do not disappoint of me hope: for fr. ray
I’m down in San Luis Obispo where we celebrated the funeral for Fr. Ray Roh, OSB Cam. yesterday––as a matter of fact, stranded here due to yet another rock slide on the PCH! This was my homily for the Mass.
I came pretty late to know Fr. Ray, really just only in the last three and a half years after he came and asked if he and the community could transfer their stability to our Camaldolese Congregation from the Olivetan Congregation. I mention that because I am really not in a position to eulogize Ray. In any case, I always feel the need to start out a homily at a funeral Mass––or in this case especially I should say a Mass of the Resurrection––by reminding the assembly that a homily at a Mass for the Dead is not supposed to be about the deceased anyway. It’s supposed to be about Jesus, the Gospel, and even more specifically, it is supposed to be about the Risen Christ. Or maybe even better to say it’s about the relation of the one who has died to the Risen Christ.
And that’s what makes this one easy, or at least gives me an easy entry point. The first thing I thought of when I was considering this homily was the fact that Ray was the founder of a place called the Monastery of the Risen Christ. It was Ray who came early to this area, found that property, established the non-profit corporation and, more importantly, named it the Monastery of the Risen Christ. This is not a typical name for a monastery. As a matter of fact I could not find one other monastery anywhere named the Monastery of the Risen Christ, and it is all the more poignant for that reason.
I’ve been re-reading N. T. Wright’s marvelous book Surprised by Hope recently, the subtitle of which is also important: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. Bishop Wright’s central thesis is that the “…early Christian future hope centered firmly on resurrection” but most of us tend not to understand its centrality. The folks who deny the resurrection (or dismiss it off as a pious myth) tend to rely too much on the social gospel and think that everything is about building God’s kingdom on earth––without God’s help! On the other hand, those who think that resurrection is only about our bodies dying and our souls going to heaven are also missing the point. What may be kind of surprising is that the first Christians “virtually never spoke simply of going to heaven when they died”; they did not simply believe in life after death. The resurrection is what gave them, and ought to give us, hope to live, to suffer, and to work for the coming of the kingdom. “… if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized and directed by the Spirit,” he says, we can and must “build for the kingdom.” I think that’s a phrase that could describe Ray’s ministry as a priest and his life as a monk: building for the kingdom, energized and directed by the Spirit.
In another phrase that I think Ray would have loved with his background in the Charismatic Renewal, Bishop Wright says that “the new life in the Spirit, in obedience to the lordship of Jesus Christ, should produce radical transformation of behavior in the present life, anticipating the life to come,” even though we know that we shall never be complete and whole until the life to come. The hope that the resurrection inspires––and specifically the literal resurrection of the body of Jesus, the empty tomb––is what gives us the impetus to build, to inaugurate, the reign of God. No, we don’t imagine that “we can build the kingdom by our own efforts without the need for a further great divine act of new creation.” But at the same time, “doing justice in the world is part of the Christian task.” Hence, caring for the earth, caring about the social order, caring about economic justice. As Wright says, we are called to “inaugurate the eschaton.”
That got me thinking about hope and disappointment. In my conversations with Ray the last few months, after he found out how ill he was, I got the sense more than anything that he was a little disappointed. It was not that he was afraid of death, not that he didn’t want to see his Lord and Savior face to face; it was that he had had such hope. He had such hope, from the beginning, that the Monastery of the Risen Christ would thrive and stay Benedictine and stay in the diocese of Monterey. That’s why he came to us in the first place. And he had such hope that he would see it become something new under the Camaldolese. He had such hope that he himself would get to spend some years as a monk of our congregation. He had hope that he would get better!
I don’t think any of this was simply a clinging to life or a fear of death. This was the energy of the risen Christ, the power of Life in the Spirit that had impelled him all those years. That’s why he could take the leap to join Pecos after his first years as a diocesan priest, powered by new life in the Spirit. Just like he took the risk of coming out here to California to start this new venture (if I understand correctly, without much support of a skeptical monastic congregation, financial or otherwise). Just as he loved to teach and preach and sing; and as he loved to spend time with folks in spiritual direction, impelled by the Spirit of the Risen Christ. His life wasn’t based simply on longing for his body to die so that his soul could go to heaven. His energy, his hope was based on the Spirit of the Risen Christ. And as he got sicker, he was a little disappointed that he wouldn’t get to see those things come fully to their fruition. I wish I had remembered this Reinhold Niebhur quote in my last conversations with him, I would have told him, “Look, Ray, ‘Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.’”
And that made me think of another phrase that is very dear to monks. When we make our solemn vows we stretch out our hands and sing three times this line from Psalm 118: Receive me, O Lord, as you have promised and I shall live; do not disappoint me of my hope. We sing that at the beginning of our monastic life, as we are preparing to live, not as we are preparing to die. But Ray had to sing it again, just over a month ago, January 6, when he and Fr. Stephen officially were accepted into our congregation. Part of that ceremony was actually to renew their solemn vows. And once again, Ray, perched in his wheelchair, sang out, with his own melody, Receive me, O Lord, as you have promised and I shall live; do not disappoint me of my hope. That takes on a whole new meaning now.
In my last conversation with Ray, he knew that the time was short and he let me know that he was ready and that the Lord was near. But ultimately his hope was in the Risen Christ anyway, and in the Spirit of the Risen Christ, the one who promised that those who believe in him would never die. Receive me, O Lord, as you have promised and I shall live! In that hope he is not going to be disappointed. Now, after a life of putting his talents to use building for the kingdom, energized and directed by the Spirit, the radical transformation has happened and he is complete and whole in the life to come.
Well done, good and faithful servant! May you be received by the Lord as he has promised. In this hope you will not be disappointed. Enter into the joy of your master!
 N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, 41.
 Ibid., 208.
 Ibid., 221.
 Ibid., 216.
 Ps. 118 (119):116.