Grace follows grace! That is so evident in all we see around us. Yes, this year we have seen a truly BIG GRACE – God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense! We have seen it while getting into the spirit of Advent and then experiencing it blossom into Christmastide. We have seen the depth and wonder of God’s grace as it has poured out onto our Divine Word Residence ensconced in those otherwise barren brown La Sierra hills. And most of all we have seen it in the wondrous renewal of the 60-year-old former “Marygrove Seminary” that now houses our Riverside Retreat Center. Please allow me to share something about this wonderful renewal with you. His goodness is to be shared by all.
It was on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, the 5th of December, that the miracle came to fruition. While the rest of the US was enduring its first winter storms, a group of our beloved SVD benefactors, and their families and friends were celebrating an open-air Mass on the Stone House lawn. The Inauguration Mass began as we basked in the warmth of the setting 3-o’clock sun. It was celebrated in both English and Vietnamese by the most reverend Bishop Thomas Nguyễn Thái Thành of Orange diocese. He was accompanied by some of his priests and a deacon and surrounded by a handful of co-celebrating SVD priests. The Vietnamese choir of St Columban’s Church which included lay musicians and some Religious Sisters made the celebration come alive as a multi-cultural testament to our unity in Christ. Toward the end of the Mass, Fr. Kirby, our Provincial, gave the vote of thanks and handed out two plaques by way of acknowledgement to the star honorees of the day. These were the two contractors whose efforts had made it all possible by contributing their great energy and devotion, and so much of their time, effort, and material supplies to the project. The Mass was followed by a warm and friendly reception which segued into a tour of the new facilities and a lavish Vietnamese dinner in the main hall.
The gathering, the Mass, the reception, tour and dinner were the culmination of eight straight weekends of working and praying together in a combined effort to renew our aging Retreat Center building and facilities. We were there to christen what looked in every way to be a sparkling new edifice.
It represented a full month’s work, the contributions of two contractors and a coterie of skilled craftsmen who contributed their time and effort, skills and materials, and a bountiful measure of heartfelt support for God’s mission. In this case, the “mission” was to transform our worn out Center and make a tired old dream come true. A group of our more youthful and active SVD community members were also involved in any way that could be useful. These included myself, the director of the Retreat Center, running back and forth to Orange coordinating the project, Fr Anthony Nguyen who was our first rate handyman and organizer and Fr Pavol Sochulak who was ever ready to do the “heavy lifting” –usually using his forklift.
Wow! What was once a dream is now a reality—and what a blessing! It was beyond my furthest imagination. But it has come true! It is as a famous author once said: “I had gone from nothing, to absolutely everything.” Yes, our Retreat Center has been renovated! Now it is cleaner, safer and healthier, and ever so much more spiritual. With a new air-conditioning system for the entire building, our dormitories are now real places of rest. With the new ceilings, indirect LED lighting and the newly tiled floors, our multi-purpose conference room is a true place of learning. Our bathrooms and showers now shine with their newly tiled granite surfaces and stalls. Our adoration room with its new ceiling and flooring is now very conducive to personal reflection. Our full-sized chapel, with its complementary new statues of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary, now invites us to inspiring and spiritually enriching liturgies. Overall, it is our precious jewel of great price. It offers an uplifting space for reflection, spiritual growth and renewal that will bring deep spiritual nourishment to our multi-cultural and multi-lingual Cursillos and Confirmation retreats in English, Chinese, Filipino, Spanish, and Vietnamese.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak we have endured almost a full year of pandemic, racism, divisive rhetoric, hatred and darkness. But our new Retreat Center has opened up a brilliant new beam of hope. The Center has been closed and will still remain closed for a time. But the pandemic will come to an end and our hope for new life will lead us on. This hope extends to more than those on the retreats. The Retreat Center provides the main source of income our SVD Riverside Residence and its retired members. Its closure has raised serious concerns about our future as a home for our elderly priests and brothers. How will we be able to maintain the facilities, the staff or even the food supplies? How will we be able to pay the many bills, or do the almost daily repairs and general maintenance without a source of income? The Retreat Center renewal has therefore also renewed our hope for a future where our basic needs can be met as a religious community. Without a source of funding we would have to close. Now there is renewed hope for all.
This year was truly one of grace and blessing. Baby Jesus—the Word made flesh—came to us this year in a very concrete way. The renewed Center has given us hope. But more important than that, the renewed fellowship and confraternity that we now have with our many generous benefactors has shown us Emmanuel—that God is truly with us. Jesus Christ was born again in our hearts this Christmas. I am hoping and praying that in 2021 our Retreat Center will continue to echo that grace-filled momentum of love that brought about its renewal. How can we ever measure God’s overflowing glory, greatness and love? How can we ever use up His never-ending grace? Yes, God does it again and again!
Fr. John Duy Tran, SVD