(First Sunday of Lent)
Rev. Dominique Peridans
Exactly a century ago, 1921: Betty June Thornburg was born in
Battle Creek, Michigan. Her father abandoned her when she was
very young. She and her mother received a telegram in 1937: he had
Betty’s earliest memory: breaking spontaneously into song
when she was three, to distract a drunken man threatening to beat up
her mother at the “Blind Pig” pub she ran. At age nine, Betty quit
school to sing on street corners, to raise money. Her mother was an
alcoholic. One evening, at a Charlie Chaplin silent film with her
mother, she thought, “I will be a star and my mother will stop
1950: Betty, Hutton, as she was known on stage and in film, got
the starring role in Annie Get Your Gun, replacing Judy Garland.
Success, but the road ahead was not smooth.
1967, a definite turning point: firing by Paramount Pictures,
death of her manager, death of her mother in a fire, bankruptcy.
1969: death of her dear friend, Garland, of a drug overdose. 1970:
loss of her singing voice, nervous breakdown, attempted suicide.
1971: at age 50, after four failed marriages and a wrecked career,
homelessness. “All she had was a shopping bag with a few things in
it” said the executor of her estate. Worth $10 million at one point, she
was broke and broken.
Uppers and downers led her to a rehabilitation hospital in
Boston, weighing only 85 pounds. On the verge of giving up, there
she noticed a priest, Fr. Peter McGuire, pastor of Saint Anthony’s
parish in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. He had come to the same
hospital, to check in his cook, Pearl. Betty later found out from Pearl
who this man was. One thing led to another and Betty found Fr.
Peter and employment in his Rectory where, for five years, she
cooked and cleaned. It was her time of recovery. In the humble
process, she says she “found Christ in her heart”.
In September of 1980, she returned to Broadway, one last time:
a two-week stint as Miss Hannigan, in Annie. Her grandchildren
came to see her. In the program, all the actors had extensive
biographies—save one, Betty Hutton. Under her photograph were
only seven words, “I am back. Thanks be to God!”
Betty Hutton died on March 12, 2007.
With the grace bestowed during Lent, each of us, in our own way, can
“I am back; thanks be to God”.
We can say this because grace gives us God’s love already
This victory is revealed in this terse gospel passage.
Jesus is baptized and revealed as the Beloved and thus our Beloved.
Jesus is then immediately driven by the Spirit into the wilderness,
where, for forty days, he is tempted by Satan.
St. Gregory (+604) says,
It was not unworthy of our Redeemer to wish to be tempted,
who came also to be slain;
in order that by His temptations He might conquer our
just as by His death He overcame our death.
Jesus then comes to Galilee, proclaiming the kingdom of God has
This gospel, at the beginning of Lent, is a source of hope.
It indeed reminds us that God’s love is already victorious.
There are no obstacles to God, if we do not want.
And, when we are tempted not to love—which, for me, is every 15
minutes (!) our Beloved, Jesus, in Whom we experience the kingdom of God,
is right there with us. As Saint Paul says to us in I Corinthians 15:57:
God gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus tells us, however, that we must repent and believe in the
To repent is to experience deep regret for wrongdoing
and to turn our hearts towards our Lord Whom we have wronged.
To believe is to yield with a sense of awe.
Let us acknowledge the times that we have not welcomed the victory of Jesus’ love, especially in loving others
And let us surrender to Him.
Ah: the grace bestowed during Lent, Jesus’ gift,
which makes all of this possible, and so we can dare to hope.
Each of us, in our own way, can say “I am back. Thanks be to God!”