Homily preached by Abbot Cuthbert Madden OSB at the Funeral Mass of Fr Rupert Everest OSB, 16th August 2013.
I really got to know Fr Rupert right at the end of his life. Early in 2007, when Fr Rupert was 76, I thought that he was looking rather careworn, and I decided that it was time for Fr Rupert to retire from being parish priest in the village. His retirement from the village coincided with the appointment of Mr Smerdon as the Housemaster of St Edward’s and St Wilfrid’s House, and so I asked him whether he would take on the task of being the chaplain in this house. For a short time Fr Rupert looked rather bemused – and then he asked what the task involved. I told him that I wanted him to be rather than to do – and that he should aim to be an honorary grandfather to the boys in the House. A year later he seemed to be flourishing and so I asked him, aged 77, to serve on the Abbot’s Council and to be its secretary. He seemed to be very amused that as his long life moved towards its close he was right at the centre of things – it even gave him an opportunity to be the old man “in the know”, a role which he fulfilled very helpfully as far as I was concerned.
Michael Everest was born on June 27 1931, the only son of Robert and Catherine Everest. He was educated here in St Edward’s House. He entered the monastery in 1950 directly from the school, as was very common in those days. After three years in the monastery he was sent to study Geography at St Benet’s Hall and then undertook his theological studies in the monastery alongside work in the school. By 1959 he had been ordained as a priest and a year later was appointed as Senior Geography Master – a post he held for eight years. Fr Rupert was one of the first of a new generation of geographers and he and Fr Geoffrey made considerable changes in the teaching of this subject – including the introduction of fieldwork.
Many of you will be aware that Fr Rupert was devoted to Lourdes. I am not exactly sure when his journeys to Lourdes began but the first reference I have uncovered was in the mid 1960s when Rupert and Augustine used to take groups of housekeeping and catering staff from the Abbey to Lourdes. His love of Lourdes endured to the end of his active life.
In October 1968 Fr Rupert was directed to join the Procurator’s department and then, four years later, he was sent to St Peter’s, Seel Street, in Liverpool to begin the pastoral ministry which was to be his life for the next thirty five years.
Towards the end of his life Fr Rupert quietly talked to me about many of his experiences on the parishes – and of the importance of the parochial apostolate. He served in six of our parishes: St Peter’s, Seel Street (1972-78); St Mary’s, Bamber Bridge (1979-82); St Mary’s, Leyland (1982-4); Our Lady of Lourdes and St Gerard Majella, Lostock Hall (1984-92), Our Lady, Star of the Sea and St Michael, Workington (1992-97), and Our Lady and St Benedict, Ampleforth Village (1997-2007). Fr Rupert was a devoted and faithful monk-priest in each of these parishes and he said that he never left one of these parishes without tears – his tears – because he was leaving friends. In these past days I have had a steady flow of appreciative letters which suggest that the friendship was not one-sided. Fr Rupert was devoted to bringing the good news of Jesus Christ to all who he met. Our retreat giver this year remembered him in Liverpool; writing a column in the Liverpool Pictorial, giving days of recollection to the Legion of Mary, inviting the Missionaries of Charity to visit Liverpool; but Rupert also served as a prison chaplain and after a course at the Irish Institute of Pastoral Liturgy in Carlow he did everything he could to make sure that he understood the renewal of the liturgy and handed on that understanding in practice in his pastoral work.
Last year it became painfully obvious that Fr Rupert was not well: since his time at Lostock Hall he had suffered from high blood pressure and there had been one or two other health scares along the way, but now it was quite clear that he was seriously ill. The doctors eventually diagnosed a lymphoma. When he saw the specialists he asked them whether it was really worth treating him: he was an old man now, he knew death could not be long delayed and indeed he was quite ready to die for, as he put it to me, there are worse things in life than dying. Why did Rupert say that? In part, no doubt, because he had cared for so many others in their last illness and had seen what some medical treatments can do to one’s last months; but I think that the more significant reason was quite simply that he believed in God: in the words of our first reading, ‘Hope is not deceptive’. Jesus Christ was central to Rupert’s life. He did not make a great song and dance about the spiritual life – he just got on with it. How many times did we see him quietly pacing up and down the cloister saying his rosary? Or perhaps you, like me, had reason to all in on him and found him sitting in his chair doing his spiritual reading or simply holding the large crucifix which usually sat on his desk as he prayed. In his later years for sure Rupert was a great pray-er: he didn’t talk about it, he simply did it.
It seems to me that Rupert had a very simple faith: he wasn’t one for great complex theories – he simply loved the Mass and wanted to bring others the presence of Christ which is found in Holy Communion. He knew what that what Jesus said in the Gospel of St John, in the passage we heard this morning, was true: those people who eat the flesh of the Lord and drink his blood and allow the Lord to act in their lives really do have eternal life – and having eternal life they do not need to be afraid of death. This very simple faith found expression in his last conversation with me a little more than 24 hours before he died. Rupert had received the sacraments which the Church gives to those who were dying and I wanted to check that he had understood that he was setting out on his last journey. “Yes, I understand”, he said, “I have spoken to my mother and my father and they have told me that there is nothing to fear: they are waiting for me with Jesus”. I simply hope that I may share that same depth of faith when it is my time to die.
But Rupert would, I suspect, be very embarrassed by this homily: he would want me to ensure that all of us went away from this Funeral Mass quite clear that death is simply one more step in the faithful following of the Lord Jesus. He called us to Himself in baptism. Again and again in the course of our lives He has called us to follow Him; to encounter Him in the words of the Gospel and in the sacraments of the Church. Rupert would be encouraging us to understand that each encounter with the Lord built a little more hope in our lives: not wishful thinking but that solid hope, that confidence, that our life has a meaning, a meaning which has been given to it by the Lord himself. Rupert could see, and we should see, that when we are mature, ripe for harvesting, when the meaning of our life has reached its fulfilment the Lord summons us again – this time to be with Him for ever in the presence of His Father and all the saints of the Church: in death life is changed not ended and at long last the hope of blessed resurrection has become a reality. Dear brothers and sister, as we come to receive Holy Communion at this Mass, let us pray that Rupert may be forgiven all his sins so that he may intercede for us who are still on our pilgrimage through life.