacrificial love the illness that was his personal Calvary, his share in the cross of Jesus Christ.

He didn’t resent his illness and he didn’t consider himself a victim. Rather he took his cross and made it redemptive, offering up his sufferings quite consciously and explicitly for the benefit of others — and not just for others in general, but also for specific persons. He marveled at how God was using his illness to draw his family closer together and closer to the Lord and viewed this as an answer to his prayer.

In our Gospel the lamps and the oil underline the necessity of preparation in the spiritual life and that lacking that preparation, we will not be ready for the Lord when he comes for us at an hour we do not know. Father Greg was well prepared and was already looking for the arrival of the bridegroom with eager anticipation.

But you know, this Gospel reading was for us, not for Father Greg. The bridegroom has already come for him. How about us? Jesus says: “Stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” I pray that Father Greg’s witness may inspire us to make sure that we too are ready — we may not have six months lead time like he did.

I pray also that his witness of priestly holiness will inspire others to respond to the Lord’s call in their lives and strengthen the vocations of those who have already responded, including in his own family. We are happy for him but sad for ourselves. His death is a great loss to our diocese because his priesthood has been such a great gift.