“You must love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)

When young men join the Jesuit Order they begin with a two year course called the noviceship. Here everything is very tightly regulated as they are tested for their suitability; one of the many rules being that the novices should talk little during the day, and definitely not at night. The night period from 10pm to 6am is called the great silence, and it is to be strictly observed.

The novices slept in small dormitories of about 8, with each having a cubicle for privacy. One of the 8 would be the leader, and when the bell went at 6am, (a time when it was pitch dark), it was his job to switch on the lights and call the others to get up. One night the leader got the idea it was 6am; he switched on the lights, and called out to the others, who duly got out of bed, and began shaving and dressing; but then our man noticed that it was actually only 2am. At all costs, he thought, I must not break the great silence, so without saying anything, he switched off the lights and went back to bed. The others of course were left helplessly unaware of what was going on.

That mentality of sticking to rules, however pointless, characterised the young Aloysius Gonzaga. He entered the Jesuit noviciate in a rigid and legalistic frame of mind, a nuisance to some, boring to many, and frankly with his narrow zeal, somewhat inhuman. Rules were rules for Aloysius, and that was that.

Fortunately there was a wise elderly man in Rome, Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, who gave Aloysius guidance. He managed to persuade the young zealot that good religion is more about the heart than the head; that loving our neighbour is achieved through our feelings, not by our brains. Slowly Aloysius began to soften and to learn how to frame his lifestyle on the true principal of loving God above all, and one’s neighbour as oneself.

It is characteristic of any College, this one included, that it tries to develop knowledge and thinking ability. And so it should, but a good human person is more than a calculating machine. Our ability to care, to understand, to listen, to connect with others, must keep growing; and this growth is a vital part of a full education.

By the time of his early death at the age of 23 Aloysius had become a very human personality who gave himself willingly and skilfully to the care of plague victims in Rome. Thanks to Robert Bellarmine he had grown emotionally, and had that attractive character that we associate with a saint. Let us pray and hope that in our time here at Stonyhurst, we will indeed pass our exams and learn well, but that we also become ever more genuinely human, so that we serve God wholeheartedly and succeed in loving those around us.

“God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself.” (2 Corinthians 5:19)

Jigsaw puzzles, especially the large ones can be difficult to complete; but they are much more difficult if the picture on the puzzle box has been lost, leaving the pieces to be connected by guesswork.

This is the problem for the human race. The world is a giant jigsaw puzzle; with the pieces jumbled up; we strive to discern some pattern, make sense of all the issues around us. Yet since we do not know how the world should look, all we have to go on is what meets our eyes. We proceed by guesswork.

There are some people, perhaps a substantial group, who have concluded that there is no picture to be discovered, that life has no real purpose, no pattern, no reason. They live from day to day, taking things as they come: the jigsaw pieces remain in chaos, they just leave it that way.

Much more dangerous are the power hungry persons who have formed their own picture of how the world should be and set about forcing it into the mould they have imagined. How frequent such leaders have been in the last 100 years: Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, perhaps Kim Jong Un! All had a very definite notion of the perfect human society. It was very clear in their minds; they set about creating a brave new world that would fit their theory. One is reminded of the film Cincinnati Kid where a woman struggling with a jigsaw, resorts to cutting the pieces with scissors to make them fit. One can imagine the results, and we can see all too clearly the effects violent leaders produced by striving to force the world into their self -conceived image.

In Jesus Christ we meet a man who does know the picture the world should form, for he has come from heaven where the plan of creation was first conceived. He is able to show us the way we must live in order to make sense of our world; to discover its true purpose; to reveal its wonder, beauty and harmony. And Jesus is completing the revelation made in the scriptures, in the 10 commandments and other places, of the pattern God intends for his creation.

It is a slow business, but in Jesus Christ, God is reconciling the world back to its original purpose; enabling life to be what it is meant to be. We can be part of the great task of putting the bits of this giant puzzle into their right places, after all each of us is a part of the cosmic jigsaw. When we follow His way, we are certainly not damaging things in the way the violent fantasists do, but neither are we giving up in a sense of helplessness. We are bringing the world home, reconciling it to its created reason. And we are finding fulfilment for ourselves.

“Were you not bound to have pity on your fellow servant.”  (Matthew 18:33)

An increasing cause for anxiety for young adults is student debt.  A person can fund their attendance at University by borrowing money.  With fees of £9,000 per year, and the cost of food and lodging on top, it can well be that today’s student leaves university £50,000 in debt.  This does not have to be repaid until a good salary is achieved, but in the meantime interest is added at 6% from the moment borrowing begins.  All too easily the situation runs out of control, and the hapless victim finds they cannot access mortgages or credit. They spend their lives fighting their ever-spiralling debt.

And yet this is small beer compared to the situation in some cultures.  Imagine inheriting on the death of your parents not a fortune but a huge debt!  You will never repay it in your lifetime, but not to worry, you will leave it to your children.   Such is the actual situation in some countries, so that individuals live permanently in semi slavery, with most of their earnings hived off to chipping away at a colossal debt.

The people of Galilee where Jesus preached lived under a similar burden.  Roman rule was efficient and prosperous, and Galilee was prime farming country; but ordinary people were plagued by heavy taxes, ruthless landlords, and shark like money lenders.  Life was lived in an atmosphere of anxiety and depression.  The notion of all debts being swept away would seem like a dream.

Yet as Jesus worked miracles and cast out evil spirits, it dawned on the people that God at least was ready to make a new start; to forgive human failings, to forgo his rights, all in order to enable men and women to find freedom and fulfilment.  But there is a snag.  God’s release of our debts, can only work if we in our turn, forgo our rights, avoid exploitation, support the weak and so on.  A great challenge is placed before us: can we break away from lifestyles that work by exploitation, use of power, pursuit of status.  God’s action in releasing the 10,000 talent debt (£10 Billion in current terms) will only work if we let go of the little and petty grudges of our own.

And sadly our times are characterised by a fierce emphasis on rights.  Each individual is encouraged to demand that they get all they are entitled to, and to compromise on this is seen as weakness, even the betrayal of a cause.   And thus those in positions of power are able to insist on their status and the entitlements it brings, whilst others perhaps on zero hours contracts, or as single parent families, or suffering from poor health or disabilities are left to suffer.  Jesus in today’s parable reminds us sharply that we are actually in debt to God for Billions.  We do not do ourselves credit by aggressively claiming our rights in every small detail.