Homily in Memory of Katherine “Kitty” (Ohl) Whitley

Homily for Saturday, March 21, 2015 ||  Thanksgiving for the Resurrection and Celebration of the Life of Katherine “Kitty” (Ohl) Whitley|| Isaiah 61: 1-3; Psalm 46;  II Corinthians 4:16 – 5:9; John 6: 37-40 ||  The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield

None of you will be surprised to hear that Kitty planned this memorial service– from the opening anthem to the final blessing– with great forethought, care, and deliberateness. I think we all know Kitty was like that. She did everything with such thoughtfulness, such consideration and reflection! Kitty was a stickler for detail, and it was terribly important to her that this service be deeply reverent and dignified…which is, it seems to me, such a perfect reflection of Kitty.

The night before she died, as four of us gathered at the hospital to pray for Kitty, I shared with the other women there that the word “dignity” was the one that kept coming to mind whenever I thought about Kitty, and it really struck me because it’s not a word I actually remember using to describe anyone before.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines dignity as, “the quality of being worthy of honor or respect.” To be dignified, according to the OED, is to “have or show a composed or serious manner that is worthy of respect.” That, for me, is Kitty.

This is not to say Kitty didn’t have a good sense of humor, because she certainly did. But Kitty was dignified. Kitty had a very humble and composed, yet totally distinctive dignity about her that is very rare in this day and age.

Kitty was polite to a fault (she stubbornly insisted on writing thank you notes long after we all implored her to stop), she was decent to the core (did you ever hear Kitty say anything negative about anyone?) and she was as private and reserved as any New Englander you’ll ever find anywhere. But what’s more, Kitty was a deeply compassionate human being, a true and trustworthy friend, and a committed Christian. Kitty was a woman of dignity.

She was a woman of dignity who always treated others with dignity, no matter who they were or what the circumstance. She was steadfast in her concern for the hungry, the homeless, and all those who are most vulnerable in our world. At St. Stephen’s this led to her involvement in a multitude of our Outreach ministries. When we were planning this service, Kitty was clear that she wanted any memorial donations made in her name to be set aside specifically for Outreach. But St. Stephen’s was only one venue among many for Kitty’s big-hearted compassion for others.

Kitty took seriously the words she chose for today from the prophet Isaiah about bringing good news to the oppressed, binding up the brokenhearted, proclaiming liberty to captives and release to those imprisoned. She took seriously the prophet Micah’s clarion call to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with [y]our God.”

Kitty took Micah’s words so seriously that she literally walked humbly with her God year after year in the Good Friday walk sponsored by Sharing, Inc. For those of you who may not be familiar with it, the Good Friday walk is a fundraiser for children in the rural south whose lives have been thwarted by racism and poverty, and this mission was so important to Kitty that she continued to walk even when her disease prevented her from completing the full 20 miles. (In fact, I have it on good authority that the last time Kitty did the Good Friday walk, her somewhat less athletically inclined, but otherwise healthy companion, was rather humbled that she ran out of steam before Kitty did.)

Kitty was also a woman of faith. Deep faith. Steadfast faith. It is not by happenstance that she chose for today’s psalm one that begins with the words, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,” or that repeats three times, “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.” God was Kitty’s refuge and her strength, especially these last three years. That she far outlived her original prognosis she credited to all of you and your prayers. That there is such a thing as Resurrection life, she never doubted. She wasn’t really sure what it would be like, but that didn’t seem to bother her too much; it was the fact of the Resurrection that mattered. And Kitty had absolute confidence in that fact.

Kitty had confidence, as St. Paul wrote that, “if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” She had confidence that “He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” And Kitty did not lose heart.

Now Kitty is alive in Christ. Now Kitty knows that “eternal weight of glory beyond all measure” spoken of by St. Paul. Now Kitty knows the joy of new life.

May we who have had the privilege of knowing Kitty honor her life with our lives– by treating all of God’s people with dignity and compassion, and by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God. Amen.

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