Bottom line: We see the compassion of Jesus in Saint Julie Billiart and Sister Barbara Geib.
This weekend we celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of Sister Barbara Geib as a religious sister of Notre Dame de Namur - a congregation founded by Saint Julie Billiart. Now, Sr. Barbara is an extraordinary woman, but I am sure she would acknowledge that few women are as extraordinary as her foundress. Before talking about Sr. Barbara in the context of this Sunday's readings, I would like to say something about St. Julie Billiart.
St. Julie Billiart was born in 1751 in the village of Cuvilly. She was the daughter of a wealthy family that had slid into poverty. But Julie did not care about wealth. Her passion was teaching catechism to the children of her village.
When she was 23, someone fired a shot at her father. The bullet missed, but the event traumatized Julie, leaving her paralyzed. From her bed she continued to catechize children.
When the French Revolution broke out, the new government tried to take over the Church. They sent an apostate priest to Cuvilly. He attempted to visit Julie, but she refused to allow him in. She organized a boycott against the government controlled priest.
The revolutionary authorities tried to silence her, causing her family to move her to another village. There she began organizing women into a dedicated community. In 1804, during a novena, a priest urged her to take a step of faith. She stood up and walked for the first time in three decades. She spent the last years of her life organizing 15 Notre Dame convents. She died in 1816 in Namur.
I am sure you can see many parallels in the lives of Saint Julie and Sister Barbara. One is "stepping out in faith." Some thirty-five years ago, Sr. Barbara stepped out in faith when she came to Monroe.
In her ministry in Monroe she has shown the compassion of Christ. Last Sunday we heard how Jesus saw the great crowd and felt compassion for them. And this Sunday we here how Jesus expressed his compassion in an effective way by feeding the multitude. As a parish minister and as chaplain to the police and fire departments, Sr. Barbara has shown Christ's compassion in times of illness, family violence and death.
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.
For sure there have been times of darkness. St. Julie wrote about this: "It is to our advantage to experience the withdrawal of grace and abandonment by God." How can it be to our advantage to experience darkness and desolation. St. Julie explains: "Then we must act as little children do in the dark - clasp the hand of father or mother and go where we are led."
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.
This celebration in honor of Sister Barbara is good "kick off" to enter these mysteries. We see the compassion of Jesus in Saint Julie Billiart and Sister Barbara Geib. In coming Sundays we will see how Jesus expresses his love by giving us his Body and Blood. Amen.
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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Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
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National Petition to Stop HHS Mandate - important updates