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Br. John’s Funeral Mass


Homily by Abbot Peter McCarthy: 4-29-2016

My Brothers & Friends,

The senior Presbyterian pastor & internationally acclaimed author, Frederick Buechner, once reflected from his many years of pastoral ministry that: When a minister reads out of the bible, I am sure that at least nine times out of ten the people who happen to be listening at all hear not what is really being read but only what they expect to hear read. And I think that what most people expect to hear read from the Bible is an edifying story, an uplifting thought, a moral lesson – something elevating, obvious, and boring. So that is exactly what very often they do hear. Only that is too bad because if you really listen – and maybe you have to forget that it is the Bible being read and a minister who is reading it – If you really listen – there is no telling what you might hear.

There is no telling what you might hear … Well … I stand here at the body of our own beloved Br. John … and here you are this funeral morning in this church which shelters many hours of his own silent prayer (right there in that particular choir stall)…

And as I begin to read again these Bible words (here in this place) what might we hear … Maybe Pastor Buechner is right: Maybe monastic tradition “got it”… Maybe what we are made to be for each other, we monks, we women & men of faith, we are called to be echoes of a deeper Lectio for one another. We are called to be a way into the vibrant & life-giving Word.

Job answered, Oh, would that my words were written down!
That with an iron chisel and with lead
they were cut in the rock forever!
But as for me, I know that my Vindicator lives,
and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust:
Whom I myself shall see:
my own eyes, not another’s, shall behold him;
And from my flesh I shall see God;
my inmost being is consumed with longing.
(Job 19:1, 23 – 27)

I hear this Word of God; so intense, passionate, filled with such fierce – longing, such impenetrable yet vibrant Faith … this Word arises from the very life-breath of Br. John … It is a sharp edged sword that lays bare his soul & opens his heart … This is who John was among us this fierce tenderness – this intense longing.

I hear again – right here – the words of our Gospel this morning:
Jesus raised his eyes to heaven & said:
“Father, those whom you gave me are your gift to me.
I made known to them your name
That the love with which you loved me
May be in them and I in them.”

Our Br. John was a man – a monk – haunted by God (from at least his early 20’s all the way into his early 80’s) & this did not make him an easy (or comfortable) man to live with in community. In reality, this haunting always made him somewhat awkward in his life among us … he could be at times … very vulnerable & compassionate … he could be at times very driven & moody & even aggressive … he could be surprisingly gentle & tender … he could be incredibly stubborn & competitive … he was always generous … and increasingly forgiving … always forgiving!

“ I wish that where I am, (Jesus prays) they also may be with me.”

To live a life haunted by God is to live a life of deep interior poverty. I share a reflection here from a soul brother of John’s; the Welsh poet & Anglican priest, RS Thomas.

Why no! I never thought other than
That God is that great absence
In our lives, the empty silence
Within, the place where we go
Seeking, not in hope to
Arrive or find. He keeps the darkness
Between stars. His are the echoes
We follow, the footprints he has just
Left. We put our hands in
His side hoping to find
It warm. We look at people
And places as though he had looked
At them, too; but miss the reflection.

My Sisters & Brothers, Monastic tradition is very clear that there are only two paths (two life-postures) for the haunted human heart. The path of resentment for the unfulfilled longing – yes – the inner emptiness – that accompanies me each day. This posture – this path – leads to a disease that the ancient desert fathers referred to as sclerosis. A disease which brings about, classical commentators explain, a deficient sensitivity toward others with whom one lives & toward the natural world. This was clearly not the path Br, John chose. No, he chose the path of Humility: the path of surrender to his life, daily, in all its longing desire. This is a vow in our tradition; Stabilitas…to stand in your everyday real life.

I think of two spiritual giants here, East & West; two masters; two apothegmata (wisdom sayings):

St. Augustine:

Make your humanity the Way & you shall arrive at God.

And the great Sufi Master, Jalal al-Din Rumi:

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
And frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
And begin reading…

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel & kiss the ground.

You know, truth be told, our Br. John didn’t really get very far in monastic life here. He began it flat on the ground (sleeping) in the front field of the abbey… a 22 year old kid, in a rumpled air force uniform. And he ended his monastic journey, 61 years later, flat on the ground beside the path between the guesthouse ponds he loved & cared for. He was found lying there on the thick Spring grass next to hundreds of his Golden Water Irises in full bloom.

Yes, it’s true. He didn’t get very far … but in-between those two close by locations, Our beloved Br. John found hundreds of ways to kneel & kiss the ground. Everyday he attempted to let the beauty he loved be what he did.


Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said:
“Father, those whom you gave me are your gift to me.
I wish that where I am they also may be with me…
That the love with which you loved me
May be in them and I in them.”

+ Abbot Peter McCarthy

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