Bob Holstein Funeral Homily
January 9, 2003

John A. Baumann, SJ

In the first reading this morning the words of Isaiah speak of Bob Holstein:

“Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased. I have endowed him with my spirit that he may bring true justice to the nations.”

We gather here to celebrate the life of Bob Holstein. Bob has already preached the best sermon, homily or eulogy that could be given at this funeral. For his life is today’s homily. We need only examine what Bob did with the 61 years God gave him to understand what he believed; what he loved, what he valued and why he made such a difference in so many peoples’ lives. He packed more living and doing into those 61 years than most people who live to be 100. How does one capture someone bigger than life? What is it about this man, Bob Holstein that brings so many of us together today?

I knew Bob from a distance while he was in the Jesuits since he was four classes behind me. I formally met Bob nearly twenty years ago through a group of former Jesuits called the Companions. My initial impressions of Bob were:

A short time later, Bob joined the Board of Directors of my nonprofit organization, the Pacific Institute for Community Organization (PICO), where he served until his death.

PICO was a special place for Bob and he will always have a special place in PICO. In PICO, Bob was able to pursue several of his passions in one place. These included social justice, political action, spirituality, the ever-important connection to the Jesuits, and the opportunity to rub shoulders with that other group who marched to the beat of a different drummer – community organizers.

Bob’s involvement in PICO was not limited to his generous financial support and counsel as a Board member. He was an active leader in PICO’s local affiliate here in Riverside-San Bernardino - Inland Congregations United for Change (ICUC). Bob also played a key role in the development of the PICO California project that expanded health care and education benefits to low income families in California. Through his enormous network of contacts, Bob opened doors and leveraged relationships on behalf of PICO.

Over the years, my friendship with Bob deepened and with that my knowledge of him. Bob was one of the most transparent people I have ever known. He had an authentic openness to others about his feelings, beliefs, and actions. He had integrity and could be trusted. He lived what he believed. He was genuine and without pretense. He could relate to the powerful and the powerless. His life was an active and concrete expression of his own faith and values.

At a time like this we look for comfort and our faith directs us to prayer and to the scriptures to look for a thought, a sentence, an idea that will comfort us. Paul states in his letter to the Ephesians:

“With God’s power in us, we can do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3)

With God’s power we are given strength through the working of the Spirit. Like Christ, we are called to live for others. Like Christ we find our growth in giving our lives for others.

And today we come not with sorrow - but with Christian joy to honor Bob who has tried to live like Christ.

Today Bob is with God. As he has identified with the God of life and love in this world -- so he is now identified with the God of eternal life and love in the next.

We have a principle in PICO – power is in the relationship. Bob epitomized this principle. He was like a magnet in his ability to attract people to his causes. He was fearless in recruiting people or asking for support. Whether it was PICO, ICUC, Verbum Dei, the Loyola Institute for Spirituality, the Holstein Family Chair in Religious Studies at the University of California at Riverside, the School of the Americas Watch and Ignatian Family Teach-In, the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, the University of San Francisco, the Dominicans’ vision of hope and countless others – and those are only the ones we know about - people had a hard time saying “no” to Bob. They may not have always been exactly sure what the cause was about; they just felt Bob’s passion and knew it must be something worthwhile because of Bob’s involvement.

Many of you have heard the following story that is set in medieval Europe. It is a story about three men who were all doing the same thing but for very different reasons. Each was carrying a load of stones.

The first man is asked what he is doing and he replies, “I am carrying stones.”

The second is asked the same question and he answers, “I am supporting my family.”

The third, in response to this question, replies, “I am building a cathedral.”

The third man was aware that his work was caught up in something larger. He knew that he was participating in a greater meaning and more universal good. History is directed by actions such as this man - actions that give shape and meaning to life by connecting our human activity to some larger endeavor.

The cathedral that Bob was called upon to build was also about something larger – something with greater meaning – something with great magnitude – it was about giving shape and meaning to life; it was about JUSTICE. He had a vision in which the promotion of justice became the integrating factor for all his activities.

It was a vision with action – action on behalf of the working person, the poor, the disenfranchised; action seen as a fundamental dimension of the Preaching of the Gospel. Bob listened to Yahweh’s call in Isaiah:

I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations,

To open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

Over the years his life has called for great sacrifice, suffering and maturity. And, in sharing God’s life and love with us, he has influenced us in many ways. We who are here this morning have been motivated and challenged to grow because of the values we have received from him.

Today we celebrate Bob’s victory over death. His faith is now realized. He has found his source of hope. He is with the One who called him by name. He has responded to God’s invitation:

“Come to me you who lived well and were heavily burdened at times. Now it is my turn to refresh you, to reward you for all that you did.”

Bob prayed every day and attended Mass every day. He had a devotion to the Eucharist. His spirituality was shaped by his experience in the Jesuits. St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, believed that every human being could have a personal relationship with God and that God was to be found in the world. Bob enthusiastically embraced, adapted, and incorporated Ignatian spirituality into his own life. Prayer was not an intellectual or impersonal exercise for Bob. It was like food – necessary and vital for life. It was about meeting someone. It was about a relationship.

He read endlessly books and articles about spirituality. He attended seminars sponsored by the Loyola Institute for Spirituality. The Indian, Jesuit writer Anthony DeMello and his book Wellsprings especially influenced him. As with other good things Bob experienced in his life, he wanted to share his spirituality with others. He organized some of the Companions, the group of former Jesuits, to make a retreat together – over the Internet. Each day for a period of nine months, Bob and the others would share their prayer experiences with each other. The group soon learned that Bob prayed just liked he talked - with language that would make a Marine Drill Instructor feel at home. This retreat was such a positive experience for Bob that he decided to take the next step in his spiritual journey and began helping others to explore their relationship with God through spiritual direction. And at the time of his death, Bob was directing four people through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

It is important to note that while Bob was thoroughly Catholic he believed strongly that God was active and present in all people. One of the things he loved so much about PICO is that there are well over thirty different Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist denominations represented. In this sense Bob was “catholic” with a small “c” for he was universal in his respect for all people and universally respected in return.

In the first letter of John we read: “Since God has loved us so much, we too should love one another. No one has ever seen God; but as long as we love one another God will live in us and His love will be complete in us.” Bob’s love seemed limitless. Through his love he built community.

For Bob, the most important community was his family – his wife Loretta, and his children, Mary, Bobbie, Chad, Liz, and Matthew. They were the center of his life. Loretta was his best friend, partner, mentor, supporter, voice of reason, and balance wheel. He could do nothing without her; he did everything because of her. The extended family of Holsteins and Tunneys were there for Bob too.

The Holstein home was built primarily as a place for Bob to hold meetings, parties, liturgies, and other get-togethers. Whether it was PICO, a local union, Democratic politicians, liberation theologians, or high school athletes, the Holstein home was home to many people over the years. Community and hospitality went hand in hand for Bob. And this extended to his beloved cabin in Ft. Jones near Yreka. When Bob met a person for the first time; it normally took less than five minutes for him to be offering the new friend free use of the cabin. And how many of us in this room did just that?

Bob helped to make community happen wherever he was. He was the common denominator in so many groups and among so many friends. He was both leaven and glue. Whether it be his family, his law firm, the many philanthropic organizations he participated in and supported; Bob had a unique ability to bring people together.

I could not give this homily without saying a few words about the Companions and Bob Holstein. While Bob officially left the Jesuits many years ago; he never really left. He hated the words “former Jesuit or ex-Jesuit”. Bob would like us to think of him as merely a Jesuit who was ahead of his time. He was the driving force behind the formation of the Companions. Each year this group gets together for a reunion and retreat. It also maintains a lively Internet discussion group, which will sorely miss Bob’s almost daily e-mails on topics ranging from the war with Iraq to the future of the Church. Bob was always pushing the Companions to be more than a group bound together by the past. Instead, he constantly challenged them to get involved in justice issues. And the Companions have responded with time, treasure, and talent for many good causes.

Bob was passionate about many issues. Few were more important to him and life-transforming than his involvement with the protest to close the School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, Georgia. Over six years ago, Bob made a fateful decision to participate in civil disobedience by trespassing (or crossing the line) at Ft. Benning. His co-conspirators included Fr. Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest and founder of SOA Watch and Bill Bichsel, an Oregon Province Jesuit. Bob spent two months in Lompoc federal penitentiary for his action. This was a very difficult time for Bob, Loretta, and the kids. During this period, Bob made a self-directed 30-day retreat.

What began as a protest involving less than 15 people at the gates of Ft. Benning has now become a movement involving thousands each year. Working quietly behind the scenes raising money, consciousness, and support was Bob. And Bob dreamed the big dream again. He wanted to involve all the Jesuit colleges, universities, high schools, parishes, and social ministries from around the country in the protest. And he almost single-handedly made it happen. This past year over 1,500 attended the Ignatian Family Teach-In at Ft. Benning.

In that tent in Georgia we here the words of Jesus that so moved and motivated Bob:

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me.

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

For Bob, the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, could be summed up in one statement, one sentence which describes his life. That one sentence could read as follows:

“Blessed are those who make this world a better place
for all people to live in.”

Bob made you feel part of a Chosen Race of people, able to help others… and part of a Holy Ministry, mediating God’s love, compassion, and justice. He made you feel part of a People that God claims as His own. Bob would say: “We’re in this together. Let’s make something good happen.” And, he made things happen.

One cannot talk about Bob Holstein without mentioning his unbelievable sense of humor. Whether it was imitating Jesuit theologians, putting on an Irish brogue, or telling a joke with vivid and colorful language, Bob made people laugh. Last November, just before he entered Cedar-Sinai for lung surgery, he sent out an e-mail to the Companions that read, “Pray that the loss of 19% lung function does not cause irreparable brain damage resulting in my joining the Republican Party in an act of madness”.

And while Bob could laugh easily, he could also cry easily – especially when talking about the love he had for Loretta and his children. He was not ashamed of showing tears. He connected with people in both their happiness and pain. He opened himself up and drew people to him.

When a person like Bob dies, our community is diminished. We no longer have his example: we no longer experience his tenacity, determination, charity and his love and gentleness, his concern for all of us, his desire for justice, and his desire to make us a united people and better citizens of God.

However, in his leaving there is a lesson. Perhaps we now can see more clearly how much he meant to us and with what singleness of purpose he lived his life.

Even in death there are many other lessons he can teach us. How can we best honor Bob? We must do more than merely share in this funeral service in which the Church commends his soul to God. We must offer more than our prayers, our flowers, and our donations in his name. We honor him best by dedicating ourselves to the ideals of his life. We honor him best by doing what will be most beneficial to us and most in keeping with his own inclinations. We must become community-minded persons and continue building what he began. We honor him best if we try to imitate his example of unselfish service to others.

So today, while we must mourn Bob’s death we must also celebrate his homecoming with thanks to God for his life; for the example his faith gives us; for the lessons that we learned from him about living well and dying well. As we celebrate Mass, we rejoice that Bob lives with and in God forever.