5th Tuesday in Ordinary Time
Funeral of our Br. Cyril
On this mountain the Lord will destroy the veil that veils all peoples …. He will destroy death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces. It was a promise about an ancient enemy, our final enemy– Death. As we gathered around in Br Cyril’s infirmary room, I could not help but feel our inadequacy. In this ordinary setting something momentous was taking place. We were onlookers. Soon we would return to our everyday life – someone would set things out for the evening meal, someone would bake, someone clean, someone answer an email. Our minds would be on the future or the past. We were not dying but Br Cyril was. For him alone it was the moment of the starkest truth. He and no one else in that room had to make the crossing. Alone. Now the promise of God was a matter literally of life or death. Not physical death for that B Cyril had now accomplished, but the much more and final life or death of the spirit.
At the very end of the Bible, another seer, John tells us of the fulfillment of this promise. I saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. And I heard a loud voice saying ‘Behold, God’s dwelling place is with the human race. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. The victor shall inherit these gifts and I shall be his God and he will be my son.’
My brothers and sisters, this has come to pass for Brother Cyril. He is the victor because for years He served the great Victor over Death, the Lord Jesus. Quietly, steadfastly without any hint of histrionics. It was never about Cyril at all but about something bigger. Br Cyril stood on the bedrock of faith but without the slightest hint of affectation such that his solid faith was almost invisible. In our day and age, the smallest thing is invariably accompanied by drama. Everything, even our latest sneeze must be recorded for posterity on Facebook. Our world has shrunk into pockets of egocentricity.
But for men like Br Cyril it was about the mission and service. His service began when he was drafted into the Marines in World War II and was at the battle of Iwo Jima. It continued when he joined Holy Trinity Utah to serve the Lord. As a monk he served the community showing a creativity and adaptability of someone who had come to serve without a fuss. When the nuns in Uganda put out a call for help. Br Cyril found himself burdened in conscience to help them. His abbot told him ‘Cyril you have a death wish’ because Uganda was in the midst of a deadly civil war. I think it was his sense of duty to serve where there was a great need. He was there for five long, years. His memoirs of that time were written in the matter of fact style that characterized Cyril – spare, bare-boned without fluff even when he was narrating his very close brushes with death. One image stands out. The rebels have set up an ambush for the government forces close to the monastery property. Br Cyril has climbed a tall eucalyptus tree armed with a sharpened panga, an Ugandan machete, even though he confesses that he would have felt more comfortable with an AK-47. He climbs the tree to survey the battle so as to be able to warn the nuns in time. Ever sheepdog doing his duty – guarding the sheep from the wolves. When he knew that Holy Trinity’s time has run out, there was no sentimental clinging to the past. At 88 and also legally blind, Br Cyril stuck his Marine cap on his head and headed out alone to Genesee to be of service in his final years. And he did serve but in a way he never could have imagined.
Almost immediately he was laid low by sickness. All at once, he went, in his own words, from 39 to 89. The mission he received now from the Lord was to surrender and accept infirmity. Once again with his matter of factness and good cheer he set about doing just this. No more riding on horseback shooting errant elk or gunning a truck hoping you did not get shot at as you sneaked by a military barracks in Uganda. He was hidden in the infirmary, with nothing to do but be there. I believe this was his big mission. He was a center of light and peace for all of us whether we knew it or not. He served us in the best possible way by showing us that this life works if you are faithful to it. It must have cost him a tremendous amount of self-surrender to become helpless but you would never would know. Br Cyril never wasted a word if he could help it. I think we glimpsed the extent of the surrender as we gathered to pray the Prayers for the Dying. As we concluded with the Hail Holy Queen, before our very eyes, without the slightest bit of struggle, Br Cyril slipped away from us into the hands of his Lord. May he now rest from his labors! May the Lord grant him pardon and mercy and may God grant that Br Cyril may now see with his own eyes the One he served so faithfully and generously here on earth by faith.