Annual Retreat of Jesuit Scholastics
Teng-ab, Bontoc, Mt. Province
Note 1: The Pentecost Homily on 31st May 2009 is in the previous post. On this date, four Jesuit novices will take their first and perpetual vows in the Society of Jesus. Many of us, have May 31 as the anniversary of our commitment. I took the vows in 1991 at Sacred Heart Novitiate, Novaliches, Quezon City. Thus I am posting this now.
Note 2: I have given this homily during the "renovation" of vows of Jesuit scholastics last 27 May 2009 after our annual 8-day Silent Retreat (Ignatian). Renovation is what we, Jesuits, use because our vows are already perpetual. Thus, the renovation of vows is devotional. It is also good to be reminded of our commitment.
Though the target congregation are Jesuits, this also applies to everyone who have committed relationships including those who are members of organizations that require commitment. Or, if you are asking the question of the girl who texted me: How do you know when a person has commitment? Then the homily is for you.
A student who had problems with her relationship once asked me, “How do you know when someone is committed to you?” I told her that there are at least some factors to find out. This is the difference between companionships without commitment such as friendships and MUs (mutual understanding) and companionships with commitment.
Companionships without commitment are mostly spontaneous. At the spur of the moment, a friend invites you to watch a movie, then you either join him or not depending on your mood that moment. When you feel like going out for a date, you text your MU and you decide to have dinner at a fancy restaurant. Everything depends on one’s mood and we want a variety of choices. We enjoy having many options and to keep them open, but dread to only have one. It is an anything-goes-relationship and played by ear. In Matthew, Jesus said, that the road to perdition or to destruction is wide and spacious and many take it. Second, this relationship is determined by circumstance. The friendship is there because both of you share matching interests, likes and dislikes, the same university, or common friends. Proximity places a great role in the relationship. Once separated after graduation, for example, communication ceases, unless one finds a classmate in Facebook. But even then, the friendship takes a back seat. The relationship cannot therefore stand long periods of absence or withstand distance.
On the other hand, companionships with commitment are mostly regular and repetitive. In a commitment, the companionship acquires a schedule: dates on Saturday night whether in the mood or not; Sunday mass with family even if you don’t feel like it. For us Jesuits, community meals at definite times as 7-12-7 whether you’re an introvert or extrovert; daily prayer and a common liturgy for all sub-communities whether may-prosesong-dinadaanan or not. The de more is not just a structure, it is a commitment that asks some form of altruism, of living out the common good, of witnessing to a common love for Christ and for the people who share, analogously, the same Jesuit vocation. It is a commitment because it puts together our person and everything that we have prayed about these past 8 days: God’s love and our sinfulness, God’s embracing our humanity and making friends with us, sharing God’s dying and our everyday deaths as well as our common Easters.
And having been convinced of God’s love and calling in our lives, we make a choice. That is why our religious vows are the same, using one formula in different languages and dialects. So that knowing that the content of our vows is the same, we also know that every Jesuit made the same choice as ours, thus we all have one heart, one mind and one spirit despite our diversity.
And in addition, the de more is about feeling, palpably in our lives, as Star Trek would say, that we are all in the same ship, sharing the same enterprise, as we explore the one and only vast universe. Our unity is forged by regularity and repetition. Fr. Tom Green SJ once answered the question: How do you know that he has a vocation? He said, “Is he regular and growing in the appreciation of what is regular?” For example, does he attend mass daily and grows in the appreciation of the Eucharist? Thus, if he doesn’t attend community gatherings and escapes them on a regular basis, he might not have the vocation to religious life. But just as Ignatius recognizes repetition as part of daily life as in prayer, he sees its importance. As habits affect us, we become what we repeat.
But the thing is, we are not coerced or forced to enter into a commitment. Companionships with commitment are willed, deliberate and consciously cultivated. Presiding at weddings, the first thing asked of the couple is this: “Did you come here freely and willfully to take so-and-so to be your wedded wife/husband?” In other words, we freely and willfully decide to be determined by someone else. That is the road to maturity. As we move away from adolescence, our choices narrow down, until we freely choose only one among many life-form options --- as married couples do, choosing just one among many possible partners in life.
We choose God in the form and way of the Jesuits as we pronounce vows. When we decide to be determine by others, our schedules conform to that decision. The schedule of married couples now revolve around their family, and not anymore with their friends. Our life will now be bound by the Jesuit life. We decided to be determined by poverty: living simply and not allowing material possessions or the desire for them hinder our work. We can do our jobs well with or without our gadgets; or stay alive whether we like what is on the table or not. We decided to be bound by chastity. That is why even our relationships such as friendships with the lay and people in our community are to be within boundaries. Any act that disrespects these boundaries becomes inappropriate to our choice. We decided to be bound by obedience so that we would be available for mission without abandoning the de more that binds us. So that whether in the hinterlands of Bendum or the urban jungle of Quezon City, whether in a faraway land as Cambodia and East Timor or in the heart of Manila, we regularly attend mass and do our examen. Thus companionship with commitment such as ours can withstand distances and are not determined by circumstance. We just have to look closely at our founders. Ignatius and Xavier’s friendship did not falter. Wherever they were sent, they hold the Compania in their hearts. They made one choice and nothing else. Jesus said in Matthew 7, 13-14: Enter the narrow gate which leads to eternal life. To finally make only one choice is way to maturity.
To St. Paul, only one thing binds us: it is the love of Christ. Sino ang makapaghihiwalay sa atin sa pag-ibig ni Kristo? This is also the point of Fr. Eric Eusebio SJ yesterday. And we are articulating it again. We are making that choice over and over again, to be determined by Christ and Him alone. To mark our lives with His name, Compania de Jesus, deliberately, willfully and consciously in a compania with commitment. I remember in Philosophy of Language, John Lewis Austin said that there are some parts of language that can be used as an action and not just a description. Hence, when we utter certain phrases or words, like “I do” or “I vow”, we do the act of whatever we say. These are called, Performative Utterances or what John Searle would call, Speech Acts. When we renovate our vows, we truly and actively commit to the Lord at every utterance of the vow formula.