Espoused to Christ

Fr. Guillermo M. García-Tuñón, S.J. | President
(Father Guillermo García-Tuñón, S.J. delivered this homily at the Senior Ring Mass on October 16, 2018.)

Tonight, we celebrate a long-standing, rich tradition in the life of a Belen student. Since our very beginnings, seniors have gathered at the school to celebrate a Mass and receive their class rings. It goes back many, many generations and Belen has been so faithful to it, that not even the design of the ring has changed much. Sure, the rings you receive tonight will have a different year, but if you were to look at the ring of the oldest alumnus, you will see that it has basically stayed the same.

This is important I think. In a world that is always on the move, always changing and developing, there is a sense of peace in knowing that there are some things that remain the same. There are some things that unite us because they transcend time and culture and place, corralling us into a special fraternity whose very center is the Belen experience. No matter where or when you attended Belen, either in Cuba or Miami, in the 19th, 20th or 21st centuries, the mission of Belen to instill in its students the values of Jesus Christ, the love of God above all things and love of neighbor as self and to educate leaders who make a real change in the world, remains always the same.

Tonight, we gather in this central patio and give thanks to God for the class of 2020. We initiate this group of 204 seniors into a special fraternity that has withstood the test of time. We write them into a lineup of formidable players in the hopes that what they do with their future is nothing less than homerun material.

And we do this on a day that the Church celebrates the feast day of one of its many superstars. Today, October 15 is the memorial of St. Teresa of Avila, one of Catholicism’s greatest saints. She not only significantly influenced the Church as a religious and reformer; she also impacted the literary world with her beautiful poetry and prose. Designated a doctor of the Church because of her theological insight and writings, she also penned verses of such extraordinary beauty, such profound thought and feel, that she is hailed as one of the greatest writers of Europe and likened to giants such as William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes.

St. Teresa of Avila was born in Spain in the early 1500s at a time when the Church was challenged not only externally by the Protestant Reformation and severe political and social unrest, but also challenged internally by the corruption of many of its members and the degeneration of several religious orders. It was not easy being a Catholic, much less a nun. Teresa was undeterred and saw this simply as an opportunity to deepen her relationship with Jesus Christ and make a significant impact. She understood that in the midst of the unrest, she was called to make a change, to reform the Church she so passionately loved and, in turn, change the world to which she clearly belonged.
It took a lot of courage. She had to overcome the limitations of her surroundings, the cultural and religious biases of being a woman, and the inevitable insecurities that haunted her. Despite all of those obstacles, she did all of this by clearly understanding what mattered most. She got to the very core of her purpose and that determined everything. Teresa understood that everything was about her personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Everything about her was about him. She loved Jesus, trusted him, surrendered her life to him, and worked daily to deepen her relationship with him. Once that was clearly set and she was convinced that all things sprang from it, she fought her way towards making a powerful statement that over 500 years later continues to inspire.

This is the reason why the Church so wisely chooses today’s Gospel reading for this great saint. We hear Jesus tell his disciples that he is the vine and we are the branches and he encourages them to remain in him as he remains in them. Please understand that the words of Jesus are not meant to simply be figurative or poetic, they are not meant to leave us with a warm fuzzy feeling nor are they intended to be filed away as the words of just another wise and wholesome prophet or guru. No way. These words are meant to be taken for what they are. They are a proclamation that Jesus is God made man and, that as God, he is everything. Jesus is sovereign and supreme and because of it, without him, we can do nothing.

Did you hear that part? Without him, you can do nothing.

Those are pretty bold words. They are words of a madman if not issued from the mouth of Jesus Christ. The statement is absolutely bold and real. The implications are outstanding. And no one else can say that. The world has been blessed with extraordinary leaders, men and women who have set an example of what is to be good morally, politically, and socially, but none of them can make a statement like the one Jesus makes in today’s gospel. Extraordinary people like Moses, St. Peter, Buddha, St. Ignatius of Loyola, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Theresa of Calcutta and Nelson Mandela, lived amazing lives, but none of them could claim what Jesus claims. None of them would have dared say that without them we could do nothing, but Jesus can and Jesus does.

Sure, you can deny Jesus, you can abandon him, you can be indifferent, but ultimately any good that you do, any service, any act of kindness or justice can only be done with him and in him. That’s the point. Like the sun that shines and lights up the world and heats it day and night whether we see it or not, whether we believe it or not, Jesus is there. In the words of St. Paul, in Jesus all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him, all things hold together (Colossians 1:16-17).

This was at the very core of Teresa of Avila. This is to what she was committed to. She actually understood herself as married to Christ, as his bride, devoted unconditionally to him. Listen to the words of one of her poems:

I am Yours and born of You,
What do You want of me?
Sovereign majesty,
Unending wisdom,
Kindness pleasing to my soul;
God sublime, one Being Good,
Behold this one so vile.
Singing of her love to you:
What do You want of me?
Yours, you made me,
Yours, you saved me,
Yours, you called me,
Yours, you awaited me,
Yours, I did not stray.
What do you want of me?
In Your hand
I place my heart,
Body, life and soul,
Deep feelings and affections mine,
Spouse – Redeemer sweet,
Myself offered now to you,
What do you want of me?
Give me death, give me life,
Health or sickness,
Honor or shame,
War or swelling peace,
Weakness or full strength,
Yes, to these I say,
What do you want of me?
If You want me to rest,
I desire it for love;
If to labor,
I will die working:
Sweet Love say
Where, how and when.
What do You want of me?

Gentlemen, you too are espoused to Christ. The rings that you will soon receive are a symbol of that commitment. Like a bride and groom who wear their rings as an outward sign of their commitment to each other, your rings will signal your commitment to everything that is good and holy and right. It is a statement that you understand that without Christ, you can do nothing. After several years of receiving a Jesuit education, you are obliged to be faithful to the gospel values that have been instilled in you at home and here at Belen.

The fact is, the world today is not much different than in the time of Teresa of Avila. Today there are challenges not only externally in the world of politics and the social order, but also internally in our Church with the corruption of many of our members and the degeneration of several religious orders. It is not easy being a Catholic.  Do not be disheartened. Like Teresa of Avila, see this as a challenge, an opportunity for change. See this as a way of demonstrating that you are worth your salt. You have the tools necessary to make an impact, to reform the world and transform it into something good and holy. I beg you, as one who also wears this great ring of honor, do not do the ring an injustice by wearing it simply as a symbol of your time spent at Belen. Let the ring be a powerful testament of your commitment to Christ and the potential you have to be a force for good in the world.
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Belen Jesuit Preparatory School was founded in 1854 in Havana, Cuba by Queen Isabel II of Spain.  The task of educating students was assigned to the priests and brothers of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), whose teaching tradition is synonymous with academic excellence and spiritual discipline.  In 1961, the new political regime of Cuba confiscated the School property and expelled the Jesuit faculty.  The School was re-established in Miami the same year, and over the next decade, continued to grow.  Today, Belen Jesuit sits on a 30-acre site in western Dade County, only minutes away from downtown Miami.