When a member of our community dies, we gather the day before the funeral to receive the body. I guess this is around my fifty-fifth time for this. Family, and friends of the monastery, gather with us for the Vespers for the dead. The body is placed in our bier, and eight men are the pall-bearers. The body leads the procession to the front of the church, where it is placed beneath the Paschal Candle. The candle that is lit at the Easter Vigil.
We sing the Vespers for the dead. Tonight the monks will take turns sitting with the body and to pray for Father James until the 10:00 a.m. service the next day. It is still a little unsettling, the receiving of the body, but also healing for the community and hopefully for the family. In reality, apart from the sitting with James, the rituals that surround death are just as much for the living as for the deceased.
During Vespers, I kept looking over at James’s body beneath the Paschal candle and was not sure what I felt. Yet my chest hurt, so I guess I was repressing the deep sadness that is there, but I am not always aware of it. We all go through this, saying goodbye to a loved one. Each one there had their own inner experience to feel and deal with. I feel for the family, which is a very loving one and close-knit.
He Is In This Room With Us
People have faith because they have it. It does give us hope. Tonight we read from the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians, which dealt with the reality of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, how our faith is built on that reality of the Risen Lord. James was a man of faith, but he questioned and doubted, as we all do, I believe. Doubt is important because, like pain, it brings us back to ourselves and leads us to go deeper into the mystery of our faith. Which is rewarding, and I believe important today, since it is really impossible to be a “cultural Catholic.” We need to know what our faith teaches and to deepen our seeking after the Lord.
I believe that James is with the Lord, the Risen Lord. He is not far away, not even in the next room, but in this room with us. Having put on the Mind-Of-Christ, he is much more than what he was before he was called home by the Lord.
It is important to love, to open our hearts to others, to learn to forgive and to have compassion and empathy for others. In this, we suffer, all of us, for there is always someone left. So until we are the ones who leave, we have to seek to not fear the inner pain, sorrow, and longing to see just one more time the loved one, the friend, the family member. We learn to trust, to keep on going, knowing that sooner rather than later, we will be called to follow.
May God bless and keep us all in his embrace. May we respond to grace’s calling, and may we never stop trusting in God love for us.
Brother Mark Dohle, now seventy, has been a monk of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, since 1971. He runs the monastery’s retreat house. His story of Father James’ funeral can be read here. Excerpts from Father James’ sermons can be read here and his columns for the Georgia Bulletin can be read here.