(This piece is a homily that was delivered at the 10th anniversary Mass of the Magna Anima Education System, Inc., a social enterprise that has been working with public schools focusing on teacher formation.)
SHE, out of her poverty, has contributed all that she had.” The closing words of this Sunday’s Gospel is a fitting point for reflection as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of Magna Anima Education System.
Over 10 years ago, one of the most respected and major foundations in the country invited us to join them and offered to make our teachers’ formation program one of its flagship programs. It wanted to do a massive retooling of over half a million public school teachers.
Again, I beg your kind indulgence for using this example. At that time, the public announcement of my departure from the Ateneo and the Jesuits was made. Soon after, I received a call from the foundation’s executive director inviting me to a meeting where the offer was made.
I asked for a week or two to pray over it. I shared with them that I had tested the program with small groups as early as 1995 and had a comfortable level of certainty that it would work for 300 or so at a time. I wasn’t as certain rolling out the program to cover over half a million, which would mean tens of thousands a year if we are to cover a substantial critical mass in a decade or two of work.
After I got into the car in the basement parking, I sat by myself, broke down and wept. I wept because I was humbled by the confirmation God gave me with regard to my leaving the Ateneo and the Jesuits, which was home for me for over 40 years. They were tears of joy and consolation. As Ignatius of Loyola would say, consolation that comes from God alone, his simple presence at that moment.
I wondered why this memory came back to me as I prepared for today’s Mass.
The widow’s mite hits home for many, yes, because of her generosity, her magnanimity in giving back from her core, out of her poverty, but more so because of how it jolts us into realizing how far we are from her and how much closer we are in the spectrum to the rich people who gave a lot.
This is the point I invite you, our partners through the years, to reflect on today. How much have we given back out of our poverty, from our core? At the outset, let me emphasize that this is not a guilt trip reflection, as you have been very kind and generous in supporting us these past 10 years.
This is a reflection in the spirit of Ignatius’ contemplation of Christ Crucified and us asking, “What have I done for you? What am I doing for you? What more ought I to do for you?”
The question is vintage Ignatius: an awareness of past and present to make a realistic projection into the future—but all this within the context of our personal relationship with Christ, the consistent pairing of the “I” and “you.” Perhaps more than simply I-and-you, it is more distinctly I-for-you.
It is a commitment to Christ that everything in the “I” will be for and with Christ.
Fr. David L. Flemming, SJ, has a wonderful and inspiring article, “‘Here I am,’ Ignatian Ways of Serving,” that shows the development of Ignatius’ understanding, practice and spirituality of service. One key insight is God serves us first and thus our service is a response to this. We are able to serve because we were served first; in the same spirit that we are able to love God because he loved us first.
Using the journey through the process of the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, Fr. Flemming traces the evolution and development of the Ignatian ways of serving, from doing great deeds to the realization that God served first. To love is to act, to follow, to accompany, to forgive, to remember God’s love in the Eucharist; to serve is always to share one’s gifts—“because lovers share their gifts.”
The summary of the Ignatian way of serving is “en todo amar y server” or to love and to serve in everything.
This now sharpens the question, “What more ought I to do for you?” into “How have I loved and served you in all things?”
To this the poor widow responds dramatically, yet simply. She offers what seems to be in the eyes of the world “nothing” yet in the eyes of Christ it was “everything.”
As we look back at the past 10 years, we ask ourselves, “Did I in everything love and serve the Lord?”
Ignatius once said that we can do nothing for God, yet we can attempt in everything to love and serve the Lord.
As we give thanks to the Lord for the past 10 years of trying to build caring communities in our public schools, trying to form teachers into mission-inspired educators who will love their students into excellence, we give back to the Lord. We give back the way the widow gave in today’s Gospel. Out of her want and poverty she gave everything.