The following homily was delivered by School President Fr. Aristotle C. Dy, SJ during the Thanksgiving Mass of Fr. Harvey Mateo, SJ at Xavier School, San Juan last 18 June 2017.
If only space permitted, we should be having this Thanksgiving Mass at the Grade School Chapel. It is a bit different now from the time Harvey was studying here, but the tabernacle and the image of the Risen Jesus there are still the ones that helped Harvey pray. His family lived quite a distance from Xavier, so to beat the traffic, he and his brothers would always arrive in school quite early. Harvey attended morning Mass even before receiving his First Communion. He learned how to serve. He traces the roots of his vocation to what was then a small, dark chapel. Of course it helped that it was air-conditioned at a time when air-conditioning was not the norm anywhere.
His older brother Jodelle, my batchmate, shared with me that growing up, Harvey was often described by his mom and others as “pinakamabait” among the three boys. He was the most obedient, undemanding, and kind child daw!
Fast forward to high school. Like everyone else, he attended the Days with the Lord retreat. After that, he made what I thought was a bold request of his mom. He asked if they could start attending Sunday Mass before going to the market. And so it was that his mom started waking him up early so they could attend Mass at 6 in the morning on Sundays! In hindsight, Harvey remembers that turning point after the Days with the Lord as growth in his devotion to the Mass. This makes today’s Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ doubly meaningful as the setting for Harvey’s Mass of Thanksgiving for the gift of his vocation. The presence of Jesus among us in the form of bread and wine has nourished Harvey’s faith over many years.
Whenever Harvey is introduced, especially in the Chinese community, inevitably it is mentioned that he is a medical doctor doing residency in the US when he decided to leave it all behind and return to Manila to become a Jesuit. There is nothing false about this statement, except that there seems to be drama associated with his decision to give up a very promising future as a medical doctor to pursue a religious vocation. It is a very interesting and fascinating story, but who really knows what led to Harvey making this radical shift in his life journey? Why did he do it? Why embark on something totally new after investing so many years in medicine?
Sure, he was with the Eucharistic Crusaders and the Christian Life Community when he was studying here. We were even together in the CLC since I was just two years ahead of him in school. He was active in the Student Council and was the first Student Principal of a program called Para Kay Kiko, a summer enrichment program hosted by Xavier for grade school students from public schools. In college, he was an active member of ICTUS, another religious organization, and also joined UP Pahinungod, a student volunteer group that sent him to Zamboanguita, Bukidnon. It was there that he encountered a Jesuit mission quite different from the Jesuits he knew here at Xavier School.
Harvey, like many others, was a very engaged Catholic. He went into medicine and pursued that career for about fifteen years before making the radical shift to religious life. Some think that he got tired of being a doctor or ceased to find meaning in it, but he says this was not the case. He saw and still sees medicine as his vocation, now a vocation within a Jesuit priestly vocation.
But why? Why offer himself to be broken and shared like the bread that becomes Christ’s body?
Each one’s vocation story is unique. There is something deeply personal about it that can’t be easily explained. Harvey shared with me a number of times that when he felt called to the religious life, it helped him to look back at others who had taken this road less traveled.
As he considered a religious calling while he was in Houston, a memory came back to him. It was his freshman year in medical school, and at the Red Mass to open the school year, the presiding priest was introduced as a graduate of the UP College of Medicine. Harvey remembered thinking to himself, “How crazy is that? To spend so many years studying medicine and then to study again for the priesthood?”
The presiding priest was Fr. Archie Intengan, and Harvey would later find out that there were seven other medical doctors who had become Jesuits. He would be in good company.
Harvey also recalled his days at Xavier, where he learned about God and nurtured a desire to love and follow Him. He recalled the Jesuits he met here and likened them to the Jedi of Star Wars. Like me, the first Jesuit he met was the saintly Hungarian, Fr. Kauffmann, he with the eternal kind smile. There was the quite carpenter, Brother Griffin; the respectable school director Fr. Zuloaga; and the formators Frs. Mena, Ortiz, Papilla, Barbero, and Cortina. Of course, Harvey said, the fact that they were all foreigners added to their mystique.
But there were other inspirations too. Several alumni had already taken this path to a religious vocation. Quite significantly, Harvey was also inspired by lay alumni who had offered their lives to be men for others by becoming educators or embracing social causes that would not make them rich men living very comfortably.
Harvey says the memory of that Mass as he started med school, and the knowledge of his fellow Xaverians who had chosen lives of service, had a great impact on his personal journey. They were crucial for him to make his own response.
And reflecting on Harvey’s journey on this day when we commemorate the Body of Christ, it reminds me that you and I, all of us, ARE the Body of Christ. We, the People of God, make up the Body of Christ. We are many individuals and communities, all trying to respond to God’s invitation, and we had a role to play in Harvey’s vocation story. What comes to mind is the understanding of the Church precisely as the Body of Christ, with many parts all carrying out different tasks, but all still belonging to the one Body.