A Grateful Heart Knows How to Serve – Homily on the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola

Fr. Ro Atilano, recently ordained Jesuit priest, delivers the homily for the Feast of St. Ignatius Mass at Xavier School (photo by Christian Haw, XS Media Team)

The following homily was delivered by Fr. Roseller Atilano, SJ during the Institutional Mass in honor of the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola at Xavier School San Juan last 31 July 2017.


Good morning, my dear young gentlemen.

I am Fr. Ro Atilano, SJ. Together with 3 other Jesuit priests, I was ordained last June 3, 2017 on my 37th birthday, the best gift ever.  So I am still a baby priest – 1 month and 28 days to be exact.   I am very happy to be back here once again. I was once here as a deacon and I gave the homily during the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  I thank Fr. Ari and Fr. Xavier for inviting me to celebrate this Eucharist on the Feast of our great patron and hero, St. Ignatius of Loyola. This is my also my first Mass here in Xavier School San Juan, so this can also be a thanksgiving mass for me.

Today, I would like to share with you about service.

I love superhero movies. Who among you loves superhero movies? Thor Ragnakok is coming up in November, and Avengers Infinity Wars next year! Of course, there is also the much-awaited Justice League.  Wait, let me do a survey. Who among you here are Team MCU fans? How about Team DC? I believe that there are two reasons why we love superhero movies. First, superhero movies are about saving the world, helping the weak, and serving others. And second, we want to do the same, don’t we? Perhaps this is also the reason why we want to become heroes ourselves, don’t we? Deep within us, we really want to help the weak, serve others, and save the world. Sometimes, we wish that we too have the same superpowers they have. Sometimes, we may also be wondering where and how they got their superpowers to do the good and serve others.

I am very sure that you know of true stories of real people who are heroic, people who are good and helpful and who love to serve others. Think of them right now. Who are these people that you admire and wish that you were also like them? We also wonder where they get their powers to do the good and serve others. Where do you think? Do you want to know, my dear young gentlemen?

The power to serve others comes from a heart full of gratitude. This is the power of service. A grateful heart knows how to serve. Our hearts are like cups; when you fill it up with gratitude to others and to God, it overflows to others. On the other hand, if your heart does not know how to thank, it becomes selfish and lonely. I will tell you a secret. If you want to become lonely and miserable, be ungrateful. On the other hand, if you want to become truly happy, just be grateful. A grateful heart knows how to serve.  This gratitude comes from a realization that we are loved and blessed by God with so much.  Those people we admire who love to serve others draw their powers from being grateful to others and to God. It is like having our manna refilled by God in order for us to be rejuvenated.

First Story. After being hit by a cannonball and almost losing his life, St. Ignatius of Loyola realized that God was so good to him despite his many sinful ways. So, after months of recovery, Ignatius left his family and properties, offered and surrendered his sword to God, and gave up everything to serve others. But how did it happen? After his conversion, his heart was filled with so much gratitude to God for the profound love and mercy and for the abundant blessings that he received from the Lord. In one prayer, Ignatius wrote: “Take Lord, receive all my liberty, my memory, will. You have given all to me and now I return it. Your love and your grace are enough for me.” Since 1540, when Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier, and Peter Faber began the first companions, they have attracted and inspired many others to join them, and they called themselves Compania de Jesus; in English, Friends in the Lord or Society of Jesus. And these real-life trying-hard-to-be superheroes live up to their motto AMDG, meaning…Ang Magmahal sa Diyos Gumagwapo! A grateful heart knows how to serve.

Second Story. Bro. Richie Fernando, a Jesuit brother who was assigned in Cambodia several years ago, died from a grenade explosion while saving a classroom full of students. How did he choose to give up his life in a split-of-a-second decision-making? Four days before he was martyred, he wrote to his best friend, “I know where my heart is. It is with Jesus Christ, who gave his all for the poor.” His power to serve others comes from Jesus, whom he considered as his loyal and faithful friend;  Jesus, who is present in others especially the poor;  Jesus, to whom he is forever grateful. In saving the lives of others, he gave up his own. A grateful heart knows how to serve.

Third Story. A lot of people have asked us Jesuits the same question over and over again. Why do you want to become a priest? Thank you for that wonderful question, but to tell you honestly, I cannot answer that question in a simple word or sentence. What I am very sure of is that God has blessed me so much and that I wanted to serve others and share God’s goodness. I lost my dad when I was six. Yet despite our poverty, I was able to finish college because of the generosity of other people. God has been so good to me that I wanted to pay it forward. Now, if there would be one word why I wanted to become a priest, it would be gratitude to God who has always been there for me. A grateful heart knows how to serve.

We have been taught that the mark of a true Xaverian is service – being men and women for others. You are a true Xaverian if you know how to serve others. This is how your light will shine! In service! And if you don’t know how to serve others and you only think of yourself– maybe it is time for you to doubt whether you are indeed a true Xaverian. Now, how do we get this power to serve? By being grateful to God daily for small blessings and for big ones. The nightly examen can help you.

This is the same challenge that Jesus is giving us in today’s Gospel. To serve others or to be a disciple of Jesus is to love him above all else, above one’s possessions and relationships even to the point of forsaking one’s life, one’s self. To serve others or to be a disciple of Jesus is to take up our crosses daily. We can only do this if our hearts are full of gratitude to God for his unconditional love and mercy. That is the secret in serving others. That is superpower of real-life heroes.

Now this is my challenge to you, young gentlemen, on this Feast day of our great founder, St Ignatius. Live up to your name – a Xaverian, a person shining in the light of service. Let yourself be known to the world by service especially when you leave the portals of this school someday. This is the mark of a true Xaverian, a real life hero – service. Draw your power and light your torches from the everlasting Light of Jesus and let that fire kindle other fires! Think now on how you can serve others in your own way. And be grateful for this each day. A grateful heart knows how to serve.

To end I would like to request that you pray for me. Can you do that? We have a tradition in the Catholic Church that a newly ordained priest can bestow special blessings to the people who asked for them. But today I would like you to bless and pray for me instead. Please extend your arms and pray over me now so that I may remain a good, prayerful, and grateful Jesuit priest. Amen.

High School

Photos by Christian Haw, XS Media Team 

Grade School

Photos by Irus Chua and Tyrone Cu of the Grade School Media Team

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