Unfinished – Jett Villarin, SJ

Matthew 13:54-58, Feast of St Ignatius Loyola

Last day. So I’m down the wire, cramming again. There are still piles of diplomas and letters to sign. I had wanted to tie up loose ends and do a smooth turnover to Fr Bobby tomorrow. But they never really end, the loose ends and the handing over, the unfinished matter.

Which is just as well. We are never really finished. The Ateneo, the mission, our nation, the world, everything is a work in progress, incomplete. Even the universe itself is always expanding, never still, ever in flux. New worlds are being created as old worlds are extinguished. It is as if everything is unsettled, restive, unfolding, leaning forward, with one foot raised.

Even our Lord in the Gospel today is unsettled and restive: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!”

This baptism of fire that is his passion, death, and resurrection, the once-and-for-all work of redemption may have been a done deal, an irrevocable offer, but we who are baptized into that same baptism of fire, we are from being a done deal ourselves. And God is not done with us.

Which is just as well. Thank God, God is not done with us. There is hope. We may have made a mess of our lives, we may have failed ourselves, failed others miserably, failed God countless times. But we are far from finished ourselves, and God is not done with us. It is as if God were leaning forward, with one foot raised, running after us.

We can understand why God should lean forward and run after us. Every parent can understand why. In our Responsorial Psalm (Ps 139), we remember again that God made us, God formed us, that we are God’s very own, and that long before we ever came to be, God already loved us. God loved us into being. It is God’s love that comes before and after all our loves, God’s love that breaks the terror of nothing. It is this love that is liberating and life-giving.

When Ignatius Loyola discovered this love, it was like a fire inside him that could not be contained. Ite inflammate omnia. That was his marching order to his close friend, Francis Xavier, and to all those after him who were sent on mission. Go set the world on fire. Go with one foot raised, run after this world and not away from it, and set this world afire with the love of God.

This is more than just romantic fervorino. Even in this time of quarantine, we have seen our hearts catch fire despite the dark forces that threaten to dampen our desire and resolve. We have seen this fire in the loving choices people continue to make even in inclement times like this. I have felt the warmth of this fire with you, in you who continue to give without counting the cost, in the way we have ignited each other’s hope through our faith in the goodness of each other, our shared mission, and in God’s unfailing love for his people.

As I step down today, I would just like to thank you from the heart. Thank you for this once-in-a-lifetime privilege of serving with you. Thank you for your love and affection, the gift of your person and friendship and mission. Please, I hope you will always be open to believing in the goodness of your heart, open to discovering again and again how dearly you are loved by God. Find rest not only in the love you receive, but also in the love you give to others, in the love you bear for our Lord.

In August last year, when I knew it was time to let go, I wrote you:

As a Jesuit, I take all this in faith, surrendering myself to go wherever the Lord of the Harvest sends us. The Ateneo de Manila is not made from our own ambition. If we have dreams for the Ateneo, we hope they are God’s dreams as well. If we do hard work here, it is because we believe this is God’s work as well. We are blessed to be his stewards in this vibrant corner of the vineyard of the Lord.

I leave with many things unfinished. Which may be just as well. We are never really finished. Even this pandemic has no power to finish us. Nor do the dark forces that are now afoot. They have no hold over our hope; they have no power to finish us.

Love alone begins us; love lifts, heals, and sustains us. Only love in the end will finish what love has started. Only love in the end will finish us.

Delivered on 31st July 2020 in his last mass as president of the Ateneo de Manila University

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