A Roman Catholic Benedictine monastery of men

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Posted by Jeanine Jelinek on February 6, 2020 at 12:05 PM

Homily for Br. Raphael Kozel’s funeral Mass, Feb. 4, 2020, St. Procopius Abbey

Last night, in his eulogy for Br. Raphael, Abbot Dismas spoke of when he first came to the monastery in 1995. One of his first impressions, and a lasting one, was of the brothers praying in the chapel at the end of the day. As Abbot Dismas noted, Br. Raphael also came to the monastery in 1955, and eventually he joined those brothers, praying with them in the chapel at the end of each day.

Over forty years later, in 1996 when I joined the monastery, Br. Raphael and other brothers were still praying in the chapel at the end of the day. After having gone out to do their work, they came back and ended the day with the Rosary.

There is a pattern in this that I’d like us to reflect on. It is the pattern of going forth and coming back again. Br. Raphael and the other brothers would leave the monastery in the morning to do their work and then they would come back to pray at the end of the day. They went forth for the sake of the monastery, to do work that supported it. So, quite naturally, they returned to it after their work.

Something similar has been present in a model of the family that was perhaps more popular decades ago. In the morning the husband would go forth and leave the home, but at the end of the day he’d come back to the family for whom he was working.

Not long ago, in the reading we do during supper, we read from an article that talked about masculinity. Encouraged by Pope Francis to do so, the article explored what true masculinity looks like. While women have their innate strengths and abilities, so too do men. What are the traits that are typically masculine?

The article said that one trait is externality – or we might say, outwardness. Men tend to be outward – to look beyond themselves and strive for a goal out there. In turn, they like to go forth; they like to leave the home.

The question is: Will they come back? It’s not always guaranteed. Here’s what I mean. Increasingly in our culture, men do not come back. They father a child, but do not stay to be a father to that child. Over 40% of children in our country are born out of wedlock. So, for those children the father is not at home; he does not regularly come back.

Interestingly, there is also the opposite problem. Men don’t leave the home, but stay in their parents’ house for a long time. To be sure, there can be legitimate reasons to stay home. But some reasons are not legitimate, such as not having the initiative to look for work or wanting to spend most of the day inside playing video games.

So, some men don’t leave home while some don’t return to it. We are not fathers of families at the monastery, but this pattern of going forth and coming back is also applicable to our way of life. We go forth to do our work and to address issues that need addressing. But we also come back to our monastic home, especially to our prayers in common. Indeed, we have monks that struggle with one or the other of the two movements. That is, some are good at going forth but not so strong at coming back. Others are comfortable being at home, but could do better at going forth and tackling the challenges before them. We’re human and we struggle with these movements at times. But even in the monastery this dynamic of going forth and coming back is important. We find in Br. Raphael’s life a witness to both movements.

While outwardness is said to characterize masculinity, it is sometimes said that inwardness characterizes the feminine. Women are gifted with an attentiveness to what is inside, as it were. They are famous for an intuition of what is going on within – in a person or in a community. Women of course know about the world out there, but women also tend to appreciate the world that is close to home.

Speaking about the complementarity between men and women is not always popular these days. And to be sure, these traits can be taken in an oversimplified way. The traits are not limits to how a man or a woman can act. Men can be inward in a good way and women can be outward in a good way. These traits are aptitudes, that is, innate tendencies, that men or women have. They are not limiting, but enabling.

Also, both movements – the outward and the inward – are found in men and women. Whether male or female, we’re all called to go forth and meet challenges as well as to come back and return to our home. Going forth and coming back are part of human life, whether one is male or female.

I say all this to apply it to our quest for heaven. Heaven has been described both in masculine and in feminine terms. In masculine terms, it has been described as the “fatherland.” Also, in the Bible people speak of going to the afterlife as going to rest with their fathers. Spoken of in such ways, heaven is a place out there, a distant destination, one that you strive after and struggle to get into. We strive to take our place, and to be found worthy to take our place, with our fathers in the faith.

In feminine terms, heaven is not out there, but our home – our heavenly homeland. Sometimes it is described as the city Jerusalem, which itself is described as our mother. So, our journey to heaven is also a returning home. Indeed, it is a return to God. And there in heaven Mary our mother holds a central place.

I think of a story that the Dominicans like to tell. It goes like this. St. Dominic is in heaven, but he is distressed that he sees no other Dominicans there. But someone points him to the Blessed Virgin and, when she opens her mantle, there are a host of Dominicans in the mantle of Mary. I know that the Cistercians tell a similar story and whoever had the story first doesn’t matter. I mention it because being in Mary’s mantle is a nice, maternal, that is, a feminine, image of heaven.

I would suggest that our journey to heaven requires both movements, the outward and the inward. They are part of everyone’s life and, so, why shouldn’t they be part of everyone’s journey to eternal life? Also note that knowing and loving are crucial for our journey to heaven. Yet love draws us outward, while knowledge is something that we take in to ourselves. Then again, think of the Eucharist, which is a foretaste of heaven. The Eucharist has both movements. It is the source and summit of the Christian life. As source, we go forth from it. As summit, we come back to it – each time ascending higher, getting closer to heaven.

We can think of such things, when we think of Br. Raphael’s life – when we think of how he went forth to work with his fellow brothers and of how he came back at the end of the day to Mary in the Rosary. We are all called to these two movements, as part of our journey to heaven.

But there is a way for men to live this out, so as to get to heaven. If I may use the term “real men,” it might be put this way. Be a real man by going forth and working for your home, your community. And be a real man by coming back again.

The Mass is the greatest prayer the Church has and we are praying this Mass for the repose of Br. Raphael’s soul. May our prayer be this: that Br. Raphael now enjoy the company of the men who labored before him, and that standing side by side with them, he now enjoy being in the mantle of Mary.

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