Funeral Homily for Br. Chrysostom
Readings: Lam 3:17-26; 1Jn 3:14-16; Jn 14:1-6
The reading we heard from Lamentations captures well the see-saw of the mind and heart, going back and forth between hope and despair, between complaining and gratitude. This rocking back and forth is as persistent and life-long as the heartbeat.
These words from Lamentations also capture what I perceived was going on inside Br. Chrysostom during his last weeks. Death really did catch him by surprise. He found it difficult to realize what was happening to him. Which is not to say that he was unprepared. His steady, disciplined approach to life allowed him to keep moving ahead and to ignore the signals his body had no doubt been sending him for many months. He literally kept going until he dropped. Overnight he became entirely dependent on others’ help. On one hand, he couldn’t quite grasp that what was happening was real; he said he hoped he would wake up and find it had been a nightmare. On the other hand, though, his behavior showed how ready he really was. It would be hard to find a simpler, quieter patient. As in the passage from Lamentations, his mind and heart eventually settled on the rock-bottom truth: “The Lord is good to those who trust in him, to the one that seeks him. It is good to hope in silence for the Lord’s deliverance.”
Br. Chrysostom’s final days were the manifestation of a life well-lived. In that sense, he leaves us with a valuable parting lesson. The Rule of Saint Benedict reminds monks “To keep death before one’s eyes daily” (RB 4.47). The point is not to keep it in front of you as a constant obstacle. Rather, it means keeping everything about death before your eyes, namely, that it is a passage, that the ultimate meaning of the present lies beyond death, that the Lord has prepared a dwelling place for each, and that only one path leads to it: “I am the way and the truth and the life.” In practice, this attitude looks like anything but morbid self-concern; it looks more like the unhurried but unstoppable forward momentum we see in the best of our seniors.
Those who knew Br. Chrysostom in his prime will see reflected in his final days some paradoxes of long standing. Few singers with his level of ability double as electricians. A stickler on enclosure, he was one of the first monks anywhere to use the Internet in its infancy. A culture warrior of sorts, he could be fierce in defending his principles, but when faced with others’ weaknesses and failures he was remarkably non-judgmental. The formula for his brand of compassion leaves out the drama, but it is nonetheless genuine and deep.
Whether our lives end abruptly or wind down slowly, Saint John gives us the ultimate criterion: “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers.”