Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

The Ascension: Moving More Fully Into God

By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published May 27, 2010

It has been a week filled with events that have deeply changed the lives of many in Conyers.  Just a week ago, Deputy Brian Lamar Mahaffey lost his life while doing his job, a job that entailed the risk of such a loss. We have been praying for him and his family and hope that his wife and children, his family and friends get all the love and support they need and deserve. We also hope that the same comfort is given to the family of the man who fired the bullets. The tragedy of that day of loss leaves no one untouched.

On Monday morning, we lost a well-loved monk, Brother Tom Nabity. He died in our infirmary.  His room was filled with bits and pieces of rosaries in-the making. Tom loved making rosaries. He was confined to bed for the last decade or so, and except for occasional trips in his wheelchair to Sunday Mass and visits to our retreat house, his world was no bigger than his room in our infirmary. But he learned from the daily immobility of his life to move far and wide within a confining space.

He touched a lot of people because he simply and deeply loved people.

There are many thousands of people, including my own family and friends, who carry Tom’s rosaries with them wherever they go. As all those fingers move from bead to bead, they truly touch the life, the hands and the love that crafted them with such care. If prayers carried a manufacturing tag, there are millions that would read “prayed by me but made by Tom.”

On Tuesday, we gathered as a community to celebrate with friends and benefactors the groundbreaking ceremony for the buildings that will house our monastic heritage center. It was a wonderful experience, knowing that our monastic hopes and our very lives are shared among so many wonderful people. I am sure I can write on behalf of our Abbot Francis Michael that we all felt a deep pride to be a growing part of the life of the church in this part of the Archdiocese.

From where I sat on the day of the groundbreaking, I could see just 20 or so feet past the line of shovels an old well. It was constructed by monks way back in the late 1940s and there are initials and a date imbedded in the concrete on the side of the well. A monk wanted to let us know that he was once here, and felt a need to leave his initials and date in the wet concrete of a new well.

The well no longer has water. And I do not know if what remains of it will survive the new construction. But if the monks who made it were true to their calling, they would have known that all places on this earth are temporary—our wells, our buildings, our very bodies and the years that carry and age them.

Tomorrow is the feast of the Ascension, the day we commemorate the departure of Jesus from his earthly mode of life to his heavenly and proper one. Yet the Gospel writers and subsequent commentaries are careful to point out that it was necessary for Jesus to be absent so that he could be more fully present. He had to vacate one mode of being so as to enter a way of life that promises to fill all absences in heaven and on earth. He left in order to arrive.

It has been a week of deeply broken hearts, of prayers gone heavenward from one town, prayers uttered in tears and anguish, prayers spoken in hope and confidence, prayers said in gratitude.  Our town lost two great men who are rising with the Lord and who are as present to us as they were week before last, but present in a way that only comes from moving on, moving more fully into God.

We may lose a well on our property that once held water and perhaps hope. Something new will rise on that spot. And there may be new initials, a new date. And time will pass, and we will pass, and there will be those who follow us and whose lives will hopefully be good because we were once gathered here. I think that is something good to pray for—something to hope for, as many of us gently finger the beads made by a man who moved so little yet so far.

Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery online store at