February 25, 2020
Funeral Mass of Fr. John Eudes Bamberger, OCSO
But our citizenship is in heaven. St Paul is telling us that the life we live here on earth is not our real life. I admit it is sometimes all absorbing and fascinating. But the uninvited and jarring interludes of loss, emptiness, boredom, despair tell us that the world is not our home. We are made for more. We are made to desire, to long for and to search for a life of happiness without end. By our baptism we are launched upon that most fascinating adventure of all – being citizens of heaven even on earth. This is what drives all of monastic life. This eschatological urgency. If our citizenship were not in heaven then we, monks, would be, among all Christians, the most miserable because our life would be a total waste. The radicality of monastic life flows from a totalizing faith in this citizenship in heaven. It is organized around it. It will never make sense without it. This is why Louis Bouyer said that, ‘monasticism alone gives to the life of faith, to life in faith, the fullest development of which it is capable here below’
Today we are here for the funeral Mass and the burial of a monk. I purposely singled this out – the monk. With a person as gifted, as multifaceted, as complex as Dom John Eudes was, it would be very difficult to know where to begin. Physician, psychiatrist, linguist, scholar, preacher and speaker, Secretary General of our Order at a most critical time, Abbot of this community for 30 years. The one with the faith, the stubbornness to push through two daughter houses in the so-called Third World. In his late 70s, the superior of a monastery in the Philippines and in his 80s the editor of Cistercian Studies. And in his 90s, still working on his Russian. Spiritual guide, counselor, friend, magnetizing for life so many at their very first meeting with him. Where do you begin?
What stands out is something he shared with me when I was a novice. As I remember it, he said he was looking out a window at Gethsemani, in the evening. Whether he was a novice or a professed monk then I do not remember. Inexperienced as I was I did not realize the import of what he was telling me then. After close to 28 years in the monastery, I think I know now – he was branded in a flash with what I now dare call the annihilating sense of the majesty of God. You don’t recover from this. It takes no prisoners. I think of that verse from Psalm 39 – look away that I may breathe again before I depart to be no more. This is not for the timid. If we all experienced him as the iconic monk, the modern day Desert Father, I believe this was the secret. He could not but be the monk. You do not become a monk by living in a monastery or putting on a habit or fussing with the minutiae of monastica. You become a monk only when God is all in all. This is the organizing principle. Fr John Eudes had it to the full. All of you who have met him can testify to this. He was the monk. As an abbot, and as specially as a retired abbot. I saw this first hand for myself. So here is a personal testimony.
The consensus was that Fr John Eudes should stop driving. But how? And who was to be the fall guy? He loved the hermitage and driving was the key to remaining at the hermitage. As you know, one winter, he slipped, fell and broke a bone and was holed up in the infirmary. I was told ‘Now is the time to pull the plug’. It is now or never. That’s all very good unless you are the one who has to bell the cat. So finally, after dragging my feet, I very reluctantly went ahead. It felt like patricide to me. I was visiting him in the infirmary, engaging in pleasantries. Another part of me wondering when to stick the knife in and run for my life. So I gingerly stepped off the cliff – Father, I said, you know you will not be able to drive anymore. There the terrible deed was done. I held my breath for the explosion. None came. He looked at me and said ‘This comes as a shock to me. I think otherwise but if that is what you want, I will accept it.’ No protests, no wrangling, no implied threats, no end runs, no mental reservations, no nothing. The abbot took the place of Christ for him. And above all and this is why I admired him all the more, there wasn’t the slightest trace of resentment. He was too big a man for that.
We are here to thank God for the life and witness of Fr John Eudes. He fought the good fight and has run the race well to the very end. May the Father whom he served so well in this life, and with such holy fear and filial reverence, reveal the full measure of His glory and mercy and love to him forever.
All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.