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Vigil for Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen
July 31, 2018


     My first encounter with Archbishop Hunthausen was in the late winter of 1976/1977 at the Colorado Women’s College next to Stapleton Airport in Denver.  He was the keynote speaker for NOCERCC, a national organization for continuing education for priests.  Priests flocked around him. When I arrived for the conference, a note on the bulletin board to call Bishop Topel came as a shock: the Holy Father had appointed me the Bishop of Yakima.  So distracted, I never shook the Archbishop’s hand, and he never said peep.  Of course, he knew.

        My relationship with him quickly changed; and he became a dear friend and companion on the journey.  He ordained me bishop in 1977.  He was so supportive of me as I began my ministry in Yakima.  Many times we would meet half way in the Cascades between Seattle and Yakima as we hiked for a day.  He loved the mountains, forests, lakes, and rivers – all displaying the wonder and beauty of God’s creation.  However for the Archbishop as a native Montanan, there was nothing like the big sky country. He loved the Church and the people in it.  He loved to tell the stories.  He loved his priesthood.  He was very aware that this call was to serve, not to be served.

       The scripture readings this evening place in context our pondering as we celebrate liturgically the welcoming of his body back home to this local Church.  As I reflect on these readings in reference to the Archbishop’s life and ministry, you and I also have the opportunity to look at our own lives as we continue our journey of faith.
The words of Jesus from St. John’s Gospel are familiar to us: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”  Did Archbishop love the Lord?  Elizabeth Barret Browning’s 43rd sonnet comes to mind:  “How do I love thee, let me count the ways.” So we count at least some of the ways.

       An outward sign of his love of the Lord was his prayer life.  Anyone who knew anything about him and his life knows that he was deeply a man of prayer.  You could hear it in conversation.  You experienced it when he preached and when he celebrated Eucharist.  One of the ramifications of being deeply in love with the Lord is that we are to be deeply in love with everyone else.  For him the root of all love was in the Lord Jesus.  Everything else flowed from that.

      A second manifestation of the love of the Lord was how he looked at himself.  An awareness of God’s love for him was deeply engrained in his heart.  He was very comfortable in his own skin.  There was a sense of transparency about him, indicating that his feet of faith were on solid ground.  We are reminded of the words of Jesus about John the Baptist:  “But what did you go out in the wasteland to see, a reed swaying in the wind?” (Mt 11:7) The wind can blow pretty hard sometimes, but our solid foundation is in the Lord.

       In the First Letter of John this evening we hear: “See what the love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.  Yet so we are.”  The Archbishop profoundly knew that, and lived that relationship with all the children of God.  When watching television with him and a violent scene came up, he agonized over the mistreatment and dehumanization of people. He could barely stand to watch it.  Brothers and sisters in humanity really meant something to him, and so it should for us all.

       In the Gospel this evening, Jesus says:  “Peace I leave you; my peace I give you.”  Also Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount:  “Blessed are the peacemakers…”  If you ever want to see an example of a promoter of peace, a peacemaker, we have observed in the Archbishop a great witness.  His prophetic vision of peace was deeply embedded in his heart and soul.  As we well know, that vision led to action.

       The role of peace making is not exclusive.  It must embrace all of us in the way we live and spiritually breathe.  Justice as the foundation stone of peace reminds us of the commitment of the Gospel to the right ordering of relationships in our lives.  It’s the love thing again as well, and the countless ways we can live out that gift and challenge from the Lord.

        The words of Micah speak forcefully to us: “Only to do justice and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.”  Yes, walking humbly with our God -- once again let us count the ways.  The Archbishop’s relationship with others was always respectful.  Even in some of the more difficult moments of relationships and situations with in the Church, I never picked up from him a trace of bitterness or cynicism.  This was a journey of faith and the cross, and somehow with all of the hurt and pain, the vision what could be was always there.  Humility for him and for all of us is to embrace the cross and with vision look beyond the empty tomb.  He saw everyone as a brother and sister in Christ and lived accordingly.

        Ecumenism developed rapidly after the Second Vatican Council.  He was very much a part of ecumenical relationships and dialogue.  I vividly remember several times our gatherings as religious leaders across the State for meetings, prayer and retreats. The respect he had for them as leaders was returned many times over. 

         We live in a pluralistic culture and society with different faith beliefs and cultures.   Papal documents have called us to search for the unity for which Jesus prayed in John 17, “that all may be one.”  That mandate continues, and we must not let ourselves off the hook.  Under the guidance of the Spirit in all of us, the search and dialogue must go on.

        His relationship with George was another sign of his humility.  One time George’s apartment became a bit more than messy, and guess who was part of crew who helped to tidy things up a bit?  When I celebrated my 25th anniversary as a priest in Yakima, the Archbishop came to the celebration.  George heard about it, and asked the Archbishop if he could ride along with him.  Of course, the answer was “yes”.

       Whenever he spoke, people were drawn in by the gentle voice and a sharing that seemed to be directed to every person in the room.  He saw people as vessels of the Holy Spirit, and embraced the vision of the Church as the people of God on pilgrim journey.  I heard him speak frequently of the Second Vatican Council and of his own conversion experience during the council.  Yes, walking humbly with our God who leads us sometimes in ways we know not, gifts surfacing in and throughout the Church.

       Another way of how he witnessed humility was how he related to his bishop friends who attended the Council with him as well as his relationships with bishops in general.  One may be on a different theological wave length than he, but the relationship was paramount over everything else.  Endearing friendships remained. And of course, all of the stories with their seriousness and laughs were part of that reality. I never had the chance to tell Archbishop the request of Bishop Emeritus Frank Quinn, when I visited him a few months ago in a care facility in Sacramento.  Bishop Quinn’s request was:  “Would you please tell Dutch to die?  As the oldest living bishop in the country, he is one month older than I.  I would like that honor just for a little while.”  Bishop Quinn, now you’ve got it.    

      In a world of differences today, we accompany one another in respect, appreciation and love.  Yes, we are inspired and encouraged by those many ways we can walk humbly with our God and tell the stories.

      Finally in the First letter of John this evening we are told of the abiding presence of God on the journey: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed, we shall be like God, for we shall see God as he is.”  Counting the ways of how God comes to us, we remember:  birth, family, faith community, Church, ministry, trials, disappointments, joys, old age, the constant unfolding of our vocation… they are all are part of the package. 

      The revelation of God comes to us as gift:  rich, so often surprising, wrapped up in the human package of ourselves as God molds and forms us.  Jesus’ words are affirming: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name,  will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” 

      As we observe the Archbishop’s life and ministry, we see him deeply in touch with the power of the Spirit.  His vocation, his experience at the Second Vatican Council, his advocacy for peace, his great love of the Church, his drawing out the gifts of the faithful, are all manifestations of the Holy Spirit at work. 

     We too have been sealed with the same gift as we continue our journey to join him in the fullness of the kingdom.  Indeed, let us count the ways the Holy Spirit touched him and touches us all.  We are profoundly grateful.

      In the formal letters I received from him, always at the end was the sign off:  His joy, His peace, His Love.  Now in death he knows fully the implication of those simple words.  May they also be a part of our own hearts.

Most Rev. William Skylstad

 

 

 

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