"It is...Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as 'profane novelties of words,' out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: 'This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved' (Athanasian Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim 'Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,' only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself." -- Pope Benedict XV, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum 24 (1914)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Burial of Elderberry Connection Founder Thomas Berry (CP)

Thomas Berry

Laid to Rest in the Arms of the Meadow:
A Grateful Tribute to Thomas Berry
June 8, 2009

by Clare Hallward

Like Francis of Assisi, Thomas Berry’s life testifies to the indestructible human spirit.

A day never to be forgotten. It dawned clear, warm and sunny with the occasional white cloud floating over. From all over the east of North America people drifted in to the Green Mountain Monastery in Greensboro, Vermont, where Thomas Berry had requested that he be buried, in a meadow beside the Monastery he co-founded in 2000 with two Passionist Sisters, Gail Worcelo and Bernadette Bostwick. It was the first Catholic community of nuns to be dedicated specifically to the healing of the earth.

We gathered outside the monastery where we could hear the strains of music being rehearsed. They asked us not to come in just yet and had pinned up the order of things as they would unfold. Another door was out of bounds because a nest on the ceiling light had baby birds in it that were just very recently hatched.

At 11am the Monastery bell peeled out and we all fell in line to do a walking meditation round the front of the Monastery. There must have been over a hundred people. Gail walked ahead and sounded a Tibetan bowl from time to time.

Then she directed us to line up in front of Frederick Franck’s statue of St. Francis of Assisi donated to Green Mountain Monastery in honor of Thomas Berry. Jennifer Morgan, who wrote those wonderful books for children about The Great Story – Born with a Bang and Mammals Who Morph – read out loud this dedication written by Franck when he was 96 years old:

I dedicate this steel icon to the deathless spirit incarnate in one of the most precious of my contemporaries. Like Francis of Assisi, Thomas Berry’s life testifies to the indestructible human spirit, the surviving triumph of human wisdom over all the follies and cruelties of our generation.

We then processed back slowly into the Great Room and gathered around the casket and the altar for Mass. Musician Paul Winter pierced the silence with his soprano sax in a prelude that was part lament, leading participants into a state of presence and contemplation. Sr. Gail welcomed us and regaled us with a few stories of Thomas Berry. Sr. Kathleen Deignan CND, sang "O Thou Who Clothes the Lilies" as the Response. Her voice rang out most beautifully, followed by a recorded greeting from Thomas Berry about the almost limitless number of good companions found along the way.

The Eucharist was celebrated by Fr. Stephen Dunn CP, representing Fr. Joe Jones, Passionist Provincial of Thomas Berry’s Congregation who had already had a Mass for him at the Passionist centre in Jamaica, NY last week. His homily started with telling us some of Thomas’ quips with which he loved to startle his audience!

Then Ann Berry Somers, Thomas Berry’s niece told more family stories about him and had us all laughing our heads off. One thing worth passing on was that when Thomas became a monk he was called "Brother" by his 12 siblings, so his nieces and nephews called him "Uncle Brother". Then, when he was ordained and became a priest, some people started calling him "Father Uncle Brother". She saw a lot of him; they used to have great intellectual discussion about the meaning of things. She was frequently with him in his last days and was very touched by the care he received from the staff at his residential home. She had a great sense of humour, which I am at a loss to reproduce.

I thought of many of you who I wished could have shared the day but who were unable to come. I hope this gives you at least a flavour of it.

After more magnificent music, we were all invited to anoint the casket in preparation for giving Thomas back to the meadow which we did by dipping our fingers in the oil and marking the casket in any way we wished. After we had chanted the Our Father the Communion Reflection was played by Paul Winter followed by the Voices of Aurora Sacred Music. There was a period for silent prayer after the communion, and the Closing was “Songs of the Angels” by Bob Dufford which echoed through the rafters. Gail explained that the burial of the dead goes back to the Pleistocene era (from about two million years ago ending about 11,500 years ago). She invited a group of a few women who did some ritual gestures circling the casket and then asked for strong men to carry the casket up the hill to where the grave was prepared.

We all made our way up in silence passing through two women who offered the purifying smoke of cedar. They had dug a grave in front of a large stone in the meadow with a cherry tree planted each side and some flowers around the stone, which will be his headstone. Once we had all gathered round the site, Paul Winter's soprano sax rang out and then Thomas’ closest friends helped lower the coffin into the ground followed by the tolling of the Monastery Bell – the special toll used only to mark the passing of a life.

The Sisters’ choir sang “Bathe him in Your Love” by Joe and Maleita Wise. We all either took a shovel or handfuls of earth, mixed with soil from Greensboro, North Carolina where he was born and died, and threw them on the coffin. Some threw rose petals. I sensed him nestled snugly and contented in the heart of a meadow – that meadow he saw at age 11 which somehow came to signify his life’s orientation: whatever preserves and enhances this meadow in its natural cycles of transformation is good; whatever opposes this meadow or negates it is not good. That simple and that pervasive. He wrote, "In this little meadow the magnificence of life as celebration is manifested in a manner as profound and as impressive as any other place I have known in these many years.”

Moving back down the hill we were all invited to help ourselves to some food in a tent which was set up, and people sat on chairs or on sheets on the floor and talked. I wandered round some of the paths surrounding the Monastery, looked at their straw bale Hermitage and the Yurt among the young fir trees, but I felt too full to overflowing to take much more and decided to return to my B & B where I went for a longish walk through their Nature Trail near Lake Caspian about six miles from the Monastery. I missed a further walking meditation at the Monastery, then wine and cheese sharing reminiscences about Thomas Berry – which part of me regrets I did not go to, but I knew I needed quiet at that point.

I thought of many of you who I wished could have shared the day but who were unable to come. I hope this gives you at least a flavour of it.

To learn more about Thomas Berry, please visit this site.


Thomas Berry Burial Site

Thomas Berry, at his request was buried on our land on June 8, 2009 and we are deeply honored to be the place of his final rest.

We chose the meadow as his burial site because it was the deep archetype of the Meadow, (which represented the entire Earth Community) that Thomas carried with him throughout his life. His religious orientation, it seems to us, had its origin in the deep Mystery of the Meadow, where he experienced Earth as the primary revelation of the Divine.

The Meadow also influenced his intellectual life and became the norm for his entire range of thinking. Whatever preserved the Meadow was good, whatever opposed the Meadow was not.

Thomas understood the exquisite presence of the Meadow’s diverse members to one another, each reflecting the numinous mystery that fills the Universe.

He pointed out that destruction of the Meadow would be reflected in our own inner depths and referred to this as SOUL LOSS. Thomas would say, “What we do to the outer world, we do to the inner world.”

As a boy of eleven years old, Thomas caught his first view of the lilies blooming in the Meadow across the Creek and dedicated his life to this vision.

In a gesture of gratitude, the meadow has taken him back to itself in a full embrace.

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