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 

Poster for the Latin Mass on 21 March 2013 for the Coronation of Pope Francis

Missa in Die Coronationis Papae for Pope Francis

Missa in Die Coronationis Papae for Pope Francis on March 21, 2013 at the Oratory of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Ateneo de Manila Universitysity, 6:00 pm.

Fr. Tim Ofrasio, SJ: Brief exhortation at the Thanksgiving Mass for the election of Pope Francis

Fr. Tim Ofrasio reads an exhortation

Fr. Tim Ofrasio, SJ reading an exhortation during a Low Mass for the Coronation of Pope Francis. The mass was held at the Oratory of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Ateneo de Manila University, last 21 March 2013, 6:00 pm.

by Fr. Tim Ofrasio, SJ

We give thanks to the Lord for having given u a new Supreme Pontiff in the person of the Holy Father Pope Francis. As he begins to carry out the Petrine ministry entrusted to him as successor of St. Peter, he needs our accompaniment through prayers that he may accomplish this urgent task in the Church.

His choice of regnal name, Francis, as he himself revealed, was inspired by the Poverello of Assisi, St. Franics. We know that in his time, St. Francis was tasked by the Lord “to repair (His) Church”—not just the Porziuncula—but the universal Church, which led to foundation of the great Franciscan Order.
From the very beginning of his pontificate, the Holy Father Pope Francis repeatedly stressed two things: being rooted in Christ poor and suffering, and humble service to the poor. He seeks to live this out literally as pope, as can be seen in his first acts after his election.

The coming days will not be easy for him, as well as for the Roman curia, for the people around him, and more importantly for all Catholics who look up to him. Many will rejoice at the informal style of his papacy, while some will be alarmed and will have feeling of dread. Already, he has been termed “the unpredictable Pope!” In the midst of all these, it is good to note, as Father Thomas Reese observes, that Pope Francis brings with him to the papacy the Jesuit spirituality that unites a person with Christ in his mission of preaching the Gospel and building the kingdom of God, a kingdom of love, of justice, and of peace. In the First Week of the Spiritual Exercise of St. Ignatius, the retreatant experiences the mercy of God, a theme Pope Francis has repeatedly stressed during his first week as Bishop of Rome. After experiencing God’s mercy and love, Jesuit spirituality asks one to be open to the Spirit, which can always surprise us, as indeed Pope Francis has certainly surprised many people. There is also a practical side to Jesuit spirituality, i.e., if one thing does not work, try something else. This will also help him as he faces the daunting tasks before him.

Laudetur Iesus Christus.

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

ALMS Low Mass 26 Jan 2012: Homily for the Feast of St. Polycarp of Smyrna by Fr. Timoteo Ofrasio, SJ

Fr. Tim Ofrasio SJ at the Oratory of St. Ignatius of Loyola 26 Jan 2012

Fr. Tim Ofrasio SJ at the Oratory of St. Ignatius of Loyola 26 Jan 2012

(Note: This homily was given by Fr. Timoteo Ofrasio, SJ last 26 Jan 2012, 6:00-7:00 pm.  The Low Mass was celebrated at the Oratory of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Ateneo de Manila University.)

SAINT POLYCARP OF SMYRNA
26 February (TLM Calendar)

Saint Polycarp (69 – 155) (Polycárpos) was Bishop of Smyrna in Asia Minor (now modern Turkey) in the 2nd century. According to the document, Martyrdom of Polycarp, he died a martyr, bound and burned at the stake, then stabbed when the fire failed to touch him.
Both St. Irenaeus of Lyons, who heard him speak in his youth, and Tertullian affirm that Polycarp had been a disciple of the apostle St. John.

With Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp is regarded as one of three chief Apostolic Fathers. The sole surviving work attributed to his authorship is his Letter to the Philippians.
According to St. Irenaeus, Polycarp was a companion of Papias, another “hearer of John” as Irenaeus interprets the latter’s testimony, and a correspondent of Ignatius of Antioch. Ignatius addressed a letter to him, and mentions him in his letters to the Ephesians and to the Magnesians.

Irenaeus claims to have been himself a disciple John the Apostle and regarded the memory of Polycarp as a link to the apostolic past. Irenaeus relates how and when Polycarp became a Christian, and in his letter to Florinus stated that he saw and heard Polycarp personally in lower Asia. In particular, he heard the account of Polycarp’s discussion with “John the Presbyter” and with others who had seen Jesus. Irenaeus also reports that Polycarp was converted to Christianity by the apostles, was consecrated a bishop, and communicated with many who had seen Jesus. He repeatedly emphasizes the very great age of Polycarp.

In the Martyrdom, Polycarp is recorded as saying on the day of his death, “Eighty and six years I have served Him; how then can I blaspheme my King and Saviour? Bring forth what you will.” Polycarp was burned at the stake for refusing to burn incense to the Roman Emperor. The date of his death is in dispute. Eusebius dates it to the reign of Marcus Aurelius, c. 166 – 167 A.D. However, a post-Eusebian addition to the Martyrdom of Polycarp dates his death to Saturday, February 23, in the proconsulship of Statius Quadratus — which would be about 155 or 156 A.D. These earlier dates better fit the tradition of his association with Ignatius and John the Apostle and Evangelist.i

Polycarp lived in an age after the deaths of the apostles, when a variety of interpretations of the sayings of Jesus were being preached. His role was to authenticate orthodox teachings through his reputed connection with the John the Apostle: “a high value was attached to the witness Polycarp could give as to the genuine tradition of old apostolic doctrine”.

In this, we sense the concern of Polycarp to faithfully transmit—to hand on—the tenets of the Christian faith as he received them from the apostles, who in their turn, received them from our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. At the risk of sounding anachronistic, Polycarp was aware of the importance of what we call today “thinking with the Church,” of fidelity to tradition with a capital ”T”.

Thinking /feeling with the Church, sentire cum ecclesia, ultimately means bearing witness to Christ—fidelity to Jesus Christ, in other words—in the Church, because He identifies the Church as His body.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, in the Spiritual Exercises, enumerates 18 rules for thinking with the Church. I could consider what he lists as the first rule, to wit, “Always to be ready to obey with mind and heart, setting aside all judgment of one’s own, the true spouse of Jesus Christ, our holy mother, our infallible and orthodox mistress, the Catholic Church, whose authority is exercised over us by the hierarchy” as the cardinal rule for being one with the Church.

Sentire cum ecclesia does not mean blind obedience, but it does mean putting on the mind and heart of our Lord Himself in dealing with people and things and issues in the Church, especially in matters of faith and worship and morality. This is also what orthodoxy is all about. It does not revel at novel ideas and concepts simply for the sake being different and being considered avant-garde. It does not discount the possibility of dialogue if there is a chance of winning back an erring member; it may work with compromise to give time to evaluate a deadlock, but ultimately sentire cum ecclesia must lead to affirming what the Church teaches and believes in because it is the Holy Spirit who indwells the Church and guides her, in fulfilment of the Lord’s promise to be with His Church till the end. One may not sometimes agree with the Church’s way of proceeding, and one may wish to clarify what one cannot fully grasp at a given moment; this is still within the range of orthodoxy and legitimate dissent. But in the end one must submit to the judgment of a higher authority in the Church.

Intellectuals in the Church may disagree with me on this point and may interpret the Ignatian rule of thinking with the Church rather liberally. I will not dispute with them, for they have their reasons based on their understanding and experience. As for me, the degree of one’s fidelity to the Lord Jesus Christ is for the most part measured by one’s faithfulness to the Church. St. Polycarp of Smyrna was willing to stake his life for what he believed in; we are likewise called to do no less.

Praised be Jesus Christ.

Notes:

i Cf. Online Lives of Saints