[Homily. ADDU Jesuit Community. 22 Feb. 21]
Today is the feast of the Chair of St. Peter.
The University celebrated the Festival of Excellence. They wished to reflect on the challenge to excellence, and how, as facing the challenges of this pandemic, they are invited to excellence in leadership and service. We, on the other hand, are reflecting on our mission.
On the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, it is fitting in both concerns to recall the mission of teacher and pastor, leader and servant, given to St. Peter and all of his successors as Bishop of Rome. “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church,” Jesus proclaims in our Gospel today, “And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The latest among the successors of St. Peter is Pope Francis. Since being elected Pope on 13 March 2013, much has happened in terms of Church reform, of streamlining its bureaucracy, of increasing its administrative accountability, of checking scandalous clergy abuse of minors, of bringing the Church closer to the people, of refocusing the Church on ministering to those in greatest need. This has happened out of his sense of mission. His words, his life, his sensitivities speak to us in discerning our mission in the Philippine Province.
Already in the first year of his pontificate, in writing Evangelii Gaudium (EG), he wrote with penetrating insight and moving sensitivity: “The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger to believers too. Many fall prey to it and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the risen Christ.
“I invite all Christians everywhere [including Jesuits], at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least to openness to letting him encounter them; I ask that all of you do this unfailingly each day. No one [not even Jesuits] should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we find that he is already there waiting for us with open arms…” (EG 3)
But this is not an encounter with God confined to the private sphere of individuals’ private lives. For Francis there is a profound connection between the encounter with the trinitarian God and human advancement: “To believe in a Father who loves all men and women with an infinite love means realizing that he thereby confers upon them an infinite dignity. To believe that the Son of God assumed our human flesh means that each human person has been taken up into the very heart of God. To believe that Jesus shed his blood for us removes any doubt about the boundless love which ennobles each human being. Our redemption has a social dimension because God, in Christ, redeems not only the individual person, but also the social relations existing between men. To believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in everyone means realizing that he works to penetrate every social situation and all social bonds. The Holy Spirit can be said to possess an infinite creativity, proper to the divine mind, which knows how to loosen the knots of human affairs, even the most complex and inscrutable. Evangelization is meant to cooperate with this liberating work of the Spirit. The very mystery of the Trinity reminds us that we have been created in the image of that divine communion, and so we cannot achieve fulfillment or salvation purely by our own efforts” (EG 178).
Beyond the Church, Pope Francis has raised his voice against those who misuse religion for political purposes, even for war and terrorism; together with the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Ahmed Al Tayyeb, he signed a Document on Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together which in the context of an Israel vs. Palestine, Iran vs Iraq, Saudi Arabia vs. Yemen, Syria vs. Islamic State, the established Buddhists vs the Rohingya in Myanmar, of even the Bangsamoro vs. the Abu Sayyaf vs. the AFP in Mindanao, 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 chided those who are warriors for the impoverished environment but ignore the cries of the impoverished poor. All are connected. The care for our common home needs to be care for our common human family, especially for the marginalized and excluded. Consequently, Francis denounces the structures in the consumerist-driven economy that uses and abuses the environment and discards people who are irrelevant to its economy. 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 in social friendship to build global fraternity, the humane human society where no one is excluded from the benefits of humane progress.
Pope Francis is a Jesuit on mission.
As we perhaps rediscovered in our recollection yesterday, we find our mission in the light of an ever-deeper relationship with God – in an ever stronger faith. Let us grow in that relationship. For our world, God takes the initiative in manifesting his compassion. He leads. He creates. He redeems. God washes the feet of his disciples. He serves. Be strong in faith.
As Pope Francis suggests, we must find the time – everyday – to re-experience how much God loves us, and to affirm how much we love him. Let us not fail – each day – to look into the eyes of the Crucified Lord looking into ours. And being loved, let us love. Love God; love one another. Let us not exclude anyone from our love. Be strong in love.
Let us find the time to know what God’s dream for us is, what God’s plan for us is communally and individually: “’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” (Jer. 29:11). How does he wish to prosper us? What is the future he wills for us? This is God’s hope for us. It is discovered within, in our deepest hopes. It is discovered beyond us, in what God hopes for our people and planet. Be strong in that hope.
In faith, love and hope, as exemplified by Francis, we receive our mission.