Wednesday, November 7, 2007

In November, We Remember

“The following confrere died on the 12th of February:
In 2006, Friar Edward Dunn. A native of Pennsylvania, he was invested in the habit on September 13, 1975, in Sacramento, California, professing his simple vows in 1976 and solemn vows on September 14, 1980, while stationed with the Las Vegas, Nevada community. Shortly afterwards he spent six months in Central and South America, studying comunidades de base. From that time on he immersed himself both in formation and missionary work, a truly apostolic friar who also had enormous influence in the area of social concerns. Wherever he was assigned he worked tirelessly for the poor and ceaselessly promoted justice for minorities. In 1997 he established an outreach community in San Diego and in 2003, became the assistant formation director of the missionary experience in Mexico. He also served two terms as a definitor of the Province. Due to prolonged illness he was last assigned to Mission San Luis Rey, where he died. 56 years old and 29 years professed. Buried in the friars’ vault. May his soul and the souls of all our departed brethren through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.”

Every day, in each of our friaries— either at community prayer or just before dinner—we read from our provincial necrology about the brother/s who died on that day. “Necrology” is a rather bloodless term, isn’t it, for what is not just the listing of our deceased brothers, but rather more like a short biography which is read aloud before the assembled community. It is a wonderful custom in the Franciscan tradition. It’s a way not only of praying for our deceased friars, but also of calling them to mind and including them in our living community.

Often, after the necrology is read, we’ll turn to an older friar and ask: “Did you know that friar? Or were there any stories about him told around the Province?” And quite often, someone will remember the person. Or some personal tale or else an historical nugget culled from their biography. Like the one about the friar who, in the late nineteenth century, was shot-- by an intruder? Or maybe another friar?—at one of the old missions. The plot thickens; no one knows for sure. Or, at least no one is talking.

But it’s not just about the lurid lore and old yarns. Reading about and praying with and for our deceased brethren is a poignant reminder to us of our roots and inheritance. And of our own vulnerability as well. Of the ways in which one lifetime upon another, one generation after the other has formed our uniquely Franciscan family history over the past eight centuries. In the case of our province, our communal memory stretches over a two hundred years (and under four separate national flags) in this part of North America.

Re-membering helps us to see how we are all of one cloth and kin.It makes us aware—acutely so. Not just of our ancestors in faith and community. But of brothers, whether well-known or unmet, who were called to Franciscan life just as we ourselves have been. Men who gave their hearts and souls to living the Gospel and sharing it with their brothers and others. In that living and sharing many of their lives have not been unlike our own, with their own admixture of struggle and doubt; confusion, fear, and loneliness. But also, warmth and joy, mirth and love.

In November, we remember. Brothers like Ed Dunn—a big loveable lug of an Irishman and an extraordinary brother. Warm and welcoming; full of life and wit and song and fun. Good, humanly holy and completely devoted to the poor and marginalized of Latin America. Loved and admired by his Franciscan confreres and many, many others as well. And-- also, a hopeless klutz behind the wheel of a car or at the command of almost any modern tool or invention (like the electric tea kettle he exploded in our Sacramento kitchen by placing it over a flame on the stove!)

May his soul and the souls of all our faithful departed brothers, through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

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