(Some months after the common Golden Jubilee celebration in Manila, Sr. Guia Jambalos shared her Golden Jubilee with her community, friends, and associates in Davao City, where she has been working these past many years. This is the homily for the Jubilee Mass celebrated on November 24, 2013, at the Rivier Retreat House, Catalunan Grande, Davao City.)
In preparing for this homily, I asked Sr. Guia what was uppermost in her mind as she celebrates her Golden Jubilee as a sister of the Cenacle. There were two things she mentioned, for both of which she was very grateful:
First, (this was just after typhoon Yolanda struck) she felt strong oneness with the victims of the typhoon and deep compassion for them; and second, she felt grateful, privileged, and humbled by the realization that so many have welcomed her into the privacy of their lives and have allowed her, in her words. “to journey with them”.
As I reflected on her response, I began to realize how great these blessings were that she mentioned, and for which she had every reason to be grateful. I would like to share this realization with you, so that with her we may appreciate the meaning of this Jubilee Celebration.
We must begin with the work and charism of the Society of Our Lady of the Cenacle, because Sr. Guia credits the formation she has received from the Cenacle for making her the person that she has become.
The Cenacle started in 1826, in La Louvesc, France, near the tomb of a holy Jesuit, St. John Francis Regis. For a time the Cenacle was under the direction of the Jesuits. The co-foundress, Marie-Victoire-Therese Couderc, who was 20 years old at that time, desired to increase, and to attract the pilgrims to St. Francis Regis’ tomb to make the spiritural retreat of St. Ignatius. Before long, Cenacle Retreat Houses multiplied. The first house in the US was founded in 1892 in New York, and the first house in the Philippines was founded in 1968 of which I was priveleged to play a small part, and where I met Sr. Guia for the first time. From its earliest beginnings, then, the Cenacle was focused on the work of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.
All of us here have some familiarity with the Spiritual Exercises, and most if not all, have made it in one form or another. It is a very focused and precise undertaking. The retreatant separates himself from the normal routine of his life—physically if possible, but certainly psychologically. All the senses (what one sees, hears, tastes, and so on), all imagination and its accompanying emotions, all thinking and deciding are directed to one single objective: namely, that the person may strip himself of all that is not the core of himself, and thus stand before God as he truly is. And if one cuts through into the bare reality of who he really is, he realizes how puny, insignificant, and empty one really is. And yet, as one stands thus naked before God, what he discovers is not rejection but , God’s constant, overwhelming, and forgiving love so forcefully shown in the person of His Son, Jesus.
To bring a person to that realization that what he is in himself, in his innermost self –and not his riches, talents or achievements–is unconditinally loved by God; and that not even his mistakes, failures and sins can destroy that love, is the goal of the Spiritual Exercises: and from that realization is born a life-direction of returning God’s love in the service of others in imitation and union with Christ.
To help a person come to this realization is what Sr. Guia means by “journeying with a person”, and one can see what a momentous achievement that is, and what a great gift it is to be an instrument in achieving it.
For we not only jealously guard that innermost part of ourselves, but also, we ourselves are sometimes even afraid to enter it. We are understandably “busy with our lives”: we earn a living, care for our children and families, plan for the future, learn skills, develop contacts, build up resources to carry out our plans, rejoice in our successes, and regret our failures. But what is of lasting value in all this hustle and bustle, in all this “getting and spending” as the poet says? For certainly, after our all-too-short allotment of years on this earth, we will leave behind all these things, and even sooner than that, our children will leave us behind to lead their own lives! Where is the lasting value?
The lasting value is in the inner self—that core of ourselves that is shaped and formed by the decisions and actions that make up our daily lives. That self was not there when we were born, but that self is not something we will leave behind with everything else, rather it is that one thing which we will certainly take with us—because that is who we have become. That is of our own creation, and that is our lasting achievement. We are often forgetful of that inner self and even at times avoid it. And yet, that inner self is who we truly are, and that is the self that is totally loved by God.
On the one hand, then, how foolish, and how deceptive the thinking that holds us back from seeing and accepting who we truly are. In traditional theology, that would be a tell tale sign of the reality of sin. On the other hand, however, how special is the gift for a person who becomes an instrument by which another is able to enter into himself and discover God’s love for him!
The traditional term for this personal encounter of the self with the reality of God is “salvation,” but the experience itself is a deep sense of wholeness and peace, of hope and abiding joy, of an enthusiasm for life and a reaching out to others in love. It is, in short, in the words of St. Paul, the experience of a “new creation!”
No wonder Sr. Guia feels so privileged and blessed because she has been able to journey with so many of us. And no wonder, also, that after a lifetime of dealing with the inner lives of people, and seeing the commonality of our humanity when stripped of all its trappings, her own sensitivities spontaneously reach out to the victims of Typhoon Yolanda. Because her lifetime work has formed who she is today.
To be so accepted by another as to be allowed to enter into his inner self; to be a guide that can discern between truth and the appearance of truth; to be a support that offers encouragement and hope to a soul in search of itself—all this is not possible without the personal experience of the realities one is talking about. The guide herself must have made and, in fact, must continue to make her own journey to enter into herself and thus keep discovering God’s saving love. And if at one time she was blind and now can see and guide another, if at one time she was weak but is now a support for another, and if she can be so faithful that now she is trusted by another—all that, in turn, is the work not of one’s self, but of God’s grace. Like the figures in the gospels, God continues to touch her eyes that she may see, to heal her limbs that she may be strong, to be so loved and forgiven that she cannot but be faithful. And that continuing work of God’s grace is what, in the end, we proclaim in this Jubilee Celebratons—God’s saving work alive in our midst.
And so to Sr. Guia, after fifty years of being a Cenacle sister, we can all say: We, in turn, are very privileged and grateful that you have journeyed with us and have shared God’s saving grace with us.