Church of the Gesu, Ateneo de Manila University
Note: The Experiments are like Immersion programs. Except, it follows a certain process patterned according to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Every Experiment Day will have a morning prayer, a liturgy, an activity (3 days in Gawad Kalinga; 1 day each in Payatas and Muntinlupa), a Magis Circle (prayer session and sharing), and ends with an examen. The Magis Program has three parts: Experiments in different countries such as Cambodia, Indonesia, Philippines and different parts of Australia (4-11 July), Ignatian Gathering at St. Ignatius College in Riverview, Sydney (12-14 July), and the World Youth Day proper (15-21 July). Those who came for the Philippine Experiments are from Georgetown University and Fairfield University in the US, and Taiwan. More...
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I would like to talk about two things: the Philippine Experiments and the Filipinos’ aspiration of friendship.
In the Gospel today, Jesus instructs His disciples like a teacher who gives rules and precepts to His students. He was sending His disciples out into the world, equipped with His teaching and message. They have words to speak and deeds to do: they are to announce the imminence of the Kingdom of God, and they are to show it with accompanying deeds such as healing the sick, raising the dead, cleaning lepers, and casting out demons.
I like to believe this is why we are here in the Philippines, attending and participating in this final mass at the Church of the Gesu, at this specific time. It is no coincidence to be part of World Youth Day. Being a pilgrim begins with an acknowledgment that we are first disciples. Jesus called us from different corners of the world --- Georgetown, Fairfield, Taiwan, and the Philippines --- as He chose His disciples years ago. And now, He is sending us out into the world. This is what we are: we are a people on the move, as the Church on a journey.
As disciples, we have things to do. This is what Jesus tells us today in the Gospels. First, we are to heal; in Greek, ‘to heal’ means to strengthen the weak. When we spend time with the rubbish community of Payatas or the prisoners of Muntinlupa, we are to speak words of hope and encouragement. Second, we are to raise the dead: a person can be dead in sin, or a person can be lethargic, hopeless or purposeless. When we become part of those who are homeless in Gawad Kalinga, we are to raise their spirit by accompaniment: with our hands, we give them hope and with our hearts, we share a far deeper home. Third, we are to clean lepers; meaning, to clean what is polluted. As we reflect on our lives, we realize that our minds have been polluted in many ways, as cultural prejudices or our particular backgrounds have done. These new experiences have opened our eyes; allowing us to see what we commonly share. Thus, breaking barriers and building new bonds beyond our differences. And finally, we are to cast out demons. The theme of the Magis Circle tonight is the Two Standards or the Two Ways. Christian life is a decision: there is no middle path: it is either to follow Satan or to pledge allegiance to the Standard of Christ. To cast demons means to see how evil has mastered our lives and to find the demons that enslave us. This is one of the reasons for the examen: we break our patterns of sin by self-awareness, so that we are able to form new habits and lifestyles. It allows us to transform ourselves and empower us to become better. This, I believe, is the reason for the Experiments. It provides the milieu for a real change of heart.
The Experiments are very much part of Ignatian spirituality. It is an integral component of the formation of young Jesuits. The letters of our former General Peter Hans-Kolvenbach SJ in the Formation Guidelines of the Society of Jesus states that "experiments are to check and verify the call of the Lord. It is in these Experiments that the novice gives evidence of what they really are and show how far they have made their own the spiritual attitudes proper for a vocation." For many who are not moving into religious formation, it could mean the general vocation as disciples.
There is then a conduct that befits a disciple; as there is a behavioral attitude that befits a Jesuit; as there is a way of conducting oneself as a Catholic Christian in the specific place today as the Philippines. The Philippine experiments for Magis of World Youth Day 2008 began not when you arrived at the GK site in Batangas, but the very moment you stepped out of the plane from the US or from Taiwan. It included not just the students but the Jesuits and their animators. Allow me to adapt certain reflection questions that may add to the data needed in the transformation process, as these questions have been asked in my novitiate experiments: What was your attitude when you arrived first here, specifically when you saw your rooms at the Pollock Center which is not at par with the rooms in a first world country? The test began there. Was there a wish that accommodations were US or Taiwan standards, or was there the challenge to go out of your comfort zone and find yourself at home, as we Jesuits have been taught to find the world our home. The important thing is to live in the tension between the resistance and the letting go. Growth happens in these tensions. Resistance is a normal reaction to something new. Letting go is usually the challenge.
Yesterday, Inquirer columnist, Conrado de Quiros talked about US Ambassador Kristie Kenney’s observation on 4 July 1910, which was in the past called, Philippine-American Friendship Day. She said that the Thomasites, the pioneer American teachers from San Francisco, came to educate the Philippines, the root of the enduring friendship between Filipinos and the US. When you arrived on July 4 to me it was the beginning of a friendship. When your tour guide called that time "The American Period" or in our history, "The American occupation" it was a common impression that freedom was given by the US. However, De Quiros cited, that it was our national heroes who actually taught us what freedom was. Jose Rizal, Bonifacio, Jacinto, Sakay, many of our heroes, taught us that you cannot teach freedom, which beats at the heart of democracy, by enslaving the people." That cannot be re-written; but it was also our history that enabled us to have a heart that is attuned to the global community. Our hospitality is indeed a result of our faith and our history. Our dignity is in the quality of our friendship. You see, members of our families are abroad, and we only have one concern: will they be loved there as we love you? We are willing to be a stranger in another country, if it would feed our families. We are willing to adapt to your culture, if it would ensure our loved ones a future. But de Quiros ended with a sentiment, which I pass on to you our visitors, "When will you do the same for us?" --- will you accept our friendship when we are in other lands. Will our people --- especially our OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) --- find a home in your homes?
As we conclude the Philippine Experiments, I wish that what you bring with you is not the poverty that we have --- that is pretty obvious. It is not how inconvenient it was for you, or how bad the tour was, but I wish you remember why we are happy even in our poverty; why our prisoners welcome you in peace despite their violent histories; why it is easy for us to accommodate you even if we do not have enough to call a home. How I wish you would remember our heart.
The Experiments --- or any immersion program --- are schools of the heart. It is to teach our hearts compassion, as the disciples on the road to Emmaus said, "Are not our hearts burning within us?" A disciple is one with a burning heart, one whose flame enkindles other flames.
And why do we do this? Because Jesus did the same: His wish is for all of us to be companions. Literally, companion means, to those whom we break bread (panis) with (cum).