December 31, 2019
Homily given by Rev. James Donohue, C.R. at Phillip Justinian, C.R.’s Perpetual Vows: December 8, 2019, The Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, at Jordan University College Chapel, Morogoro, Tanzania
Fr. Jim: “Tumsifu Yesu Kristo!” Congregation: “Milele Amina!” (Translation: Praise by Jesus Christ! Forever and ever, Amen!) God has a plan for us. This plan has been in place for all eternity. This plan is a most wonderful plan. This plan guides all that God does with us and for us. The plan is simple but awesome: God’s plan is that we will be with God. God made us so that we can share life with God. There was a catechism in the United States before the Second Vatican Council—called the Baltimore Catechism—that had a large number of questions and answers to help people to learn their faith. One question was: “Why did God make me?” The answer reflects God’s plan for us: “God made me to know, love, and serve God in this life so that we can live with God forever in the next life of eternity.” This is God’s plan. Wow!
Our first reading indicates, however, how difficult it is for us to cooperate with God’s plan. The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden is really a story of how they are called to trust in God’s plan—trust that God can bring about this plan in God’s way and in God’s time. It is interesting that in the Genesis story neither God nor the author of the story indicate WHY Adam and Eve should not eat from this one particular tree. In the story, this command stands as an indication that Adam and Eve are creatures—that is, they do not know everything—and that, therefore, they have to TRUST in God, the creator.
They are tempted to think that God is keeping something from them and that they can, in fact, be lords of their own lives…that, really, they can bring about God’s plan in their own way and time, instead of trusting in God’s way and God’s time. So, they GRASP what God freely wanted to give them. The story reveals quickly how, as creatures who follow their own plan, the right relationships that God intended for them are exchanged for broken relationships with God, with each other, and even with all of creation. This story, of course, is repeated in our own lives. Like our first parents, it is very difficult for us to trust in God’s plan and not try to take control in a way that suggests that we know better…that we are the lords of our lives.
The good news is that in spite of humanity’s inability to trust in God, God has not given up on us. The good news is that God can still bring about God’s plan—for us to be with God—despite our sinfulness. That is why we call God “Almighty.” Yes, God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, etc. but what makes God “Almighty” is that God can bring about God’s plan DESPITE our sinfulness. God will, of course, never coerce or force us to follow this plan; it will always be accomplished by way of invitation. And this is what God has done in the history of our salvation. God has, throughout history, beginning with Abraham, invited people to participate in this plan, invited people to say “Yes” (“Ndiyo”) to God and God’s ways, despite how odd and even difficult it might seem from a human perspective.
Today on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, we celebrate the “Yes” (“Ndiyo”) of Mary when God invited her to participate in the plan to unite us with God. Her “Yes” (“Ndiyo”) enabled God to take flesh and to model for us what it is to trust in God. Philippians 2 captures this when, speaking about Jesus, notes that “Though he was in the form of God, he did not grasp (unlike Adam and Eve) equality with God, but rather emptied himself, accepting even death on a cross.” Mary’s act of trust in God enabled God to come among us so that God’s plan would be realized. One 4th and 5th century Greek Father after the other noted that God became human so that we could become divine! This is incredible. But even today, at every Mass, the priest repeats words that echo this astounding plan when, pouring a little water into the chalice of wine, he says, “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” What a plan! God became human so that we could share in God’s divinity! And Mary’s “Yes” (“Ndiyo”) made this possible!
Now this is the point in the homily that you might expect me to talk about Phillip’s “Yes” (“Ndiyo”). But, before I do this, I want to acknowledge another “Yes” (“Ndiyo”) that has made Phillip’s “Yes” (“Ndiyo”) possible. I will need Phillip to help me here as I would like him to translate some words for his mother and family who are present with us today. I would like to ask Phillip’s mother to please stand. I want to thank you for the “Yes” (“Ndiyo”) of you and your late husband. You gave birth to Phillip and you raised him to be a good man who is genuinely willing to engage with others to help those less fortunate and to help lead others to God. You taught him to pray, opening up for him a way of life that has led him to this moment of perpetual profession of his vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. You have cared for him, nourished him, encouraged him, and loved him. On behalf of everyone here, I want to thank you and your entire family for all the ways that you have said “Yes” (“Ndiyo”) to God in these actions towards Phillip. You have done a great job!
It is within this context of many family and friends who have spoken and lived their “Yes” (“Ndiyo”) that Phillip has responded in kind. And like others who have sought to follow God’s plan before him, Phillip has had to learn to place his trust, not in his own plan, but in God’s plan. Why? Well, because, quite frankly, the vowed life seems a little crazy. Phillip is committing himself to give up the pursuit of the accumulation of material goods. Phillip is committing himself to give up sexual relations with a particular person, as well as the fruit (children) of this relationship. Phillip is committing himself to follow the will of others in significant matters concerning his life instead of deciding everything on his own. It takes a good deal of trust to think that God can bring about God’s plan for Phillip in the midst of so much “cost.”
However, Phillip has decided to trust the view of the gospel instead of the view of the world. The world tells us that happiness comes in filling up ourselves: acquire as many good as you can; be fulfilled sexually, even promiscuously; and make your own choices, for after all, who knows what is best for you but YOU! On the other hand, the gospel tells us that happiness comes in emptying ourselves: to lose our self for the sake of the gospel, to become the least, to become the servant of all. Jesus asks us to trust that this paradoxical way of life is the one that will bring us true happiness. It is to this plan that Phillip has decided to say “Yes” (“Ndiyo”).
It is important, of course, to mention that many religious throughout the centuries can give witness that this plan was worth trusting in. Indeed, there are costs—there are, after all, costs in all that we do in life—but there are also tremendous blessings. Phillip, you will not acquire monetary wealth and numerous possessions, but you will become rich in your relationship with God, and will experience a deep fulfillment in the knowledge that you have made a difference in the lives of others. Phillip, you will not have one particular person to commit yourself to, but in vowing to love whoever God puts into your life, you will have
HUNDREDS, and maybe THOUSANDS, of people who love you deeply because you have loved them deeply. Phillip, you have decided not to make important decisions on your own, but through obedience to the way of life enshrined in our Resurrectionist Constitutions, you will grow deeper in the knowledge of God’s unconditional love for you, of the paschal dynamic operating in your life, of our charism of hope, and of the privilege of sharing community with others who also have been given this same charism of our founders by the Holy Spirit. And, as you continue to place your trust in this vowed way of life, we pray that the Spirit will continue to work within you, accomplishing, as St. Paul said, “more than you could ever ask or imagine.”
Phillip we are grateful for your “Yes” (“Ndiyo”). Our prayer is that you will continue to say “Yes” (“Ndiyo”) each day, conforming yourself ever more closely to the Risen Christ. And, our prayer is that through this “Yes” (“Ndiyo”) you will inspire and affirm the “Yes” (“Ndiyo”) of your Resurrectionist brothers and all the people with whom and for whom you are called to serve.