In My Father's House

Poems, Prayers, Inspirations, Photos and Musings about life, love and what it means to be a child of the Father

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Rabbi, It’s not Good to be Here! But….

This is a homily I delivered to the JP community last Saturday.

Yesterday, I attended Mass at the college chapel. Atty. Jo Maribojoc of JVP was sharing her vocation story. After her sharing, an elderly Jesuit priest named Sergio Su (yes, as in seryoso!) gave a little footnote on vocation. He cautioned young people who were in that mass that many people think that vocation is a life-fulfilling career. He narrated a story of someone he knew, a man who entered the Cistercians and went out because “he did not find fulfilment there.” This man, said Fr. Su then married and begat children. Later on he felt that was not happy in the married life either and he “abandoned” his family because “he did not find fulfilment there.” This poor man, according to Fr. Su, is still looking for fulfilment. What he doesn’t know is that religious life and married life are not life-fulfilling vocations. They are life-spending vocations.

Allow me to reflect further on this theme.

There is nothing wrong in finding fulfilment in what one does. A social worker for example may find fulfilment in what she does; giving aid and providing resources to people she works with. There is indeed a fulfilling joy at having accomplished something; like a well written paper, a lecture delivered with panache or a project done with excellence. There is fulfilment too in relationships that go smoothly and have few kinks to iron out. Fulfilment is found in deeply consoling prayers, when one can almost touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak. These fulfilments bring joy but more often than not, the joys don’t last. At the end of the day the social worker may find herself burnt out due to the many demands of her work. The A student finds studying increasingly boring or the teacher may soon discover that despite his passion in teaching, his students never seem to appreciate his dedication. The same goes for friendships that take on a new and different meaning. Prayers too, no matter how lofty may bring aridity rather than consolation.

A person who insists that religious life can offer fulfilment to his needs may soon find himself exhausted, bored, unappreciated, therefore, lonely. Sooner or later, he will ask whether religious life is really cut out for him or he is just plodding through it all. Now when we begin to see our vocation as a matter of life and self-spending we also start to understand its mystery. Ignatius did not found the Society because he felt good doing so. He did not roam the streets looking for beggars and prostitutes because the task was self-fulfilling. Xavier did not frequent hospitals and spent a great deal baptizing children in far away places simply because he found joy doing so. These two Jesuits found their vocations not self-fulfilling but self-giving.

I imagine the many years that St. Ignatius spent writing letters and finishing the Constitution of the Society. I imagine him spending countless hours poring over documents and letters, straining his neck, blacking his fingers with ink stains, working in suffocating heat or freezing coldness in his room. I imagine too the many times when God seemed so distant to him when he was battling his own demons. I wonder how many times Ignatius cringed at his seat praying and consolation did not come to him.

I also wonder the distress and depression that Xavier went through during his trips to Africa and Asia. How many times had he cursed the waves of the Pacific that in several times tried to kill him. What hardships did he endure teaching little children the rudiments of faith. I imagine him waiting everyday for a piece of good news from his dear friends in Europe while he stared and counted the coconuts in Sancian. What could have Xavier done when those consoling letters never came?

Life and self-spending rather than fulfilling. This is also the theme of our Gospel today. Peter, in his classic impulsiveness blurted out to Jesus when he saw the latter transfigured into a dazzling figure, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Little that Peter knew that the Son of Man was to be handed to his accusers to suffer great torture and be sentenced to die. Peter was looking for self-fulfilment. He wanted to make the most out of the rare opportunities to behold the manifestation of God’s power right before his eyes. He wanted to linger on and savour every bit of that experience. After all, not many were given that opportunity.

But Christ did not come to have a self-fulfilling mission. He had to give of himself in obedience to Father’s will. That meant giving up everything he loved on this earth: material possessions, fame and even intimate friends. Peter did not understand this. The Mount Tabor experience was, for him the zenith of apostleship. It was only later Peter learned that Christ’s full transfiguration happened not on Tabor but on Calvary where he gave his life as an ultimate act of self-spending. Christ told Peter that they must hurry down from Tabor because he still had many things to do before they take his life. And Christ was right because the real battle was not way up there on a mountain but in the plains where the lame and the blind, the sick and the lonely, the abandoned and the oppressed are.

Oftentimes I feel like Peter. I look for self-fulfilment in what I do. I continually search for that elusive joy in the mundane task and the daily grind. And how often have I been frustrated trying to do so. I keep on insisting that happiness is in doing things, and achieving great happiness is in accomplishing greater things. When these things happen I find myself praying for release from this preoccupation and for a fuller understanding of a life-spending vocation. So that like Ignatius, like Xavier, I too, can find God in all things “in insta importune et opportune” (in season and out of season). And like Peter I may learn to go down from my mountain and say, “Rabbi, it is not technically good to be here. But I will prepare three tents, one for you, one for me, and let Ignatius and Xavier share in the third one. ” (Or better yet, I will prepare three tents, one for Xavier, one for Ignatius and one for You and me and let Peter, James and John patrol the neighborhood for wolves and intruders. =) )

Weng Bava, SJ
February 18, 2006
JP Chapel


  • At 1:08 PM, Blogger Maryanne Moll said…

    hi. just checking out your new posts. :)

  • At 1:25 AM, Blogger Jonathan St.Andre, T.O.R. said…

    I was blessed to read your reflection. I can relate to that deep desire for fulfillment and the disappointment that can come when this life just doesn't seem to provide it. You did a nice job of drawing out the reality of the true transfiguration of Christ upon the cross! Thanks, Noel. May the Lord give you peace.


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