Friday 28 November 2014

“Lord, when did we see You?”

Last Friday the Annual General Meeting of the Old Ignatians’ Union was held, which I attended.  Two days later was Sunday’s Feast of Christ the King with its Gospel of the ‘sheep and goats’ last judgment story.  The account presented of the Union’s outreach and service throughout the last year prompted me to offer this homily at the Boarders’ Mass on Chapel Sunday.

We all know that Gospel story so well.  “When I was hungry, you fed me.  When I was a stranger you welcomed me.  When I was sick, you visited me”, and so on.  But on Friday night, I heard a different version of that Gospel.  Same story, same values, same expectations.  But I would call it a 2014 Riverview Gospel.  Not given by a priest, a pastor or a preacher, but by the outgoing President of the Old Ignatians’ Union, Tim Gavan.  At the Annual General Meeting, he listed the year’s achievements of the Old Boys of this school.  And this is how I could hear people, in my imagination and in my own words, speak of the way this group of men, these Old Boys who so love their old school just as you do, had responded to the needs about them:

“When I was an indigenous or refugee student at Riverview, you offered me a mentor as a guide to stand by me through the difficult patches.

“When I was a young Old Boy and wanted to help the current students on an Immersion for Year 11 boys, you subsidised me to go.

“When the Riverview Bursary fund needed assistance, you raised money running the barbeques at the Rugby and the Gold Cup Regatta to ensure a boy, whose family never imagined he could come to ‘View, could find a place here.

“When I was a tertiary student, you helped support the Cardoner Project, at Jesuit House in Broadway, to give me a community to be part of, and guidance to become the kind of Ignatian I always want to be.

“When I left school, you organised a team of staff and old boys to help me transition to studies and employment, when it seemed too tough or overwhelming.

“When, as a Riverview graduate struggling with the costs of accommodation while I studied, you heard of it and started plans to establish an inner-city residence.

“When I was an Old Boy and found myself in prison, you made sure there were Old Ignatians who visited and kept in touch with me,  so I didn’t feel so abandoned.

“When I was homeless on the streets of Sydney, you supported Teresa House and De Porres House in the inner city where I lived at night.  You came and cooked for me, sometimes with your sons.  You ate with me so I really felt that someone cared.  You always stayed the night, in case there were any sudden emergencies.

“When my world was limited to the back lanes of the city, the cramped living, the clamour and the danger of my surrounds, you gave me space and helped me to feel of use, building and growing things on Cana Farm near Penrith.  You welcomed me and my children to the Cana Holiday Camp at Riverview.

“When I was a refugee, fleeing from the turmoil of my home in the Middle East and came at last to school at Loyola College in Mount Druitt, your brother school, you offered bursary assistance so I would not go without essentials for learning.

“When I was a student in one of the newest Jesuit schools, Santo Inácio de Loiola in Timor Leste, you funded a young Riverview Old Boy to stay with us, to share his life with us and generously assist us.

“When I was an orphan primary school student in Uganda and one of your young Old Boys established a school for us, you continued to help fund that Manjeri project so that my future was assured.

“When I was in any way in need in Cambodia, China, India, Myanmar, Timor Leste, Pakistan, Thailand or the Philippines, you Old Ignatians were partners with the Australian Jesuit Mission, especially raising funds at the Indian Bazaar at Riverview, to ensure I was not forgotten.

“When I needed someone to stand up for my rights, to be my advocate, you continued to form the minds and hearts of your Riverview graduates, in the workplace and in society, through your Just Leadership programme.”

All those Old Boys on Friday night once sat in this chapel, like you.  They worked at desks in classrooms here, just like you.  They were on stage or on the oval or on the river, just like you.  And like you, they were formed to be ‘men for others’.  They learned from Ignatian service and on immersions that God was so easily found in the company of the poor.  They understood that line from the Gospel that “from those who have been given much, much more is expected of them”.  That is, with all their gifts, their talents, their resources, their blessings, came an obligation to take a stand for those who are on the edge, who are marginalised, who are exploited or forgotten.  They had the seeds of social justice planted in their minds and in their hearts.  Those seeds are now bearing fruit – and such a bountiful crop!  That is why they are men who are making a difference.  That is why each knows the sort of man he wants to become.  Large-hearted men, compassionate men, men of deep goodness and of integrity.  That is why they take today’s Gospel very seriously.

Somewhere between two and six years’ time, you will join the ranks of that generous band.  God willing, your values will be shaped by a Gospel story like today’s.  You will be the ones to make a difference.  You will want your lives to be spent in the service of others.  Authentic Riverview men.  And, thereafter, another Jesuit will be standing in this pulpit, where I am now, telling your story and saying how proud he is of you.

Fr Ross Jones, SJ