21 June 2022

It's a strange silence: Br. Roger's funeral homily

Br. Roger Shondel OP Funeral

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP

St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Those who have died in Christ minister to those left behind. Their ministry is to be the object of remembrance and prayer, and a sign of hope for the resurrection. Just not being here with us is a prompt, a push to contemplate the inevitability of our own lives coming to an end. Death comes slowly – over decades; then quickly – a matter of minutes. And it's during the slow-time of death that we plant, cultivate, and harvest the memories and prayers that mark those we love as ministers of Christ. Their not being here motivates us to ponder being with them again. It compels us to cherish the promise of Christ that those who remain in him will rise again. And so, here we are this morning to be motivated, to be prompted into remembering and praying; to be pushed into cherishing again Christ's promise of the resurrection. And our minister is Br. Roger Shondel. Seventy-eight years old. Sixty years a Dominican brother. Forty of those years living right here at St. Dominic Priory. Br. Roger was a whirlwind of organization, focus, and energy; a tireless example of dedication to the work of the Order – teaching, counseling, welcoming, and service. We can hear his absence in the priory. It's a strange silence.

But it's a silence that moves us to remember. It moves us to remember that we do not live in Christ to die eternally. Jesus says to the grieving Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Those who live and believe in Christ will never die. That's our promise of resurrection, of life eternal. And that is our source of hope as we mourn the death of our brother, Roger. Tears and pangs of grief do not betray this hope. Nor do anger, regret, helplessness, or fear. All of these are our limited ways of adjusting to his absence, our shocked and pained ways of getting used to his new ministry to us. As we pray for the repose of his soul and remember his hurricane-level power to get things done, we also remember that he gave sixty years of his life to bear witness to the truth of Christ's promise of eternal life. Jesus asks Martha, “Do you believe this?” Do you believe that if you remain in Christ you will rise again? Do you believe that to abide in Christ now is to abide with him forever? Martha answers, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”

At 3.30 in the morning, during the school year, I would find Br. Roger in the dining room, burning an English muffin in the toaster and prepping his coffee. He would laugh at my disheveled appearance (Me! His prior!) and attempt to engage me in conversation. I would give him a long uncaffeinated death-stare, and he would mumble something about the lack of discipline among these younger friars. I could feel a Back-In-My-Day-Story coming on, so I'd waddle away as fast as I could. And if I spilled coffee on my way up in the elevator and didn't clean it up properly, I'd hear about it that afternoon. Occasionally, I'd get a talking-to about brothers not returning their dishes to the kitchen. We're missing six spoons, eight forks, three bowls, and steak knife! Yes, he counted the dishes. He also decorated the priory for the holidays. Kept the priory books. Made sure we always had plenty of paper towels and laundry detergent. One year, while he was visiting his sister, Joanie, we called him and begged him to come home b/c we'd run out of dinner napkins! I'm betting he was tempted. He loved “my girls” at DHS. Told stories about them at table. If he was at home, he was at common prayer. His silence among us is huge.

And so, his ministry to us will be huge as well. We're here this morning to pray for the repose of the soul of Br. Roger. That he may come face-to-face with the God he served so faithfully for so many years. That he may be at peace at last and find his place at the Wedding Feast, a feast he would no doubt plan, organize, and execute w/o breaking a sweat. We are here to mourn his silence and to be reminded that those who remain in Christ will find eternal life in the resurrection. Paul writes to the Romans, “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us.” In all things we conquer through Christ who loves us. Death comes slowly – over decades; then quickly – in a matter of minutes. But to die in Christ is to die to death and live forever with him. Remember that by remembering our Br. Roger. Pray for him and remember. 

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