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Funeral Homily by Bishop Greg O'Kelly
Whoever designed the memorial card for Gen has captured her vivaciousness and clear love of life. To you Stephen, and to your son and daughters, Lillian, Hugh, Annie and Harriet, and to all the brothers and sisters of Gen we extend our deep condolences. No-one can or should attempt to enter the intimacy of your own grief, yours and that of Gen’s family’s.
However, so many in this town and beyond have been shaken by the death of Gen, and join greatly with you in your sorrow. You can see how the town was moved, from the early morning tearful phone calls to me, “Have you heard?”, to people looking at their fridge doors where the invitations to Gen’s 60th were placed only a couple of weeks ago, to the white balloons on the College fence at St Mark’s where Gen taught a large part of the student body over the years, and to the tributes in the Press, like the moving one from all the employees and Directors of Cheesman Industries, and so on.
Gen, a lover of life and parties, attended a party to celebrate Annie’s graduation along with family and close friends the night before. She returned home, went to bed and fell asleep, to open her eyes in the presence of God, to behold face to face the Christ whom she called her Saviour, her Lord, and her companion friend,. It was a good passing for Gen, but such a hard one for the family, so sudden, so unexpected.
Many of us, look at the size of this congregation, were caught up in the life of Gen Richter. My own association goes back to boyhood visiting the Ward houses in Fourth Avenue St Peters where their grandmother, old Mrs Ward, lived on one side of the street and Gen’s family on the other. Mrs Ward senior was a refined lady with a commanding presence, and could have taken any number of roles in Downtown Abbey. It seems that Gen may have inherited some of the regal air, because she was a most dignified person.
The eulogies of Janie, Annie and Greg spoke of Gen as a sister and mother and member of staff. I wish to express my thanks to God for Gen also, as a faith leader in this community. She was a regular reader in the Cathedral liturgies, a commentator at the ordinations of Gary, and Harold, and Ramel, and my installation as Bishop; a teacher of the faith of the Church and the Gospels to hundreds of children over the years at St Mark’s; a member of the choir; the Chair and member of the Diocesan Pastoral Council; student of theology; qualified to exercise spiritual direction of people seeking to find God at deeper levels in their own lives.
Gen died a couple of days before the Feast of All Saints, the Feast of what we pray we shall become, what we were born for, to see the Face of Christ and to live the fullness of life in His presence. Gen lived this faith, died in this faith, and we celebrate her life and give thanks to the Father to whom she has returned as we celebrate her life in that same resurrection faith. Life, as Pope John Paul II said, is a gift God gives forever.
The readings chosen by the family for this Mass have words that speak so well of Gen, from the Book of Proverbs, that the heart of her husband trusts in her, that the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. From Paul to the Corinthians, describing the array of gifts a Christian receives, with the showing forth of the Spirit of God for the common good. There are the Beatitudes, where Christ said “Blessed are those who mourn”. And you have been blessed Stephen, and the family, because you have known love, and you would not be mourning if you had not known love, so blessed are you, more blessed than so many people who have not known the quality of family love that has been your privilege.
I keep thinking of Gen in the context of the great Feast of All Saints, a Feast not of the officially canonised alone, not of the high and mighty, but of all the faithful, the day-by- day Christians who have spent faithful lives, with their ups and downs, but have now returned to the Father. And the Scripture for that Feast also is so rich in the context of the life of Gen Richter. From St John, “Think of the love the Father has lavished on us”. That is how Gen lived her life, in the perspective of that wonderful word about the love being lavished on us, with a sense of the power and presence of a surrounding love, lavished on her. So she devoted her life in response to the building up of others, the building up of her family, the building of the children in the school, the building up of her strong circle of friends and to this community. St John says further in that reading.
Beloved: See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are… Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like Him, but we shall see Him as He really is.
That is now the description of Genevieve Richter’s present state of being, fulfilled.
Gen was a teacher, a true teacher, conveying wisdom, even to the youngest. The grace of the teacher is to convey wisdom, and the words of the Book of Wisdom also caused Gen Richter to spring to mind.
In your sight the whole world is like a grain of dust that tips the scales, like a drop or morning dew falling on the ground.
Yet you are merciful to all, because you can do all things.
Yes, you love all that exists, you hold nothing of what you have made in abhorrence,
for had you hated anything, you would not have formed it, and how, had you not willed it, could a thing persist,
how be conserved if not called forth by you?
You spare all things because all things are yours, Lord, lover of life, You whose imperishable spirit is in all.
Gen was called forth in creation, as that Scripture says, and called forth now for eternal life.
We thank God for the imperishable spirit of Gen. In all sorts of different ways, even if we see ourselves as unbelievers, we do spend our lives searching for God, groping towards Him, as St Luke describes it in the Acts of the Apostles. We grope to Him through the hopes we have, through the ideals that energise us; we grope towards Him through the sacrifices we make for others, through the deep yearnings and often unspoken ones that we have in our hearts, through our drivings for love. And then for the Christian, to die is to find Him, to meet Him, and to see Him. A sudden death brings home to us how fleeting life is, and how precarious is the hold we have on it. We are not made of stone but of very fragile material. Life can be taken away from us in the twinkling of an eye. The brevity and fragility of life also brings home to us how precious is the treasure we carry in earthen vessels, and today, how precious Gen has been in the lives of so many of us here today in the Cathedral.
We thank God for Gen the mother, nearly always seen with a grandchild, and so often at weekday Mass with George. The death of a mother is like no other, and Lilian, Hugh, Annie and Harriette must know this. You have lost the one who nurtured you, the life tenderer, she whose heartbeat was your first companion in life. We had at her death the symbol of a mother teacher celebrating a new daughter teacher, in a way handing on the baton of life. The day after Gen’s death a new grand-nephew, Jack Hendricks was born, the grandson to Helen, and so the circle of life goes on, the baton of life is handed on.
There was quite a symbolic scene took place at the Richter house on the day of Gen’s death. Preparations had been underway to tidy and beautify the lawn area behind the house in preparation for Gen’s 60th birthday, and part of that was the building of a dry stone wall. It was incomplete, but at one stage, suddenly the children, led by Hugh I think, and other relatives and friends began to work at completing the wall, which they did. You the offspring of Gen and Steve must continue to complete the wall of her life, what she stood for, what she symbolised. Gen died too young – may now her children and grandchildren complete her work, which was to serve in love and joy.
The good Pope Francis describes the Christian vocation in his first letter to the peoples of the world, Evangelii Gaudium, “The Joy of the Gospel”.
I am a mission on this earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world. We have to regard ourselves as sealed, even branded, by this mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening, raising up, healing and freeing. And around us we begin to see nurses with soul, teachers with soul, politicians with soul, people who have chosen deep down to be with others and for others.
A description of the Christian vocation, it is the description of Gen, or as I used to call her, practising my French, Géneviéve.
The Book of Wisdom again, “You spare all things because all things are Yours, Lord, lover of life, You whose imperishable spirit is in all”. The imperishable spirit of Genevieve Richter/Ward lives on in the fullness of life. May Gen now enliven the Communion of Saints.