Sunday, March 6, 2011


The Death of a Saint

The other morning I awoke to the sound of the tolling of the tower bell, the ancient signal that another one of my brother monks had passed away. We’d been expecting, even hoping for the moment when the Lord would call Brother Mark home and spare him from further suffering with his various infirmities. Brother Mark Hayden O.S.B. died at the age of 92.

He was born on a poor farm in Fancy Farm, Kentucky, and in the delightful almost musical tones of his Kentucky accent he would reminisce about his childhood, working on the farm, walking miles to school.

He started his monastic life in St. Maur’s Priory in South Union, Kentucky, and then transferred to St. Mark’s Priory in Indianapolis when that house was founded from South Union. When the Indianapolis monastery closed about ten years ago, he came to live with us at Newark Abbey.

Shortly after his arrival at the age of 82 his health began to decline. Perhaps the greatest burden was that he eventually became completely blind. For the last few years of his life he was bedridden, and suffered from all sorts of ailments, including prostate cancer. Our Fr. Francis Flood, O.S.B., a registered nurse, took loving and professional care of him all those years.

Brother Mark was a simple person in the very best sense of that word. He was very uncomplicated and had a gentle sense of humor that he kept right to the end, as he bore his physical infirmities without ever complaining.

He was a humble monk whose main desire, as he put it, was to get to heaven; it seems to me that a long, complicated eulogy would obscure the real lesson of his life. He was a simple man who loved God and everyone else in his sincere and uncomplicated way. That’s enough said. We will miss him.

We are just a few days away from Lent, and I have to come up with some Lenten practices for the holy season. Brother Mark’s example seems like a great start for an approach to Lent. I will try, with God’s help, to be extra-kind to everyone, the way Mark was. I will try to get rid of some of the things that make my life unnecessarily busy and cluttered so that I may live with a little more of Brother Mark’s simplicity of heart. I will say the stations of the cross with a new appreciation of how Christ suffered without complaining, just as we saw Brother Mark do. I will try to keep my prayer simple and straightforward instead of hiding behind clouds of eloquent words and complicated thoughts – the way Brother Mark must have prayed.

I suppose of a lot of us modern, harried and complicated Christians would do well to try to imitate a little bit of Brother Mark’s simple approach to God, to his brothers and to the world -- and not just during Lent, either.

As leader of song for his funeral yesterday, after Communion I sang a simple Shaker tune in Brother Mark's memory -- Shakers lived near Fancy Farm. The words sum up pretty well the life of this holy man.

......................Simple Gifts
......'Tis a gift to be simple, 'Tis a gift to be free,

......'Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
......And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
......It will be in the valley of love and delight.

......When true simplicity is gained,
......To bow and to bend, we shan't be ashamed,
......To turn, turn, will be our delight,
......Till by turning, turning we come round right.

1 comment:

  1. Fr. Albert:

    Thank you for your post about Br. Mark Hayden, OSB. I will remember him with gratitude for the example of humility you knew him to be. I will be printing this post and keeping it at my desk at work so that I may continue to learn from him and his approach to the fourth step of humility.

    And thank you for blogging. I'm making another Lenten journey with your book and tonight's reading and reflections led me to search the web to learn more. I'm glad I did.

    SMS, Obl. OSB