Abbot Celestine was a man of one book and that book was the psalter. It now rests on his coffin, as he would very much have wished. His homilies were jam-packed with quotes from the psalms, his conferences were almost always on the psalms and the advice he dispensed came straight from the psalter. He made the words of the psalms his own, “like a weened child on its mother’s arms…” The very first time I met Celestine as a young student in Rome I came away thinking that I had just met a walking talking psalter.
Austin Brian Martin Cullen was born the year this monastery was founded, 1927; he attended our school and entered the novitiate after a year in UCD on 15th September 1946 at the age of nineteen. Fr Bernard O’Dea was the Prior at that time and gave him the name Celestine. On the face of it he was not very appropriately named. Pope Saint Celestine V was Pope for just over five months in 1294 and became the first Pope in history to resign. He was manifestly unsuited to the task of the papacy, lacking in worldly wisdom and the ability to deal with complex human situations. Our Celestine could not have been more different, as we all know.
More probably he was called after Abbot Celestine Golenvaux, our founding Abbot from Maredsous, a sign of what was to come. Celestine cherished the years he spent in our school and the school always held a special place in his heart, together with all those who studied there under his watchful care and his group of devoted ladies who were the mothers of those boys and who have been so good to him over the years. All held him in great esteem and affection. In the monastery Celestine was teacher, headmaster, Abbot and Abbot President, chaplain in Kylemore and confessor and spiritual guide to a great many people. At every one of these offices he excelled, but as a spiritual guide he had a particular gift. All sorts of very different people found in him a willing ear and a wise guide. His passion was to introduce others to what he called the “spiritual path”. For Celestine, a monastery, must always be a place where people can come easily, a place where they can find God.
Lest anyone think that Celestine was a jack of all trades, let me add that he had absolutely no aptitude whatsoever for technology or machinery of any kind. Even the domestic toaster proved beyond him! We have all had the experience of being summoned to assist with his photocopying, which meant that you go and do it for him, and on arriving at the photocopier discovering that he had enlisted three other members of the community to do the same job. That too was Celestine.
As Celestine advanced in years his experience became more and more that of psalm 18, “I love you Lord my strength, my rock, my fortress, my saviour”. This became his reason for living. In later life his work as headmaster, Abbot and Abbot President was done and he threw himself wholeheartedly into his quest for the inner life and gave most generously of his time to help others. He wrote copious letters in his illegible hand offering support and advice. On Saturday afternoons he sat in the monastery parlour hearing confessions, sometimes long beyond the allotted time, listening to people and introducing them to another dimension of reality. The Word was made flesh and that Word was the cornerstone on which our brother Celestine built his life. Introducing others to the Word of God was his greatest joy and lifelong passion. It sustained him to the end and was his most prized possession. This love of the Word was the sermon his life preached most eloquently to us and the abiding memory he leaves us.
The final chapter of his long life was written in Millbrae Lodge Nursing Home and we thank them for their loving care for Celestine. As his health declined he was in need of this extra care. He found this last chapter difficult and he missed his monastery and monastic life. The psalms, however, remained his friends and he told me that he still found his Lord in them after all these years.
O where can I go from your spirit, or where can I flee from your face? If I climb the heavens, you are there. If I lie in the grave, you are there…
If I say, “Let the darkness hide me and the light around me be night,” even darkness is not dark to you, the night is as clear as day.
Celestine has now entered into that light where the night is as clear as the day and where the darkness is no longer dark. We accompany him with our prayers and ask the Lord that he not disappoint our brother Celestine in his hope. May he rest in peace.