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Ledalero, Flores, Indonesia

70th Anniversary
St. Paul Major Seminary

Feast of the Assumption of Mary 15 August 2007

Homily by:
Fr. Anthony Pernia, SVD
Superior General

s I mentioned at the beginning of this mass, there are three reasons for our celebration today. First, today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary. Second, today 17 of our brothers will profess perpetual vows in the Society of the Divine Word. And third, today we mark the 70th anniversary of the foundation of this seminary, St. Paul Major Seminary.

First, today’s feast, the feast of the assumption of Mary. We all know the meaning of this feast, that is, this feast celebrates the belief that at the end of her life on earth Mary was taken body and soul into heaven. This means that, at the end of her earthly existence, Mary’s union with her Son in glory is complete. That is what is underlined by the expression “body and soul”, that is, “completely”, “fully”. But this complete union with Christ in heaven is the result of Mary’s complete union with Jesus on earth. Mary’s assumption into heaven can, therefore, be regarded as the culmination of an earthly life lived completely and totally for God.

Indeed, the gospel reading today offers us many insights into Mary’s total offering of herself to God. Among these many insights, the one that stands out as most fundamental is the fact that for Mary, her offering of herself to God was a profound personal experience. Many details in the gospel story underline this fact. First of all, her personal encounter with God, although mediated through an angel, in the annunciation; then, her conception of the Word of God in her womb in such a way that God’s Word becomes an integral part of her life; and finally, in today’s gospel reading, her immense joy over this profound experience that she runs to share it with her cousin Elizabeth.

Today’s feast, then, presents Mary as the unique model of what it means to offer oneself completely, totally, to God. There are two elements in this life of total consecration to God – first, a profound personal experience of God, and second, the immense of joy over this profound experience which impels one to share it with others. Thus, we can speak of two essential dimensions of the life of total consecration to God – the contemplative (the dimension of personally encountering God) and the missionary (the dimension of sharing this experience with others). When one experiences God and his tremendous love, one cannot but share it with others. And in sharing the good news of God’s tremendous love, one experiences God all the more. Total consecration to God stands on two pillars, contemplation and mission.

My dear fratres, today you profess perpetual vows in the Society of the Divine Word. As we all know, “perpetual” does not only mean “forever”. More importantly, it means “total” or “complete”. In fact, it is “forever” only because it is “total”. We can say, we give ourselves to God “forever”, only because we say we give ourselves “totally” to God. Totally and completely. “Body and soul”, like Mary’s assumption.

It is often said that in religious life we do not really profess three separate vows – poverty, chastity and obedience. Rather, we profess only one vow – that is, the vow of perfect love in the service of God’s Kingdom and the Church. It is, in the words of the book of Deuteronomy (Dt 6:5), the vow of “loving God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength”. It is, in other words, the vow of totally loving God and giving oneself completely to him. Indeed, the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience are but different aspects of the one vow of total love – chastity is loving God with all one’s heart, obedience loving God with all one’s soul, and poverty loving God with all one’s strength.

My dear fratres, today, by professing perpetual vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, you are making a solemn declaration that henceforth until the end of your lives the Lord God is your only love, your only treasure, and your only freedom. In the context of today’s world – where many human relationships claim our heart, many material possessions offer to be our treasure, and many social situations impinge on our freedom – this declaration is a prophetic statement. But it is a statement that also contains the task of living in active solidarity with those who are unloved, those who are poor, and those who are oppressed.

Dear fratres, today, you profess to offer yourselves, like Mary, completely and totally to God. We trust that, also like Mary, the vows your profess today are rooted in your personal experience of God. For, if not, your vows will be empty and your profession hollow. And they will not lead you to mission and impel you to share the good news with others, especially the unloved, the poor and the oppressed. Like Mary, our total consecration to God needs to be rooted in the two dimensions of contemplation and mission.

Finally, today too, we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the foundation of this seminary. It is fitting we do so with the perpetual profession of religious vows of 17 of our brothers on this feast of the assumption of Mary. For, in a certain sense, this event today expresses in a nutshell the purpose and goal of this institution – namely, the formation of religious missionaries meant to serve God’s people in Indonesia and beyond.

In the Church that is 2000 years old, 70 years is not very long. Yet in this short period of time, St. Paul Major Seminary has achieved so much already. Among its graduates are about 14 bishops, some 1,300 priests, of whom about 250 are working abroad as missionaries in all five continents, and a thousand lay persons who now occupy important positions in society. The institution itself has grown from being a simple formation house for religious priests and brothers to a government-recognized Institute of higher learning with a graduate school in Philosophy of Religion.

In the name of the General Council in Rome and, indeed, in the name of the whole Society of the Divine Word, I wish to congratulate all of you who form part of this big family which is the St. Paul Major Seminary, as well as the whole SVD province of Ende, and, indeed, all of SVD-Indonesia. In a certain sense, St. Paul Major Seminary is the heart of the SVD in Indonesia, and it is a heart that has continued to beat for the people in this great country but also for many people in different parts of the world. Today, with all of you, I wish to remember gratefully all the confreres, as well as many other people, who form part of the history of this institution – the pioneers who started this seminary with vision and courage, and the many generation of confreres and other collaborators who kept this heart beating for God and for his people.

Over the past 70 years, St. Paul Major Seminary has proven itself to be a “place where the sun is leaning” (as the word “Leda-lero” means in the local language Sikka). Today, let us pray together that this institution may continue to be an instrument which allows the light of the Divine Word to shine on people here and abroad. Indeed, as we have learned from our founder, St. Arnold, to pray: “May the darkness of sin and the night of unbelief vanish before the light of the Word and the Spirit of grace. And may the heart of Jesus live in our hearts and in the hearts of all people. Amen.”