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Br Damien’s Funeral Mass


Homily by Abbot Peter McCarthy: 12-9-2015

The Healing Time


Pesha Joyce Gertler


Finally on my way to yes

I bump into

all the places

where I said no

to my life

all the untended wounds

the red and purple scars

those hieroglyphs of pain

carved into my skin, my bones,

those coded messages

that send me down

the wrong street

again and again

where I find them

the old wounds

the old misdirections

and I lift them

one by one

close to my heart

and I say holy




My Brothers & Sisters,

This poem, The Healing Time,  was written by the Northwest  & Pulitzer prize winning poet, Pesha Joyce Gertler, who died earlier this year (in Seattle) from a very aggressive & painful lung cancer. Imagine she refers to this process of dying as The Healing Time.

Now our Br. Damien was very clear with us that he wanted to walk this process of dying among his brothers, in the midst of his community.  His presence was a precious gift & a healing ministry to us. (So I share with you a couple teachings from his final days among us).


Finally on my way to yes

I bump into

All the places

Where I said no

To my life…


It seems that in our dying our embodied history visits us (surfaces in our consciousness) It demands our attention one last time.

The red & purple scars
Those coded messages that sent me down the wrong street again & again
The old wounds
The old misdirections

They come to us unbidden, this one last time. They invite us into the Mystery… the Great Mystery St. Paul proclaims in our 2nd reading when he asks “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish – or nakedness – or danger – NO, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through Him who loved us.” … Each of our untended wounds is an entryway into the Kingdom – an entryway into the Eternal Mercy of our Prodigal Father. Because so much of our life is closed to us – so much of our heart is hidden from us. Except for these times of special Mercy …The Healing Time; We don’t normally attend the doorways to our deeper life.

It has taken me all these years, Br. Damien was to write his abbot, to learn, and I’m still learning what life is all about! About patience, about understanding, and mostly about forgiveness, but most of all to leave all joys, all pains, all doubts, in God’s mysterious way. The journey goes on and we need all the help we can give one another.

My brothers & friends, there are two visual icons I wish to share with you from the powerful healing ministry of our dying brother in our midst these past weeks. The first icon is entitled a dying monk at his lectio. Often in his final days I would walk in on Br. Damien sitting with his legs over the bed & leaning over his open bible (which he could no longer read) I  ( or his caregiver ) would sit next to him & together we would wait intently upon his open bible. No word was spoken… just the waiting…

There is a Hasidic tale that goes like this: “A disciple asked the Rabbi, why does the Torah tell us to place those Words upon our heart? Why does it not say IN our heart?” The Old Rabbi answered, “ It is because as we are our hearts are closed and we cannot place the holy Words in our heart, so we place them on top of our hearts and there they will stay until one day, the heart breaks & the Words fall in. God breaks our heart again and again until it stays open.” This icon of Br. Damien’s A Dying Monk at his Lectio has brought me both mercy & hope. ( RB The Lord is close…)

This prayer, to stand in the midst of our untended wounds and intently await the Mercy of our Prodigal Father, this is the prayer of the mature monk – for himself – and for his world! I am reminded of Br. Damien’s note when the community joined the Emergency Services program for the homeless in our county. My deep thanks to you, Fr. Peter, and to my community for participating in this program. When in Canada I worked in our parish St. Vincent DePaul Group and have seen and experienced the desperation & helplessness of people such as these – and my heart breaks for them! Once again, thanks, keep up this blessed work.


“At that time Jesus answered:

I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven & earth,

For although you have hidden these things

From the wise and the learned

You have revealed them to the childlike.”


If you were to ask anyone of my brothers here to describe Br. Damien in 3 or 4 words I would suggest in most cases you would here the same 3 or 4 words: “ He was a tough little guy”. On several occasions Br. Damien describer himself to his abbot. I thought of the tradition of the Medieval  Bestiaries …where each monk was given an animal symbol for his soul…just look at our Church doors…St. Bernard as the honey bee & St. Benedict as the Raven…each of those another story for another time…but how about Br. Damien? “Well, he would say, I’ve always been something of a little bull dog. I grab on & I won’t let go.”

This was the manner of Damien’s death here among his brothers. There was a fierce dignity about him as he stood feet planted solid  – bull do like – in this ultimate Reality we call death. His gift to us was the poverty of his intense & fierce waiting on his Prodigal Father. I looked at him that final night & I saw Jesus hanging on the Cross, his arms outstretched (Damien’s final Icon) his breathing labored, his focus both fierce & tender…a Son waiting for his Father. And I was reminded of his own words, written as a prayer…Damien’s Prayer. “ I was born poor / I was raised poor / and I shall die poor. Amen. Thank You! Br. Damien.

+ Abbot Peter McCarthy

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