Published on December 30, 2016
1. 1 Homily/Eulogy for Marjorie Gilbert Knipper Mass of Resurrection 29 December 2016 St. Paul Church, Princeton, NJ Deacon Jim Knipper Perhaps when you walked into the Church and saw all the trees and lights and candles you may have wondered if this festive Christmas backdrop was appropriate for a wake and funeral! But then again, those of you who really knew Margie – the religious, the artist, the author, the teacher, the wife – know that she would not have had it any other way! And so it is no surprise that she was called home to our Lord on Christmas – the day that we celebrate Jesus Christ as God incarnate – fully human and fully divine…born of Mary - to live among us in order to show and teach us the key to eternal life with God – all of which comes down to one thing: how well do we love. As we heard in the second reading, John reminds us that this is the foundation of our faith: that God’s love for us is so great that God sent his only Son into the world so that we may have life through him by learning to love others as much as God loves us. It is really that simple. For our short time in this life will not be measured by whether we are Presbyterian or Catholic; married or divorced; single or religious; or how many times we went to Church, nor any other ego-centered, self-imposed restrictions we want to try to place on God’s love – as disappointing as that may be for some. For our final judgement will not before a king who sits on a throne holding the scales of justice – rather it will be all about our self-reflection on one questions only: how well did we love? So it is not surprising that early on in his ministry Jesus taught his Beatitudes, which we just heard in the Gospel I read. Recognizing that the Ten Commandments simply tell one what they should do or not do, the Beatitudes describe for us what we should be like if we are living in the Kingdom of God – right here and now. They speak of the qualities that go beyond just following the law, so that that our eyes and our minds and our hearts are open to a lifestyle based on cooperation, vulnerability and love. In the past few weeks, as the family sat vigil around Margie, I had the privilege to review the files she left me and to then reflect on how she lived her life in love with God and others. So let me share with you a few of what I feel are some of her personal Beatitudes that she lived by: Blessed are those who listen to God’s voice, for their lives will be transformed: Margie was a native of Maplewood NJ and raised a Presbyterian and at the age of 24 converted to Catholicism attributing it to hearing and feeling the grace of God within her. Two years later she entered the Order of the Holy Child of Jesus - an order founded by Cornelia Connelly, who was an American born wife and mother and a zealous convert from Presbyterian. Her religious sisters were trained as educators and Connelly rooted her community in the heritage of respect for the dignity of all people. Their motto was “action, not words” – and Sister Mary Benjamin…later was known as Sister Margie Gilbert, took those words to heart – for she had the courage and grace to act on the voice she heard from within – that of the Divine indwelling.
2. 2 Blessed are those who teach others about our loving God, for they will feel God’s presence: After a few different assignments Sister Margie soon landed at Oak Knoll School in Summit, NJ. It is where our family first connected with her, in 1968. Even at the early age of nine, I can still remember the first time I met her. My mom just was hired at Oak Knoll to teach Math and Science, and thus was able to place our younger sister, Mary Jo into Kindergarten. So on this late summer day Mom, Mary Jo and I stopped by the school so Mom could introduce my sister to her first teacher – Sr. Margie. I remember her as someone I would not mess with – very sweet, but very strict and extremely well organized – in her classroom nothing was out of place. Truth be told, I was a bit happy that she was not going to be my teacher! But little did I or my family know how this was a beginning of a lifelong friendship and so much more - which would change our lives forever. During her tenure at Oak Knoll, Margie was an incredible teacher for not only my sister but for all the children of the school. During her early years there she wrote a number of award winning books, including one co-authored by our Mother. In 1974 she wrote a book that helped parents teach the faith to their children, called Faith at an Early Age. Her ideas were somewhat remarkable for that time and still provide sound advice today, for example when she wrote: “Don’t be overly focused on trying to teach your child too much about God too soon. Instead, using prayers of thanksgiving, first impress upon boys and girls the love God has for them and the need to love others.” It was then in 1975 she wrote and produced the only authorized and approved children’s version of Godspell – bringing the gospel of Matthew alive for so many grammar school students. Here is what she had to say in an interview: “Godspell made Jesus come alive for me as both humorous and human. The songs made me dance, body, heart and soul and I knew this was something that had to be shared and experienced for children.” And so that is what she did (Actions – not words) For it was through her books, filmstrips, plays, classes and - how she lived her life - that gave children so many lessons about God’s love. Blessed are those who point to others on how God is working through them for they will experience the Kingdom of God, here and now. In 1978 Margie decided to leave the religious order and to follow her calling to open the eyes of others of how God is working through them, by working at a number of parishes in our Diocese as the Director of Religious Education – including this parish here, St. Paul’s. But truth be told, her favorite parish, by far, was St. Mary’s in Colts Neck, whose pastor at the time was Fr. Bill Bausch, our main celebrant today. It was her first assignment after leaving the convent and she was met with welcomed arms and a supportive community that loved her and she them. During her time there, she was asked to write a short piece about how St. Mary’s impacted her life….this is what, in part, she wrote: “St. Mary’s was a spiritual sanctuary for me when I left religious life. I knew I would need to continue to nourish my soul the way it had been so carefully tended for over 20 years in religious life. The liturgies, activities, ministries and of course Fr. Bausch’s homilies were truly all an answer to prayer.” Margie would spend many years using her artistic, musical, spiritual and God-given talents to break open the Gospel for adults and children alike throughout this Diocese and beyond and help make people aware of how God works through each and every one of us.
3. 3 Blessed are they who give glory to God in their love of others, for they will be loved in return. Our beloved mom died in November of 2000 and our Dad’s heart was broken. He had faced a long ten year journey of dealing with mom’s health issues and now he was alone. It didn’t take long for word to get out that Dad was a 71 year old, highly desirable widower. Every so often he accepted a handful of dinner invitations from local widows, but he always stay connected with Margie who lived down the block from him. It was a year after mom died, early in December of 2001 that I got a call from Dad who wanted to tell me that he and Margie were officially dating. Keep in mind that at this time I have 4 boys, all of who were or soon would be dating. So the least of my worries was who my Dad was dating! Then a week later he called to tell me that actually the dating was getting serious. Then a week later, just before Christmas they announce they would be married the following May. And for the next six and half years the two of them immensely enjoyed their time together. Even in their 70’s they were experiencing what love for each other and for God was like in a whole new way. Then when Dad died after a very short illness in August of 2008, Margie’s world changed forever. But if you would read her writings of that year following Dad’s death, you would hear the words of someone who profoundly loved and missed her spouse. And thus learned that the penalty for deep and real love is pain – for they go hand-in-hand. In our faith we call this the paschal mystery of death and resurrection. This is why Jesus gave us the Beatitudes – it is why Margie lived a life emulating her own self- described Beatitudes – and it is why, every day, you and I must choose to live in love. For it is a conscious decision, and one that often comes with a price – but carries an eternal reward. It was a decision that Margie made every day of her life – in her conversion, her teaching, her mentoring, her ministry and in her role as wife and lover. In closing, perhaps one or more of Margie’s Beatitudes will create a spark in your life which will open you to the ever presence of the Indwelling Spirit - the presence of our God who will take away your wounds, your hurts, your sorrow and allow God’s love to flow in you, through you, with you and upon those around you. For we leave here today knowing that our faith tells us that Margie’s death is simply a rebirth into the Kingdom of God which is still yet to come for all of us. So indeed, all these trees and lights and candles are a good reminder for all of us to rejoice knowing that she is now rejoined to her siblings, her parents, my parents and the entire Communion of Saints – where she sees the shining face of God who calls out to her – Welcome home! “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven!”