As I begin, I wish to let you know that Br. Albert and I were very good friends for 35 years, and his loss is quite a challenge for me. However, he had asked me already years ago to preach for his funeral, and so I will try. But if it becomes too difficult, Fr. Tom Enneking, osc, is ready to step in and finish these words in my place. We shall see.
I first got to know Br. Albert at our monastery in Hastings, Nebraska, in August 1984 when I arrived there to begin my first year as a novice in the Crosier Order. I was a newly graduated English major, and so I assumed that I had a pretty good grasp of the language…until I met Br. Albert, and then I had quite a few new things to learn!
This is precisely why we turned today to the Book of Proverbs, as we may all remember Br. Albert also as something of a creative wordsmith himself—one who could make proverbial pronouncements not unlike the sages of old. For example, it was from Br. Albert that I learned one day, and I quote him exactly, “Rain puts moisture into the air.” He told me recently, “There are a lot of dead people in heaven.” He also offered this piece of great insight, “I’m pretty sure that Pope Benedict’s older brother is older than Pope Benedict.” (And I can’t resist one more as Br. Albert admitted one day last year, “Yes, well, when I turn 70, a lot of my classmates will do the same.”)
These can all be remembered as treasured “proverbs,” as it were, of Br. Albert, if but in something of a passing imitation of the astute scripture scribes of yore. Yet the divine Word from Proverbs also conveys something of a much deeper reality which was not just a “passing imitation” for Br. Albert, but rather a very deep learning that transcended any limit of his earthly communication skills. For the scribe of Proverbs is resolute that Wisdom is that grace which surpasses all others—even jewels and gold. Rather, Wisdom, that divine attribute of God, is to be our true treasure, our true foundation, our true adornment that alone will keep us from stumbling. And Br. Albert sought, as we saw through his religious life professed to God, to learn wisdom and live in knowledge and to let it be the richness of his life. “For wherever your treasure lies, there your heart will be” (Matthew 6:21).
So it was that the Christian calling came to Albert Leo Becker in the strong, Germanic faith that was handed on to him by his parents and which also came to him right up through the very fertile soil of Stearns County, Minnesota. He was proud to be a Catholic from the roots up! And he was therefore called to spend the rest of his years striving to be Christ wherever he was with whomever he met. Of course, even Albert Becker, even Br. Albert Becker, didn’t get this right all the time. He had some blinders and gaps. We all do. Yet he was a real person of faith, a firm believer in God’s promises, and, for so many, many years, an exemplary Crosier who loved his vocation and the life of fraternity and service that we share. “Happy are those who find wisdom such as this” (Proverbs 3:13). It is foundational to what becomes of the purpose of our life and its meaning.
We heard, too, from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans that our faith is better “measured” (more astute and true) when we remember that we are but a member in the great Body of Christ, so we “ought not think more highly of ourselves than we ought” (Romans 12:3). More than one alone, we are a part of a great communion. Of necessity, we don’t all share the same function, for this deliberation is left to God’s disbursements of gifts—and so we have different gifts, as St. Paul wrote, according to “the grace given us” with some as prophets, some as teachers, some in giving generously, some in compassion and some in cheerfulness.
Which of these would you consider as Br. Albert’s gifts? He was certainly cheerful and generous and near, I think, to the heart of the Body. Indeed, he usually had a natural inclination to be loving—to be interested in people, and affirming and delighted to share our presence. He liked connecting, hearing our stories and trusting that God was deeply here among us all, keeping us tied to one another and being made manifest when love was shared. Indeed, we used to tease Br. Albert that he spoke no language quite so well as that of “the language of love,” which was why our young Crosiers were drawn to him, and our benefactors, and many Crosier friends and families. Obviously not perfect in this as none can be, yet loving was an expression to which God commissioned Br. Albert in strength as a member of the Body of Christ and a man in the world.
Jesus’ Gospel parable of the sower may have a way of tying faith and Br. Albert and our continued commissioning in God all together. You already know that Br. Albert grew up on the Becker farm with his parents and sister Elizabeth and brother Virgil. And he loved farm life. He told me that he could have been happy there forever. Yet the Great Sower-God threw some special seed onto his path that in Br. Albert came to flourish in the soil of Crosier life, producing thereafter a hundred-fold.
This passion for his Crosier life then became the gift that he learned to share so well as a natural development director and fundraiser for the Crosiers. Having been so captured by God’s gift of seeds planted in his own life, he sought to sow seeds of such richness among all those he met—seeds that could grow in hope and generosity and commitment and vision. And so he happily took up this work of “sowing seeds” in other people’s lives—a seed of a request to support the Crosiers, or to invest in a mission project, but also invitations to many to work at some forgiveness, or at sharing greater love. In this work, he was thus not only NOT embarrassed to be a fundraiser, but he saw it as a holy calling to labor in the Lord’s field and nurture the Lord’s harvest and to invite anyone and everyone to join in the same. He believed in our Crosier life, and he was confident that people’s investment in us would yield a crop worth harvesting—for the world always needs more faith, hope and love which are to be the best fruits of our living for God.
This then is the harvest of Br. Albert Becker’s life. Not silver, not gold, but the wisdom of knowing who we are as members of Christ’s body and laborers in the harvest of God’s grace come in some fashion to us all. And Br. Albert shared this with us as Crosier confreres, as benefactors and friends of the Crosiers, as beloved family and fellow pilgrims in God’s way.
May Br. Albert’s life and legacy, tied in a different way now forever with the Lord, also help us, as Jesus said, “to hold fast in honest and good hearts, bearing fruit with patience endurance” in love.
Dear confrere, dear friend, may you rest in peace. Your good deeds and your loving heart go with you. Thank you for everything.