Note: I gave this homily at the Mass that began the University Stations of the Cross of the Ateneo de Manila University on 26 February 2016. Photos: Mr. Marcus Alcantara, Ateneo HS Christian Life Education faculty.
One of the unique characteristics of Ignatian Spirituality is the use of the imagination in prayer. In the 3rd Week of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, which is a contemplation of the Passion of Our Lord, Ignatius gives these directions to those on retreat in the first contemplation at midnight:
The person who is to pray should first know what happened beforehand (like Jesus sending two disciples from Bethany to Jerusalem to prepare the supper); then he should have a “mental representation” of the place, (thus the way from Bethany to Jerusalem); then, to picture the persons at the Supper, to listen to their conversations, and to see what they are doing.
In other words, imagination is used in contemplation. We put ourselves in the scene, and we indeed participate in that scene, as if, we are there. However, in a profound sense, we are present.
Moreover, Ignatius will always repeat this in his points: to seek to draw fruit from it. Meaning, to benefit from it according to God’s grace. What we seek is to be able to feel as Jesus feels when Judas, his friend, betrays him; or to think as Jesus thinks when Peter denies him; or to struggle with Him as he struggled with accepting God’s will at the Garden of Gethsemane. To benefit from it means to become one with Jesus. Imagination is an instrument to help us deepen our prayer and thus, our relationship with Jesus.
Prayer is like spending time with your friends. As you time travel to the time of Jesus and be with him in his life, then, truly you get to know him better. We know that we are a member of our group of friends or barkada, because we know each other’s story. Why? We spent time with them.
The images that you will encounter at any point in the Stations of the Cross are aids to prayer. They help us visualize the passion of the Lord. So we will be more disposed to receive the id quod vollo, the grace to ask God for in the 3rd Week of the Spiritual Exercises — to feel “sorrow, compassion, and shame because the Lord is going to His suffering for my sins.”
The Jubilee of Mercy and Compassion takes on the theme: “As the Father’s mercy.” We are, in Pope Francis’ words, to renew our relationship with God, self, neighbors and creation, in a spirit of gratuitousness.
As a church we must “offer abundant signs of God’s presence and closeness, and reawaken in people’s hearts the ability to look to the essentials” to what is more important.
During the time of my mother’s illness, she was bedridden and on NGT (Nasogastric Tube Feeding). I couldn’t bear to see her so frail and powerless, because she was once the strength of our family. I would visit her monthly, as permitted by Fr. Ben Nebres SJ who was my rector. However, when I was at home, I would do something else to avoid seeing her suffer.
At some point, after great emotional struggle and prayer, I was able to accept my mom’s situation and the dread of an impending death. I was able to muster all my courage and decided to leave work when I was at home. I would be on her bed, embracing her, and holding her hands. I was just there: one in her speechlessness and suffering.
I think this is what Pope Francis means, that in our fasting and abstinence, we get to look and discover what is essential and then embrace it. When I “abstained” from work, I found time to be beside my mom, and embraced her. I saw that to be one with her is the most essential!
Pope Francis therefore encourages us to be like the Father’s mercy: like a father who is faithful to his child (Hosea 11:1-4; Isaiah 49:15). On the part of the recipient, we become the Father’s palpable presence and closeness to others. In a very profound way, we are indeed God’s presence to them.
On 11 April 2015, the first vespers of Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis clarified our mission in his homily: we are to be a “sign and an instrument of the Father’s mercy.”
As we follow Jesus’ passion in the Stations of the Cross, as we stop to pray and to use our imagination in our contemplation, we too will pray for those who are like Jesus in our world today, the sick, the oppressed, the refugees, the victims of war. We shall also remember our students and members of our university community who too are suffering.
The objective is simple: that our hearts beat as Jesus’ heart beats for us.
We will follow the new Stations of the Cross recommended by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines. These stations are scripture based and ends with the Resurrection. The CBCP wants to point out that the Passion, Death and Resurrection constitutes one movement of salvation, one great mystery. We cannot separate these points from one another. In times like these, the addition of the Resurrection tells us that there is an end to our suffering, that the last word in our lives is not pain, but joy!
I am very indebted and proud of Ms. Suzanne Alvarez (head of the Ateneo HS Campus Ministry) and her team, the campus ministers and the Jesuit candidates, for their work in the University Stations of the Cross. Let me share one of the many verbal and text messages Ms. Alvarez received from yesterday’s event:
“Just want to congratulate and thank you and your team for all the hard work and love you put in yesterday’s Stations of the Cross. Such a beautiful and grace-filled celebration!” – Ms. Bitchik Dimalanta
Here’s Ms. Alvarez’s team plus the Jesuit candidates, Kim, Meynard and Paulo who are not in the photo: