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.

No comments:

Post a Comment