Funeral Mass for Br. Thomas Imhoff
Chapter 38 of the Rule of St. Benedict states, that reading will always accompany the meals of the brothers. When Br. Thomas entered New Melleray in the 1950s one of the books that was read everyday was called the Menology. This consisted of a paragraph or two describing holy men and women who lived the Cistercian monastic life like we were doing. The only problem was that none of the men and women we were suppose to imitate were Americans. As I remember many of them were from a place called Villers in Brabant wherever that is, or some other remote place. Another feature about them was that many were of noble birth which meant nothing to us. No one was from Chicago or Detroit! However, every once in a while, there would be mention of a humble lay brother who did not do anything extraordinary but lived his life faithfully day after day, year after year. These we could identify with. Living side by side with Br. Thomas I realized that you don’t have to go to Villers in Brabant to find a holy monk. We have them among us. It was a privilege to live with Br. Thomas.
When one of our Brothers dies his life takes on a kind of luminosity – a glow that we might have missed when he was alive. The funeral Mass is truly a celebration of life. It is a parting also but more, a recognition of the grace the person leaves with us to encourage us to live and persevere to the end. Thomas lives on in our memories and when I think of him now, it is almost like having the eyes of my heart open to the gift he gave us. Here was a man focused on the one thing necessary – a man who found the pearl of great price and gave his all to possess it.
In Br. Thomas’ file I found a letter from his novice master when he was with the Capuchins in Detroit. He highly recommended Br. Thomas but said he was very quiet and did not seem to enjoy recreation with the other novices although he joined them in volley ball. I can’t imagine Br. Thomas playing volley ball or being interested in anything but prayer. His whole life was taken up with prayer.
One time I visited him in the nursing home and as you know sitting in a room all day long can be very boring. I noticed a Television in the Room and asked if he watched any TV, he said no. I then asked what he did all day long and he said I pray. As I think about it I can’t think of anything that grabbed Brother’s interest but God and prayer. Br. Thomas used to like to write poems. In one of his poems, I can see his life expressed as creek making its way to the sea. The title of the poem is “Water Flows On”
Water running smoothly / on a rock-bottom bed/it has just a few steps to jump/ it makes no splash or fuss (just like Br. Thomas) no tumult and no uproar/but with steady flow and just a giggle/now and again / it flows on, and with a purpose too, the sea it wants to know / the distance unimpressive to the flow.
In that little poem you have the life of Br. Thomas spelled out from his focused determination to his steadfast spirit seasoned with his humor like water that giggles as it flows over the rocks. The flows onto the sea unimpressed by the distance, it just keeps on flowing until it reaches its goal. Just so is the life of a monk or the life of any Christian. We are made to mingle like a drop of water in the great sea of God’ love.
Thank you, Br. Thomas for showing us the way. It has been a privilege to have lived with you. Pray for us as you stand before God and see God face to face for the first time.