Santa Clara University

Office of the President

Feast of St. Ignatius, 2013



Michael E. Engh, S.J., President 
Homily for Feast of St. Ignatius
Mission Church
Santa Clara University
31 July 2013

Prophet, Poet, and Prisoner

For the past several months, Pope Francis has captured worldwide media attention. Catholics and Christians, believers and non-believers have found his words and gestures stunning: he carries his own suitcase to the airport; he wears his old battered black shoes; he answers questions from reporters for almost an hour and a half. His simple life style, his outreach to ordinary people, his off-the-cuff comments, his daily homilies, all reveal a pope with an openness to all people.  As media people remark, this pope provides “good copy.”


Pope Francis has also repeatedly urged inclusion of the marginalized.  He has called us, as Jesus did, to turn our gaze and respond to those in greatest need.  In Brazil, the pope spoke at an addiction rehabilitation center, a place where he believes that the Church ought to be present, active, and compassionate. He visited a juvenile detention center to show that no one ought to be overlooked or excluded from our care. Asked about gay people, he replied, “Who am I to judge?”  We may all be wondering – along with certain Vatican bureaucrats -- what will this pope do or say next? So I offer three thoughts: on the Prophet, on a Poet, and on a Prisoner.


THE PROPHET. The disciples probably had similar questions about Jesus.  Jesus startled them, he excited people with his refreshing view of living God’s message, he disregarded taboos of who was considered religiously unclean or socially excluded. Jesus shook up the religious sensibilities of those who heard him as he sought to take back for the people access to God. And everyone asked, what will Jesus do or say next?


Amidst all the heightened expectations, in today’s Gospel Jesus pressed his disciples.  Ever the good teacher, he asked them directly about their belief and about their priorities. Who do they believe Jesus is? What do they really think? How are they making sense of him and what he is saying?  Not your expected Messiah. Not your ordinary prophet. Not your hoped-for leader who will sweep you up to glory and power. Something else was going on: unexpected and unpredictable, yet intensely attractive, riveting.


The disciples struggled in answering Jesus and, today, we do also. We, too, face the blunt question: Who do you say that I am?  


THE POET. Recently I received a copy of Otherwise, the selected poetry of Jane Kenyon.  In one of the final poems, Kenyon reflects on her  life. Turning to God, she wrote that God “as promised, proves to be mercy clothed in light.”  Mercy clothed in light. She was referring to her own experience, but an encounter helped her answer that question, “Who do you say that I am?”


Jesus offers that same promise to us. He commits himself to remaining with us, to inspire, to console, to encourage, to challenge.  Pope Francis reminds us of that promise of Jesus in his repeated exhortations to trust the mercy of God.  Trust that from our encounter with God’s compassion, we shall see light that we are able to extend to others in the forms of mercy, forgiveness, empathy. We are able to share light beyond ourselves to those in greatest need.


THE PRISONER.  I have reflected on these questions of Jesus at a time when one of our newly admitted law students languishes in jail. Lizbeth Mateo and eight other undocumented students brought to this country as children have protested their right to visit their families in Mexico. They left the United States and then attempted to return to their residences.  For this they have been detained by the Customs and Border Protection and jailed in Arizona; the news media has dubbed them the DREAM 9. Imagine: visiting your family is illegal.


Lizbeth’s action reveals to our campus the brokenness of our immigration laws. Her plight – and that of millions of others – awaits the attention of our government leaders as they debate immigration reform.  No matter what our political beliefs, we need to ponder what our response should be to the immigration laws today.  Which leads me to the saint, Ignatius of Loyola, whose feast we celebrate today. In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius offers us a series of meditations to reflect, to know Jesus more intimately. One such exercise poses a trinity of questions for prayer: What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What should I do for Christ? [First Week, First Exercise]  REPEAT.


As I applied these three questions to this institution, I have asked myself: What have we done for Christ, for extending mercy, for being light?  What are we as a school doing for Christ, for mercy and compassion to those in greatest need?   What should Santa Clara be doing for Christ, to be light for the marginalized and the incarcerated?


Let me conclude. Today we celebrate the gift of Ignatius of Loyola who offers a means to know Jesus more intimately. We receive the Word of God that reminds us to reflect deeply on what Christ means in our lives, how he affects our priorities and our actions. We celebrate this Eucharist in which we encourage one another to continue to love and thus honor the Jesus who is amongst us. And we do this with great hope. After all God, “as promised, proves to be mercy clothed in light.”  With God’s help, we pray to be imitators of such mercy and to live as people clothed in light.