Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Introduction to the Last Homily of Fr. Christian Mondor

Notes: Friar Ryan Thornton reflects on his experience of accompanying Friar Christian Mondor on his last days prior to embracing Sister Death. This article was first published in WestFriars vol. 53, no. 6 (November/December 2018).
(l-r): Friars Ryan Thornton and Christian Mondor

As you all know, I have been covering for Fr. Daniel and Fr. Vincent for the past two weeks while they have been on pilgrimage in the Holy Land. When Fr. Daniel asked me 9 months ago whether I would do this, I had no idea that it would entail being with Fr. Christian in the last week of his life and then preparing his funeral. But I’ve come to believe that it was meant to be, that God wanted it this way if for no other reason than the following.

The first day I was back in California, before I had even made it to Huntington Beach and was still with my parents, Fr. Christian called me and invited me to visit him. He had not done this with any of the other friars, and as much as Fr. Christian had every intention of getting out of the hospital, I believe that this was his way of letting me in should he not. It was a spiritual intuition, though, not a conscious one, because he quite adamantly informed me (on more than one occasion) that scientists believe the first person to reach 150 years has already been born and he still thought that this person might very well be him.

Fr. Christians lays his hands on Ryan at his priesthood ordination
Fr. Christian accomplished many things in his life, but that would not be one of them. He spoke his last right before they began the treatments aimed at saving his life, and that same evening he was given the Anointing of the Sick; two hours later, he passed from this world to the next. It was April 25th. I, the youngest Franciscan priest in California, had anointed Fr. Christian, the oldest, on the third anniversary of my ordination. Those two moments, our two lives and ministries are now forever connected. I can only aspire to be the kind of priest that Fr. Christian was, and with his prayers and God’s grace perhaps, after many, many years, it might be so.  

Until then, I would like to share with you what Fr. Christian was saying in his final days. Because even though his voice was hoarse and the doctors told him not to talk so much, that could not and would not stop Fr. Christian. Each time that I saw him during that last week, he gave me another, slightly different version of the same discourse, and I have put it together here—as best my memory and wits allow—into what I have called, “Fr. Christian’s Last Homily.”

 The Last Homily of Fr. Christian Mondor, OFM

            “All my life I’ve been learning, and I’m still learning. They’ve been teaching me how to breathe here, but I also think that I am teaching them a thing or two. I’ve always been a short breather, but now I have to concentrate and take these long breaths to let the air get all the way into my lungs. When I do this, I think about the ruah, the breath of God that hovered over the waters (cf. Genesis 1:2). God’s breath, His spirit was there at the first moment of creation, and it is still here in His creation. Because He and His creative act have not stopped.

            You know, I’ve preached many times about how the theory of evolution does not in any way contradict the Catholic faith. People have come up to me afterwards and said, ‘Do you really think that we came from monkeys?’ And I tell them, ‘Yes!’ God could have started the process to make us before we ever came to exist. In fact, that process is still going on. The universe is expanding! When scientists, astronomers look at the edge of the universe, they see that it is moving outwards, it is still going and growing larger. What does this mean except that God isn’t finished yet?

            God is still creating. Paul was wrong: the pleroma (πλήρωμα), the fullness of time has not yet come (cf. Galatians 4: 4). The universe is not completed, God’s plan is still opening up to us. We are evolving, and our understanding of God is too. How could we say that our conception of God who is beyond time and space, which are themselves expanding, is not expanding as well? Because these concepts are the only ones we have and God is larger than them, then God is infinitely, infinitely beyond our understanding. This infinitude of God means that our finite minds must evolve to receive Him. As He expands our universe, we must breath in to let Him continue to create and recreate us. It’s all connected.”
-- Thus ends the homily. And while his last words were addressed to me, I believe that they were meant for us all. "Keep working," he said to me as they prepared the treatments to save his life. "Keep working."
Friar Ryan Thornton made his solemn profession as a Franciscan in 2014 and was ordained a priest in 2015. His ordination took place at Sts. Simon and Jude Parish in Huntington Beach, CA where he still serves as part-time parochial vicar when not in school working on his Ph.D.; it was during one of these periods of time that the events described occurred.

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