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ABBOT LUKE RIGBY, REQUIESCAT IN PACEM

ABBOT JEROME LUKE RIGBY, O.S.B., fortified with the sacraments of Holy Mother Church, March 17, 2012. First Abbot of Saint Louis Abbey, beloved brother of the monks of Saint Louis Abbey, uncle of Dr. Hugh O’Brien (Eveline), Sally Underwood (John), and Clare Parham of England, valued friend and counselor to many.

Born in Surrey, England,  August 17, 1923, Jerome Rigby was clothed as a monk at Ampleforth Abbey in 1941 and ordained priest in 1950. In 1955 he became a founding monk of Saint Louis Priory, serving as Prior (superior) of the community from 1967 to 1989. When the Priory was raised to the status of Abbey in 1989, he became the first Abbot and served until 1995. In 2003 Abbot Luke contracted pulmonary fibrosis and lived in a debilitated state at the Abbey until his death, spending long hours in prayer for the community and for the extended Abbey family and giving to his fellow monks a witness of patient endurance. Abbot Luke was loved by many; no one who met him was untouched by his kindness and wisdom.

 

ABBOT THOMAS' HOMILY

Funeral Mass for Abbot Luke Rigby, O.S.B. Saint Louis Abbey

March 24, 2012 10:00 a.m. Mass

Gospel

Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.

 

Homily

May I offer condolences on the death of our beloved Abbot Luke to my monastic brethren; to Abbot Luke’s niece and nephew, Sally and Hugh, and to Hugh’s wife Eveline; and to all of you, dear friends, for in truth we were all Abbot Luke’s sons and daughters.

Abbot Luke died on March 17. This was Saint Patrick’s Day, and we think of Abbot Luke’s beloved mother, who was Irish, and who brought to him the great Catholic tradition of that country; we think also of his beloved father, who was English, of strong Lancastrian stock, and related to several of the English martyrs. March 17 was also Saturday of the Third Week of Lent, and the Gospel appointed for that day was the one we have just heard. I hope to show you how extremely fitting that Gospel was.

“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

When I was a novice here, Abbot Luke told me this story. He said that when he himself was a novice at Ampleforth – he was Brother Luke – one day Abbot Herbert – I knew he had a great devotion to Abbot Herbert – one day Abbot Herbert stopped him as he was walking along, and said, “Brother Luke, I want you to drive me to York; Father X is dying.” Father X was in a nursing home run by sisters; I forget of which order. When they arrived and went to Father X’s room, Brother Luke drew back into the corridor, thinking the Abbot would wish to be alone with Father X. But Abbot Herbert said, “No, come in, Brother Luke.” Father X was conscious. He said to the Abbot, “Father Abbot, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do. I have tried all my life to live as Our Lord would have me live, and according to our Holy Rule. But I feel I have made no progress at all. Now I am dying, and I have nothing to offer Our Lord at all.” Abbot Herbert replied, “Father dear, I can think of no more perfect state in which to go to God.” A few minutes later, the Abbot and Brother Luke left. Shortly after they returned to Ampleforth, the telephone rang. It was the Mother Superior, to say that Father X had just died, in great peace.

“I tell you, this man went to his house justified. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

As my early years in the monastery went by, I realized that, whether Abbot Luke had intended it or not, the Lord was showing me through this story deep and great things which he wanted me to learn from Abbot Luke. I began to try to learn from him. First, I began to understand a little bit what humility is. To begin with, I saw truth in his eyes – those kind eyes, which could at the same time penetrate right into one’s heart. I saw truth in his words, his actions, his mode of being – truth in the congruence of his words, his actions, his mode of being with the way things are, with the way he was, with the way others were, with the way God is. “The Lord loves truth in the heart,” says the Psalmist. I began to see a little bit that humility is truth, or is the fruit of truth. I began to see that he knew with his whole heart that he had nothing of his own to offer to God, that he knew with his whole heart that whatever good there was in him was from God, that sin alone was his, and his to acknowledge. This, I came to see, was humility before God. Then, humility before others. The Rule of Saint Benedict is severe on this point: “The seventh step of humility is that a man not only admits with his tongue but is also convinced in his heart that he is inferior to all and of less value, humbling himself and saying with the Prophet: ‘I am truly a worm, not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people.’” This is severity indeed; indeed, is it not severity carried to the point of untruth? Yet I could see in his eyes when he was with other people, hear in his words, see in his reverence toward them, see in his whole mode of being that he profoundly believed this with all his heart, yet was in no way untrue to who he was and to the good that God had given him.

“I tell you, this man went to his house justified. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Then I began to understand a little bit what Abbot Luke was trying to intimate to me about who God is. The Lord is the one who saves us when we have nothing to offer him; the Lord is the one who exalts us when we humble ourselves; the Lord is the one who loves us when we cannot find in ourselves anything to love. “The Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy.” “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; those whose spirit is crushed he will save.” “I was helpless, so the Lord saved me.” In the Lord, “mercy and truth have met, justice and peace have embraced.” “Who is like the Lord, our God, who has risen on high to his throne, yet stoops from the heights to look down, to look down upon heaven and earth? From the dust he lifts up the lowly, from the dungheap he raises the poor, to set him in the company of princes, yes, with the princes of his people.” “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.”

“I tell you, this man went to his house justified. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Then, as the years passed, I began to understand a little what flows from this wisdom as to who God is and who we are before God and before one another. What flows from it is the love of God, and the love of neighbor in God, and this love, Saint Paul says, “urges”: “Caritas Christi urget nos”, “The love of Christ urges us.” I could see it urging in him, urging him. The love of God: I saw him each morning, early, each morning before the Blessed Sacrament, praying, seeking, sometimes his tattered old Jerusalem Bible with him, marked, underlined, pieces of paper stuck in it. The love of neighbor: how many times we in the monastery saw him suddenly leaving his office, not even pausing to close the door, taking a key to one of the cars; we knew he was going to someone in the hospital, going to someone who had called, going to be with someone in whatever need, whatever suffering, it was. Oh, dear friends, how many of us in this Church now, how many who cannot be here now, but are praying, remembering, thinking with us, how many of us have known in him, as our counselor, our consoler, our confessor the living icon of the Father in that Gospel Parable: “But while [the son] was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet, and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and be joyful; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’” And did we not know, dear friends, what deep and holy suffering there must have been in him for him to understand our sufferings so well? Do we not all recognize him in these words of Saint Paul: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction, with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in consolation too. If we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; and if we are consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our consolation.”

“I tell you, this man went to his house justified. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Dear friends, was it not this love of Christ urging him, this love of God, this merciful and compassionate love of neighbor in God, was it not this which was what God gave this place through him? Was it not by this that the Lord through him drew men to become monks here? Was it not by this that the Lord through him drew so many of the Abbey Family here? Was it not by this that the Lord through him led and guided the monastic community? Was it not by this that the Lord through him established and developed the monastic institutions, built the buildings, gathered the temporalities, governed them with that practical wisdom which was such a marvel and on which we so relied?

“I tell you, this man went to his house justified. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The long and great years of action. But then I saw the years of action come, suddenly, to an end. I remember the day he came to my office and said, “Father Abbot, I believe the Lord is calling me to the hermit life; may I please begin to lead it.” I was taken aback and perplexed; so were all of us who knew of this. How could the Lord be calling this great pastor of souls to the hermit life, a life of almost complete apartness? But he was calm and clear, and, as ever, patient and humble, about his discernment, explaining that he believed that after the years of such intense activity, the Lord was calling him to come away and be alone with him, and enter ever more deeply into his mystery, into prayer to him, into intercessory prayer for others. It was in June of that year that he entered the hermitage. The following March he developed what seemed to be a heavy cold, and then a chest infection. But then came the diagnosis of the dreadful illness which was to be with him for the rest of his days in this world, and which slowly, relentlessly, reduced him to ever greater weakness and debility, both of body and of mind. The Lord knew the great Cross with which he was to bless him in his final years, and in his mercy prepared him by the aloneness of choice for the aloneness of suffering.

“I tell you, this man went to his house justified. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

These were years of great prayer, great prayer on his part for you, for me, for the brethren, for all in the Abbey Family. How often we would hear him mumbling names in his feeble voice, names of so many of you here, names of so many others; he would say, “for so-and-so, and so-and-so, and so-and-so”, and repeat your names again, and again. Then on other days we would go by his room and look in. He would be sitting in his wheelchair, looking out the window, it seemed, on the sunlit garden just beyond. But his eyes were closed, and he was dwelling within himself with the Lord, and, as it seemed to me, seeing all for whom he was praying, and all the world, caught up and bathed, as it were, in a ray of that divine mercy to which he had witnessed all his life.

These were the years of great suffering, too. He had spent his life caring for others, and now this was precisely what he could no longer do, and instead, he had to learn to accept the care of others. He took on the sufferings as well of all those whom we told him about; we could see that. There was at times darkness as well. At times he could not see why he was still here. “Well, perhaps it is because people here still so much need you, and the Lord needs you to pray for them,” I said. But sometimes he could not understand this. There could be times of anxiety, too, and times when he felt that he had committed great sins, and was being punished for his sins. We tried, through our feeble words, to convey to him the great loving mercy of the Lord which he had again and again conveyed to others. But sometimes he could not understand. Oh, it was not that his faith in this loving mercy ever wavered. Beneath all his gentleness, there was great strength, and this great rock of faith was there to the end: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that he will at the last stand forth upon the dust, whom I myself shall see; my own eyes, not another’s, shall behold him, and from my flesh I shall see God.” But sometimes he could not understand, could not feel, that mercy poured out on him. We remembered that we had read in books about the saints that sometimes holy men and women were asked to suffer much for the sins of others, to take on themselves the sufferings which would have been due to others for their sins. We remembered too that there was one who had taken upon himself the sins of all and who had come to a point at which he said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

“I tell you, this man went to his house justified. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

It was ten days ago that we had to take him to the hospital. At first he was restless. He could hardly speak. But at one point he could be heard to say, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do.” Somehow, I found myself saying, “You don’t have to do anything! Jesus and his Blessed Mother are here! They will do everything.” Then he quieted down. It was only later that I remembered that story he had told me many years ago, when I was a novice, that story about Abbot Herbert, and Father X dying in York.

On the wall in his room in the monastery he had put a prayer of Blessed John Henry Newman: “My Lord and Savior, support me in my last hour in the strong arms of Your Sacraments and by the fresh fragrance of Your consolations. Let the absolving words be said over me, and the holy oil sign and seal me, and let Your own Body be my food, and Your Blood my sprinkling, and let my sweet Mother Mary breathe on me . . . .” We gave him the last sacraments of the Church, and murmured rosaries for him in his room. In another day he became very peaceful, and after that he said nothing more.

The next day he died. He died almost unnoticeably, surrounded by all the great machines and technologies of the hospital of this day, the doctors and nurses working, but not expecting; then suddenly, he had simply slipped away. It was as though he had chosen, in his humility, to die just as millions and hundreds of millions of his fellow human beings do, almost anonymously, it was a though he had chosen to be with them, to be one of them, when he died. There were no dramatic or memorable last words.

And yet, after all, there was one last word. For, dear friends, you see, do you not, that his whole life was a word. He was, his whole life, the doctor of humility and the doctor of the merciful love of God. Indeed, his whole life was just one word, the word that contains all others: “Mercy. Mercy. Mercy. Mercy. Mercy. The unfathomable depths of the infinite ocean of the loving mercy of God.” He had brought countless others to understand that word of the Lord spoken to them. I think when the Lord saw that his beloved Luke could not fully understand that word when it was spoken to him, Luke, that word which the Lord had spoken to him all his life – I think that when the Lord saw this, he wept. So he came, “and he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept. Then he cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth.’ Then he said, ‘Unbind him, and let him go free.’

Now you see, dear friends, now you see, at last his beloved Luke understands.

“I tell you, this man went to his house justified. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

“I rejoiced when I heard them say, ‘Let us go to God’s house’, and now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.”

“Write this: Blessed are they who die in the Lord. Now they may rest from their labors, for their deeds go with them.”

“Give praise, O you heavens, and exult, O you earth; break forth into shouts of joy, all you mountains: for the Lord has consoled his people, and has had mercy on his humble ones.”

Dear friends, when Saint Benedict died, his disciples looked up and saw a path, strewn with rich garments and flashing with innumerable lights, leading eastward from the monastery and up into the heavens. At the top of the path they could discern the figure of one who seemed a venerable old man, with a look of extreme kindness. The figure said to them, ‘Do you know what this path is?’ ‘No,’ they said. ‘This is the path,’ he said, ‘This is the path by which Benedict, the beloved of the Lord, ascended into heaven.’

Dear friends, do you not see, do we not see, a path leading eastward from this monastery, upward into the heavens, and do you not know, do we not know, that this is the path prepared for Luke, the beloved of the Lord?



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Homilies / Essays

School for the Lord’s Service Essay

Priory Legacy Bio

Abbot Luke's Memories of C.S. Lewis in C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table *

Favorite Books

Place of birth:
Surbiton, Surrey, England

Education:
Ampleforth College

Saint Benet’s Hall,
Oxford University:
M.A. English

Priestly Studies:
Blackfriars, Oxford
and Ampleforth Abbey

Current Work:
Intercessory Prayer

Interests:
Birds
English Literature
(currently light!)
Golf