[Homily. Live-streamed Mass. 22.2.21]
Today is the feast of the Chair of St. Peter.
But here at the ADDU we celebrate the Festival of Excellence. On this occasion, we are invited to reflect on the challenge to excellence, and how, as we face the challenges of this pandemic, we are invited to excellence in leadership and service.
On the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, we are happy to recall the mission of teacher and pastor, leader and servant, given to St. Peter and all of his successors a Bishop of Rome. “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Jesus proclaims in our Gospel today. The latest among the successors of St. Peter is Pope Francis. Since his election as Pope on 13 March 2013, much has happened in terms of Church reform, of streamlining its bureaucracy, of increasing administrative accountability, of checking scandalous clergy abuse of minors, of bringing the Church closer to the people, of refocusing the Church to ministering to those in greatest need. This has happened because of Francis’ leadership. Beyond the Church, he has raised his voice against those who misuse religion for political or terroristic purposes; together with the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Ahmed Al Tayyeb, he signed a historic Document on Fraternity for Peace and Living Together which in a world of Israel vs. Palestine, Iran vs Iraq, Saudi Arabia vs. Yemen, Syria vs. the Islamic State, of even the Bangsamoro vs. the Abu Sayyaf vs. the Armed Forces of the Philippines, calls for the culture of dialogue as the path, cooperation as the code of conduct and mutual understanding as the method and standard. Beyond religions, Pope Francis has shown unprecedented papal concern for the environment; in Laudato Si’ he linked the care for the environment inextricably with the care for the human family, and denounced the structures in the consumerist driven economy that destroys the environment and discards people with it. In Fratelli Tutti he calls on human beings to take the power they have in hand to overcome the consumerist driven economy. “Good politics,” he calls this. Politics is not the source of all evil in society, but good politics is “the highest form of love.” Through social friendship working in, but transcending, families, neighborhoods, local communities, cities, and national borders, human beings are challenged to build global fraternity, the humane human society where no one is excluded from the benefits of humane progress. He would be embarrassed by this. But if today, on the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, one is looking in our Festival of Excellence for an example of excellence in leadership because it is based on strength in faith, personal simplicity, clarity of vision and audacity in service, Francis would be such an example.
Excellence is defined variously: as the quality of being excellent, as distinction, as perfection, as superiority. From its roots, ex and cellere, it means emerging from, rising from, standing out against the imperfect, the mediocre, even standing out against the better. Excellence, whether this be in music, song, dance, sports, academics, leadership or even in being human, is intended, worked at, achieved after much sacrifice and work. For Pope Francis, excellence is not a value for itself, the desire for accolades and glory, but a function of leadership, or a function of service that is truly concerned about those who are served.
If in the midst of this pandemic you are desirous in the Festival of Excellence of transforming the pandemic experience into opportunities for leadership and service:
Use the change of pace during this pandemic to understand what your lives are about and what it is in your lives that must change in order to achieve excellence in leadership or service. Recognize the areas in your life where you can grow in knowledge or skills, like, in being better able to express yourself and your good intentions, in being better able to reach out to a person in need, in being better able to understand the complexities of this pandemic in order to be able to help people navigate their way through it, in being able to understand the issues of vaccines and vaccination, and in this regard to be able to help people do the right thing. Very urgently, be attentive in your situation to classmates and friends who are isolated and possibly depressed, and reach out to them. Many times this only takes a tweet or a phone call. Or, an encouraging smile. Take the initiative to organize something to help them.
Pope Francis would say: find inspiration from the simple people, the saints next door, who are sacrificing much to save lives on the frontlines, to give care to the sick, to comfort the grieving. If they can do it, so can you. If they can sacrifice themselves, so can you.
Finally, lead and serve from the light found in a deep relationship with God. Grow in that relationship. God takes the initiative in manifesting his compassion. He leads. God washes the feet of his disciples. He serves. Be strong in faith.
Find the time – everyday – to experience how much God loves you, and to affirm how much you love God. Do not fail – everyday – to look into the eyes of the Crucified Lord looking into yours. And being loved, love. Love God, love one another. Love in God. Do not exclude anyone from your love. Be strong in love.
Find the time to know what God’s dream for you is, what God’s plan for you is – eternally and on the way to eternity: “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer29:11). This is God’s hope for you. It is discovered within, in your deepest hopes. Find hope in that hope.
In faith, love and hope, excel in service and leadership.