Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Mass for the Feast of St Ignatius of Loyola at Holy Family Parish, Mt Druitt
Readings: Jeremiah 20:7-13; 1Cor 10:31-11:1; Luke 14:25-33
Vulnerability as a doorway to transformation
There are dramatic moments in life that can alter the course of one’s life. Sometimes they prove to be catalysts for radical change and conversion despite their seemingly negative appearances. This was what happened to Francis of Assisi when he was captured and imprisoned by the opposing forces in the rivalry between two medieval cities. Francis had wanted to enhance his social status by becoming a knight. As he lay in his prison cell, he underwent a change of heart. He went on to become a different kind of soldier -one that would serve God’s kingdom instead of the interests of an earthly kingdom.
Something similar happened to Ignatius of Loyola 300 years later. He was involved in the battle of Pamplona, where he was injured by a cannonball. He was sent home to recover. Nursing his wounds and even more so his pride, Ignatius began to change his focus on life as a soldier to become a champion for Christ. His vulnerability became the doorway to a new interior freedom and transformation. He was not interested in happiness except as a manifestation of that freedom and as a response to the Lord’s call.
Scripture today teaches us that Christian life is not about winning or staying on top of the social ladder. Rather, it is about giving oneself to a greater cause and focusing on the vision of God’s kingdom. We followers of Christ are to live life to the full by surrendering to the process of defeat, suffering and dying. This is the great paradox that Jesus taught and lived: life is lived fully not by surrendering it to self-survival instincts or the dominating powers. Life is fully lived when it can make a difference to others, that it can transform society and make it into a mirror of God’s kingdom.
In the first reading, Jeremiah known as ‘the weeping prophet’ because of his lamentations for the sins of Israel, reflects on the costs of being God’s faithful mouthpiece. “The word of the Lord has meant for me insult, derision all day long”. Jeremiah had spoken against the movers and shakers who took advantage of the politically unstable and chaotic situation in Israel prior to the Babylonian captivity. He had condemned the corruption, moral decay, idolatry, shifting alliances and opportunism in Israel. His stance was not popular.
As a result, he was attacked by his own brothers, imprisoned by the king, put into the stocks by the temple priests and thrown into a cistern by the court officials. In the end, though, he remained fully committed and faithful to his mission in the face of adversity. He shows us what it means to live by one’s principle, to have moral courage and to walk the long hard road of fidelity.
Such courage and commitment are also demanded of the disciples as evident by the Gospel reading. “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” These are words of provocation and hyperbole which are not so much literal injunctions as ways of emphasizing the importance of the undivided loyalty, the single-mindedness and the unmitigated dedication with which the disciples are to prosecute the cause of the kingdom. Christian discipleship ultimately takes us to Jerusalem with the Suffering Servant of God. Therefore, nothing short of a total consuming passion will see us through.
Jesus challenges us as he challenged the disciples to move from the cultural model of power, dominion and self-preservation to the new Kingdom model of service, love and self-sacrifice. Paul echoes the teaching of Jesus by saying that he sought not his own benefit but that of others. This kernel of Christian kenosis goes against our default position of self-interest.
Like Ignatius of Loyola, we are asked to consciously live in the power of the God of love in the midst of defeat and failure. By nature, we survive by fighting and winning. But Jesus gives us a new model of living by surrendering to the process of defeat, suffering and dying. He chose the path of an antihero, a humble-suffering servant and one who was completely dedicated to God’s vision of life.
In the midst of the pandemic that has caused so much suffering and disruption, we ask ourselves where God is in this; we struggle to make sense of our Christian faith. Jesus today is presented not as a magician who could will the cross away. He is the suffering servant and a compassionate Messiah. May we have the courage to follow the example of Christ and live fully the demands of Christian discipleship. May we live the powerlessness and vulnerability of Jesus as a way to share with the suffering and to rebuild human society with kindness and compassion. Let Ignatius’ prayer ground us in the pursuit of God’s kingdom: “Give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me.”