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Homily for Elizabeth Buckley

July 28, 2016 ~ Doug McCarthy

DSC_2404-X2Please listen to the first verse of a lovely poem written by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

Elected Silence, sing to me
And beat upon my whorled ear,
Pipe me to pastures still and be
The music that I care to hear.

Elizabeth could have written those words.

There are many people in our world who do not believe in God or have not a care for God. There are also many people who do believe in God and live their lives accordingly. There are a few of us who are fascinated by the Devine and give God a central place in our lives. But there are fewer still who are caught by God, and for them God is everything. Elizabeth was caught by God.

It was this “being caught by God” that was nourished by her Irish Catholic faith as she grew up in Boston. It was this that led her to be a nun with the Sisters of Charity and it led her to l’Arche and finally to a life of solitude.

Many years ago, shortly after she came to l’Arche Daybreak, she made a retreat with me at Manresa in Pickering. During that retreat she told me that all her life she had a longing for solitude, but didn’t feel she deserved the right to ask for it. I have never had this desire for solitude; still for some reason I understood what she was telling me, and I encouraged her to pursue that desire for solitude. This led her to eventually moving into the basement of the Big House and becoming the “hermit of Daybreak”.

A life of solitude is not an easy life. In the letter to the Hebrews we are told that it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God – not because God is going to punish us or hurt us, but because God will call us to go beyond ourselves to places we never expected to go.

You all know how much Elizabeth loved to talk and how much she enjoyed people. Being alone in silence was not always easy for her. There were times of great loneliness when God did not seem to be the companion he should have been for her.

You would think that getting closer to God, temptations would lessen. The very opposite is true. We may no longer be tempted by pleasure, power and prestige. The temptations become more subtle. They take the form of doubts and deceptions. Doubts and deceptions like: “Have I wasted my life? Am I doing the right thing? Has God really called me?”

About a month ago, Elizabeth sent a message to me that she wanted to see me. So I went to see her. She was in a place of darkness and she couldn’t articulate what it was nor where it was coming from. So we sat over coffee and lunch and told stories to each other. Yes, I did get the chance to tell a few stories. After a while the darkness lifted and Elizabeth was at peace. I left her with that peace, and hope it was with her when she died.

One time she told me that she didn’t pray anymore. When I asked her what she did, she couldn’t really say. But over time as I listened to her, she taught me a spirituality of basking – just basking in the presence and the love of God. She did this when she was gardening or knitting or doing the New York Times crossword puzzle. This basking stood her in good form lately when she was unable to do any of those other things.

The Native People have a great respect for their elders. I learned, when I lived among them, that even though every elder was an old person, every old person was not necessarily an elder. An elder is someone who takes delight in gazing on the children and the young people and who holds the hopes and the dreams of the community in his/her heart. Elizabeth always delighted in the core members and was delighted by the young people who came each year to the community with new energy. She certainly kept the hopes and vision of l’Arche alive in her heart. Her heart still holds us. Death has not brought that to an end. Only now we are in a heart joined to the heart of God.

We must be very grateful that every once in a while God sends us some one like Elizabeth. God does this to show us how to be holy, a holiness that comes not by developing heroic virtue but by simply allowing ourselves to be loved and sharing that love with others. In her, God has affirmed our desire to be religious and not to be ashamed to be religious in a world that is so secular. For those who live in l’Arche or are connected to l’Arche, she affirmed over and over again the vision and dream of l’Arche. We are all wonderfully unique, but we should be especially very grateful for Elizabeth because she was such a rare gift.

Hopkins’ poem ends like this:

But you shall walk the golden street,
You who unhoused and housed the Lord.
And now the marriage feast begins.

~ Doug McCarthy

Elizabeth died peacefully on July 24th 2016 in her apartment due to circulatory complications. She was 84 years old.

Elizabeth was born and brought up on the North Shore of Boston. As a young woman she joined the religious order Our Sisters of Charity of Halifax. Elizabeth served as schoolteacher in Montreal and in the Boston area. In the 1960s, in the very early years of L’Arche, she joined the original L’Arche community in Trosly, France. Elizabeth went on to found L’Arche Inverness in Scotland and L’Arche Irenicon in Massachusetts where she served as Community Leader until 1989. Elizabeth joined L’Arche Daybreak in 1990 as a member of the Dayspring team. For most of the last twenty years, she devoted herself to a life of prayer. Elizabeth had a cozy apartment at Daybreak’s Big House which she called “Buckleyham Palace.” Elizabeth served as spiritual director to countless people over the years, and remained an involved and much loved member of L’Arche. Known, as the “Queen Mum” to many in L’Arche, Elizabeth had a royal stature in L’Arche and she will be dearly missed.

Elizabeth is survived by her bother, Dennis Buckley, her sister-in-law Marie Buckley, and many nieces, nephews and great nieces and nephews.