St. Joseph Scolasticate, Ho Chi Minh City, 4 December 2018
Today, we thank the Lord that three of our brothers are making final vows in the Society of Jesus. When Lac, Thang and Son made first vows of poverty, chastity and obedience around twenty years ago, each of them also promised: “I shall enter that same Society in order to lead my entire life in it.” (Constitutions, 540). Today, after two decades, they are fulfilling that promise, and as Superior General, it is my joy to welcome them definitively to the Society.
On this day of joy and commitment, I would like to highlight three points about final vows that our reading today from the Gospel of Matthew invites us to remember. First, it reminds us of the priority of the mercy of God. The risen Lord meets the eleven disciples on the mountain in Galilee to entrust his mission to them. But we must not forget, there are only 11 instead of twelve, because one, Judas, betrayed the Lord, and in fact, all the 11 abandoned Jesus during his suffering and crucifixion. The risen Lord is entrusting his mission to weak, sinful men, who had deserted him in his hour of need. He does not hold their failings against them, but lovingly forgives them and gives them the gift of new trust.
This is the same for our brothers, and indeed, for all Jesuits. We come to the moment of final vows, not because we are perfect, or because we have outstanding talents and virtues, or because we have earned this. We are here simply because God is merciful, and in his mercy, he calls us to serve and follow him. We cannot forget that powerful declaration from the Thirty-Second General Congregation of the Society of Jesus: “What is it to be a Jesuit? It is to know that one is a sinner, yet called to be a companion of Jesus, as Ignatius was.” (GC 32, Decree 2, No. 1) The knowledge that we are completely dependent on God’s mercy should fill us, not with fear or anxiety, but with thanksgiving and consolation. Truly, as GC 36 reminded us: “At the heart of Ignatian spirituality is the transforming encounter with the mercy of God in Christ . . . The experience of the merciful gaze of God on our weakness and sinfulness humbles us and fills us with gratitude, helping us to become compassionate ministers to all.” (GC 36, Dec. 1, No. 19). So, Lac, Thang, and Son, as we recall God’s mercy that has brought you to this day, I invite you to thank the Lord for his goodness, and to continue to trust in this merciful love.
Second, in our Gospel, Jesus gives the 11 disciples something to do, but more importantly, someone to do it with. He says to them, “Go, make disciples of all nations,” but he also says, “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” In other words, mission is not simply doing something, but being someone, being a companion of Jesus, someone who walks with and works with the risen Lord, to bring his life and hope to the world.
We remember that, after his ordination in 1537, for a year, St Ignatius incessantly begged the Virgin Mary to “place him with her Son.” That yearning was finally fulfilled at La Storta, 17 kilometers outside Rome, where Ignatius had that important vision. He saw the Lord carrying his cross and he heard the Father speaking the words, “I will be propitious to you in Rome.” There, Ignatius “felt such a change coming over his soul and saw so clearly that God the Father was placing him with Christ his Son that he could not doubt that God the Father was indeed placing him with his Son.” Ignatius’ deepest desire was not simply to do God’s work, but to serve with Jesus as his friend and companion.
Four years ago, on April 7, 2014, one of our brothers, Fr. Frans Van Der Lugt, was killed in the city of Homs, in Syria. He was a Dutch missionary, who had been in Syria since 1966. When the fighting became very intense, he was advised to leave the city, but he refused to abandon the Syrians whom he had come to love. “How can I leave? This is impossible,” he said. He continued trying to help the hungry desperate people, whether Christian or Muslim. He said, “I don’t see Christians or Muslims, I see only human beings.” I heard a very moving story about him sometime before he died. One day, a young man with a gun threatened him, saying, “Old man, I will take your life.” But Fr. Frans very peacefully replied, “You cannot take my life, because I have already given it . . . to Christ.”
Lac, Thang, and Son, in a real way, your final vows is your own personal La Storta. Today, the Society confirms your offering of yourself to the Lord, and in so doing, witnesses to your being “placed with the Son” in the Society. Whatever mission you receive, whatever task the Society gives to you, may you never forget that mission is never simply doing something, but being someone, a companion of Jesus who is ready for any mission, because he has given his life to Christ.
A third, final brief point. Our Gospel reminds us that Jesus calls and sends us, not just as individuals, but as a community. Jesus entrusts his mission not to individual persons only, but to the eleven as a group. Mission in the Church is always carried out with others, working together to share the Good News. Today, our brothers who make final vows, do so within the particular community that is the Society of Jesus. They are incorporated into this community of real, flesh and blood men, with all their strengths and weaknesses. And, again GC 36 reminds us: “If we forget that we are one body, bound together in and with Christ, we lose our identity as Jesuits and our ability to bear witness to the Gospel. It is our union with one another in Christ that testifies to the Good News more powerfully than our competences and our abilities.” (GC 36, Dec. 1, No.7)
Thang, Lac and Son, in the name of all the brothers here representing the whole Society, I welcome you home. We thank you for your commitment today that reminds us too of our deepest desires, to respond with our whole selves to God’s merciful call to us to be faithful companions of his Son and of one another. May St. Francis Xavier, patron of mission and of this Province, intercede for you, so that you may always be generous and joyful in your Jesuit life and mission.