World CLC Day Homily
March 25, 2020
My dear sisters and brothers in the Christian Life Community, those of you who make the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola are familiar with the 8-day or 5-day silent retreat.
The full Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola has four weeks, with each week not necessarily consisting seven days. One week can be more than seven or it can be less than seven. In the First Week, the retreatant prays over one's sinfulness and God's great mercy. In the Second Week, one prays over following Jesus of the Gospels, imbibing His values and His great passion for the Kingdom of the Father. In the Third Week, one prays over the passion of Jesus Christ, pretty much like the season of Lent. And the Fourth Week is like the Easter season because one reflects on the resurrection of Jesus and his appearances to Our Lady and His disciples.
And so tonight, we hear this Gospel depicting the Annunciation of Angel Gabriel to Our Lady. Ignatius of Loyola locates the Annunciation in the Second Week of the Spiritual Exercises. It is after the meditation on the Kingdom, and placed in the context of the contemplation on the Incarnation: God-becoming-a-human being. The Annunciation, therefore, is prayed over from the divine perspective of the Trinity. The Annunciation is imagined from the perspective of the Triune God lovingly gazing at the world. Ignatius tells the retreatant, "imagine the Trinity looking at the world - some are white, some are black, some are being born, some are dying, some are aimless, some are cursing, some are lost completely." Now, I would like to read to you something from the (Coetus Praevius) or the Preparatory Commission of the General Congregation 36 of the Society of Jesus, which paraphrases the Prelude of the Incarnation in this fashion:
We contemplate the regard of the Holy Trinity on our world: We see the vibrancy of youth yearning to better their lives . . . Yet we also witness violence, brutal exploitation and injustice. Religious and ethnic intolerance, fundamentalism and discrimination assault human dignity, exacerbate inequalities and socially marginalize many, in particular women and children. Severe environmental imbalance and degradation, so worsened by a throwaway culture, lead to a planet that is poisoned and polluted.
So that's another way of saying the Prelude of the Contemplation on the Incarnation, inviting us to look at our world now in the way God looks at humanity - wounded, broken, at once beautiful and ugly, because of its own sin. Then, Ignatius says, "Listen. Listen to what the Persons of the Trinity will say to one another." Ignatius describes the Persons of the Trinity coming together and deciding to do something beautiful. And what is that? He says, "Listen to them say, 'Let us redeem the world.'" Let us redeem the world. That's a beautiful statement. Ignatius wants us to imagine that we are there in the presence of the Trinity. We are invited into their divine Company to listen and behold the Trinity gazing at the world we have wounded. The Trinity beholds the broken humanity with such great love.
We see in this Contemplation how the hunger of humanity evokes the compassion of God. Human pathos evokes the love of God. God is not simply in an ivory tower, separate and detached from our world. God is not alienated. God does not isolate Himself in a tower and say, "bahala kayo riyan."
No. Human pathos evokes the mercy of God, Who desires to come to our world, to engage our world to save us from our own sinfulness and misery. So we see, on one hand, humanity running away from God, aimless and lost. Running away from God, hungry for God, yet it doesn't know it is hungry for God. And then, on the other, God trying to run after humanity, trying to save sinful humanity from destruction. And thus, you have two hungers - the hunger of the world for God, and the hunger of God for the world. How do these two hungers meet?
The two hungers are met in the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the Annunciation, in that simple girl, Mary, that teenager who had no idea of the consequences of this Divine Plan. She mediates these two hungers. So you have this infinite God with His great longing and love for humanity, and you have finite human beings in sinfulness. Who makes them meet? Mary. Mary is like a funnel of Grace. Mary is like a channel through which this beautiful, awesome grace and divine love pass through the simplicity and purity of her heart. She assents to the Divine Plan through her fiat, "Let it be done to me according to your word." Those beautiful words allow the infinite God to come into our broken world, the world of pathos and suffering.
Engagement. Is that also the content of our prayer? Are we also affected by the hungers of the world, especially in this context we are immersed in, where there is so much disease and death? Are we touched by the dying? Are we touched by the suffering of the world? Or are we, as Catholics, isolated from the world, especially because of social distancing? Shouldn't it be so, that especially because of the suffering of the world, our hearts ought to be a crucible of love where the cries and the suffering of the world become part of us, where they burn in our hearts, where they purify us, where they transform us, where they affect us deeply, and we are able to bring that suffering to God, into the pierced hands of Jesus?
Tonight, as we reflect on Mary and her fiat, we also see two kinds of fiat; two kinds of self-surrender of Mary. On one hand, we see a passive fiat where she totally surrenders. It is a very quiet, passive, self-emptying and giving of herself. So in that sense, it's like us, where we are now, in our social distancing. There's a void in our hearts. We want to do something that will impact others, and yet we can't do anything. There is a certain passivity that our fiat requires. There is a passivity that our self-surrender requires. "Lord, I give my life to You in complete surrender. If it is according to Your Divine Majesty that I live, let it be so. But if I get sick, let me trust You." In that sense, it is passive. We're not doing anything. We're in our buildings, apartments, condominiums or wherever it is we find ourselves. We live in a kind of monastic existence: there is passivity in our self-surrender. God is the one who is transforming us, but in a mode of quiet passivity, trust and surrender. And right now, everything is silent. We are in a dark place, but something beautiful is happening. Just like in the womb of our Lady at the Annunciation, in that darkness and silence, she was conceiving Jesus. In our silence, in our passivity, may we also conceive Jesus in our hearts. Let us practice our contemplative presence to the silent but active God wherever we find ourselves. You practice it at home. We practice it here in the seminary.
But Mary's fiat also has an active dimension to it. When the week becomes a month, and the month becomes months, and we remain in this womb, there will necessarily be an active purification in our hearts. We actively submit our will to God. There is an active purging of everything that is not of God: our selfishness, our defeatist attitude, and so forth. We also find ourselves active in so many ways, encouraging one another to hang in there through words of comfort. We are active in the confines of our home or condominiums through daily work or reading. We can also extend our compassion to others-that is an expression of our active fiat.
Tito Jody, our leader in POGI CLC, a local CLC community, has this beautiful sharing. Through Viber, he told our group about an observation of a woman during the early days of the quarantine when people were buying grocery stuff in preparation for the long haul. The woman observed a modest-looking man queueing to pay the cashier. Another woman, standing behind this elderly man, noticed the scarcity of the resources in the grocery basket of that man, and so she asked him, "Kuya, gusto niyo bang dagdagan iyong nasa basket ninyo?"
Initially, the man was reluctant, and said, "Ok na po ito. Salamat po."
Because of the woman's insistence, he eventually relented, and he gave in. So he got out of the queue and started adding a few commodities into his grocery basket. When he went back to the queue, people went up and down the line, adding things to what he had in his grocery basket, until the basket was brimming with an assurance that the items they placed had already been paid. The elderly man was almost in tears for the great miracle that transpired. That overwhelming act of generosity was active surrendering. In the little things we do, we practice active fiat. I guess it's another way of saying being "proactive." We can do something for the glory of God in these difficult times; yes we surrender, but we also actively engage in the Divine Plan, even in the small things we do. There are people who prepare food for those who have no jobs because of the lockdown. There are people who prepare masks for front-liners, health practitioners and support staff. The challenges of these difficult days transform us that we may live the Gospel with total dedication and passion. We continue to love Him in the poor. May we continue to love Him as we pray for the suffering of the world. Human pathos is part and parcel of our spirituality. Our hearts are a crucible of love, and in our hearts, we contain the suffering of the world. United with our loving God, may we transform the suffering of the world into something beautiful. God bless you all.
Fr. Bob Buenconsejo, SJ
Click here to watch the Online Mass via Facebook Live, 25 March 2020: Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord