Delivered by Fr. Jim Halstead, O.S.A., at St. Rita of Cascia Shrine Chapel, Chicago, on September 20, 2014
Today is the 15th day of death of David Brecht. It is the 10th day of his funeral.
Following the monastic tradition David knew so well and loved so much, we again gather to do three things: “to remember” David, “to console each other in our grief,” and “to assist David with our prayers” as he continues his journey to the place at the Heavenly Banquet Table, to the place in God’s dwelling prepared for him by Jesus Christ.
Ten days ago, Tim Cuny and John Brecht, David’s brother, helped with the first part of our mourning. Today the Tradition invites us to wonder more deeply. Certainly, we continue to remember, to console and to assist David, but a further question arises for us on this 10th day: What has the Lord of History been doing with David these past 75 earth-years? And what will God continue to do with David (and with us) as he (and we) follow the Way into eternity?
The prophet Isaiah gave a hint: “On this mountain, the Lord of Hosts will make for all people a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines; of rich food filled with marrow, of well- aged wines strained clear.” Isaiah believed that God has given us this good earth, this sensuous world, this beautiful creation to enjoy and to share in this life and into the next.
What has God been doing? Throughout his earthly life and into his future, God has been and is offering and nourishing David with “rich food and well-aged drink.” In the home of Lloyd and Mary Brecht, David’s parents, the arts of cooking, eating, drinking, and sharing of good company were parts of life. Tim Cuny spoke earlier of David’s own love for eating, cooking and sharing meals with family, friends and the communities in which he lived and worked. As I remembered David these past few days, I heartily agree. I remembered fondly the many evenings we and our confrères spent in Greek and Italian restaurants.
If I might, a story: While my parents had many gifts, the appreciation of high cuisine was not among them. In fact, the only cheese in our home was Kraft “Velveeta.” Wine? A bottle of Manischewitz reserved for a frequent visitor. Vegetables? Corn. The regular dinner? Lovingly prepared bread, meat and potatoes.
On my 21st birthday, David told me that I was a lovely boy, but that I lacked culture. He invited me to Leona’s Kitchen on Chicago Avenue for dinner – a three-hour dinner where we could eat and drink whatever Leona had prepared... for three hours! On my 21st birthday, a most delightful evening, David taught me the difference between cannoli and cannelloni, between merlot and cabernet sauvignon, between brie and gouda. That night I also learned the art of eating stuffed artichokes.
David Brecht was the man who taught me to eat foods that, as a boy, I would never have considered, to drink drinks I did not know existed and to enjoy lively conversations at a table of friendship. For his teaching the art of eating and drinking, I, and many others, am deeply grateful.
David’s love for physical beauty was seen by anyone who entered his spaces: his rooms at Tolentine, the home he furnished at Villanova University, his school offices, and the home he shared with Tim Cuny in Ray, Michigan. The furniture, the carpets, the artwork on the walls and his collection of porcelains were “totally tasteful.” David was the first person who corrected me regarding the terminology of interior design. What I called “curtains,” David called “window treatments.” The spaces he decorated and the buildings he built at Cascia Hall speak of David’s love of beauty, the beauty that points to and participates in the ultimate beauty that lured him throughout his life and which he enthusiastically sought.
What has God been doing with David for the past 75 years? In addition to food and beauty, God has been nourishing David with great music. As a boy he learned to play piano and organ. He studied Gregorian chant and loved Italian opera. One had only to listen and watch David sing the Easter “Exaultet” or the preface to the Eucharistic Prayer to experience a man transcending the everyday, abiding in a place with a Person beyond. From his personal experience, David knew what Pythagoras, Plato, and the Greeks knew: fine music is a participation in the order, harmony, and rhythms of the universe, of the Creator and creation itself. To make proper and beautiful music is to be at one with God and with all that is. Through music, God has been sharing Himself and drawing David ever more deeply into Divine Life.
I must say, David’s tastes were limited. While he loved Greek food, French furniture, and Italian music, I could never get him to join me at a Japanese restaurant or at a German opera. When offered dinner at Zum Deutschen Eck and the four nights of “Der Ring des Nibelungen” – 16 hours of GLORIOUS Wagner – David’s response was clear and direct: “How about the Italian Village and ‘Madame Butterfly’.”
David was a Catholic Christian and an Augustinian priest. He was fed and fed others at the Eucharistic Table. David was nourished and nourished others with the stories of Sacred Scripture, by lifting his heart and voice in the praise and thanksgiving of a Eucharistic prayer, and by sharing the Lord’s own Bread and Cup. David loved to preside and preach at Eucharist and at the other sacraments and devotions of the Church. He was a man of faith, hope and love. And God used David, inspiring other to abundant life with the Living God in the community of the Church.
What has God been doing with David all these years and what does God promise to continue to do for him? “On this mountain, the Lord of Hosts will make for all people a feast …”
In addition to the lure of the Beautiful, the God who is Truth has been enticing David to experience and understand the wonders of creation, the earth, and all its peoples. God has been enriching David these many years with ideas and books, with the knowledge and love of places and cultures other than his/our own. God blessed David by leading him to fall in love with classical Greece and Rome, and with late Roman antiquity, especially the world of St Augustine.
In 1968, our first year at Tolentine College, David taught Mike Slattery, Joe McCormick, and me “The Language and Culture of the Romans.” In the second semester, we translated sections of the Aeneid. When we translated Book VI of Aeneid, and later, in August of 1978, when David and I visited Carthage together, it was clear that David loved Queen Dido!! David loved Dido much more than did Aeneas!!
David’s participation in excavations at Hippo Regius and travels throughout Europe, and into North Africa, South America, and New Zealand continued to lure him beyond the narrow confines of American life and culture into a richer and more diverse world. David’s boyhood love of the lore of Lake St Clair and the Great Lakes, his taking up scuba diving and his world traveling were dimensions of his love of learning and adventure that remained with him throughout life and into his death. His travel to and work in six continents are all manifestations of David’s restless heart that will only be satisfied by abiding in God Himself. They are testaments to God placing in David a restlessness that can only be satisfied by God Himself and that God has promised to satisfy -- a promise we firmly believe that God will fulfill.
Jesus told us that “from whom much is given, much is expected” – by God and by we human beings. As do we humans, God gives us a work to do and the gifts and energy to do that work. But God’s yoke is quite different than the human yokes we place on each other and that we placed on David. God’s yokes always lie easily upon our shoulders. Unlike many humanly imposed burdens, God-given burdens always lie lightly upon us.
We humans gave David yokes and burdens: province administration, parish work, and finally a pastorate. David accepted those yokes, though they may have seemed somewhat ill-fitting. Not everyone can rally a province to a fundraising drive or understand the hearts and lives of all the brothers. Not everyone has the desire and ability to lead engaged couples through the marital process, to be with and walk with those who mourn, to deal with parish councils, or to deal with the slings and arrows that often accompany church leadership. While David served selflessly, as Paul told the Corinthians, there are many and various gifts and no one person, not even David, has them all. Nor is there any need for any one of us to have all the gifts God gives His people.
David’s Divinely-given yoke was education. His light, perfectly-suited burden was teaching and administration. Many of us in this chapel this morning can remember and celebrate David’s excellence as teacher and administrator at our middle schools, high schools, at Tolentine College and at Villanova University. David could make the epigrams of martial come alive as well as keep the Coke machine running and well-stocked. He could teach educational methods and fix the boilers. He could design and evaluate an entire curriculum as well as oversee building construction. He could read Livy and Virgil as well as blueprints and construction contracts. In 1972 David was named an “Outstanding Educator in America” for designing and implementing an experimental liberal arts curriculum at Tolentine College. And that same year, he also maintained the monastery garden!!
Confusing many, with tongue planted firmly in his cheek and a twinkle in his eye, David loved to say, “At Tolentine, we teach you to DO nothin'!” He believed that. He was proud of it.
For David, liberal education was not vocational training. The purpose of a liberal education was to free a person from his or her own “smallness” in order to live a life of freedom and joy, wonder and humility, a life of love and service to the human community, the Body of Christ, and to God himself. For David, education was for freedom, joy, service, and love.
Education was David’s God-given yoke and burden. It fit him perfectly. He carried it lightly.
When I saw David a month before his death to thank him for affirming the restlessness he saw in in me, for the freedom he inspired and the worlds he opened to me -- to us -- David simply smiled.
David and I are 1940s, 1950s, Midwest America men. We’re guys. Many thoughts and feelings are left unspoken. But “heart speaks to heart.” As we said goodbye that afternoon, David looked at me and said that he hoped our parting that day would not be like St. Paul’s parting from the Ephesians. But we both knew differently. We knew that we would never see each other again. As I left the room, David asked that I, that we, pray for him.
On the 40th day of David’s death, Monastic Tradition calls us to again to remember, to pray for David and to praise God.
Today, the 10th day of our mourning, having remembered David, we pray with him and for him, a gifted man with human limits. Today we pray that David knows ever-more-fully our respect, our thanks and our love for him. We pray that, as David continues on the Way, that he open himself more fully to the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. We pray that David fully and finally surrenders himself into the Great Mystery of Infinite Love.
Having prayed with and for David, we fulfill the duty in which we find salvation. We lift up our hearts to do what is right and just – we give praise and thanks to God for David Lloyd Brecht.