The monks of Holy Cross Abbey wish to offer you our sincere sympathy to the family of Br. Benedict–his brother Andy and sister-in-law Heidi and his nieces Hadley and Amy and your families–and to all of Benedict’s dear friends who are gathered here with us. We offer our heartfelt regret for your feelings of loss of one you have loved so dearly and now miss so profoundly. Death is the ultimate loss that we all must encounter in our lives, the “given” of our human condition.
We who are Br. Benedict’s monastic brothers do not feel quite the same grief at his death. We miss our brother’s presence, to be sure! But how could we grieve for one who had been so set on completing the purpose for which he came here thirty years ago? We all know that it was Benedict’s sincere desire to let nature take its course when his kidney failure reached a critical point seven years ago. He wished to pass beyond this present live for the life to come. The frustration that he suffered was not dying but his body’s persistence to survive despite his failing health. That had not been what Benedict expected, though he gradually came to accept this as God’s purpose for him, a purpose he learned to embrace. For a while Benedict kept a slip of paper taped to the wall by his bed at eye level, the German title of J.S. Bach’s Cantata 106, Gottes Zeit ist die Allerbeste Zeit: “God’s time is the very best time”. One day I noticed that the paper was gone and I understood that Benedict had reached a deeper level, embracing God’s purpose and will in true peace of heart. All the same, the day before he died, as it grew apparent that his end was near, I mentioned to him that he’d be going soon. Benedict responded simply and emphatically, “Alleluia!” That is how I wish to remember Benedict’s death: Alleluia!
The other day when I went to wash the robe in which Benedict would be buried, I found a small copy of St. John’s Gospel in the breast pocket. So I chose our Gospel today from St. John: Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.
We are all aware of Benedict’s lifelong love of plants and growing things, of zeal for the environment and nature. He understood so clearly those words of Jesus: if a single grain of wheat dies it will yield an abundance of fruit. Benedict knew this to be true both in the ways of nature and in the realm of the Spirit, the realm of God. As much as Benedict was blessed by God with singular gifts–gifts he shared so generously during his lifetime; gifts not without great cost to himself!–he knew well that there was other abundant fruit to come. As in the natural way for a grain of wheat, there would be much more enduring fruit for those who die in God. We who have known Benedict well have seen first hand his capacity to choose the hard way, not counting the cost, if he valued the result. He sought quite simply to live by what he so deeply believed, what he carried in that pocket over his heart.
Benedict accomplished many significant things, great and small, during his life. I leave it to others to catalogue his accomplishments. What we celebrate here and now is not what he did be who he has become. Even his most cherished projects were not what was important to him; people were important to Benedict. What he always did was for the people for whom those projects had meaning.
What Benedict discovered in his middle years was that God had become personal to him and that personal relationship with God was paramount in his life. He sought God in this monastery. Whatever he did here, small or great, would be done for God and in God: cooking the brothers’ dinner or organizing a capital campaign for the Abbey. It takes great faith to live and to die in a way that that bears abundant fruit for the world. It takes great love. Benedict demonstrated that he had found both, showing us his great faith and his great love. We can learn so much from our brother Benedict.