Golden Jubilee Mass for Fr. Brendan

[Scripture Readings: Jn 4:19-5:4; Lk 4:14-22]

May I begin by thanking Dom Brendan for inviting me to be celebrant and homilist for this joyful occasion of the golden jubilee of his profession as a monk. As you know, it is our human custom to mark significant anniversaries as we journey through life. They can be birthdays, marriages, priestly ordination or profession. There is a communal dimension to such events. They mark something of importance in our story. The total of years will generally end with a five or a zero. Fifty years of commitment cuts quite a swathe in the fabric of a person’s life and it is right and proper that we should celebrate it. And so we come together at this Eucharist today to thank God for Brendan’s fifty years of monastic life. I think of Robert Frost’s poem:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

There you have it. Taking the road that has made all the difference. The less travelled road. It is all about following the star, rather like the Magi followed their star that eventually brought them to Christ. Making one’s choice and then giving one’s all. That choice made, that road taken, is undoubtedly a huge milestone in anyone’s life. By any standard, fifty years in religious life/monastic life is no small achievement. We can say that in any choice of life, be it religious life or married life or priesthood fifty years is no small achievement. In fact, it is a wonderful achievement, worthy of celebration. Why? Because it is a launching into the deep and we never know how it is going to turn out. Life’s journey is fraught with risk and requires great faith and trust that we have heard well and are doing the right thing. So these milestones are important. They allow us to pause and take stock and renew ourselves before continuing the onward journey. The story is ongoing; there is movement and change. New situations are always arising. That is why we gather today with hearts filled with gratitude and wonder and joy and praise and jubilation. Somewhere in it all is the smiling face of Jesus, manifesting himself to us. The Greek word “epiphaneia” has a few connotations: surprise, brightness, manifestation, even magic. In the Western churches Epiphany commemorates the appearance or the revelation to the Gentiles or the pagans of Jesus as Savior. This is portrayed by the coming of the Magi or Three Wise Men from the East to pay him homage. It is an ancient feast: it is known to have been observed earlier than 194 AD and therefore is older than Christmas. Are there epiphanies in my life? Am I truly following my star? It is a long journey. Sometimes a difficult journey. Sometimes the star disappears. There are few signposts to guide me. But there are also surprises and for the one who is faithful the star will always re-appear. That is the challenge facing each of us: how will Jesus and his saving message manifest itself in my own life. What is my epiphany? If we are alert and watchful we will spot the star. It may take different shapes for different people. Given the nature of humanity, many of us will find that star shining through the eyes of a beloved, a close friend or the odd saint. Others will be led along a different path. For some, it may be the star of the pure scriptures; others will find it in the liturgy of the Church. Others again will find it in literature, in art, in poetry or in music. Whatever it is that moves the soul towards God is of God. Whatever it may be, that will be our star of wonder. Listen to this quotation from Julian of Norwich: According to Julian God is “completely relaxed and courteous, himself the happiness and peace of his dear friends, his beautiful face radiating measureless love, like a marvelous symphony.” Let us not serve any God other than this one. The God we worship is beaming, bright, filled with light, but also challenging, lighting our way, enlightening our minds and leading us on.

Anyway, Brendan, the journey continues on the road that has made all the difference and we pray today that it may continue to wind and curve revealing the unexpected, the beauty and mystery of life. That road, the narrow way that lead to life, that you chose all those years ago may seem like folly in the eyes of some, but now looking back at the twists and turns surely you can proclaim with joy in your heart those lovely lines from Pearse’s poem The Fool:

I have squandered the splendid years that the Lord God gave to my youth,
In attempting impossible things, deeming them alone worth the toil.
Was it folly or grace? Not men shall judge me but God.
I have squandered the splendid years:
Lord, if I had the years I would squander them over again.
Aye, fling them from me!
For this I have heard in my heart, that a man shall scatter, not hoard.

Shall do the deed of today, not take thought of tomorrow’s teen.

May the Good News continue to soak into our hearts and souls redeeming refreshing, renewing. We pray that Brendan man continue to receive God’s love for many years to come. and in turn, fan it on to others. St. John insists that fanning God’s love on to others is the most important part of our life with and in God. At this point, I think it is fitting for Abbot Brendan to renew that commitment made fifty years ago.

The Fool
by Padraic Pearse

Since the wise men have not spoken, I speak that am only a fool;
A fool that hath loved his folly,
Yea, more than the wise men their books
or their counting houses or their quiet homes,
Or their fame in men’s mouths;
A fool that in all his days hath done never a prudent thing,
Never hath counted the cost, nor recked if another reaped
The fruit of his mighty sowing, content to scatter the seed;
A fool that is unrepentant, and that soon at the end of all
Shall laugh in his lonely heart

as the ripe ears fall to the reaping-hooks
And the poor are filled that were empty,
Tho’ he go hungry.
I have squandered the splendid years
the Lord God gave to my youth
In attempting impossible things, deeming them alone worth the toil.

Was it folly or grace? Not men shall judge me, but God.
I have squandered the splendid years:
Lord, if I had the years I would squander them over again,
Aye, fling them from me!
For this I have heard in my heart, that a man shall scatter, not hoard,
Shall do the deed of to-day, nor take thought of to-morrow’s teen,
Shall not bargain or huxter with God ; or was it a jest of Christ’s
And is this my sin before men, to have taken Him at His word?
The lawyers have sat in council, the men with the keen, long faces,
And said, `This man is a fool,’ and others have said, `He blasphemeth;’
And the wise have pitied the fool that hath striven to give a life
In the world of time and space among the bulks of actual things,
To a dream that was dreamed in the heart, and that only the heart could hold.

O wise men, riddle me this: what if the dream come true?
What if the dream come true? and if millions unborn shall dwell
In the house that I shaped in my heart, the noble house of my thought?
Lord, I have staked my soul, I have staked the lives of my kin
On the truth of Thy dreadful word. Do not remember my failures,
But remember this my faith
And so I speak.
Yea, ere my hot youth pass, I speak to my people and say:
Ye shall be foolish as I; ye shall scatter, not save;
Ye shall venture your all, lest ye lose what is more than all;
Ye shall call for a miracle, taking Christ at His word.
And for this I will answer, O people, answer here and hereafter,
O people that I have loved, shall we not answer together?