Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Women Deacons?

I first read about Theologian Phyllis Zagano's book Women Deacons: Past, Present, Future several months ago on Deacon Greg Kandra's blog Deacon's Bench.

As we are currently experiencing in our parishes, change can be difficult in our Catholic faith community. A new Roman missal has become a somewhat polarizing transition.

This would be a major change, and one the Church would embrace only if she feels it's driven by the Holy Spirit.

The book is now out (click on the above title for a link to Amazon). Dr. Zagano is not the only author. Noted Deacon Dr. Bill Ditewig and Santa Clara Theologian Gary Macy are co-authors. Here is an interview with Zagano.


Reprinted from U.S. Catholic:

The issue of women priests may be a settled matter, but that doesn’t mean a woman can’t serve the church as a deacon.

Celebrating the opening of the archives of her work on women in the diaconate at Loyola University Chicago’s Gannon Center for Women and Leadership, scholar Phyllis Zagano minced no words about the topic that has been her life’s project: “Women as deacons is not a concept for the future. Women as deacons is a concept for the present, for today.”

With women’s ordination being a sensitive topic in Catholic circles, Zagano carefully lays out her argument for restoring what for many centuries was an official role of women in the ancient church, rejecting a “slippery slope” argument that claims women deacons would mean eventual women priests. “We have this misunderstanding that the diaconate is only a step on the way to priesthood,” she says. “The diaconate is a separate vocation, and one doesn’t imply the other.”

Despite her advocacy Zagano doesn’t think every bishop needs to ordain women as deacons tomorrow, noting that some dioceses still don’t ordain men to the permanent diaconate. “One bishop may feel he needs women deacons; another bishop may feel he doesn’t,” she says. “But if the archbishop of Chicago thought he needed women as deacons, why would he not be allowed to have them?”

If anything, Zagano says, women deacons are worth a try. “As I said to [New York] Cardinal John O’Connor 20 years ago, ‘I’ll give you my life as an experiment. Just see what happens.’ ”

What obstacles are there in current church teaching or law that would prevent the ordination of a woman as a deacon?

The principal obstacle is that women have not been ordained as deacons in the Western church for at least 800 years. In current canon law women cannot be ordained as anything. It’s as simple as that.

There is a collision between the tradition of the church and the law of the church on this question. What is admitted by all sides—both those for and against it—is that it’s an open question.

I’m confident in saying that because the most recent discussion coming from the Vatican about this topic is a 72-page study document by the International Theological Commission, which had one conclusion: It’s up to the magisterium, the teaching authority of the church, to decide.

In New York in the late 1980s I was at a meeting with then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and discussed the issue with him briefly. He said, “It’s under study.”

To my mind the study has just gone on too long. So I think the biggest obstacle is inertia, and perhaps a misunderstanding of the diaconate and how women in the diaconate could further the objective need for greater evangelization.

Some say that if women can’t be ordained priests, they can’t be ordained deacons. What’s the connection between those two?

What used to be called the “progression of orders”—deacon, priest, and bishop—developed late in the history of the church, and it isn’t helpful today. It’s better to understand the deacon as one of the arms of the bishop; the other arm is the priest. They are separate orders in the church.

One doesn’t imply the other. When you ordain a man a permanent deacon today, there’s no expectation that he would become a priest. A deacon is not a priest. The diaconate is a separate vocation, one that was lived by men and women in the ancient church, and is lived today by men.

But isn’t there a fear that if you ordained a woman as a deacon, you could ordain her a priest, too?

I wrote a book called Holy Saturday: An Argument for the Restoration of the Female Diaconate (Crossroad) at the request of my old boss, Cardinal John O’Connor of New York. I brought my outline to him, and I think I had six points.

He said, “Phyllis, if you’ve proved a woman can be ordained a deacon, you’ve proved she can be ordained a priest.” I said, “Eminence, I’m not allowed to talk about women priests. Why are you bringing that up?” He said, “Oh, that’s very good. Make that point three.”

The cardinal was very clear in that discussion that the slippery slope was a fear of Rome. I simply say ordaining women as priests is just not the teaching of our church. But that doesn’t mean a woman isn’t ordainable.

To say that a woman is not ordainable and cannot serve in persona Christi—as a deacon, in the person of Christ the servant—is to argue against the incarnation. The important thing is not that Christ became male. It’s that Christ became human. If we say that a woman cannot live in persona Christi, I think we’re making a terribly negative comment about the female gender.

That is the so-called iconic argument against women in the priesthood: You have to be male to represent Jesus. That argument is no longer used. The argument church teaching uses today is the argument from authority, which is that Christ called forth only men as apostles.

That is what Pope John Paul II said in 1994, that the church does not have the authority to ordain a woman as a priest, because Christ did not choose women for membership among the Twelve.

And that doesn’t apply to women deacons?

The argument from authority doesn’t hold for women deacons because in Acts the first seven who are generally understood as the first deacons were called forth by the apostles, not by Christ. They were put forward by the people of the church and received a laying on of hands from the apostles. Further, the only person in all of scripture who has the job title “deacon” is Phoebe, a woman.

The argument from authority against ordaining women as priests is actually an argument for ordaining women as deacons. I don’t think you can accept one and not the other.

How do bishops respond when you suggest ordaining women as deacons?

When I ask them to ordain me, they always say they want to keep their jobs. That’s a change in the response. It used to be, “That can’t happen.”

I think it’s more important to look through the eyes of the bishop as he looks at the needs of the diocese and how they are being fulfilled by whatever cadre of ordained or other ministers he calls forth. That, to me, is the bottom line on the need for women to be ordained: the needs of the church.

We have in the United States 35,000 lay ecclesial ministers, of whom something like 80 or 85 percent are women. We have in the United States about 16,500 permanent deacons, most of whom are married men.

But of the women who minister in the church, none has the particular relationship between herself and her ministry and the bishop. So she’s not exactly an arm of the bishop. She’s literally at arm’s length from the bishop as a lay ecclesial minister.

Many dioceses have wonderful programs of certifying lay ecclesial ministers. But with the diaconate, there’s a specific progression of formation—the spiritual, the human, the intellectual, and the pastoral—that is under the control of the bishop. So if a woman is then trained by the bishop in his program and is formed spiritually, humanly, intellectually, and pastorally, then in ordaining her the bishop is certifying, in a way, that he trusts her.

What are some more specific needs that a female deacon might meet?

A bishop may find that he needs women to provide for the charity of the church. A need of the church—and an ancient task of the woman deacon—was to be the intermediary between the women of the church and the bishop. She would bring the needs of the women to the bishop. Alternatively, she would bring the teachings of the bishop to women.

When a Syrian bishop was writing in the fourth century about needing women deacons, he used an interesting verb to explain why. He said it was unseemly for women to uncover, divulge, or disclose themselves before men.

You can take that to mean it’s unseemly for women to undress at baptism before men, and women deacons did assist in the baptism of women. But it could also mean that it’s unseemly for women to expose themselves personally to men in certain situations.

I think of women as spiritual directors and counselors, as well as in hospital and prison ministry. In those situations a woman deacon would bring the pastoral concern of the bishop directly to the women in need.

In addition, there are many women who are judges on marriage tribunals. If a layperson is a judge on a marriage tribunal, for example, that layperson can have a vote. But a layperson who writes an individual judgment in a church proceeding cannot sign it. She has to run down the hall and get a cleric to sign it. The same applies to diocesan chancellors. But if those women were deacons, they would be clerics, able to act on their own.

Can’t any layperson do most of this ministry?

A layperson can lead a communion service in a nursing home. But there is a distinction, and the reason we have ordination is because the bishop is ordering the individual to stand in on his behalf.

I don’t think it’s a difference in the actual ministry. There’s a difference in the minister. And to my mind a great deal of it is in formation and training.

Think of rural areas. If you’re going to send somebody out in rural North Dakota, that person is going to go out with only the training he or she received. If the bishop were deciding whom to send, I think he’d rather send somebody he has trained and ordained, because he can remove that person’s faculties, too.

It’s also sacramental. In the parish you have people who are being prepared for marriage. It’s usually the priest who is going to preside at the wedding, but many times the marriage intake is done by a lay ecclesial minister who cannot be the church’s official witness at the wedding. But a deacon is an ordinary minister of the sacrament of marriage, and a female deacon could preside at the wedding.

How would a woman deacon change the Catholic experience of Sunday Mass?

An ordained person is a public minister of the church. When I go to my parish, there’s a huge rotation of lay ecclesial ministers and volunteers, altar servers, acolytes, lectors, ministers of the Eucharist. There’s no direct symbolism to that.

A deacon is vested in the dalmatic and is a stable personality in the parish. And so there’s the symbolic understanding or a symbolic representation of a woman up there on the altar as a recognized, trained, ordained minister. I think that there’s a real difference.

The deacon is also charged to live a life of prayer and, as a cleric, is required to celebrate morning and evening prayer, to make an annual retreat, to have a spiritual director, to have a confessor. There’s a whole different way that the personality is formed, and that’s the spiritual formation. It’s not just a function. It’s an identity rooted in prayer.

I think there can be a qualitative distinction in the personality who is a public figure in the parish, is publicly available, has given her life to the people of God, and is approachable. I can’t see myself approaching any of the lectors or lay ecclesial ministers I have with a question about God or the church.

But why not just continue to expand lay ministry?
I think we might be confusing status with office. There are people who have the office or the job of pastoral associate who are laypeople. Those laypeople work for the pastor. Typically they are trained and formed as lay ecclesial ministers. They cannot function ceremonially at the altar except as lectors and acolytes and leaders of music.

To my mind, it would be another step if the pastoral associate who’s been running the soup kitchen all week long can wear the vestments of a deacon, proclaim the gospel, and preach about helping the poor. It connects the dots.

How might the ordination of a woman as a deacon happen?

All a bishop has to do is ask for derogation from the law, as recommended in a 1995 document of the Canon Law Society of America, which parsed how it could happen. You need derogation from the law to install a woman as an acolyte, derogation from the law to install a woman as a lector, and derogation from the law to ordain a woman as a deacon.

I think that bishops could ask for a regional permission in the United States or even a sub-regional permission—for certain dioceses or archdioceses—to train women and then ordain them as deacons.

I think we could experiment. We could see how it works. If it works in your region, maybe other regions will adopt it. If it doesn’t work in your region, maybe other regions won’t adopt it.

Are there any more official developments on this issue?

There’s a lot of discussion in the Orthodox churches in the United States and stretching to Constantinople. His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople has said he thinks that the Orthodox churches could return to this ancient tradition of ordaining women as deacons.

The Armenian Apostolic Church and the Orthodox Church of Greece can ordain women as deacons. And the Holy See recognizes the validity of the sacraments and orders of those churches.

In the United States there are discussions in dioceses where several women are in touch with their bishops and formation directors discussing this matter, asking to be considered as candidates even though they can’t be officially considered. Some of them are mirroring the deacon formation programs by attending Catholic master of divinity programs. And two in particular I can think of are in touch with their bishops and the deacon formation people, and have spiritual directors from the deacon formation list, and they are going forward.

These are professional women between the ages of 35 and 50 with children, supportive husbands, some of them working in Catholic ministries or locations, and some of them volunteering in their churches, being put forth by their parishes in one case.

Would ordaining women as deacons make a statement about the equality of women?

I think the world outside the church is asking, “What exactly is your problem?”

In 1995 I was a guest of the Archdiocese of New York on what is called a shooters’ platform for photographers in Central Park at the papal Mass. That made me the closest woman to the pope. All around was a sea of priests waiting to give out communion. I thought: This is ridiculous. What does this look like?

When you see a papal Mass on television, it supports, to my mind, a mentality that argues women shouldn’t be seen or heard. In some countries that is true—the very countries where the gospel is most necessary, where the new evangelization could help raise women to a greater dignity. It is in those countries, when they see this picture of only men, that their concept of women is reinforced. I think it’s a negative image, and it’s one that has to change.

Do you think the current pope is at all open to the possibility of women deacons?

In March 2006, when Pope Benedict XVI was speaking to the priests of the diocese of Rome, a priest asked him about women in governance and ministry. The pope said it was proper to ask if the church could offer “more positions of responsibility” to women. And I believe he indicated he thought it would be a good thing to have more women in governance and ministry.

Governance and ministry, technically, can only be performed by the ordained. To me, he was clearly speaking about the possibility of women deacons.

The principal issue this question circles on is simply: Is a woman made in the image and likeness of God? Well, I’m here to tell you, this is what Jesus looks like. They need to understand that and they need to represent that on the altar.

Until a woman deacon is standing at the altar with the pope, proclaiming the gospel, it’s not going to be heard. It’s not so much that we need new evangelization; we need new evangelizers. The message is lost because of the messengers.



Monday, August 22, 2011

Christians & Equality

Agendas. In our world today just about everybody has one. It was probably no different in St. Paul’s day when he wrote his Letter to the Galatians or in the day when Colossians, Ephesians, or First Letter of Timothy were written. We are human. We have agendas that may not always be aligned with our Creator’s agenda.

What was Jesus Christ’s agenda? As Christians we must always ask ourselves this question and follow it up with: Are we faithful to Jesus’ agenda?

“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:27-28

In Paul’s Letter to the Galatians he proposes what some bible scholars believe is ”likely a formula used at baptism that expresses racial, social-economic, and sexual equality in Christ.” This quote is from a footnote found on the USCCB New America Bible website.

The cultural context of Paul’s letter may have had more to do with Judaizers hell-bent on making practicing Jews out of early “Gentile” Christians in the far away hinterland of Galatia. But Christ’s agenda seems to shine forth from Paul’s words: Equality is imperative in the Kingdom.

A similar “old clothes vs. new clothes” theme on the issue of equality is found in Colossians 3:11: “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all.” It is intriguingly suspicious that “male and female” is edited out of Colossians.

The cultural context in Colossae for families and husband/wife relationships as found in Colossians 3:18-4:6 was deeply influenced by Roman paterfamilias. Some scholars suggest the “household code” may have been an add-on to Colossians since it seems out of touch with other parts of the Letter. While the “Christian Household” text clearly is “seeking ordered unity within the household as a ‘mini-church’” it does so by promoting mutuality in relationships to offset the inequality existent in society then, and now… or at least until as recently as 30 to 40 years ago in our Western culture. The inequality is still quite present in cultures outside of North America and Europe.

Some recent scholarship suggests Colossians may be a wink and a nod to the overriding social norm of Roman paterfamilias or as theologian Harry O. Maier’s scholarly article “A Sly Civility” suggests some of the texts in Colossians are subtle, but outright subversion of the “household code.” Some suggest the overriding message might be the “call for love (Col. 3:19), justice and equality (Col. 4:1).”

St. Paul seems very direct in his criticism of society’s impact on the Christian community. He strikes me as someone not prone to compromise. This “sly civility” appears to suggest someone other than Paul as the author, but someone who is desperately trying to maintain the integrity of Paul’s words on the topic of equality while bridging a cultural gap. It’s quite artful when you think of it. A similar artfulness can be found in Ephesians 5:21-23 as an expansion of Colossians 3:18-19.

I imagine a Christian community besieged by suspicious neighbors, civil authorities, etc. A little conformity probably seemed prudent in order to not have Christianity wiped out in its infancy and toddler phases. Whether or not it was prudent can be left up to scholars to debate.

Where the Pauline thinking on Christian equality takes a radical turn is in First Letter of Timothy. Author and theologian Elsa Tamez puts up a powerful argument for what struggles may have created this radical shift in thinking on Christian equality. She suggests wealthy women were in a power struggle with the male leaders of the Christian community in Ephesus.

I wrote in the margins of the following passage in her book “Struggles For Power In Early Christianity,” “Where is Jesus here?:”

Talmez wrote, “Instead of resolving in a non-authoritarian manner, (the author of Timothy) turns to the patriarchal ideology of those times – not only to call attention to the rich women causing the problem (in the community), but to subjugate all the women, because patriarchal ideology is directed at all women, regardless of social class.”

Instead of using the teachings of Christ as his weapon of love, the author of Timothy uses a societal norm of behavior as a blunt weapon to “Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.” 1st Timothy 2:11-12

Indeed, where is Christ in First Timothy?

This does not mean Christians should reject First Timothy, but we should acknowledge that scholarship clearly shows the authorship not to be Pauline since it is contrary to genuine Pauline teaching found in Galatians. It would be most prudent to use these texts as a “cautionary tale” warning for how Christian faith can be perverted by men with anti-women agendas and the impact culture can have on the radical ideas proposed by Jesus Christ.

I recently watched the movie “Clan Of The Cave Bear.” In one scene, a newly installed Neanderthal leader wishes to have a female become his possession. This woman had learned to proficiently use a hunting weapon better than any of the men in the Clan. The new leader first strips her of her child born out of the brutal rape by the same man and immediately banishes from the Clan the woman’s adopted father, her powerbase due to his Shaman like role in the Clan. It’s a very moving scene and one that ultimately upsets the social order of the Clan because the leader overuses his power to his own detriment and exposes his cruel nature to the entire Clan.

As I read the First Letter of Timothy, I see the same misogynistic cruelty at play subverting the love, justice and equality of Christ promulgated by Paul and used subtly by a more competent disciple in Colossians and Ephesians. Sadly, this perverted justice has reverberated through our Christian faith for nearly two thousand years. I pray the social equality of women in our post modern age will be the sign of our times Christians need to reinterpret the First Letter of Timothy and put it once and for all in its proper perspective.

A good friend who grew up Latin Amerrica shared her cultural experience of her father being the head of the family during her upbringing. She is quite passionate about the appropriateness of this patriarchal power structure in her family. This cultural dynamic is quite prevalent in conservative Christian households in the U.S., too.

I grew up with a single mother who was the sole breadwinner after my father’s death. My wife grew up with a mother who ran the chemistry lab at a major hospital and was an equal in all ways to her husband. In our cultural upbringing, we both had models of equality in our lives that became embedded in our relationship. The strength of our 25-year marriage is founded on the equality we both strive to maintain in our relationship. As a deacon candidate sharing Christ’s message on equality, perhaps humble “leadership by example” will prove to be the most powerful sign of Christ’s agenda on the issue of equality in our Church community.

Paul’s Galatians 3:27-28 seems to be an original and not watered down version of Christ’s teachings on Christian equality. As a deacon candidate, I am called to be a servant of Christ and share His peace, justice, love and equality with all I come into contact.

Paul’s original words from Galatians about “cloth(ing) ourselves in Christ” and the equality it promotes will be the words that guide my diaconal candidate ministry as I help others to see clearly Christ message. But I pray I do so without an agenda other than the agenda of Christ.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Harry Potter's Last Battle - Catholic Review

Vatican newspaper runs positive review of final Harry Potter film...

The unsettling and violent finale of the film saga of J.K. Rowling's novels

The finale is epic, with a battle worthy of this saga of unequalled planetary success. The decisive meeting between the forces of good and evil is truly the final one, played out in an atmosphere that is almost too dark. The games of magic played by the baby wizards are a thing of the past. The little students of Hogwarts have grown up and the sorcery they learnt now serves to fight against the evil of the dark master and to save the world from his plans. They are fighting a real war. And risking their lives.

So goes the eighth and last movie chapter of J.K. Rowling’s saga, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: the second part, which looks to be another blockbuster in a long series of blockbusters throughout the years, and which has seen the participation of some of the best English actors. Fans of the saga already know everything: for them, the challenge is to compare how faithful the film is to the book. So far, they haven’t complained and we believe they will not have reason to with this film either. But a film has its own rules and even if it is faithful to the book, it may not be fascinating, as happened with the first part of the Deathly Hallows – which did not live up to previous films, possibly because it was decided to divide it into two parts. Director David Yates, who also directed the three previous Potter films, seems to have taken the criticism on board and does not repeat the same errors this time. Beginning with the length of the film, which is the shortest of all eight. Shortening the film has done it great favors, along with calibrated special effects and tight editing.

The atmosphere of the last few episodes which had become increasingly dark and ominous, reaches its pinnacle in this last film with Hogwarts reduced to smoldering rubble. Something which may not please everyone and may create unease for the smallest spectators, as happened in the previous installment. Death, which before was a rare occurrence, here is a protagonist. This violence may not be welcomed or suitable for everyone.

As for the content, evil is never presented as fascinating or attractive in the saga, but the values of friendship and of sacrifice are highlighted. In a unique and long story of formation, through painful passages of dealing with death and loss, the hero and his companions mature from the lightheartedness of infancy to the complex reality of adulthood.

July 12, 2011

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

All The Vatican News Thats Fit To Print Or Go Online

(Click on the title link to be directed to the Vatican's news website)


Or follow on Twitter: twitter.com/news_va_en

With the press of a button, Pope Benedict XVI today launched a new Vatican news web portal, offering exclusive, multimedia of all the communications websites of the Holy See.

The news portal is found at www.news.va and includes the best of Vatican Radio. It also features the latest news from the Vatican newspaper, l’Osservatore Romano, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, VIS (the Vatican’s Information Service) and the Misna missionary news agency.

The website is available in English and Italian and uses some of the latest digital technology to offer audio and video streaming, plus high quality images and a twitter feed providing instant news headlines to smart phones, other mobile devices and all Twitter followers online.

The new portal was launched officially with a press of a button on the computer of Pope Benedict XVI.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pope John Paul II Beatification Homily

With Pope John Paul II's Beatification pushed off the front page by the Osama Bin Laden story, perhaps you missed seeing Pope Benedict XVI's homily for the event on May 1, 2011, Divine Mercy Sunday. Here is the speech in its entirety, both in text and video form:


Part One

Part Two

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Six years ago we gathered in this Square to celebrate the funeral of Pope John Paul II. Our grief at his loss was deep, but even greater was our sense of an immense grace which embraced Rome and the whole world: a grace which was in some way the fruit of my beloved predecessor's entire life, and especially of his witness in suffering. Even then we perceived the fragrance of his sanctity, and in any number of ways God's People showed their veneration for him. For this reason, with all due respect for the Church's canonical norms, I wanted his cause of beatification to move forward with reasonable haste. And now the longed-for day has come; it came quickly because this is what was pleasing to the Lord: John Paul II is blessed!

I would like to offer a cordial greeting to all of you who on this happy occasion have come in such great numbers to Rome from all over the world - cardinals, patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches, brother bishops and priests, official delegations, ambassadors and civil authorities, consecrated men and women and lay faithful, and I extend that greeting to all those who join us by radio and television.

Today is the Second Sunday of Easter, which Blessed John Paul II entitled Divine Mercy Sunday. The date was chosen for today's celebration because, in God's providence, my predecessor died on the vigil of this feast. Today is also the first day of May, Mary's month, and the liturgical memorial of Saint Joseph the Worker. All these elements serve to enrich our prayer, they help us in our pilgrimage through time and space; but in heaven a very different celebration is taking place among the angels and saints! Even so, God is but one, and one too is Christ the Lord, who like a bridge joins earth to heaven. At this moment we feel closer than ever, sharing as it were in the liturgy of heaven.

"Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe" (Jn 20:29). In today's Gospel Jesus proclaims this beatitude: the beatitude of faith. For us, it is particularly striking because we are gathered to celebrate a beatification, but even more so because today the one proclaimed blessed is a Pope, a Successor of Peter, one who was called to confirm his brethren in the faith. John Paul II is blessed because of his faith, a strong, generous and apostolic faith. We think at once of another beatitude: "Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven" (Mt 16:17). What did our heavenly Father reveal to Simon? That Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Because of this faith, Simon becomes Peter, the rock on which Jesus can build his Church. The eternal beatitude of John Paul II, which today the Church rejoices to proclaim, is wholly contained in these sayings of Jesus: "Blessed are you, Simon" and "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe!" It is the beatitude of faith, which John Paul II also received as a gift from God the Father for the building up of Christ's Church.

Our thoughts turn to yet another beatitude, one which appears in the Gospel before all others. It is the beatitude of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer. Mary, who had just conceived Jesus, was told by Saint Elizabeth: "Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord" (Lk 1:45). The beatitude of faith has its model in Mary, and all of us rejoice that the beatification of John Paul II takes place on this first day of the month of Mary, beneath the maternal gaze of the one who by her faith sustained the faith of the Apostles and constantly sustains the faith of their successors, especially those called to occupy the Chair of Peter. Mary does not appear in the accounts of Christ's resurrection, yet hers is, as it were, a continual, hidden presence: she is the Mother to whom Jesus entrusted each of his disciples and the entire community. In particular we can see how Saint John and Saint Luke record the powerful, maternal presence of Mary in the passages preceding those read in today's Gospel and first reading. In the account of Jesus' death, Mary appears at the foot of the Cross (Jn 19:25), and at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles she is seen in the midst of the disciples gathered in prayer in the Upper Room (Acts 1:14).

Today's second reading also speaks to us of faith. St. Peter himself, filled with spiritual enthusiasm, points out to the newly-baptized the reason for their hope and their joy. I like to think how in this passage, at the beginning of his First Letter, Peter does not use language of exhortation; instead, he states a fact. He writes: "you rejoice", and he adds: "you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls" (1 Pt 1:6, 8-9). All these verbs are in the indicative, because a new reality has come about in Christ's resurrection, a reality to which faith opens the door. "This is the Lord's doing", says the Psalm (Ps 118:23), and "it is marvelous in our eyes", the eyes of faith.

Dear brothers and sisters, today our eyes behold, in the full spiritual light of the risen Christ, the beloved and revered figure of John Paul II. Today his name is added to the host of those whom he proclaimed saints and blesseds during the almost twenty-seven years of his pontificate, thereby forcefully emphasizing the universal vocation to the heights of the Christian life, to holiness, taught by the conciliar Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium. All of us, as members of the people of God - bishops, priests, deacons, laity, men and women religious - are making our pilgrim way to the heavenly homeland where the Virgin Mary has preceded us, associated as she was in a unique and perfect way to the mystery of Christ and the Church. Karol Wojtyla took part in the Second Vatican Council, first as an auxiliary Bishop and then as Archbishop of Krakow. He was fully aware that the Council's decision to devote the last chapter of its Constitution on the Church to Mary meant that the Mother of the Redeemer is held up as an image and model of holiness for every Christian and for the entire Church. This was the theological vision which Blessed John Paul II discovered as a young man and subsequently maintained and deepened throughout his life. A vision which is expressed in the scriptural image of the crucified Christ with Mary, his Mother, at his side. This icon from the Gospel of John (19:25-27) was taken up in the episcopal and later the papal coat-of-arms of Karol Wojtyla: a golden cross with the letter "M" on the lower right and the motto "Totus tuus", drawn from the well-known words of Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort in which Karol Wojtyla found a guiding light for his life: "Totus tuus ego sum et omnia mea tua sunt. Accipio te in mea omnia. Praebe mihi cor tuum, Maria - I belong entirely to you, and all that I have is yours. I take you for my all. O Mary, give me your heart" (Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, 266).

In his Testament, the new Blessed wrote: "When, on 16 October 1978, the Conclave of Cardinals chose John Paul II, the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, said to me: 'The task of the new Pope will be to lead the Church into the Third Millennium'". And the Pope added: "I would like once again to express my gratitude to the Holy Spirit for the great gift of the Second Vatican Council, to which, together with the whole Church - and especially with the whole episcopate - I feel indebted. I am convinced that it will long be granted to the new generations to draw from the treasures that this Council of the twentieth century has lavished upon us. As a Bishop who took part in the Council from the first to the last day, I desire to entrust this great patrimony to all who are and will be called in the future to put it into practice. For my part, I thank the Eternal Shepherd, who has enabled me to serve this very great cause in the course of all the years of my Pontificate". And what is this "cause"? It is the same one that John Paul II presented during his first solemn Mass in Saint Peter's Square in the unforgettable words: "Do not be afraid! Open, open wide the doors to Christ!" What the newly-elected Pope asked of everyone, he was himself the first to do: society, culture, political and economic systems he opened up to Christ, turning back with the strength of a titan - a strength which came to him from God - a tide which appeared irreversible. By his witness of faith, love and apostolic courage, accompanied by great human charisma, this exemplary son of Poland helped believers throughout the world not to be afraid to be called Christian, to belong to the Church, to speak of the Gospel. In a word: he helped us not to fear the truth, because truth is the guarantee of liberty. To put it even more succinctly: he gave us the strength to believe in Christ, because Christ is Redemptor hominis, the Redeemer of man. This was the theme of his first encyclical, and the thread which runs though all the others.

When Karol Wojtyla ascended to the throne of Peter, he brought with him a deep understanding of the difference between Marxism and Christianity, based on their respective visions of man. This was his message: man is the way of the Church, and Christ is the way of man. With this message, which is the great legacy of the Second Vatican Council and of its "helmsman", the Servant of God Pope Paul VI, John Paul II led the People of God across the threshold of the Third Millennium, which thanks to Christ he was able to call "the threshold of hope". Throughout the long journey of preparation for the great Jubilee he directed Christianity once again to the future, the future of God, which transcends history while nonetheless directly affecting it. He rightly reclaimed for Christianity that impulse of hope which had in some sense faltered before Marxism and the ideology of progress. He restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope, to be lived in history in an "Advent" spirit, in a personal and communitarian existence directed to Christ, the fullness of humanity and the fulfillment of all our longings for justice and peace.

Finally, on a more personal note, I would like to thank God for the gift of having worked for many years with Blessed Pope John Paul II. I had known him earlier and had esteemed him, but for twenty-three years, beginning in 1982 after he called me to Rome to be Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I was at his side and came to revere him all the more. My own service was sustained by his spiritual depth and by the richness of his insights. His example of prayer continually impressed and edified me: he remained deeply united to God even amid the many demands of his ministry. Then too, there was his witness in suffering: the Lord gradually stripped him of everything, yet he remained ever a "rock", as Christ desired. His profound humility, grounded in close union with Christ, enabled him to continue to lead the Church and to give to the world a message which became all the more eloquent as his physical strength declined. In this way he lived out in an extraordinary way the vocation of every priest and bishop to become completely one with Jesus, whom he daily receives and offers in the Eucharist.

Blessed are you, beloved Pope John Paul II, because you believed! Continue, we implore you, to sustain from heaven the faith of God's people. How many time you blessed us from this very square. Holy Father, bless us again from that window. Amen.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Mother's Day Gift From A Grateful Son

Upon becoming a deacon candidate, my mother confided in me her dream to be married in the Catholic Church by her son, a deacon. Should that blessed day come with God's good graces, I created a homily for her.

It actually started as our homily assignment for this month's deacon formation weekend. We were asked to create a wedding homily. I could think of no better way to do it. Happy Mother's Day, mom.

Gospel Reading: John 2:1-11 (Wedding At Cana)

Miracles happen in all of our lives. Sometimes we have eyes to see. Faith helps open our eyes to see even better the miracles happening all around us.

The union we witness today is proof of God’s abundance of miracles. Christ is turning water into wine with this perfect union, this miracle of new life together in Christ.

When we prepare sacraments of bread and wine in a few moments I want you the pay close attention to when the gifts are being prepared at the altar.

There is a moment when a drop of water is placed into the wine cup. This drop of water signifies our humanity being placed into the divinity of Christ, signified by the wine in the chalice. It’s a blessed moment worthy of reflection.

The priest’s words are: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled Himself to share in our humanity.”

Local Catholic author Dr. Tom Curran wrote about this in his book “The Mass: Four Encounters With Jesus That Will Change Your Life.”

He says, “the wine is the divinity of Christ, and we are the water. It is as if our spiritual self-offering (our “pouring out”) at Mass represented by tasteless, colorless water is immersed in the robust flavorful wine of Christ’s self-offering on the Cross. What happens to the water when it’s poured into the wine? It is totally dissolved into the wine and ‘becomes wine.’ That’s what will happen at Mass: our self-offering is going to be immersed into Christ’s.”

How appropriate that Christ’s first public miracle is turning water into wine. But not without a little reluctance to His Mother’s request. His “hour has not yet come.”

By turning water into wine, Christ demonstrates for us how He can turn our ordinary humanity into the divine.

And that’s what’s happening at this beautiful wedding of this woman and this man. Their self-offering is going to be immersed into Christ’s self-offering. In it will become a divine unity of woman and man for all eternity. Now, that’s a miracle, my dear friends. Watch. And we all get to witness this miracle.

Each and every one of us has placed in our hearts a desire for the divine. Sometime during our lives we awaken. Perhaps our awakening comes in the form of a desire to understand something bigger than ourselves. Sometimes we are so overwhelmed with life that we need to hand it over to a higher power and ask for help. Sometimes we witness a beautiful sunrise over Mt. Rainier on a clear day and feel the presence of the divine. Sometimes just experiencing the wonder of the love we feel for another can make it happen. We awaken.

God leaves a calling card on all our hearts. He plants a divine drop of wine into each of our souls. This drop is the reverse of the drop of water going into the wine. It’s a drop of the divine wine going into the human waters of our souls.

The miracle is when Christ goes into action and turns our own water into wine.

Scientifically speaking, the average human being is comprised of nearly two thirds water. Babies and young children are made up of nearly three quarters water. That’s a lot of water in our human jug.

But just as Christ turned water into wine at the Wedding at Cana, Christ can perform a miracle in each of us. He can turn our water into wine. He can turn our humanity into divinity. He can perform a miracle in our lives.

The wedding at Cana miracle was witnessed by His mother. A mother’s love for a child is as close to perfect love as we see in our lifetimes. I am reminded of the power of that love every time I see the most moving scene in the movie “The Passion Of The Christ.”

When Jesus is carrying His cross to Calvary He trips and falls on the narrow streets of Jerusalem. His mother is struggling with what’s happening to her son. She is overwhelmed with grief. She cannot bear it anymore. In that moment, as she sees her son stumble, Mary is reminded of a time when Jesus as a little boy fell down and hurt Himself and remembers running to Him to pick Him up and hold Him. In that beautiful moment, Mary has the strength to overcome her grief and anguish and rush to her son. As she approaches, Mary says, “I’m here… I’m here…” the same words she said to her son when He fell as a little boy.

In His pain and His suffering, Jesus tenderly touches her face, looks her in the eyes and says the words that should awaken each of our souls, “See Mother, I make all things new.”

His hour is finally upon us.

His perfect sacrifice calls to mind the perfect sacrifice we are all asked to make to one another; the perfect sacrifice we witness today in the joining this woman and this man.

So, today, my dear mother, you give yourself to Joaquin as a sacrifice of love. Joaquin, you give yourself to Suzanne as a sacrifice of love. Your humanity and divinity are about to come into a perfect union. It’s a perfect sacrifice signifying the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

And Christ is present here. He’s blessing this marriage and turning the water of your humanity into divine wine here at this wedding. We may not be in Cana. We are in Seattle. But we are witnessing a living miracle. What an honor it is for this son to bear witness to this divine moment.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Looking Into God's Eyes

I am always humbled and in awe to see God's creation in abundance.

Remember how amazed you were when you first saw pictures from the Hubble Telescope. Seeing an up-close and personal view of our universe like that is almost like looking into God's eyes.

Here is a picture of our ENTIRE universe from Planet Earth's perspective. It is not the creation of Hubble, but a Seattle photographer.

Pretty cool, huh?

Now here's a story behind the creation of this incredible photograph:
(from komonews.com - Click on above title "Looking Into God's Eyes" to see the video story)


SEATTLE -- It's been the dream of a Seattle-area man to put the entire universe into one photo.

"And show them what's really hidden out there that we can't see, especially in Seattle," said Nick Risinger. "Maybe on a good night, we see 20 or 30 stars. At full size, you see 20 or 30 million."

Risinger spent a year toting his huge camera with six lenses across the world.

"All throughout the Southwest U.S. and twice to South Africa, so there was 60,000 miles total," Risinger said.

The lenses sit on a special robotic mount.

"The Earth spins, the stars don't stay, so you have to track with them," Risinger said.

To capture billions of stars, it takes some pretty impressive numbers. The photo isn't just one click -- it's made up of 37 ,000 photos and has a resolution of 5000 megapixels.

To get the rich colors, his shutters had to stay open for seven minutes.

"As anybody has shot with their point-and-shoot would know, stars are almost impossible to capture," he said. "It was a lot of, you know, sitting out in the cold out under the stars waiting."

After that, it took months to piece together the thousands of pictures into the largest true-color sky survey. He hopes his breathtaking image will get more young people looking up.

"If I was a kid and I saw this, I would go 'Wow, it's really inspirational,' " Risinger said.

You can see the photo and even interact and zoom in on particular stars at his website, www.skysurvey.org.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Boy, An Injury, A Recovery, A Miracle?

From National Public Radio at NPR.org
(Click on title link to hear the NPR story)


An Accident On The Court

Jake Finkbonner sits on a couch flanked by his mother, Elsa, and father, Donny. Jake, who just turned 11, is a little shy. He doesn't quite look you in the eye, and you wonder if it's because of the scars on his face.

He describes the terrible day that changed everything: Feb. 18, 2006.

"It was the last game of the season, and it was the last minute of the game," his mother begins.

"I was driving for a lay-in," Jake says, picking up the thread, "and then I got pushed from behind the back, and I hit my lip on the base of the basketball hoop."

"The game ended, and I told him to get some ice cream, you know, 'Get something on that lip,' " Donny recalls. "And I was thinking to myself: 'It's his first big fat lip.' "

But overnight, Jake developed a raging fever. His entire face swelled, and a day later, he was in the hospital.

"I walked in the room, and my heart sank when I saw his face," Donny says. "And he said, 'Hi Daddy!' But he couldn't see me because his eyes were swollen shut."

Dr. Richard Hopper, chief of plastic surgery at Seattle Children's Hospital, says Jake's infection had a life of its own.

At the trauma unit at Seattle Children's Hospital, Craig Rubens, a pediatric infectious disease specialist, instantly suspected a flesh-eating bacterium called strep A. It was consuming Jake's face with terrifying speed.

"It's like lighting one end of a parchment paper," he says, "and you just watch it spread from that corner very fast, and you're stamping it on one side, and it's flaming up on another."

Dr. Richard Hopper, chief of plastic surgery at Seattle Children's, had never seen a case so dire.

"It's almost as if you could watch it moving in front of your eyes," he says. "The redness and the swelling — we would mark it and within the hour it would have spread another half-inch."

Praying For A Miracle

In his office, Hopper turns his computer and displays gruesome photos charting the bacteria's steady march from Jake's lip to his cheeks to his scalp to his forehead. Each day surgeons removed more of his skin to get ahead of the infection.

"The infection was like it had a life of its own," he says.

The doctors told Jake's parents several times that their son would probably die. Elsa Finkbonner called a Catholic priest, who gave the boy his last rites.

"Donny and I went off to the chapel and just surrendered Jake back to God," she recalls. "We just said, 'God, he is yours. Thy will be done, and if it is your will to take him home, then so be it.' "

They also prayed desperately for a miracle, and soon others — many others — were doing the same.

"Things were looking so grim for Jake that we needed all the prayers we could get," recalls their priest, the Rev. Tim Sauer. And because Jake is half Lummi Indian, Sauer urged parishioners at St. Joseph's Catholic Church to appeal to a woman who lived 350 years ago.

"I encouraged people to ask for the intercession of Blessed Kateri," he says.

Kateri Tekakwitha was a Mohawk who converted to Catholicism. Her face was scarred by smallpox. Legend has it, when she died, her scars vanished. She was beatified in 1980, the step before sainthood. Sauer says Kateri was the perfect intercessor for Jake.

"No. 1, we're talking about two young people," Sauer says. "No. 2, we're talking about two people who come from Native American ancestry. And No. 3, we're talking about a person who herself suffered from a disease that disfigured her face."

Annette Bagley, the mother of Jake's best friend, recalls how the church and Jake's school began praying to Kateri. She says the prayers went viral.

"The kindergarten class that Jake was in started hearing back from relatives: 'Tell them we're praying for him in Denver! Tell them we're praying for them in London! Tell them we're praying for them in Israel!' " she says, laughing. "I mean, just all over the world, so we got a big map and we had the kindergartners put pins on the map everywhere in the world where someone was praying for Jake."

Jake Recovers

As Jake hovered between life and death in the hospital, a representative of the Society of Blessed Kateri visited him. She gave his mother a pendant with Kateri's image on it. Elsa Finkbonner placed it on her son's pillow.

"That was the last day that his disease progressed," Elsa says. "And the next morning when they had taken him in for surgery, that was when they told us the news that it had finally stopped."

Surgeon Richard Hopper says after two weeks and a dozen surgeries, the team of doctors had little hope they could get ahead of the bacteria. And when they realized they did, he says, it was breathtaking.

"All of a sudden, to have this infection stop is almost like a geyser coming out of the earth with this great roar — and all of a sudden it just stops. And there's silence. And everybody's just a little bit stunned by it being over," he says.

Jake went home after two months. Now, five years later, doctors are rebuilding his face, little by little. Rubens at Seattle Children's Hospital says it's one of the most amazing recoveries he has seen. Elsa Finkbonner goes further.

"There's no question in my mind that it was in fact a miracle," she says.

But does the Roman Catholic Church believe it is? To qualify as an authentic miracle, the Vatican has to determine that Jake's recovery was unexplainable and that it occurred because people prayed to Kateri to intercede with God on Jake's behalf.

The Rev. Paul Pluth, who is coordinating an investigation into Jake's recovery, says that would suggest Kateri has special access to God.

"That means we have received assurances that this person now stands in heaven before the throne of God," he says. And historically, "one of the evidences of that has been miracles of healing."

These days, the bar is pretty high, says the Rev. Peter Gumpel, a Jesuit priest in Rome who has investigated more than 100 potential miracles for the Vatican.

"The Catholic Church has many hundreds — even thousands — of saints," he says, "and the idea is not to get more."

Under Pope John Paul II, it was relatively easy to attain sainthood. In 1983, the late pope made the process quicker, easier — the number of miracles required dropped from two to one — and less adversarial because he eliminated the office of the "Devil's Advocate" at the Vatican. Thus John Paul produced more saints than all the popes in the previous 500 years.

The process is more rigorous under Pope Benedict. Gumpel says that the Vatican does not want to approve miracles lightly, thus misleading people or looking foolish if the "miracle" turns out to have a logical explanation. The church dismisses about 95 percent of the miracle petitions it receives, he says, adding that there are a number of hoops to jump through, from interrogating witnesses to examining medical records to calling on medical specialists and theologians before finally — often years later — presenting the evidence to the pope.

"It has to be rigorous," he says, "because we do not want to submit to the pope a statement unless we are absolutely, morally certain that this case merits to be approved by him a miracle by God."

Now investigators in Seattle are putting Jake Finkbonner's extraordinary recovery on trial. For more than three years, a team of priests has collected documents and interviewed witnesses. There are a lawyer, a priest with medical training and a skeptic who goes by the title of "promoter of justice," the role once called the devil's advocate.

That skeptic is Eusebio Elizondo, the auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Seattle. He tried to find holes in the case.

"In old times it used to be called the devil's advocate," says Elizondo. "I'm trying to really push every single witness [and asking], 'Really, are you sure? Are you positive that there's no other way to explain this, a logical explanation or a scientific explanation or it was a pure coincidence?' "

'I Can't Explain Why'

The panel interviewed each doctor for more than an hour, asking details about Jake's condition, his recovery after each surgery, fatality rates. They asked nothing about miracles. Rubens says they were the consummate professionals.

"They took a very hard look at whether this really was something beyond what they described as the wonders of modern medicine," Rubens says.

The doctor says he didn't get the feeling at all that they were stacking the deck. But Joe Nickell, a paranormal investigator, says there is "no evidence that a miracle took place."

Nickell, who writes for Skeptical Inquirer, a magazine put out by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, says the whole investigation is a joke. Jake received the best medical care, and therefore it's hardly surprising that he recovered.

Nickell says when the Catholic Church confirms miracles, it's using what is called an argument from ignorance.

"They're starting with a mystery, and they're saying, 'We don't know why this person's illness went away.' And then they say, 'Therefore, we do know! It's a miracle!'"

Still, Jake's doctors believe the family's faith was crucial.

"What Jake survived was truly remarkable," Rubens says, "and I can't explain why he would survive over someone else."

Whether or not Jake's recovery was due to the intercession of Kateri Tekakwitha will be a matter for the pope to decide, perhaps years from now.

As for Elsa Finkbonner, she thinks Kateri does deserve to have Catholicism's highest honor.

"It would be disappointing if she didn't get to be a saint," she says. But in the end, that's not really the salient issue. Her son is. "I'm just happy to celebrate Jake's 11th birthday."

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Prodigal Son's Mother

One of the professors in deacon formation asked us to give voice to the mother in the Prodigal Son story in Luke's Gospel. Jesus uses this story to hold a mirror up to the Pharisees and scribes of his era.

Many have written that the father in the story is representative of God. Others say Jesus. For the purpose of this story, I purposely chose to have the mother be representative of Jesus Christ as a way of helping the Pharisees and scribes of our time better hear the Gospel message and see their image reflected in the actions of the older brother.

This conversation is best read as a postscript to the story between Luke 15:32 and Luke 16:1.

Then Jesus looked directly to the Pharisees and scribes and said; “Now the mother was watching all these things. Her heart ached when her youngest left home with his inheritance. She told him, ‘Son, you will always be welcome back in this home. My love for you is great and I wish blessings upon your journey. Peace be with you.’

Her older son overheard the conversation and chastised his mother for telling his younger brother he can return whenever he wishes. ‘Father would never welcome him back in this house again.’ But the mother said, ‘loyal son of mine, I love your devotion. But harden not your heart toward your brother. For he is lost and needs to find his way home again. Forgive him. Love him. And pray he returns someday.” But he stormed away in anger.

The father heard what the mother said to the older son and approached her. They gave a knowing look to one another and both heaved a heavy sigh. For how long would it be until the younger son returned? Would he ever come home or would they never hear from him again? The pain of not knowing was almost unbearable, but life goes on.

After years and years of worry, the mother had tears in her eyes as she saw her husband run off to greet the figure growing on the distant horizon. For her heart knew her youngest child had returned home for good. The family was restored. Her heart sang.

She was the first to tend with loving care to her son’s painful blisters on his feet and give him water from the small jug she carried hurriedly out to him. ‘Blessed be the Lord, for He has returned our son home to us,’ she cried as she served him. ‘Forgive me, mother,’ he said to her in a quiet whisper. ‘You are forgiven, my son.’

Later as she was preparing the fatted calf for supper, her older son came to her in the kitchen to grumble about his conversation with his father. ‘Is this house mad? Father is acting like a man possessed. Mother, it is not fair that my brother be treated like royalty after squandering all father gave him on a life of debauchery. I will not stand for this!’

His mother said in reply, ‘my love for you is no different than my love for your brother. He has asked for our forgiveness. Remember son; this is the home of your mother and father. It is not your home yet. But I do love your passion. You should tell your brother how you feel, but do so with love and compassion and don’t be self-righteous. I pray you will find it in your heart to forgive him, too. For he loves you very much and it is your example of being a faithful son he will follow from now on. So, be a good and loving example as your father and I have set for you both.’ But the older brother stormed away in anger.

Once again, his mother had offered wisdom that he would wrestle with for days before finally talking to his brother and reconciling their relationship.”

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Eulogy To My Sister And Friend

My wife Mary and brother-in-law Danny asked me to do the eulogy at my sister-in-law Beth Gillespie's funeral on Friday. I was honored by their request. Beth died of liver failure last Tuesday at Spokane Hospice House. She was only 41. Beth was a larger-than-life personality who touched the lives of so many people. The eulogy was written on the night of her death, February 14, 2011. I pray it did her life justice.

(Delivered at the funeral Mass on February 18, 2011)

She was born Elizabeth Ann Gillespie on Thanksgiving Day 1969. As most people were stuffing themselves with turkey and watching football, Beth entered this world… and immediately spoiled not only Thanksgiving Day for her older sister Mary, but also Mary Kay’s own 7-year-old birthday three days later.

That’s always been the family joke.

The truth is Beth was the best birthday gift Mary Kay ever had. She told Beth that hundreds of times, maybe thousands of times, over the years.

Beth Gillespie was no ordinary child. She was incredibly precocious. For those who only knew her in recent years this probably comes as no surprise.

Beth was unafraid of anyone or anything. Her uncle Willard, a prominent Spokane judge, used to scare the dickens out of the Gillespie children. But not Beth. She’d walk up to scary Uncle Willard, jump on his knee and just start talking. She melted his heart and turned this strong man into a big ol’ softie.

What a gift she was to everyone she met.

Most of all, what a gift she was to her brother Danny. You might not know this, but Danny and Beth had a bit of a rough beginning. As children, Beth knew just how to push Danny’s buttons. And push them she did. She was downright unrelenting. The two of them fought so much as kids it amazes many people how they grew to be each other’s best friends as adults. They learned how to make each other laugh. What a gift Beth gave Danny when she moved back to Spokane eight years ago.

Big sis Mary Kay continued to cherish the gift of Beth. She and Mary Kay talked on the phone nightly comparing their days and and in recent years their careers as public relations directors at Library Systems on opposite sides of the state. They always had funny stories to share from the wacky world of librarians. They also loved to talk to each other non-stop on Oscar night; making fun of the bad dresses, awkward on-stage moments and the like. Beth and Mary Kay loved sharing interesting stories from their day. Beth was the gift that kept on giving for Mary Kay.

And for our two boys (Beth’s only nephews Sean and Connor), she was a second mother, a role she took very seriously except when she was bending the rules on junk food and wildly inappropriate movies. Aunt Beth, or Aunt Beff as she was known for many years by the boys, will live on in their memories for a lifetime. What a gift she was to those two boys, now young men.

Her mother Marjorie meant the world to Beth. When Beth’s father got sick in 2002, she moved home to help mom tend to Jack in the final year of his life. The two of them were opposites in so many ways. But they completed each other. What a gift Beth provided her mom and dad from the day she was born. What a gift her mom gave to Beth in return in carrying for her these past five months. Beth was so grateful for her mother’s strength and compassion. Beth was her mom and dad’s little “Love Bird.”

She was cherished by her many relatives, Aunts Geraldine and Nancy, and cousins Janet, Jimmy, Susie and Robin. And she cherished you.

As Beth grew up, she was joined by more great friends than you could count on a hundred hands. I’ll name just a few: Amy Johnson Harter (Beth's other big sis), Tiffany Jensen (Beth’s look-a-like best friend from grade school), Louise DeFelice (Beth’s connected-at-the-hip, best friend from high school who has been there by her side through life’s ups and downs), Greta Gillesie (Beth’s college roommate and blessed soul-mate in adult life) and Andrea Sparks (Beth’s favorite librarian who was a true friend in deed to a friend in need in these final months). The list is long. I wish I could name all of Beth’s friends. All of you here today.

I’m sure you all would agree. What a beautiful, funny, talented gift we all had in our relationships with Beth Gillespie. She always knew what to say and picked the right moment to say it. She had the gift.

But Beth saved the biggest gift of all for last week. After agonizing over experiencing God’s call home, Beth opened up her eyes wide last week and talked about her life. She shared her hopes, her fears and the thing she would miss most: watching her two nephews grow up.

She wanted us to know that she agonized the day before when she had her moment in the Garden at Gethsemane and sweated blood over her decision to “let go.” The hardest decision she’s ever had to make in her life was to leave all of you behind.

But she said, it was her time. And she had to go. Danny joined us toward the end of her conversation and got to witness this gift, this miracle of clear consciousness. No brain fogged over by a failing liver. No confusion about what was happening. She knew exactly what was about to happen and wanted to share with everyone a message of her love, her gratitude, her thanks for all that you meant to her.

After her time in agony, a peace had come over her. Her passion was beginning, but she was headed to the new Jerusalem, her heavenly home. What an honor to be in the room when she shared her gift of love for all of you.

I am so grateful to call Beth Gillespie my sister.

On behalf of Danny, Marjorie, Mary Kay, Sean and Connor, thank you for being here today. Thank you for sharing in the life of our beloved Beth Gillespie.

Thank you, Lord, for blessing us with the gift of Beth Gillespie.

And thank you, Beth! Thank you for everything! We know this is not goodbye, only “see ya later.”