Homily for the Funeral Mass of Fr. Rembert Gehant, OSB

 

The Gospel reading for the funeral Mass was from Luke 7:11-15

Let me offer words of consolation to the family and friends of Fr. Rembert. Thank you for joining us this morning to lay our Brother to rest. One of the downsides of living so long is that there are few left to mourn your passing. We in the community here are in a better position to appreciate his many qualities, as a person and as a monk, because we have lived with him for so many years. Father was the second oldest among us. There are seven monks professed longer than he, but only one who is older, Fr. Theodore. Be consoled that Fr. Rembert lived and died among his monk-brothers. He never regretted the vocational call he responded to with such generosity.

The short Gospel passage from Luke reveals Jesus’ encounter with the widow of Naim just outside the gates of that little village. They are only a few words, but they offer an eternity of hope. We could put together a chain of passages showing the deep compassion of Jesus, and His great power, even over death itself. Ours is a short passage. It tells how Jesus, out of compassion, raised the young son, her only son, being carried to his burial. Jesus restored him to his mother.

Three times the Gospels report Jesus’ restoration of life to a dead person. There is this son of the widow of Naim. There is the raising of the daughter of Jairus, and the calling forth from the tomb of Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary. Only in our passage is the relative for whom the miracle was performed unknown. Jesus, in each case, was moved with compassion for the living. It is that compassion we call upon today, not that He should restore physical life to Fr. Rembert, but that He will raise him up to a high place in heaven. The story of the raising of the son of the widow of Naim is told in only a few words, but an eternity of hope is given in the story of the compassion of Jesus.

We are confronted with death again this morning, death that stalks our every step. It behooves us, as St. Benedict says, to keep death daily before our eyes. As surely as Fr. Rembert watched and waited, we are watching and waiting for our hour. Step by small step, minute by minute, we are closing in on death, and we need to move along, sure-footed, to the great mysteries that await us. We can approach death with confidence and hope because of the teaching of Jesus. Fr. Rembert’s death and burial confronts us with the reality that, like him, we, too, will die and be buried. What we are at that moment will depend very much on how we live this moment and all the moments still at our disposal.

For Fr. Rembert, death came only after years of preparation. For him, the progression was slow, as age dug into his body, and of late, his mind. In a way, it was sad to watch this stripping away of humanity, but it was his lot and will be for most of us. We do well to prepare our hearts for these coming events and to deepen our faith in the verities that underlie it. Such faith is the foundation of our hope.

Fr. Rembert was quintessentially a quiet man. Who else would press his forefinger against his upper lip to hold back laughter like it was a sneeze? He seldom raised his voice. If he was quiet, and he was, he could blow you away with his occasional comments. At times, this meek and quiet man was a flaming liberal. He obviously thought deeply about his faith. Not infrequently, he probed deeper than more faint-hearted would dare to go. He was not obsessed by issues of the hour, though he could speak of them. He could and did turn his mind to sports, politics and news of the day with ease and zest. He lived his life with an intensity of dedication. He was always where he should be at the appointed times. His life was a model for us, his brothers and, in the larger scheme of things, for the world. He was a quiet man, but the example of his life was a shout before the throne of God, surely heard in the heavens and in its muffled tones in each of us.

It so happened that I was with Father when he died. Sad as it was, it was a lovely moment. Br. Paul and Novice Arthur were also there. We like to think we saw his lips move in prayer as we prayed aloud at his bedside. We called on Mary to pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. I am sure she did. Perhaps a little off tune, but with touched hearts, we sang the “Salve” calling upon our sweet Mother to be mindful of him and of us all. May he rest in peace.

Copyright © 2008 Saint Meinrad Archabbey