Weekly HomilyArchives

Friday, May 25, 2007

“Jesus said, ‘When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.’” (John 16:13)

“SOUL-SURFING” – June 3, 2007
Trinity Sunday
(Proverbs 8:22-31; John 16:12-15)
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

“Jesus said, ‘When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.’” (John 16:13)

While all of faith is essentially mystery, the very name we give today’s feast, The Most Holy Trinity, suggests that, for sure, we know even less than we think we do. Indeed, since Jesus himself walked the earth, theologians have struggled to explain the mystery of the Triune God, Father, Son and Spirit. And try as they might, all human analogies fail, the Trinity remaining an article of faith, a mystery. Even the glorious St. Patrick’s alleged use of the shamrock to explain the mystery leaves us wanting for something more than human reason can ever grasp.

The first reading we hear in today’s liturgy, an excerpt from the Book of Proverbs, seems to situate all the mysteries of life in the context of God’s eternal and inexplicable wisdom. We read: “The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.” (Proverbs 8:22-23) And so our response to all divine mystery ought be trust. God knows what God is up to, and we will never understand, at least this side of heaven. Recently was it mine to have that truth emphasized once again.

The week after Easter, while on retreat with a community of contemplative monks, we dozen retreatants were told that a funeral was to be held the next day. Fr. Elijah, the retreat director, told us something of the 84 year-old who had died. As we sat in a circle, Elijah spoke in quiet voice, “We always invite our retreatants to join us when we bury one of our monks. While it’s a stark event by the standards of American culture, more is it a glorious celebration of one of our own finally arriving home. Tomorrow you’ll get to celebrate with us.” Then, clearing his throat, his tone changed a bit as he continued, “But I have to tell you something of the man we’ll be burying because it’s an unusual situation.” He cleared his throat again, seeming to indicate some discomfort with what was to come next. “You see, Jerome came to our community almost 60 years ago as a brilliant young man. He was ordained a priest and was known back then as the most gifted preacher among us. But soon after ordination it became apparent that something was very wrong, and after intense psychiatric assessment, it was determined that poor Fr. Jerome suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. He was hospitalized for many years before more modern medications could control his sickness. But he was never able to return to community life with us.”

Seeming more comfortable now that the sad and difficult truth had been shared, Fr. Elijah continued. “Now this was back in the 1950’s and, you see, mental illness was then almost as much a mystery as the Holy Trinity, but the community was very supportive of Jerome, visiting him regularly in the hospital, praying for him daily. But the poor guy felt that he was such an embarrassment to our community that he begged us to dismiss him, to dispense him from his vows. But we wouldn’t do it. He was one of us for better and for worse. We weren’t going to abandon him. But he kept begging the abbot to let him go, so finally, for Jerome’s own peace of mind, we got him the dispensation he asked for. But we never broke our bonds of care and affection for him. In spirit, he was still one of us.”

Fr. Elijah’s voice grew more intense, tears now noticeable in his eyes. “For more than forty years now, Jerome has been living in a group home about 20 miles away from here. We visit him regularly, and for a few years now, he’s been able to come back to be with us on Christmas and Easter. And miraculously, after so many years of suffering, his doctors have finally found the right combination of medications, and Jerome is almost his old self, even talking seriously about re-entering our community. But it seems that God got to him first, bringing Jerome to his heavenly home before we could welcome him back to his earthly one.” Wide smile breaking through his tears, Elijah concluded, “Isn’t God good!”

The next day, bright sunlight warming the still chill spring, Jerome was afforded the same funeral rites that every monk receives. At the Mass preceding our procession to the cemetery adjoining the monastery, the abbot spoke of the essential mystery of human life, especially one like Jerome’s, adding that the suffering of this poor man had been a catalyst for the entire religious community to double its efforts to love one who thought himself entirely unlovable. And after so many years of suffering, Jerome died in love’s embrace, God’s and his community’s.

As is customary at the monastery, Jerome’s body was clothed in the religious habit and, without coffin, lay upon a slim wooden plank before the altar during the funeral Mass. Then, at the conclusion of Mass, he was carried to the cemetery where, before being lowered into the grave, his body was loosely covered with a thin cotton cloth. The Sprinkling with holy water, the wafting with fragrant incense and the tossing of handfuls of dirt by all present concluded the ceremonies. A monk had returned home.

In the gospel passage we hear today, Jesus tells his disciples, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16:13) Indeed, it would seem that those who walked most closely with Jesus centuries ago had many questions that had to remain unanswered. Even the first disciples had to live in the quiet mystery, simply trusting that God knew more than they, loved them more than they could imagine, and had prepared things for them that were better than anything they could ever provide for themselves. And we, contemporary disciples of the same Jesus, must do the same.

The day after the funeral, Fr. Elijah met again with us retreatants. Smiling broadly now, he spoke in quiet, confident voice. “Fr. Jerome is back with us now, with generations of monks who lie beside him in our cemetery. He’s home. God is so good.”

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