Readings: Isaiah 49:1-6; 2 Corinthians 5:1, 6-10; John 19:17-18, 25-39
It is with some uneasiness that I undertake to preach this funeral Mass homily, knowing Fr. Paschal’s disdain for eulogies that bear little resemblance to the one being eulogized! Accordingly, I suspect that he has been pleased with the very frank, honest, but affectionate postings on our Abbey website by Fr, James and Kurt. In similar vein, my intention this afternoon is not to eulogize Fr. Paschal but rather I wish to reflect on several aspects of his life and death that seem to resonate with some of the themes reflected in today’s scripture readings.
Although Fr. Paschal was a monk of deep and unshakeable faith, there must surely have been times when Isaiah’s words (from our First Reading) about toiling in vain and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength would have accurately expressed his feelings. Here was a man who embraced Trappist life at a time when monasteries across the world were overflowing with young men eager to give their all to Christ in the monastic life. And yet, steadily as the decades progressed, Father witnessed the distressing reversal of this trend as many left the cloister and fewer and fewer young men answered the call to monastic life. And yet at a time when our numbers here seemed destined to slip into single digits, Fr. Paschal never lost hope and always reminded us of God’s grace and power to breathe new life into this fragile community whose future still seems so uncertain.
In not giving way to discouragement and despair, Fr. Paschal heeded Saint Paul’s reminder (in our Second Reading) that we walk by faith and not by sight. And so, rather than trying to guess God’s plan or second guess it, he preferred to entrust his, and the community’s future, into God’s hands and facilitate the workings of grace by his dedication to personal prayer–something that was especially noticeable in his final years among us.
However, despite his fidelity to prayer and deep faith, Saint Paul’s admonition that the lives of all of us are to be revealed before the tribunal of Christ so that each may receive his recompense, good or bad, accordingly to his life in the body, was, for much of Father Paschal’s life, a preoccupation that stirred up considerable anxiety and even dread. But even here he chose to walk by faith and not by sight–or feeling–so that over the last year, most notably, there was a significant diminishment of his fear of death and judgment that nevertheless never risked spiritual presumption or complacency as he prepared for this most important face-to-face encounter with the One he had sought and longed for his entire life.
Father Paschal’s immersion in the sufferings of Christ–as these are recounted in today’s Gospel–while rarely absent during his long life, became more pronounced during these last months and especially during the last few weeks of his life as he unsuccessfully tried to regain strength and mobility following his heart surgery. On his cell wall there is a banner with a quote from Saint John of the Cross and with which he identified closely in these last weeks. It reads: Love consists not in feeling great things but in having great detachment and in suffering for the Beloved. And in suffering he derived consolation and strength from his Beloved who carried his own cross to Golgotha and there was nailed to it. Not being a man prone to sweet sentimentality or romantic notions of suffering, his very ordinary and often humiliating age-related limitations and increasing inconveniences in the days leading up to his death allowed the cross to become something more than pious sentiment or spiritual abstraction and, instead, a humbling and purifying reality.
In the hours leading up to his death, Fr. Paschal was only partially conscious and this makes it difficult to know what was happening interiorly and spiritually to him during that final stage of his earthly pilgrimage. At the risk of becoming sentimental and irking Fr. Paschal, I can’t help wondering if one of his favorite quotes from St. John of the Cross were on his lips: Reveal thyself to me, Beloved, and let the vision of thy beauty be my death! And so, perhaps, in that unfathomable mystery of our passing from this world to the Father, it was indeed the vision of the beauty of his Beloved that finally, but gently, drew Fr. Paschal into the eternal, loving and gentle embrace of the Father whose face he so ardently desired to behold.
And so we pray for Father Paschal and entrust him to the mercy and love of God; may he intercede for us until that glorious day when we will all be reunited and Our Lord will wipe every tear from [our] eyes and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order [will have] passed away and all things shall have been made new!