Love And Joy   8 comments

“It is the work of the Brotherhood to witness to the love of God in Christ Jesus, which has been freely bestowed upon us and upon all of creation. This witness grows and is nurtured by a life in conversation with God, and is nourished daily by active prayer and meditation while living fully in the secular world.” from The Rule of the Brotherhood of Saint Gregory

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Br. Ron performing “The Mountain Whippoorwill,” an Appalachian poem, two days before his death. Photo by The Rev. Br. Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Brother Ron Fender BSG died of a heart attack on Friday 29 January, on the train home just after leaving the Brotherhood’s Winter Convocation.

He always insisted that he was neither scholar nor academic, but he could wax eloquent on the plays of Samuel Beckett, the poems of Walt Whitman, or the books of his two favorites, Jack Kerouac and Annie Dillard. He spoke rhapsodically of both his North Carolina mountain roots and of big cities like San Francisco and New York. Most considered him one of the most devout and holy men they knew, but he could tell the dirtiest joke you’ve heard. He was a passionate liberal, but could find common ground with conservatives. He was equally comfortable singing the Church’s great hymns or the Appalachian folksongs of his childhood.

What connects these apparent contradictions may be Ron’s belief that the sacred was often found in the secular—that everything was sacred.

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Br. Ron holding court and telling stories at BSG Winter Convocation. Photo by Michael J. Piper p/BSG

Br. Ron was dirt-poor most of his life—at first by birth, and later by choice. He held his Vow of Poverty more literally than most Gregorian Brothers, and found a deep vocation in identification with people living in the worst indigence.

He spent much of his adult life as a stage actor and director, ministering to the souls of theatergoers. The later part of his life was spent in ministry to those on the fringes of our society. Shortly after becoming a postulant in BSG, he came to Chattanooga’s Community Kitchen with the request to be involved not just as a volunteer or employee, but as someone who would live among the impoverished clients, provide foot care for them, and never accept more than minimum wage payment. He went on to found the House of the Magdalene, where he lived with and cared for several men who had previously been homeless. Throughout his time in Chattanooga he attended those living on the street, and often provided for and attended to the burial of those who died. Local acquaintances called him “The Saint of Chattanooga.”

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Br. Ron and myself in August 2015. Photo by Br. Karekin Madteos Yarian BSG

Br. Ron was my mentor in BSG—appointed to shepherd me through the three years of formation—and though I only knew him for the year-and-a-half that I’ve been in the community, he left a lifetime of lessons for me to continue learning.

Br. Ron loved everyone he met without judgment, without exception, without hesitance—and had no embarrassment about expressing it. Even in a community in which Brothers are unabashed about expressing love, Br. Ron stood out. Every conversation we had began and ended with him saying, “I love you.” And there was no doubt that he meant it with all his heart.

Or at least no doubt once I got over my initial shock: at first I was a bit wary of the love expressions of Br. Ron and the other Gregorians. We talked about how unnerving this brazen brotherly love can be in an early formation exchange, and Br. Ron said to me: “We live in a culture where love has been degraded and polluted down to carnal levels. So often when someone tells us that they love us, I suspect that deep down in the very pit of our psyche, we think: ‘So, what is wrong with you?’…the Love of Christ is something we like to hope for, but all too often it is something we really do not truly accept. We sit in Church on Sunday and hear the good news of Love, but we do not believe a word of it. And that is the essence of Chastity: we love one another in a pure and holy sense and bear witness to the perfect Love God gives us in Christ.”

Another key element of formation in religious life is learning to be free of fear—especially of one’s own death: our lives are in God’s hands and ours is not to worry but to trust the Creator. Br. Ron had mastered this. He often spoke of “that sweet day” when God would call him home; Brothers have recalled that he seemed to say this more often than usual in that last week, and many later reported instances that seem clairvoyant in retrospect: he seemed to know his life was nearing its end. But he expressed no anxiety; only calm joy.

“Joy always! Joy everywhere! Stay away from the little deaths. Let Joy kill you!” he would often say.

After Compline (night prayer) on Wednesday night, he remarked to Br. Larry Walter Reich and myself about the closing hymn, “Now The Day Is Over” (#42 in the Episcopal Hymnal). “Now Brothers, you remember that’s one of my funeral hymns, and I want you to sing it just as beautifully as you sang it tonight!”

Br. Ron lived free of fear: fear of death, fear of what other people thought about him, fear of loving. I’ve known many people—both in and out of the church—who have overcome one, two, or all three of these fears, but few who have done so to quite this extent. I hope to grow into the freedom that Br. Ron lived—to be able to share that love with all I know, in words and actions.

According to his wishes, Br. Ron’s ashes will be buried in a family plot, under a plaque with no name, just BSG’s motto:

Soli Deo Gloria! To God alone the glory!

Posted 3 February 2016 by Br. Scott Michael Pomerenk, BSG in Uncategorized

8 responses to “Love And Joy

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  1. If anyone has ever died in a classical ‘state of grace,’ our beloved Br. Ron has achieved that. He loved our order and he loved our Rule of Life as it guided him through the days of his own journey, and he loved each of his brothers — and each of his brothers rejoiced in that love! Ron’s last morning in this life began with sharing breakfast among his brothers; then praying with his brothers the Office of Morning Prayer; then receiving the Body and Blood of his Lord and Savior in the mass, among his beloved brothers; then hugging and kissing each brother as he departed for the train station…and for life eternal. Each of us is a better Christian for having known this wonderful man, our Brother in Christ, and we give thanks for the opportunity to share a bit of his life in ours.

    Br. James Teets BSG

    Br. James Teets BSG
  2. You were all so privileged to know a man who embodied the unconditional love of God as Brother Ron did. I never met him but feel as if I had. He is with you, still. He gave God a hug and the gate swung wide for him. 🙂

    Peace & Blessings be yours,
    Archbishop Richard G. Roy, OSJD

  3. Our friend Ronnie, as we called him, lived his entire life as he lived his final days…full of love and embracing of his friends and family, and strangers alike… We love you and will miss you always, Godspeed our great Friend!-Your WCU S/TA Family!!

  4. Scott, you already know of my sympathies for you and your brothers; you had spoken many times of Brother Ron’s tremendous and unconditioned love for you. Reading this made me grateful for the life of a man I never met. Thank you for your lovely, loving portrayal. What a testament to Brother Ron, that you will aim for those freedoms he exhibited.

  5. Pingback: The Prodigal Son And His Jealous Brother: Human Responses To Love | Brother Scott Michael Pomerenk, n/BSG

  6. Pingback: Servant of the Servants of God | Brother Scott Michael, BSG

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