By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published May 26, 2016
One of my jobs here is distributing the mail. It really isn’t a big deal. Not much mail comes in these days. There are catalogs, “junk” mail and a few handwritten cards and fewer letters. When I distributed the mail yesterday, there were several cards and packets of seeds in Father Anthony’s mail drawer. He had been sick for some time and asked me to keep putting his mail in his regular drawer and not the infirmary drawer. And so I did that.
Anthony left us on May 9. He went home to God, a God he served as best he could as a monk. He was a friend and a genuine father figure to many, many people. His body will be laid to rest on Saturday morning and I suspect that our abbey church will be filled.
He was a well-loved man, a man who accepted the weakness of being human more than he struggled with it. I think that is why so many people were drawn to him. People felt accepted by him, no matter what their story. Anthony held the compassion of God close to his heart and loved and lived from it.
He also shared it.
When he was well, Anthony would sit at the desk at our Welcome Center and greet our guests as they came through the door. On the days he could not make it, I would fill in for him. The phone would ring. Someone asking for Father Anthony, asking for a blessing, a confession, an appointment. And there were more than a few who came through the door disappointed when they saw that Anthony was not there.
I know that all those people will ache over the loss of a man they knew cared for them, remembered them in prayer, believed in them when they found it hard to believe in themselves and, at times, God. Nothing human was strange to Anthony. He seemed to look at life, at people, like a garden abloom with difference.
Anthony loved gardening. I think some of the happiest times these last years were those spent in his garden. He recruited people to help him, and I like to think that those people learned some things about gardening, about Anthony, and about God. It was a package deal. Anthony knew there were real and living connections between what we grow from the earth and the care God has for us. The garden was one of Anthony’s theological sources, and a very rich one.
I pray that Anthony is at peace. I am most sure that he is. And if there is a garden in Paradise, maybe God will invite him to work a portion of it. With some angelic volunteers, of course.
And the seeds in his mail drawer? I will do what I can to see that they are placed into the earth so that they may grow and become the life they were made for. And when we let Anthony go, and gently place his body in the earth, we know that he has grown and entered a new and everlasting life—the one he was made for.
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 web store at www.HolySpiritMonasteryGifts.com.