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Posted October 16, 2009 in Memorials:
Both Father and Son

by Fr. David May.

This is adapted from the funeral homily for Albert Osterberger. The Scripture readings are Mt 5:1-12; Rom 8:14-23; Ps 22.

When I was a young staff worker living at the farm, Albert, who was farm manager at the time, was my director. I was angry at a number of things, including Albert. He was the latest in a series of people I was angry at.

One day while I was making cheese, he came to me and said, "Dave, I notice you’ve been kind of angry lately."

"Oh?" I said. Actually I hadn’t really been aware of it, but he helped me to see it. In what he said, there was no—absolutely no—accusation or condemnation, no "shape up" undercurrent. None of that, none. Just something like—I don’t remember the exact words—"We all carry hurts in life, and with God’s help we can work through them."

It was that that started me dealing with that particular difficulty. Other people helped, too, but it was Albert who started the process, and he continued to play a key role in it.

That’s how he began to teach me, as I presume he taught many others, what it means to stand before God, waiting on him until he answers, because you have confidence that he will answer. You don’t pretend to know how he does things. You don’t pretend to understand it all. You have confidence, so you don’t need to escape. You don’t need to run away.

Albert not only knew how to be father; he also knew how to be son. You have to be a son before you can be a father.

In the reading from Romans in the funeral Mass there is a paradox.

At the beginning of that section we hear that we are co-heirs with Christ, that we are the adopted children of God, that we cry out "Abba," "Father." But at the end of the reading, it says, We groan inwardly while we wait to be adopted into sonship. Good old St. Paul!

I was moved to pick this reading for Albert’s funeral Mass because I think Albert knew and lived this paradox. And I don’t think he learned it just at the end of his life.

I think he knew for years that God was his Father and that he was truly his son. I think Albert really knew that prayer, "Abba," "Father."

I think he also knew and lived the second part of the paradox. We and creation, in spite of this attainment of the first fruits of the Spirit, groan! We cry out.

The words in St. Paul’s letter are strong: From the beginning until now, the entire creation… has been groaning in one great act of giving birth, and not only creation but all of us who possess the first-fruits of the Spirit, we too groan inwardly as we wait for our bodies to be set free (Rom 8:22-23).

Yes, creation groans with a terrible groaning, and so do we.

Now I have to say—and not just based on the last few years of Albert’s illness—that Albert was someone who knew how to groan in the Spirit. He groaned at the incompleteness of it all. And that groaning became a prayer.

Especially when he was director general of laymen, Albert was involved in many conversations. For most of his time in the apostolate, he was at the heart of everything going on in a visible way. In the midst of whatever was happening, wherever it was happening, there was Albert. That was his call. And it’s from that place that the groaning went forth.

All the communications he engaged in—with the men, with Catherine, especially! So many times it took heroic efforts to understand one another. And there were so many set-backs and so many victories.

But it wasn’t all groaning. Albert loved to converse. The conversation could be joyful as well as anguishing, but either way, it was something that he did with great depth and frequency.

When I think of Albert, I think especially of the farm, because I was with him there for my first three years as a staff worker, when he was farm manager.

The farm is for me a symbol of the groaning of creation. There’s nothing more beautiful than the farm in its full fruitfulness of crops and animals and of people being transformed. It’s a beautiful work of God.

But there are also times when nothing seems more futile than farming—when the crop fails, or you don’t know what to do, or you wonder how you’ll get all the work done or there’s no rain. There are bound to be setbacks and failures, and there is no guarantee of success. You struggle mightily with that.

All of life is like that, of course, but farming is particularly out of your control. You have to depend on God.

I remember, in seminary, being told by an urban and urbane professor, that there really wasn’t any point, if you had the right understanding, in praying about the weather. It was, he said, naïve to do so.

I was fresh off the farm. My hand shot up and I said, "It’s obvious you’ve been living a life divorced from the land for too long."

I told Albert about that exchange. "Oh my goodness," he said. "Good for you!"

How many times did Albert say to me when he was director general something like this: "Oh, it’s just so much more than I expected. There’s so much going on here. It’s impossible to keep up with it. I never would have dreamed it would be like this."

He was just kind of in awe and bewilderment—but he stood there while the Holy Spirit burned away the chaff, purifying him. He stood still, offering it all to the Father.

Albert exemplified that experience for me. But in fact, we all live in some version of that "not yet", as our own faith gets purified. Though it’s true that we are sons and daughters of the Most High, we have to be purified in the fires of experience.

How deep does it really go? How far does it really extend—this intimacy with God, this confidence in God? The fires of God reveal, but not only do they reveal, they also extend it in us. Trust, I mean. Faith. Confidence.

When I looked at the list of gospel readings for funeral liturgies, the first one I saw was the Beatitudes. I didn’t need to look any further (though I did!). Albert was a man of the Beatitudes.

By surrendering to God’s providence and plan in his life over and over, he allowed the fire of the Spirit to purify him so that he became an offering. I don’t mean just in the last few years—in which he certainly was that—but for a long time. Because he allowed his spirit to be softened by the Holy Spirit, his very life was an offering, an offering for others.

That’s what the Beatitudes are: the fruit of the softening of the Spirit. The hard edge has to go. We all have to pray for that, so that meekness and mercy and poverty of spirit can grow in us, so that we become ready to receive like little children whatever God gives.

What is the blessedness of the Beatitudes? Did you ever wonder about that? It says, "Blessed are they … for the kingdom and mercy and consolation are theirs." Union with Christ, in other words.

And when you have the blessedness of the Beatitudes, your life becomes a blessing for others.

Blessed are the poor in spirit … your poverty of spirit blesses others and helps them to stand in trust. Blessed are they who mourn …, your tears wash away the pain of many.

Blessed are the meek, for your tenderness (as for me that day in the cheese house) breaks hardness of heart. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure in heart; they see God in you. This is true even though you yourself may not see it.

Yes, I believe that Albert was a man of the Beatitudes, a man whose life calls us to long for and to embrace the Beatitudes of Christ.

True blessedness is not perfection from day one. For most of us, it’s a long process, a growing openness to the grace of God. Catherine Doherty called it, "the journey inward."

 

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