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Guest homily: Rev. Michael Czerny S.J.

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Guest homily: Rev. Michael Czerny S.J.

Feast of St Ignatius, 31 July 2017
Cathedral of Christ the Light

Jeremiah 20:7-9
1 Cor 10:31 - 11:1
Luke 9:18-25


My dear friends, this is truly a house of God.

This cathedral is, I think, an extraordinary invitation for us to recognise God, to encounter God and to seek God’s will. Unlike the baroque style that I’m used to in Rome, this cathedral is classically Gothic, and it raises our minds and our hearts to God. We find ourselves being lifted and raised and invited to see, to recognise and to encounter God.

This lovely building also reminds me very much of one passage towards the end of the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, which I feel one can live in the cathedral of Christ the Light. St. Ignatius asks us to consider all blessings and all gifts as coming from above, from the supreme and infinite power above: “Everything descends from above as the rays of light descend from the sun, and as the waters flow from their fountains.” Thus we encounter God, the source of all. We encounter the God who is our true God. Not only is he the God of all. He wants also to be the God of our lives. It is up to us. 

"I call heaven and earth to witness against you today,” God says in Deuteronomy, “for I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your children and your children’s children.” That seems straightforward: to do good and to avoid evil are encouraged, urged, blessed. Why do we have to be told to turn away from evil and to do good? God is so respectful of our freedom that He does not force us. He waits for us to respond. Do we choose life and blessing? Do we choose curse and death? You know, I know. 

Here in the presence of God, one of the things that truly brings us together and makes of us a community, and indeed a community on pilgrimage, is the strange paradox, the mystery of human freedom, orneriness or perversity, whatever you want to call it. Why do we choose untruth? today’s fake truth? Why do we opt for curses? Why do we choose death? 

It’s a question which I cannot answer and which each of us lives with. The story of our lives is the story of that struggle between good and evil, between choosing what I want to do, and doing what I don’t want to do – of seeing what I should do and preferring what I shouldn’t, or of simply being distracted and unmindful and not worried, not attending to what is good and evil, but blithely living with what is comfortable or what is common or what everyone else seems to be doing. 

Here in the house of God, my dear friends, God invites us to respond. We might think that the only thing we need to do, as this cathedral invites us, is to keep raising our minds and hearts and seeking union with God. But because we would not see, because we failed to choose God, because we allowed ourselves to be seduced by evil, God sent his son to help us. In this cathedral, again, I feel that we are invited to meditate on a very, very central point which we also heard in today’s Gospel. Because the Christ whom we see when we raise our minds, our eyes, our hearts here is this great Christ the Lord, Christ the magnificent Lord, the Lord of all. At the same time, we have here Christ the crucified. How do these two Christs fit together? How is it that the great and glorious Christ is the crucified Christ? 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus himself says: “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. So what profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit his or her very self, his or her very soul?” Why is it that we, like Christ, must take up our cross? Why is it that God cannot manifest himself solely in the glorified Christ? This brings us back to the disconcerting question we began with: why is that we choose evil when we want to do good, why is it that we neglect the good and prefer the comfortable? Confronting evil which would rule our lives, Christ in today’s Gospel invites us: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he or she must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:18-25). 

This invitation, I feel, Pope Francis re-expresses so vividly in his teaching in our own time. He brings us into the presence of our great God, into the presence of Christ the Lord, by inviting us to follow Christ, to take up our cross in the great issues of our time, in the great concerns of our world. Because in sending his Son to redeem us, God identified himself with us, with our concerns, our challenges, our difficulties; and this occurs by the very essence of our following of God, of our obeying his commandments, of hearing his call and of becoming his people. 

Two years ago, Pope Francis published the encyclical Laudato si’.[1] Laudato si’ might seem distant from this beautiful cathedral, and yet it is not – it is not at all distant from this cathedral. It is a way of living our faith in the world. 

Laudato si’ begins (1) by asking us to take a good look at our world, at what is happening to the water, to the soil, to the air, to the climate, to the animals, to the birds, to the fish. You would think that’s something that we easily do. Yet Pope Francis needs to clarify that our purpose is to allow what God’s creation is suffering to become part of our lives: “not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it” (§ 19). For more and more people are becoming more and more vulnerable to the dangers developing in our environment. 

Then the Holy Father says, (2) Don’t look only at the world. Take a second look … at the treasure of our scripture and our tradition. See how, from the beginning of time until now, our faith has reflected on our world. Quoting St John Paul II, Christians “realize that their responsibility within creation, and their duty towards nature and the Creator, are an essential part of their faith”[2] (§ 64). In our religious tradition, we have so many resources to help us to understand the world in which God placed us – the garden which was at first Eden, where we were born. 

With these two looks -- at what is happening and at our tradition, (3) we can ask a third question: What “has gone awry, to the serious detriment of the world around us?” (§ 101). Why is our world suffering as it is? Much of that suffering is due to choices that we, as over-consumers, are making – economic choices, political choices, international choices. Choices which allow us, unfortunately, to use more than is our share, to pollute and to destroy, to contaminate. Not only are forests and oceans and rivers ailing, but also urban and rural areas have become difficult and even dangerous to live in, especially for those who are poor. 

“Since everything is closely interrelated, and today’s problems call for a vision capable of taking into account every aspect of the global crisis,” (§ 137), Francis proposes (4) integral ecology – to understand humans in the context of the full range of living, and not compartmentalized but integral. Integral ecology is ready to meet the challenges of our environment economically, socially and culturally, to face the damages and the difficulties as societies. This we need to do in our own cities and in our rural areas, and similarly in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America, where many people live in environments where it is too difficult to live with dignity, with joy and with hope. 

These are pressing concerns for everyone on the planet today and also for those who are yet to come. As we fail to share resources, we are being unfair and unjust to those on earth with us now. We are also mortgaging the future, using up the resources which our children and our grandchildren will need in order to live a dignified human life. Pope Francis, hearkening back to St John Paul II and St John XXIII, invites us to extend our solidarity to those who are coming after us: inter-generational justice. 

What if the mounting challenges would seem to overwhelm, even crush us, apparently well beyond our ability? What “can help us escape the spiral of self-destruction which currently engulfs us”? (§ 163). Here Pope Francis makes his most radical proposal: (5) the only way forward is through dialogue, and dialogue, and more dialogue. Solutions cannot be forced on one another, solutions cannot passively wait to come from on high. Only in the give and take of dialogue -- only with different concerns, different positions, different values, different traditions in dialogue -- will we find our way forward.

To the needs of our people and our world, we have integral ecology as the solution and we have dialogue as the method. Finally (6), Pope Francis invites us to make use of our tradition’s resources, and the sixth chapter is entitled “ecological education and spirituality” (§ 202). Anyone willing to take up this colossal challenge will have to be well nourished, and such healthy nourishment comes only from education and from prayer. We need to form ourselves and future generations, mind, heart and spirit, so that we can face the challenge. 

All of this is summed up in the subtitle of the encyclical, Care for our common home. We live in a common home, and that home is either a home for everyone, or eventually it will be a home for no one. We cannot have a common home and then leave people out. We cannot have a common home which provides a high standard of living to some and say, ‘Well, the rest of you live as best you can.’ A common home has to be a common home for all, as we know from family life. Everybody is not identical, but a happy family is a family of justice, of fairness, of sharing; it is not a place of privilege and of domination. In this way, then, we are invited to care for our common home. It is a way of offering praise and thanksgiving and worship to our God, this God whose presence is so transcendentally evoked by this beautiful house. We need to care for our common home. 

But our common home is not only natural or environmental, it is also the people with whom we now share this planet. Accordingly, at the beginning of 2017, I was very happy to be assigned by the Holy Father to work on the question of migrants and refugees.[3] 

This is how God addressed his people when he called them out of Egypt: “You shall treat the stranger who lives with you as the native among you and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers too in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” When God says, “I am the Lord your God” he is pledging his divinity, as it were, so that we might hear his call and we might follow his invitation. I know that the question of migrants, of the undocumented, of refugees is a very vital question in this country, and it is true in many parts of the world. There is nearly no country, today, that is not affected by human mobility. Consequently the Holy Father invites us, again with great simplicity and great courage and great honesty, to respond. “Our shared response may be articulated by four verbs: to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate.[4] 

First, (1) to welcome those who have fled from situations which we would have fled from, too, and who now would like to start a new life among us. You cannot begin by rejecting. You cannot begin to find a solution if you say, Go away, you don’t belong here, we don’t want you. We have to begin with the welcome. It’s the first, most essential, most basic thing that we can offer to another human being: welcome, you exist, I see you, you are, you are welcome – just as God in his creation welcomed us into this world. 

The second is (2) to protect. When we welcome someone, we cannot ignore their vulnerabilities. We cannot say, Well, you are welcome, but I don’t care about how you are suffering or the danger you are fleeing. Protection is the basic support that allows each human being to enjoy or exercise those basic human rights that people need in order to be, in order to exist, in order to grow, in order to communicate. They are at the basis of every civilisation, and are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These are not a list of words on paper. They are not human rights if people are not enjoying them. They are not human rights if many, or even a few, are condemned to physical and legal insecurity. 

Thirdly we need (3) to promote. People cannot be left behind, stuck in poverty or in ignorance, in handicap, in unemployment, in homelessness, in hunger, in sickness. Remedies and resources are what our common home offers to everyone, but it’s up to us to share these goods with those who are strangers and who come into our lives, into our communities. 

Finally, we need (4) to integrate, which is that wonderful mutual exchange whereby the stranger offers what he or she has to enrich us, and where we share what we have to enrich them. It may be hard to explain, but the experience is solid. Practically imperceptibly, without our noticing, they grow, we grow, they change, we change, they become us and indeed this is our common home. 

To welcome, to protect, to promote, and to integrate. I feel that these fundamentals apply not just to the movement of peoples, they also apply to our common home from the viewpoint of the environment. Laudato si’ articulates what we need to do to enhance that home and save that home and preserve it for ourselves, for everyone, now and for our future generations. For if there are many people migrating now -- about 250 million, there will only be more people moving in the future, and so it’s also wise and prudent to learn to grow with the stranger, with the newcomer, because more strangers and more newcomers will be coming. No society can close itself off and say, ‘We’re fine the way we are, we don’t need anybody new’ – that is no way for a society to live and to grow. 

Now as this cathedral is such a striking invitation to contemplate, I invite you dear friends on this feast of St. Ignatius to contemplate. A nice thing to do in Rome, visiting the rooms where St. Ignatius lived and worked, is to go out on the little balcony and look up at the night sky as he used to do and admire the stars. “This is to consider,” he writes in his Contemplation to Attain the Love of God, “how God works and labours for me … in the heavens, the elements, the plants, the fruits, the cattle etc.”[5] He saw them all as signs, invitations and intimations of God. He saw the immensity, the generosity, the creativity with which God offers us His love. 

In a similar way, not in a cathedral or on a balcony, Pope Francis also goes to meet God every evening before the Blessed Sacrament and puts everything at God’s feet and in His hands. This, I am convinced, is the source of his wisdom, his equilibrium, his sense of humour, his courage, his willingness to raise new questions and try new solutions. 

On this feast day with fellow Jesuits and friends, let us give thanks for the great saint Saint Ignatius, founder of our Society of Jesus, and for our Jesuit companion Pope Francis. Let us give thanks for Laudato si’, for showing us how to think and pray about our world, our common home – the home that we’re given to keep for those who are around us now and those who are coming later. Let us also give thanks for the Church’s ministry to migrants and refugees, for speaking up and caring for the newly arrived as strangers to become brothers and sisters. 

A few words of prayer from the end of Laudato si’ allow me to conclude. They apply to the migrants, refugees and undocumented in our midst, as they do to our natural home, the creation that God has put into our care, as they do to each and every one of us:  

Oh God of love, show us our place in this world
as channels of your love
for all the creatures of this earth,
for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.
Enlighten those who possess power and money
so that they – so that we – may avoid the sin of indifference,
so that they – so that we – may love the common good, advance the weak,
and care for this world which you have given us.

Michael Czerny S.J.



[1] http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html

[2] John Paul  II, Message for the 1990 World Day of Peace, § 15.

[3] https://www.americamagazine.org/content/dispatches/pope-francis-appoints-jesuit-and-scalabrini-priest-new-vatican-office-refugees

[4] http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2017/february/documents/papa-francesco_20170221_forum-migrazioni-pace.html

[5] Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, § 236.