The members of the Society of Jesus, popularly know as Jesuits, celebrate their Titular Feast on this day, 1.1.11. That is because eight days after Jesus’ birth – today! – he was “circumcised, and they gave him the name, Jesus” (cf. Lk. 2:21). Ignatius, of course, was happy to give his band of university-trained Friends in the Lord the name of Jesus – despite the fact that that there were some at that time that considered “Society of Jesus” a tad presumptuous. If other religious groups were content with “Dominicans,” or “Franciscans,” why couldn’t this new group be satisfied with the name, “Ignatians”? But Ignatius did not allow himself to be deterred in this resolve, and defended it with much prayer, fasting- and diplomacy. For his group of “friends in the Lord” that name prevailed. Those who joined Ignatius in his religious order did not become members of the Society of Ignatius but members of the Society of Jesus – Jesuits.
On this day, Jesuits in the Philippines – especially Jesuits residing in the Manila area, irrespective of their province of origin – come together in large numbers in Loyola House of Studies for prayer, reflection, recollection and Eucharist, but also for a shared meal. It is normally the year’s happiest of Jesuit celebrations. From the different levels of Jesuit formation, including the pre-novitiate, the novitiate, and the tertianship – a program is put together to the delight of all. This is where the world-famous Christmas videos of Fr. Art Borja singing Christmas Carols in English with an aped Visayan accent have their origin.
In the Catholic Church it is not only the Holy Name of Jesus that is celebrated. The celebration throughout the universal Church is also of Mary, Mother of God. In the dramatic unfolding of salvation history, Mary gives birth to Jesus, both God and Man., divine and human. She is Mother of God. Of course, her Son forms his communion of disciples, his Church. Mary too is the Mother of the Church and the Mother of us all.
Mother of God and Mother of the Church, Mary has been a mother to me almost as far as I can remember.
In my childhood days, my father had a vibrant devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. He used to bring me to attend the Wednesday devotions in the parish. Even when he left the family, I would go to these devotions on my own. I knew the Perpetual Help songs by heart. In time, as a Knight of the Altar, I would assist the priest in conducting them. I always found her icon beautiful, even though I could not understand its mysterious symbols. I remember trying many times to draw her image. I never succeeded, even as I remained drawn to her quiet mien as she holds her son in her arms.
When I was assigned to go to Naga as Ateneo de Naga University President, the image of Our Lady of Peñafrancia played no role in my life. In preparing for my new assignment, however, Joe Nero, my good friend, told me that Bicolanos do quite a bit of quarreling among themselves in five provinces, but are united in their devotion to Our Lady of Peñafrancia, or “Ina.” “What a remarkable presence she must be,” I told myself. The day that I finally arrived in Naga for my assignment, I was drawn to the Basilica of Ina. I went. I knelt. I prayed that she watch over me in Naga, and that she ask for her Son’s blessings on my work at the Ateneo de Naga University.
Over close to twelve years at the Ateneo de Naga, she has not disappointed me. Under her protection, Ateneo de Naga has become one of the premier universities not only in Bicol but in the Philippines.
In 1999 she performed an extraordinary miracle in love. It was the day that I was to be inaugurated as the new President of Ateneo de Naga University. It was a stressful event. First, in the morning, there was my first Board of Trustees meeting; at a time when I would much rather have been preparing for the inauguration and entertaining my guests, I was tied up in a Board meeting. Secondly, with both my mother and my father, who had already been separated some 46 years, present, there was need to do all to keep them apart. My mother was rather unpredictable when she would met my father; I’d known her to throw tantrums, walk out, or disrupt a well-planned affair to vent her frustration on my father. So even as we were planning for the inauguration, I explained this to the organizers, and instructed them to keep the group of my mother well apart from the group of my father. They actually did very well. During the inauguration itself, my party occupied one whole row, one faction discreetly separated from the other by an aisle!
So as the Board met and I retired to work more on my inaugural speech, I had left the two groups of my family to the hospitality of our organizers. My father’s group decided to see the marvels of Mayon; my mother’s group typically went shopping. Both of these groups decided to end their activities in honoring Ina.
My father’s group drove to the Basilica. My mother’s group told its driver that they wanted to go to the Peñafrancia Shrine; the driver however misunderstood, and drove them to the Basilica. There, on the steps at the side of Ina’s Basilica, what we had planned so carefully to avoid happened. My father’s group was already close to the doors of the Basilica; when my mother’s group arrived, they were close to the bottom of the steps.
All of a sudden the two groups were looking at each other!
What ensued was totally unexpected. Without warning, my mother, on her own, left her group, and walked towards the other. I am sure it filled my father with apprehension. My mother was walking towards him, and no one could predict what she would do.
Finally, when she reached my father, she kissed him. It was totally unexpected. But it was a kiss of peace. It was also a kiss of love and understanding.
That was practically the last time my mother and father came together before she passed away this last year. I am certain, that it was Ina, Mother of God, Mother of the Church, Mother of us all, who engineered that encounter of quiet reconciliation in love. She worked her miracle in her son, Jesus, in whose name we have redemption.