The following homily was delivered by Fr. Xavier Olin, SJ on 23 September 2016 during the Appreciation Day celebration of the GS unit of XSSJ and on 26 September 2016 during the Appreciation Day celebration of Xavier School Nuvali.
Are you a follower?
In our Gospel story, Jesus talks about being his follower. He tells the people: If any of you want to be my followers… You must take up your cross and follow me. That sounds a little hard – carrying our cross. But it means making sacrifices, being ready to give up things for Jesus, being brave enough to do things, both small and big, for Jesus.
The saint we celebrate today, St Lorenzo Ruiz, is a very good example of how to be Jesus’ follower.
As you know, St Lorenzo Ruiz, like most of you, is a Chinese-Filipino. He is from Binondo in Manila. He is a married man and is father to two sons and a daughter. He earns a living by writing and keeping records in his parish church in Binondo. We can imagine him working hard, doing all he can to provide for his family and be a good father and husband. One day he is accused of committing a crime. And so he escapes from the Philippines and joins the Dominican missionaries who, he thinks, will sail to Taiwan. To his surprise, he finds out, when they have already sailed on the high seas, that they are actually going to Okinawa in Japan!
Now this is a time when Christianity is not allowed in Japan and Christians are persecuted and killed. When Lorenzo and the missionaries reach Japan, they are soon discovered. They are arrested, imprisoned, and tortured. St Lorenzo is told: If you give up your faith, you will be set free. You will not be put to death. But he bravely tells his torturers: That I shall never do, because I am a Christian and I shall die for God, and if I have a thousand lives, I will give up all of them for Him.
And so St Lorenzo together with his companions die for Jesus. He remains faithful to Jesus, not giving up his faith even when he is given a very painful punishment.
When we look at St Lorenzo’s story, we see that in the beginning, he does not dream of becoming a missionary. He does not really think of dying as a martyr. He does not plan to become a hero. He just wants to live a simple, peaceful, happy life with his family and be a good family man. But even through the most difficult situations in his life, St Lorenzo remains a good and faithful follower of Jesus!
So how about you – are you a follower of Jesus? Are you ready to make sacrifices for the Lord? Are you brave enough to do things big and small for Him?
How can we be good and faithful followers of Jesus at home, in our neighborhood, in school and in our community?
Let me share with you the example of Carlo Acutis, a young boy from a wealthy family in Italy. Carlo is a strong, active, cheerful boy. He loves animals. He loves being with friends. He loves riding his bicycle and going to places. He loves sports and games and his play station. He loves computers and he is into programming, comics, creating websites, and editing films. He knows many things about computers at his young age!
And this is not all. Carlo loves to pray as much as he loves to play. He goes to Mass and communion everyday. He says the rosary and keeps it in his pocket. He keeps a picture of Jesus in his bedroom. He prays every day and visits churches. He writes a spiritual diary and he does not hesitate to talk with other people about God. Carlo is also known for his generosity and kindness. In school — like you, he studies in a Jesuit school — his classmates and schoolmates like him and many come to him and run to him for help. He befriends those who do not have friends and protects those who are bullied. He keeps his leftover food from lunch to share with the homeless as he goes home on his bicycle.
In the neighborhood he is known for helping those in need: assisting the old people in crossing the street, helping beggars, children, and poor foreigners. Once, he used his savings to buy a sleeping bag for a homeless man he met on his way to Mass.
At another time, he gets angry with his mom who insists on buying him a second pair of shoes. He tells her he doesn’t need another one.
In his diary Carlo writes: To always be close to Jesus, that’s my life’s plan.
Carlo’s sincerity and goodness inspire many, including the family’s Hindu housekeeper who becomes a baptized Catholic after all his conversations with Carlo. The housekeeper fondly remembers Carlo’s thoughtful deeds, heartfelt stories and kind words.
Carlo, born in 1991, dies in October 2006, almost 10 years ago, of leukemia at the age of 15. He continues to inspire many people, young and old, all over the world. He is now being studied for possible sainthood and he might become the first techie saint.
You see, someone as young as Carlo Acutis can be a follower of Jesus — like our own Filipino saint Lorenzo Ruiz. This means you too can be like them!
Today as we also celebrate Appreciation Day, let us be good followers of Jesus by being mindful of, and thankful for the blessings we have received from God through our teachers and mentors and one another. Let us be good followers of Jesus by being thoughtful and kind, by sharing our God-given gifts with others, by blessing others with our heartfelt deeds and life-giving words.