Dr. Paul Barker | Good Counsel President
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
This Friday, we will celebrate Mass for the Feast Day of St. Francis Xavier, patron saint of Catholic missions and the patron of the Xaverian Brothers.
St. Ignatius Loyola is said to have bade farewell to Francis, saying: "Go forth, and set the world on fire." And he did. The stained glass in our chapel reminds us with a beautiful depiction of Francis, the zealous and inspired missionary, gazing toward the heavens, surrounded by flame. His missionary voyages took him to Mozambique, India, Malacca (modern-day Malaysia and Indonesia), and China. And in 1549, Francis was the first Jesuit to go to Japan.
By coincidence, a group of faculty and staff have formed a book group to discuss Silence, a 1966 novel by Japanese author Shusaku Endo. That choice would be pretty obscure if it weren't for the fact that famed director Martin Scorsese has adapted the novel for the screen and the movie is to be released around Christmas, in time to be considered for next year's Oscars. Silence is the story of two Jesuit missionaries sent on a dangerous mission to Japan in 1638. They follow in the footsteps of Francis to investigate reports that Fr. Cristovao Ferreira has renounced his Catholic faith after undergoing torture. The young priests cannot believe it possible that their beloved mentor and fellow Jesuit could have apostatized. What follows is a story of capture and cruelty and the sternest examination of faith. I recommend the book and am eager to see the film.
I re-read Silence over the Thanksgiving break and its strong link to Francis Xavier made me wonder what we, as a school community that is proud to call itself Xaverian, draw from his example 464 years after his death. What might it mean for a student, teacher, staff member, administrator, alumnus, parent in the early 21st Century to "set the world on fire?"
That's a tough question and theologians would, no doubt, be able to write volumes in response. Within the limitations of a blog posting, I offer this brief observation.
This is a year where we have chosen the spiritual value of humility for special emphasis at Good Counsel. We can take a step towards setting the world on fire when we are mindful of our graced and sinful humanity. It is central to the Good Counsel mission to inspire students to excel but we know that achieving excellence is seldom easy. When we embrace humility, we develop a deeper understanding of what it is to be human. We appreciate that each person we meet is, just like us, a unique combination of gifts, talents and triumphs, but also weaknesses, limitations, and failures. We draw comfort from the fact that Jesus himself experienced weakness, hardship, desolation, suffering, and betrayal; he shares our needs and sorrows. One of my colleagues, Religion teacher Dino Remedios says it this way: "Jesus not only shares in our suffering and hardship of life but meets us there and lifts us up from that very brokenness to the Father who loves us and has a plan for us. In other words, God meets us where we're at but because He loves us, He doesn't leave us there! It is precisely humility that allows me to be receptive to the infinite mercy of God and to be merciful like God."
Perhaps, when we develop a deeper grasp of humility, we are better able to feel with others and, when we need to, to walk with others. It is easy to imagine how much better daily life would be, how much better our school would be, if each of us could let go of the unhealthy judging of others that impedes human relationships and paralyzes the building of community. Humility can lead us to the love of God and the God of love; it has the power to set the world on fire.
"Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."