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A Carmelite Obituary

alec vanderboom

One of the most healing things I can do to help myself "cast off the old self" is to read the obituary column of our Carmelite Magazine. For 35 years, I've read countless obituaries of famous and important people in the New York Times. These obituaries are filled with notable achievements, long lists of Corporate Boards Run, Public Service Awards received, and Academic Degrees Awarded from prestigious colleges.

Since a Carmelite's primary purpose is to despise wealth and worldly honors, the loving tributes of dear friends from the convents and monasteries are quite shocking to me, a barely formed Catholic still marked by the world's definition of "success." I find myself constantly surprised and reassured that the first thing mentioned by a deceased prioress is not her term length or her "accomplishments" but instead "the beautiful smile" she gave to everyone she met.

A recent Carmel Clarion features the obituary of Brother Antonine, a former cook at the Washington D.C. Carmel Monastery. Brother Antonine's prior described his main virtues as "affability, hospitality and faithfulness."

I was shocked to see the virtue of affability so eloquently described by Prior Marc Foley. "Affability is the duty of justice, it is a kind of debt of decency, writes Thomas Aquinas. Affability is the virtue of maturity and not of youth. It requires the discipline and strength of character to be even-keeled in one's demeanor, regardless of how one is feeling. It is that reare species of charity, the heroic strength that does not inflict one's fluctuating moods upon others.

Br. Antonine had the virtue of affability to a high degree. Regardless of how he was feeling, in spite of the fact that he often dragged himself through the day, Br. Antonine was always patient, gracious and courteous to those he met. Thomas Hardy once said that people are like planets. In their orbits, they carry around their own atmosphere. The atmosphere that everyone breathed in Br. Antonine's presence can be described in one word-welcome. St. Therese once said that when a request is made of you, you should respond in such a manner that the person who has made the request "believes that they are doing you a favor in accepting your services." In this regard, Br. Antonine was a true devotee of St. Therese." (Clarion, November 2009 pg. 15.)

Before reading this illuminating obituary, the virtue of affability wasn't even on my radar screen. Whenever I got tired or discouraged (something that happens often in my pregnant state) I'd pray to God to quickly solve the problem. For example, I wanted my sciatic nerve pain to disappear so that I could clean the kitchen floor. I never thought to pray for the grace to be "affable" while experiencing back pain. Yet "affability" will make all the difference in my vocation as a wife and a mother.

With God's grace, can I too develop the "heroic strength to not inflict my fluctuating moods upon others?" The virtue affability will be a great one to pray for during my next four months of pregnancy.

Thank you Brother Antonine! May the Angels and Martyrs greet you and lead you to heaven!

Let's also remember to pray hard for an increase of vocations to the religious life. Those chaste Brothers in their hidden lives leave many valuable teachings to us, their spiritual daughters in Christ!