Br. Gerard’s Funeral Mass
Homily by Abbot Peter McCarthy: 10-12-2012
There is an ancient story told, from the 4th century monks of Egypt, of the great Father of all monks, Abba Antony. Abba Anthony saw in a vision “all the snares of the enemy spread out over all the world”, all the many obstacles and deceptions that keep a person from really being free and open to grace and inspiration. And St. Antony was deeply discouraged by this vision; I quote him directly now…
In our gospel today Jesus actually paints a very rare and therefore precious portrait of his own inner life – and the main ingredient, the principle color in that portrait is Abba Antony’s word – Humility.
Humility – it is not about putting yourself down. It comes from the Latin Hummis meaning “soil”. Jesus tells us he is at his center – of the earth – he is soil. This revelation has enormous implications for us – for our day to day lives! Humility is the practice of being porous – open – receptive – like good and fertile soil, that mostly hidden essential quality of all growth!
There is actually a buried treasure here – in this soil of Jesus’ gospel prayer. And this buried treasure in the soil of the gospel is also buried in the soil, in the dirt, of each of our lives. The treasure is Holiness and so Jesus prays this morning:
It is as if the Father is actually – actively hiding holiness – hiding faith – just under the surface of our self-awareness, our self-assurance, even our “wisdom”. When I hear this prayer of Jesus I ask, “Do we honestly, any of us, have the slightest idea what authentic faith – holiness looks like?”
I think it is mostly hidden from us because our own self-consciousness would distort it and make holiness and faith too tiny – too clever – too self- centered. And so this treasure lies just beyond my awareness, buried just under all I cling to, even beyond my sense of security. I am reminded of St. Gregory the Great’s saying:
It is like authentic holiness is this thread that winds all through my daily life – I can touch it – I can even grasp it – I just have to let go of everything else I want to cling to!
“ There’s a thread you follow.
It goes among things that change.
But it doesn’t change.”
Writes the Oregon poet, William Stafford
“People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
Or die; and you suffer & get old.
Nothing you can do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.”
My Sisters and Brothers, our Br. Gerard struggled a lot with his own shadows – like you and me. If you lived with him in community for any length of time you had a sense of those shadows… he had a stubborn streak as wide as the Mississippi… and conspiracy theories and exotic eating habits that were from the “Far Side”! He could become impossible to understand in his own enthusiasms… And yet… And yet… he lived among us for 56 years with a daily generosity in the smallest details and a childlike wonder at the beauty of nature… how could he do that so consistently day after day! Now this kind of perseverance can only be the fruit of holiness; of a faith that was bigger and deeper and broader than all Br. Gerard’s shadows put together. And we have the truly precious gift of looking back over his “ordinary and laborious” long life in this monastery… and we can see the thread. For all the struggles Br. Gerard never let go of the thread! His life breathes hope into the heart of our community. We can come to believe more deeply in that Holiness and Faith that threads its way throughout each of our daily “ordinary and laborious” lives.
And so the treasure in our soil is revealed! At the heart of any community are always the people courageous enough to walk in their poverty. The most precious gift in our lives is rooted in weakness.