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Remembering Br. Roman Fleischhacker, osc

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It may not surprise you to hear that I was at least tempted to select the genealogy narrative from the Gospel of Matthew for Br. Roman’s funeral, but since it is only about “begetting” in the Davidic line and not about second-cousins and thrice-removals, I decided that it wasn’t quite up to the full detailed standards that Roman had held for all such things relative. 

Instead, we hear the Gospel from Luke which relates Jesus’ teaching on prayer to his disciples. Taking a page from human experience about the persistent “asker” in the middle of the night, Jesus says that the heavenly Father will also likewise give way to those who persistently “ask and knock.”  Probably most of us knew Br. Roman as such a persistent prayer. He would offer prayers and ask for prayers with deep compassion and deep faith at almost every turn—whether as Apostolate or alumni director, or in his own personal ministry of constantly holding people and their needs before the Lord. 

Though unknown to us yet are the results of Roman’s prayer for ourselves or for others, he now gets to behold these truths with the angelic pristine vision of the elect in heaven--he gets to see the actual answer to Jesus’ long ago question, “If you, with all your sins, know how to give your children good things, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?”  Roman gets to see these promises of God fulfilled—for both himself and for all those whom he presented to the Lord in his prayers of 90 years.

Many of you know that the day of Roman’s death, last Saturday, Sept. 14, is the great feast day of our Crosier Order—the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It is probably the best day for a Crosier to die, as far as a confluence of life-spirit is concerned, and, after having suffered consistent physical decline over the past few months, it is the day upon which Roman succumbed to God’s final desire—that he let go of everything, even, finally, life itself. 

Such a death on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross reminds me that in so many ways, Roman had also embraced and lived the cross fairly consistently through many of his 90 years—often in the joy of glory, of course, but often, too, in the struggle and challenge of Calvary. In this, Roman was not shy in recalling the disappointment it was that he could not be a Crosier priest. While he thereafter lived a generous and worthy life in the vocation of Religious brother, the disappointing cross of not being ordained those many years before was not far from his mind. Likewise, Roman knew the cross of much physical and psychological challenge in his life. From decades of excruciating back pain to multiple occurrences of psychological “burn out,” Roman really did know the reality and the pain of the cross—and of its requisite call to constant surrender and dying.

But he also knew its joys. He knew the joy of a loving and supportive family and its extensive heritage. He knew the joy of many, many friends whom he met in home visits and funeral ministry. He knew the joy of the “shared work” that is ours in the life and work of a Priory—each adding his own efforts to the good of all and receiving, too, the best efforts of one’s confreres.

Nonetheless, life is about “emptying ourselves,” as Paul wrote to the Philippians, “emptying ourselves” into the image and likeness of Christ. And, as Paul also wrote in that same great hymn, “eventually we have to so empty ourselves that we accept even death, death on a cross”—or death in the shadow of the cross wherever it has been our burden in the various struggles and disappointments of our life’s days.

But the story doesn’t end there. Instead, as Paul continued, because of our faith-inspired submission to death, God can also highly exalt us in this and draw us to the fullness of Jesus Christ being Lord in heaven and on earth. And it is this promise of paradise that we believe Roman now gets to see with his own eyes and heart and spirit renewed. How broad his smile must be and how sparkling his eyes.

Roman’s choice of the text we heard from the Prophet Isaiah gives us some insight into his view toward his life in Religious service: “The Lord has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted. To comfort all who mourn. To give gladness in the Lord, the joy of my soul. For God has clothed me with a robe of salvation and makes justice and praise spring up before all the nations.”  That’s how Isaiah said it.

Here is how Roman himself said it in his last written instructions: “It has been a great privilege for me to have been able to live as a Crosier since 1944—first as a cleric and later as a brother. The Lord has blessed me richly in this life and I am looking forward to being with the Lord in heaven for all eternity. There I hope to meet all of my deceased Crosier confreres and will prepare to welcome those who will follow.”

Roman, our dear brother, may you now rest in peace. We give thanks to the Lord for his goodness to us through you. May you know the riches of the Lord which you always sought and rejoice in the company of all the saints in light. Keep praying for us!

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