Memorial Celebration for Brother John Vianney

Memorial Mass for Br. Vianney Rentmeister OSB

October 26, 2017

Isaiah 25:6–10a
Romans 8:31b–35, 37–39
Luke 24:13-16, 28–35

When people speak to me of Br. Vianney, they mention two things: he was the monastery cook for some 20 years and he was a brother on the road, making contacts that lasted for years. This boils down to food and making contact with people, creating links for the missions and for friendship.

It seems appropriate that when we gather to remember the dead, we hear words from Scripture about food. Food and drink, good food and drink, is one of the images bequeathed to us about our future. There is a direct link between the food and table we sit at here and the table that is in our future. How can what is of necessity (no food, no drink, we die) in this life actually be a hint of and a share in the life to come? Doesn’t this life pass away? How is it that the tables of this life already point to another table? We eat the food and it is gone! Can it last?

But we know that eating and drinking is more than filling the stomach. At the heart of eating and drinking is communion; eating and drinking together creates a bond among those at the table. The food taken in common does more than quiet growling stomachs. The food and drink are shared and in that sharing the lives of those who eat and drink are shared. The joys and sorrows, happiness and pain of those at table are also shared.  From the experience of being alone or isolated, we come to know that we are also with others. To prepare the food that others will share and so enter into communion with one another is an honor as well as a task. One is preparing others for communion. One is pouring one’s own life into the food; one’s labor, time and imagination are all found in the food we find on the table. To share in food placed in front of us is already sharing in a work of service and love. Communion with one another in love through food—is that not a touch of the future, of life eternal?

Isaiah thought so. For him God was the one preparing the food. Rich food and choice wines, he sees. He sees the best, because he sees that when God prepares the food, the life and communion hidden in sharing the food do not end. The death, the separation that comes when we leave the tables of this earth is healed. The hint of eternity in our daily common meal is now real, it is completed. Br. Vianney’s meals, whether we found them tasty or not, were in reality pointing us as a community toward the fullness of communion in what we call the heavenly table or banquet. Of the many human, even ordinary, experiences we have, the common meal of sharing food and drink together is one of best images we have of the new life of resurrection. In that new life, any veils over or shadows on our table companions here are gone. Anything preventing a full communion with one another here is lifted and we are face to face with one another in all our beauty, tenderness and love. Whether we knew it or not, these were hidden in the food we shared day in and day out. Now they come into full communion.

Our gospel story this evening is likewise a food story, a bread story. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus are surrounded by death, disappointment and hopes dashed.  They are separated from one whom they came to love and one who loved them. They are at a low point. A stranger walks along with them. Evidently, the word he speaks causes their hearts to wake up, to become warm again. As he communes with them in word, they are consoled. Even more, their lives begin to have meaning again. They said their hearts were burning…..they were coming alive, throbbing with new understanding about what happened to this Jesus on whom they set their hopes. In their excitement, they offer hospitality to the one awakening meaning and hope in their lives. They share bread. Then suddenly in the sharing of bread, it all comes together. Communion happens in a flash. It is in the bread broken; communion happens when bread is broken and shared. But they came to realize that it is precisely Jesus, whom they know, that can both be broken and bring together.  They only saw bread broken, death and separation. They thought it was the end.  Then they saw and heard a stranger. Then the stranger’s gesture triggered memory; they remembered that pouring out a life, breaking a body was an act of love. It was a gesture for others; hidden in the food was a whole life lived for others. When Jesus does that, then he is alive. The words and the breaking of bread is the sign of resurrection. The simple food contains love and life. These never end.Br. Vianney went on many trips, drove down many roads and was welcomed by many people. He listened to many words, heard many stories. He was offered food and drink. In it all was he not creating communion and solidarity in faith among those who welcomed him? In the communion he maintained with many over the years, I would guess he encouraged many to see beyond their disappointments, sorrows, pain and loss. He no doubt invited them to look deeper and farther to see a living God who will not allow anything to stand in the way of his loving. For our God does not see separation in all its faces, but sees only a communion of all who said yes to his love. Yes, our God sees them and is already preparing that table of rich food and fine drink from which we will never have to rise again.

Joel Macul, OSB