Homily for the Funeral Mass for Br John

Abruptly Jesus broke into prayer: “Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. You’ve hidden these things from the learned and the clever, but revealed them clearly to mere children. Yes, Father, that’s the way you like to work.” (Matthew 11:25-26)

Last Saturday, when Br John died, was a very full day. It was the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and so our mass was later that morning. At Morning Prayer Br Simon made his first profession as a monk. It was also the day of the beatification of the Atlas martyrs, those monks of ours in Algeria who were murdered for doing no more that we ourselves do here. To mark the occasion we watched the film, Of Gods and Men. It was half way through this that I was informed of John’s death.  In watching this film again I was struck by the pathos of life with all its symbolic acts, especially a life lived in a place so remote. In a post-modern world that increasingly cares little for the things of religion and meaningful acts, looking on these lives that were given, it seems to ask: For what?  It reminded me of the question from the Rule that I had put to Br Simon earlier in the morning: ‘Friend, what have you come here for?’ (RB 60:3)

In going through some papers of Dom Kevin, our first abbot, Br Luke came across a short reflection on the death of our brothers of Atlas. Fr Kevin wrote: “Even after these few hours since the news broke, we see the whole Church, while busy with so many things, pause in silent wonder at so great a love. … it has pleased God for his own purposes to draw the eyes and hearts of the world to these seven whose vocation as monks, and called to be a Christian presence in the Islamic world, had purified their love and made them transparent witnesses to Christ in his boundless gift of himself. … for ourselves as Cistercians, while much reflection is obviously needed, yet some precious truths already begin to emerge. … we see the world stand in wonder and [awe] at this story of what is perhaps the most fragile and one of the smallest abbeys of our Order. … there is evident a precious pruning away of what may seem important, but is obviously very secondary: our lives — and on the other hand, a highlighting of what is of real importance.” In Br John’s life, too, as he descended into dementia, we can see something of this precious pruning going on, and yet before his mental deterioration became more complete, there was always a gentle cheerfulness about John that suggested that he understood what was of real importance.

Another person, who together with some others, was also prompted to watch Of Gods and Men on the occasion of the beatification of the Atlas martyrs, said of it as it came to an end, “We looked at the footprints in the snow. We look at the men as they were being taken away. At the end of the film, there was a deafening silence in the sitting room that says a word has been understood, a message has been grasped, prophetic words illuminated by the testament left behind by Christian de Chergé.” St Paul’s words to the Corinthians came to my mind: “The language of the cross is folly to those not on the way to salvation, but those of us who are on the way see it as God’s power of to save. … It was God’s wisdom that human wisdom should not know God, because it pleased God to save those who believe through faith the foolishness of the message we preach. So, while Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, we preach a crucified Christ: to Jews a stumbling block they cannot get over, to Gentiles madness, but to those who are called, whether Jew or Greek, a Christ who is the power and wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-24) The fellow who made these comments went on to recall some other words of Dom Christian: ‘[As baptised persons] there is a presence of God among men that we need to assume,’ and then he noted: “These blessed men assumed it to the extent of giving their lives.  … This presence, which the martyrs of Algeria used to celebrate in the humility of their daily lives, is expressed by praise, by sharing and by the lives they gave.” This reminded of our Lord’s words in today’s Gospel: “Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. You’ve hidden these things from the learned and the clever, but revealed them clearly to mere children. Yes, Father, that’s the way you like to work.” (Matthew 11:25-26) Br John was one of these little ones who understood this, and his simple, humble life gave praise to God our Father as the Lord of all; John knew what he came here for!  We can be sure that our martyrs of Atlas will welcome our Br John as one of their number.

Br John was born in Bendigo on the 17th February, 1932, to Robert and Ellen Pocock. He was baptised Edward Patrick a month later. He was one of eight, his youngest and only surviving brother, Gerry, is with us today. On leaving school, John was apprenticed as a radio technician in what is now Telstra. He entered Tarrawarra in 1959 and was given the name John. He made his solemn profession in 1964. John did most of his studies here in the monastery. In 1989 he went on a Sabbatical in the Holy Land, studying Scripture at St George’s in Jerusalem. In the monastery he worked for many years in our dairy and, when we still did small square hay bales, he was in charge of building our haystack each summer. In later years he became our Guest Master. His warm smile was a welcome greeting to all who came.

His simple presence will be greatly missed.