Homily of Fr. Tim Ofrasio, SJ: “Today’s Youth: Is There Hope for the Church?”

Fr. Tim Ofrasio, SJ celebrating the mass in Extraordinary Form in honor of St. Jerome Emiliani last 20 July 2013 at the Oratory of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Loyola House of Studies, Ateneo de Manila University

Fr. Tim Ofrasio, SJ celebrating the mass in Extraordinary Form in honor of St. Jerome Emiliani last 20 July 2013 at the Oratory of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Loyola House of Studies, Ateneo de Manila University

by Fr. Tim Ofrasio, SJ

(Latin Low Mass for the Feast of St. Jerome Emiliani last 20 July 2013 at the Oratory of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Loyola House of Studies, Ateneo de Manila University)

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

TODAY’S YOUTH: IS THERE HOPE FOR THE CHURCH?

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Reflecting on this gospel passage, I asked myself: what was in the mind of the young man that made him reject the invitation of Jesus to sell everything he owned, give the proceeds to the poor, and to follow him? The gospel tells us that he was rich and thus found it hard to part with his wealth. Was this truly the reason for his refusal, or was there a deeper reason that prompted his negative reply? And what if this invitation of Jesus were extended to a young person of our time, what would the reply be?
As I was toying with this question, I thought about consulting a survey made some years ago on Filipino youth by McCann-Erickson Philippines in partnership with GMA-7 and Trends-MBL, one of the leading market research agencies in the country. The study was commissioned by the Ateneo de Manila High School in order to better understand the Filipino youth. It was a nationwide study covering urban areas in Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao, using a statistically projectible sample of 900 respondents, aged 13 to 21 years old from class A-B-C-D homes. All respondents were chosen randomly using multi-stage probability sampling methods. A synopsis of the youth study reveals very interesting highlights. As I was perusing through the report, I was looking for what it had to say about the idealism of youth; their capacity for self-transcendence, or at least their desire for it; their desire to do great things for others, and for God. What did the survey yield? Listen to this:
With regard to values, the survey revealed a widening of gray areas between right and wrong among today’s youth, a phenomenon that is probably reinforced by the various circumstances that the youth today have to contend with in their everyday lives. For a good number of young people, for instance, abortion represents a very tangible option that they would consider under certain situations. They feel that with the financial difficulties their parents are going through, having another mouth to feed is the last thing they would need in the event of an unwanted pregnancy With harsh financial realities, they know that there is no one to rely on but themselves. As one respondent puts it, “Kung mabuntis ang girlfriend ko, isa na namang palamunin sa bahay. Hihinto ako sa pag-aaral at magta-tricycle driver. Magiging tricycle driver na lang ba ako habambuhay? Hindi pwede ‘yon!” It is noteworthy that the survey says nothing about young people’s commitment to a cause or to a value higher than themselves. I thought, perhaps that will be revealed by the persons they hold in high esteem; the young are an impressionable lot, and it is normal for young people to have idols. And so, I checked:

Who are the models or icons of the youth? The study reveals that many, if not most of the people they consider their models or “idols” are showbiz and sports personalities, both local and foreign. It is significant to note that not one mentioned a priest or a church dignitary, not even Jesus Christ. Then, I thought, maybe the section on aspiration and ambition will reveal something. This is what the survey said:

As for ambition in life, the youth want to land good jobs. Many want to be professionals: engineers, lawyers, CPAs, or teachers. Some also want to be part of the healthcare industry: nurses, doctors, or physical therapists. A good number also want to join the police force, become entrepreneurs, or live life as a seaman. Technology-related professions are also being considered by a good number of the youth. About 6% say they plan to join the I.T. industry as computer engineers, programmers, or systems analysts. Not one of them mentioned a desire to serve others as priests or religious Sisters. It seems that ambition in life among the youth is very much attached to making money; financial gain and security is the goal.

Certainly, we need not take the results of the youth survey as gospel truth. For one, it is in the nature of surveys such as these to come up with general statements and projections based on gathered data. If we base our conclusions on the Filipino youth on the result of the survey, it would seem that we in the Church have already lost them. But that is not true, as you yourselves can attest to. And granting that the survey results are true, our situation is much better than in other, more developed countries.

Going back to our gospel reading, if the invitation of Jesus were posed to a young person today, based on the survey we have just reviewed, the most probable answer would be, “I am sorry, Lord, but I would rather be a lawyer or perhaps a doctor, or a systems analyst, because there is no money in your trade. I cannot live and enjoy a comfortable life if I accept your offer. I’m sorry.” Or, perhaps he or she would accept the offer to follow Jesus, provided there is something to be gained from it.

Perhaps I am being too simplistic. After all, if a census were to be taken of young people in seminaries and convents all over the country, we could say that a good number of Filipino youth still consider the priesthood and religious life a viable option and a noble vocation.
But the reality remains that at present many of our young people find it really difficult to see beyond the passing gratifications offered by the culture of our technological age. What does the Church have to say to this phenomenon? Are we able to reach out to young people and inspire them to look beyond the fleeting comforts of today to an ideal—a person—beyond themselves worthy of their commitment? Can we even inspire them to consider commitment? Marami sa inyo mga bata pa kung ihahambing sa aming mga senior citizens. But unlike the young man in today’s gospel, you are serious about your relationship with the Lord. Some of you may even be thinking of giving His invitation a try. And because you yourselves are young, you can resonate with the youth: I challenge you to help us, your elders, bring back the fire of idealism into the heart of young people by the very witness of the life you lead: a life that is lived for others—like St. Jerome Emiliani, the saint we honor in this Mass—who lived a life that did not consider what can be received and gained, but rather a life that finds its joy and meaning in consuming it for others, for Jesus Christ and the reign of God on earth.

Laudetur Jesus Christus!

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Poster: Latin Low Mass in honor of St. Jerome Emiliani on July 20, 2013

Latin Low Mass in honor of St. Jerome Emiliani, 20 July 2013

Latin Low Mass in honor of St. Jerome Emiliani, 20 July 2013, 8:30 am, Oratory of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Loyola House of Studies, Ateneo de Manila University 

Latin Low Mass at the Oratory of St. Ignatius on 19 July 2012, 6:00-7:00 pm

Ateneo Latin Mass Society poster for July 19, 2012 mass

Ateneo Latin Mass Society poster for July 19, 2012 mass

Low Mass on 21 June 2012, 6 pm at the Oratory of St. Ignatius of Loyola

Ateneo Latin Mass Society Low Mass June 21, 2012

Ateneo Latin Mass Society Poster for Low Mass on June 21, 2012

Altar of the Oratory of St. Ignatius of Loyola in Loyola House of Studies, Ateneo de Manila University

Oratory of St. Ignatius of Loyola

Low Mass on 22 March 2012 at the Oratory of St. Ignatius of Loyola

Low Mass on March 22, 2012 at the Oratory of St. Ignatius of Loyola

Low Mass on March 22, 2012 at the Oratory of St. Ignatius of Loyola

“The footwashing ritual and the Sacrament of Holy Orders: a look at John 13”–a homily by Fr. Tim Ofrasio, SJ

Fr. Tim Ofrasio, SJ during the 01 Mar 2012 Latin Mass at the Oratory of St. Ignatius of Loyola

Fr. Tim Ofrasio, SJ during the 01 Mar 2012 Latin Mass at the Oratory of St. Ignatius of Loyola

THE FOOTWASHING RITUAL AND THE SACRAMENT OF HOLY ORDERS: A LOOK AT JOHN 13

by Fr. Tim Ofrasio, SJ

(A homily given last 01 March 2012, 6:00-7:00 p.m. during a Latin sung mass at the Oratory of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Loyola House of Studies, Ateneo de Manila University.  The mass is for the Feast of Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest.)

The Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, which is the Gospel we have just heard proclaimed, is reported by Matthew, Mark and Luke in the Gospels they wrote, but John, who is supposed to be an eye-witness at the Supper, is surprisingly silent about the Institution. Instead, he gives a detailed account of the footwashing and the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus.

What did John see in this event that was so important that he felt it necessary to record these actions over and above the actions surrounding the First Mass—the Last Supper itself? Some scholars contend that the footwashing recorded in St. John’s Gospel is in fact a veiled allusion to the Sacrament of Holy Orders, and that the washing of the apostles’ feet symbolically marks their transition from being mere followers to being priests of the New Covenant.

Several clues in the text itself lead scholars to this conclusion. The footwashing event takes place “during supper”—the Last Supper—and at that point “when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas … to betray him. The “hour” of the Passion has come. Adding to this overall picture, the text next says: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded” (Jn 13, 3-5).

As He begins to wash the feet of the apostles, Jesus meets some resistance from Peter (Jn 13, 6-11). Peter’s resistance here mirrors his resistance to Jesus’ prediction of His Passion in Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 16, 21-13). But Jesus’ words are clear: if Peter is not “washed,” then he can have “no part” in Him. Peter’s response is typically overstated and melodramatic: “not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus’ answer to this is curious in itself: “He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over…”

What does all of this mean? The easy interpretative option here, and the one chosen by most commentators, is to see the footwashing almost entirely as a social gesture – something humanitarian. Jesus humbles Himself and serves the needs of others, and this is the moral/social lesson He wishes us to learn from His good example. It cannot be denied that this kind of interpretation can be extracted from the text, if it is the moral sense of Scripture that is being looked for.

However, the words of the Lord seem to point beyond this meaning: “What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand” (vs. 7). After what? In itself the phrase is vague… but the meaning is probably the same as in John 12, 16: “At first the disciples did not understand these things; but when Jesus had been glorified, then they recalled that it was precisely these things that had been written about him and these things they had done to him.” 1

Jesus hints that what He has done in the footwashing will not be understood by the apostles until after His glorification, a mysterious statement that tends to make one think that the true meaning of the footwashing is somewhat deeper than simply, “love one another and serve one another.” The apostles could have figured that out, it would seem, apart from any extra grace given after Jesus’ glorification. No, there is something about the aftermath of His Passion, Death, and Resurrection that will shed light on this footwashing ritual.

In a scholarly article entitled “The Foot Washing in John 13,6-11: Transformation Ritual or Ceremony?”, Jerome H. Neyrey, S.J., argues that the footwashing was actually a “status transformation ritual.” He rightly points out that the weighty words passed between Our Lord and Peter point to a meaning that goes beyond mere meal etiquette – this is not just an act wherein Jesus cleanses some dirt from the feet of the apostles so that they can properly eat the meal. Rather, this is something of great importance, so much so that, Jesus says, if Peter refuses to be a participant in the ritual, he can have “no part” in Jesus.

Neyrey also points out a significant fact about the words used by Jesus to communicate this ultimatum to Peter: the presence of the keyword “unless,” a presentation of the Divine “if/then” (e.g., if I do not wash you – then, you will have no part in Me)

This kind of ultimatum has been used in John’s Gospel before, in similar “status transformation” situations: for example – Unless (if) a man is born again of water and the Spirit, (then) he cannot enter heaven (Jn 3,3-5). The reception of the ritual changes his status from that of “outsider” to “insider.” Unless (if) a man eats the flesh of Christ and drinks His blood, (then) he has no life in him (Jn 6). Again, participation in the ritual brings about a change of status – the one who once had “no life” in him now has eternal life. In this light, consider again what Our Lord says to Peter: “if I do not wash you, (then) you have no part in me” (13,8).

This suggests to us, given the way the word has been used by John thus far, that what is taking place in the footwashing ceremony is some kind of status transformation ritual – a ritual that will find the apostles at their current status, but will elevate them to a new status.

The Levitical instruction concerning the Day of Atonement sacrifice (which the Letter to the Hebrews takes for granted as the kind of sacrifice which Jesus offered on the Cross) is also interesting. In Leviticus 16, we read: “Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting, and shall put off the linen garments which he put on when he went into the holy place, and shall leave them there; and he shall bathe his body in water in a holy place, and put on his garments, and come forth, and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people, and make atonement for himself and for the people” (Lv. 16,23-24).

The High Priest was constrained by the Law to wash himself in water before making the atoning sacrifice, and it is interesting to note the order: he takes off his garments, performs the washing ritual, puts the garments back on again, then makes the sacrifice. In John’s account, Our Lord follows this exact order: He takes off His garments (vs. 4), performs the washing ritual (vv. 5-11), puts the garments back on (v. 12), and then goes on to endure His Passion. Isn’t it odd that John should have included the details of Jesus taking off His garments and putting them back on again, if he did not have Leviticus 16 in the back of his mind?

There is a difference between the Levitical ritual and the ritual performed by Jesus in the Upper Room: in Levitical Law, the High Priest washed not only his feet, but his entire body, whereas in the Upper Room Jesus makes a point of only washing the apostles’ feet; and in Levitical Law it was the High Priest who washed himself, whereas in the Upper Room Jesus does not wash Himself, but His apostles. This difference strongly encourages the interpretation that it is precisely by having their feet washed that they come to share in the priesthood of Christ.

We may look again at Christ’s words to Peter: “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me”(v. 8). Could it be that what Jesus says to Peter, “you have no part in me,” refers to the office of the priesthood? The word parallels in the texts strongly suggests this.

Finally, it may be objected that the Church teaches us specifically when the apostles were raised to the priesthood, and it makes no mention of John 13 or of the footwashing ritual. Rather, the Council of Trent identifies that moment as follows: “If any one says, that by those words, ‘Do this for the commemoration of me’ (Luke 22,19), Christ did not institute the apostles priests; or, did not ordain that they, and other priests should offer His own body and blood; let him be anathema.”

Are we not then going against the Church teaching to suggest that the ordination of the apostles as priests took place during the footwashing ritual, as opposed to when Jesus commanded them to “do this” in memory of Him? The resolution to this apparent conflict lies in recalling that John does not relate the details of the Last Supper in the same way that the Synoptics do. In his Upper Room narrative, there are no words of institution, and Jesus never uses the phrase “do this for the commemoration of me.” Rather, John tells the same story from a different angle, using the ritual of the footwashing as a kind of stand-in for the Last Supper narrative.

The Council of Trent taught that the apostles were made priests by the words of Christ, “do this in commemoration of me.” This command to do the very thing that He has just done in offering up His Body and Blood in the Eucharist finds it complementary parallel here: after the footwashing ceremony, Jesus tells the apostles to do as He has done.

It could, then, be understood that John’s “do this” in relation to the footwashing is the mystical and Johannine counterpart to the “do this” of the Synoptic Gospels in relation to the actual offering of the Eucharist.

The footwashing ritual then is, in all probability, a “status transformation ritual,” which in this case underscores the apostles’ changing of status as they are elevated to the priesthood. In the Old Testament, footwashing is a prelude to biological fatherhood (cf. 2 Sam 11, 8-11), which can be understood in this instance as the disciples’ preparation for spiritual fatherhood. The ritual of washing was practiced by the High Priest just prior to his offering of the atoning sacrifice, and Jesus’ washing of the apostles’ feet just prior to His offering of the sacrifice signifies their inclusion and participation in His own Priesthood.

It may be added, as a point of confirmation, that the Church has certainly underscored the link between the footwashing ritual and the Sacrament of Holy Orders, and this is precisely why, when the Church re-enacts this ritual on Holy Thursday, the rubrics prohibit women from taking part in the ceremony. Men alone are to be symbolic stand-ins for the apostles, not just because the original apostles were men (after all, women can be disciples of Christ as well, if that were all that this liturgical action intended to convey), but because only men can be priests. Thus the Church sees that allowing women to have their feet washed in the Holy Thursday liturgical ceremony would violate the male-only Priesthood.

This could only be the case if the footwashing ceremony in John 13 is intimately related to the Sacrament of Holy Orders. By having their feet washed, the apostles entered into a participation of Jesus’ priestly ministry, became spiritual fathers, and were elevated to the Priesthood itself. Let us briefly reflect on this thought on this holy season of Lent.

Praised be Jesus Christ.

1 Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John, Anchor Bible, vol. 29A. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, p 552.

Ateneo Latin Mass Society: Votive mass in honor of Jesus, the Eternal High Priest on 1 March 2012, 6:00 pm.

Votive Mass for Jesus, the Eternal High Priest at Ateneo de Manila University

Votive Mass for Jesus, the Eternal High Priest at Ateneo de Manila University