Back in 2000, I was invited to celebrate the Immaculate Conception Mass for the Loyola Schools or the college department of Ateneo de Manila. It was my first time to celebrate a school Mass for them, since from 1995 to 2000 my assignment was in the high school and grade school departments.
I started by describing my family or, more accurately, the quirks of my family. Then, with a tinge of humor, I ended my introduction with the line, “I guess we are what you call a classic dysfunctional family.”
There was a roar of laughter from the congregation gathered around what was then the old college quadrangle. Later that day, I received a few e-mail messages from the faculty thanking me for talking about coming from a dysfunctional family publicly, and more so in a Mass.
Our Gospel for today talks about our forgiving others, that comes from an experience of having been forgiven. It’s another expression of the greatest commandment of love, “Love one another as I have loved you,” which also tells us that our ability to love is because of our experience of having been loved first.
Two weeks ago, we conducted the first run of module 2 of our Soulful Leadership (SOLE) Formation Program, which deals with healing and wholeness. The goal of the module was to understand and experience the process of healing that leads to reintegration and wholeness.
To attain this goal, the awareness of one’s woundedness and thus one’s traumas was a key element in the process. I was pleasantly surprised that the participants were able to get into the process and realize many things in their own journey.
An aside: I always caution people about digging into one’s past in the process of developing greater awareness of one’s self and one’s life. Reflection goes through the analytical stage that breaks down things before one moves into synthesis or reintegration. This can be tricky if not handled properly.
What I have found helpful, though, in the past few years of my formation work is that if the process is done within the context of a narrative or one’s life story, there is a natural integrity to the process that keeps one grounded.
The general reaction of the participants in module 2 was relief to able to be in touch with their woundedness and the trauma that caused the wound. It was so similar to the reaction of the congregation at the Immaculate Conception Mass in 2000. One of the texts we use in the session puts it so well:
“But if I am to let my life speak things I want to hear, things I would gladly tell others, I must also let it speak things I do not want to hear and would never tell anyone else! My life is not only about my strengths and virtues; it is also about my liabilities and my limits, my trespasses and my shadow. An inevitable though often ignored dimension of the quest for ‘wholeness’ is that we must embrace what we dislike or find shameful about ourselves, as well as what we are confident and proud of. That is why the poet says, ‘Ask me mistakes I have made.’” (From “Let Your Life Speak” by Parker Palmer)
This is what I invite you to reflect on: How often do we “embrace what we dislike and find shameful about ourselves as well as what we are confident and proud of”? I believe that if we get to accept this part of our self, we become more loving and more forgiving.
The past months have been difficult months for me. My discerned mission and “life dream” to dedicate my life and work to the education and formation of the youth through the formation of teachers who will love them into excellence seems to be falling into place, after years of searching, trying, making mistakes, trying again, etc.
But, as the wisdom of Ignatius of Loyola puts it, when we are close to doing God’s will for us, the evil spirit will throw all obstacles in our way to prevent us—a test, the dark night of the soul, purification, trials, crisis.
Pressure and pain
Yes, all the trials are also thrown my way in my work. Many times, as I conduct sessions where I try to lead people to be in touch with their life dreams and mission and to re-inspire their journey, I feel the pressure and the pain of making things work for our office—working through the red tape, meeting payments to creditors, making ends meet to make sure our small staff whose families depend on us are provided for. In short, confronting the realities of life.
More than once I was tempted to give up and throw in the towel, but I often fall back on what I try to “teach.” And this is the blessing of being a teacher—one has to believe in what one teaches and one must try to live out what one teaches.
My seminars and formation programs “teach” that our first life task is to discover our mission, and the second life task is to live out this mission with great love, with a great soul, with a great sense of service.
We “teach” our philosophy of basic education, that basic education must help young people discover their passion, thus discover their mission, and the best way to achieve this is by creating a caring environment in our schools and forming teachers who will love them into excellence.
We “teach” hope, mission and dreams, service, passion and love, even as we struggle with the pains and crises of our own lives and our day-to-day concerns.
There is the temptation not to believe in the sublime and noble when one is placed in this struggle and pain. But if we believe in what we “teach” and try—we do not always succeed with flying colors, but try our best we must—we will not give in to the temptation to give up. We will embrace our real wholeness—our blessings, strengths and goodness, as well as our “curses,” shortcomings, weaknesses and faults. As Palmer quotes the poet, “Ask me mistakes I have made.”
If we will forgive and love this often “neglected” part of ourselves, we will love one another as Christ has loved and continues to love us, the sinners that we are, and forgive one another as the Father has forgiven and will always forgive us, the sinners yet “called to be companions of Christ” to share in His mission to heal and make whole a broken world with love.