Almost 25 years ago, today’s Gospel (Mark 1: 29-39) made an indelible mark on my spiritual life and relationship with Christ.
I was then a Jesuit seminarian studying theology; our community was having its annual eight-day retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House on Mirador Hill, Baguio City, with Fr. Parmananda Divarkar, SJ, one of the most respected experts in Ignatian spirituality.
He described this passage as a triptych (three-paneled portrait) of Christ: a man-with-and-for others; a man-of-prayer; and a man-with-and-on-a-mission.
As the narrative goes, Christ and company head to Peter’s house to rest and eat. But as soon as they get there, Christ responds to Peter’s mother-in-law and heals her from fever. This is followed by an avalanche of pleas for healing, to which Christ responds. This is Christ the man-for-and-with-others.
At dawn, Christ prays to God the Father. But his disciples ask him to go back to resume his healing sessions.
“Everyone is looking for you,” his disciples report. Christ is a big hit! He is made!
It is in the midst of this intoxicating turn of events, the glitter of fame and influence, that we see the core of Christ. He simply says “no” by uttering, “Let us go to the nearby villages that I may also preach. For this purpose I have come.” This is Christ the man with-and-on-a-mission.
Mission, prayer, service—these are the three portraits of Christ. These, too, are the graces we pray for as we follow Christ in our day-to-day life.
I invite you to do a reflective evaluation of where you stand in each of these graces. As we often do, let us begin with the end in mind.
How mission-oriented have we lived our life? What is mission for us? How do we define mission? May I propose Frederick Buchner’s definition, and I paraphrase: the place where God calls you to, or sends you, is the meeting point between your deep gladness and a deep hunger of the world.
With your kind indulgence, let me share my own journey, which I had also recounted in previous articles.
I grew up in a broken family, a classic definition of dysfunctional. It caused me much pain; I had to struggle with it for the most part of my adolescent years.
One turning point in my life became a terrible mistake. It made me realize that I was responsible for my own life and should not blame others; it pushed me to the extreme—being too independent to the point of almost being stoic.
I realized what my deep gladness is when I started teaching. In one-on-one conversations with my students, a few would talk about their broken family and break down in tears. All I could say was, “Just let it out. I know how it feels.” Then, in silence, I would sympathize with them.
It was then that I understood and said “yes” to my mission—to teach and help young people discover their own mission in life, their deep gladness meeting a deep hunger of the world. My own deep gladness stemmed from the deep pain of having grown up in a broken family.
It was in my pain and brokenness that I discovered my mission. I wanted to journey with others who carry the same cross because I knew how difficult it was to grow up without adult guidance.
It was for this reason that I left Ateneo where I could have had a stable and fruitful ministry. Few people know that almost four years before I left the Ateneo in 2005, I had written a letter to my two superiors requesting them not to appoint me to any administrative position after my assignment in fundraising for the university.
I wanted to do teacher training and formation. They both agreed that it was something our apostolates needed and something I would have the ability to do.
Relationship with God
Long story short, my spiritual director, Fr. Benny Calpotura, SJ, told me that God was clearly calling me out of the Society of Jesus to work with public school teachers.
It has been 10 years since, a decade marked with hits and misses, doubts, and reaffirmation of faith. But each challenging period was an affirmation of going back home to fulfill a mission.
On the day I wrote this article, I paused in front of what I call the gallery of the Paschal Mystery in my study—paintings of the Agony in the Garden, the Crucified Christ, and the Risen Christ.
The Cross is the antithesis to what the world has to offer and what the world upholds. The Resurrection is the synthesis.
Service is good and still an aspiration, but it must be constantly discerned in and through prayer, with mission as the constant reference point—both as the starting point and the destination.
The triptych of Christ—Christ the man-with-and-for-others, the man-of-prayer, the man-with-and-on-a-mission—is also our triptych: a life of service, a life of prayer, a life of mission.