Although Brother Barnabas’s family are not able to be with us today to celebrate God taking Brother Barnabas to himself, his family is conscious that this monastic family is here with him. What to the eyes of this world seems an ending and a loss, for those who live in Christ this is the blessed assurance of a new beginning in life. Brother Barnabas was ready for a new beginning. He spoke often and clearly of his readiness, of his longing to respond whenever God’s call would come to him. That readiness, which he felt at the end of his life, is only the continuation of his earlier response to God when, twenty-five years ago in 1989, he first felt God’s call. He persevered through the difficult years of his formation as a monk. It could not have been an easy time for him since he was fifty-five years old when he entered and had been living a busy and independent life. Nor, it is only fair to say, was it easy for those who were responsible for his formation in those years. But the mercy of God, for which he asked so fervently, sustained him and Brother Barnabas was deeply grateful seven years later when he made his final vows “until death” as a monk on the feast of Saint Joseph in 1996. He knew that this was God’s gift to him, not his own doing. Brother Barnabas never forgot that.
I chose the Gospel Reading from St. John’s account of the death of Jesus on the cross for two reasons. Saint John alone reports how Jesus, as he was dying, gave to John the care of his mother Mary. And Jesus called her to become the mother of all his disciples: Woman, behold your son. Mary, the Mother of the Church–Brother Barnabas had a great love for our Blessed Mother’s presence in his life, as he did for Saint Joseph.
But there is a second reason for choosing this Gospel: Saint John the Divine, as he is known, the Theologian as the Church Fathers named him, teaches us in this account that Jesus’ sacrifice of himself wins salvation for every man, woman and child from Adam down to the last day of the world. Aware that everything was now finished,…bowing his head, he handed over the Spirit. Hanging from the cross, Jesus’ final breath sent the new Breath of God throughout the world. He would repeat this same action on the evening of the third day in the upper room, when he breathed on the Eleven his resurrection life: Receive the Holy Spirit. God’s breath was poured out over all creation; his divine life now filled his disciples. Saint John alone reveals this in his account of the passion of Jesus.
Brother Barnabas had a very troubled life before he entered the monastery, suffering himself and causing much suffering to those whose lives he shared. He never forgot the priceless gift of God’s forgiveness to the repentant, the mercy of God for the sinner. He knew what Saint Paul meant when Paul spoke of God’s mercy for himself. Barnabas’ gratitude to God was profound. The gift of God’s prodigal forgiveness for the contrite does not change our basic habits right away–and for most of us, never completely. Brother Barnabas knew he could return again and again to God for his continuing mercy throughout his monastic life. And he did. His brothers supported him in good times and hard times in the monastery. It is possible to say that without this community, Brother Barnabas would not have been able to persevere in his life in God. I certainly have to say the same thing for myself. I believe all my brothers feel the same way, too.
The joy of salvation: My spirit rejoices in God my Savior, Mary sang to Elizabeth at the Visitation, the feast we celebrated just three weeks ago on 31 May. Brother Barnabas had no idea that day how soon the Lord would be coming to visit him. As we place our brother’s body among those who have gone before him in our monastic cemetery, we know that he now enjoys the joy of salvation. God’s promise to Brother Barnabas has been fulfilled.
Recall the words we just heard read from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans: Brothers and Sisters: hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts, through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. For Christ, while we were still helpless, died for the ungodly…God proves his love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…Indeed, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son…We boast of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation (Romans 5:5-11). Saint Paul surely understood the Song of Mary: My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
This is the word of Brother Barnabas to all of us: the mercy of God; the joy of salvation. We pray with joy in Christ for our brother.