FIRE AND FAITH AND FORTITUDE
Homily delivered by Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas during the Mass of Thanksgiving for the canonization of Saint Luigi Guanella, Saint Guido Maria Conforti and Saint Bonifacia Rodriguez held last November 5, 2011 at the Manila Cathedral.
God is the same yesterday, today and forever. But no two human beings are ever the same—not yesterday, not today, never ever. Each one of us has been created uniquely. And even if we die, our uniqueness remains with us for eternity. In the same vein, no two saints are ever alike. Each saint is unique, a unique expression of the greatness of God.
Saint Guido Maria Conforti was a unique bishop and so was Saint Luigi Guanella and so was Saint Bonifacia Rodriguez de Castro. Unique before our eyes, unique in the sight of God! God had unique plans for them too and their response to that plan was uniquely holy also. When you pray over their lives, you will see the provident hand of God guiding them strangely yet faithfully, clearly yet mysteriously, lovingly and tenderly.
And yet beyond their uniqueness, there is an invisible thread that seems to run through their lives uniting them together and making them really the same. Our three new saints are unique and yet similar in many ways.
The first among the things that make them similar is fire, fervor, passion, zeal. Indeed no one ever becomes holy without zest and passion. Walang santong tamad! Walang santang maligamgam! While most of us priests and religious complain about burn out and dullness, I believe the great ailment that we need to cure in the church is not burn out but bedsores because of the spreading devotion to Our Lady of the Pillows and Mother of Sabbatical Leave. For many of us men and women of the Church, the so called promotion of lay ministry has given us an excuse for religious and clerical laziness as now we can take our sweet time and let the laity do the work and call it collaborative and encouraging lay ministry.
St Guido, St Luigi, St Bonifacia, pray for us to God that our hearts may be on fire again.
St Guido’s heart was on fire with love as he lived his motto Caritas Christi urget nos. He received his vocation at the foot of the crucifix from which he learned his life of virtue--Christ is all things! It was this same fire and fervor that made him undertake the long uncomfortable travel to China just to console and encourage his Xavierian missionaries. Fire for the missions, fire for education, fire for the renewal of the priests of Parma!
It was this same fire for charity that accompanied St Luigi Guanella in his ministry for the handicapped and the impaired. It was fire in his heart that moved him to build that little basilica in Trionfale in honor of Saint Joseph. Fire for souls, fire for the Church, fire for the Pope, fire for the poor, fire for God, fire even for a happy death in the arms of Saint Joseph!
St Bonifacia’s heart was on fire for humility. She wanted to work hidden, unrecognized, unappreciated and unknown like the Carpenter from Nazareth. She brought great fire of faith and love into ordinary labor and helped others to find in it holiness. With fire in her soul, she prayed while working and worked while praying and wove for God a lovely tapestry of holy living. She worked on her threads and with her needles with fiery passion. For a world mesmerized by celebrities in the limelight, how admirable is her fire for simplicity!
Can you imagine if all of here would really work forty hours a week eight hours a day doing the work of God! The Philippines would be the most evangelized, the most zealous, the most vibrant Church in the world! If this is not so, it can only be because we have not really learned from the fire and fervor of our new saints.
This fire and fervor that every saint must have is blended with indomitable and unshakeable faith, not just ordinary faith but heroic faith. This faith comes with a deep sense of humility. It comes with a truly deep sense of honesty—seeing ourselves the way God sees us, not the way others acclaim us. The great poverty of our time is the lack of saints in our midst.
The vocation of the Siervas de San Jose, the spiritual daughters of Saint Bonifacia, is to discover the power of God at work among the powerless. It is to believe that work is God’s gift not a curse. It is to live the hidden life of Nazareth believing that the Creator humbly put himself under the care of His creatures. It is only by faith, heroic faith, that we can live the lessons of Nazareth.
The apostolic task of that the Xavierian priests do for the church does not begin with missionary proclamation or missionary presence. It is born from prayer, nurtured in faith, enriched by humility, lived in honesty. Faithful missionaries are not only those who endure the rigors of mission work. Faithfulness in the mission is to be full of trust, full faith that as Saint Guido always exclaimed “Christ is all things!” Faith is not just trust. Faith is not just creed. Faith is seeing as God sees, seeing Christ in all things!
The real man of faith, to whom Saint Bonifacia and Saint Luigi looked up for protection and inspiration, was Saint Joseph, the man of faith par excellence. He was faithful in the workshop, faithful on his deathbed. And God was faithful to him too. With remarkable humility so typical of Saint Joseph, St Luigi died in peace certain that his work for the poor would continue because “It is God who works!”
My dear brothers and sisters, look around you and you will see many around us who are fervent and pious, faithful and dedicated and yet despite these qualities cannot be called saints. Why? The third quality that our three saints share in common is fortitude. It is courage. It is bravery. It is valor. It is endurance. It is perseverance. Walang santong duwag. There are no cowards in heaven!
Only the brave can acknowledge that they are weak. Saint Guido bravely faced his human limitations and resigned as Archbishop of Ravenna and took on the work as Bishop of Parma. Against all odds, he promoted a religious family totally dedicated to evangelization under the protection of Saint Francis Xavier. Was that easy? Was that without trials? Was the vision always clear? Was everything smooth and successful? Certainly not! But his courage to confess his weakness was the same courage that sustained him in the trials.
Saint Bonifacia was misunderstood for starting a religious community so different from the traditional discipline. In her passion for the welfare of poor unemployed women, she was expelled, humiliated, ignored, rejected, deliberately forgotten and calumniated. Her fortitude was the fortitude of Nazareth. It was not a fortitude that pursued revenge and justice. The fortitude of Nazareth is silent suffering, it is forgiving silence.
The humility of Nazareth is not about doubting your power. The humility of Nazareth led her to see something beautiful in her calumniators and made her become endlessly, foolishly, and incredibly merciful. Real fortitude is merciful.
The fortitude of Saint Luigi Guanella came in a different form. It came as consistency in his ministry to Christ’s beloved poor ones. The best gifts we can give to the poor, the only gifts they ask from us are bread and paradise. Fortitude is consistency and constancy. Up to the very end, it was only paradise and bread for the poor that he kept on giving to all.
There are not saints without fire. No saint without faith. No saint without fortitude.
My friends, you are called to be saints. You are called to live and love like Jesus. You cannot be Saint Bonifacia. She is one of a kind. You can neither be Saint Luigi nor Saint Guido. Live as a unique person loved uniquely by God. Let us outdo one another in fervor. Let us run the contest of faith. Let us win the battle with courage.
Be on fire! Live in faith! Do not be afraid! Dare to be saints!
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The Roman Catholic
Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan
(Central Pangasinan, Philippines)