On 3 February, Isaac Demase and Matthew Pinson made their simple perpetual vows at St Peter Canisius House in Pymble, in the north of Sydney. Fr Dinh Trung Hoa SJ shared the following homily at the Mass.
Today we celebrate a significant event in the lives of two young men, who have decided to embrace religious life in response to the call of Jesus. Today, Matthew and Isaac are taking religious vows in the Society of Jesus, giving their lives to God in service of Christ’s mission within the Church.
We, as families and friends of Isaac and Matthew, as Jesuits, religious and lay companions, celebrate with them the faith journeys that have brought them here to this important moment. We give praise and thanks to God for the goodness God has shown to them, and entrust them to God’s care for the journey ahead.
Above all, this is the day for the families, for Matthew’s and Isaac’s families, who are here with us today. We give thanks to God for you, and for your crucial part in the lives of these fine young men.
I have asked Isaac and Matthew to write some reflections on their vocation story, and both of them acknowledged in gratitude the significant contributions of their parents to their faith formation.
Isaac wrote, ‘I have been blessed to have lived a life full of opportunities and graced experiences. From the love, support and care of family to the wide variety of involvements through parish and school, I have been fortunate to have encountered some amazing people and stand in some awe-inspiring places. My childhood was an education with a rich tapestry of sport, music, dance and theatre, as well as school curriculum. My parents generously gave of money and time so that I could pursue at depth my talents at dance competitions and sports carnivals.’
Isaac recalled how he became the parish representative at World Youth Day in Cologne 2005, where he encountered the universal Church in the many thousands of joyful and enthusiastic young people, much like himself. From his love of altar serving at St Brendan’s Church in Shepparton, to being an ambassador for the promotion of the World Youth Day Sydney 2008 at the youth Festival in Loreto, Italy; from his university days when he came into contact with the Jesuits of the Newman community and beyond, to his years of teaching religion and history at FCJ College in Benalla, Isaac came to understand himself more, and to appreciate how he might best serve others with his gifts and talents in response to Jesus’ invitation.
Matthew also acknowledged the crucial role of his family as he wrote, ‘My family has been fundamental in my development as a person. There was always great love and solidity in our family, and it has always been clear that the family is Mum’s and Dad’s first priority. We kept quite predictable routines and I still prefer to live that way. We went to Mass together each Sunday, and Mum and Dad encouraged us to think about how we could contribute to the world, especially through our careers.’
Matthew’s studies took him to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he did a doctorate in physics. At the end of his time at MIT, he had to decide which path to take. Matthew continued, ‘I realised that I needed to work out what was most important to me, in order to decide where I was heading in the long term. I realised that I was not giving my faith the priority it deserved, and resolved to pray more to help me work out how I could serve God in my everyday life. That led me to join my friend Eli at the Back Bay Mobile Soup Kitchen he had started. While praying one day before heading out for the Soup Kitchen, I felt a strong call to consider becoming a priest: I would certainly call it the first time of election. I visited the diocesan seminary, but it didn’t feel quite right, so I got to know the Jesuits, and felt much more at home.’
Today, we also celebrate an important event in Jesus’ life: when his mother and father, Mary and Joseph, presented Jesus to God in the Temple. Similar to Jesus’ parents, Matthew’s parents and Isaac’s parents are presenting their sons to God in the Society of Jesus today.
My reflection on this Feast Day takes me back to an experience in my Jesuit journey. In December 1999, Jesuit Refugee Service was setting up a service base in Luro, a remote Eastern part of Timor Leste, not too far from where Isaac spent some months of his Novitiate experiment last year.
In late 1999, it was the emergency period after Independence, I volunteered to go there to provide health services to the people in Luro. When my mother heard this, she reacted very strongly. Mum had seen disturbing pictures on television about the killings, and the burning of villages after the September Referendum. When I first spoke to mum, she dismissed it outright, ‘Why you? You are still in training. And it’s not safe to go there!’
I explained to mum that it was really safe, since the Australian-led troops arrived to keep peace in the region. And I said to mum, ‘Mum, this is what I have wanted my whole life, to put my training and skills at the service of people in need.’
When mum heard that, she said, ‘If that is what you say, I won’t say anything more to stop you. But do pray about it.’ Afterward, every time Timor was mentioned, mum would show how anxious she was.
Then came my youngest sister’s wedding on 18 December, I said goodbye to mum the next day, to board the plane to Darwin the morning after. When it was time to say goodbye, mum said to me as she wrapped the littles of bottles of green ointment for me, ‘I wanted to buy some dozens of green ointment bottles for you to take to Timor to give to the people, but I have been too busy with the wedding. These are all I have. Take them with you. And tell the people that I don’t have anything to give them, only my love and my prayers.’
As my two brothers took me in the car back to the Jesuit community in Parkville, tears came to my eyes. Mum had finally let me go. Against all her worries and anxiety, mum has let me go. Mum has in fact sent me on my way with her blessings, so that I might go and live out my vocation.
From then on, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord has had a new meaning for me. It is the feast of letting go, of parents giving to God someone so precious to them. It also opens up =a whole new world of abundant love and giving.
It is God the Father who so loved the world that He gave His only Son. It is Jesus’ mother Mary saying to him, ‘You go now my son, and fulfil your calling. My love and my prayers are with you.’ It is his father Joseph saying to him, ‘You go to attend to your Heavenly Father’s business, my son. Take my love and my blessings with you.’ It is Jesus who gives Himself totally to God, to become food and drink for us, as we celebrate at the Eucharistic table today.
So today, we pray in gratitude with you, Louise and David and Grandma Margaret, with you Joe and Maryanne as you stand with your sons and give them your blessings on this day, as they take their religious vows in the Society of Jesus. We pray with you that their journey ahead may be filled with God’s gracious love and protection, with gratitude and joy. Amen.
By Fr Dinh Trung Hoa SJ
Images courtesy Nico Lariosa SJ