Friday 6 November 2020

Humble Influence

Over the last week we have had the feast of a relatively unknown Jesuit saint – St Alphonsus Rodriguez, and earlier another feast of a saint in similar circumstances, Blessed Francis Garate. I think we can learn something from these two about how we deal with other people.

Alphonsus Rodriguez was born in Spain in 1532. He married and had children, but his wife, Maria, and all three children died when Alphonsus was in his 30s. He had previous contact with the early Jesuits, notably St Peter Faber, and he desired to enter the Society of Jesus, but his lack of education prevented him from becoming a priest, despite following Ignatius’ example of trying to restart his education at the Jesuit College at Barcelona in his 30s, but unsuccessfully.

After some delay he was finally admitted into the Society of Jesus as a lay brother on January 31, 1571, at the age of 40. After his novitiate, Alphonsus was sent to the Jesuit College at Majorca, where he remained in the role of doorkeeper or porter for 46 years. As door keeper he welcomed visitors, consoled the sick at heart and distressed, and gave advice to the troubled. He influenced thousands of students and visitors by humbly listening, advising, supporting and praying with them. Among others was St Peter Claver, whom he encouraged to go to the missions in South America and minister to the slaves.

Jump three hundred years. Francis Garate was born in 1857 at Loyola, Spain – in the shadow of the Casa Loyola where Ignatius recuperated and underwent his conversion. He joined the Society of Jesus as a lay brother. For ten years he cared for sick students with great kindness and generosity at the Jesuit school in La Guardia, Spain, and then he moved to Bilbao where he served as doorkeeper at the University de Deustro for almost a half a century. Like St. Alphonsus Rodríguez, Bl Francis Gárate was welcoming to all who came to the University. He offered students listening, encouragement, advice and consolation, and made sure that those who were hungry had food and the poor had clothes. His own life was marked by prayer and extremely simple living. His influence on generations of students was enormous. The tiny room next to the door from which he welcomed all is now a small chapel dedicated to him. Former students have shown great devotion to Francis who showed great love and support for them.

These two lay brothers encourage me to think about my own conversations and interactions with others. Let me encourage you also. They had an enormous influence for good by their quiet listening, encouraging, praising, thanking and praying with others. How often in our conversations do we, consciously or unconsciously, try to make ourselves the focus of the conversation? How carefully do we listen and respond to what others are saying? Are we sensitive to what they are trying to tell us, or do we ignore it and move on quickly to what we want to focus on? How often does a word of praise or acknowledgment for others come from our lips? These two lay brothers, with neither teaching nor sacramental ministry nor any other service that would be seen as important, had an enormous influence for good on others; never underestimate what we can do by listening, by praising and thanking, by praying with and for others. And of course, by avoiding of any negative or hurtful comments either to or behind the backs of others.

During the week we had the Ignatian Service Assembly, at which the Patrick Rodgers Memorial Award for Ignatian Service post-school was awarded to James Tracey, as developed in more detail elsewhere in this Viewpoint. I add my congratulations to James and wish him all the best and blessings for his future.

We come towards the end of HSC exams; let us continue to pray for and support those still with exams – one of the most difficult things is to keep focus on late exams when all around you are celebrating finishing!

Blessings to all.

Fr Gerry Healy SJ