When did you feel called by our Lord? When did you feel called by our Lord by name?
In our Gospel today, Jesus, after a night of silence and prayer, calls his disciples, and from them, chooses twelve. He calls them by name: Simon, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Tomas, James, Simon, Judas, and Judas Iscariot. After choosing and calling, Jesus, with his disciples, continued his ministry of preaching and healing. He continued to attract multitudes, drawn to his power of teaching and healing.
In my still young life as a Jesuit, 12 years to be exact, I remember my name being called by my superiors formally, in public, four times: during my perpetual vows in 2000, during my installation to the ministry of reader and acolyte six years after, on my diaconate ordination September last year, and on my presbyteral ordination last April. For each call, I, along with my companions, responded strongly: Present!
How about you, Sisters, remember the times when you were called publicly, by name? Remember the times when you proudly responded to the call, and also, did you also say: Present!
More than the public calling of our names, I think that more significant to us and our vocation stories is the time when we first heard the quiet call of our Lord, inviting us to be with Him, to know Him, to love Him, to follow Him, to join Him in His mission. The private, quiet, personal, intimate call of Jesus inviting us to a great journey, a great vocation, a great life of service. The story of our vocations.
Our Mother Foundress, our dear Venerable Ignacia del Espiritu Santo, heard the same call as a young woman, especially after going through the Spiritual Exercises, leading her to a life of prayer and service, attracting other women, forming the Beatas de la Compana de Jesus, and blossoming into a vibrant and dynamic religious congregation, the first of its kind in our country, the Religious of the Virgin Mary.
As we celebrate this triduum of the 262nd death anniversary of our revered Mother Foundress, let us remember this call, this personal call that has brought you together here, to this Congregation, joining the Lord in His mission of building God’s Kingdom.
In a particular way, let us reflect on and remember three things: One, we are called from our unique conditions and circumstances. Second, we are called into a community, to belong to a group of other women who responded to the same call. And third, we are called to follow, always, the lead of our Lord, whose ways we are called to discern.
The gospel reminds us that the call comes to our lives in unique and diverse circumstances. Remember, sisters, your own calling, how it came to your lives, the surprises and drama, the amazement and struggle, the sweetness and compelling nature of your call. I remember mine. It took the death of a Filipino Jesuit friend in Cambodia, Richie Fernando, to remind me that I still have an unfinished business, that I still have to resolve a question of a vocation, that I still need to discern more decisively a call to Jesuit priesthood. Richie Fernando’s death, tragic as it was, helped make the call clearer and sharper, irresistible, compelling; such that it left me no choice but to respond.
Or how about the call of Noynoy Aquino to run for President. Two years ago, this quiet, unassuming man – never did we think of him as heading our country. But God seemed to have given him to us as a gift, a gift of hope and light, to help our country get up again from bleakness and darkness. When his mother Cory died, our nation grieved. But when her death gave way to the possibility of Noynoy as the alternative leader we have been searching for, we were restored in hope and anticipation. Noynoy, now President Noynoy, his call – like our own calls – came in such unique and unexpected circumstances. It is good to remember and cherish these first and original calls of our lives.
Secondly, God calls us to a community. Although the vocation is deeply personal and unique, the vocation is to be lived out with others, whether we like it or not, whether the community is easy or difficult, whether community life is heaven or whether it is yes… a possible hell. Here I remember one of the world’s favorite saints, St. Therese of Lisieux. We know from her life story that community life for her was a source of suffering. Relationships were difficult. There were intrigues, suspicions, toxic feelings of envy and even hatred. And don’t we, sisters, resonate with this. No matter how mature we imagine ourselves to be, community life can be a cross to many, even to the most senior among us. It is perhaps because we are human, and we are free, and we have feelings, and we have needs, and we are all in process of becoming better. When all these factors intersect, there could be commotion and conflict. Mostly unintentional. Mostly undesired. Things just happen, even those we do not desire. And so we put structures, and we try our best. We embrace it as part of our lives, knowing that it is but necessary, it is but part of our identity.
In our Gospel, Jesus called the twelve into a group, into a brotherhood, into a community. This community created the Church we have today. I am sure the twelve did struggle together, they had differences, they had conflicts; but despite these, God created a great thing. Former Dominican superior Fr. Timothy Radcliffe says it clearly: “I am because we are.” I am, I have this identity, because of our getting together, our bond of unity, our community. Without our belongingness to each other, I lose my identity, I lose myself. The call is to be holy, and to be holy together. In the second reading, St. Paul exhorts the Corinthians to such sanctity of life, yes, as individuals, but more so, as a people, helping each other out attain the holiness and purity the Gospel teaches.
And third, and lastly, we are called to discern constantly and follow our leader, the Lord Himself. We all have a first and original call, but we also know that there are subsequent calls. Calls unfold in our lives, defining further our vocations, our missions, our desires, our ministries. There are calls to leave a place and transfer to another community. There are calls to new assignments, some easier, others more difficult. There are calls to remain where we are, and find deeper meaning there. There are calls that are clear, and calls that are vague and obscure. There are calls that are new, that make us excited, and those which we would rather not follow, but have to, otherwise Mother Superior will be angry.
No less than our Mother Foundress knew this, and lived this in her life. The first and original call to follow Jesus in solitude, alone in labor and prayer, grew, and deepened into a companionship of women of devotion and service. Never did she intend to organize a community, nor a congregation, but her passion and love for God, coupled with her pondering and discerning heart, listening to promptings of the Spirit, to the signs of the times – led her, prepared her, empowered her, to found the Beatas, inspired by the Blessed Virgin in humility, fidelity and magnanimity in following Jesus. The meek and simple lass never desired to be leader and founder of the first woman religious congregation, yet the call came from the Divine Majesty, a call that deepened from the first and original call to simply follow God in solitude and humility, a call that transformed into one that is true, humble, magnanimous, sacrificial, and discerning leadership.
As daughters of this Spirit of Mother Foundress, you sisters, are similarly invited to be passionate – and never complacent nor discouraged – about discerning your calls, your subsequent, deeper, transforming calls to new possibilities, new missions, new ministries, new ways of living, new ways of understanding your selves, deeper spiritualities, more meaningful witness of the vows, deeper embrace of the Cross, more nourishing communities. This makes the call dynamic, dramatic, even exciting. This gives the call the depth that it deserves. Because isn’t this the nature of the call of Jesus, his call as the call of new life, ever renewing life, never ending possibilities.
And so dear sisters, as we pray together in this triduum commemorating the memorial of Venerable Mother Ignacia, we beg for the graces of renewing our call, reminding ourselves of the uniqueness of our personal calling, its centeredness in community, and the constant call to discern and follow the lead of our Lord Jesus, everyday in our lives. Mother Ignacia del Espiritu Santo, pray for us.