Rejoice and be glad! We come to celebrate life.
I want to go back to the reading from Habakkuk. To set the scene, Habakkuk, as Isaiah and Hosea and other prophets, challenged God. Why do you gaze on while the wicked devour us? Why don’t you come now? Why is this going on? Why?
And Habakkuk waits. He waits at the guard post. He waits while in his heart he believes and yearns and hopes against hope that God will show infinite love power and come.
The question, ”Why?” the “hope against hope” and the “Waiting” are a motif in the writings of the prophets. Habakkuk was present to God.
Then God comes and says, “Write the vision down on tablets” But you know what? Habakkuk never tells us the words of the vision. All this and we don’t get to read what he wrote. Wait … have hope against hope….Wait… one will come who will write it.
The vision becomes flesh becomes the Word in Jesus who carries the Jewish DNA of expectation, of asking “Why” of “hoping against hope” and who knows how to “Wait”. Jesus listened in his waiting time. He listened to the stories of his mother, to the stories of Mary and Martha and Lazarus, of Peter when he couldn’t catch fish, of the Leper seeking a cure, of the widow who lost her son, of the woman who dared to touch his cloak, of the official of the synagogue whose daughter was sick, of the woman who anointed his feet, of the disciples talking among themselves. Jesus listened with compassion and healing and he knew it was time to write the vision down in words that would break through to the hearts of people, that would turn things upside down, that would give a different energy to the heart beat of years to come. From what he learned he wrote a vision. And so…he called BLESSED, he called BLESSED, those who were poor, sorrowing, lowly, hungry for holiness, persecuted, insulted and slandered ….and he said …”Rejoice and be glad, your reward is great!” The Vision is articulated!
Today we come to celebrate the life of a woman – Barbara Lawler Thomas, SCN, who, like Habakkuk was a person of strong faith, who had a sacred space within that held the question “Why?” and who knew how to wait…how to wait with patience. We come to celebrate the life of a woman who like Jesus stretched to listen to the stories of her sisters…to the stories of the women religious of the U.S. and world community…to the stories of the church…to the stories of the poor.
We come to celebrate a woman who at a pivotal point in history, the days after Vatican II, stretched us, her sisters, to listen to one another in community, to listen to the people with whom we ministered, to listen to those outside the boundaries of our comfort zone, and…to write the vision down…to actively participate in writing down our way of life, our constitution.
Granted, we got a little tired at times…renewal teams…commissions…the 1st draft on yellow…then the 2nd on pink and 3rd on blue and then came the rest of the rainbow…as we searched and shared and sometimes stared ahead. But we broke into new ways of being together….of discerning where and how to be…of discovering relational systems of governance.
Barbara influenced the course of religious life not only for the SCNs but for women religious in the United States as she and Mary Daniel Turner and Joan Chittister shared leadership in LCWR, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Joan says that Barbara was her mentor. Together they gave courage to all women to be leaders in the church and in the world. A new time was breaking through.
Barbara remained strong in asking the question, “Why?”
She questioned church leaders concerning inclusivity, “Who sits at the table when decisions are made?”
She questioned civic leaders about the care of the poor as she helped to broaden the vision of our mission on Nazareth campus to include the ministry of housing.
During Barbara’s time the Nepal mission became a part of the SCN community.
She supported the collaborative efforts of the Jesuits and the SCNs in discovering new forms of ministry in the country of Belize.
She invited the laity and clergy to share questions at our General Assembly as she questioned us in our support and love of one another in embracing our differences.
She called each of us to discover our gifts and to use these in gifts in mission.
Barbara was a woman who moved us by her persistent faith, her persistent hope against hope…to look deep within…to embrace the goal of “CONVERSION IN A COMMUNITY OF MISSION”. And “ like Catherine Spalding, Barbara moved us to actualize the Beatitudes in a new time … and to share in the mission of the whole church supported and enriched by one another.” (SCN Constitutions #44)
Barbara witnessed to the building of relationships. Her family was a precious gift to her. The sisters in India, Belize, Nepal and Botswana hold Barbara in their hearts with love. Barbara’s coworkers at Our Lady of Peace love her. If anyone helped Barbara during her transition to heaven, I believe it was Tom Swift, S.J. Donna Kenny has been at her side as sister, as dear and faithful friend. Besides all of us here, there are so many people that the list goes on in our own memories.
In her last days Barbara was again like the prophet Habbakuk who sat at the guard post waiting. Barbara questioned God with the word, “Why?” Many times Donna sat with Barbara and heard her say over and over, “Why?”. Did Barbara know the extent of her question? I don’t know. But I believe that she asks that question in our name as well as her own. Our times are changing again. We ask many “Why s” these days. I believe Barbara sends us her strength now to move through another pivotal time in history.
Barbara helped us to write the vision down. Not on tablets of stone, but on the flesh of our hearts. Today she urges us to continue our CONVERSION IN A COMMUNITY …IN A SOLIDARITY WITH THOSE AROUND US ….AS WE MOVE ON IN MISSION. “The words of the vision won’t die…”for the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment and will not disappoint…if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.” Rejoice and glad, Barbara, your reward will be great. We send you on your way with hearts filled with love and gratitude for your presence with us.