O UR CITIZENSHIP IS IN HEAVEN WHENCE WE LOOK FOR OUR SAVIOR, THE LORD JESUS CHRIST( Philippians 3: 20). What St. Paul is stating here is that our real home land, the place where we fulfill our duties and enjoy our rights as members of a commonwealth, is with God, in his presence. That is whence Jesus will come as our Savior, to give us true life. Our attitude, meantime, is to be one of expectant longing, not just patient endurance. These are certainly appropriate reflections to dwell on at this occasion when we are offering this Eucharist on behalf of our Brother Sylvester who died yesterday after more than half a century of looking with expectancy for the Lord to come.
Those of us who were privileged to share Brother's confidences knew him, not only as a dedicated monk, which was recognized by all, but also as a very courageous man. He had learned to confront and overcome physical fear early in his life, in his boxing career, and especially in the war, where he was often exposed to danger of death. He managed to survive twice when the ships he sailed on were destroyed in action. Even more importantly, he had acquired a moral courage that he maintained throughout his life as a monk, and which never forsook him throughout his various labors and sufferings. He was a straightforward man who was direct and open in his dealings with others, and loyal to his brothers. Fidelity to one's commitments and community is the fruit of no small virtue and Brother Sylvester was surely outstanding in this form of constancy right to the end. The disease he suffered from for almost twenty years had caused him to forget many details concerning his life, but he never forgot he was a monk, and obedience remained an important value for him. He also was firmly committed to prayer; until the day before his death he regularly was present at the divine office in spite of his weakness.
Br. Sylvester served as porter for many years and in that capacity his concern for others found a broad scope for expression. He made numerous friends many of whom were attracted by his genial manner and profited from his sound advice, including those who were not members of our Church. One such woman who belonged to no Church felt so indebted to his help that she requested that he preside at her funeral. That seemed exceptional enough that I agreed and he carried off the charge with dignity, giving edification to all her friends. Regularly I am asked by persons of all situations " How is B. Sylvester doing? He was such a good man."
The secret of his steady cheerfulness and fidelity was his relation with the Lord Jesus which was one of fervent love. He mentioned to me more than once that he was convinced that Jesus had made him his friend and had told him so explicitly and on several distinct occasions. The conviction that he lived and walked with the Lord as with a friend who shared all things and promised to come gather him to the Father at the end was the ever flowing source of his quiet joy. His constancy, his willing spirit of service and his generosity were the overflow of his inner life with the Lord Jesus, whom he knew as savior and friend. Brother Sylvester was not a man of many new ideas, but he was a profound person with the right convictions that made of his a true man of God given to prayer and service. In this way he fulfilled the description of St. Paul of what we are all called to be and how we are to live in this world that I cited at the beginning of this talk: OUR CITIZENSHIP IS IN HEAVEN WHENCE WE LOOK FOR OUR SAVIOR, THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. As we offer this Eucharist at the burial of our brother today, let us ask the Lord to take him as his friend before the Father, bestowing on him the gift of that eternal life that brother sought so faithfully and constantly in his days among us. And may he bring us all to that same life with the Father, we pray who, having been blessed with his presence among us for so many years, now that he is gone from our midst feel the poorer at his departure.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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