Funeral Mass for Br. Robert Simon
First of all, I want to offer condolences to Br. Robert’s relatives who are with us especially his siblings who have supported Robert through the years. Robert was a unique gift to New Melleray. There will never be another like him. There is one thing that stands out to me about Br. Robert. There was not a mean bone in his body. He was not a mean-spirited person, he was not judgmental at all. Robert never projected his own problems onto others.
But, let us start from the beginning. It is April 1960, the 18th of April to be exact. Robert Simon has just mailed a letter to Abbot Philip O’Connor of New Melleray Abbey. The letter is very well written for a teen ager. Robert is 18 years old. He made a retreat four months before in December of 1959. He spoke to Abbot Philip about a possible vocation to the Trappist life. Now four months later after reflecting on his visit he tells the Abbot, “I feel sure I have a Trappist vocation”. His feelings proved to be true because he entered two years later and persevered for 61 years here at New Melleray as our brother.
His letter is a full page typed and well laid out and full of information. First off, he tells the Abbot. “I have encountered a few obstacles, Father objects to my becoming a Trappist because one is not free to come home to visit”. I think many of our parents felt the same way but relented after a while. This was one of many obstacles Robert faced in his lifetime but he always found a way to get over or under or around any obstacle put in his way. He quotes his Father saying, “I am too stubborn…” Well, if he was not stubborn, and after many years of experience I think this is a trait of all Trappist monks, he would not have made it here.
After explaining his situation to the Abbot, he decides to give a little information on his family. He does it as only Br. Robert can. Remember he is only 18 years old here. For some reason he decides to use Latin to inform the Abbot of some family news: Nuntio igitur tibi magnum Gaudium – I announce to you a great joy, I think he borrows this from the Angles who made a similar announcement to the Shepherds at the birth of Christ. Habemus infantem! We have a baby, appellatum Kurt Allen. He is named Kurt Allen. Then he adds a detail he weighs 9 lbs 15 oz. A ten – pound baby! He asks the abbot to tell this Magnum Gaudium to Fr. Daniel, Br. Joachim and Br. Conrad. These three worked in the guest house and evidently Br. Robert made friends with them on his week-end visit. He was not shy
I have noticed when one our community members dies, he appears in a new light. His foibles fade away and his goodness shines forth. Robert was a good person, a good monk, a man who served the community for over 60 years. For many years he was our only organist which means he had to be present for all our Church services and not only present but alert. You might say aren’t all the monks alert at prayer times. Well, yes but we could and do drift off for spaces of time. When you are playing the organ, you can’t do this. I always thought that our organist are the unsung heroes of the monastery. We take them for granted but they work hard and have to practice usually on their own time when other monks are reading or at leisure. I think we all owe a debt of gratitude to Be. Robert for his years of service at the organ.
Last Wednesday I visited Br. Robert in the afternoon. He was in a coma but I prayed out loud just in case he could hear me. After I read some prayers for the dying, I told him it was OK to go and that God is waiting for you. Its OK and I said my last goodbye and left. I was driving back to the monastery when my cell phone rang and the nurse told me Robert just died. I told her thank you for calling and she said you told him he could go and he did, what an obedient monk!
One of the prayers I read at his side goes like this: “I commend you, my dear brother, to almighty God, and entrust you to your creator. May you return to him who formed you from the dust of the earth. May holy Mary, the angles and all the saints come and meet you as you go forth from this life. May you see your Redeemer face to face and enjoy the vision of God forever.”
This is our destiny, our gift from God who created us. Like Jesus said we come from God and we return to God. Something of God is in each of us. Von Balthazar the famous theologian calls it our Jesus self. It is as if God kisses each soul as it comes into existence and forever after it longs for this kiss. Death can be a kiss from God because at death we rise to a new life, it is our homecoming a return to our true and everlasting home.
The desire for God is written in the human heart because we are created by God and for God and God never ceases to draw us to himself. Br. Robert entered the monastery and began his search for God. I like to think that God was searching for Robert and that his entry here was Robert’s response to that search. Now what was hidden from Robert during his life time is made known and he will see God face to face for all eternity.
In his inmost heart Robert came to the monastery to find God. He found Him in faith now he possesses him in full sight and love.