The Joy of Selfless Giving Through God's Grace
Fr. Christoper Salonga, RCJ
THE JOY OF SELFLESS GIVING THROUGH GOD’S GRACE
A REFLECTION ON THE 25TH YEARS ANNIVERSARY OF RELIGIOUS PROFESSION
By: Fr. Christoper Salonga, RCJ
Religious life is a gift given to a chosen few. It is not easy and those who dare to give it a try are met with a certain lifestyle that is not easily fathomed by the great majority. Young men and women of every race and culture are attracted to a certain lifestyle presented by media platforms. The ease and comfort of modernity is too alluring for so many a young generation that comes from the world of Tiktok, Zoom and Netflix. To a big chunk of them, the concept of selfless giving is weird, if not outrightly foreign or strange. Nonetheless, a question that begun since the advent of religion remains in focus up to this very day: “Is religious life still relevant in a world where possession, pleasure and freedom are esteemed at the highest level, all under the guise of human expression and creativity? The answer is definitely affirmative. In a period where face masks are the new accessories and social distancing is the new normal, life can offer us something more than what digital technology serves at our table. Trolling, fake news, and the intent to get viral exacerbate the condition of young minds that are already troubled and confused. Their thoughts are far from what is spiritual and their foremost concern is everything but religious. But there is hope in sight.
The good news is there are still those who thrive in the inner beauty, joy and peace that religious life heralds to those who choose to embrace it. And twenty-five years ago, young but brave and generous, Frs. Carlos Guzman, Eduardo Fernandez, Ronaldo Masilang, Dexter Prudenciano, Henry Ramos and Christoper Salonga made their first profession. After a year of rigorous training to the rudiments of religious life, these young Filipinos accepted with a joyful heart the vows on poverty, chastity, obedience and Rogate on June 1, 1995. They were under the headship of the dearly admired Fr. Cesare Bettoni, RCJ. It was a great blessing back then and it is a tremendous gift right now for the Congregation to have these dedicated religious share and express their giftedness through the vows. They are, in many ways, what the world needs. They become, in their simplicity and commitment, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
They are what Pope Francis refer to as “simple men who caught sight of the treasure worth more than any worldly good” when he was addressing an audience during the World Day of Consecrated Life. The Pope strongly emphasized that religious must see what really matters in life and must know how to see grace. At the heart of religious life, there is God at work both in grand moments and in those times of fragility and weakness. Indeed, what gives meaning to the gift of the evangelical counsels is the ability to perceive God’s grace at work in our lives.
A frequent temptation of people exposed to the world of the internet, young and old, both religious and lay, is that of seeing life in a “worldly way” rather than focusing on God’s grace at work. When that happens, the pope said, people go off “in search of something to substitute for it: a bit of fame, a consoling affection, finally getting to do what I want.” This is the reason why Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia, after having “discovered” the divine command, moved heaven and earth by working hard all his life to spread the Rogate. Renouncing his own personal agenda and comfort, he understood the effectiveness of the evangelical remedy as the answer to the problems of his time, and so too, to ours. Hence, prayer and charity formed the two themes on which he wanted to focus the very reason for his existence.
St. Hannibal knew so well that the happiest people had learned to cry for the world and not for themselves. He understood that our greatest happiness will come from what we give away. Happiness cannot really be pursued. It is a by-product of something more profound. Happiness comes from loving and serving, as the fruit of our prayers. The most miserable people had focused on themselves and finding happiness, getting love, accumulating things, status and fame. We live in a world where the number of impoverished families, malnourished children and young people getting depressed is staggeringly high. But each day, we have the power to give without limit. We can choose kindness, to serve, to love, to be generous, and to leave the world better in some way. There is something in us as human beings that longs to make a contribution while we are here.
The happiest of people are they who know what to contribute. They experience a sense of joy that no one can take away from them. They found their place in the universe, doing a role that is uniquely suited to them. One clear message that Father Founder constantly reiterates in his teachings is that life is not about what you get but what you give. When you give, you gain more than you lose. You do not make a donation, you make a difference. What gives deep and penetrating joy is not what you amass for yourself but what you have given back. The joy of giving is the joy of living. To live is to give, that you do more for the world than the world does for you. In other words, to be a person of the Rogate is to be the answer to the very prayers you beg the harvest master.
To plan your life is important but to plan for your life only is to be naïve. To embrace the Rogate, you have to live for something bigger than yourself. The duration of your life is far less important than its contribution. Every day is an opportunity to do something for someone else. Your first contribution to the world is to become the person God wants you to be. Then in the process of becoming, you become an other-centered and selfless donor. This is what our brother priests exhibited in the last twenty-five years of their religious life. Assigned in the various apostolate of the Congregation, they never grew weary in offering their life to supply what the world needs. It was not easy but it was inspired by divine calling; empowered by God’s grace. Pope Francis rightly put it by saying, “a key to perseverance and joy in religious life is to be always aware of the presence of God’s grace.”