(Father Guillermo García-Tuñón, S.J. delivered this homily at the Senior Ring Ceremony on October 27, 2020 held in the Sanchez Field at the De La Cruz Stadium.)
When I was growing up, there were a series of sayings and phrases my parents used that would annoy me to death. It seemed that for every occasion, for every possible scenario, they would throw out something they had heard from their parents in Cuba that addressed whatever issue was at hand. Like it is with every culture in the world, Cuban proverbs cover everything from cleaning your room, behaving properly at social events, and getting good grades. It’s not good enough to just say, “Son, you have to be on top of things;” you have to say, “camarón que se duerme, se lo lleva la corriente.”
Of all these nuggets of provincial wisdom thrown at me oftentimes to this very day, the one that annoyed me the most was the one my father used most often: “Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres.” For those of you out there who may struggle a little with the Spanish language, the literal translation is, “Tell me who you hang out with and I will tell you who you are.” Every time I would ask my father for permission to go out with my friends, he would say, “Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres.” When I would ask permission to sleepover at a friend’s house, he would say, “Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres.”
Or when we found out that someone had gotten in trouble in some way, shape, or form he would say, “Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres.” My father used this phrase a lot because he was convinced that who you are as a person depends on what you do and, a lot of what you do, depends on the company you keep. My father wanted to make sure if he and my mother spent so much time working so hard to raise me right, working long hours to send us to Catholic schools, sitting down at the table together for dinner every night, and getting us to mass every Sunday, it wasn’t going to be some bad influence that would throw me off the straight and narrow. My acquaintances, my friends, the people I hung out with had to strengthen my character, not weaken it.
I now admit, the older I get, the wiser my father becomes. After so many years as a teenager spent contesting my father’s wisdom and the cute and concise annoying phrases he used to express it with, I realize he was absolutely right. Today, as an old man and after 20 years working with youth as an educator, I agree wholeheartedly the company you keep says a lot about the man that you are.
This wisdom unquestionably extends far beyond the confines of Cuban tradition and the García-Tuñón household. The truth behind my father’s most used phrase far transcends the upbringing he received. Tonight, as we gather together for this time-honored tradition of the senior ring ceremony, we take advantage and celebrate the mass of the Holy Name of Jesus. It is a mass the Church has celebrated as early as the 15th century and it is especially important for Jesuits.
You see, most people who know anything about us, think our feast day is July 31st, the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Of course, he is our founder and the first Jesuit. It makes sense that Jesuits around the world would celebrate that day as the official feast day of the Society of Jesus. But it’s not. No, our actual feast day is the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. In the liturgical calendar, it is traditionally celebrated on January 3rd, about eight days after Christmas, because it is around the time when according to Jewish law, Mary and Joseph took the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to be circumcised and officially gave him his name.
Like Catholics at baptism when the priest asks the parents before anything else what name they have chosen for their child, Jewish parents at the bris pronounce the name of their son. As we just heard in the Gospel of St. Luke, Mary and Joseph gave him the name Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb (2:21). This moment when parents give the name of their child in a religious context is huge for both Jews and Catholics alike because it is understood if parents exercise their privilege to bestow a name upon a new creation, then along with it comes the responsibility of raising him as the law of God demands.
For St. Ignatius of Loyola there was no more important name that lips could utter than the name of Jesus. Ignatius took to heart the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians, “God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every other name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (2:9-11).
Clearly, for St. Ignatius and his first companions, Jesus was at the very center of everything. They understood that they didn’t leave everything behind, radically change career paths, and did what they did for anything other than Jesus Christ. It wasn’t about teaching or countering the reformation, it wasn’t about promoting justice or living poverty for poverty’s sake. It was all about Jesus Christ and focusing their whole existence on him. If by serving Jesus they were moved to teach, counter the reformation, promote justice, and live poverty, then perfect, that’s what they would do. But the focus was always Jesus Christ.
It was this single-minded goal that led them to make a very important decision. When they realized God was calling them to form a new religious order and the time came when they needed to give it a name, no other name would do but the name of Jesus. While the disciples of St. Francis chose to be called Franciscans and the disciples of St. Benedict chose to be called Benedictines, the disciples of St. Ignatius realized they needed to take the name of Christ himself. This is why they called themselves the Society of Jesus.
I know that word “society” may throw us off. We hear “society” and think of the community that surrounds us. We think of a cohort of people with a particular structure and form of government. We also think of the problems with society and the struggles that they all have. But to truly understand what Ignatius and the first group of Jesuits meant, requires an understanding of the original Latin title: Societatis Jesu which more properly translates to the “Companions of Jesus.” It is, for this reason, our name in Spanish, Compañeros de Jesús, sounds so much better and truer to form. It is also the reason our insignia is the monogram IHS, the first three letters of the name of Jesus in Greek.
This is exactly how these first Jesuits understood themselves, they were companions of Jesus. It’s a beautiful word, con pan, in other words, the person you share your bread with. Members of the Society of Jesus are men who share bread, not simply with each other, but share bread with Jesus. And who do you normally sit at a table to share your bread with if not your friends.
“Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres.” These words were just as important for Ignatius as they were for my father and millions of Cubans 500 years later. If you hang out with Jesus, spend time with him, share your bread with him, then you can tell the kind of person you are. You must be a Christian. Being a companion of Jesus means you are committed to the values of the gospel. It means you stand up for those who cannot defend themselves. It means you speak and live the truth even when it seems the world around you wants nothing to do with it. It means you fulfill your obligations, especially when it is most inconvenient, and you serve the needs of others, especially when it is most challenging.
You, gentlemen, have spent many years now as students at Belen, a Jesuit school seeped in the tradition of St. Ignatius of Loyola. I am convinced that one of the main reasons your parents brought you to this school and invested the time and effort to keep you here, has a lot to do with the company you would keep. They wanted you to be raised and educated in a place where your companions, those who sat with you in the classrooms, ate with you in the dining hall, and played with you on the fields, were also men of strong character and sound moral conviction. They also were believers in the phrase, “dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres.”
The rings you will soon be receiving are not simply a bit of jewelry that will adorn your finger or even simply a small golden trophy that will remind you of your hard work and toil. No, these rings represent that you belong to a band of brothers whose focus must be on Jesus Christ. They are a symbol of a commitment you have to fulfill the obligations expected of every Belen graduate. Neither are these rings simply a reminder to yourself of the time you spent at Belen. They are a statement you make to the world that striving for academic excellence is not enough. They are a statement you make to the world that success cannot be reduced to the number of diplomas that hang on your wall or the size of your bank account. They are a statement that you belong to a band of brothers whose center is Jesus Christ. Jesus is our companion. It is with him and with each other that we break bread.
If there is one thing I hope for, one thing that I desire is that each and every one of you understands the significance of these rings. While it is possible that not all of you at this very moment are sold on the words I have shared with you tonight and may even find them somewhat annoying, it is my firm belief that as you grow older and life bestows on you the challenges and difficulties it all too often does, you will understand their truth and wisdom. They are true and wise, not because I have said them, but because my father, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and Jesus Christ himself did.
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.