Friday, March 15, 2024

Memorial Homily – Barbara Ivester

Wisdom 3:1-6

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Matthew 5:1-12


There’s a story told about St. Kateri Tekakwitha (the first Native American woman declared a saint by the Church) that reminded me of Barbara.

Saints are everywhere. Holiness is not limited to nuns, or priests, or deacons. It is something attainable by everyone. And holiness is the first step to sainthood.

When word of the Mohawk convert’s passing circulated throughout New France in the Americas in the spring of 1680, the news was a simple declaration: “The saint is dead.” 

Didn’t we all feel that way when we heard the shocking news of Barbara’s sudden passing? Our holy and saintlike friend was gone too soon.

There’s a deep Jesuit connection to St. Kateri (thanks to documentation by Jesuit missionaries of her life of holiness in the 17th Century). The miracle that led to her Canonization in 2012 happened in our own backyard when a young Lummi Nation boy with a lethal, flesh-eating bacteria was suddenly cured one day after a relic of then Blessed Kateri was laid on a pillow next to his head during a prayer service at Seattle Children’s hospital. His miracle cure could not be explained by doctors.

Today, Jake Finkbonner is a recent college graduate with plans to become a doctor himself. The power of a life touched by a saint.

All of us were touched by the holy life of our friend Barbara.

If you open the worship aid to the back page, you’ll see a cherished picture of Barbara with one of our native friends on the streets of downtown Seattle. Rick Williams is a well-known native wood carver.

St. Kateri Tekakwitha is the patron saint of native Americans. She’s also the patron saint of ecology and the environment, something near and dear to Barbara’s heart. I envision St. Kateri and Barbara chatting together in heaven now. 

How perfect that her husband Paul chose today’s Gospel reading from Matthew because Barbara lived the Beatitudes every day.

It was who she was. With her family. With her friends and choir mates. With those she met on the street with Sacred Encounters.

We started Sacred Encounters on Holy Week 2021. Barbara was one of the first to step forward from St. Patrick to join this shared ministry with Christ Our Hope.

She confided in me as she joined our team: “I’m afraid of homeless people.”

I told her, “You’ve come to the right place.”

Barbara knew the poor were blessed. Jesus says so in today’s Gospel.

It’s just that some of our unhoused friends can be a little scary.

What does Jesus mean by “blessed” in Beatitudes? What’s he really saying here?

The word has two meanings in Hebrew.

One meaning points “more to what is inward… while the other denotes… what comes to us from without.”[1]

Eight in number, the Beatitudes paint a picture of Jesus’ vision for the Kingdom here on earth. Everything considered “cursed” or “unfortunate” in our human eyes becomes blessed in Jesus’ eyes.

Jesus turned his world (and our world) upside down with the Beatitudes and forces us to face our preconceived notions about things.

After our very first session walking the streets of downtown Seattle, showing love to those experiencing homelessness, Barbara turned to me and said, “I’m no longer afraid.”

Her eyes had been opened by sharing Jesus’ ministry of love on the margins.

Indeed, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

Jesus’ words fueled the cookies she baked and the sandwiches she and Paul made together for the unhoused, the miles she walked to share the ministry of presence with them, and the heart she poured out to the poor and marginalized.

She understood that the Beatitudes are not necessarily about “the poor in spirit, the meek, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and those who suffer persecution in their search for holiness—these are not different people or kinds of people, but different demands made on EVERYONE who wants to be a disciple of Christ.”[2] 

Jesus Christ wants us all to become living saints by living the Beatitudes. Like our beloved Barbara.

In First Corinthians, we heard Jesus’ law of love. St. Paul shared this with the people of Corinth to get them to change their heartless ways.

At the time of his letter, there were great divisions in the Christian community in Corinth. The well-heeled were treating their poorer neighbors as second-class citizens by making them sit in the back of the Church.

Privilege guaranteed proximity. This is not what Jesus expects of us. And Paul knew it.

It’s why he used his letter to crack heads, in a love-filled way.

If ever we’re ever scolded, don’t we all want to be scolded by someone who uses the love-filled words of St. Paul?

And remember, the Greek word used here for love actually translates to charity. That changes the entire context of this famous passage.
           Charity (love) is what drove Barbara to serve on the margins. This form of love flowed from her weekly on the streets of Seattle.

Barbara’s sudden passing at such a young age has left us all reeling and feeling lost.

Paul, Henry, and Nate, you are surrounded by hundreds of people who share your mourning and who loved and respected this amazing and humble woman. Thank you for sharing her with us.

 To Barbara’s mother Janet, and sisters Shelley and Cathy and brother Andy, know Barbara is right now sharing time Stephen in heaven. And will be watching over you all in this earthly life.

   To all of Barbara’s St. Pat’s friends, her music and actions will ring in our hearts forever. She’s now joined the choir of angels. Can’t you just imagine her voice now? It must be glorious.

To all of Barbara’s Sacred Encounters friends, her spirit walks with you every time you’re on the streets of this fair city, spreading the Gospel of love. She’s now watching over all our unhoused friends.

           The soul of our righteous friend Barbara is in the hands of God,

and no torment will ever touch her. In the eyes of the foolish she seemed to have died, but she is at peace.

Yes, the saint is dead.

But she is now alive in Christ forever.

[1] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 17). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[2] Saint Matthew’s Gospel. (2005). (p. 48). Dublin; New York: Four Courts Press; Scepter Publishers.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

HOMILY – 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Humility


Watch the Video Version

           Well, here we are.

At the end of our journey together, the closing chapter of the 105-year story of St. Pat’s.

Soon we will step over the threshold into a great unknown.

But Jesus is with us today and forever. And Jesus promises us all new life. Now we need to hold on tight to that promise.

We are collectively in a place of vulnerability.

Thankfully, mercifully, this weekend’s readings are perfectly crafted for us, with a divine message from our creator about how we are to approach our next journeys.

In our first reading from Sirach, we hear we are to,

conduct (our) affairs with humility,
 and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble (oneself) the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.

           It is as if the message is coming to us “from Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem and countless angels in festal gathering” are watching over our final day together.

           Then Jesus speaks to us through the Gospel to reminds us,

“For every one who exalts himself (or herself) will be humbled, but the one who humbles (herself or) himself will be exalted."

           In his book Humility: The Beauty of Holiness, author Andrew Murray said to remember Jesus when thinking of a model for humility.

Here’s what he said,

“Christ humbled Himself, therefore God exalted Him. Christ will humble us, and keep us humble; let us heartily consent, let us trustfully and joyfully accept all that humbles; the power of Christ will (then) rest upon us. We shall find that the deepest humility is the secret to truest happiness, of a joy that nothing can destroy.”

In our Gospel story today, Jesus is helping us to understand what humility looks like in our human world.

           He’s about to break bread with a hostile audience of Pharisees and lawyers.

As Luke’s Gospel puts it, the guests had Jesus under close scrutiny. These are people who held grudges against Jesus and were lying in wait for him to slip up and say something they could persecute him with.

To add insult to injury, this is the Sabbath and a few moments before today’s Gospel passage, Jesus cured a man on the Sabbath, a no-no in Jesus’ world.

But Jesus seizes the moment to feed our souls with an important lesson in humility.

           Jesus is teaching us how to approach him, how to approach God, how to approach heaven, how to approach each other without airs of superiority or entitlement.

Not as people believing ourselves worthy of something, but as people who are totally dependent on the mercy of God for our very being, for every gift in our life, and for our potential future entrance into heaven.

Webster’s Dictionary defines humility as:

“The quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people”

In God’s eyes, we are humble when we are free of pride, arrogance, and self-reliance. 

God desires us to not think of ourselves as better than others.

That thinking only generates bitterness and division. And can lead to embarrassment when overstepping our place with God and with our brothers and sisters.

In other words, if we walk around with our noses up in the air, we may fall flat on our faces.

One bible scholar said the Mediterranean world in Jesus’ time was an honor/shame-based culture and “the social gaffe of overstepping one’s station, such as Jesus describes, would have been a mortifying experience.”  

But he says this “points to the proper disposition toward God and how we define our need for God’s salvation in our lives. Social self-inflation is equated with spiritual self-inflation.”

This is the lesson Jesus wants us to learn this weekend. 

           Drop our airs of self-importance. Get real.

And Jesus wants us to pay close attention to the poor, the marginalized, and the outcast.

Jesus reminds his fellow guests (and us) that a true act of generosity is one given to someone who can give us nothing in return, who cannot repay us, whose very social standing carries with it no prestige, no honor.

This is the exact way Jesus went about doing good, by emptying himself for others (especially the poor, marginalized and outcast) without counting the costs.

Are we prepared to do the same?

Once again, Jesus is sharing what’s expected of us as we build up the Kingdom here on earth.

All we need to do is listen and follow his lead. 

I am humbled by the many friendships built these past three-plus years with you all. We’ve walked together on a most difficult path.

I love you all. And you will be forever in my heart and in my prayers.

As we move forward, sisters and brothers, please never forget that Jesus is with us every step of the way. Even when we feel abandoned by our institutional Church.

One of my St. Pat’s friends shared a beautiful quote that speaks to this moment.

           Thank you, Lisa Dennison, for sharing this.

It comes from Irish priest and poet John O’Donohue.  I leave you with his words (and will let an Irishman have the last word in this final homily):

“At any time, you can ask yourself: At which threshold am I now standing? At this time in my life, what am I leaving? Where am I about to enter? What is preventing me from crossing my next threshold? What gift would enable me to do it? A threshold is not a simple boundary; it is a frontier that divides two different territories, rhythms, and atmospheres.

At this threshold, a great complexity of emotions comes alive: confusion, fear, excitement, sadness, hope. This is one of the reasons such vital crossings were always clothed in ritual. It is wise in your own life to be able to recognize and acknowledge the key thresholds; to take your time; to feel all the varieties of presence that accrue there; to listen inward with complete attention until you hear the inner voice calling you forward.

The time has come to cross.

Friday, August 19, 2022

HOMILY – 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Fire of the Gospel


           There is a fire and brimstone dimension to Jesus.

We may be skeptical of the Jesus portrayed by firebrand Evangelical preachers like Billy Graham and others throughout the years.

Sure, Jesus is the gentle, loving figure depicted in many Gospel stories. But he also has a fiery side. And it has come out in full force this weekend.

Jesus is here to push our buttons and show us the true-North of his Gospel message.

But are we listening?

           I fondly remember meeting a Maryknoll priest for the first time who knew how to push buttons like Jesus. He’s the reason I became associated with Maryknoll.

We were at our final deacon Lenten retreat during formation at Mt. Angel Seminary in 2012.

Fr. Dave LaBuda was a last-minute replacement for another Maryknoll educator who was supposed to lead our weekend.

 Dave is a very direct person. He loves to tell it like it is. He doesn’t soften his words especially when it comes to opinions about the Gospel or Jesus.

           This turned off some of our deacon couples. His words convicted hearts and led to very intriguing small group conversations.

I sat in awe all weekend long, chuckling at some of his button pushing antics.

Do you know who else is good with pushing buttons with his words and actions? Pope Francis.

His words and actions have ignited divisions not seen in our faith in centuries.

For Christians, it’s easy to get comfortable in our faith and think we have it all figured out.

           St. Augustine who once said, “If you think you understand God, it is not God.”  God is a mystery, and no human mind can fully comprehend God.

 St. Augustine is the saint who encouraged Christians to strive for a faith that seeks understanding. He also advised humility as we strive for that understanding.

When we hear Jesus talk about fire today, we should be reminded of St. Augustine. We should also be reminded of Pentecost and the arrival of the Holy Spirit. The fire of the Holy Spirit is what leads us to an understanding that is beyond our human capacity. And we should be reminded of St. John the Baptist announcement that one mightier than I would “baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit” in Luke’s Gospel.

Jesus knows of the divisions caused by faith.

When we follow the will of our creator (as we heard in last weekend’s Gospel), when we are all-in with our commitment to Jesus and follow the Holy Spirit, there will be detractors who will criticize us, and some may even persecute us or seek to hurt us.

We may be in harmony with our creator, but we may not be in harmony with our family, friends, acquaintances or even our enemies.

This is part of the reality of following Jesus. It’s not always going to be easy.

There’s another dimension of fire we need to consider. Fire is also an image of purification as in the refinement process for precious metals. Gold and silver are described as being tested by fire both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Such purification allows disciples to learn what it means to follow Christ.

As Bishop Mueggenborg said in his book, “Come Follow Me,” “When Jesus says that He came to cast fire on the earth, He is drawing on all of these images (of fire). He came to destroy the power of evil, to purify us of our weakness and attachment to sin, to sanctify us with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and to awaken within us the gift of faith through loving obedience to His Word. What a powerful image!” 

My Maryknoll friend Fr. Dave was the one who invited me on my first pilgrimage to Central America to see the sights and hear the stories of the martyrs of the 20th Century nearly 10 years ago.

           It was a life-changing experience that altered the trajectory of my ministry forever.

On that pilgrimage I first heard of Fr. Dave’s own brush with the fire of the Gospel.

As a Maryknoll priest he served the poorest of the poor in Honduras and Guatemala for 20-years.

It was at times dangerous work for him and his fellow disciples of Christ.

While on pilgrimage he shared a terrifying story when the Holy Spirit saved his life.

As a priest who worked in remote areas, he would travel by boat for hours every weekend to serve Mass in small rural communities dotting hundreds of miles of rivers.

          One time in early 1982 when civil unrest was at its peak, Fr. Dave LaBuda was working in the Peten region of Guatemala one weekend. He was joined by another priest Fr. Charlie Texiara.

As Fr. Dave and Fr. Charlie were traveling upriver, Guatemalan military authorities stopped them. The two priests were seen as suspicious and immediately placed into a makeshift prison-cell as the lieutenant radioed headquarters.

           Fr. Dave had just returned from Nicaragua. Both priests had identification papers from two regions where guerillas had strongholds in Guatemala.

Since both spoke fluent Spanish, they understood the lieutenant’s words as he asked for his commander, saying, “I don’t believe these men are priests and I want permission to shoot them.”

Fr. Dave and Fr. Charlie were freaked out. They saw no way out of their predicament.

Hours went by as the men sweated it out in the hot afternoon sun sensing the end of their lives was near. The anticipation was unbearable.

The lieutenant kept radioing headquarters, but his commander could not be found.

Eventually, the lieutenant brought both men out of the prison cell. They thought this was the end. 

But in their moment of terror Fr. Charlie noticed the lieutenant wearing a big class ring from his military academy and started to ask questions about it.

The lieutenant began to regale them of his graduation day when he got the ring 10-years earlier. He told them of finding a priest as they strolled through town after graduation to bless the ring. A gringo priest.

Fr. Charlie told the lieutenant, “I was that priest!”  

The lieutenant immediately recognized him and said, “Padre!”  And gave him big hug.

           After that, he let them go and allowed them to return to their mission. Both men were thankful to the Holy Spirit for saving their lives that day.

The danger of this moment is the fire Jesus is speaking of today.

This is the fire experienced by the martyrs of our faith (the so-called “great cloud of witnesses” mentioned in our second reading) for over two-thousand years.

While Fr. Dave and Fr. Charlie literally dodged a bullet that day, they both suffered from PTSD for years from the near-death experience.

How prepared are we to give our all for the Gospel?

This is what Jesus is warning his disciples of today.