Our beloved daughter, Krystal, passed away on October 20, 2008. She had graduated from Barry University in May of 2008, with her B.A. degree in Sociology. On Thursday, October 2, 2008, the University held a Memorial Mass for Krystal at the Cor Jesu Chapel on the Barry campus in Miami Shores, Florida. The President of the University, Sister Linda Bevilacqua, O.P. presided at the mass. The campus priest, Father Scott O’Brien, O.P. wrote and delivered the very beautiful homily for Krystal. Birdsong thought that some of you might like to read it.
Homily for Krystal Birdsong
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in god, have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places; if there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?
Words of great consolation from the Gospel of John, particularly so at a time like this – the death of a daughter, a friend, a fellow student and peer, an advocate for peace and justice.
Words of the Lord Jesus that fill us with a sure and certain gratitude to our God who is not a God of the dead but of the living – for to God all things are alive.
Krystal is alive indeed – and we rest in that consoling conviction which faith affords us that indeed all the ties of friendship which knit us as one throughout our lives do not unravel with death.
And yet our grief is real, for her absence is experienced as an unraveling of sorts. Such grief born out of the absence of a loved one in death, is never an easy burden to bear and never more.
So when it comes to us in what we can only regard as an unfathomable choice to end one’s own life when it seemed from the perspective of so many, that there was so much to live for.
Krystal’s death raises many questions – questions about ourselves and what we might or might not have done to make things different –
Questions about one we loved whom we thought we knew so well. And as people of faith we may even question God’s goodness and providential love.
And yet what was so apparent in Krystal’s life and work was precisely this: an affirmation of the goodness and loveliness of life of life itself, particularly in those moments when people came together in the struggle for a more just and peaceable world.
Working with Krystal in campus ministry, I never did have the opportunity to sit down and inquire in depth about her image of God let alone her idea of an afterlife if she had one – she was too busy trying to make this life and this world a better place!
From our conversations though, her understanding of God was high and wide, unconventional from a traditional standpoint.
As she reveled in diversity of all kinds, so was she inclusive of many religious traditions and beliefs, respectful of all – a choice to affirm the dignity of all.
It was how she acted though which was her strongest profession of faith. I can say then with assurance that if she did claim a religious truth, it would be an affirmation that God is hospitality itself,
An unconditional love so high and wide, broad and deep as to embrace all with a desire for peace with justice, particularly for those who are in this world, counted as nothing.
She did her best to preach that truth, her truth as president of Pax Christi, as a member of the South Florida Campus Action Network, as an organizer of a pro-peace/anti-war rally or the first human rights fair on campus.
On hearing of the death of Krystal one student came to my office and with tears in her eyes, told me that Krystal in her kindness and concern had become the very face of God for her. And how true that was for many, many people.
Krystal’s work, certainly on this campus since she arrived in 2005 and through her graduation in May, was about creating a dwelling place of sorts for all people.
It was indeed this hospitable, sheltering and generous God that I and most of us gathered here saw at work in Krystal. We are both grateful for this legacy and saddened that it has to come to an end.
That was the Krystal most of us saw but there was another Krystal we did not see, even those closet to her could not fully recognize or comprehend.
We acknowledging as is right the beauty and the goodness of human life as well as its fragility, weakness, the proclivity to cling tenaciously to whatever promises life but only delivers death including past hurts and wound – it is the veil which veils all nations.
We are to put it mildly, a bundle of contradictions wanting life but choosing death, hungry for love and yet also keeping it at bay; in the words of St. Paul, “What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.”
And so we can never judge or condemn another when they choose death in any of its forms.
Today we cannot but recognize that in each one of us, and often in others to a degree that is totally beyond us a fragility and weakness that is, even with our best intentions, beyond our ability to manage;
A vulnerability, a loneliness, even a despair, that is impervious to even the best intentions of those who love us the most, which for some leads to the tragic conclusion that the only possible escape from such pain is death.
For all of us it is true that sometimes we fail to hear the voice of love – though it is all around us. Sometimes we don’t realize the arms of love that enfold us – which seek to share the burden that self-doubt, anger, or self-incrimination can bring.
Sometimes we don’t grasp sufficiently the core truth of the best of which our religious tradition affords: that in our strength and in our weakness, in our labor and in our rest, in our goodness and in our sin, we are accepted, valued, treasured, welcomes and loved for who we are, just as we are –
Without condition or qualification or merit or any other measure of judgment by the God of mercy who speaks truth to us this day through the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“I have called you by name and you are mine…You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.”
Through the words of the prophet Jeremiah:
“I know the plans I have in mind for you, plans for peace, not disaster, life not death, reserving a future of hope for you.”
From the Book of Exodus: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The doubt, the loneliness, the despair which we all experience at times becomes for others, true almost all the time, and binds us in such a way that faith in such love becomes all the more allusive: a burden more than a soul can bear. It was more than Krystal could bear.
“Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gently and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.”
As providence would have it, we gather today on October 2nd the feast of the Guardian Angels – our faith assures us as it does for all those who have been touched by Krystal that God’s protection, Go’s pardon, God’s peace are with her now – what for so long alluded her she has mercifully found – that burden has now been lifted.
And so we gather in gratitude for her life and the good works she has left behind, we pray for the peaceful response of Krystal’s soul, that she may at last open her hands in trust to clasp the hand of the One who first held out the promise of the fullness of life to her.
We pray for ourselves today that through the gift of God’s grace we become guardians for one another and for our world – signs of god’s generous hospitality at work in our world, of our God’s wide and expansive, sheltering, compassionate presence – to be the very dwelling place for one another and for all people, friend, stranger and enemy alike –
This is in her life and now in her death, the legacy Krystal has left us and in honoring her we are called to add to it, to be our sisters’ and brothers’ keeper and so participate even now in the inheritance promised to the children of God:
For in the words of an ancient Latin hymn, Panis Angelicus, the Bread of Angels, a favorite of Krystal who sung it as a little girl while attending Chevy Chase Elementary School:
O blessed Trinity, we praise and worship you; strengthen our unity, our faith and trust renew. Lord, lead us all our days to heavenly peace and light; grant us rest, there before your sight…Amen.