Wednesday, January 30, 2008

50 Years of the Philippine Province: a homily

On Feb. 3, 2008, the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus will be celebrating its 50th anniversary as a Province. In solidarity with the Province, I share here a homily I preached on January 1, 2008, at Loyola House of Studies.

This coming February 3, 2008, in the middle of GC 35, we will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Philippine Province. The Philippines had actually already been a Province for more than a hundred fifty years before the Suppression, from 1605 to 1768. The Jesuits returned to the Philippines in 1859, and for 99 years, first under the Aragon Province, then under the New York-Maryland Province, the Philippines was a Mission, then a Vice-Province. On February 3, 1958, the Philippines regained Province status, with Fr. Francis Clark as its first Provincial. Fr. (later Bishop) Federico Escaler was Socius.

This morning, I studied the Province Catalog of 1958 and was struck by how much has changed. First, they had large numbers of Jesuits in 1958, large numbers of young Jesuits. There were 487 Jesuits connected to the Philippine Province, either as members or applicati! (Today we are 316). There were 64 theologians studying in Woodstock. (Today we have 18 theologians). Among the first year theologians were Tom Steinbugler, Si Reyes, Jim O’Donnell, Terry Barcelon and Francisco Claver. The second year theologians included Pepe Arcilla, Nick Cruz, Mon Mores, and Sim Sunpayco. Joe Dacanay and Rudy Valdes were among the third year theologians, and Frank Glover and Joe Roche among the fourth year fathers! There were 34 philosophers distributed in the three years of philosophy studies in the now defunct Berchmans College of Cebu. (Today we have 19 philosophers). Among those philosophers were illustrious names like Pepe Bacatan, Bert Dy, Ernie Javier, Wally Ysaac, Onie Pacana, Roger Haight, and Ruben Tanseco. There were 21 novices in Novaliches (today we have 14), among whom were Bert Ampil and Ting Samson. Also in Novaliches were 18 brothers, and 27 juniors (compared to our 5 today), among them Loloy Cuerquis, Mat Sanchez, Chito Unson, Ben Sim, and Ben Nebres. And among those in special studies at that time were the young priests Catalino Arevalo, Jaime Bulatao, Serge Su and Roque Ferriols.

The second thing that struck me were the apostolates we had that we no longer have. We had many more parishes than we have today. Bukidnon was still part of the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro, under the Jesuit archbishop James T.G. Hayes, and Jesuits manned more than 25 parishes in Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon, as well as in Zamboanga del Sur. We had two schools that no longer exist: the Ateneo de San Pablo and the Ateneo de Tuguegarao. And on foreign mission, we had three Jesuits in the Vice-Province of Indonesia, Joe Blanco, Gus Natividad and Sammy Dizon, and one, Rudy Fernandez, in Japan.

The third thing that struck me is how the Province has grown in fifty years. Our institutions have certainly grown. For example, in 1958, Xavier University had 2026 students and Ateneo de Zamboanga had only 953. Today, Xavier U has more than 15,000 students and AdZU has close to 7,000. Ateneo de Davao, with only 1677 students then, had only 43 lay teachers; today there are 910 extern teachers serving more than 14,000 students. At that time, Xavier School, Sacred Heart in Cebu, and Santa Maria in Iloilo were not under the Philippine Province (which they are today) and there was as yet no Loyola College of Culion. In 1958, there was no Loyola House of Studies, no Loyola School of Theology, no CIS, no Emmaus, no ICSI, no Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary, no CEFAM, no UGAT, no PJPS, no ESSC, no SLB, no Jesuit Communications, no Jesuit Retreat Houses in Cebu or Malaybalay. The only Social Apostolate institute was the ISO, under Frs. Duchesneau and Hogan; today, there are the 26 Institutes in the SJSA network. There were no Philippine Province Jesuits in East Timor, Cambodia, Myanmar and China, as there are today.

These, of course, are only the most obvious changes. There have been deeper, more profound changes, that we should perhaps reflect on during the course of this fiftieth anniversary year. In the fifty years between 1958 and today, we experienced, among other things, the renewal and upheaval of the Church in Vatican II; the re-discovery of the Spiritual Exercises and Ignatian spirituality; the recognition of the human and the psycho-emotional dimensions in formation; the emergence of nationalism and the drive to inculturation; the radical reorientation of our mission by GC 32 which called us to the undivided service of faith and justice; Fr. Arrupe’s prophetic refocusing of the mission of Jesuit education in his famous man-for-others speech; the broadening of our horizons by GC 34 which called to see lay people as full partners in our ministry.

Tonight is not the time to reflect on those changes and their implications for us today. May I simply invite us to do two things at this Eucharist. First, I invite us to offer thanksgiving. In the first reading, we hear the beautiful benediction the Lord entrusts to Aaron and his sons for the blessing of Israel. “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace.” Surely, we have experienced these blessings as a Province in the past 50 years. The Lord has kept us, and despite our many faults and defects, he has gifted us with sufficient numbers, excellent men, apostolic creativity and effectiveness, a spirit of freedom and openness, and a good community spirit. I have been consoled constantly by the affirmation I receive from other major superiors, about the gifts of expertise, leadership, and spirit that this Province has been blessed with, and which we can share with others in the Church and the Society. I remember during our last session of the Coetus Praevius, when we were discussing issues of formation today, one of the European members of the group said something to this effect: we Jesuits can be so critical of ourselves, yet, the truth is we have good formation--not perfect but good. In that same spirit, tonight, we can say, after 50 years, we have a good Province, not perfect but good, and this because of God’s unfailing graciousness and mercy.

There is a second invitation I would like to make, and it is to pray for a special gift for our Province in the coming jubilee year. I can best explain what that gift is by sharing an experience. Last November, we ended our work as the Coetus Praevius for GC 35 with Mass in the rooms of St. Ignatius in the Gesu. We shared our thoughts and feelings after more than six weeks of working together to prepare for the Congregation.

I was most struck by what the President of our Conference, Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, shared. As I recall, he said something like this. He had come earlier to the Gesu, to meet an old friend, a Spanish Jesuit who had been many years in the ministry of formation. And that Jesuit asked Nico a question that disturbed or at least challenged him. “Nico, do you think that Jesuits today have more spiritual depth?”

That question was specially poignant to me, hearing it asked in the rooms of our father Ignatius, who, was a man of profound spiritual depth. In those rooms, Ignatius worked very hard indeed, laboring over the Constitutions and dispatching numerous letters dealing with the practical details of governance of the Society. But in those rooms too, Ignatius was deeply present to God. In those rooms, he offered the Eucharist marked by abundant tears of devotion and reverent love. From those rooms, he gazed at the stars. There, Ignatius stood before God in complete defenselessness and availability. There, Ignatius encountered and surrendered himself ever more completely to God, in God’s reality, mystery, majesty and love. From that profound encounter and interior union with God flowed all the freshness of energy, creativity, generosity and joyful daring of the early Society.

Spiritual depth: would those words accurately describe Jesuits of the Philippine Province today? We are hard workers, gifted and dedicated apostles, scholars and professionals, but perhaps because we are so few, and the challenges so many and important, there may be a temptation to an overwork that makes us insufficiently attend to the primacy of our relationship with God and friendship with Christ. I say this with much hesitation; I have no right or competence to judge any man’s inner life. Perhaps, I speak thus, because I am describing myself and the call that I feel is being made to me.

But, tonight, contemplating the figure of Mary in today’s Gospel, keeping all things in her heart, reflecting on them, making space for God’s word to deepen in her, we might pray for the gift of spiritual depth, or at least, a renewal in the spirit for this Province. This year, we shall seek to help foster this spiritual renewal, by scheduling Province Retreats on the themes of GC 35. The point is, whatever new challenges and calls the Congregation will present to us, we shall not able to respond to these directives with Ignatian freedom, creativity and joy, if we do not become more deeply united to and surrendered to God.

Enough said. The coming two years promise to be exciting: the General Congregation, a new General, our fiftieth Jubilee as a Province, the 150th anniversary of the return of the Jesuits to the Philippines in 2009. Let us prepare for the new things of God by thankfulness and deeper attention to the life of the Spirit. Happy New Year to us all!

No comments: