Posted July 23, 2010 in Memorials:
He Lived for Others

by Charlie Cavanaugh.

As I looked upon Ronnie in his coffin during his wake, my heart was filled with gratitude and encouragement. This brother of mine, whom I had known for more than thirty years, had lived a beautiful, faith-filled life, and (something important to me) he had done so as a layman of Madonna House.

To see the Christian life so faithfully and joyfully lived in the community to which I also have been called, filled me with hope that I too could come to such a happy end.

I met Ronnie when I came as a guest to Madonna House in the fall of 1977. Shortly after my arrival, I was assigned to work with him at the farm, where for many years he had been in charge of animal care.

My first morning, Ronnie and I set out to gather the grass which he had scythed on the farthest pasture. We raked and forked the loose hay onto a wagon, piling it high and then took it to feed the cattle. This was a second cutting of hay, and in a humble but effective way, Ronnie was "gathering up the fragments lest they be lost."

Ronnie had a heart for poverty and for the care of the earth in the service of God’s people.

He also had a generous heart—sometimes expressed with a kind of impish humor. On another occasion we set out with post-hole digger and steel bar to finish fencing a very hilly part of the pasture.

Ronnie was thirty years my senior, but he was almost running from post hole to post hole. I resolved to keep up with him. With pounding heart and sweaty brow, I followed him, "dancing" from one post hole to another, putting the new posts in place. With considerable effort, I managed to keep up with him.

When Ronnie cheerfully left me to carry on the job alone, I was filled with a sense of accomplishment. I had learned that, not only could I be generous like Ronnie, but I could also enjoy it.

Another early recollection occurred when, having been away from the farm for more than a year, I returned with several friends. It was Ronnie who welcomed us and visited with us.

As we chatted with him, he somehow communicated to me that my friends and I were the most important thing in his life at that moment. This left me with a lasting impression of the importance and beauty of Christian hospitality.

Hospitality was a way of life for Ronnie. I saw it again and again over the years.

Moreover, Ronnie was always looking for new opportunities to communicate good news to others—whether by letter, by attending a community meeting, or by sitting down with the most newly arrived guest at our communal teatime.

Board games and cards, which many of us play at community teatime, was not for Ronnie. He wanted to look you in the eye and talk with you. He was happy to talk about anything but was especially eager to talk about matters relevant to cultivating a truly Christian economy and culture. He could always talk a long time and knowingly about recent developments in these areas.

Ronnie loved poverty and his poverty was rich and fruitful in so many ways: And the poverty he lived was not only material. For example, to the end, he made it a point to ask forgiveness of others for any way he might have hurt them and to assure others of his forgiveness of them.

When I lived with Ronnie, both at the farm and later at our house in England, I would see him praying in the chapel both very early in the morning and at the end of the day. So it was obvious to me that it was not from his own resources that he drew the strength to work hard and to be joyful in his hospitality.

Ronnie left behind him a long trail, not only of clothing and water bottles (Ronnie was not a tidy man) but also of kindness and lasting friendships.

Even up to my last visit with him, two days before he died, Ronnie’s interest was still focused on others.

Ronnie was sitting alone in St. Mary’s dining room before an unfinished dish of fresh fruit. Everyone else had just gotten up to do the dishes. I sat down next to him—not quite knowing what to say. He had recently announced to everyone that his cancer was beyond treatment or cure and that he would die soon.

He was smiling, radiant even, and he gave every indication of interest in the few incidental bits of information which I passed on to him. Even at this point in his life, his focus was not on himself. In fact, up until then, he had been continuing to attend prayers and Mass and come to meals. He had even attended a recent staff meeting!

On the morning of his death I accompanied several of the men in the community to his bedside where, moments before, the prayers for the dying had been said.

We prayed and gave thanks for his life and then returned to our dormitories. It was still early morning.

When we arrived there, we noticed something in the sky. Directly above us was something that looked like a rainbow. It had the same colors as a rainbow but was smaller and "upside down." It looked like a smile.

We later learned that this phenomenon is called a circumzenithal arc, is rare, and only occurs when certain conditions are just right. We could not help but think that God was smiling down on our brother who had lived and died so beautifully.


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