Wednesday, August 17, 2005—Homily at First Catechesis
[Animator Joan Sweeney, Ottawa, Canada]
[Texts: Galatians 5:16-17, 22-23a, 24-25; Psalm 23; John 16:12-15]
We have just reflected on the search for meaning in life and how it is found in its fullness in Christ Jesus. The story of the Magi shows how surrendering to Christ in obedience to God’s leading from on high. The Wise Men, astrologers from the East, like us Gentiles seeking after truth and goodness reverenced Christ when they found Him as the newborn King of the Jews. And they surrender themselves totally in reverence and obedience.
What became of them? The poet T.S. Eliot has the Magi ask, as they look back at the end of their lives to that encounter with the Christ Child:
...Were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
Yes, there is a dying to oneself when one encounters Christ. But it is not one that disheartens but that truly energizes, what Edith Stein referred to as the Science of the Cross, the reality we live out in our own personal lives as we surrender to Christ.
Francis Xavier was a Spaniard from Navarre in Northern Spain. Early in the sixteenth century he went to the University of Paris, one of the finest educational institutions of his day, to acquire the skills that he felt would help him undertake a career in the church that would give him a life of comfort and ease. He wanted “work” in that church that would prove satisfying. But among the people he ran into in the university world was a Basque named Inigo, a former knight from Loyola whom God had touched and given the capacity to lead others to be set free from their egoism and pride to serve the Church free of every disposition that was not directed to God’s glory, even God’s greater glory.
The man whom we know as St. Ignatius Loyola saw in Francis Xavier’s ambition a thirst for great things that was momentarily directed towards less rewarding goals. He badgered Francisco with Jesus’ words in the Gospel, “What would it profit someone to gain the whole world and to lose his soul, his very self?”
In other words, what would happen if you got all you ever dreamed of and still it wasn’t enough, you had lost your sense of purpose, you had lost your very self? Francis surrendered to Inigo and made what we now call the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola, a way in which the gospel became not words in a book but a living reality in his life. He surrendered to Christ and ultimately became perhaps the greatest missionary after St. Paul. In 2006, the Church will observe the 500th anniversary of his birth.
The life of Francis Xavier exemplifies the way the Holy Spirit works in us, making the gospel message come alive within us. Jesus promised in the passage we just heard proclaimed, “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth”. Not a truth that is abstract but one that becomes real in us. The Holy Spirit will transform each of us—and all of us together—as He has throughout history with the great renewal movements. This the Spirit did for twenty-six years in the life and witness and challenge given us by the life of our beloved Pope John Paul II. Our deceased Holy Father was able to make real in the lives of young people—but not only in them—the gospel call to live a life of authenticity and truth.
St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians how we may verify if the Holy Spirit of Jesus is truly the guiding force of our lives. The fruits of the “enemy of our human nature”, a great description that St. Ignatius gives to the Devil, are visible in the dead end directions to human lives that end in sadness, despondency and frustration that we see all around us and some of which may still lay claims on (you can read the whole messy catalogue in the verses just before). Just, too, the fruits of the Spirit are manifest in a joyful and loving outlook on life, something that we trust and pray will be ours in abundance: peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Let us pray that these will be the spiritual realities found in all who leave World Youth Day after our encounter with the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, who will open for us the call of the Holy Spirit in the world in which we live today. God bless you all!