Friday, February 15, 2019

Kathleen Connell and Dianne Weyers Have Something To Say

It is my great privilege and pleasure to be with you all today to continue that great Christian tradition of praying for the dead in the assurance of faith and the belief that what we engage in here today is a ceremony of handing over our loved one, in the company of the angels, to the care of our God.   I thank Fr. Dan for inviting me to participate in this celebration and to preach.

There are those who say that our focus at such a service should be not on Dianne, but on Jesus.  Our goal today should be to praise and thank our God for God’s great mercy and not to say warm fuzzy things about our departed friend.  To them I say, “You didn’t know Dianne!”  And I quote for them, 

Matthew 5:16 let your light shine before others,  so they will see the good things you do. And they will bring glory to your Mother/Father God who is in heaven.

I maintain that our sister’s light shone so brightly, that its radiance will lead us to glorifying God.  I suggest that it is our Christian duty to pay attention to it so that we might emulate her.  I maintain that she had a proverbial PhD in spiritual practice.  I would challenge those of us who might be less advanced on the journey, as it were, to gaze on her light and see if there weren’t something there that we might take on as a spiritual practice. 

As a young woman, Dianne dedicated her life to God as a nun.  Sadly, the convent was not the sanctuary that it should have been but was rather a place of abuse.  So she left.  But she didn’t forget her vows.  At her 70th birthday celebration ten years ago, several of us were at her birthday Mass where we also celebrated the 50th anniversary of her final vows.  Dianne renewed those vows that day in our presence.  She never stopped dedicating her life to God.  She just changed how she did it.

Like Job in the first reading, Dianne trusted in her Redeemer.  That is how she survived for more than half a century as a victim of medical malpractice.  As I thought about how Dianne did this, another woman came to mind, Immaculée Ilibagiza, the Rwandan woman who wrote, “Left To Tell; Discover God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust.”  She tells of how she survived the holocaust by strengthening her relationship with God.  In her book Immaculée acknowledges the horror and atrocities of the holocaust but does not dwell on them.  Instead she tells the story of her relationship with God and how it saved her.

Dianne did the same.  She spoke of the reality of how her body terrorized her.  But that was never the focus.  Her focus was always where God was with her in that experience.  Our sister participated actively in the Passion of Our Lord.

While I admired Immaculée from afar, with Dianne, I had a real life experience of this profound kind of faith witness.
In our first reading we hear: If only this were on paper!   What a book it would make!   If only my words were engraved forever in granite!

Well, in fact, her story is on paper! In many a notebook!  For decades, over thirty years, Dianne journaled using the Progoff Intensive Journal Method which promises that you will connect with your real self. And develop a more meaningful life. Well, it worked for Dianne!!!  Her whole life was about being connected to her real self and she knew that self to be a daughter of the Most High.

Now her story was not written in granite, but thanks to our brothers and sisters from St. Luke in the Fields, her journals have been preserved in the Lesbian Archives - as well as her art work.  Speaking of which … 
I was at another funeral Mass recently and I heard this reading and I said, “Oh, we have to add that to Dianne’s readings.

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on."
"Yes," said the Spirit,
"let them find rest from their labors, for their works accompany them.”

for their works accompany them.

Her works!  What wonderful, wonderful works!  Her art!  Anyone who was ever in her apartment was treated to a contemporary museum of dreamwork.   This wasn’t just a hobby.  She had to monitor how much time she spent on her art work.  Each moment in an upright position was precious.  And what did she do with those moments?  She dedicated them to what God was saying to with her.   John Sanford, the Episcopal priest and Jungian and spiritual psychotherapist, calls “Dreams: God’s Forgotten Language.”  God hasn’t forgotten that language; we have!!  Dianne spoke that language fluently and honored each message from God with a piece of art.  She surrounded herself with that art as a constant reminder of God’s love and support in her very challenging life. 

It must be the mother in me but when I heard the words, “Their works accompany them,” I had this crazy thought that I hope God had a VERY big refrigerator!   When both of my children were in COLLEGE, they each got 100 on a midterm. IN COLLEGE, each of them brought their paper home to Mommy to be hung on the refrigerator!!!  Another memory came to me.  After my father died, we were cleaning out his top dresser drawer, where he kept things that were important.  There was a little note that I had written to him as a young child.  It said, “Dear Mr. Conway, I have taken time out of my busy day to write you this note.  Love, your little angle, Kathy”   I never could spell!

There may not be a big heavenly refrigerator, but that need to experience that we are loved and affirmed, the desire to please a loved one and the delight taken by the other in that precious desire to please - that is very real.  And that is the relationship Diane had and HAS with her God.  But now it’s the real deal.  It always was the real deal, but as St. Paul says, “when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.”  For Dianne, the perfect has come!!

St. Augustine said, “…our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee”  And, as we shall hear in the poem Dianne wanted read at her celebration, it is a love and relationship Dianne longed for.

Our Second reading was the one that we chose immediately.  

"These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  "For this reason they stand before God's throne and worship God day and night in God’s temple”.

The time of great distress is over. No more pain.  No more worrying about finding spare parts for a front-wheel drive scooter that they no longer make.  No more having to navigate areas that are not handicapped accessible.  No more having to deal with the emotional torment that was her apartment building.  Our sister washed her robe in the blood of the Lamb.  She participated in his Passion more than any of us might want to.

It filled us with such joy to picture our sister in her white robe, standing before God’s throne, praising God day and night.”   Just hanging out with her in that joy, leads me to immediately praising God with her.  Joy is important.  Find it somewhere, anywhere.  It’s God’s way of keeping your head above water.  

Dianne found her joy in her family, in her friends, in her art, at Xavier, at St. Luke’s, at her 12 Step Meetings.  All of these where consolations that kept her head above water. 

 In our gospel Jesus tells us

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

I suggest that when we hear these words, we usually think that the place Jesus is preparing for us is in heaven?   I remember when I was in my twenties, my first spiritual director suggested to me that it didn’t necessarily mean after I died, but that Jesus was doing it right now.  Jesus is preparing a place for us right now! “so that where I am, there you may also be.”  And the converse of that, of course, would be, “Where you are, Jesus is also.”

We gather today to celebrate Dianne’s entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.  But Jesus came for Dianne ..80 years ago.  He claimed her and snatched her from the power of death in the waters of Baptism.  She had been living in the Kingdom of Heaven for ..80.. years, now it’s just different. 

Earlier in John’s gospel, in chapter 6, Jesus said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.” He didn’t say, “If you believe, you will have eternal life when you die.”  No, you have it now.  Eternal life has already begun! We are already living in the Kingdom of God.  

How does one live in the Kingdom of God now?  Jesus gives us the answer. 
He says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

Now when Jesus spoke those words, he did it in his native tongue, Aramaic. He said,
“Ina(i)na r’cha wa shrara w’chayye.”

In Aramaic, a word can have seven or eight meanings at once.  When Jesus’ words were written down, they were written down in Greek and the Evangelist picked one of those meanings.  So immediately, we lost a lot of the nuances of Jesus’ message.  I’d like to share with you some alternative translations based on the work of Dr. Neil Douglas-Klotz, who has been studying Jesus’ words in Aramaic for over thirty years.  

The “I am” is the path, the sense of true direction, and the life force to travel.

The ego, fully aware of its limitation, declares a road, provides a compass, and fuels the journey.

For Dianne, Jesus was her path/ her road.  Jesus was her compass and Jesus was her fuel for the journey. I think we can all rest assured that when Dianne entered Jesus’ loving embrace, she heard the words, “Well done good and faithful servant.”


About Rev. Kathleen Connell
While in my twenties, I first came to Xavier - the high school, not the parish - in the ‘70s because my Jesuit spiritual director lived and taught there.  My then husband and I did the Spiritual Exercises in the 19th annotation when the Jesuits were just beginning to bring it back.  We were guinea pigs, as it were.  I can’t remember the exact connection that brought me to the Church of St. Francis Xavier but I arrived there in the 90’s and I schlepped into the city from Queens every week for Mass because I insist on worshipping where there is good music and good liturgy.  I loved being able to worship and then go downstairs to serve at the Welcome Table.  I was a  member of the Liturgy Committee and I led Dances of Universal Peace at the parish.  I was also a presenter at the Lay Spirituality Annual Day of workshops.  I am a woman who left.  In 2001 I left the Roman Church to be ordained.  The process of leaving a church that I loved with my whole heart and soul was excruciating, but I came to understand that while I loved it, it did not love me or want me to be who I was.  It was very healing, and truthfully very anxiety provoking, for me to return to Xavier for Dianne’s Mass.  However, the loving, welcoming spirit of Xavier was once again an oasis of healing love.  It was a privilege and pleasure for me to preach at our beloved sister, Dianne's Mass.

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