Whenever I prepare things like this, I do not typically like to waste words. In my writing, I tend to be quite meticulous in the way I convey my ideas. It is not just a matter of content for me--I hold the expression of that content to be just as important as the idea itself. How ideas are expressed in verbal speech, however, can come across quite differently than the way they come across in writing. Rather than simply reading what I have prepared, I have been challenging myself to be more spontaneous--to be able to speak from the heart at the present moment and not play it too safe simply by reading words.
So, the way I have been preparing for these moments is to actually write out the reflection. But, as soon as I get up in front of the audience, I set it mostly aside and look at it only for key points that I wanted to make. The downside is that I can sometimes stumble in my words and forget some of what I wanted to say, but the reward is that the reflection can become more organic and have a more natural feel to it.
So, I would like to share my reflection today. This is not completely how it came across at Mass today, but this is how I prepared it in writing (although I have made some revisions and additions for this blog post). I addressed this primarily with a Jesuit audience in mind.
Happy Feast day!
Today is clearly a very special day for us. It is a time for us to commemorate and celebrate the lives of our brethren who have gone before us. It is also a time for us to recognize how greatly the Church has acknowledged the works that the Society has done over the centuries. For example, just look at the sheer number of Jesuits Blessed and Saints that we have. I was recently looking on the Company Magazine website that has a detailed list of all of the Feast days that we could celebrate liturgically. As I tried to count all of those Feast days, I found myself having to start over a few times because I kept losing count. I think I counted 112...
That's almost a third of the entire year in which we could have a Jesuit Feast Day. I don't know about you, but I find that to be an astonishing number. How lucky we are that we can call all of these men brothers and friends in the Lord!
Of course, there is so much that we could say about these Jesuit brothers of ours. But, I would like to take the opportunity to make a few observations about the life we lead as Jesuits and to connect that with these men who have led extraordinary lives.
First, we are all men who are rooted in prayer and in the Spiritual Exercises. All of us have had that deep experience of God in our lives, in which we believe that God has dealt directly with us (and who subsequently continues to deal directly with us), has allowed us to experience His love and grace in a profoundly intimate way, who has called each of us by name, and who beckons us all to follow Him. The Exercises, passed down to us by our founder, provided us the means by which we were invited to open ourselves completely to God's work in us, to experience the Lord in a way which we have never before experienced.
In having this profound experience of God--as many of our novice brethren are having at this time--we are asked to consider our response to God. How can we but say Yes! to what God is doing in our lives? How can we but proclaim our Magnificat and to live out that Magnificat as best we can?
I think what the Church recognizes in the lives of these Jesuit brothers of ours is the recognition of how they responded with a resounding Yes! by the way in which they subsequently lived their lives. They went out into the world with hearts on fire, inflamed with a love that strove, as much as humanly possible, to imitate Christ, our rock and our foundation. They lived their lives in such a way that they could not imagine doing otherwise.
Even, as we well know, to the point of death.
They recognized that God had given so much to the world--how could they not but offer themselves in the same way. When we hear the words of today's gospel "whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life will preserve it," those words are not meant for us to lament the state of our existence or to fall into deep despair. Rather, I think it is a matter of attachment. For what reason are we to act in this world? If we act out of selfishness, greed, pride, etc., then Christ states simply that we cannot be His disciples. Our lives are not simply for our own glory--they are for the glory of God, the one who seeks to bring the world into radical life. To be a disciple of Christ is not to lead a self-serving life, and our Jesuit brethren had an acute sense of that.
In order to live out our Yes! daily, it is so important for us, then, to be grounded in our prayer, to stay connected to Christ in the way that inflamed us in the Exercises. If we get out of the daily practice of allowing Him to take root in our hearts, then we begin to wither--our passion for this life begins to dry. Rooted in our prayer, we allow God daily to continue to pour life into our vocation.
Second, I am sure there were many Jesuits who were contemporaries of these Holy men and who did not immediately recognize their brethren to be Saints. Who can blame them? It sometimes takes centuries for the Church to canonize a Saint. As I look around this room, however, I cannot help but think that I am living with men who potentially have the ability to do great and amazing things with their lives. Who knows...in a century or two, there might be one among us whom the Church will recognize as a Saint.
I mention this as an invitation for us to see in our fellow brothers what we have the potential to become in our lives, to invite us to see each other in the way that God sees us. That we may encourage each other in our vocations and recognize that we may not immediately see the possibilities in each of our brothers.
Finally, we are called to trust in the work of God. Our lives are quite shrouded in mystery by virtue of our vowed life. We do not know where we may be sent or which peoples we may encounter. Certainly, for those Blessed and Saints sent off into unknown lands, I imagine how important and necessary it was for them to have faith and trust in where God was leading them. If we cannot trust, then we close ourselves off to the working of the Holy Spirit. Possibilities become fears, and fears turn into despair. When we cannot trust, we become blocked in our ability to follow completely where God is leading us. But, as the saying goes: "With God, all things are possible." If we trust, what wonders God can do in our lives.
We are so lucky to have these Jesuit Saints and Blessed who paved the road for us and who teach us how to be friends in the Lord. Let us call upon their intercession at this time. And, as we soon approach the table of our Lord, let us pray the words all of us are familiar with
"Take Lord, receive, all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will. Whatsoever I have or hold, you have given me. I give it all back to you and surrender it, wholly to be governed by your will. Give me only your love and your race, and I am rich enough. And I ask for nothing more."
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.