This Sunday’s Gospel brings us back to the core of our Christian vocation, as Christ clearly sets what we could consider the three imperatives or inspirations of our Christian identity and mission: “Remain in my love”; “Love one another as I love you”; and “It was I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit.”
In today’s Gospel, we complete the identity and mission of a Christian, chosen and appointed or commissioned to go into the world and bear fruit.
Trying to finish writing this article on Thursday, I was very much influenced by my early-morning meditation/prayer.
Ten years ago, my spiritual director, Fr. Benny Calpotura, SJ, set me off on a journey that would change my life.
“Go! The movements are very clear. God wants you to do this.” Thus began my journey outside the Ateneo de Manila University and the Society of Jesus and into the world of public schools.
The memory of this conversation brought back many other memories and helped me synthesize this part of the journey.
I remembered my early homilies and speeches as a new principal in 1995—experiencing and understanding the inspiration of my mission as an educator and formator to love our students into excellence that they, too, may become more loving persons.
This inspiration was beautifully captured in the lyrics and melody of the song “To Fill the World with Love”:
“In the morning of my life I shall look to the sunrise/At a moment in my life when the world is new/And the blessing I shall ask is that God will grant me/To be brave and strong and true/And to fill the world with love my whole life through…”
This was what gave meaning and inspiration to my work and mission as a teacher. For years I worked to build a caring community in high school and to re-root and ground it in its identity and mission as a Jesuit school, as an Ignatian-inspired school.
Two years into this work, we got a confirmation. At the end of our PAASCU visit, the team leader of the accreditors, the legendary Dr. Pilapil, told me: “You should be proud of your school, Father. Your students know why they are here and take pride in this.”
There was no greater “seal of quality” one could ask for. Then the memory of a one-on-one mentoring came back, too.
It brought back the process I went through in deciding to say “yes” to accompanying this person.
This invitation to accompaniment and my praying over it made me return to my original inspiration—to teach and help others become more loving persons.
It was an experience “on the road to Emmaus.”
I said “yes” to accompany this person. Having worked on an institutional level and channels for almost two decades, this one-on-one accompaniment brought me closer to my first experience of teaching.
Days, or maybe even weeks after I said “yes” to the accompaniment, I again received a confirmation. I knew I had entered the final stage of my mission and to this I responded by asking for the grace to live it with great love.
As I remembered all this in prayer, I knew I was synthesizing. In the final stage of my mission, I return home to where I started; that clarity of knowing my mission and saying “yes” to it—to love my students and others—into excellence that they may become more loving persons.
On the 400th Anniversary of the Ratio Studiorum, the Jesuit document that guided Jesuit schools, the document “Characteristics of Jesuit Education” was issued. In it we find the term “cura personalis” and the description of this personal care the teacher is to give the student.
“Teachers… are more than academic guides. They are involved in the lives of the students, taking a personal interest in the intellectual, affective, moral and spiritual development of every student. They are ready to listen to their cares and concerns about the meaning of life, to their joys and sorrows, to help them with personal growth and interpersonal relationships. ‘Cura personalis’ (concern for the individual person) remains a basic characteristic of Jesuit education.”
As I told the person I had said “yes” to accompany him on the journey, it is all about “following Christ more nearly.” Everything leads to this. We stay on this path in the journey and we will be fine.
Pardon this narrative of this stage in my journey. I share it with the hope that it will trigger your remembering and revisiting your own narrative, the story of your journey in mission.
More than ever, I am convinced that life is all about mission. The first life task is to discover and/or rediscover one’s mission.
The second is to live it with great love.
As I enter the final stage of my mission journey, the song in my heart remains the same:
“In the noontime of my life I shall look to the sunshine/At a moment in my life when the sky is blue/And the blessing I shall ask shall remain unchanging/To be brave and strong and true, and to fill the world with love my whole life through.”