Arise, shine out Jerusalem, for your light has come!
The Epiphany is a feast of light: the light of Christ coming into the darkness of our world; coming into the darkness of our lives. He is the light of divine revelation, and the light of salvation, and of life. He comes to burst asunder our ignorance, to destroy our death, to bring us out of our darkness, and to God; and to bring God to us.
The glory of the Lord is rising on you, says Isaiah, though night still covers the earth, and darkness the peoples. Yes, this too is part of our faith. The light shines on those who have eyes to see it. For the rest, the darkness remains. To our eyes there is light, glory, wonder, in Jesus; in the baby in the manger; in the child adored by the Magi: he is God made man; he is the Saviour here among us; he is our Lord and God, clothed in humility, but still adored by the Angels, and by those very few given the grace to recognise him. But to the eyes of the world, and of mere nature, to the eyes of Herod, and of the Scribes and Pharisees, there is here nothing whatever remarkable; only ordinariness; only one more child born; one more hope, perhaps, to be raised then dashed; or one more threat to be overcome; ultimately only one more little human story, ending as they all must in loss and death.
But Isaiah continues: Lift up your eyes and look around: all are assembling and coming towards you... For Christ is actually the centre and goal of all history, as of our own lives. All must come to him, just as all must go to death; whether with faith, or without it. At this sight you will grow radiant says Isaiah to Jerusalem. And so as we look forward to meeting Christ, we too grow radiant; for we know that this encounter will be for us the height of joy and gladness; that it will have power to transform everything, turning all to good, lifting us up, healing all our wounds; and if there is pain and suffering to be endured on the way, once we get to heaven, all that will be at an end forever.
Our faith tells us that all this is true; but how nice it is, how consoling, and encouraging, and helpful, when you see it lived out, and clearly manifest, in the life of someone you know well. So our Br. Meinrad, who died on Thursday, was a great witness to the light of Christ, and to the truth of the Gospel. As a matter of fact, he knew a good deal about darkness in his personal life.
His own Catholic faith received a startling boost of some sort in his mid 30's. I’m not quite sure how it was. Our Lady was certainly involved. Henceforth anyway he wanted to live for God, to pray for sinners, to prepare for his own death. Very surprisingly, and against almost every natural inclination, he landed up here in the late 1960's. Even more surprisingly, he stayed. Pluscarden in those days was definitely rough and ready; the accommodation was spartan, and the brethren included some rather odd characters. The only reason he stayed is because he thought the Lord wanted him to; but also he always thought that the blessing of the Lord, in spite of everything, lay on this place.
Br. Meinrad kept the light of Christ always before his eyes, made it his goal, and centre, and supreme love. Because of that, he was able, in his quiet way, to draw others to that light; also to be a force within the community somehow of cohesion, fraternity, good spirit, good humour, and steadfast fidelity. He was no scholar, and was not at all drawn to scholarly interests, but he loved the Divine Office, and he remained faithful always to his own devotions and prayers.
The worth and the power of all that came out at the end. Br. Meinrad had faults; plenty of them actually; and he wore them on his sleeve. But they weren’t the point, and in the end they just didn’t count for anything. At the age of nearly 83, he found he had cancer, as had so many members of his family. A minor operation gave some respite, but then it became clear that there was nothing to be done for him, and that he had not long to go. He accepted this without fear or distress; certainly without resentment. Mercifully, after a spell in Aberdeen hospital following an infection, he was allowed to come home and to die in his own bed. At the end, astonishingly, he was on no medication whatever, and even said he had no pain, and no discomfort.
I dropped in for a chat a few days before he died, and will never forget the smile with which he greeted me. We talked about prayer. He very much regretted he was no longer capable of reciting the divine Office, and even sometimes had difficulty getting through his rosary. But I’m sure he had reached the stage of continuous prayer in God’s presence, without the need for words. He said he was not at all bored lying there all day, and was perfectly content, in every way.
We had a community celebration of the anointing of the sick in his cell a week or so ago. Then Fr. Abbot’s idea was to say Mass in his cell and give him Viaticum in the presence of the community this last Thursday. But in the event Br. Meinrad’s decline was too rapid. As a matter of fact, then, it was I who gave him his Viaticum when I brought him Holy Communion from our Mass last Wednesday. On Thursday Fr. Abbot dropped in early in the morning, and gave him sacramental absolution. Then at 11.00 we all clustered around, inside and outside the cell, to find Br. Meinrad obviously very near the end. We brought the Blessed Sacrament anyway, and went through the rite, with all of us affirming our baptismal faith, as at the Easter Vigil, and rejecting the devil. Fr. Abbot gave him the Apostolic Pardon, with Plenary Indulgence, using the cross Abbot Alfred had as a Capuchin friar. I had the impression that Br. Meinrad was aware of this. Then we recited the Lord’s prayer; and at the word “Amen” he was gone.
That was obvious, so there was nothing to be done but to press on straight away with the prayers of final commendation: Go forth upon your journey Christian soul...
So may Christ receive him into his eternal light, and may Br. Meinrad intercede for all of us, that we too may safely arrive there to be with him in heavenly glory.