Monday, May 09, 2005

Just found out two more heroes passed away, but last year... not much was made of it in the Catholic press, but they weren't well-known... Eternal rest, grant unto them O Lord...

Archimandrite Boniface Luykx (1915 — 2004)

As Christians throughout the world were joyfully singing “Christ is risen” this Easter Sunday—in faith—Fr Boniface was singing it in the presence of the Risen One Himself. He passed from this world early Sunday morning, the feast of the Resurrection of Christ. It was fitting that he who so loved to celebrate this feast, and who preached every year that this was the day for us to “rise with Christ,” would rise with Him unto eternal life on that very day.

Most of our readers know of Fr Boniface’s distinguished life of service to the Church, the many books, studies, and articles he wrote, the monasteries he founded, the countless retreats and seminars he gave, as well as all the personal hardships and sufferings he endured for the love of God. There is a bibliography and other information in the book of essays written in his honor, Following the Star from the East.

Yet when we finally stand before God at the end of our lives, it is not mainly our accomplishments that will enable us to enter His Kingdom—however much they contributed to the good of the Church—but the faith and love God finds in our hearts. As Fr Boniface often said, we take nothing with us when we die except our relationship to God. So rather than speak of his accomplishments, what I would like to do here is simply to share a few reminiscences from my own experience in the monastery, since I have lived with him for approximately the last 20 years of his life.

When I entered the monastery, Fr Boniface was in his late sixties, still full of spunk and fire (more than I have in my mid-forties!). Only a few years before, the first foundation of Mt Tabor, in Dorris, CA, burned to the ground. Undaunted, he persevered and finally found the beautiful spot where the monastery now stands. He was not one to be intimidated by any obstacle to fulfilling his calling from God.

We were extremely poor in the beginning (now we’re just relatively poor!), and the vow and virtue of monastic poverty were always important to him. He embraced poverty almost to a fault: part of what he ‘’bequeathed” to us included huge quantities of more or less useless pieces of pipe and wood, bent nails, and almost anything that could conceivably be used for something someday. Yet we learned much from him about the spirit of poverty, which we continue to live today. He showed us how, by seeking the “one thing necessary,” to live without many of the amenities that so many take for granted. A little wisdom goes a long way in learning how to live a simple life and to be faithful stewards of what God provides.

Fr Boniface was a complex personality in some ways, yet he always sought peace and simplicity, and to impart to us a love for the simplicity of the life of the Gospel. He could be funny and charming, and he could be strict and inflexible. He was uncompromising when it came to defending the teachings of the Church, opposing liturgical abuses, and speaking out against the social and moral evils of our day, yet he had a soft heart for the poor and broken who often made their way to our gate.

Two things that struck me in a lasting way about Fr Boniface were his faith and his endurance in suffering. His belief in God and his faith in His presence in the sacraments were unshakeable. He had great reverence for the holy things and he spoke about the reality of God with the utmost confidence, having experienced the presence of God in powerful ways. And he put his faith into practice. I remember once when he had been confined to a wheelchair, we invited a man with a healing ministry to come and pray for him. After he had prayed, Fr Boniface simply put his faith in the power of God and exclaimed, “Well, if I’m healed, I should get up!” He rose from his wheelchair and never returned to it.

Yet he was afflicted with many other sufferings and endured them without complaint. Once in Africa he spent a night in a morgue, having suffered such serious injuries as to be considered dead. I was often amazed at his ability to celebrate the long services when he was in pain, and to endure the hardships of fasting and other monastic penances, at an age when most men are enjoying their retirements in relative ease. He rarely complained about his sufferings, though we did have some idea of what he had to endure. I learned a lot from his patient endurance. As a very small example, once when I wanted some sandals in the summer to get some relief from the heat, he showed me the high army boots he had to wear because of certain disability with his legs and simply said, “I wear these.” OK, I thought (getting the message), I’ll just endure a little more heat and offer it up.

For Fr Boniface, the Eastern monastic tradition was the best way to fully live the Gospel, and he never tired of “selling” it to anyone who would listen. He would always say, and with good reason, that there’s no better place to celebrate Holy Week and Easter than in a Byzantine monastery. He would impart to us, through classes in the monastery and in the Sheptytsky Institute lectures, his knowledge of Eastern theology, spirituality, and liturgy. We gained much valuable knowledge and insight from his vast learning and experience. I remember on several occasions, before he had to return to his home monastery in Belgium for the last few years of his life, hearing an inner voice that said, “Learn from him,” as if he would not be around much longer. I took it to heart and tried to learn and integrate the best of what he said and of the example that he gave.

Many people loved and respected Fr Boniface. He had a way of endearing himself to people, yet sometimes his intransigence on certain issues would make him seem to some anything but endearing. I have seen people walk out of our church during certain of his homilies, when he firmly took an unpopular (but orthodox) stance on some of today’s controverted issues. Yet most would gladly come back for more, having had enough of “politically correct” preaching in other places. We do our best to continue this tradition of upholding the teachings of the Church, however unpopular they may be to those who have capitulated to the spirit of the world.
Fr Boniface presided over both the material as well as the spiritual growth of the monastery since its tender beginnings in 1972. When I first came to Mt Tabor, it was little more than a forest with a church and a little house. When he told me the plans of where the novitiate and other buildings would be, I saw only a bunch of bushes and trees on a sloping hillside, telling myself I’d believe it when I saw it. But soon I found myself standing there, ax in hand, ready to clear a suitable area to build. Fr Boniface had great respect for the land and natural resources, so we tried to nestle our buildings among the natural growth without clearing out too much of it—often to the dismay of some of those who worked with us and didn’t like bumping into tree limbs when they were putting on a roof!

Age and deteriorating health began to take their toll on our founder. A certain crisis developed in the community, initiated by one who rebelled against the authority and person of Fr Boniface, and who tried to get others to do so as well. Unfortunately, Fr Boniface did not respond to the situation in the best way, and it only grew worse. As Providence would have it, however, those who were dividing the community were expelled, but it also became clear that it was time for Fr Boniface to retire and to dedicate his time to writing and prayer in a different environment. It is not easy for a captain to leave his ship, and his tenacity (and what we sometimes called his “Belgian tact”) made the transition to new leadership just a bit rough, but Fr Boniface did return to work in Europe and eventually to retire in the monastery of his profession in Belgium. There he continued his work and correspondence until the time when the decline of his physical and mental abilities made it impossible. We kept in touch through letters and prayers until he could respond no more. He died in a Catholic nursing home and was buried in the cemetery of his original monastery.

Archimandrite Boniface will always be remembered for his strength of character, his undying faith and love for Christ in the Holy Trinity, his dedication to the Gospel and to monastic life—and for the twinkle in his eye. The children loved him and sometimes mistook him for Santa Claus or even God the Father. Once a child looked at him with bulging eyes, asking, “Are you…are you…?” He replied, “No, but I know him very well!”

We who continue to live monastic life at Mt Tabor will always be grateful to him, for this monastery would not be here if it weren’t for his vision, his labors and prayers. We hope and pray that this present stage of our history will see new growth in wisdom, holiness, and fidelity to the monastic life. We are here to serve God, but we would also like to make our founder proud of us. As we pray for his soul, we ask him to pray for us as well, for he walks no longer by faith, but by sight. May his memory be eternal!
—Abbot Joseph

From Second Spring:
Obituary. The death took place on the 22 October 2004 of the theologian Louis Bouyer of the French Oratory at the age of 91. A friend of Balthasar, Ratzinger and J.R.R. Tolkien, and a co-founder of the international review Communio, Bouyer was a Lutheran who converted to Catholicism in 1939. He became a leading figure in the Catholic Biblical and Liturgical movements of the twentieth century, was an influence on the Second Vatican Council, and is best known by many for his excellent writings on the history of Christian spirituality. His passing seems to have gone relatively almost unnoticed so far, but he deserves a flood of major tributes. His books are highly recommended (for example, The Invisible Father, a history of religion published in English in 1999).