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RIP – Barbara CSF

Sister Barbara CSF died suddenly on Wednesday 1st July 1998. She was aged eighty-three years and was in the thirty-third year of her profession as a Religious.
A sermon preached at her requiem mass, by Sister Hilary CSF

July 1st began as usual. At breakfast-time, we talked about visiting Sister May in the afternoon and Barbara offered to go with Judith and Veronica so that she could show them the way back around the Reservoir – in the light of which we suggested that she kept her morning walk with Lizzie, our dog, fairly short. She changed the calendar, remarking on the fact that she had been in Birmingham almost a year. The weather looked unpromising and I asked Barbara to have a word with the Lord about it, as I was due to take a funeral that afternoon – little did I think that she would have that word in person before the morning was over!

Barbara was quiet, shy, retiring, sometimes irritating because she wouldn’t stand up for herself; she wouldn’t say when she couldn’t hear properly and so missed a lot that was going on. But she was a woman of prayer and totally given to God, and she was always ready to move on and discover new things, as she did in this last eleven months in Birmingham. I get the feeling that this last year has been one of great happiness for her. She liked being in the city and, although she was nervous of the traffic, she got around. She was known – and her reading-likes were known – at the local library, where she had changed her books only a couple of days before she died. She took a great delight in walking Lizzie and, on good days, managed the full circuit of the Reservoir – no mean feat for an eighty-three year old with heart and blood-pressure problems. And, of course, she was known both at Christ Church, and especially by the Mothers’ Union, and here at Saint Augustine’s, where she worshipped regularly for the last eight or nine months.

I don’t know a great deal about Barbara’s past (she was nearly seventy before I lived in the same house with her) but I know enough to realise that she had hidden depths. She served in the army during the Second World War; she had been a keen Sunday School teacher for many years – a task which she took on again when she lived at the Convent in Somerset. She taught herself to read Greek and, to the last week of her life, she would follow the Greek text of the New Testament readings in Chapel. She wasn’t happy about travelling, and was nervous of going any distance alone – partly, I suspect, because of her poor eyesight. Latterly, she had had her cataracts dealt with and was able to see more clearly, those of us who were with her at the time realised how much she had missed previously, and we delighted with her at a new and brighter world of sight.

Barbara was organised! She set herself a daily routine, based on her prayer-time and chapel Offices. It included both spiritual and recreational reading, her handiwork and her walks with the dog – you could almost set the clock by her! And she kept up a lively correspondence with many people.

Nobody lives without influencing, in some way, other people’s lives, and Barbara was certainly no exception to that. She had a facility for making friends and I know that, today, there will be a lot of people in Somerset, from the village and from the parish church, who would have wished to be with us in person and will certainly be with us in spirit, as we say our farewell.

I’m sure all of us, even those who have known her for a very short time, will have our own special memories to cherish in the coming weeks and months. But we’re not here solely to reminisce about someone we loved: rather, we are here for a three-fold reason. Yes, to remember her and to say goodbye, but more, to give thanks to God for her life: for all that she has given us and all that she has taught us about God, and about his love, and about what faithfulness to that entails. And above all, we are here to give praise and thanks to God for the gift of life itself, and particularly the new life in the resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ from the dead. For, as we believe and affirm, we know that in Christ we have new life, and we celebrate with Barbara that she has entered into that life. Saint Paul wrote of ‘forgetting the past and reaching out for what is to come, of racing for the finish, for the prize to which God calls us in Christ Jesus. For us, our homeland is in heaven, and Barbara has gone before us to that homeland.

We will miss her, but our sorrow is for ourselves and our loss, not for her! Good-byes are always hard, separations hurt, whether they are short or long or apparently final. For us, there is the vacancy, an empty space, often a loneliness – but we know that death is the gate to life immortal. Jesus said, ‘I have come from God and I go to God, and so it is for those of us who believe’: he has gone to prepare that room for us in his father’s house, as he promised in the gospel. Death is the beginning of a whole new life, where we can experience what God has prepared for us.

It often saddens me that people who have professed faith in a loving God during most of their lives seem to lose confidence in that love in fear of death. Barbara was not one of those: she lived and prayed in the knowledge and assurance that the God she had served in her earthly life would not let her down; that his promises were and are to be trusted. Jesus said to the repentant thief, ‘Today, you will be in paradise with me.’ He will, I believe, say that to us too as we approach our death, and I have no doubt that he welcomed Barbara as she left the old house of her earthly body.

So, we give thanks and praise to God for the gift of life and the assurance of eternal life; we thank him for Barbara and all that she has meant to us, and to so many more people, and we commend her into his hands as we say ‘fare well’. May she rest in peace and rise with Christ to glory. §