Mass of the Holy Spirit Reflection
The Seattle Prep community opened the academic year with the annual Mass of the Holy Spirit on Thursday, September 6. Guests included many parents, members of the Board of Trustees, and staff from the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus. Provincial Fr. John Whitney, SJ, presided at the Eucharist and following communion officially installed Mr. Kent Hickey as the school’s president.
Clear and vivid descriptions filled the compelling examples provided in Fr. Whitney’s homily and Mr. Hickey’s reflections. The homily began with the story of Matthew Gabriel, the infant son of a young couple, friends of Fr. Whitney, who met as Jesuit Volunteers. Matthew Gabriel weighed one pound six ounces at birth and spent his entire life of four months in the hospital. This infant created community in his final days as a procession of family and friends visited him. He knew and responded to his mother’s touch and opened his eyes at the sound of his father’s voice. He was present to those who visited him. The theme of Fr. Whitney’s homily was that regardless of one’s age or knowledge, a person brings a community together if he or she lives the Spirit within. Young Matthew Gabriel created community.
Then Fr. Whitney spoke of how words take root in flesh and blood. Our mission is to live a life that speaks of values and service. He cited how words from the ordination rite can apply to all followers of Christ—“believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” He then described how this process is being lived by Mark McDougal, SJ, teacher and Community Ministry team member at Prep the past two years, who is now working with Jesuit Relief Services in Liberia, the West African nation torn by decades of political upheaval, violence, unrest, and poverty. Mark petitioned his provincial with a request to serve the third year of his regency, before theology studies, desiring to be more challenged in his life and ministry. Mark McDougal felt called to a more demanding form of Christian service.
The theme of Mr. Hickey’s talk was “seeing the face of Christ in others.” He began by telling the story of a Jesuit brother named Br. Rodriguez, a doorkeeper at a Jesuit residence. Research indicates this individual was St. Alphonsus Rodriguez (1533-1617), a native of Segovia, Spain, who did not enter the Society until his late thirties. Originally rejected because of his age, Brother Rodriguez was given the lowly job of porter, or doorkeeper at the home of the university’s Jesuit faculty and staff. At first, the brother was reported to have forced himself to see God in the faces of those who came to his door, but soon this became a labor of love. In his memoirs discovered after his death, St. Alphonsus wrote that each time the bell rang, he looked at the door and envisioned that it was God who was standing outside seeking admittance. On the way to the door he would say: “I am coming, Lord.” For fifteen years Brother Alphonsus served as porter. His humility and holiness endeared him to all, especially the many students who came to him for advice and encouragement, and his prayers.
In his following two examples, Mr. Hickey commented that the marvels of technology would help show faces of God. He drew attention to a large screen on which before long images and faces appeared. The first example demonstrated that goodness is not always visible. The screen first showed images of Sam, the nearly hairless California dog who gained notoriety after winning the World’s Ugliest Dog Competition in 2003, 2004, and 2005. Sam died in November 2005 but not before he helped his human friend Susie survive cancer. As Sam’s webpage states, “It was Sam and Susie's relationship that enamored them to so many. There can be love, affection and respect for even the seemingly unattractive souls of this world.”
Beginning the next part of his reflection with observations that it is not easy finding God in someone who calls us names and makes racist slurs, or perhaps because how we ourselves sometimes judge individuals by their physical appearance or social status, the school’s president then asked students to imagine a student all could easily see Christ’s face in. After a moment the face of a Prep senior appeared on the screen. This was followed by a picture of Christ which soon covered and replaced the student’s image. Mr. Hickey repeated this process with a faculty member’s picture.
Finding God in the face of others is not a new theme. Countless book chapters, homilies, and sermons have been devoted to explaining Jesus’ intent and the meaning of the Story of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25:36ff. Jesus spares few words in providing criteria to evaluate those who genuinely know and love God. He stated, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” One finds the face of God not only in those people caught in harsh and extreme circumstances: sickness, hunger, homelessness, and prison. Those who follow Jesus are called to find and respond to God’s face in those who inhabit our own worlds: children and parents, classmates and co-workers, friends and strangers.