Br. Clarence’s Funeral Mass
Homily by Abbot Peter McCarthy: 8-24-2016
I am impatient with these branches, this light.
The sky, however blue, intrudes.
Because I’ve begun to see
there is something else I must do,
I can’t quite catch the rhythm
of days I moved well to in other winters.
The steeple tree
was cut down, the one that daybreak
used to gild – that fervor of birds and cherubim
subdued. Drought has dulled
many a green blade.
I know a different need has begun
to cast its lines out from me into
a place unknown, I reach
for a silence almost present
elusive among my heartbeats.
My brothers & sisters,
The poem, entitled “ Intimation” was written by the Catholic, Northwest, poet Denise Levertov. I begin my reflections with this poem because it carries something of the tension, the deep preoccupation, and the divine promise of our Gospel text this morning. Listen again to Jesus’ words to his disciples:
Gird your loins and light your lamps
And be like servants who await their master’s return
Ready to open immediately when he comes & knocks.
Blessed are those servants
Whom the master finds watching on his arrival.
It seems this preoccupation- this tension – is one of the earliest teachings of Jesus in the gospels as in Mark 13 : What I say unto you I say unto All…Watch!
Over these years of my abbatial ministry, I have so often been surprised at the process of matching a deceased monk up with one of the funeral gospels. For instance, just this week I held Br. Clarence’s now completed life (monk of 66 years!) up against all the possible funeral gospels and watched for that Light which will immediately illumine both the monk’s life & the particular gospel text. My friends, it is never a subtle match; at the right moment both monk & Gospel text vibrate with the same Life! We are truly living Lectio (the word of God) for one another in community! This is simply to say, I find in Br. Clarence’s long life among us the same tension, the same deep preoccupation, and yes, the same divine promise that I find in this text, his funeral Gospel.
We are told by tradition that the very name MONK comes from the Latin “MONOS” which means single focus or vision … Our Br. Clarence had what could only be described as a ferocious focus. Whether he was peeling potatoes, or sorting dried beans, or weeding the vegetable garden, or patiently waiting his turn in a community discussion, it was Br. Clarence’s focus that was his gift to us.
Blessed are those servants whom the master finds watching …
The gift of his focus brought to us his brothers a level of patience, gentleness, humor, & sometimes intensity depending on what we might be experiencing or discussing. Like an Old Testament prophet, Br. Clarence’s reaction was always a surprise! A true story might help here.
Moses & the burning bush: We all know the story…it was indeed Moses’ ferocious focus (in his great need) that sighted the burning bush on the desert mountain which eventually brought God’s message of hope & communion to the Hebrew people. Not too long ago Br. Clarence shared with me his own parallel experience only, typically, minus burning bush, minus Sinai desert, minus mountain…actually it happened in the walk-in freezer here at the abbey! His more than 10 year supply of frozen prunes had been thrown out in a zealous cleaning project to reduce the toxicity levels in the cooler & Clarence found himself standing in the middle of the walk-in trembling in a white rage!
I quote him directly in his own (Oklahoma) dialect. “I was so angry, I raised my fist to curse in my rage & then … I don’t know what came over me … I opened my fist & my eyes & I said, ‘ Jesus, let this be my gift to you, all those precious stored prunes, & bless deeply each of my brothers who had any hand in this cleaning project. I forgive them from my heart.’ Then I slowly turned & started to open the door of the cooler to leave & I heard my name Clarence…Clarence … I turned back & said ‘yes?’ And the voice responded, I love you.
(And like with Moses’ story it doesn’t stop there) Clarence continued on “ From that moment on every time I see one of my brothers or even my abbot who I might be angry at I hear that same Divine Voice “ Clarence, I love him too.”
Yes, my brothers & sisters, it was his ferocious, faith-filled focus that was Br. Clarence’s gift to us. It was the French philosopher, Simone Weil, who wrote “we can’t just go to God. We can’t walk vertically. All we need do is change our focus.”
It seemed to me as Br. Clarence grew older among us reaching his 80’s & then into his 90’s he became a true wisdom figure, like a Desert Father. And like the Fathers of the Desert so much of his communication, his “teaching, ” was non-verbal. One picture that stands out in recent memory is the sight of Clarence’s walker in the middle of Fr. Peter the Elder’s vast vegetable garden filled with tall weeds. Fr. Peter, an experienced gardener himself, told me how he was standing with Br. Clarence in the midst of this jungle & expressing a total discouragement with the state of the garden! We all know that feeling of standing in the middle of our work / day & feeling totally overwhelmed by circumstances (beyond our control) feeling overwhelmed by life!
Well for months afterward, on my daily walks feeling somewhat overwhelmed myself, I admit that I would stop & search that vegetable garden till I once again sighted that solitary walker out there in the midst of all those weeds….and I could just almost touch that faith – that focus into Divine Love where all things are possible. Yes, Peter the Elder told me…the entire garden was weeded by a 94 year old with a walker!
How does the wisdom saying put it?
Dig in the narrow place that has been given you; you will find God there. Vanity runs; love digs.
My dear friends, When I reflect on Clarence’s presence among us I think of the gentle OT Prophet Amos (dresser of sycamore trees) how his gentle humility actually intensified the fierce focus of his message of Divine Love. Like the Prophet Amos, Clarence knew that his most “private” interior struggles – experiences of the heart – belonged ultimately to his brothers. ( In the end…or is it the beginning…we can say) He gave his life & he gave his death among us; for us.
Blessed is that servant
whom the master finds watching on his arrival.
Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself,
have him recline at table, and proceed to wait on him.
And should he come in the second or third watch
and find him prepared in this way,
blessed is that servant.
+ Abbot Peter McCarthy