Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai
August 3, 2015
To read one’s own personal history in faith is often an exercise in deepening the awareness of God’s loving presence in one’s own life.
That is why Pope Francis invites us to experience the joy of encountering Christ and to renew it constantly, asking us to re-read our own personal story and to scrutinize it in the light of God’s loving gaze.
It is God who, out of his great love, gives us life and calls us to abide in him.
My parents were not Catholics when I was born. They were neither atheists nor adherents of any specific religion. They gave me a name: Tai-Fai (in Cantonese), literally meaning “great light”.
There was a reason for this: an existential one. A few years before my birth, my elder brother passed away. My parents followed the customary belief that some spirits came and took him away. To prevent this from happening again, my parents gave me a big name, in the hope that the spirits might be kept at a distance. However, what they never imagined was that God would come to take me and place me in his service within the Church.
My brother and sisters were studying in Catholic schools. My elder brother was the first convert in the family. After his baptism, the other siblings could also do the same, but at a younger age. As a result, I was baptized at the age of 10. My Christian name is “Dominic Savio,” literally meaning that I am “of the Lord in a wise way.”
In my case, God gave me the wisdom to treasure the light of faith I had received as a great gift of Jesus in my baptism. Those following the steps of Jesus will never lose sight of the divine light he brought to us in his Incarnation. It is through their constant imitation of Christ that the same divine light shines forth from the Church. This divine light constitutes the holiness of the Church, to which all of the faithful are called by virtue of their baptism.
Two years after I was baptized, I joined the Salesian minor seminary. In 1969, I made my first profession as a Salesian, and God has never failed me along my vocation journey. In spite of all my limits and imperfections, I still want to respond even today to his call and to serve him in the Church.
All that matters for baptism is love. God is love. He pours out into our hearts his love, by which we love him above all things and our neighbor as ourselves, including those with whom we have no direct contact: all because of God.
Baptismal consecration is the starting point of Christian life by virtue of the initiation sacraments.
Sacraments of initiation (baptism, the Eucharist and confirmation) are three distinct celebrations. Yet there remains a strong unity among them. The equal dignity of all the members of the Church is closely related to these three sacraments. I use “baptism” to mean the three.
As Son, Jesus lived his consecration through the Paschal event, loving the Father above everything, submitting Himself totally to the Father’s will. All the faithful by means of the anointing received at baptism are incorporated into him, and consecrated to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit, belonging to God alone unreservedly and decisively. So each of them is called to share the mission of Christ. This consecration constitutes the identity of every Christian.
Thus, all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. Christian perfection is not the privilege of a few. Every member of the faithful is consecrated.
If laying down one’s life for one’s friends is the greatest proof of love, Jesus offered his own life for all, even for his enemies, in order to transform their hearts.
However, his death must be seen in the light of his Resurrection. In my religious life, I was given different responsibilities as schoolteacher, assistant of the young in the boarding school, theology professor, director of an institute, even Provincial Superior, but none of these, strictly speaking, are my mission.
My mission is to be one with Christ so as to be freely sent by Him to whatever community, to carry out whatever service, for whatever people, and in whatever responsibility. Everyone in the Church is called to holiness.
Called to shine forth
When I started with a re-reading of my own personal story and the meaning of my name, I tried to scrutinize these things in the light of God’s loving gaze. The meaning of being “called to shine forth” has become clearer to me.
Only then we will have found the beauty of the truth that redeems. Nothing can bring us into close contact with the beauty of Christ himself other than the world of beauty seen through the eyes of faith, and the light that shines forth from the faces of the saints, through whom his own light becomes visible.
Being called to shine forth bears a particular urgency regarding the care for “our common home,” as our Holy Father has recently called it. Pope Francis has expressed his great concern for an integral ecology by offering his new encyclical, Laudato sì'.
In fact, he especially shares the attitude of Saint Francis of Assisi in his concern for God’s creation and for the poor and the outcast. Saint Francis loved, and was deeply loved, for his joy, his generous self-giving, and his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim, who lived in simplicity and wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature, and with himself.
Pope Francis shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.
What we need above all in this moment of history are people who, through an enlightened and lived faith, make God credible in this world.
In a time where the certainty of a meaningful life is losing its strength, where the natural capacity for beauty is curtailed, and where nature, as “our common home”, is being diminished, we need consecrated people who are willing to plunge themselves into a serious form of evangelical radicalism.
Then, after all the purifications that they will be obliged to undergo, they will somehow mysteriously manage to become the light of the world, and to found a city upon a hill, gathering from the various ruins every possible strength to rebuild and reshape a new world.
Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai SDB is secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples