At the funeral Mass for Fr. James B. Reuter, S.J., in 2013, a tribute by Fr. Jojo Magadia, S.J., then provincial superior of the Philippine Jesuits, captured the person, life, work and soul of “Fr. Jim” (as Fr. Reuter was known) in one word: edifying.
Fr. Jim died at age 96 after some 70 years of ministry in the Philippines. He was 22 when he started teaching at Ateneo de Manila and made the Philippines his home, leaving for only a few years to complete his seminary formation and education.
His work of edification spanned generations and across disciplines, forming his famous Reuter babies in the classrooms, on stage, in front and behind the cameras, in the loft with the Ateneo de Manila Glee Club, on the hard court with the Ateneo basketball teams, in the chapels and retreat houses with generations of students from various Catholic schools, on their knees in the propagation of Fr. Patrick Peyton’s Family Rosary Crusade, and on the streets and in the “trenches” as he became a leading light in the struggle against martial law. He edified all the people whose paths crossed his.
Salt and light
Today’s Gospel presents two images of Christian witness: “You are the salt of the earth; You are the light of the world.” This drives home the social aspect of our Christian faith— that we are to be in the world to edify people.
Reflect on two points: the concept of mentor as being salt and light; and the Lord’s exhortation at the very end of the Gospel: “Let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
There are two characteristics of salt and light that are crucial to make one an authentic and good mentor: both salt and light do not call attention to themselves, and both help or serve the other. Salt brings out the best flavor of food, and light illuminates the other person’s way.
Such are important functions of a mentor—he/she brings out the best in others and shows them their path, the journey toward meaning and mission in life.
As Laurent Daloz put it, the first task of a mentor is to ask people what their dreams are. What is the horizon of a dream larger than life that beckons them to journey in pursuit of their dreams?
This is something parents and teachers, traditional mentors, can learn from: our first task is to help others discover and/or acknowledge their dreams—emphasis on “their,” as there is always the danger of trying to live our unfulfilled dreams in others.
This is the light that mentors can shine on others, the light of the dream that shows them the path to travel on and guide them to make a choice to take the journey. This is crucial, as it is a choice to take responsibility for their journey and life.
I share this story of a young man we asked to transfer to another school after performing below par in his high school freshman year at Ateneo. I met with him and his father and they graciously accepted the recommendation and started to process their pass-out papers.
A day or two later, the young man and I met again. He handed me a handwritten letter, asking that he be given a chance to repeat at Ateneo, and committing to do well. My first question, after reading it, was, “Where are your parents?” He said that they did not know he had written the letter and came to see me on his own.
I approved his request. He repeated first year, graduated without problems, got into the college on his own, did well, too, and is now working abroad in the field of his passion after completing a master’s degree.
Once this choice is made and they take responsibility for their journey, bringing out the best in themselves becomes par for the course.
Being salt and light to others is a subtle, almost self-effacing, habit or charism of a good mentor because one does it as the most natural and good thing to do. One realizes it only after the fact, when we see how others have brought out the best in themselves and how we have been part of their journey.
“But, the threads that stretch back to this moment will be forever with us and if we were to meet, we would be reminded that we were once fellow travelers.” (“Wake of the Nightshade: Book 1 of the Lanian Silver Trilogy” by Steven G. Williams)
The greatest edification is to lead others to see, to love and to follow Christ more and more in their day-to-day life. —Contributed