Bottom line: We see the love languages in Sister Barbara and in the purest form, we see them in Jesus.
This weekend we celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of Sr. Barbara Geib. Of her sixty years as a religious sister of Notre Dame de Namur, she has served over thirty-five years here in Monroe. Many of you know her better than I. I have gotten to know Sr. Barbara during my three plus years as your pastor.
Since this is a homily - and not a biography - I will focus on how Sr. Barbara illustrates today's Scripture readings.
In the second reading St. Paul speaks about basic Christian virtues like patience, solidarity and integrity. St. Paul sums them up in a single word, "love." A few years back a marriage counselor named Dr. Gary Chapman wrote a book titled, "The Five Love Languages." He observed that we communicate love in different ways: acts of service, words of encouragement, quality time, physical touch and gifts. Sr. Barbara speaks them all, but I have seen her love expressed in acts of service.
In talking with parishioners and people in our area, many have told me about her acts of service. Sister Barbara has been there in times of great need: illness, family violence, death of a loved one. Last Sunday we heard that when Jesus saw the great crowd, he felt compassion for them. Sister Barbara has show Jesus' compassion for people in need. And like Jesus in today's Gospel, she does something for them. First and foremost, she has shown compassion by her presence, by words of encouragement and by prayer.
When I think about Sister Barbara - and other great religious sisters I have known - I have to admit that I resent the stereotype of the stern sister holding a ruler in her hand.* For the record, Sister Barbara never used a ruler on a misbehaving child. Now, she may have given a whack to one or other policeman... (smile) But they would all admit that they needed it! (smile again) Don't feel bad, guys, she has called me to task as well. (one more smile)
That leads me to my next point about Sister Barbara. She has great compassion for people, but she also recognizes that we need to get organized if we are going to effectively serve each other. In the Gospel Jesus instructs the Apostles to "have the people recline." They arranged people into groups.
Organizing people is an essential act of service and I have seen Sister Barbara do that over and over. For example when we have a funeral, Sister Barbara works with the family: who will do the Bible readings, who will say the prayers of the faithful, bring up the gifts of bread and wine, provide music and the food for the reception.
From my time as a priest, I know that nobody can organize people better than a religious sister. Heck, they organized much of the education and medical care in our county. We are discovering that it isn't so easy to do and what they did for love of God is now costing us millions - and much of it is not done with same degree of care and love. Be that as it may, Sister Barbara has been a gift of love to many people here in Monroe - and she certainly has to me.
Where does Sister Barbara's strength come from? Well, every morning she spends an hour or more in prayer, usually before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Since she was a small child, she loves the Mass and the daily reception of Jesus in the Bread of Life. When no priest is available, Sister Barbara administers Communion.
It is appropriate that we celebrate Sister Barbara's 60th anniversary on the Sunday when we begin the first of five readings from the Gospel of John, Chapter 6 - the Bread of Life Discourse. Jesus gives himself totally to us and tells us to eat his Body and drink his Blood in order to have his life in us. Sister Barbara has done that on a daily basis.
At the beginning of this homily I mentioned the love languages. We see them in Sister Barbara and in the purest form, we see them in Jesus. That's what we will explore over the coming four Sundays. This celebration in honor of Sister Barbara is good "kick off" to enter these mysteries. For more about how Jesus expresses his love in giving us his Body and Blood, I invite you to return next Sunday. Amen.
*I am convinced that many of our Sisters were hurt by the way people stereotyped them as authoritarian, neurotic and clueless about the real world. I sensed a lot of that hurt in an NPR interview with Sr. Pat Farrell, President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The sad thing is that she directs those same hurtful stereotypes against "the bishops." Is she talking about Archbishop Sartain? If asked, I doubt she would say she meant her criticism to apply to him.
Final Version: St. Julie Billiart & Sr. Barbara Geib
From Archives (Homilies for 17th Sunday, Year B):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
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