Homily, Funeral Mass of Abbot Owen Purcell, OSB  The one who is searching has become the one who is found.

Funeral Mass of Abbot Owen Purcell, OSB

St. Benedict’s Abbey, Atchison, Kansas

13 November 2013

by Abbot James Albers, OSB


“Obsculta, o fili, praecepta magístri, et inclina aurem cordis tui…” (RB Prol. 1a).
Long before Abbot Owen would teach Latin to young men at Maur Hill he committed those words to memory in his novitiate class.

“Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart…”

Not only did Abbot Owen commit those words to memory, along with the remaining 49 other verses of the Prologue to the Rule of St. Benedict, but he desired to possess that virtue of having a listening heart.

“Inclina aurem cordis” – incline the ear of your heart – would be the motto he would choose for his time as abbot of this community.

It is what he strove for in his life, to be attentive to the needs of those around him and be able to respond as he was able.

As a very young man in high school at Immaculata in Leavenworth, Abbot Owen encountered something for which he longed.

He told the story of an encounter he had at Immaculata with the monks of our community, and how he was drawn to what he saw in them.

That experience for him, of this adopted brotherhood, would change his life as he heeded those words of St. Benedict:  “... admonitionem pii patris libenter éxcipe et efficáciter comple…” (RB Prol. 1b); “This is advice from a father who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice.”

This is the reason any of the monks has come to the monastery:  we know a void in our lives, a longing for something, and it is the love of the Father that provides fulfillment as we seek Christ.

St. Benedict knew that it was the love of the Father that would give his monks the necessary guidance and care to live this life for Christ.

He knew it was a difficult path but one that as we progress “in this way of life and in faith, we shall run… [with] our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love” (RB Prol. 49).

It is this love that Abbot Owen searched for, and the love that brought him great joy and peace.

We know as monks, and in our daily Christian lives, that this peace is found in a myriad of encounters and experiences, behind doors and around corners where we did not expect to find them.

Abbot Owen was one who touched the lives of many through his openness to these encounters.

What is most striking is the sheer number of people who count him as a very close friend; you all who have been so touched by him, and so affected his life.

This is truly the power of an encounter with Christ, and the compassion he offers.

The one who is searching is the one who is to be found.

We see it in our gospel this morning with the women who find the tomb empty, the body of Jesus is not there, something new has happened that has left them confused, with no answer.


And suddenly there are two men in dazzling clothes who say:  “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; but has risen.”

What was a simple act on the part of the women, done surely out of love – going to the tomb – has now turned into an event, a truly life-changing event.

Nothing remains as it was before, not only in the lives of those women, but also in our own lives and in the history of mankind.

The one who is searching has become the one who is found.

And so, Jesus is not dead, he has risen, he is alive.

He does not simply return to life; rather, he is life itself, because he is the Son of God, the living God.

This is how the newness of God appears to the women, the disciples and all of us:  as victory over sin, evil and death, over everything that crushes life and makes it seem less human.

How often does Love have to tell us:  “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

Abbot Owen would be the first to tell you of his own struggles, yet also of his own victory to find peace in something greater than he; to find Jesus alive.

The many confreres, religious sisters, students, parishioners, those who journeyed with him in his own struggle with addiction; he simply helped so many people encounter that Jesus who is alive, and in the process knew how to allow himself to be helped.

As I was with Abbot Owen in the hospital preparing to bring him back to the Abbey for his final days, he said two things to me that were very important to him.

First he said, “Please take me back to the Abbey. I want to see the reason I joined.” And then he said, “When you are preparing your homily for my funeral, let them know that I am at peace.”

I think both of those requests were one in the same.

When our journey becomes complicated, when following Jesus seems difficult, the greatest act of love we can offer is to trust him.

In this we can be confident he is with us and will give us the peace for which we long.

As we lay our brother to rest this day, our prayer is that Abbot Owen knows true peace in his search for Christ.

May the fruit of his search for Christ find him in the loving embrace of his Father.

And may we all prefer nothing whatever to Christ, “qui nos pariter ad vitam aeternam perdúcat” – may he bring us all together to everlasting life.

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