Homily given by Fr. Dick Hadel, SJ for the Mass celebrated in honor of the Jubilarians of Jesuit Hall
October 11, 2022
I stand before you today to speak not only for myself but also on behalf of all the jubilarians of the St. Louis area.
I consider it a great honor to be invited to reflect on our lives in the Society. Any one of these men could be up here instead of me. But here I am and so I would like to take this opportunity to reflect prayerfully on the life I know best, my own. I will attempt to do so as if I am praying the “contemplatio ad amorem” – the final and perduring exercise of St. Ignatius’ spiritual exercises. I will try to become aware of God’s active love in every moment of my 87 years. It is like the daily examen; while the examen focuses on only one day, the contemplatio focuses one’s entire life
If someone were to ask me what a Jesuit is all about, I would answer that a Jesuit’s job, in its simplest terms, is to help others make the contemplation on God’s love for them in their own lives.
The first moment of importance in my own life – apart from birth itself – was my baptism. at the age of two weeks, I was carried to St. Francis Xavier Church in Kansas City and was baptized by Fr. Thomas Jefferson Smith, SJ, on the feast of the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
On that day, the Lord made a covenant with me and I with him. We promised each other to be faithful forever – the Lord to me and I to the Lord. In baptism I was immersed into Christ, into his life and into his death, ritually going down for the third time, and rising with him by coming up out of the water. Christ’ life and mine henceforth were inextricably intertwined.
As a child of four, I was usually seated next to my dad in the pew at Mass. I had no understanding of what was going on up on the altar, but I would watch my dad’s face and see that it was really important to him. And so, it became important to me as well. God was at work in me through my dad.
In fourth grade several events of note occurred. First, I was confirmed. I was able to speak for myself and take ownership of the baptismal covenant, at which my godparents spoke on my behalf.
Secondly, one day during that year, a Dominican priest came to talk to us about religious vocations. When he finished his pitch, I raised my hand and asked, “Where do you go to become a Jesuit?” To this day I ask myself where that came from. Was someone – Someone spelled with a capital ‘S’ – putting words into my mouth?
Finally, around that same time, the mother superior of the BVN nuns, our teachers, visited our classroom. My job was to open the door for visitors. When she left, she turned to me and said, “You’re going to be a priest.” I understood her words, but not the import. God was actively at work in my life.
Unwittingly, my mother also played an important role in this drama. She regularly laundered, starched and ironed the white cassocks my brother and I wore serving Sunday Mass.
During my high school years vocation took a back seat to school activities, with two exceptions. One was daily Mass attendance in the high school chapel prior to classes. The other exception was Friday night basketball with several Jesuit scholastics in regency, followed by ice cream and banter and lots of laughter.
I once said to the young Jesuits: “You guys laugh at anything.” At which, of course, they laughed. Subconsciously, I thought a Jesuit vocation would result in playing basketball and eating ice cream for the rest of my life. Well, I was half right anyway.
In an attempt to shorten this already too lengthy narrative, in my senior retreat at Rockhurst High, I asked Fr. Justin Schmitt, SJ, how to apply for the Society. I applied and, on acceptance, told my mother. Her response: “They accept anybody.” She told me I was too young; she was right. As (Jesuit Fr.) Ralph Houlihan quipped: “We grew up in the Society,” adding at once, “It wasn’t a bad place to grow up.” No, it wasn’t.
At the time of my ordination, my dad told me something I never knew, that my mother had grieved – translate wept – for two solid years after giving her son to the Society of Jesus. It was then that I realized my vocation was not merely my own. It was my parents’ vocation as well. I was called to the Society of Jesus; they were called to give their son to the Society. They had given me life and love. They had given me food and clothing. They had given me an education and a loving, nurturing home. But last of all, and most difficult, they gave me up.
At this point I am inclined to stop and beg pardon for burdening you with so many insignificant details of so insignificant a life, were it not for the fact that I am not speaking of myself merely but of you as well.
I am speaking of (Fathers) John Foley and John Folzenlogen. I am speaking of all jubilarians, indeed, of all Jesuits. I am speaking of all people … of Vladimir Putin and Pope Francis and of the nameless peasant in a South Sudanese village. For the Spirit of the Lord has come down on each one of us like the dewfall: gently, imperceptibly, slowly and surely. It has left on each of us an imprint of God’s loving presence. What possible response can we make but one of immense gratitude, and to proclaim with Mary the words of her Magnificat: “The Lord has done great things for me; holy is God’s name.”