AGAINST THE WIND: BLESSING OF THE XAVIER ROCK

The Oratory of St. Francis Xavier before the blessing (Photo by Karol Yee)This homily was delivered at the blessing of the Oratory of St. Francis Xavier on 09 March 2013 in Xavier School Nuvali built in memory of John Gokongwei Sr. and Juanita Marquez-Lim Gokongwei.

We’ve never had a chapel before. I mean in all its 57 years of existence, Xavier School has never had a full-blown school chapel. Neither of our first two campuses–not the first one in Echague nor the one in San Juan–had the benefit of an entirely separate structure just to house a chapel. But today, thanks to our benefactors, we finally have an oratory for the very first time in the history of Xavier School, here in Nuvali.

You see, this oratory, which we have named after our beloved patron saint, was conceptualized by Architect Bong Recio as a rock.  That is why its physical structure is unlike any other on campus–or any building on any campus, for that matter. In case you haven’t noticed yet, this chapel has an intriguingly irregular shape: No two walls are identical in size or angle. And that is also the reason why on this sanctuary, the altar, this lectern, and the tabernacle–all these are rocks hewn and handpicked from Mount Sangat of Norzagaray, Bulacan.

Of course, the vision for the chapel goes beyond just the physical: It has also been inspired by the Rock of St. Peter. In the same way that the Rock of St. Peter symbolizes the foundation of our faith, so too this Xavier Rock, as we have begun to call it, was designed to represent the foundations of what Xavier is all about: Who we are and what we are about.

Let me first talk to you about the crucifix on the altar for this, after all, is really where it all begins. Our crucifix is artist and alumnus Carlo Tanseco’s contemporary interpretation of the Santo Cristo dela Sonrisa still found today in the family chapel in the Javier Castle in Spain. As a child, Francis Xavier prayed with his family before the smiling image of Christ. The original Smiling Christ of Javier is an unusual 13th-century life-sized crucifix showing Christ on his last breath but with a serene smile playing on his lips. Even as he hangs on the cross, Christ anticipates his resurrection and promises us our own.

The altar with the LIGHT OF THE WORLD crucifix, lectern, and tabernacle (photo by Tina Puno)

Our own crucifix here is a larger-than-life 3D stained glass structure showing a smiling and wide-eyed Christ gazing down upon us. But it is also the Cosmic Christ reigning over the wu xing (五行)–the five Chinese traditional elements of the universe: wood, water, metal, earth, and fire. Someone enthusiastically suggested calling it the Fengshui Christ of Xavier, but for reasons you’ll understand, we rejected that suggestion and opted to give it a more politically correct name. We’re calling it “Light of the World,” inspired by our school motto “Luceat Lux” or “Let our light shine!”

If you look around the oratory, almost every space and corner, certainly every window tells a story. Thanks to the vision and work of the artist, this oratory has been turned into a bejeweled rock, one studded with shards of colors and images. It really serves for us as a repository of stories—stories that define us and tell us where we’ve been and where we’re headed as a community.  Some of these stories are well known, stories that every grade schooler in Xavier has heard repeatedly and learned by heart; others still need retelling. But whether familiar or new, they make up our collective history in Xavier.

Like many Xaverians, I was in grade school when I first heard the story of the cannonball that broke the leg of that Spanish soldier who later called himself Ignatius of Loyola. On that special day every December, I learned about Francis Xavier who boarded a galleon to head for the East and worked tirelessly as a missionary, a crucifix in one hand and a bell in the other, to gather the children whom he baptized one after the other until his right hand would go numb. And of course, who can forget that famous legend that recounts how Xavier lost his crucifix at sea one stormy night only to have it miraculously found and personally delivered back to him by one very honest crab?

There are many more stories to tell such as the lesser-known accounts about Matteo Ricci, Adam Schall, and the generations of Jesuit missionaries who pursued Xavier’s unfulfilled dream of going to China. It is best to let the windows, each one painstakingly and prayerfully designed by our artist, tell you the stories.

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But among the 21 windows, there is one that for me holds the key to making sense of all the other stories: It is that corner window over there that shows Ignatius of Loyola as a pilgrim in Manresa. There in Manresa Ignatius found God in a most special way, and there he underwent the key experiences that would shape his mission and define his spirituality.

On the bottom panel we see St. Ignatius in a cave, surrounded appropriately by stalactites. Kneeling before the Madonna and Child, he is composing the Spiritual Exercises, where he shares with us his most significant experiences. The Spiritual Exercises forms the bedrock of his spirituality, and its most important themes are expressed so eloquently in the lower windows that shimmers around us in the Oratory.

But on the top panel of the same window, we have Ignatius outside the cave, braving the elements. If you examine it in detail–and if you have 20-20 vision, you might discover a hidden Latin inscription: “Contra ventum tibi ambulandum est.” It means: “You need to walk against the wind.” The line does not come from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius or the letters of Francis Xavier or any other Jesuit sources, but it does capture the spirit behind our stories, the spirit of the people in our history who were not content simply to go with the flow but who walked against the wind in order to bring Christ to others.

All his life Ignatius braved the winds. After he was well enough to walk, he left his castle and sword and set out limping in search of his vocation, driven by one important question: “What ought I do for Christ?”

In his mission to the East, Francis Xavier sailed against the tide and went against every advice so that he could bring the Gospel to the remotest villages in India, the most dangerous tribes in the Moluccas, and the most uncharted regions of Japan.

In China, Ricci, Schall, and the generations of Jesuit missionaries after them went against popular Catholic missionary convention, refusing to preach fire and brimstone. Instead they discarded their black robes and put on the Mandarin garb, and opening their minds and hearts to the Chinese, they learned the language, embraced the culture, and befriended the Chinese people. That is how the seeds of the Gospel in China were sown.

And what of us? How did we get here? How did Xavier School end up on this beautiful new campus in Nuvali? We too are here because of people who have dared to walk against the wind.

Over 50 years ago, a group of Jesuit missionaries found themselves exiled from China. They landed in these shores, rubbing the sleep off their eyes, but unable to shake one dream away. It was the same dream that had first driven Francis Xavier to the very edge of China, and the missionaries that finally made it there. Instead of waiting around disheartened, they raised what limited resources they could get their hands on and accepted the invitation from the local Chinese community to open a school for Chinese boys in an old converted warehouse in Echague. They broke the mold of the Chinese mission by deciding to evangelize the Chinese outside the Mainland, and they broke the mold of what a Chinese-Filipino school should be.  Since then, Xavier School has been trying hard to live up to this tradition of wind-braving and mold-breaking.

Xavier School Nuvali is the latest of these attempts. The dream is that 25% of the boys and girls here will be on scholarship, and based on our projections for next school year, thanks to our committed leaders and teachers, and most especially to our generous benefactors, that dream will already be fulfilled.

The Xavier Rock against the Nuvali skies (Photo by Cres Yulo)

As we gather today here in this Oratory, we give thanks to the Lord for the light and colors of our history. These stories define us and tell us why we do what we do in Xavier and for Xavier. And the lesson they offer us is clear: If we want to follow Christ, if we want to continue with the mission He has entrusted to us, the mission to “go and make disciples of all nation,” it will simply not be enough to go with the flow, to play it by the book, or to subscribe to any and every popular convention. Today, more than ever, it will require braving the elements, even going against popular opinion and conventional wisdom. True, sometimes this might break our hearts, but once in a while, we might also break the mold.

Let us pray that God will grant us the grace to pursue the dream that He has designed for each one of us by giving us the strength and the courage to walk against the wind.

The Xavier Rock by night

 

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