I ALWAYS look forward to July as Ignatian month, July 31 being the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus and patron saint of retreats.
I think it will not be too much of a stretch if we loop in an Ignatian theme each Sunday.
Let us begin with this Sunday’s Gospel: “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest,” and the missioning of the 72, whom Christ sent out on a mission and joyfully returned home.
Here you have two themes that marked Ignatius’ journey: his founding of the Jesuit order at a critical time in the life of the Church, and the missionary character and spirituality of the order.
The Jesuits came during the period of the Reformation triggered by Martin Luther. Given Ignatius’ idea of the Jesuits’ charism as obedient soldiers of Christ and his Church, they soon became leading lights in the Counter Reformation.
Very few people realize that the Jesuits’ involvement in education is a result of its missionary character. They were not founded as a teaching order but as a missionary order. This is what Ignatius saw as a need of the Church.
Yet with his clarity of vision, he saw that changing course was a more effective way to be faithful to the vision, mission and charism of the order.
This is our first point for reflection, responding to the “call of the harvest.” It is critical to have laborers sent to the harvest, or the harvest will go to waste.
We always come to a critical point in our lives, as individuals, as a community and as a nation, when choices need to be made that will have a significant impact on how we live and act now and chart the future.
Fr. Horacio dela Costa, S.J., in his writings, pointed out that history is not simply a remembering of the past, but an important and helpful guide on how to move forward.
As we look at our story as a people the past 50 years, we realize we have come to a critical point now. We need to make a choice. We need to make a choice as we live with a new administration under President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.
The critical choice is to make real the hopes and dreams our people placed in “change is coming, tunay na pagbabago.”
In 1966, we were a robust democracy. Our spirit as a people was beginning to soar. The economy was doing well. We had one of the better public school education programs in the region, the envy of our neighbors for our literacy rate and proficiency in the English language.
This spirit was so animated that in the late ’60s it gave rise to the First Quarter Storm. The ’50s and ’60s also gave rise to various civil rights movements all over the world.
By the early ’70s this freedom of spirit was curtailed by the declaration of martial law. Thus began the erosion of our identity and soul, which were barely recovering from the forced American occupation that immediately followed our 1898 Declaration of Independence.
A decade and a half later, in 1986, there came a resurgence of this identity and spirit in Edsa that dismantled a dictatorship. We tried and faltered.
Then, almost 25 years after Edsa, another shot in the arm with the election of President Benigno S. Aquino III on the hope and dream that “kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.”
We were hoping that this was it. Over and above the debates and discussions on the progress the past six years, some facts and figures will speak for themselves: the rate of growth; the increased investor confidence coupled with the improved credit ratings; the key programs put in place, hailed by reputable international development agencies; and one of the highest trust ratings of an outgoing president.
Yet there are also real challenges that seem insurmountable: the social, cultural and economic inequality that continues and will worsen if the widening of the gaps is not addressed. There are the other social problems of criminality, drugs and traffic that also need attention and prompt action.
“Change is coming,” and we are again at a critical point. The hope and dream for change that elected Duterte into office is dubbed “real change.”
I pray the real change is not simply in addressing crime, drugs and traffic, but a deeper change in all of us.
The change needed was not simply a Cory Aquino to replace a Ferdinand Marcos, nor was it a P-Noy in lieu of a GMA. It will also not be a President Duterte alone.
We must change. We must be the laborers and ask that we be sent to God’s harvest.
In today’s Gospel, we see the 72 returning, and with joy and excitement they report to Christ the success of their mission. One commentary states that when the 72 were missioned, they were skeptical about the powers Christ bestowed on them.
Perhaps this is important for us to also choose at this critical point, as a people and nation, to build a culture that empowers, helps people, especially the weakest in our society, to shun a system of patronage that permeates not only our politics, but also many other institutions and spheres of life—be it family, schools or churches.
President Duterte is at the threshold of this critical point, and we pray his greatest contribution to our journey and story is to lead our people to real change.
It has been over 50 years of ups and downs, hits and misses, shining moments of hope and periods of frustration and disappointment.
We are at a critical point, and now it is a time when the “harvest is plenty.”
This Ignatian month, we pray for the gift of discernment for us to understand the choice we need to make at this critical point, and pray the choice will lead us to a deeper sense of mission. St. Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us.