“Who do you say that I am?” This is a question that lies at the core of our Christian faith. Who is Christ to us in a very personal way?
The Gospel for this Sunday gives us reflection points to answer this question. First, what are our desires? (“If anyone wishes to come after me…”) What is our one great passion, defining ambition, life plan that makes us tick or gives fuel to our life?
Second, what are we willing to invest or, in more religious or spiritual parlance, to sacrifice? (“He must deny himself and take up his cross daily…”) The investment, the sacrifice is not generic as the cross is “your” cross carried in the day-to-day circumstances of one’s life.
Third, what is the change and resulting action that we are ready to embrace and live out. (“Follow me.”) It is in the following that our relationship with Christ becomes real and personal because we share in his mission.
One of the education philosophies I believe in and follow as a teacher, coming from my Ignatian formation and education, is that education leads the student to discover his/her desires and passions.
When I work with someone, as a colleague or as one going through a formation seminar or retreat, the first question I ask them to reflect on is: What are your dreams?
Over the past 16 years since I left my work with the basic education units of Ateneo de Manila, I would meet former students at weddings or events where they were the professional photographer or chef.
Always I am moved by these simple moments and tell them with a big smile, “I am happy for you and proud of you.” My students remember what I always told them about Jesuit/Ignatian education: Discover your passion and set your life within the horizon of a dream larger than life.
The next point for reflection is, what are you willing to sacrifice in order to pursue this dream? This is the first “pitfall”—we can’t have our cake and eat it, too; dreams come to life only when we are willing to sacrifice.
Recently I shared about my former student, Joe Lynch. Twenty-two years ago he helped me define my vision and philosophy of education: Love students into excellence that they may become themselves more loving persons.
Back then, as he was starting out at Harvard and faced with the prospects of a lucrative career as a doctor or lawyer, he synthesized these options in a conversation we had as we were walking in Central Park: “I could stay in a farm, for all I care, so long as I have a happy family. Whatever makes me a loving person.”
Last April, after over a decade of building a career as an orthopedic surgeon in Seattle and San Diego, he decided to go home to his wife’s hometown in Boise, Idaho. In our conversation he asks me, “Remember our walk in Central Park, Father? I am finally doing it. We will live in a farm.”
What are you willing to sacrifice to pursue your dreams?
It is at this point of identifying and choosing the sacrifice we are willing to make that we pivot to the following of Christ.
Sacrifice, though, often gets too excessively identified with suffering. Not that this is bad, but in its proper perspective, sacrifice is giving up something of value to us for a greater value.
It is choosing Christ, doing God’s will in our life, that is the supreme sacrifice; to follow Christ more nearly is the greatest freedom, dedicating our life to Christ out of love for him and living a life of loving service. What Ignatius of Loyola says, “entodo amar y server,” in all things to love and to serve.
In his prayer, “Take and Receive,” Ignatius offers everything back to God with the prayer “that you may dispose of me wholly according to your will.”
May your prayer lead you to the words, the spirit and the soul of Ignatius’ sacrifice: Give me only your love and your grace… I ask for nothing more.” Or in the words of St. Paul, “For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.” (Philippians 1: 21)