‘God wants you to do this’
Remembering is one of the greatest graces of the Resurrection. The Gospels are stories of remembering, the recollections of the Risen Lord’s friends. Our faith tradition assures us that we keep alive what we remember.
As I give thanks for 25 years of the grace of priesthood, with your kind indulgence, allow me to remember three moments of grace in my journey. I am grateful that in all of these moments, God blessed me with a wise and human spiritual director in Fr. Benny Calpotura, SJ.
The first moment was in the Jesuit novitiate 33 years ago. At the end of two years, we were evaluated, our formators deciding if we were ready to make our perpetual vows. Some vows were postponed; some were told that the religious life was perhaps not for them.
We were seven in our batch. Our two novice masters saw each one of us for around an hour, at the end of which we were told the decision. It was an hour of truth-telling, always humbling and liberating.
At the end of my hour, Fr. Benny told me this: “Someone with your background normally does not stand a chance of surviving seminary formation, but there was one thing you did the past two years that will give you a chance. I saw how hard you tried to pray. Keep on doing this and you’ll be fine. You’ll be a good Jesuit. We are recommending you for vows.”
My body was filled with what I knew was grace and the spirit. I walked to the chapel and knelt at the back, where I normally knelt for my nightly visit, and broke down in tears of gratitude and joy.
Remembering this moment brings to life what Thomas à Kempis wrote in his 15th-century classic, “The Imitation of Christ”: “Homo proponit, sed Deus disponit.”
From Proverbs 19:21, “Man proposes, but God disposes.” Try to pray, for in prayer we propose and, at the same time surrender, that God may dispose of us as he pleases. I always felt this was Christ’s moment of loving obedience, when in the Agony in the Garden he tried to pray and ended with his proposal: Lord, please spare me, but “not my will, but your will be done.”
How often do we try, not just in prayer, but also in living a good and meaningful life according to God’s will and plan? And at the moment of total surrender we pray, “Not my will, but your will.”
Thank you, Lord, for the freedom to propose. Thank you for the freedom to return everything to you so that, in the words of Ignatius of Loyola, “You may dispose of me totally according to your will.”
The second moment was around a decade-and-a-half later. I went through midlife for two years and toward the end of it, Fr. Benny told me, “Now you have to make a choice, to enter the core of your relationship with Christ or to stay in the periphery. Not all choose to enter. Many, in fact, stay in the periphery.”
To enter the core of my relationship with Christ, it became clearer to me through the years, meant entering the mystery of the Cross in my own life. It became a constant reminder. This grounded me through the years, making this choice a constant in all the important decisions I made.
There were many moments of deepening, a spiral movement of coming closer and closer to the core where the fear of suffering, which comes in many forms—doubt, failure, betrayal, desolation—transforms into a choice to sacrifice, to offer and to trust.
In this process, I discovered the quality of my personal relationship with God. It was Holy Saturday of 2003, the second day of my annual eight-day retreat in Gonzaga University.
With the clarity that can only be grace, I saw how God was always present in my life, a presence that is providential and always loving. I saw this in the memory of an incident when I was around 6 or 7 years old, and through the retreat, the memories of significant moments joyfully came back.
This was what started my process of discernment on how I was to live out my mission. Two years later, I chose to leave the Jesuits and the Ateneo, where my heart was healed and nurtured, and where I initially discovered what it was that “makes my soul sing.”
This led me to the third moment of grace. After the two-year process, I discussed with my superiors the movement of the spirit that was leading me to my work with public school teachers. My Provincial-Superior, Fr. Danny Huang, SJ, had one condition. He asked me to see Fr. Benny and said that whatever Fr. Benny said we would follow.
Movements of the spirit
On the morning of May 7, 2005, the birthday of my father who passed away the year before, Fr. Benny and I talked for close to two hours. At the end it he said, “The movements of the Spirit are very clear. God wants you to do this. Go.”
And as many of you have heard me share, my first reaction was to cry. I felt again the warm flow of grace all over my body. Then I asked, “You mean I can’t do it as a Jesuit?” He said, “No,” and had a very clear explanation.
Through the years this became my north star, another constant in checking the choices I made and the work that I did. It saw me through difficult moments in my work and journey the past 12 years, and inspired me to make the choices that led me closer to the core of my relationship with Christ.
Last November, at the end of the 12th anniversary Mass of our work with public schools, I said, “We are very grateful because we know we are where God wants us to be, and we are doing what God wants us to do.”
It completed the core. Now I realize this is the grace of the Resurrection. It was being present to life, to work, to mission with the faith that we are where God wants us to be, and we are doing what God want us to do
—an experience beyond words that moves one’s heart and soul to gratitude.
When I had my final conversation with Fr. Danny Huang after being given permission to leave, I told him, “Dan, I am leaving because I am a good Jesuit.”
On the one hand he had set as a “policy” of the province then that there was to be no new works to be opened, and we needed to consolidate work due to our dwindling numbers. On the other hand the movements of my prayer were clear, to do my work with public school teachers.
I said, “Here you are leading the brass band west, and here I am marching with my little drum east. Time to go, Danny.”
Let me end with some thoughts from Fr. Horacio dela Costa, SJ. In the 32nd General Congregation of the Jesuits back in the 1970s, Father Dela Costa was tasked to draft the document “Jesuits Today.”
In his usual elegant, eloquent and brilliant writing, he opens with the question: What does it mean to be a Jesuit today? And his “answer” says it all: “It is to know that one is a sinner and yet called to be a companion of Christ.”
In this companionship of and in mission, it all comes together, the years of trying to pray, the choices that bring us closer to or farther from our relationship with Christ, and the constant reassurance, “God wants you to do this.”
We remember. We give thanks and we celebrate. We believe that always, he is a God who is present, providentially and lovingly. —CONTRIBUTED
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