As many of you likely know by now, this past weekend we lost a
very holy and faithful monk - Fr. Rupert Ostdick, OSB. He was 95
years old (read his full obituary here). Though 95 and suffering from spinal
stenosis and degenerative disc disease, Fr. Rupert was still a very
active member of the monastic community (he got around on a
motorized scooter), rarely missing community prayer times, meals,
meetings, and other gatherings.
He passed on to his eternal reward quite suddenly early Saturday
morning as he was getting dressed in his infirmary room before the
beginning of Vigils and Lauds in the Archabbey Church.
Today [January 17] was his funeral Mass and burial,
and below is the homily delivered by Fr. Eugene
Hensell, OSB. For those of you not fortunate
enough to know Fr. Rupert, a few clues to his personality and
bearing may help make more sense of the allusions made in Fr.
First, Fr. Rupert was a very joyful, gentle, and gracious man, a
true gentleman in every sense of the word. He always had a smile
for everyone he met, and he never (or rarely) forgot a name. He was
also someone who disliked disorder.
To put it mildly, Fr Rupert was very precise about everything he
did - from his daily routine to his diction. And like a Timex
watch, he took a licking and kept on ticking. When I first arrived
at the monastery 10 years ago, one of his arms was in a sling, the
result of a serious bicycling accident (he was 85 at the time).
When he healed, and I suspect with the Abbot's orders, he switched
to a sleek-looking, low-riding tricycle.
In the years afterward, there were other falls and mishaps. Once
he tripped in the monastery refectory and broke his neck. As he
waited for the ambulance in the infirmary, he was dictating, in
very precise terms, all the details of his prescription medications
for the nurse.
Another time, I actually watched him fall down the stairs ahead
of me as we walked to church. That didn't stop him either. And on
the day he died, he was dressing, as he would any morning, for
Morning Prayer in the Archabbey Church. Fr. Rupert, a good and
faithful monk (not to mention tough), was always ready for action.
Now, may he rest in peace.
"Be dressed for action and have
your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to
return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for
him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom
the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will
fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and
serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near
dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
But know this: if the owner of
the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not
have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the
Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."
Stories about watchfulness and being prepared for the coming of
the Son of Man originated at a time in the early Christian Church
when expectations were very high that the second coming of Jesus
would happen very soon. It did not.
Gradually, these stories began to be applied to the need of
every believer to be prepared for the moment of death: a time when
one would meet the Lord face to face. We are admonished, "Be
dressed for action and have your lamps lit." Those who are prepared
for the Master when he comes will be treated to a remarkable
experience of reversal. The Master will invite the servants to sit
at table and he will serve them.
Still, the overall emphasis on being prepared for the unexpected
remains the same. "But know this, the Son of Man is coming at an
unexpected hour." Even for that servant who is faithful, there is
still very much about the hour of death that is unknown and beyond
In spite of all this, I would like to suggest that no one tried
harder to keep all the unexpected and unknown aspects of both life
and death under control than did Fr. Rupert. Obviously, he could
not control the actual moment of his death. But that did not deter
him in his efforts. He simply opted for second best - to control
every aspect of life.
Fr. Rupert was a monk and a priest of deep faith and strong
convictions. Almost every day of his very long monastic life, he
was dressed for action and had his lamps lit. He left nothing to
chance. He allowed for no randomness.
His entire approach to life might best be described by a phrase
taken from a poem by Wallace Stevens. Fr. Rupert had what Stevens
refers to as a "Blessed Rage for Order" (Wallace
Stevens, The Idea of Order at Key West).
Here we must not misunderstand the poet. The word "rage" does
not refer to intense anger. That certainly would not fit Fr.
Rupert. Rage in this context describes a profound sense of
enthusiasm, the virtue and daily dynamic that allowed Fr. Rupert to
engage life fully right up to the last second of his 95 years.
For all we know, Fr. Rupert is this very moment sitting at the
Master's table, and the Master is serving him. He always seemed to
enjoy on occasion sitting at the monastic head table, so no doubt
he would enjoy the step up. The somber truth is, however, we do not
know factually what happens after death. We hope and we pray, but
in fact what happens after death is shrouded in mystery.
In his Rule for monks, in Chapter 4, which
deals with "the tools for good works," St. Benedict says, "Day by
day remind yourself that you are going to die. Hour by hour keep
careful watch over all you do, aware that God's gaze is upon you
wherever you may be" (RB 4:47-49).
Since factually we begin dying the very day we are born, I like
to think that St. Benedict is really attempting to focus our
attention on the fullness of life, which reaches its crescendo at
the moment of death. He is not referring simply to the final act of
death itself. St. Benedict is admonishing us to pay careful
attention to how we live.
Life is a glorious gift from God. Do not squander even one
moment of it. We do not know when the Son of Man will come and our
life will be completed through death. Fr. Rupert took this teaching
of St. Benedict very seriously because he was a faithful and
Prepare as he might, Fr. Rupert did not know that his moment of
death would be on Saturday, January 14, 2017, around 5:00 a.m., as
he was getting dressed for action with his lamps lit. If he had
known, no doubt his "Blessed Rage for Order" would have included
detailed instructions setting forth how everything was to be
Throughout his long 95 years, Fr. Rupert focused his energies
far more on life than on death. It was precisely by focusing on
life that, in fact, he prepared for death. In that long
preparation, Fr. Rupert taught us some very important lessons.
Sometimes he used words, but most of the time he taught by
Lesson one: Live life to the fullest. It is an amazing gift from
Lesson two: Do not be overwhelmed by the many hardships you may
encounter along life's journey, but trust in the healing processes
of life, which constantly manifest the grace of a loving God.
Lesson three: Do not be afraid to try new things at any age.
When you can no longer ride your bicycle, get a tricycle and keep
Lesson four: Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.
--Fr. Eugene Hensell, OSB