Volume 32, Nr. 3, October 2002 Richardton, ND 58652
A Call for Heroic, Radical Forgiveness
The brief statement at the beginning of the funeral card was in sharp
contrast to the glaring and blaring announcements of the media reports.
It said simply: "On the morning of 10 June 2002, as the monks of
Conception Abbey were preparing to begin the workday, a gunman entered
the monastery and for reasons unknown began to fire rounds from a rifle,
instantly killing our beloved confrere Damian Larson, OSB. As the rampage
continued, another monk was killed and two others seriously injured before
the gunman turned his weapon on himself." Father Philip Schuster,
OSB, was the second to die and Prior Kenneth Reichert and Father Norbert
Schappler were seriously wounded but are now recovering. Quick movement
and communication among other monks and employees kept the casualty toll
from being higher.
Every one of them, every law enforcement officer, emergency worker and
reporter who swarmed over the monastery grounds in the following hours
and days, has a story. Some are stories of fear and pain and disbelief.
Almost all have some element of faith and even moments of peace and comfort
in the midst of it all.
Only one story remains untold. After several unsubstantiated guesses,
such as the attention being given the clerical abuse scandals, rumors
of a bad annulment experience, or his mental condition, still no motive
could be found, no connection between the monks in the quiet of rural
Missouri and the man whose body was found in the basilica. Lloyd Jeffress
who had driven from Kearney, MO, more than an hour away, left no communication
about these particular monks, the Catholic Church, or even a general desire
to kill. The monks of the abbey would later offer to participate in funeral
services, but his estranged family did not accept the offer.
Albert Bruecken, OSB, who himself barely escaped being a victim of Mr.
Jeffress, gave the eulogies at the ceremony. "Monday, two monks were
killed. The real tragedy here is not that Father Philip and Brother Damian
are dead. We all come to the monastery to die. Every act of obedience
is a dying to self in service of Christ as seen in the brothers in the
monastery and the people who come here. We feel their loss, their seemingly
senseless loss. But in the last analysis, that is not the real tragedy,
because their lives and their faith in the resurrection prepared them
for this moment. No, the real tragedy is that Lloyd Jeffress came here
troubled and without peace, and he shot the very people who might have
helped him find it."
In the funeral homily, Abbot Gregory continued this theme. "When
brutal deeds are enacted, it calls for heroic and radical forgiveness.
Such acts of violence as happened here on Monday could only have come
from someone in desperate need of help. Hatred, anger, and an unwillingness
to forgive only keep us crippled and bound by the evils that surround
us. If we endure evil and do not allow it to conquer us, we will share
in the victory of Jesus Christ, in the hidden life of the resurrection
So many, particularly in the news media, have asked whether our spirit
of hospitality will change as a result of this event. Hospitality and
the Benedictine charism are so intertwined that it really is inconceivable
that such a thing would happen at Conception Abbey. Our 1500-year tradition
is so cherished, we could not allow that to happen. In fact, the two men
whose lives we remember today, were the epitome of this essential part
of Benedictine life. They welcomed people not only into their home, their
monastery, but also in their hearts. They had a way of putting people
at ease, focusing them on the beauties that surround us, and inviting
them to share in the peace of our life. They were two men who, each in
his own way, contemplated the movement of God in their lives, and never
lost the urge to keep searching and discovering that the wideness of God's
mercy could not be exhausted."
As the monks continue their time of grief and healing, thousands of people, known and unknown to them, have expressed concern through visits, communications and prayer. The witness given by the dead and the living in these months have proclaimed the Benedictine message of peace in a way that is heroic by its humility.
OSB | ABA | AMNewsletter
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Judith Sutera OSB
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