Homily for the Requiem of Br Meinrad Gibson OSB (1934 – 2017)

‘It will be said on that day, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation”.’

It’s a beautiful thing happening today. The soul of our much-loved Br Meinrad is being taken up in the Eucharistic arms of Mother Church and presented to the Most High while his body is entrusted to Mother Earth, under the grass he so regularly mowed.

‘It will be said on that day, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation”.’

‘What is it to believe?’ asked the Welsh poet, Waldo Williams. And he answered, ‘Giving solace / Until deliverance arrives.’ Br Meinrad, you gave us over so many years such a full measure of solace, and now your deliverance has arrived. These words are for you: ‘This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’

It’s a beautiful thing how, through the celebration of the Mass, someone we have known, treasured, laughed and moaned with can be taken on their final journey to the arms of the Father by the prayer of the Church, the word of God and the body and blood of Christ. The Greek word for the great Prayer of the Eucharist is ‘anaphora’. It means offering. It means a carrying up, taking away, bearing a burden. My brother used to call Br Meinrad the monastery’s MTO – Motor Transport Officer. Certainly he spent a great deal of time in, on, under vehicles of one description or another. He was famous for this. The words ‘Ford Transit’ and ‘Br Meinrad’ will be for ever joined in the monastic memory. Now, all of us here, our respect and affection, the breath of the Holy Spirit, the cross of Christ, the prayers of Mary, the angels and the saints are carrying, conveying, transporting him to his eternal destination. Our Head who is Christ, the Body which is us, together carry this lightest of burdens. Tayport, the steel works, Cardiff, National Service, Edzell, Pluscarden, the laundry, the kitchen, the workshops, the choir, the chapel; Ghana, even; the everlasting Dean, the Subprior, the Prior. We are carrying all this – to him who says, ‘Come to me, all you who labour and over-burdened, and I will give you rest.’ ‘Rest’ was high on Br Meinrad’s list of desirable things.

It would be a temptation to tell stories of Br Meinrad. When, after a long blank time, four youngish men appeared in 1969 wanting to be monks, why was Br Meinrad the last to pass through the monastery door? Because he paused on the drive to smoke his last cigarettes. (Of course, they weren’t!). But the temptation must be resisted. It would be tempting to tell the tale of his long years teasing a rather proper, literal-minded and very precise brother. ‘What is the exact time?’, Br Meinrad would innocently ask. With a flourish, the brother would draw out his pocket-chain watch and solemnly tell him the time. ‘Are you sure?’ our hero would ask. ‘May I just check?’ and then draw back his own sleeve to reveal some 3 or 4 watches on his arm. But the temptation must be resisted. There was the memorable visit to the monastery of Kornelimuenster in Germany. There was the long love affair with Baxter the cat. But the temptation really must be resisted… There was this delightful, mischievous side to him. But not that only.

Is what goes on in monasteries real? Well, Br Meinrad was the real thing, the genuine article. ‘Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool…But this is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word’ (Is 66:1,2). Something real went on in the heart of James Gibson, and it kept doing so. And so he became a monk, and he went on ‘monking’. Not because he had read it in books, not because he was forcing himself to embody an ideal, but because he really did fear God in the biblical and Benedictine sense. He took God seriously. God’s name, God’s word, God’s grace, God’s love: he took them seriously. He was ‘always mindful’. He kept the day of judgement before him. The last thing he said to me was on those lines. My strongest memory of him when I was a young monk was of the one who stayed behind in the oratory to pray. He embodied so much of the monastic ‘thing’. He had a quiet heart. He kept himself at peace. He was a restful person to be with. He was the un-self-conscious catalyst of the community. He glued us together. He carried the culture. He had it inside himself. And so, he had the respect of realists and idealists, the young and the old, the bookish and the practical. He gave us all solace, until his deliverance arrived. He did it just by being around. He didn’t particularly talk the talk – though he could come out with penetrating one-liners – but he did walk the walk: sometimes with a sigh and a grumble and rather slowly, but always steadily, and all the way to the end. He was the real thing.

But perhaps saying too much of this may be a temptation too. The monastic life is a treasure. And two things need doing with a treasure: it has to be protected and it has to be shared. Br Meinrad did the first. He was one of those blessed monks, without whom the monastery cannot stand, who doesn’t go out and about, hardly ever gives a talk, isn’t widely known, doesn’t have or need a great outside following, doesn’t write books. We don’t read that St Joseph went around, saying, ‘Have you met my son?’ He just protected the treasure, and Mary too kept her son’s words in her heart. Br Meinrad was a Nazareth man. For all his brotherliness, there was a solitude to him. God formed it in him. He had depth. It wasn’t murky, but it wasn’t free of suffering. And there he protected the treasure and the treasure protected him. ‘Alive or dead, we belong to the Lord,’ says St Paul. Living and dying, first and last, he was and is the Lord’s, and ‘each one of us, the Apostle says, shall give an account of himself to God.’ Each one of us. I think we should respect this. Christ will give him rest. Christ will give him solace. Until the day of resurrection breaks, we can let him stay hidden with Christ in God, under the shadow of his wings. There is something here that calls for reticence, something to be treasured in the secret places of the heart. St John Cassian says that the death of a brother can pierce the heart and provoke conversion. Our best tribute would be to take the Lord as seriously as Br Meinrad did: this man who was so good to be with. So let us entrust Br Meinrad to his deliverance. Let us leave him to its silent joy. May he really, truly rest in peace.

(Pluscarden Abbey, Friday 13 January, 2017)


RC Diocese of Aberdeen Charitable Trust.
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