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Priest exhorts retreat participants to embrace Lent

February 27, 2015
Christina Gray

Embers of palm leaves burned inside an oversized conch shell during an Ash Wednesday retreat at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Bolinas had scarcely cooled when Dominican Father Bruno Gibson crossed the faithful present with the ash, urging them to “be the fire” at Lent, and always.

“In this season of Lent, it’s like a movie run backward: We start with ashes, we end with fire,” said Father Gibson on Feb. 18. Easter starts with the lighting of fire and that fire builds and builds until Pentecost, he said, when the loving spirit of Jesus is unleashed upon the face of the earth. “We are created to be the fire.”

The half-day retreat started with Mass and the imposition of ashes followed by the sacrament of reconciliation and two talks by Father Gibson. In between were periods of silent prayer and meditation in the historic graveyard.

It ended with a standing soup supper and fellowship outside the doors of the church just as the sun began to break through the coastal mist.

All but a handful of the two-dozen retreat participants including Father Gibson traveled 30-plus miles over winding country roads through redwood groves and past green hills dotted with cows and wildflowers to spend the first day of Lent in silence, prayer and penance at the tiny 153-year-old church.

Most were St. Hilary parishioners who know Father Gibson from his “View from the Ridge” day retreats in Tiburon where the former St. Dominic pastor currently lives on sabbatical.

“This is an unbelievably gorgeous setting,” said a beaming Father Gibson. “And here we are people of God coming together to know the gift of God which is ultimately of himself.”

Whether coming from near or far, the simplicity of the white clapboard chapel and the picturesque parcel of land once known as “Gospel Flat” was clearly a draw to retreat participants. But no more so it seemed, than the joyful Father Gibson himself.

“The sweetness of Father Bruno and the sweetness of this church goes straight to your heart,” said Susanna Henderson of Sacred Heart Parish in nearby Olema.

“He is like God’s love – unsuppressible,” said John Bryant, a Tiburon lawyer who has made St. Mary Magdalene his home parish. Despite his sabbatical and an ongoing fight with cancer, Father Gibson volunteered to serve as unofficial pastor for the past two years.

St. Mary Magdalene has historically been a mission church of Sacred Heart without a pastor of its own. Father Manual Igrobay, the pastor of Sacred Heart, is the sole priest for Marin County’s four rural parishes which include Sacred Heart and St. Mary Magdalene as well as the Church of the Assumption of Mary in Tomales and its mission church, St. Helen, in Marshall.

Father Gibson said his essential message for the day was that “Lent is nothing else than finding out who we are and what God created us to be.”

The book of Genesis tells us we are made from the soil of the earth, he said, and God breathed his own spirit into us. “And what do we do?” he asked, referring to the fall of Adam and Eve. “We revolted because we didn’t want to find out who we really are and we want to make ourselves into someone else.”

Father Gibson said that Lent is not really just giving up things, it’s “giving up that which doesn’t let our heart break open to find out who God really created us to be.”

God loves us so much, he said, that he wants to empower us to do that so that we don’t have to be creatures who believe what the world tells us we need.

Bryant said Father Gibson’s simple and practical words came to life as he watched a purposeful bee hover over blue flowers in the spring clover.

“I thought, ‘you know exactly what God created you to be,’” he said.

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