Homily from the Funeral Mass for Prior Timothy Horner, O.S.B. ; Abbot Thomas Frerking, O.S.B
Cry out with joy to God all the earth, O sing to the glory of his name.Come and hear, all who fear God. I will tell what he did for my soul. (Psalm 65)
When he was in his late eighties, Father Timothy told the story of what he called his ‘Journey of Faith’, as a kind of witness during the Season of Lent. This story was in fact his confession, or confessions, in the sense of Saint Augustine’s Confessions, that is, praises to God for the mighty works God had done in Father Timothy’s life. Let us, under Father Timothy’s guidance, praise God for these mighty works.
Father Timothy’s beautiful and beloved Catholic mother; “I loved my mother,” he writes. She taught him, as a little child, the fundamentals of the Catholic faith. Before his First Communion, she went through each Sunday Gospel with him, explaining as necessary. She taught him to read the Bible – rare in those days. She taught him devotion to our Blessed Mother. She taught him a religion of love rather than of fear. Above all, there was her example: when he was a schoolboy at Ampleforth, and with his mother during vacations, he went with her to Mass daily. In her later years, she opened a hostel for homeless young women, and in the last years of her life she lived in the hostel with them. They were very poor, and she was very poor.
Father Timothy’s father: the first thing he says of him: “My father served in World War I in Persia.” He served his country, and was prepared to do so by serving it in battle. He was not Catholic, he was Church of England. But, as he prepared for marriage with Father Timothy’s mother, he made the promise, as was required in those days, that the children would be brought up Catholic, and he dutifully fulfilled that promise.
Father Timothy’s mother: the Catholic faith. Father Timothy’s father: service, duty, engagement with the world, doing battle there for what is right and good. “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures for ever.” (Psalm 117)
The journey from India: his parents had met and married in India; his father, after World War I, joined the Indian Political Service; the father of his mother was in the Indian Civil Service. Like so many English parents of the time, when the British Empire was still a force in the world, they faced the difficult decision whether to keep their child with them, their strong desire, or to send him back to England to boarding school, for his education, for his formation in his own culture, for protection from so many risks. They decided on the latter, and, when he was only eighteen months old, his mother accompanied him back to England; he almost died of heat exhaustion in the Red Sea. He was to live with his paternal grandmother, a widow and a member of the Church of England, and, at the due age, he was to begin his schooling. His mother would teach him the faith when she and his father were at home on leave. So, from the time of which he has his earliest memories, he was at home, yet not at home. But through his worthy grandmother, and the people whom God placed in his path, he learned how to start growing up well, as a strong boy, yet alone. “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”
Then, Ampleforth: as Father Timothy approached his thirteenth birthday, his father decided that, in continuing fulfillment of his promise, he must arrange for his son to go to a Catholic school for preparation for university studies. From a relative who was a distinguished don in Oxford, he had heard well about Ampleforth, and Ampleforth was the choice. John Michael Stuart Horner arrived there just after his thirteenth birthday, in the autumn of 1933. There his Catholic formation continued and was strengthened. The formation included daily Mass, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, night prayers in his house, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, the solemn celebration of the great feasts, the Gregorian chant, some English hymns. He says of all this, in his typical way: “I liked this, and I liked to pray, but I could not say that I was particularly pious, and was certainly at pains not to show it. In fact, I was disciplined on one occasion for fooling around in church.” But the underlying reality was that he was beginning as an adolescent to embrace the faith, with a firmness he hardly noticed, and to embrace it in the form in which it was being presented to him, that is, the monastic form. “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.
The divorce of his parents: about this time, his parents, who had returned to England, were divorced; his mother received custody, but with very little to live on. Father Timothy never wrote, or to my knowledge spoke, anything about the divorce, other than recording or mentioning the fact. As a child, he had been at home, yet not at home; now home had come back to him, and then shortly thereafter was shattered, and gone. He had already learned to live alone, away from home, and so he took it. At the same time, he was not only being formed in faith and religious practice at Ampleforth, but he was beginning to attain the age at which he could see and understand qualities in human beings, and see men of a sort he would like to become. Most of these men were among his teachers, and many of them were monks. Of the monks, some were brilliant, many were quite competent, and together they had a very wide range of interests: talented artists, a cartoonist, photographers, metal-workers, calligraphers, lovers of books and of porcelain, musicians including several beautiful voices, good shots and excellent fishermen, and a surprisingly large number of very good athletes and of very good coaches – and in cricket, which was the game he loved, all his coaches were monks except the pro. And he saw in them lots of spiritual common sense, straightforwardness, no mean streak. They were embodiments of what, later, he would grant could be called Christian humanism. He was much drawn to them and to it. “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”
In his last year or two at Ampleforth he explicitly asked himself whether he wanted to be a priest – almost all the monks were priests, and this was how the question presented itself to him. He thought that if monastic life produced men of the kind just described, he could easily give himself to it. But, he was also clear that he wanted to go to the University of Oxford, and to do so as a layman. The question about monastic life he decided, then, to put aside for the time being – although it continued to recur in the coming years – and he devoted himself to preparing for application to Oxford. By the end of his last year at Ampleforth, he was head of his house, he had won a scholarship to Christ Church, his father’s college in the University of Oxford, for the study of Greats, that is, Classical Languages and Literature, he was captain of cricket, he was an under-officer in the Officer Training Corps (many independent secondary schools in England have a beginning ROTC program), and the question of monastic life had presented itself. Here were already to be seen the great gifts the Lord had given him, and the great directions in which the Lord was to lead him in his life: a leader of communities of human beings; a man of great intellect and of great culture; a Christian humanist; a man in the mold of a soldier, a warrior; a man of simple, and great, faith, with the question of monastic life already presenting itself. “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”
At Oxford he did brilliantly: already at the end of his first year he came very close to winning one of the most distinguished prizes in the Classics; he became President of the Newman Club; he played cricket, and squash the rest of the year; he joined the Artillery ROTC. During the summer – the year was 1939 – he went on a bicycle tour with a friend through northern France; during the trip, they were not reading the newspapers. Near the end of the trip, they decided to make a final visit: to Cologne. On August 26 they went to the train station in Paris for trains going to the east and asked to buy tickets to Cologne; the ticket agent looked at them, shook his head, and said, “You had better buy a newspaper instead.” They managed to get back to England on September 1, the day Hitler invaded Poland. So, now two new questions presented themselves. Should he volunteer for the war? He had done OTC at Ampleforth; he was in the Artillery ROTC in Oxford; his father. But the second question: what about Oxford? In the course in Greats, there remained three years to go. Nowhere in his writings can I find any statement about this except, “I volunteered.” He was like that: when duty presented itself, he just did it. “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”
He presented himself to the Oxford branch of the Universities Joint Recruiting Board and asked for a commission as an officer in the Royal Artillery. He was accepted, but in fact was not called up until a year later, in October 1940, so he was able to complete his second year in Oxford, finishing in Greats an intensified course because of the war, and obtaining the equivalent of the degrees of B.A. and M.A. in Classics, both awarded to him with the highest levels of distinction. He was in the Officer Cadet Training Unit through the rest of 1940 and for the first five months of 1941. Then, Second Lieutenant Horner, Royal Artillery, reported to the 136th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, on the South Coast of England, in May, 1941, as troop leader of about thirty men. He was twenty years old. Thus began the first great service of his life, service of his country in the military out of a sense of a call to duty. Thus also began what was to turn out to be, for the next six years, an extraordinarily distinguished military career. We have all heard about it, read about it, in one way or another: courageous, persevering service, his life frequently threatened, all in some of the most difficult parts of the world, with a manifestation in military service of so many of the finest qualities of the English character. At the end of his service his rank was that of Major, he had been twice Mentioned in Despatches, and afterwards was awarded the MBE, Member of the Order of the British Empire. For the latter, he was summoned to the Royal Presence at Buckingham Palace, but by then was in the novitiate at Ampleforth, and was not permitted to go. “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”
After his discharge from the Royal Artillery, on the way back to England by ship from Singapore, he had long days during which to reflect about his future. Before him had lain the possibility of continuing service in the military, with probable advancement to very high levels, but the spit and polish, and general inaction, of peacetime military service was not for him. He could follow his father’s path into the law; he considered the possibility of a professorship in Oxford; but neither quite kindled his enthusiasm. He considered banking, business, journalism, but enthusiasm was not there, either. Of an altogether different and higher kind of importance, there was also the possibility of marriage. While on leave back in England before the last period of his military service, he had met a young woman, a medical student, who was a cousin of friends of his mother. He and she realized that they had begun to fall in love. He knew that the question about his entering Ampleforth, which he had deferred at the end of his high school years, was still open, and he knew he had to make a decision about that. They discussed this with one another, and it was an agonizing time; without the question resolved, he returned to southeast Asia for the last period of his military service. But now, on the ship back to England, for good, as he supposed, all this was in his mind and heart. Then, somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean, as he was walking round the deck, admiring the sunset and its afterglow, he realized that he had made his decision: he would ask the Abbot of Ampleforth if he might join his community. There was no vision, no voice, there were no spectacular circumstances, only two thoughts in his mind, that this, in some form, was what God wanted him to do, and that Ampleforth was the place. But he knew that this was a call from God, and quite definite. He said ‘Yes’ to the call. “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”
The ship arrived in England in July of 1946, and almost at once he wrote to the Abbot of Ampleforth, Abbot Herbert. He received a favorable reply, and was to arrive at Ampleforth in early September. He told his family; his mother was both sad and glad; his father said it was escapism; in general the family said it was a rebound from the war, and would not last. The young woman was now for a time in Kenya with her parents, who had a coffee farm there; he had to send her a sad letter, which, he said, took him a long time to write and a long time to get over.
Then, Ampleforth. Entrance into the novitiate in 1946, temporary vows in 1947, solemn vows in 1950, ordination to the priesthood in 1953. The years from 1946 through 1954 were fundamentally a very happy time, a time of confirming of his decision, a time of growth. He adjusted to the great amount of silence, to the restrictions on one’s movements. He remembers having one sad thought, that he would never see the U.S.A. In the school year 1953 -54 he was teaching between 28 and 32 periods a week, coaching both cricket and rugby, was the school librarian, was pastor of a little parish two miles from the Abbey, had contributed the chapter on Saint Alban Roe to Ampleforth and its Origins, was faithful to the full round of monastic liturgies and to personal prayer and reading. It took a soldier’s courage, strength and discipline to manage all this. At the end of the summer of 1954 Prior Aelred Graham, who was a monk of Ampleforth but had been lent for a time to the then Portsmouth Priory, came to Ampleforth with a proposal from a group of lay people in Saint Louis, Missouri, that Ampleforth should found a monastery and open a school there. The proposal was considered by the Abbot, considered by the Council, presented to the Chapter in January 1955 and approved. Each monk had been asked, “If you were asked to go to Saint Louis, would you go?” Father Timothy had not understood the question: he had made a vow of obedience, why was it asked if he would go? Then the team to go needed to be chosen. It was clear, Father Timothy thought, that he would not be asked to go. Then, on Good Friday 1955 the Abbot sent for him, and started with, “Father, I think you should sit down.” Then, “Father, I am going to uproot you.” This was the third time Father Timothy had been uprooted from home. First, taken away from his parents as a child of 1½. Then, his parents as it were taken away from him as a young boy in school. Now, uprooted from his entire family, from England, from Ampleforth, uprooted from everything that had been home. But Father Timothy had made a vow of obedience. “Father Abbot, when will I be going?” “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”
Dear friends, you all know, in multifarious ways, much of the remainder of the story. Father Timothy’s battleground was now to be, not Southeast Asia, but the Middle West of the United States; the enemy was now to be, not you, dear friends, not you indeed, for you were his fellow soldiers and his great consolation; no, the enemy was to be the principalities and the powers, the world rulers of this present darkness, the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavens (Ephesians 6:12). Some of us, at least, look back on the early years of our abbey and its works and suppose that it was all a time of brightness, when all went well, growth steadily occurred, works were put in place and developed almost without effort. It was not so. Yes, indeed, God was with us at all times, by God’s grace you were with us at all times. But the battles were many, the warfare progressing only with toil and suffering. Yet consider, dear friends, what by the grace of God Father Timothy did. The founding of Saint Louis Priory School in a few little barns in then semi-rural Saint Louis County; the first graduating class, of scarcely more than thirty, with boys thoroughly grounded in Catholic faith and practice, and at the same time accepted into Harvard, Yale, Brown, MIT, Georgetown, Notre Dame, many of the other most distinguished colleges and universities of the country. The giving to the school of its fundamental mission, its fundamental structures, its fundamental methods, almost all of which have endured to this day 62 years later, yet which were also given by him the capacity to be adjusted not only to different conditions from 62 years ago, but to indeed a new world. Consider, dear friends, what by the grace of God Father Timothy achieved in his years of scholarship after his Headmastership. His great scholarship in the Classical Languages and Classical Civilization were now turned to that document from Late Antiquity which was to be one of the foundational documents of European Christianity and European Civilization: that is, the Rule of Saint Benedict. Among the team of scholars to prepare a new edition of the Rule in celebration of the fifteenth hundred anniversary of Saint Benedict’s birth, he was to be the one to prepare the actual translation of the Rule into English. There were all the battles of determining the precise meaning of the text, of the review of all the great translators and commentators, of coming to decisions about what was true, and suffering the martyrdom of defending the truth against its attackers. Yes, all this. And by the grace of God, Father Timothy came forth with his translation, now widely used in the English-speaking world. He gave, dear friends, to innumerable men and women, the words by which Saint Benedict was to speak to them. Consider, dear friends, what by the grace of God Father Timothy achieved as Pastor of Saint Anselm Parish: the first Benedictine Pastor, indeed, the founder of the Parish as a Benedictine Parish; the establishment there, as in the school, of the mission, of the structures, of the methods, so much of which has endured to this day, almost forty years later. Consider, dear friends, his pastoring of all of you, not only in the parish, but also in the school, and in the entire Abbey Family: he was here for you when you were born, he was here for you when you were Baptized, he was here for you when you received your First Holy Communion, he was here for you when you were Confirmed, he was here for you when you were a student in the school, teaching you, advising you, requiring of you your best, he was here for you when you were at college and university, he was here for you when you began your career, he was here for you when you were married, he was here for you when your children came, he was here for you when you were a parishioner, when you were a member of the Abbey Family, ministering the sacraments to you, listening to you, counseling you, befriending you, sharing with you your joys and hopes, carrying with you your griefs and sorrows, he was here for you when your grandchildren came, he was here for you when you were sick, and yes, for so many, he was here for them when they died, and they are with us here this morning, too, by the communion of the saints. No wonder, after all this, that the English Benedictine Congregation bestowed on Father Timothy the titular dignity of Cathedral Prior of Ely, signaling that, in the judgment of the relevant authorities, he would have been worthy to govern that great establishment of Catholic England, the monastic community which was the Chapter of the Cathedral of Ely, the community central for the spiritual life of the diocese, important for state affairs, custodian of the magnificent cathedral itself: early in the morning, with the mist still covering the fens, one sees in the distance its enormous mass, like a great and mysterious ship floating on a sea of clouds. And then, dear friends, is there not this: do we not, after considering all the service of the Lord he performed, hear him speaking to us the words said to be the last words of Saint Francis: “I have done my duty, may God show you yours”? “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”
Then, in 1995, at the age of 75, he came to the end of his tenure of the office of Pastor. His activity continued to be very great. The requests for his pastoral services, both from parishioners of Saint Anselm Parish, and from members of the Abbey Family as a whole, seemed scarcely to diminish. His largest single writing project was the writing of the earlier part of the history of the monastic community and its works; Abbot Luke had asked him to undertake the project, and he was able to do so after 1995. He found it initially daunting, and always heavy work, but the result was the splendid In Good Soil, an extremely valuable and detailed narrative of the first part of our history, but also told with color and verve, with lightness of touch and inimitable English humor.
But these years, too, were devoted to warfare, once again the warfare against the principalities and the powers, the world rulers of this present darkness, the spiritual hosts of wickedness – but this time battle against them on the battleground where they wage the fiercest battle against us, the battleground of our soul. As Father Timothy passed his 80th birthday, then his 85th, then his 90th, then, despite his extraordinary physical strength, stamina, toughness, there had to be the surrendering of more and more activities, of more and more movement, of more and more experience of this world. At times there could be anger, there could be periods of darkness; we his brother monks all know of times when he could even cry out that he wanted to go back to England, back to Ampleforth, back to home. But he never said he was going to go back to home. And, dear friends, what award could be given to the great soldier for the victory that he was to achieve over all this? For, by the grace of the Lord, he fought the battle against all this, and came most beautifully to years of serenity. With no diminishment of his straightforwardness and of his truthfulness of heart, the anger, the darkness, was less and less to be seen. More and more the surrendering of various activities, of various degrees of mobility, of various works, was accomplished gracefully and graciously. And in the inner space that was opened up, he welcomed a growing gift of prayer. He had always said that the main job of a monk is his life of prayer and contemplation. But now he began to speak of the closeness to God through praise and thanksgiving, of the mystery of the offices of the priest: “This is my Body”; “I absolve you of your sins.” And he began to devote himself greatly to intercessory prayer: for all the members of the Abbey Family, all those in need of whom he came to know, for the Church, for the world. One friend of the community spoke of him as a warrior of prayer, and through the network of pray-ers of which Father Timothy and this friend were members, healings were worked, some miraculous. And then, with regard to home: he looked back on his immense experience of this world, its places, its people, and he realized how what he had seen in it all was in the end the glory of God: all human beings, all languages, all cultures in what was good in them reflected the glory of God, were manifestations of God, in response to which there could only be praise and thanksgiving to God. Moreover, as images of God, and loved by God, all men and women were to be loved by us. All this, he believed, had hugely increased his capacity to see, to accept, to value, to love. And so, what was home? In the end he could say that he had had a very happy life here in Saint Louis, in the United States, and that he believed he would have had a very happy life at Ampleforth, in England. The life there and the life here would have been different, but both would have been very happy lives. But neither place, then, was quite home. What, then, was home? Where was home? How would he get to home? Who would take him there? “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”
It was on Christmas Day 2015 that we took Father Timothy to the hospital, when we and he saw that something we had thought was a cold had become something much worse. It was pneumonia. From the time, some days later, that he was able to return to the monastery, his earthly life had, in fact, entered its last phase; from then on, although still remarkable in his mid-nineties, he needed some daily assistance and support in his life routines, and his physical world, from being much of almost all the continents, was shrinking to becoming little more than the space of his own room. Again there were the battles against the powers and principalities; he had to use a three-wheeler, he could no longer manage the altar steps, at times he no longer had the stamina to be at events, to be with friends, at events he would never in the past have missed, with friends with whom he would never in the past have failed to be present. We had, more and more, to give him directions about what he could and couldn’t do. He might resist. But he had said in his spiritual confessions that one thing in the monastic life was not difficult for him. That was obedience, because, he said, he learned that in the army. And in the end, and usually sooner rather than later, he did obey. Then there came the day, not much over two weeks ago, when his doctor had to tell him, “Father Timothy, from now on, you must use a walker whenever you walk, even for the shortest distance in your room.” “But I am an Englishman,” he protested, “and, as Englishmen do,” he continued, “I have always walked with a stick, did so as young man, do so now, and it is quite good enough.” But the doctor insisted. This would be the first device which he had to use which would give the clear message of infirmity. How hard it would be, surely, to obey with regard to this. Then also, only five days before April 27, he was with friends; someone had just returned from a trip to England, and started to tell him about it. Then he began to speak about England, in great and loving detail, words pouring forth out of memories deeply in mind and heart: the Ampleforth valley illuminated by the western sun; gracious lawns behind his grandmother’s house running down to the tranquilly flowing stream, a swan gliding upon it; the Needles off the west end of the Isle of Wight, three white rocks of chalk, one hundred feet high, the great ships making their way slowly up the Solent toward Southampton. What was home? Where was home? Who would take one to it?
In the evening of April 26, he was bright and cheerful, his wonderful mind, although not so much his memory, still very much there, a conversationalist, as he had always been. Brothers checked on him twice during the night; when briefly awakened, he was alert and well. At the beginning of dawn, another brother checked on him a third time; he was well. Two hours later came the fourth check; he was already gone. It was clear that he had died while walking to go somewhere in his room. He was not in his bed; he had got up to begin the day. He had got up to start the battle again, the battle against all the diminishment, the battle against the hardness of so much, the battle of prayer for so many in need, the battle to keep mind and heart raised to the things that are above. He fell, nobly, in battle. What could be more fitting for the old soldier? What could be more fitting for the son of Saint Benedict, Saint Benedict, who died standing up, held up by his brothers, who died standing up praising God? The old soldier. The son of Saint Benedict. But there was one other thing. There, beside him, was his walker. His walker had fallen with him. He had been using his walker to walk. The last act of his earthly life, or the context of it, had been an act of obedience, an act of humble obedience, not celebrated, singled out for public acclaim in despatches from the jungles of Southeast Asia, but humble, unseen, within the confines of a little room. Who knows but that in the eyes of the Lord this was his most glorious act of obedience, the perfect consummation of his monastic and soldiering life? At that moment, the Lord came to him, and said, “Father, I have come to take you home.”
In the church, it must have been about when he died, we were singing this psalm:
How many are my foes, O Lord! How many are rising up against me! How many are saying about me: “There is no help for him in God.” But you, Lord, are a shield about me,my glory, who lift up my head. I cry aloud to the Lord. He answers from his holy mountain. I lie down to rest and I sleep. I wake, for the Lord upholds me. I will not fear even thousands of people who are ranged on every side against me. Arise, Lord; save me, my God! O Lord of salvation, bless your inheritance! (Psalm 3)
And this psalm, which sings of Sion, the heavenly city:
And Sion shall be called ‘Mother’ for all shall be her children. And while they dance they will sing: “In you all find their home.” (Psalm 86)
And in the Mass of the day, that same morning, we discovered that this was the Gospel:
Let not your heart be troubled; neither let it be afraid. . . .In my Father’s house there are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. . . .I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back to you, and take you to myself, that where I am, you also may be. (John 14:1-3)
Cry out with joy to God all the earth, O sing to the glory of his name. Come and hear, all who fear God. I will tell what he did for my soul. O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.