The following homily was delivered by Abbot James Albers at the Mass of Christian Burial for Br. Lawrence Bradford.
I had the privilege of offering Mass at the Mount the day after Br. Lawrence died, and I was talking with one of the sisters about Br. Lawrence. In speaking with her, I commented that Br. Lawrence’s death was difficult because he was one of those monks who was St. Benedict’s Abbey. If you sat down with him you would undoubtedly feel the spirit of our community, and you would surely get to hear a story relating something about our lives in community, or a story of Br. Lawrence’s work in one of our apostolates, or something about his family and growing up in rural Kansas.
Brother Lawrence had the knack and ability to share himself, his work, and share our community with others through the sharing of story. There wasn’t a time of community recreation or community discussion that Br. Lawrence didn’t have a good story to tell. And all the monks knew that if you wanted to hear a particular story, you just had to push the right buttons and without directly requesting it, Br. Lawrence would not disappoint.
Bring up classroom management, or final exams, or the state of education today, Br. Lawrence would tell the following: “I was preparing my Intro to Biology class for an exam, and a student asked me, ‘Br. Larry, why do we have to know this?’ I told him, ‘So you won’t be an idiot all your life.’”
Brother Lawrence had stories that he liked to tell when conversation centered around particular former students, like when one mentioned Fr. Joe Taphorn’s name – Sorry Fr. Joe – Br. Lawrence would always tell the following: “Joe Taphorn is the only student to whom I had to deliver a final exam while he was in jail.”
I think Br. Lawrence relished telling that story mostly out of thanksgiving for Fr. Joe’s standing up for the unborn, rather than the fact that he was in jail, or maybe he reveled in both.
Then if you pointed out to Br. Lawrence that he was a walking, talking encyclopedia, he would immediately jump into the story of how a confrere at community recreation one night pulled out the almanac and was quizzing Br. Lawrence on different facts.
The confrere asked, “What is the circumference of the earth?”
Brother Lawrence asked, “Equatorial or Polar?”
Stunned by the additional question, the confrere blurted out, “Equatorial!”
Brother Lawrence responded, “24,925 miles.”
The confrere, so proud that he had “stumped” Br. Lawrence, revealed that Br. Lawrence had missed it by a whopping 24 miles, and the room roared.
And then when the conversation turned to sports – Br. Lawrence being the person most uninterested in sports that God ever created – Br. Lawrence would remind us of the year he chose to participate in an Abbey Fantasy Football League. After the teams were picked, a confrere showed him how to activate his team on the internet, then Br. Lawrence never looked at the website again.
Not having made a single roster move all season, not even pulling up the website again, Br. Lawrence was so proud that he was crowned the 2001 Abbey Fantasy Football League Champion – I’ve tried this approach, and it generally never works.
It was through his storytelling that Br. Lawrence was able to pass on the gift of himself, and the gift of his faith, as, whether he recognized it or not, these stories were a tool through which he became an evangelizer.
Our very faith is the result of good storytelling, the story of the Jewish people and the first Christians who experienced the living, human presence of God in the person of Jesus. To tell a story is to relate one’s relationship.
The story of the Scriptures is relating our journey of faith with God through the Old and New Testaments. Our storytelling becomes a tool for evangelization as we share how this living God, now present and true, has touched and changed our lives through our reading of the Scriptures and the sharing in the Living Bread, Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
Evangelization happens through our telling of this story and the impact it has on our lives and the life of the community. Saint Paul tells us in today’s second reading that he has a duty to preach the Gospel, to share this story of our Savior, and he adds, “Woe to me if I do not preach it!”
Saint Paul makes clear that our storytelling is not for the sake of entertainment, rather it is a way to share our relationship with God, to speak about what it means to be human, about the meaning of life, and about our faith, our culture, and our community or family.
Telling the story about Jesus and our relationship with him is to share how he has worked in our lives, giving hope to others for the potential way in which Jesus can work in theirs. For Br. Lawrence his sharing of stories was his way of sharing the gift of his relationship with Christ, to evangelize through story and the community, making Christ present in the here and now. To remember a past event is more than to recall it; it brings the happening out of the past and applies it to the hearers who are present.
Our gospel then signals that when we offer these recollections of our faith, it is more than making the memory present, but making the very person of Christ present. Do this in remembrance of me; and This is my Body, and this is my Blood. When we remember sacramentally, when we remember in communion of faith, there is something much more present than the memory.
We know that Jesus is different from any other person in history. It is the great people of the past that we recall, but Jesus is alive and present today, and it is in our remembrance, it is in our telling of the story that it happens. This is the gift we have to offer, and it is a story that can never get old.
It is the story of mercy.
And while Br. Lawrence had the great gift of being able to share a good story, I think his greatest gift was being able to forget those not-so-great stories and forgive; those moments that might have brought him personal hurt, but moments he soon forgot about, and from which point he continued to build relationship. This is an example for all of us who might be hanging on to past hurts, recognizing that our lives are far too short not to forgive.
When Br. Lawrence decided to stop treatment for his cancer a week ago this past Saturday, there was a steady stream of guests who came to visit him, while the monks began our around-the-clock vigil with him.
Witnessing this stream of friends and confreres wanting to honor Br. Lawrence at his time of death, what I took in the most was hearing the stories that were related back to Br. Lawrence – Collegues, friends, family, and confreres, sharing with him the memories and stories they shared together, all the while ushering Br. Lawrence into the liturgy that is the giving over of our lives, the liturgy of death.
And as these stories were told back to Br. Lawrence, as these times of friendship and mutual growth in Christ and community were shared, tears welled up in Br. Lawrence’s eyes. It is my hope that he, at that moment, recognized the role he played in evangelizing us through what he shared.
As we lift up Br. Lawrence – our confrere, teacher, mentor, and friend – we offer our prayers for his eternal rest.
And it is in the context of the great story of the life, passion, death and Resurrection of Christ that we lift him up.
In our remembrance here this morning of Br. Lawrence, in our retelling of the story of the Sacrifice of Christ, thus making present his very Body and Blood, we shall see with our own eyes, as the Book of Job reminds us, and from our own flesh, we will see the very God who created us; and our “inmost being is consumed with longing.”