The Twelve – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Luke 6:12-19, Tuesday of Week 23 in Ordinary Time


When I was with Ateneo Student Catholic Action (AtSCA), oh 500 years ago, we would spend all of a Friday night into lunch of Saturday – and sometimes long into the afternoon – evaluating applicants to our organization. The longer the list, the more eyebag-weekends it took to evaluate them. We’d look at each person’s profile, review the interview transcripts, talk about them. Interestingly, there was hardly a time when we didn’t crack the Bible open to a passage or two, after which we’d go off on our own and pray about our decision: Accept? Probation? Reject? A few years forward, when I was moderator of Ateneo Christian Life Community (ACLC), the officers did the same thing at the end of the year—a sleepless marathon of evaluating candidates to succeed the officers. It was as grueling as AtSCA evaluations years previous. But I’m happy to recall now that it was always prayer-driven and prayer-accompanied. Why did we do this? Why all this spiritual deliberateness on what otherwise could have been practically brief and mindless? Well, the Jesuits taught us and told us to do so. Fr Reilly had long introduced communal discernment to AtSCA even before we knew it was called by that name. Fr Joel Tabora and his predecessors had trained the ACLC officers to make their choices that way.

In the Philippines today, I wonder how long it takes seminary fathers, congregation consultors, or boards of trustees in religious institutions to make a final choice, a consequential decision. Do deliberations still happen in two places: the conference room and the oratory? Is the time spent arguing things over the same amount of time spent praying them over, attending to what Spirit has to say? When deciding fate—accepting people or firing them, for instance, or opening a new ministry or shutting one down, what do formators, consultors, trustees have in their hands? Application papers, informationes¸ statistics, petitions? We could only hope that the Good Book is amongst them, on top of them all, not just as a paperweight, but as first and last reference. And because no human evaluator is prejudice-free, what voice in his head speaks the loudest, the most compelling? Is it the Spirit’s, or one’s own, or, God forbid, the voices of hearsay? When governance finally verbalizes its yea or nay, does it come from a place of interior freedom, largeness of mind and heart? Is one’s yea or nay tempered with self-critical awareness and self-revelation, detached from one’s own treasured opinions and personal agenda? Briefly put, how much do we, as a Spirit-driven lot, really pray our decisions—and together?

From the personalities of the Lord’s Twelve, Jesus’ choice seemed quite random—different enneagram personalities: Philip might have been a Two, being concerned over how to feed the 5,000. Matthew, a One, being a tax collector concerned with precision? Peter, James, and Simon the Zealot, irascible Eights? Nathaniel and Thomas, the doubters, so Fives? Andrew and Jude, Sixes or Nines maybe, being practically invisible, but ever present. John, always at Jesus’ chest, come on, what a giveaway: cuatro! And finally, Judas, a blithe swinger from friend to betrayer, depending on which roleplay shot him ahead of the rest, a tres? But Twelve was a fantastically loaded number. The Jewish recall of Twelve was the Twelve Tribes, representing the whole of Israel. In Jesus’ imagination, however, the Twelve, in all the seeming randomness, represent the whole world, all of us, all our numbers adding up to Twelve.

Jesus spent a whole night, praying over his choice, we are told. I wouldn’t be surprised if that night was preceded by days and days of careful consideration, and listening to the stirrings of his heart, and waiting for God’s answer to, “My God, my God, whom do you wish, my Father?” And notice, when Jesus had made his choice, the Gospel promptly says, “And he came down with them and stood on a stretch of level ground,” where gathered a “great crowd of disciples and a large number of the people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon.” There, at the bottom of the mountain, not at the top, there waited the rest of the needful world. There stood the one mission, the one cause by which this motley crew, this zoo of a Twelve, must be driven from now on.

How long into the night do we still pray our critical choices, dear sisters and brothers—especially when our final decisions are critical to someone’s life, a community’s well-being? The “corporate” way of proceeding definitely saves time. It’s more expeditious. But if Ignatius were to run our deliberations, he would restore the allocation for communal prayer, the sine qua non of discernment. Secondly, how many voices do we listen to other than our own, other than voices that sound like our own? It sometimes happens that the Spirit’s promptings bedevil our personal comfort and convenience, but they lead to the better choice. Thirdly and most importantly, may our decisions be made down whatever mountain we’re roosting on, here on level ground. Descent is a favorite trajectory of Divine Movement. So, whether we’re teaching in the classroom, or running a family, whether we’re heading a choir or chairing a fundraising committee, when we’re “rectoring” a seminary or “provincialing” or “consultoring” our order, or “bishopping” a diocese—may we decide only after we’ve gotten off our perch and are back with God’s people. Because that’s where God is, mostly. That’s his favorite place.

Delivered at the Theologians Sub-community Mass, 11 Sept 2018

*image by Michael Dudash, from the Internet

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