This is a guest post by Andrij M. Hlabse, SJ, who is in Brazil for Magis and World Youth Day 2013. He’ll be sharing several reflections over the course of the events.In the past week I have joined the MAGIS experience group “SP04,” which is shorthand for our destination city, SÃ¢o Paulo, group four. With youth from the delegations of France and Belgium, Bolivia, the United States, and Brazil itself, we embarked on an immersion of art and culture. Our work at a local daycare center—under the guidance of VÃ¢nia, a fine arts teacher from Colégio SÃ¢o Francisco Xavier, where we were staying—involved mornings of art projects with needy children and adolescents and afternoon trips to museums to learn about Brazilian culture and history. (These trips served the children as much as us pilgrims, because these children have little opportunity for this kind of enrichment.) These activities plus daily morning prayer and evening reflection made up the regular rhythm of our “experience.”
Today I would like to tell you about a special event that stood out to me during the course of our time in SÃ¢o Paulo. SÃ¢o Paulo was founded by the Society of Jesus, and the site of the founding is a Jesuit church. The city began from this center and spread outward into what today is the largest city in all South America. I visited the site of this founding for a special Mass along with the rest of the MAGIS pilgrims who were working in SÃ¢o Paulo. On the exterior wall of the church is a plaque commemorating the founding of SÃ¢o Paulo, and in loose translation its beginning read, “Here, under the Cross of Christ, was born the city dedicated to the Apostle Paul…”
What especially struck me was the phrase, “under the Cross of Christ.” What a daring and wonderful phrase! I found it both deeply consoling and provocative. What does it mean to say that a whole city, or anything for that matter, is truly founded “under the Cross of Christ”? My reflection led me personally to the following considerations.
First, that to be under the cross of Christ implies a total conviction and commitment to the truths of our faith. After all, it was on account of revealing these truths that Jesus himself died upon the cross. To be under the cross with Jesus is for me to stand with him in an absolutely unconditional way. But how different anything founded with an absolute conviction in these truths turns out to be! Any city, family, nation, or vocation that springs from the truth of the Gospel must possess a radically different quality than anything founded on the world’s standards—a total fidelity to God and to love of every neighbor.
But this commitment often leads to contradiction and suffering, which was the second portion of my personal reflection. Inevitably this kind of commitment calls me “to the end,” that is to the very final efforts and moments of my life, as it did Jesus. To be under the cross of Christ includes an unlimited willingness to serve God and neighbor, not just in rhetoric, but in truth. Perhaps not coincidentally, “under the banner of the cross” is also the phrase St. Ignatius himself used in describing the Society of Jesus in the foundational document of its charism, the Formula of the Institute.
Finally, I thought, what are we called to found under the cross of Christ today? Many examples came surging to mind: families, schools, societies, classrooms, relationships, jobs, and more. This phrase and its implications touch upon every follower of Christ. In my own case this week, it has involved founding relationships with Brazilian children, with an international host of pilgrims, and with local volunteers. It has also caused a desire to deepen the foundation of my personal vocation, one day to be a priest in the Society of Jesus, “under the Cross of Christ.”
For these reasons I spent much of that Mass feeling inspired to serve Christ and the Church in a deeper way, and at the same time more profoundly aware of my need for his grace to make this possible.