1 October 2008 St. Therese of the Child Jesus
Job 9, 1-16; Psalm 88; Luke 9, 57-62
I learned the art of letting go when I was a Jesuit novice. Every semester we would transfer from one room to the other, leaving the furniture of the room there. All we have to carry are our basic things. Every time we transfer to a new room, we would decorate and re-arrange the room the way we want it. Sometimes, we get attached to the room perhaps because the location was better — a good view of the greenery or it was near the common restroom (you don’t have to travel a long way at night)— or we have decorated it so beautifully. The exercise was called, mutationes. It was supposed to help us get used to being transfered from one mission area, and increase our sense of mobility and availability.
I didn’t know that the Gospel today will have a concrete impact on my life. Letting go was not a matter of rooms, but a matter of ties. Jesus said that if anyone wanted to follow him, he should leave everything behind — even the burial of one’s kin. My father died when I was a novice, a few months before the Jesuits asked me whether I would like to take my perpetual vows. I was in our remote mission area then, a good five-hour trek to inland Bukidnon, and I heard the news from the radio. But the Jesuits did not take to heart the Gospel’s leaving the family. They bought the tickets for my journey home to Bicol.
Does the Gospel really mean forgetting one’s kin and completely having no care at all to one’s loved one? Job in the first reading lost all of his property and his family despite his being a good and godly man?
My experience tells me to completely forget one’s family is brutal and cruel — even to missionaries. We have many foreign Jesuits who died here in the Philippines, but have kept in touch with their families abroad. Our families are our lifeline and they are our support system. Jesus’ family and friends where with Him all through His mission. Many missionaries suffer great emotional upheavals when they learn about the misfortunes their families suffered — a terminal illness, a financial trouble, death and in many cases, natural disasters. If there is one thing that shakes missionaries, whether religious or lay, it is the family. In my case, a large part of the suffering we encounter comes from not being able to support them except perhaps spiritually through prayers and masses. My consolation is in believing that spiritual gifts greatly helps. St. Therese of the Child Jesus is the patron of the missions, but she never left the convent. St. Francis Xavier SJ, is also a patron of the missions, but while he was out into the world, he kept the letters of St. Ignatius and his friends deep in his heart. They never “left” the people they loved.
With these two saints, the Gospel to me becomes clearer and so is the reason why the Jesuits arranged my journey home on that fateful March day in 1990. Discipleship is a matter of the heart: whether one leaves or one stays, a disciple’s heart is open to the future. A heart that welcomes new experiences and trusting they would also encounter God whether they are in the quiet of their room or overseas. It could also mean whether God would like us to try out a new way of evangelization and leave behind an outdated and ineffective way. It is a heart that is ready to go if God wills so, or stay if God wanted us to remain put. We are ready to just bring what we need, and leave anytime, anywhere. This is to me, great availability and mobility. We do have different loves, but the key is whom we love the most.
We now discover a fact. Those who have stable support systems are those who are ready to go wherever they are sent. They felt so much loved by their friends and families that they are so happy to share it to others. When we talk of availability and mobility in mission, we presume that that person experienced God’s love first. His availability and mobility is a response to that overflowing love.