Thursday, May 8, 2008

Br. Joachim October 13, 1916 – May 9, 2007

From the Abbey's web site: "Br. Joachim [October 13, 1916 – May 9, 2007] died at the Pasco Regional Medical Center in Pasco County, Florida [about 30 minutes north of Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida, USA], after a surgical procedure to improve blood circulation to one of his legs."

"Br. Joachim was celebrating his 50th Jubilee of Service this year (Professed: December 15th, 1957)."

In March 2007 Brother Joachim had fallen and broken his hip. Brother Joachim went through rehabilitation and was back at his Abbey in a relatively short time after his fall.

According to monks who knew him, Brother Joachim "is one of the gentlest and humblest people..."

I first saw Brother Joachim on the cover of the Abbey brochure when I first visited the Abbey. The picture shows 22 of the Abbey's monks on the steps of the Church of the Holy Cross. Brother Joachim was in front on his electric scooter. A monk is standing behind Br. Joachim with his hand on the scooter's head rest. It was a hand of: "I will take care of you."

The little story within the picture was one of those little things that caused me to become interested in the Abbey, and the Rule, and that led me to being especially sad when I learned that Brother Joachim had been taken to the hospital and a couple of days later that Brother Joachim had gone home to the Lord.

When I began attending the Divine Offices during my visits to the Abbey, I saw the "elderly monk on the scooter" expertly going in and out of the church. At times I was surprised by how quickly and precisely he could maneuver.

The monks had a special place for Brother Joachim during the Divine Offices. Next to the east choir stall by a column a little table was where his books were kept. He would just roll up and turn his scooter around and be ready.

Before the evening prayers Brother Joachim would be in a chapel praying with a few other monks and then his scooter would hum across the church to take his place before vespers began.

After the Divine Office, I would see Brother Joachim as he went out the back of the church with the other monks.

His 90+ year old face showed a heart at peace and filled with the knowledge of God. I never spoke to Brother Joachim, but that's what seeing him said to me.

Then in March 2007, after visiting the Abbey, I learned that Brother Joachim had been hospitalized after the fall.

The first time I saw Brother Joachim after he returned from the hospital, he looked a little drained, but I actually did not expect to see him back at the Abbey so soon. When he rolled past me in his scooter at the end of vespers, I looked up and smiled at him, he smiled back.

He always looked like the humble, gentle monk described by the monks who knew him.

He was old and his body was failing, but his smile was full of the Holy Spirit. He was certainly one of the memories I took with me on my way home after visiting the Abbey — all the monks and everything that happens is interesting, but a 90- year-old monk scooting around before and after the Divine Offices on his scooter and the care obviously shown to him by the other monks was all very Benedictine to me.

Actually, because I had absolutely no knowledge of being Catholic or Benedictine, it would be more accurate to say that it was seeing Br. Joachim's 50-year dedication to the monastic way of living and the other monks' support for him that helped define in my mind what it means to be Benedictine.

I will probably not have any direct association with any other Abbey. We know of the common ground of the Rule and the Catholic Church, but to some extent, for me, especially because I am not yet a Catholic and have no Catholic background — a particular Abbey is the Rule and is Benedictine life to me.

That is where I saw it lived by a particular group of brothers including that 90-year-old monk who rode on a scooter.

All this will be a topic for thought — the interaction between the Rule as a universal standard and its coming to life and being lived at a specific place by the particular monks. Many things are now different for Br. Joachim, but there is one thing that has remained the same — an outreached hand: "I will take care of you."

I still miss Brother Joachim.

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