A Tribute to Father James
By Brother Mark Dohle, OCSO
The death of a good friend.
(Fr. James Behrens may he rest in peace)
But it is precisely through human weakness, our vulnerability, in which we come to know a deep and abiding love that is ours through the gift of another who cares for us. And we learn as well the richness of the treasure that is Christ within us, a treasure whose wealth becomes fully ours only when we no longer have the strength to resist it. James --Stephen Behrens, O.C.S.O
It is always a shock when death comes knocking. I guess we are never ready for it. The closer we are to another, the more we are, of course, wounded by their passing. Fr. James was like a brother to me. He was a man one could be comfortable with. He was a man of depth and compassion that came out in his writings. His stories about the people he met perhaps just once, or stories that he wrote about those he knew, were filled with compassion for the human condition.
Over the last few years, he has grown frailer but remained independent, fiercely so. He has had mounting health issues over the years which he had borne with patience. He did not like to talk about his health and to tell the truth; he really did not take good care of himself. I guess many men are like that. He just lived every day the best he could.
People loved to come and visit James, and even when it was an inconvenience for him, he always showed up and was cordial, and loving, to all who sought his company.
We all grow old with our families, friends, and with those, we know over the years. It is a particular species of suffering that I believe we all experience when we see those we know, age, and grow in fragility. The closer we are, the deeper the pain. It is just a part of life. Most embrace that reality and love and care anyway. A heart that is alive will feel loss, a necessary part of loving another human being. It is well worth it. We all know that when there are two, be it in friendship, or marriage, one will go before the others. As I age, I seem to be the one who is left. It only makes life more pernicious, and others beautiful in their fragility.
I am a better person for knowing Fr. James. His love of words and their meaning made me more aware of the importance of writing. Perhaps if I did not know James, I would never have begun my own journey when I was 50 years old, to write. His photography made me aware of how precious each moment is, and how fleeting it all is. I am sure this is true for many.
James, you will be missed by many, for many loved you, thank you for your quiet friendship and love.
Below is a piece James sent out by email to his many friends on the 25the of July of this year. I do believe that on some level he knew that he did not have much time left in this world.—Br.MD
“We hold this treasure in earthen vessels that the surpassing
power may be of God and not from us.”
When I read the opening line from the first reading about the treasure that we hold in these earthen vessels of our bodies, the treasure being the life of Jesus that is within us, I thought back to a homily Gerard gave many years ago. He spoke of how we grow old and weak. And it is then that we are in need of the care of another, care that we are no longer able to provide for ourselves. For most of our lives, we can depend on our health and strength to fortify us, to keep at bay the need for another to feed us, bathe us, comfort us. We are then stripped of whatever defenses we had used to resist the ravages of human weakness. For there comes a time when we learn what it means to be limited, finite, and in need of another to care for us. It is then, in the nakedness of our own vulnerability that we receive in its fullness the richness of the treasure that lies within us. The love and tenderness that is God comes to us through the caring hands of another. We can no longer keep a safe distance from our weakness as it strips us of the last shreds of our self-reliance. But it is precisely through human weakness, our vulnerability, which we come to know a deep and abiding love that is ours through the gift of another who cares for us. And we learn as well the richness of the treasure that is Christ within us, a treasure whose wealth becomes fully ours only when we no longer have the strength to resist it.
++James Stephen Behrens, O.C.S.O