In Remembrance of Sister Joan Utecht, OSB

Karin Barrett delivered the eulogy at Sister Joan's service. The following is the eulogy as written and spoken.

I don't know about you, but each week, I receive several requests by e-mail or phone or text, inviting me to attend seminars about music, or spirituality or ministry, or to have a chat with colleagues or family or to talk with a friend. Especially since Covid, these invitations to gather, even if just remotely, now mean a lot to me and keep me connected with friends and family and with my colleagues in ways I would not have anticipated just one year ago! I try to make time so that I can reply, “Yes! I accept.”

Isaiah 55:1 is one of the greatest invitations we have in the Bible. The Lord said to His people who were in difficult circumstances, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” In a time when many of us are isolated or grieving, God’s remarkable offer of inner nourishment, deep spiritual satisfaction, and everlasting life (v. 2–3) resonates in a much more meaningful way with our desire for connection.  When an invitation meets desire, it usually results in acceptance…and God’s invitation to a deeper relationship was one that met Sr. Joan’s desire, an invitation which she accepted as she entered the novitiate in 1958 to become part of this beloved Community. She continued to graciously accept invitations from God for 61 years as a sister, to grow in her scholarship and in her ministry to this Community and to others.

Isaiah's invitation is echoed in the book of Revelation…“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life” (Rev. 22:17). Words of invitation are repeated throughout scripture as Jesus calls to us to come, follow, come, eat, come see…

We often think of eternal life as beginning when we die. But in reality, and as St. Benedict reminds us, it begins each day when we listen with the ears of our heart to God’s consistent invitation to relationship, and meet this invitation with acceptance. Consistently extending invitation was a special gift of Sr. Joan, and a way that she expressed hospitality. Her confidence in God’s overwhelming love, allowed her to see and share the generous invitation of God, which as Isaiah reminds us, is not just for a few, or just those who can pay their way, but for everyone! 

She would always be sure to extend an invitation to eat! For years I joined her and many other Sisters for breakfast because of her invitation and so did our family. I was always grateful for her invitations, and as I accepted, I learned little by little about her and the Sisters who joined in and their lives, what was important to them, what made them happy! It is the same with our relationship with God…as we accept the invitation, we have the opportunity to learn more and more about God with each encounter, resulting in lifelong conversion and deepening relationship.

Jesus makes this sincere invitation to lifelong conversion and deepening relationship over and over in the gospel…the story today from John is but one example. This appearance story is situated in John’s gospel after the resurrection. Jesus’ fishing invitation and suggestion to the disciples were simple and effective, and when they accepted, the result yielded much more than they could have hoped for on their own. What a delightful invitation it must have been to come have breakfast! How specific and quirky! This type of invitation to eat together was so familiar to the disciples that this time; we are told, that they recognized Jesus…will we do the same?

May we, like the disciples make room in our hearts each time we are  invited to gather together to share a meal, whether it is a simple breakfast, or the lavish gift of the Eucharist. Let us accept the invitation with gratitude, recognize and celebrate the presence of Jesus in those around us.

Though Sr. Joan and her special invitations will be dearly missed, Jesus’ final invitation to her, to come and rest, to come without condition to the eternal “breakfast” of eternal life prepared for her is an invitation the one that she was desiring, and one that we too can also count on. As we encounter God’s many invitations to conversion, may this deepening desire for relationship always prompt us to respond with joyful acceptance as we journey together toward the feast of eternal life.

All quoted scripture from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.