Drugi dan boravka u Hrvatskoj isusovačkoga generala
Homily at the Sacred Heart Basilica, Zagreb, March 22, 2019.
In a moment we will witness the last vows of Fathers Hrvoje and Mate, and Brother Ivan, through which they will be definitively incorporated into the Society of Jesus.
This is happening here in the Basilica dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is hard to imagine a better place, because the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, cannot be understood and faithfully fulfilled, without reference to the mystery of God’s heart, which means without reference to the mystery of God’s love.
Today’s readings, which lead us through Lent to the celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection, show us two images of God’s love: which is not discouraged by weakness or even sin, sometimes by terrible sin, of man; and which needs generous people in order to achieve its plan for all humankind.
The first picture is the story of the sons of Israel, the progenitors of the people who God chose to give his blessing. This is not a story of ideal people. The love of the father becomes a reason for jealousy, which blinds and destroys the bonds of brotherhood. This is not a distant story, because, unfortunately, in so many of our families we can experience both love and tragedy caused by jealousy and sin.
God does not forsake the sons of Israel. In a mysterious way, through Joseph, whom they got rid of by selling to Egypt, God prepares a mysterious plan through which he will save their whole family from hunger and will reconcile the conflicting brothers. The first generations of Christians quickly recognized in person of Joseph the Egyptian, the figure of Jesus, the Son of God offered to reconcile us with himself, with our brothers and with the whole world.
The difference between Joseph and Jesus is only that Jesus offered Himself willingly to offer His life in our reconciliation with God and the world.
Hrvoje, Mate and Ivan, who make their last vows in the Society of Jesus today, do so –by offering their lives in the footsteps of Jesus– to join in the great work of reconciliation between man and God, among men and between man and all creation. They make their last vows to join in the work of God’s love that moved them and inspired them with generosity. What allows you to be faithful to your religious vows once made? Only the constant renewal and persistence in this first love that comes from the heart of God himself, enables you to truly accomplish your religious vows.
The second picture that the liturgy is offering us today is a parable about wicked tenants of a vineyard. All starts with a beautiful project to create a vineyard. Its owner not only planted it, which already represents a demanding labour, but also secured it with a fence, dug a press shop in it, built a tower. It is an elaborate and demanding job to build a complete vineyard, which lacks nothing. It is enough to cultivate it and to enjoy its fruit.
It is the story of God who, because of his love for us people, created a wonderful world and entrusted it to us so that we can live our lives to the fullness of life. He entrusted it to us, relying entirely on us. The only thing that is required is that the vineyard should bear fruit, that it should be cultivated, that it should not become a wild bush or wasteland. But here, too, human weaknesses seem to nullify God’s project. There is a lack of people who can take responsibility for this vineyard and make it bring the fruits in due time. The farmers in this parable try not only to use the vineyard, but even try to take it over as their sole property.
At the end, we learn that this vineyard means the Kingdom of God. The farmers who want to grab a vineyard for themselves represent people who would like to take possession of God’s kingdom in an unclean way.
There is a passage in the gospel of St. Matthew, which indicates the relationship between religious vows and the Kingdom of God. This is chapter 19 of Matthew. Immediately after the discussions about marriage and divorce, the discussions that still occupy us today, Jesus speaks to His disciples:
[…] there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it (Matt. 19:12)
Strong words, not surprisingly, we would spontaneously like to alleviate them a little, talking about celibacy. But then we lose what is most important. Because the eunuch, in the whole of the ancient East, is not only the one who is unable to have his own offspring, but also the one who watches over the royal house, the bride of the king, the purity of the royal bloodline. Thanks to him, one can be sure that everything that appears in it comes from the king. It is therefore clearer why Jesus says this in the context of the kingdom of heaven. It is about those who will guard that the love of God, without the addition of human interests, ambition and manipulation, can be recognized and experienced by all of us. It is about men who will not, on the occasion of proclaiming the kingdom of God’s love, reap the benefits for themselves, nor will they introduce their own content giving them as God’s love. This is the sense of the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience that Hrvoje, Mate and Ivan will make in a moment in the Society of Jesus.
Pay attention to what Jesus says about them: that they do so on their own free will. Unlike those who are constrained by nature or by the will of others, those for the Kingdom of Heaven do so voluntarily.
How to explain this voluntary renunciation of marriage, of all exclusive relationships, of the right to possession, of the right to dispose of oneself, if it is neither natural nor forced? Where can the motivation to give up such a beautiful marital and family love, the right to possess and to dispose of oneself come from? After all, we are striving for all these values so much – and rightly so?
There is no other explanation than this: it is the answer to the love of God, the One who offered his Son to us, the one who takes us on his shoulders, teaches us to walk and moves us.
It is a delight with God’s love, with the heart of God that provokes a great desire to proclaim it with one’s life, not only with words. To proclaim it to all, pure without one’s own additions; through poor means, so that its richness may be visible; obediently, that is, by letting to be transformed by this love.
Dear Hrvoje, Mate and Ivan, at the end I would like to wish you always to be faithful to this love of God, which attracted you with human ties, ties of love and brought you here today.
So that you will never succumb to the temptation to reduce your vows to keep the commandments and norms. That is, chastity should not be merely a sexual abstinence, but a proclamation of God’s pure love, not yourselves. In order that poverty not to be turned into accounts of the standard of living, but that it be a trust in God’s power and an abandon to his love. So that obedience is not just a compromise, but a transformation of your heart into the model of Christ’s heart.