In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places…I go to prepare a place for you.
We are here today to pray for the soul of our Fr. Malachy, that the Lord in his great mercy may bring our brother into the fullness of life promised to those who seek God above all else. Father Malachy’s family has been prevented from being here by the monster snow storm that hit New England. I spoke with Fr. Malachy’s brother Bob; he and his wife Grace and their five children and families plan to come down here in the spring when we can celebrate a memorial Mass in kinder weather. Today we celebrate this simple funeral in our chapel, just our community–Fr. Malachy’s monastic brothers–and local friends and neighbors. We pray to our provident Father in heaven for Malachy’s speedy reception into that dwelling place prepared for him for all time.
We have had our own experience these past weeks of the ups and downs of winter weather, Virginia style: one day well below freezing, the next, like a spring day. I thank God that he has given us one of those “up” days today for this burial in our cemetery.
Thinking of Fr. Malachy’s long life in this Abbey, this passage from the Gospel of John struck me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. What did Jesus mean? Was he only saying that there is plenty of room for everyone in heaven? No housing shortage. Or might he be saying something else? Might he imply different place for different personalities and differing gifts, different interests and different skills? Many and varied dwellings, as it were.
It would be clear to anyone who has known Fr. Malachy that he had many and varied interests, a strong need for creative expression. The Trappist life in the United Staes, when he entered in 1948, did not offer much scope for creative expression. Joseph Marrion, as he had been baptized, came to the monastery shortly after World War II after two years in the army. He had left one form of structured life for another. Both the military and the monastic lives are dedicated service, one serving one’s country, the other serving God and his people. Structures help us to focus our lives to enhance the particular pursuit we have chosen. A monastery can allow a monk to develop his personal gifts within the embrace of its structures, but more so today than when Fr. Malachy entered Our Lady of the Valley. That life was tightly regimented–an attractive aspect to some seeking to live for God. It was certainly no easy time, physically or psychologically; nonetheless, Fr. Malachy made his solemn commitment to such a life and he managed to persevere until death. I would hope that it was God’s providence at work, keeping Malachy in this vocation these past sixty-five years when so many chose to depart. For him it was an anchor to which he repeatedly returned.
I am going to prepare a place for you. Jesus knew his chosen apostles would suffer great sorrow when he was taken from them–however much it was for their good. It was necessary that he go to prepare their dwelling for them, that where I am, they also may be. This was Jesus’ prayer to his Father. Malachy believed in praying for others with great conviction. In his later years he set himself the task of praying the psalter daily in its entirety, all 150 psalms, each day. St. Benedict legislated that monks accomplish this in one week; but, like the desert fathers, Fr. Malachy sought to accomplish this daily. Perhaps it was the Irish in him. That he performed this faithfully, many can testify, not only seeing him in church but, as his hearing and self-awareness diminished, also hearing him speak his prayers. Gradually dementia would derail his efforts, though he may not have wavered in his intent.
Fr. Malachy was eager to pray for the needs and intentions of others, especially at his daily Mass; he was prompt to send notes and cards for those he offered Mass. We who have been recipients of his intercession may now entreat God to hasten Fr. Malachy’s return to his Father’s home.
In brief, this was the life of the monk who lies here before us whith the ups and downs that all monks experience, some, more than others. This is the witness of God’s providence that preserved his child, Malachy, in his commitment unto death, that sustained him through his personal struggles. Our Father Saint Bendict prayed, Through patience, may we share in the sufferings of Christ that we may also share in the joy of his kingdom. AMEN.