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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19 June 2022

The Power of the Eucharist

Corpus Christi

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP

St. Dominic/OLR, NOLA

Jesus, his disciples, and a huge crowd of random people who want to hear what Jesus has to say – they all find themselves in a deserted place. A place w/o food, water, shelter. Not much to recommend it for comfort or protection. The disciples suggest to Jesus that he send the people into the nearby villages for the night, so they can find a bed and something to eat. Jesus answers with an apparently less-than-helpful suggestion of his own: Give them some food yourselves.” You can almost see and hear the disciples' aggravation and frustration. Here we go again! Another lesson in mystery. Another impractical exercise to show us up. Where are we going to get enough food for this many people? How would we get it to them even if we had it? They're perfectly capable of finding food for themselves! OK. Maybe that's what I'd be thinking. Maybe the disciples were a little more docile to the Lord's lessons. Regardless, the problem before them must've seemed insurmountable at the time. And it is. . .until Jesus intervenes and shows them the miraculous power of his blessing. In that deserted place, he shows them all the power of the Eucharist.

And what is this power? It's not the power to shame people into sharing the food they've squirreled away for themselves. It's not the power to say grace before a meal. It's not the power to organize a large crowd into smaller modules for efficient distribution of foodstuffs. The Miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000 reveals the Eucharist's power to nourish as many as will come to be nourished. Those who follow Christ – even into the deserted places of the world – will be fed. They will be nourished. 5,000; 10,000; 1.3 billion. They will all be fed. How? With what? Wrong question. The right question is: with whom? With whom will they all be fed? And we know the answer to that question; otherwise, none of us would be here this morning/evening. We are all fed by the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus – true food, true drink – for the salvation of the world and life eternal. The power of the Eucharist is the power to take fallen men and women, sinners subject to death, and start them toward a fundamental transformation, turning them into Christs, perfecting in them the image and likeness of God who made them. All who would be fed, changed, saved; all who would be Christ for the world will be fed. They will be changed. They will saved.

From whatever deserted place you may come, if you choose, if you will it, you will be fed and changed and saved. As 21st century Catholics, we are accustomed to hearing that the Eucharist is about establishing and thriving as a community of believers. We share a sacramental meal. This sharing binds us together more closely in prayer. All true. But not all the truth. Our older brothers and sisters are accustomed to hearing about the Eucharist as a sacrifice, a sacramental memorial of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross. Our Mass takes us to Calvary where we participate in the saving grace of Christ's death. Again, all true. But not all the truth. The truth we don't hear much about is the ancient understanding of the Eucharist as a means of becoming Christ ourselves in the world – as the way we sinners are not only joined to a community, not only joined to Christ's sacrifice as participants but also joined to Christ so that we may become Christs to be Christs in the world. Knowing this, knowing that you can become Christ, do you still find yourself among the 5,000 in that deserted place, waiting for your portion of fish and bread? Do you still want to be fed by the Body and Blood of Christ?

If so, then you will come forward and receive. But understand who and what you are receiving. Our modern minds tell us we are receiving symbols of Christ's body and blood. Bread and wine. Tokens, stand-in's for the real thing, which is no longer available to us. Our modern minds tell us that what's real is what's physical, what's knowable with the senses. We see, taste, touch bread and wine, so the bread and wine must be just bread and wine, just a symbol. Not the real thing. False! Christ is truly present – body, blood, soul, and divinity. The really real is not limited to the physical, the empirical. That's a modern prejudice. The really real includes the spiritual, the non-empirical. It includes the sacramental, external signs of internal graces. It includes the substantial, what a thing truly is in itself. The bread and wine are substantially, sacramentally Christ's Body and Blood, and no less really real simply b/c his presence is not physical. When you come forward to receive, know and believe that who you are receiving IS Christ. Not a symbol, not a token, not a stand-in. But Christ – body, blood, soul, and divinity. You are what you eat. If you will be Christ in the world, you must be nourished by Christ in this world. This IS my Body. This IS my Blood.

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