Embracing Back

[Homily: Final Vows of Fr. Michael Pineda, S.J., ADDU Chapel of the Assumption, June 19, 2016]

I feel very privileged to have been invited to deliver this homily. Why? Because in the intimacy of this gathering – Fr. Provincial, the Jesuit community, Mary Ann, Maricar, and close friends of Fr. Mike – I am certain we are celebrating something momentous. What it is, however, cannot be easily expressed. But I will try.

In the context of this Eucharistic Celebration, Fr. Mike will be pronouncing his final vows in the Society of Jesus. Some have asked, “What is the difference between the first vows which are perpetual, and the final vows which are also perpetual.” Jesuits have explained this difference in terms of an embrace. During the first vows Mike embraced the Society of Jesus forever. During his final vows, the Society of Jesus, having tested the quality of Mike’s commitment and the depth of his love, embraces back with finality.

In a quiet moment recently, I had occasion to ask Mike whether the prospect of taking final vows in the Society of Jesus was making him happy. He said, “Yes.” So I asked him why? Why the happiness at the prospect of renewing, confirming vows of poverty, chastity and obedience made in the novitiate 21 years ago? His answer was unequivocable: “Because I want to.”

Fascinating as that was, I asked him to explain. And this is where I feel inadequate. His response was not an ordered chronological unfolding. It was rather a multi-layered synthesis of a life experience.   It was deep mystery wrapped in simplicity. It was simplicity incredibly rich.

He brought me to a conversation that he had once had with his sister, Mary Ann, on an Easter Sunday morning while he was assigned to Bilibid prison. She said the future offers no certainty. There was meaning only in total offering to the Father.”

One searches for meaning. One discovers it only in an offering.   All is uncertain, ephemeral, corruptible, except the love of the Father, which is certain love, enduring affirmation, but as love itself an invitation, a call. In life there is meaning only in responding to that call with self-offering, “Take, Lord, receive…!” The meaning of that offering is not in what is offered, one’s limited life even if offered wholly, but in the mystery that calls forth the offering, God turned to me in love..

In this context, it is meaningful that we are gathered in this Chapel this morning before the image of the Crucified Lord. The image is that of the Father’s Love. Over and over in his life, in the chapel of Novaliches, in the chapel of Mirador, in the chapel of the Ateneo High School, Mike has prayed before this image, before the God of all Creation talking to him in this Word of love. Only, it’s not just an image. It’s a friend, a brother, a Lord, introduced to him by his parents since earliest childhood, known through many hours of conversation with him in prayer, familiar through many humble requests for the gift to know him intimately, now known unmistakably in the eyes he sees before him peering into his own. Here Love calls forth love. And Mike responds: “If you have done this for me in love, Lord, what have I done for you? What am I doing for you? What ought I do for you?”

In answering those questions, the Love from the Cross glows for Mike in the love he experienced in his family, in the love of his parents, and in the love of his siblings – Raymond, Mary Ann and Joseph, then Maricar and John. The love is mediated also by the love of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as it was mediated by Encarnacion, the mother of Mike.

The motherhood of Mary was marked certainly by much pride in her son, Jesus, but also much pain. She was full of grace, but her heart was to be pierced seven times. Mike shared with me an incident when his father invited a guest who wanted to sample a special dish of his mother. Wanting to make it extra special, his mother, who was pregnant at that time, decided to walk to market with their helper. On the way, she was run over by a 6 x 6 truck. Run over. She could have lost her life. But she fought to live. She could have capitulated to the excruciating pain. But she fought to preserve and pass on life in love. She lost half of her leg. But she saved her life. And she saved her child. Soon after, she gave birth to a son, and she named him Michael.

Of course that accident cost his mother much. As the Cross of Jesus cost Mary much. But she remained faithful to her children, and to her Mike. Years later, in a silent retreat in Mirador, Mike was specially moved by the words from Isaiah that Manoling Francisco has immortalized in his “Hindi Kita Malilimutan”: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget you, I will never forget you” (Is: 49:50). Mike’s mother could never forget him. Be even were she impossibly to forget him, God would never forget him. His mother’s love, his family’s love, was on that Cross in the eyes of the Crucified Lord. Responding, Mike asked: “If you have done this for me in love, Lord, …what ought I do for you.”

God handles each person whom he calls specially. Mike’s father was a teacher in a Jesuit school. He was in fact my teacher. So Mike grew up with Jesuits frequently visiting their home. Jesuits were his teachers, his mentors, his friends: Terry Katigbak. Jess Lucas. Jim O’Brien. Ray Holscher. Tom Steinbugler. Jaime Bulatao. Roque Ferriols. In the company of such Jesuits present in his life, Mike encountered Christ the King. To Mike’s question, “What ought I do for you,” Christ the King offered an invitation: “Follow me. Work for the Kingdom of my Father.” In our Gospel he said, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Lk. 9:22). Ultimately, it is Christ the King on the Cross saying: “Follow me!” … “Whoever wishes to come with me must be content to eat as I eat, drink as I drink, dress as I dress, etc. He must be willing to work with me by day, and watch with me by night. He will then share with me in victory as he has shared in my toils.” For Mike, this meant, “If he was poor, me too, I want to be poor. If he was chaste, me too, I want to be chaste. If he was obedient, me too, I want to be obedient. For Mike this also meant, if he in love for me accepted the Cross, me too, in love for him I accept the Cross.

Which means life has not been a bed of roses. Choosing to join the Society as the entire family was migrating to Canada was not easy. Going to Canada for close to a year, then leaving the family to return to the Philippines to follow the call of the King was not easy. Adjusting to Novaliches with its unfamiliar culture was not easy; Fr. Rene Ocampo was his novice master then. Adjusting to Loyola House of Studies with John Schuhmacher not easy. Battling loneliness in Xavier University, in Muntinlupa and in Boston was not easy. Even here in Davao, life has not been a bed of roses. But shadows give contour to light. They are integrated in his response to this overwhelming presence of God’s love in his life. So that if today you ask Mike, “Why is it that you want to renew with finality your vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in the Society of Jesus?,’ Mike’s answer – before the Crucified Lord, before Our Lady, before St. Ignatius and all the saints, recalling the smile of his proud mother captured in a precious photograph taken with her when he was a novice, recalling the love of his father, of his siblings, his life history associated and intertwined with Jesuits, and the love of many people he has encountered on the way whose lives he has enriched but whose lives enrich him more, Mike’s answer would be, “Because I want to!”

But with that, it is not just the Society of Jesus embracing a Jesuit with finality who has long embraced the Society first. It is much much more awed acknowledgement of a loving God who has been embracing him mightily throughout his life – from his mother’s womb. It is now Mike filled with gratitude wanting to embrace back.

 

 

 

 

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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