We celebrate the life of Howrd Belcher on this 1 year anniversary!
Howard J. Belcher, the first married focolarino in the United States, reached the heavenly Mariapolis on February 18, 2018. With him was Rose, his 5 sons, and his sister Alice.
Howard was born February 1, 1935 in Chicago IL. Back in 1954, while in military service, and just over 20 years of age, he was sent to Korea. His assignment was to take radio messages. About that time he writes: “… I felt alone for the first time in my life. I started to think, think, think, and think, like I never did before. What is this world all about? Why am I here? I started to think about God and how he looks at us. These thoughts grabbed me so strongly that I became afraid. Nothing seemed solid to me anymore.”
After he returned home he attended lessons given by their Pastor, Fr. Joe Scopa. He was attracted to Fr. Joe’s wisdom, and their relationship grew. Fr. Scopa, during a trip to Italy, had spent two weeks at one of the first summer Mariapolises, with Chiara, and had brought his experience of a new spirituality back to his parish in Chicago. Recounting that moment Howard writes: “Now I know why I am here. Now I know what this world is all about. I am here to make a choice of God, in every thought and action, throughout my whole life. God has given me this free choice, and He has a plan for my life. He has a specific plan for little me. How do I carry it out? Love those around me knowing that whatever I do to them, I do it to Him. You can’t imagine how happy I was. I immediately started to live that way”.
At the meetings with Fr. Scopa, Howard also met Rose. He fell in love with her and with her beautiful soul. She was also taken by the simplicity of living the Gospel together. They married in 1960 and raised 5 boys, and a foster son. Howard and Rose went ahead in living the spirituality of unity, and followed their call to be married focolarini. They continued to be a gift for each other, their family, and for each focolare they were part of.
Then there was the encounter with Jesus Forsaken and the realization that he could mirror all his sufferings, trials, and failures in Him. This is how Howard describes his life since that moment: “My whole life has been one of passing from darkness to light. To think, every time I said yes and recognized these sufferings were Him, I would embrace the suffering and say -thank you for coming to visit me- then I would go back doing the work I should be doing, loving the person next to me, and I was able to experience their needs and their difficulties…”
Howard and Rose had been married 20 years when their lives were challenged in a new and unexpected way as Rose was diagnosed with MS. Howard tells is this way: “When I first heard the word MS, I thought of all the people I had known with it and the crippling effects it had on them. I felt sick at the thought that this could happen to Rose, but I knew I could not let her feel my fear. While together in the hospital, we talked about these changes in our life. We held firmly to the conviction that God loved us as a Father, and this was in some way a gift for our family.”
About family life Howard wrote: “…I feel is that marriage is a way of sanctity. With all the beauty of being a family, God allows many different sufferings and sacrifices so that in the family, each one will grow in virtue, sanctity, and understanding… When we fail, love makes us start again, and again, and again. I’ve understood that God is happy when we start again, because we make his Redemption worthwhile. We often apply sanctity only to the great saints, but I really feel sanctity is connected to the family. I’m sure that when we get to Heaven there will be many married saints.”
In 1986, Howard and Rose moved to Hyde Park, NY, with the two youngest sons. Abandoning prospects of greater financial security, they followed a new mission: to help build Mariapolis Luminosa, concretely and spiritually. Howard supervised the construction of most of the building standing today. Chiara Lubich, on the occasion of her visit in 1990, buried medals of Our Lady indicating the various sites where houses were to be built. Then, as funds arrived, Howard followed with a team who planned and built each one of them, all on the premise of mutual love. Howard treated every square foot of Luminosa as though it were his own; every home as though it were his own, as its members were his family.
Throughout his life, Howard’s profession in construction was a source of constant providence. “Things that are difficult we do right away; the impossible takes a little longer.”
Howard always wore shirts that had two front pockets. In one, he forever carried a small notebook and a tiny pencil. He took notes about every angle that he noticed needed repair, a useful renovation; he took notes about plays that needed stage props, gatherings that needed items for games, which he often ran himself. He used to say “difficult things we do right away, the ones that seem impossible take a little longer.”
The youth in Luminosa knew all too well, that cutting corners in their wood work would never pass Howard’s kindly intended, but firmly delivered, corrections. And when with a gleam in his eye he delightedly said, “you did good,” or even “superb!,” it was something they wanted to hear again. As one of them wrote: “He was one of my best teachers, he not only taught me many things at work, but also to love with detail and fortitude. He taught me to be strong in what I believe.”
In a letter to Chiara, Howard lets us see what was behind such dedication. He writes: “You shared with us a thought that had a lasting effect on me; that is, ‘take the time to do things well in the present moment.’ At first I didn’t feel I had the time to make that extra effort and I felt guilty if I took too long at something… When I started to take the time to do things well in the present moment though, I found it had a positive effect on everything I did… I found I could do more than I ever did when I was rushing. This phrase brought me great peace, and has remained with me all these years.”
On March 14, 2010, considering the outstanding contribution Howard and Rose had given to Mariapolis Luminosa and to Focolare in the US, the Luminosa Award for unity was awarded to them.
Howard carried that little notebook and pencil for 32 years here in Luminosa, all the way until last year, bearing every pain in his body in order to continue to do so. No pain was stronger than his desire to serve the Luminosa community. Yet the day had to arrive. He could no longer go about repairing, adjusting, remodeling. It was also time to accompany Rose throughout the day, and for Rose to accompany him. During this stage of their lives, he learned a new way to serve all.
He learned to offer his pain, and to offer all what he could no longer do, asking God to make use of his pain itself, for the sake of someone else. And this was his offering all the way to the night of February 18th, the moment God could wait no longer to come and take him back with Him. There with Him, with Mary whom he loved in a special way, with Chiara, with Fr. Joe Scopa, and all in Heaven, he continues to watch over Rose, his family, his grandchildren; he accompanies all of us, inspiring us to keep building the community of Luminosa he loved so much.
We are immensely grateful for his extraordinary life given to God, and for his concrete love given to this beautiful little city, to the many people who passed through here, who met Howard, who worked with him and shared moments of joy, of family, of Jesus in the midst. Howard continued to give of himself until the very end. The many messages that arrived from all over the world during these past few weeks are a true testimony of our world-wide focolare family. Listening to them, he said: “Thank each one of them for their love, their prayers, and their unity.”
The word of life Howard had received from Chiara to guide his life is: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice.” (Lk. 8, 21). A prayer he very often said at Mass will continue to echo in our hearts: “That we may fulfill God’s design for each one of us.” Howard truly did!