Votive Mass for the Deceased

Scripture Readings: Heb 3:7-14; Mk 1:40-45

Over two hundred men are buried in our cemetery. Each and all are examples to us of living monastic life. They lived out here the three tasks of life that all people must face: what to believe, how to behave, and what to care about. Each and all “persevered in the monastery until death.” Each and all gave their adult life to “listening with the ear of the heart.” “The heart” is another word for “conscience.” Listening to the voice of conscience is very fundamental to St. Benedict’s way of life. Conscience is one’s reflective judgment about things that matter. Practically speaking, it is formed by taking on norms that govern. These norms govern the three tasks of believing, behaving, and caring.

Author Thomas F. Green[i] has written about the five voices in which the heart speaks. The primary voice, he writes, is one we’ve talked about before: that of membership. A public conscience is more effective than private. It is the voice of love; it helps us meet the demands of love. It informs the most important life-task of caring.

In recalling our deceased members, we not only listen to the voice of membership, we listen to the voice of memory. Humans have a need for rootedness. The thing we are rooted in is life-experience. It is the raw material of our beliefs. For those of us who knew some -or many- of the deceased brothers they and their monastic lives are part of our life-experience. Our acquaintance with them, along with our experiences of the dura et aspera, root us in this way of life. We watched our predecessors pay their dues and we’ve paid our own. This gives us roots that we must listen to. The deeper roots go the deeper one’s beliefs go and the more they sustain. For that which a man deeply believes, he will inconvenience himself. Newer members have not yet had such experience and so they make a commitment in the form of vows. None of us vowed to be members of our families; we were naturally rooted there. When we listen to what they taught us, we are listening to the voice of memory. Commitment substitutes until roots go deep enough to sustain.

The life-experience that rooted the perseverance of our forbearers is important to notice because they, like oneself, were awkward and inconsistent at this life-task. Yet they “persevered in the monastery until death.” What must have nurtured their roots was what nurtures ours: a common affection that drives us toward a common end.

And because of that common affection our deceased members also exemplify the voice of sacrifice. This warns against an interior life dominated by self-interest. It argues with selfishness. They and we came here from a secular world that encouraged calculating how service-to-others would affect self-interest. Such self-concern does not (and should not) go away once and for all (after all, salvation is in one’s best interest). So, this voice prudently advises us to balance self-interest with sacrifice. We inconvenience self.  Sacrifice is often occasioned by duty, so their attention to the work of their hands and the work of God show that our monastic ancestors heard this voice. It is an interior experience so we must attribute it to them in charity. We can do this because we have all had enough experience at persevering in monastic life to know that it cannot be done apart from numerous self-sacrifices. They did this and are buried out back because they lived toward a common end. We share this common end: it is the ultimate reality that we are trying to love extravagantly.

[i] VOICES: The Educational Formation of Conscience, Notre Dame Press, 1999.