Abbot Francis Kline died on August 27 after a long illness. A private
funeral Mass for him was celebrated by his community and family on
Wednesday, Aug. 30 in the small Abbey Church. Dom Damien Thompson of
Gethsemani Abbey, Bardstown, Kentucky, presided. The homily was delivered by
Dom Peter McCarthy of Guadalupe Abbey, Lafayette, Oregon and President of
the US Region.
Oh dark, dark, dark.
They all go into the dark.
The vacant interstellar spaces - the vacant into the vacant.
The captains, merchants, bankers, eminent men of letters
All go into the dark.And we all go with them
Into the silent funeral.
I said to my soul, "Be still
and let the dark come upon you
which shall be the Darkness of God."
My friends, the words are T.S. Eliot's but the experience is each our own-to
come together here-you and I-around the spent and broken body of our son,
brother, friend, father, Abbot Francis. It is wrenching-death-it is soul
numbing-it is so deep and vast it stretches the mind out into cavernous
darkness-and it breaks the human heart. And yet-this morning, among us, his
family and brothers and friends-this morning-death itself is the Word of God
written in human flesh-the flesh of our beloved Francis.
It is a loving and mysterious God decisively taking the pen from Francis's
hand and finishing his life story. Death is the joining-the wedding-of the
Word of God with Francis's completed earthly life.
And of all the Gospel choices for a funeral liturgy-if you hold up this
particular Gospel passage and place Francis's life next to it, you have two
prongs of a tuning fork. They literally resonate off one another-they sing
At that time Jesus said, "I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and
earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the
learned, you have revealed them to mere children." Matthew 11:25-27.
Now, Francis was learned. I think he was brilliant (but I may be prejudiced)
and yes, he could be wise.when he wasn't being exasperating and impossible
to understand! Which brings me to the point-Francis was the most child-like
person I've ever known and, if we leave that central fact, we lose him and
we can't do this lectio together around his body. We'll never understand.
Isn't it St. Bernard who wrote, "The human h! eart is born old and meant to
grow ever younger"?
Francis's heart grew ever younger. His was the heart of a child and because
of that he was an artist. You see, the artist is born of the child in each
one of us-Francis taught me that.
For although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, you
have revealed them to mere children.
We always lived our monastic lives in different communities. (This was
probably providential!) So you might say that our friendship was something
of a road trip, if not a road show, traveling around Novice Directors'
Meetings, Regional Meetings, and later, General Chapters. And there are so
very many wonderful and very funny stories. I was embarrassed to discover in
the last two days that most of you know many of them! So let me just share
an image from the Sufi tradition. It goes like this:
God and I?
We are like two big people in a very tiny boat
who are continually, unexpectedly bumping into each other
Now, just add a third big person and you have the experience of our road
Francis taught me what friendship is. It is looking out together at a world
far more beautiful, and funny, and sad, and tender, and fierce, and radiant,
and larger, and deeper than I ever suspected. He awakened the child in
me-perhaps to some extent he awakened the child in all of us?
Yesterday morning I received an email from a loving friend and mentor of
Francis over many years. Abbot Timothy Kelly could not be here this morning,
but I want his words to be part of mine:
There is just this great sense of loss which almost translates into a sense
of a loss of direction. In the midst of his bleakness that could be rather
strong sometimes and did make me wonder if he did not have some Irish in
him, Francis always had a hope that was enviable. Then his artistic sense of
beauty and proportion which was a burden also gave to life something of that
dimension of the Eternal. His passing is a real loss and to be selfish a
loss to me. May he remain in our midst to encourage us and make us laugh.
The Cistercian Fathers speak of the soul as a mirror--speculum-a lovely and
radiant image. Well, Francis had this huge soul-mirror inside him which
could make him at times very awkward, and frustrated, and frustrating! I
have never before or since ever experienced anyone who could register near
cosmic boredom in every facial feature no matter how sensitive the occasion
might be-this could include Regional Meetings and General Chapters! If he
couldn't find light-beauty, there was hell to pay! And yet.and yet.and this
is where the child comes in.he could find light-beauty in the most
surprising places! Francis could find light-beauty even in the Valley of the
Shadow of Death. I will never forget that unexpected phone call from the
floor of the day clinic at Sloan-Kettering when he suddenly announced he was
ending his treatments, and he was coming home to Mepkin to be here with the
brothers he loved. His voice was so child-like and it was as if he was
surrounded by light-beauty. That evening when I was attempting to reason
with him in a more "mature" way, I heard, "Peter, this will be difficult for
me to say and painful for you to hear, but there is something so utterly
beautiful in all of this-in each moment of all of this."
It was another child of the Word, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, reflecting
on death, who wrote:
The body is not a prison but an opportunity. We must distinguish between
being human and human being. We are born human beings. What we must acquire
is being human. Being human is the essential-the decisive-achievement of a
The Hebrew Scriptures speak of the death and the burial of a person as that
person being "drawn together to his people." We are his people and here we
are. Francis has called us to the sharp edge of a deep and painful
mystery--his broken and surrendered body--lying here at the altar of the
Eucharist. He draws us to the Light. He draws us together to the Beauty of
this Eucharist of the Resurrection this morning. And he meets us here
again-where he will always meet us-here again. And our shared lectio ends
here. Understanding, perhaps more deeply, those words of the first letter of
John, "See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the
children of God.
"Yet so we are."
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