Three parts to this feast day homily: first, a word about our present reality; secondly, some light from our Gospel reading; finally, some words about our founder and father, Ignatius of Loyola.
First, our reality. Let me begin by sharing with you two sets of somewhat depressing statistics. First, this past year, the four provincial Ateneo’s—Ateneo de Naga, Ateneo de Zamboanga, Ateneo de Davao and Xavier University—ran what we have called a Catholic Identity Survey, studying the knowledge, attitudes and practice of our students and faculty in those four universities. When the initial results were presented to me last May, I was struck by three telling items in the survey. First, in response to the statement, “I will not exchange my being Filipino for any other citizenship,” 91% of the students of Xavier University and 85 % of the faculty of Ateneo de Zamboanga said they agreed: they wanted to remain Filipino. So far, so good. Yet, second, in response to the statement, “I would rather work abroad than in the Philippines,” 58 % of students at Xavier University and 56% of students at Ateneo de Zamboanga said they agreed: they preferred to work abroad. Third, in response to the statement, “I feel hopeless about the social conditions of the Philippines,” 52% of the students and 97% of the faculty of Xavier University said they agreed: they felt hopeless about the country.
The second set of numbers comes from projections of Jesuit population in the next five to ten years, worked out by a demographics expert in Xavier University, which I presented last week at our annual Meeting of Superiors and Directors of Work. This, of course, is not an infallible prediction. But based on patterns of the number of those entering the Society, the number of those voluntarily leaving the Society, and finally the number of those leaving the Society and this world eternally, Dr. Imelda Pagtulun-an provisionally calculated that in five years, by the year 2010 (when, hopefully, I will have happily laid down the burden of being Provincial!), from our present number of 325 Jesuits, we will probably be down to 271. By the year 2015, ten years from now, she calculates that we will be down to 229, almost a hundred men fewer than our present numbers.
Have I depressed you enough? The findings of the Catholic Identity Survey reflect, I suspect, the anguished, conflicted mood of many in our country today. We love our country deeply: we would not change our citizenship or leave our country had we the choice. But clearly, many feel they do not have much of a choice. The opportunities for a better life in this country seem scarce for our students. The possibilities, the hopes of a better life for our people seem exhausted. And the number of Jesuits who would have hopefully sought to make a difference in this situation will be significantly fewer than they are now.
So much to do. Such scarce, such limited resources of men, alternatives, hope. This sense of frustration and impotence must have been the feelings of the disciples in today’s Gospel reading too. There is a crowd of five thousand ravenously hungry men, not counting women and children. Jesus tells them, in his calm, inscrutable way, “You give them something to eat.” “Unsa ka? Nabuang na ba ka?” they must have wanted to answer him. But, they manage to restrain their feelings of incredulity and panic and simply point out their scarcity: “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” You do the math, Jesus. That’s one loaf for a thousand men. They’ll be lucky if they get a crumb each. Maybe the hunger has gone to your head too, but you’re not making sense, Jesus. You’re not being realistic here.
Jesus answers in the same calm manner: “Bring them here to me.” And what Jesus does with these pitifully scanty provisions reveals that the secret is how you see what you have. First, taking the loaves and the fish, Jesus looked up to heaven. The disciples’ vision is limited to the resources of this world. Jesus looks into the heaven where his Father dwells and sees the abundance, the plenty, the limitless resources of love and mercy of his generous God. Secondly, he gives thanks. Where his disciples see scarcity, Jesus perceives divine gift. Gratitude for what is given fills Jesus to overflowing. His disciples have noticed only what they don’t have; Jesus sees the gift they do have. Thus, having glimpsed divine possibility instead of human impossibility, having seen gift instead of scarcity, Jesus shares the bread and fish, till all eat and all are satisfied.
Which brings us to Ignatius. Ignatius of Loyola began his great enterprise of service under the banner of Christ with virtually nothing in the eyes of this world too: a handful of friends, no financial resources or institutions. How could such a scarcity possibly make a difference amidst all the challenges of the Church of the sixteenth century? And yet today, four centuries later, we gather this afternoon, four thousand strong, a fraction of those all over our country and world who call Ignatius, in some way, father. We are the multiplied loaves and fish from the original seven in Montmartre, the original ten in Rome. How did this miracle take place?
First, like Jesus, Ignatius looked up to heaven often. In the modest room in Rome where Ignatius lived as General and where he died, there is now a chapel opening up to a little balcony, with barely enough space for a single person. (If you are lucky, you can get the Province’s best ecclesiastical tour guide, Joe Quilongquilong, to bring you there some time.) The view from that balcony is now obstructed by buildings. But it was not so in Ignatius’ time. After a day of heavy labor as apostle of Rome and general of the fledgling Society of Jesus, Ignatius used to retreat to that balcony, to gaze heavenward, to allow his spirit space to expand underneath the canopy of the star-filled night sky. Diego Lainez, Ignatius’ successor as General, wrote this recollection of Ignatius:
At night he would go up to the roof of the house, with the sky there up
above him. He would sit there quietly, absolutely quietly. He would take
his hat off and look up for a long time at the sky. Then he would fall on
his knees, bowing profoundly to God.
“Quam sordet tellus cum coelum aspicio! How small the world seems when I look up to the heavens!” Ignatius would exclaim. How small, how limited this world and its resources seem, compared with the vast, limitless possibilities of the God of the stars and the sky, we might translate today.
Secondly, like Jesus, when Ignatius took stock of what he had, he perceived, not scarcity, but gift, grace overflowing. In the Spiritual Exercises, he begins his famous Contemplation to Attain Love with this consideration,
I will ponder with great affection how much God our Lord has done for me,
and how much he has given me of what he possesses, and finally how much,
as far as he can, the same Lord desires to give himself to me according to his
Thus it is, that, overwhelmed with this vision of our lives as enveloped by divine generosity and gift, Ignatius invites the one making the Exercises to say, “as one making a gift with great love”:
Take Lord receive, all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my
entire will, all that I have and possess. You gave it all to me; to you Lord,
I give it all back.
Minamahal kong mga kapatid, madaling matuksong sumuko, mawalan ng pag-asa pag pinagmamasdan natin ang mga nangyayari sa ating bansa. Tila kulang ang lahat: kulang ng pagkain, paaralan, pagamutan, kulang ng alternatibo, kulang ng mapagkakatiwalaang mga pinuno, kulang ng lakas at sigasig para baguhin ang lipunan. Kulang nga ng mga Heswita at mga lay partners na tutugon sa mga hamon ng ating panahon. Ngunit siguro, sa kapistahan ni San Ignacio, simple lang po ang paanyaya. Una, kasama ni Hesus, kasama ni Ignacio, pwede ba tayong tumingala? Can we look to the heavens more: can we refuse to allow our vision to be limited to scarce human resources, but in deep faith, see what Jesus and Ignatius, his follower, saw when they gazed heavenward: a God whose love and possibilities are vast and mysterious as the night sky; a God whose mercy, goodness and care for us are resources beyond exhaustion, beyond our puny reckoning? Secondly, tulad ni Hesus, tulad ni Ignacio, pwede ba tayong magpasalamat? Can we be grateful for our giftedness? Instead of retreating into fear and self-preservation when we see only what we do not have, can we follow Jesus and Ignatius in focusing on what we do have, and filled with gratitude, find the confidence to share the gift that we have and are more generously?
The gifts are so many, had we but sight to see and time to recount them. Let me name a few: Where the Irish Province has two scholastics and the New York Province seventeen, we have eighty-five young (ok, some, perhaps not so young anymore!) men of extremely fine quality. Gifted younger men have gradually assumed leadership in the province: a new president and dean in Xavier University, new superiors in Ateneo de Davao, Ateneo de Zamboanga, Xavier School, a new Jesuit principal in Sacred Heart School, a new parish priest in Mary the Queen, at least ten younger Jesuits now involved in the Social Apostolate. Read Frontline the new publication of the Ateneo de Manila Professional Schools, and be informed about the successful Mulat Diwa program of the Graduate School of Business, an attempt to orient business toward national development, or about the Leaders for Health Program which is there in fifty of the poorest municipalities of the Philippines, improving health services for these deprived communities. Travel to our parishes in Bukidnon and find hope in the schools for indigenous peoples in Cabanglasan, Miarayon, Zamboanguita. Visit the Center for Ignatian Spirituality and be amazed at the number of lay people not only making but directing the Spiritual Exercises and responding to the deep hunger for things of the Spirit in our country. Two weeks ago, we celebrated the Coral Reefs Champions Festival of the Institute for Social Order, the oldest NGO in the Philippines, founded by Fr. Walter Hogan, and I wish you had been there to witness the products of the people’s organizations in Quezon and Camarines Norte, the fruits of the coastal resource management, capability building and livelihood programs of ISO.
I should end here, but would like to end by speaking more personally to my brother Jesuits, if I may. Two years ago, in September, 2003, I had the privilege of making my annual retreat in Loyola, the birthplace of Ignatius. It was a difficult retreat. I was aware then that I might be placed on the short list for Provincial, and I had to decide whether to make myself available or, as I felt more inclined to do, to request that I not be considered at all. My limitations of intellect, heart, and will, my numerous weaknesses, which you are all too aware of, loomed before me. I retreated often to pray in a room on the third floor of the modest castle which was Ignatius’ boyhood home. There is a chapel there, now called the Chapel of Conversion. Here it was that Ignatius was brought after his legs were shattered at Pamplona. It was here that, in sheer boredom, he called for the tales of romance and knight errantry that were his favorite reading material, and got instead the life of Jesus and the lives of the Saints. It was here that the shape of his dreams was altered dramatically. Here his foolish wanting and vain desires were purified and made new. Near the ceiling of the chapel, above a statue of Ignatius lying in bed, looking heavenward with a transfigured countenance, are carved the words: “Aqui San Ignacio se entrega a Dios.” “Here St. Ignatius surrendered himself, handed himself over, to God.” I think it was reading those words over and over that helped me decide.
This morning, a brother Jesuit texted me, surprised that, on this feast of St. Ignatius, what came over him was a deep sense of his sinfulness, his weakness, pride and unworthiness. Were each of us to do an honest, searching inventory of the loaves and fishes of our lives, I suppose we would feel that way too. We are sinners. Yet, today, perhaps we can hear Jesus’ encouraging invitation, “Bring them here to me.” “Surrender the loaves and fishes of your lives, no matter how few, no matter how stale and seemingly inedible, to me and my love and power, as Ignatius did, as you promised to do when you pronounced your vows.” In our best moments, in those graced times of our lives when our vision is clear and our hearts free, we know that to hand over our entire lives to the mystery of Love we call God is, in fact, our deepest, holiest desire. Brothers, may St Ignatius then obtain this grace for us his sons today: that, like him, we might hand over our lives more fully to the God of love, that by his grace, with Ignatius, we might become more truly, more joyfully, companions of Jesus, for the life and hope of our people, for the greater glory of God.
Daniel Patrick Huang, S.J.
July 31, 2005