A Wonderful "God-incidence"
I have been having a discussion for the last week with Gretchen Fundinger, a high school friend, about her health. She has been very anxious about the coronavirus and has been sick with symptoms similar to COVID-19. I tried to be comforting and encouraged her to be tested. She did. This morning I woke up to a private message from her telling me that she had tested negative and thanking me for walking with her on that journey (my pleasure). In that message, Gretchen said “like the Lord stilling the waters, you gave me calm and strength…”
In response to that image, I told Gretchen this story: Right after I was ordained to the priesthood, a friend of mine name Karen was diagnosed with a particularly nasty cancer. Soon after her diagnosis, I preached at her parish about Jesus' ability to calm the storms in our lives. (The Gospel reading was Mark 4:35-41, Jesus calming the stormy sea). Fast forward a year: Karen died after a big fight with that cancer. Her husband called and told me she wanted me to preach her funeral and that she had chosen Jesus calming the sea as her funeral Gospel. So I did. She had 2 teen daughters. All of their high school friends were at the funeral and I was blessed to help them with that same message that apparently had been help for Karen. After the funeral, Karen’s husband have me a gift from Karen: It was a small glass sculpture on which were carved the words "Peace, be still." Karen had had it made as a reminder when her cancer got really bad that Jesus calms the storm. She had written me a card saying that she had always intended me to have it when she died and how much comfort those words and that homily had been for the last year. I really believe in the idea that Jesus calms the storms of our life!
That facebook messenger exchange took place at around 6:30 this morning. Fast forward to later this morning: I watched the Holy Father’s extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing from St. Peter’s Basilica. I was moved to tears by the “coincidence “ of the Holy Father using that same Marcan Gospel text as the basis for his reflection.
It seems Pope Francis also wants us to understand Jesus’ ability to calm the stormy seas that upset us: “ Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.”
Gretchen, I am so happy you do not have COVID and I hope you keep getting better. Thank you, Lord, for calming all the storms which cause us fear and anxiety and for giving us the grace to trust in you
Historians sometimes engage in conversations like “Who is the most influential president in US History?” or “Who was the most important thinker of the enlightenment?” or even “Who is the most influential person in Western Civilization?” As a Christian historian, I have often thought in terms of “What are the most important events in our religious history?” For some years, leading pilgrimages in the Holy Land, I have said, while standing in the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem, that we were in the place where the most important event in human history took place. Others might argue the same thing standing in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. A couple of years ago in Nazareth, standing in prayer before the altar that commemorates the Annunciation, inscribed with the Latin words “VERBUM CARO HIC FACTUM EST,” I rehearsed that discussion again in my mind, and I felt the answer was in front of me: “HIC” (here, in this place) THE WORD WAS MADE FLESH. “HIC” occurred the most important event in human history.
Why would I say that? There is no Nativity, Passion or Resurrection without the “act of will” we celebrate on this feast day. It is very important that we do not confuse this with the human act of will depicted in the Gospel. Mary’s act of will is essential, but it is not that act of will referred to in the second reading: “Then he says, “Behold, I come to do your will…” …By this “will,” we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:9-10) The Act of Will we celebrate today is the one of which St. Paul wrote tot the Philippians: “…though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross…” (Philippians 2:6-8). This is the act of will that makes human salvation and all other salvific events possible. Today is a Solemnity of the Lord that celebrates what St. Leo the Great calls the “condescension of compassion,” when eternity broke into time and bridged the gap between divinity and humanity.
St. Thomas points to 2 mysteries of faith as necessary for salvation: the Incarnation and the Trinity. Both of those mysteries are explicitly manifested to the Virgin of Nazareth in this episode: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God…” As recorded in Luke’s Gospel, the Annunciation would be the first time in Israel’s history that these two mysteries were made an explicit manifestation of God’s plan for saving his human creation. By the incarnation, Jesus brings the sacrifices of Israel (which cannot save humanity) to an end, and makes it actually possible for us to be lifted up to his Father.
When St. Paul tells the Philippians about the divine condescension, he begins the whole text by telling us that we must “let this attitude be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God…” We celebrate Mary of Nazareth as the first person to do just that. As she gives her consent to the plan of God (“Be it done unto me according to your Word.”) she becomes the first to do exactly what St. Paul says. She is offering herself in humility in imitation of the God who condescends to be born of a human woman. It is Jesus’ act of will that all of us, including the Blessed Virgin Mary, are called to imitate. As the first person to imitate her Son’s act of will, Mary is the first one to cross the salvific bridge erected by Jesus’ act of will, and is remembered as the first Christian.
So, on this solemnity of the Lord, as we celebrate Jesus’ act of will and remember how his mother aligned her will with his, let us give thanks for the Word made Flesh, and pray for the grace to align our will with the will of divine son, that we might be joined to the Trinity for eternity.
A Monument to Orthodox Miners
Happy Solemnity of the Annunciation. Today we celebrate the Word made Flesh! The two painting below are by the 15th C. Dominican artist Fra Angelico. The first is one of several Altarpieces he completed on the theme. It is in the Medieval collection of the Prado and I was blessed to contemplate its beauty during 2 different visits to Madrid in 2015. The other is a fresco inside a cell at the Convento di San Marco in Florence. I have also visited there on two occasions and been blessed to contemplate this beautiful painting.
The 2 pictures below are from the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. They are built on what is thought to be the ruins of the house of the Virgin Mary wherein she received the Messenger of God. The Latin on the altar translate "HERE (hic) the Word was made Flesh"
In the Calendar of the Roman Catholic Church, February 14th is the Memorial of Ss. Cyril and Methodius, the pair of brothers who took the Gospel to the peoples of Eastern Europe. You can learn more about the "Apostles to the Slavs" here.
Pan de Vida Retreats in NorCal
During my three years in Antioch, California, I became acquainted with an organization called Pan de Vida Retreats. Because many of the teens from Holy Rosary Parish participated in Pan de Vida, I was called upon to hear confessions and/or celebrate Mass during the annual retreat at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Brentwood. I was impressed by the Pan de Vida program from the beginning. Aiming to help young people have a closer relationship with Jesus, the entire retreat takes place in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament sitting atop a wooden structure, alight with candles, styled "the burning bush." The creators of the Pan de Vida Retreat borrowed the format from the creators of the Youth 2000 Retreats with a desire to bring it to the young people of Northern California. Working primarily with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (CFRs), they built the retreat around a series of talks (given by priests and/or religious) intended to lead the young participants to a deeper understanding of their faith and an awareness of the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. The model is simple - harness young energy and get them excited about the Church's teachings and liturgy.
Since I joined Western Dominican Preaching, I have been blessed to offer my services to Pan de Vida. Part of the success of the Retreat is the presence of a number of priests throughout the weekend to hear confessions. I have worked with the Franciscan Friars to split duty for teaching, preaching, and sacraments at retreats all over NorCal. In addition to the youth retreats, Pan de Vida also operates a marriage retreat called "Couples in Cana," following a similar format with the talks being focused on the theology of marriage. It has been enjoyable to participate in full weekends for both youth and couples.
Last weekend, more than 300 young people participated in Pan de Vida in Brentwood. Once again, it was a great blessing to work with a great Pan de Vida Team and 3 Franciscan Friars to provide a quality Retreat experience for those teens. You can learn more about Pan de Vida Retreats (including inquire about bringing it to your NorCal parish) here.
This is the Viacruces in a prayer garden behind Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Brentwood, CA. I don't have any info about the artist, but will update this post when I am able to get the info.
“Be good, love the Lord, pray for those who do not know Him. What a great grace it is to know God!”
-St. Josrphine Bakhita
read more about St. Joseohine, "the Daughter of Darfur," here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephine_Bakhita?wprov=sfla1
I had the pleasure today of baptizing Crosby Roland Richards, the son of my dear friends Evan and Ashley Richards at Holy Spirit Church in Fremont.
Let's Get Back to Work...
January has been an odd "in-between" time. While I have had some ministry opportunities during weekends, I have not preached any missions or retreats. I have been working on a lot of administrative and preparation activities for things that are happening in the future - including getting this website up and running. I will be busy with retreats during February and my Lenten calendar is full of Missions all over Northern California (You can see my Calendar here). I also have been working on details for my upcoming pilgrimages and working on editing not 1, but 3 books that I hope to see published this year. So it has been a busy month, but I am ready to get back out on the road...
The Joyful Friar
These are the everyday musings and reflections from the life of Father Bart Hutcherson, OP, a Catholic Priest and Dominican Friar from the Western United States. I toyed with the idea of using the title "Ordinary Time" for this blog, but was afraid that people might be looking for deep liturgical reflections under that title. Nothing so sublime here - just the day-to-day. My friend, Carrie Rehak, suggested the title "The Everyday Mysteries." I love it. it captures my understanding of the everyday. God makes himself known in the everyday. I hope he reveals himself in some of these reflections too.