God means well with us

[Homily:  31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Nov 4, 2017, based on Mt. 23:1-12]

Homily 110417

We sometimes forget.  God means well with us.   And so, very mysteriously, he shares himself with us.  By “mysteriously,” I mean, “difficult for us to understand why he does so at all.”  He shares himself with us in creation, in making the heavens and the earth, the sun and the stars, the night and the day, the mountains and the forests, the fresh-water streams and the flowers.  He shares himself with us in one another:  in our children, in our parents, in our siblings, in one another.  God means well with us.  And sometimes we forgot.  Sometimes we no longer notice the drama of sunrise, nor the mystery of sunset, nor the unfathomable riches we have in his creation and in one another.  Sometimes we forget.  God spoke a Word.  It was a word of love.  It was a word spoken to us in truth.  And in its genuineness, it was a word made flesh that dwells among us, that invites us constantly to recall that God loves us

God means well for us, even when in the depths of his love he shows his anger.  In our Gospel he is angry at the hypocrisy of the scribes and the Pharisees.  In Jewish culture, these are the professional men of religion – the priests, preachers, religious and even pious laypersons of our era – who should have made the way to God easier, but in their pride, superstitiousness, and contempt for true religion, didn’t.  He was angry with them because for all their learning and pious posturing, they made the way to God more difficult.  With their wide phylacteries and tassels on their garments, they were all for show.   With their fancy titles and religious power, they forgot they ought to have been mediators of God’s love, and not God, nor rivals of God.

Jesus preached the Kingdom of God.  He taught, “Seek first the Kingdom of God…”; he taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done….”  He taught us to forgive:  “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  He taught us the golden rule:  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  He taught:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  He taught us the corporal works of mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead.  He declared, “Whatever you do to one of these the least of my brothers and sisters, that you do to me.”  He preached the Kingdom of God, and made acts of compassion to one’s neediest neighbors a necessary criterion of entry into the Kingdom of God.  And because he was true to his word, he was crucified and killed.

So he means well with us in wanting us to be genuine Christians, and not just pretentious hypocrites similar in spirit to the scribes and the Pharisees whom he called “whitened sepulchers, but inside full of dead men’s bones.”  He did not want us to be pretenders, wearing our Christianity as masks for people to see, masks however that cover unbelief, indecision, sin, shame and weakness.  They say that they are Christian, they act as if they were Christian, they go through all the motions of religious compliance, or even of extraordinary religious heroism, donating great sums of money to the Church, but inside they are just full of themselves.  By their fruit, you shall know them.

Genuine Christianity, Christianity with integrity, in my view, is not something you achieve.  It is something that is gifted.  You can pray for it; you must pray for it.  But beware of the prayer of the Pharisee.  The despised tax-collector prayed at the back of the temple and simply said, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.”   He was much closer to the Kingdom of God than the Pharisee in the temple who prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like these other people – swindlers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector!  I fast twice a week and pay tithes on all that I receive…”  His was like praying, “Thank God, Lord, that I am so humble!”  “Thank God, Lord, that I am so self-less!”  “Thank God, Lord, that you really ought to be thanking me!”  The trouble with hypocrites is that their hypocrisy becomes their way of life, the way of their entitlement, their actors’ mask that their persistence in acting it out actually makes them believe it of themselves, even when their lie has begun to harm people horribly.  That is true I guess of people whose hypocrisy allows them to abuse children, or to abuse the poor.  They are Christians called to love one another as Jesus does, they are even eminent leaders of the Church, but secretly they abuse children.  They are Christians, but in their business decisions they abuse the poor.  They are Christians, but in their political decisions, they are corrupt.  They are Christians, but they cannot speak a word of forgiveness to a spouse, nor listen with compassion to a son or daughter in need.

God means well with us.  He gives us the joy of our families, the challenges of our professions, and the trials of our life situations.  Life can get so complicated.  Sometimes, even as we battle life’s problems by slipping into hypocrisy, we need to get away to listen to God in the quiet of the twilight, or in the night air beneath the stars, and to find God not in the brightness that blinds us, nor in the black and white that shape our genial rationalizations, but in the shades of darkness where he is is still present … even where things are blurred, where we are frightened and vulnerable, and all is malabo.   “Even in this dark valley of darkness, Lord, you are there with me with your crook and your staff.  With these you give me comfort” (Ps. 23.4).  To the child terrified by the fury of a hurricane that asked, “why are there hurricanes?” Pope Francis pointed to the Cross.  To us who ask, “Why are there hypocrites?” or, more painfully,  “Why am I a hypocrite, even when I hate it?” the God who means well with us may point to the Cross, the truth of God’s Word, the integrity of God’s love, who embraces us warmly, even when his arms are nailed on the Cross…that we may be saved.  God means well.  Maybe the first step away from hypocrisy is to talk to a friend, even the Friend on the Cross.  Contrary to our compulsions, we do not need to pray the prayer of the Pharisee.  It is the prayer of the publican that is acceptable, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.”  It is the God-Man on the Cross who saves.

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Mindanao Peace Games: Enrichment through Difference

_MG_0596[Welcome Address: Mindanao Peace Games 2017 at ADDU]

Welcome to the Ateneo de Davao University!

Welcome to the Mindanao Peace Games 2017!

Welcome especially to the heads of schools present: To Dr. Rey Albano of Holy Trinity College, to Dr. Royce Torres of Iligan Medical Center College, to Datu Mohammed Youssef Paglas of Datu Ibrahim Paglas Mememorial College, to Dr. Leticia Salas of St. Joseph’s Institute and to Zenaida Azura of Father Saturnino Urios University. A special welcome to Fr. Angel Benavides of Surallah – and formerly of San Jose Seminary!

Welcome to the coaches and support staff of the teams!

Welcome especially to the student athletes from all our different schools!

You are in Martin Hall named after Fr. Edgar Martin, S.J., an early athletics director of Ateneo de Manila, one of the inspiring figures of the NCAA, and eventually Secretary General of the Basketball Association of the Philippines.

Why Mindanao Peace Games? Games help foster peace and understanding. Like the Olympic games of old, so long as there were games, there was no war. We come together in peace, in the hope that through our games there may be less war.

In the wake of the war in Marawi, that has become more urgent. We must go out of our way to stand up for peace, for religious freedom and tolerance, for depth in the practice of religion, for surrender to the one God of Compassion who abhors war and killing.

Games are a celebration of freedom. Most of us don’t play games to make money or to make a living. Most of us play games for the love of the game, or for the love of life. The is no usefulness in tossing balls in baskets or in hitting a golf ball with a club so that it falls into a hole over a hundred meters away with the least number of strokes. There is no usefulness in volleyball nor in basketball.

Games are a celebration of freedom, of people gathering together in freedom to play together in freedom and to marvel at what human beings can do in freedom.

Games involve agreeing on a human activity – using a ball, a boat, a bat, using just hands, or just feet, or just mind and fingers! – agreeing on a goal, agreeing on rules, agreeing on cooperation to achieve the good of the game. Games involve shared cooperation towards a common good. They are totally free.

Games are celebrations of what humans do with their freedom. They bring together people. They foster fidelity to rules. They foster shared collaboration towards a common good. They foster camaraderie. They foster shared values like perseverance, courage, cooperativeness, and leadership.

The Mindanao Peace Games represent freedom from various parts of Mindanao to enjoy sports with each other, freedom to foster collegiality and friendship, freedom to cultivate shared values.   They are a celebration of being from Mindanao, a celebration of the rich diversity of cultures that is present in this hall, a celebration of commitment to live one’s cultural and religious convictions with respect for the convictions of others. Because one belongs to another team, one needs not be “othered” and considered anathema. Because one belongs to another culture or religion, one needs not be “othered” and considered an enemy. The Mindanao Peace Games are a celebration of the prospect of enrichment through the difference of others.

Welcome to the Ateneo de Davao for the Mindanao Peace Games! May you have an enriching experience of each other here!

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The 2017 CEAP National Convention

[Closing Remarks in the 2017 CEAP National Convention]

CEAP Closing 2017

At the end of the 2017 National Convention, allow me to say:  In the CEAP we have over the years learned that to strengthen our Communio we must work together through a deeper appreciation of our Catholic identity in the communio of our schools, in the communio our regions, in our national communio.  Much of this work is managed by the National Board and National Secretariat, but it succeeds only through a shared mission binding us together in our Communio.  This is a shared mission to which we must all consent.  And so at this point, I would like to hear from you loud and clear:

As a grace of  this 2017 National Convention, may I ask you, yes or no, do we commit ourselves anew to building and sustaining the Catholic Communio in our schools, our regions, our national CEAP, our national community, but now especially in Mindanao?

As a grace of  this 2017 National Convention, may I ask you, yes or no, do we commit ourselves to be guided by the Philippine Catholic School Standards in Basic Education and help in the formulation of the PCSS for Higher Education?

As a grace of  this 2017 National Convention, may I ask you, yes or no, do we commit ourselves in all our vulnerability to a culture of peace in all our schools, to religious freedom, and to a deepening of our faith in dialogue with other faiths?

As a grace of  this 2017 National Convention, may I ask you, yes or no, do we commit ourselves to work against war, to work against violent extremism, to work against discrimination and exclusion, and all forms of social injustice?

As a grace of  this 2017 National Convention, may I ask you, yes or no, do we commit ourselves to contribute to the rebuilding of Marawi, but more urgently, to rebuilding the broken relations we have with Muslim Mindanao?  Do we commit ourselves in all our vulnerability – also in using the Mindanao Sulu Multi-Strand Timeline –  to healing our memories of conflict, hatred, killing, and death and to asking for forgiveness?

As a grace of  this 2017 National Convention, may I ask you, yes or no, do we commit ourselves to volunteering for or supporting volunteers for service in the name of peace, education, compassion and reconciliation?

As a grace of  this 2017 National Convention, may I ask you, yes or no, do we commit ourselves before our God of Life to a culture of life, to the protection of life from all violations of life be this from international terrorism, international drug cartels, the misuse of police power by the State, our even through the misuse of power in our fraternities through hazing?

As a grace of  this 2017 National Convention, may I ask you, yes or no, do we commit ourselves anew to support our Communio, but to support especially our 900 small and struggling schools through effective advocacy with our legislators and government officials, effective networking with our educational partners, but also through support of our new Kapatirang Kamagong.

We close this convention then in gratitude for the many graces we have acknowledged and which call us to building and sustaining true communities of life today in the Philippines, true Communio impelled by the Spirit of our Teacher, Jesus Christ.

We close this convention truly grateful for your active participation in it.

But are also truly grateful for all those from the City of Davao, the PNP, and from different schools in DACS Region XI.   During this Convention, we have been under the special protection not only of our God but of the Davao City Administration and PNP.  Thank you to all our speakers, leaders of our concurrent sessions, the Liturgical leaders, choir members, Mass servers, prayer leaders, sponsors, exhibitors, communications experts, nurses, doctors, secretaries, security agents, traffic enforcers, ushers, usherettes, drivers, teachers and administrators!  Of course our deep gratitude to our Executive Director, Allan Arrellano, Mary Ann Cruz and the other members of the CEAP National Secretariat for all the work they did to make this national convention a success.

Finally, special thanks and congratulations to the 180 gifted students from the University of the Immaculate Concepcion, Holy Cross College, and Ateneo de Davao University for the awesome opening salvo of ethnic dances in celebration of our Communio in Mindanao on Day One!  May the memory of their youthful energy and joy in dancing-communio inspire us as we work specially nationwide towards deepened Communio with Mindanao!

 


[President’s Report, Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines]

CEAP Pres Report 2017After the successful celebration of our 75th anniversary last year in Cebu, when the Board elected me President, we decided to re-chart the direction of the CEAP through a strategic plan to  cover the next 5 years.  This would include marking of CEAP’s 80th year, but especially the celebration of 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines in 2021.

The Board decided to reaffirm the vision of CEAP, namely:

A world transformed, a Philippines renewed by people educated in the principles of Communio and Service as taught and lived by Our Lord Jesus Christ and shaped by the missionary mandate of the Catholic Church.

We nonetheless re-phrased our three-fold mission, namely:

First, to promote solidarity among member schools through Catholic EducationSecond, to foster inclusive and transformative  Catholic Education

Second, to foster inclusive and transformative  Catholic Education

Third, to serve as steadfast and effective catalyst of change through education in the differe­nt dimensions of human life.

Within the short period given to me, I would like to highlight some of our major activities and accomplishments during the year guided by this three-fold mission:

Mission 1 – To promote solidarity among member schools through Catholic Education

Mission 1 deals with promoting solidarity among member schools through Catholic education. We are schools.  We are Catholic schools.  We are Catholic schools together in Community

Guided by this mission, we have conducted a series of strategic planning sessions to realign the program of activities of the commissions through the regional representatives’ summits with those of the National Board. We have assisted the regions in conducting these planning sessions.

Aside from this, we undertook the bridge our small mission schools with potential benefactors by: 1. forming a Council of Advocates (COA) that will work with the CEAP Board as a consultative Committee; 2. undertaking fund-raising and networking activities. Later on, Br. Dennis will introduce to you the members of this council;  tomorrow, we will also formally launch the ‘Kapatirang Kamagong’ during the Opening Assembly.

As we assisted the different CEAP regions and our small struggling schools, we also worked together with our long standing partner, the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA) and our new partner, the Philipippine Association of State Universities and Colleges (PASUC) towards educational reform. During the last eight months of CEAP’s leadership in COCOCPEA, we initiated three historic rounds of conversations between COCOPEA and PASUC to articulate and agree on a framework of cooperation between public and private HEIs. From these conversations, we pushed lawmakers hard to accept the constitutional complementarity between public and private schools. The result was the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education  (RA 10931) which recognizes this complementarity between public and private HEIs and so also provides funds for private schools through the Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES) and the Tertiary Education Loan Fund.  This is still very much a work in progress, and in the coming years we have yet to work hard to see that it is properly funded.  But with the lobbying that the different CEAP board members and superintendents did with their legislators in congress, we allowed public money to flow into our private schools and won representation for the private sector on the Unifast Board through COCOPEA.  In solidarity with each other we won a better future for Catholic education.

We are all aware that the Philippines is constantly harmed by natural and man-made calamities.  Through your graciousness, we were able to collect funds to assist those in badly hit areas.

We wrote to you for support of those affected by the typhoons in Northern Luzon and the earthquake in Northern Mindanao. The funds collected from your response reached more than Php 700,000. CEAP disbursed Php 1.3 Million to many affected schools.

The armed conflict in Mindanao specifically in Marawi shocked us all and to date is still on-going. We participated in the multi-sectoral consultation for Bangon Marawi convened by the Bishops Ulama Conference.  In this context the National Advocacy Commission initiated a drive for prayer and reflection based on the prayer of St. Francis,  and with it a fund-drive to help the evacuees from Marawi. To date, we were able to collect Php 1.2 Million from our member schools and have disbursed portions of these to a program of feeding and caring for children evacuees in Marawi schools. This program is managed personally by Fr. Ben Nebres, with several other groups contributing manpower and resources.

On a lighter note, we have been existing for 76 years now and our member schools have never celebrated a day especially dedicated to CEAP. The Board, during the strategic planning decided that this year, we resolved to promote our solidarity by celebrating CEAP Day every first Monday of February.

Mission 2 – To foster inclusive and transformative Catholic education. For education to be inclusive, it must be able to bring in students who would normally be excluded from education through poverty, discrimination, race, gender, and the like. To be transformative, Catholic education transform, first, the school community and, second, the community that the school serves.

In CEAP, we do not want any member school sidelined. We believe in the ripple effect of delivering quality education irrespective of culture, race, religion and the like. Thus, we have embarked on programs and activities that promote deeper understanding of the curriculum as transformative.

We held NBEC K to 12 summits across the archipelago. These summits were well attended by school heads and administrators; they addressed opportunities, concerns and challenges of private schools in implementing the senior high school program.

Moreover, ReTEACH was carried out to equip teachers with classroom-based research and formative assessment tools. Unto a wider range of training coverage, CEAP-NBEC is partnering with the Private Educational Assistance Committee (PEAC) for a fortified regional roll-out of Re-TEACH. During this National Convention, we will sign a MOA with PEAC, represented by its Executive Director, Ms. Doris Ferrer, to systematize the implementation of RETEACH in all the regions this coming summer.

We are schools.  But we are Catholic schools.  We should not forget the Catholic education component of our second mission, which is at the heart of their being transformative. The Philippine Catholic Schools Standards Coordinating Council (PCSS) conducted trainings to ensure that our member schools have a good grasp of the standards as the PCSS was formally implemented this year in basic education.

Meanwhile, hard work is has commenced on the PCSS for Higher Education.  Today, we will have the commissioning program for the PCSS Higher Education Technical Working Group.

There is also the Philippine Conference for New Evangelization (PCNE).  The CEAP-National Christian Formation Commission has accepted the request of Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle to work with the Office for the Promotion on New Evangelization in organizing the Philippine Conference on New Evangelization.  New Evangelization is at the core of Catholic transformative education.

We now go to Mission 3 –  To serve as steadfast and effective catalysts of change through education in the different dimensions of human life Pursuant to this mission, we have the JEEPGY programs – Justice and Peace, Ecological Integrity, Engaged Citizenship, Poverty Reduction, Gender Equality and Youth Empowerment – as our platform for engagement.

Given the very challenging peace and order situation in Mindanao this last year,

Justice and Peace, involving inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue, took the forefront of the JEEPGY programs. Because of the Marawi Crisis, the National Convention itself was re-worked to insure that we meet our responsibilities in our Communio with our Muslim sisters and brothers beset by terrorism, violent extremism and war.

In this context, our Madaris Volunteer Program (MVP) started three years ago in partnership with the Ateneo de Davao University and the PEAC, took special significance.  Teachers and students in the Madaris (Islamic schools) and their communities in Maguindanao, Cotabato and Basilan are deeply grateful to CEAP for the programs undertaken to assist student learning and teacher formation. This has included recently formation in Compassionate Leadership.

As Atty. Masuhud Alamia, Executive Director of the ARMM, will point out in her keynote address, we have also considered how we can help ARMM schools through a series of formal conversations between the CEAP and the DepED, the ARMM and the Bureau of Madrasah Education of the ARMM.  Being an organization of Catholic educators, CEAP can best help ARMM by helping it improve its educational delivery, still the most challenged in the country. We will ask you in this convention how your school might join in this effort.

There were other fora held towards promoting peace. In coordination with WE Act 1325, the Center for Peace Education of Miriam College and Pax Christi-Pilipinas, we conducted student fora on “Challenging War and Prejudice as Pathways to Peace” in Regions 1 and 8 with the objectives of giving an update on the current peace processes; describing how embracing diversity can aid the peace process in Mindanao; and sharing the teachings of the Catholic Church in relation to peace, solidarity and nonviolence.

In addition, a national seminar-workshop on Nonviolence dubbed, “Blessed are the Peacemakers: Re-committing to Jesus’ Nonviolence” was conducted on May 17, 2017 at the CEAP National Office. This seminar-workshop which we co-sponsored with the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, Pax Christi Pilipinas, and the Center for Peace Education of Miriam College, aimed to engage the faculty-participants in a conversation about Gospel Nonviolence and its relevance to our country and the world today. It also presented several nonviolent strategies available for us to use. 11 out of the 17 CEAP regions were represented in this seminar-workshop.

A very concrete contribution to the Peace Process that CEAP has undertaken this year with the generous funding of the World Bank and the Australian government is the Mindanao-Sulu Multi-Strand Timeline. This 1.5 X 6 meter infographic timeline aims to develop and promote a basic and common understanding of Mindanao history, politics, economy, culture and ecology, in the service of the struggle for a shared peace and development of Mindanao and the rest of the country.

Much of the conflict in Mindanao continues because of our lack of understanding of the different cultures, histories, problems, and aspirations of the diverse groups in Mindanao, and the persistence of mindsets that maintain colonial biases and discriminatory practices to a large extent committed by the Christian majority against the Muslim and indigenous peoples.

In this search for this shared reading of reality, our schools play a crucial role in shaping the minds and hearts of the young. We are challenged to seriously review and evaluate how far and to what extent our schools have been repositories of biases against marginalized groups by excluding them or misrepresenting them.

To address this, the CEAP through the inspiration of Project Director, Fr. Albert Alejo, SJ, produced the Mindanao-Sulu Multi-strand Timeline (MSMT) in consultation with:

  • The National Historical Commission of the Philippines,
  • The National Commission for Culture and the Arts,
  • The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples,
  • The National Commission on Muslim Filipinos,
  • The Bangsamoro Development Agency,
  • The Mindanews,
  • The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process
  • And the Department of Education

Presentations of this Mindanao Sulu Timeline, ready for use this school year which can be readily downloaded from the CEAP website. www.ceap.org.ph.

When news of the immanent change of the Philippine Constitution towards Federalism through a Constituent Assembly came last week in the context of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the Board  decided to include a special session on this important topic after the concurrent sessions of this convention on Day 2.  You ae invited to register for this..

Finally,  to ensure that our CEAP member-schools are guided on how to integrate the JEEPGY themes in the whole school system, the Programs Committee of CEAP, headed by our Vice President, Fr. Elmer G. Dizon, gathered for a 2-day writeshop to draft the JEEPGY Manual. The JEEPGY Manual which contains the fundamentals of each pillar program and its biblical foundation, references to the PCSS standards and benchmarks, sample lessons and activities, a checklist of laws and policies to ascertain the school’s compliance with legally-required programs relating to JEEPGY will be subjected for validation on November 8-10this year at the JEEPGY National Congress at Miriam College.

It has been a rich and challenging year.  We have mentioned many activities undertaken under our three-fold mission.   The most important work, however, happens in your schools, day by day, where you work hard to keep your schools functioning and you lead the communio in your schools through education and personal witness to genuine self transformation and the transformation of the local and national community.  It is here where together we hope to truly bring about:

A world transformed, a Philippines renewed by people educated in the principles of Communio and Service as taught and lived by Our Lord Jesus Christ and shaped by the missionary mandate of the Catholic Church.

May this be our humble contribution to the celebration of 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines in 2021.

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A Religious Incompatibility

[Thought Leader Contribution (Religious Sector). Conference on Peace and Prevention of Violent Extremism, by the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID), ASEAN Society of the Philippines (ASP), and Rajaratnan School of International Studies (RSIS). Sofitel Hotel, Manila, 23 September 2017.]

A Religious Incompatibility

It is my deep honor to be called upon as a religious leader to initiate discussion on Peace and the Prevention of Violent Extremism.

The Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) is a Catholic, Jesuit and Filipino University. Since I became its President seven years ago, it has articulated and embraced its mission to inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue, which it believes at heart to be a faith-based mission. In the landscape of diverse religions and diverse cultures in southeast Asia, where in one country Islam is dominant and in another country Christianity is dominant, we believe the imperative to inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue is rooted in one God of compassion and peace. The compassion and peace is not for the God who relates with us, but for us who in our moral brokenness need his compassion and in our endless warfare cry out for his peace. We consider it one of the profound scandals of our history that the most violent wars and atrocities are called and executed in the name of God.   With Pope Francis we might ask: if God is a God of compassion and peace, who is the god who is glorified in the self-righteous condemnation of the other and in the wars and atrocities committed “in God’s name”. The imperative for dialogue is rooted, I believe, in a God of Compassion and Peace who created us diverse in cultures and religions and is glorified in finding his will in the profundity of our diversity.

It is in this context that at the Ateneo de Davao we host the Al Qalam Institute for Islamic Identities in Southeast Asia directed by Datu Mussolini Lidasan, now a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission. We support the struggle of the Filipino Muslims, in the diversity of their receptions of Islam, for a homeland in the Philippines, whose warrant is their shared culture and shared religion in Islam. Where the Catholic faith today acknowledges religious freedom and clearly states that no person can be externally forced to embrace any religion against that person’s conscience, we acknowledge that methods of Christian evangelization in the past may have focused too much on “conversion”, failed to appreciate the religiously valid practices in Islam which truly acknowledged the one God of compassion and peace, failed to acknowledge the Christian shortcomings in translating faith into praxis, and encouraged a cultural attitude which from the “rightness” of Christianity looked down on the Muslim who in his fidelity to Islam was “wrong,” less-than-human, and therefore a second-class Filipino  We acknowledge the notion that in this context in the Philippines, what are referred to as “historical injustices” were committed against the Filipino Muslims.   Though the Spaniard never conquered this people whose mature sultanates preceded the coming of the Spaniard by two centuries, Spain sold them to the US along with the rest of the Philippines. Under the Americans, they were deceived, brutally massacred, minoritized, marginalized, and deprived of their lands. They were “Filipinized” by imposing on them the rule of northern Christian Filipinos, which continued throughout the Commonwealth period and after Philippine Independence. This rule was more interested in building the Filipino nation centered in the north and the exploitation of the natural resources of Mindanao for the north than in the respect for a Muslim identity and culture and a right for a Muslim homeland. The call for Muslim Independent Mindanao was met with private then state-supported vigilante violence, Marcos-led martial law, and later with Estrada’s all out war. In the 40-year quest for peace mediated by the Organization of Islamic Countries which followed, the GRP has so far failed to keep its commitments so that today the Bangsamoro quest for a homeland is still outstanding.

In this ongoing struggle where religions and cultures are plural, the need both for inter-and intra-religious dialogue is necessary. The inter-religious dialogue which occurs between different faith traditions, as between Christians and Muslims, seeking insight into the faith traditions of the other, has led us to the need for deeper insight in our own faith tradition and the acknowledgement that what separates one faith tradition from another, can also separate receptions of one’s own faith tradition from the receptions of others in the same faith tradition. This includes: the attitude of already possessing all of truth, the attitude of religious superiority, the attitude of “othering” all those who do not share one’s attitude, the attitude that because of one’s claimed oneness with Truth or oneness with the Will of God the other is worthy of contempt, ridicule, punishment, violence and even death. The rationale is: the human who is not truly religious in the way I am is not fully human.

Therefore today’s increasingly-acknowledged urgent need not only for inter-religious or inter-faith dialogue, but also for intra-religious or intra-faith dialogue. As Muslims and Christians seek to find their way to closer understanding and respect for each other in the other’s privileged way of worshipping the one God, both Muslims and Christians are also invited to find deeper insights into various receptions within their particular faith traditions in the hope that the deeper one delves into the truth of a particular reception the more one finds unity with the God whose oneness unites, and does not divide, who holiness sanctifies, and does not desecrate, whose compassion uplifts, and does not degrade. In both inter- and intra-religious dialogue we are invited to prostrate ourselves before the God of Truth to admit in humility that the truth of our lives has fallen short of the truth of his will, and that we worship too often with empty words and gestures rather than in the surrender of our hearts to the divine will. We are invited to notice that before this God of Truth we have no monopoly on truth, and no warrant to monopolize truth, and certainly no need to speak and act as if we were Truth. We are invited to notice, accept and even cherish that one who worships God in another religious tradition or in another reception of my faith tradition may be blessed with profound access to Divine Truth, which I am moved to admire in praising the inscrutable ways God works with his creatures, often in manners which go beyond anything I have been trained to expect.

The prevention of violent extremism, therefore, from the religious viewpoint may involve the religious acceptance through dialogue that we are created plural, that no one has a monopoly on Truth, and that to bring extreme violence, pain, suffering, death on human individuals or on humanity in the name God is a betrayal of God and an idolatrous reduction of religion to a mere ideology bereft of God. This is not a relativization of revealed religious truth which always brings us into a relationship with the one God of Compassion and Peace, but merely a relativization of the absolute positions that we take as human beings in the name of God – be this the God of the Crusader, the Inquisitor, or of the Mujahideen – which seem to justify anything – arrogance, condemnation, oppression, violation of human rights, torture, killing, mass destruction. But the absoluteness of God’s truth is not ours as human beings, and to claim it is blasphemous. The safest indicator of truthful relationship with God is that in this relationship we become more truly compassionate and more trMuuly dedicated to peace. In this relationship there is always great awe and deep humility; here, we find the true God because he reveals himself; here, we find the human being because we accept his inviolable dignity and truth in God.

True religion and violent extremism are incompatible.

Discussion points:

The uncritical use of the language of religion – “there is one true religion,” “there is one true God,” “God’s will,” “I do God’s will,” “human value is inextricably linked to a true religion,” “non-belief implies loss of human dignity and human rights” – underpins violent extremism.

It is not less religion that prevents violent extremisms, but less false religion.

Wounds inflicted through historical injustice need healing.

The God of Compassion and Peace is compassionate on the human being and wishes him/her peace. The worship of this God implies acceptance of the dignity and worth of the human being and human life. It is incompatible with violent extremism.

God created us diverse. Dialogue mediates the truth of one’s religion, the value of an other’s, how one’s praxis falls short of God’s will, and how the praxis of an other can enhance one’s own praxis. Dialogue mediates the radicality of true religion between different faith traditions and different receptions of a faith tradition.

True religion recognizes freedom of religion. When external force is used to coerce assent to religion it is a falsification and betrayal of religion and a crime against the creature God cherishes. Violent extremism is a betrayal of religion in a blasphemous ideology.

To explain being in terms of dialogue (“dialectic”), Hegel said: Being is non-being and therefore becoming. Perhaps it can be said: The true religion is not the true religion and therefore the truth-ing religion. Religion is true. But living it discovers its truth in dialogue.

 

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Transformative School Leadership:  Sharing My Experience at Ateneo de Davao University

ADDU Leadership

[Address: Center for Educational Measurement Conference on “Leading Our Schools to Success.”]

 

“Leading our Schools to Success” is a wonderful theme for a conference, and I congratulate the Center for Educational Measurement (CEM) for choosing it as its theme.  I have been requested to talk on Transformative School Leadership and about guiding change towards valued institutional goals.  Talk about leadership, even of a school, is always profoundly personal, even if leading a school one must move from personal convictions to actualization of institutional goals that resonate with those personal convictions.  With your indulgence, therefore, I will be speaking personally – even autobiographically – in order to account for convictions and goals that have underpinned my school leadership.  But I will also explain how my personal convictions became part of the transformative education that is practiced at Ateneo de Davao University today.

The convictions of the leader

I am on the nineteenth year of being President of a Jesuit university. After 12 years at the Ateneo de Naga University, I am on my seventh year at the Ateneo de Davao.

When I was still preparing for the priesthood at the Ateneo de Manila during the late 60s (a long time ago!), I was part of a group of young Jesuit scholastics and priests who strongly criticized the educational apostolate.   Influenced by liberation theology, we believed that education was but part of a superstructure that reinforced the economic conditions that produced it.  Ateneo de Manila, we charged, was but catering to the rich.  We believed that we had given up family and fortune to become Jesuits to face the scandalous conditions of the poor and confront the structures in society that create them poor and keep them poor.   We believed work in the educational apostolate was betraying that intention.

I remember as a young adolescent peering from the comfort of our home in Mandaluyong over a wall into the squalor of squatters – before the more politically correct “urban poor” came into use.  We had electricity, they did not; we had running water, they did not; we had a garden filled with santol and kaimito trees; they did not.  Their children played in front of their shanties naked; we did not.  We went to Ateneo and to Maryknoll; they did not.  As a youth, I was deeply impressed by the anomaly of this situation.  “Justice” and “social justice” were yet not part of my vocabulary.  But in this situation which deep within I felt ought be otherwise, I think as a youth I was experiencing social injustice.  And I knew somehow that we who were not part of their poverty were somehow complicit in it.

We were not rich.  We were renting the house we were using.  But we were not poor.  Yet there were poor people in our home who cooked for us when we were hungry, washed our dishes when we were full, cleaned our house when we were busy, cared for us when we were sick, went to market for us when we were still sleeping, but did not sleep in the beds we enjoyed, did not sit at the table we gathered around, and did not enjoy the same food we enjoyed because they had prepared it.  Even as a youth I felt a great inner discomfort at this situation.  In school, we were taught:  God created us.  God loves us.  We are all part of the family of God.  But at home I was experiencing a situation I knew ought be otherwise.  Because God created and loves us all equally, in my own household I was experiencing social injustice.

I had a friend who was very rich.  His name was Wahoo. His father was a manufacturer of cement.  He lived in a posh house in Forbes Park and drove his own car. I admired him because he was intelligent, simple, softspoken and kind.  What he would do, I would want to do.  On weekends, from the luxury of his home in Forbes Park he would commute in a public bus all the way to Sapang Palay in San Jose del Monte.  Then, Sapang Palay was a resettlement of misery.  Their homes had been demolished in the slums of Manila, their remains loaded onto NHA trucks with their erstwhile inhabitants, and dumped onto a lot of Sapang Palay.  There they were told to rebuild their houses and their lives with hardly anyone to help them.  Wahoo would help them.  He would go there on weekends to help in whatever way he could.  Clad in a simple white T-Shirt and fading jeans, he would climb up shanties to help the elderly with their roofs; he would talk to young and old, eat with them and drink with them; he would love and be loved.  I used to go along with Wahoo on these visits to Sapang Palay.  Somehow, I wanted to be like him.  I too wanted to help the poor.  I too wanted to do what I could to work against social injustice.

Social Justice in the Jesuit Mission

That is why as a Jesuit I didn’t want to get involved in the university which seemed to cater to the rich. In time, as my Jesuit formation allowed me to personally appropriate the Jesuit mission, I felt within a quiet elation when what I learned of this mission resonated with my response to the social injustice situations in my youth.  The Jesuit mission is about the service of the faith.  But in the span of my Jesuit life, the implications of that mission have been unraveled.  General Congregation 33 (GC 33) insisted that the service of the faith is inseparable from the promotion of justice.  GC 34 amplified this insight further into an internally interlocking, symbiotic mission in the service of the faith which promotes justice that is sensitive to cultures and engages in inter-religious dialogue, the key insight being that one cannot engage in any one of these areas without getting involved in all others.  GC 35 added the environment.  Most recently, GC 36 re-stated this from the perspective of reconciliation:  the three-fold reconciliation with God, with humanity and with creation.  As all of these brought the Society of Jesus to a deeper appreciation of its mission, I think I felt my own commitment to social justice – rooted in a personal discomfort with and rejection of inequalities in our society – affirmed and strengthened in my personal acceptance of the Jesuit mission.   It was deepened as I spent my first two years as a Jesuit priest as priest-in-charge of San Pedro Resettlement Area in Laguna, and years later as priest-in-charge of the Sambayanang Kristyano ng Kristong Hari, where with the people and Cardinal Sin we fought inhumane and unjust demolitions and worked for the passage of the Housing and Urban Development Act into law (1992).

All this is important for our topic, I believe, because leadership inevitably involves the leader.  It involves understanding what makes the leader lead.

There is a spirituality involved here.  I do not immediately mean something as mature as Carmelite or Cistercian or Franciscan spirituality. I mean something more immediate, and perhaps for many not even articulated, and much less reflected on or even criticized.  I mean that which differentiates a leader from just his or her body, that which makes him or her as a human being tick.  I mean that which makes a person who encounters a mother and a child who have slept all night on the sidewalk react the way he or she does. Some respond with dismay because their sense of order and cleanliness on the streets is violated by this unsightly spectacle.  Others respond with disgust because the welfare and humanity of the mother and child are violated by the conditions that force them to sleep on a cold and dirty sidewalk.  Some people react to a baby as just yet another mouth to feed, others respond to a baby as a precious gift and responsibility from God.  Some people respond to the scent of a flower with awe, others hardly even notice it.  What makes a human being tick is the set of human relations he or she has been blessed or cursed with in life, the set of gut values that have been shaped from one’s childhood, within one’s family, barkada and community that are profoundly personal.  What makes a human being tick, his or her spirituality, is that which moves the leader to lead, and distinguishes his or her leadership from that of another.  It is that which shapes one’s choices, enables one to take risks or isolates one from them, opens one to growth or condemns one to being stunted, helps one to welcome criticism and grow from it, or forces one to avoid criticism, and react to it whenever it must come.   The spirituality in my leadership – what makes me tick – is what began as a profound disturbance at the discrepancy between the way the poor lived and the way we lived, and matured into an personal acceptance of the mission of the Jesuits:  the commitment to work for social justice as demanded by faith and understanding that today social justice is not possible without the transformation of our culture and the dialogue between religions that accepts diversity of faiths.

University Leadership

I never wanted to be a university president. But in 1999 when Fr. Rolly Bonoan, President of the newly-recognized University of the Ateneo de Naga, passed away without permission through a heart attack, his job passed to me.  It was at Ateneo de Naga where I learned how to be a University President.  I learned not only about how to read financial statements and the complexities of construction.  I learned how to appreciate a university community of scholars and academicians that comes together to pursue truth in academic freedom.  I learned how a Jesuit university in academic freedom appropriates the mission of the Society of Jesus:  the service of the faith, the promotion of justice, sensitivity to cultures and inter-religious dialogue.  I learned that as a leader I did not have to have all the answers, and that there was much to be learned from listening.  I learned that leading a university that had appropriated the Jesuit mission meant working with lay-persons who were as committed to the Jesuit mission as any Jesuit could be.  The university mission statement was not just words that adorned walls for the appreciation of accreditors.  It meant the university community itself being transformed by values of faith, justice, resilient cultures and religious dialogue and the spiritual insights of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  It meant a courageous commitment to social justice through the key university functions of instruction, research, and outreach.  In Bikol, this involved them in the struggle against poverty and in the fight against environmental destruction through mining.  I learned therefore that the way ADNU operated impacted transformatively first on the university community, then consequently on the community beyond the university.  I experienced poor students become engineers and nurses and computer animators and witnessed how they pull their families out of poverty.  I experienced how teachers inspired by the positive influence their university had on the communities around it recommitted themselves to university work for the personal satisfaction of the work.  In all this, I learned the university was not the institution that but preserves the status quo as I had once feared, but was a powerful institution if appropriately led for social transformation.  Leading a Jesuit university was about leading a powerful institution for personal and social transformation.  It was about an opportunity to help shape a university in accordance with what made me tick – a deep desire to pursue social justice based on personal faith.

Shared Passion, Shared Mission

Even after my twelve years at ADNU, I was wary of ADDU.  ADNU had no unions. ADDU had four.  ADNU had a history of people coming together to solve shared problems.  ADDU had a history of strikes.  ADNU was in a city of some two hundred thousand people;  Davao had 1.5 million.   For me, ADNU had been a good and gentle teacher.  ADDU was a challenge.

I knew I could not lead alone.  Even before I was inaugurated President, I gathered together a group of some sixty people.  The criterion for invitation was passion.  I asked my assistants to gather together all those in the university who were passionate about anything.  I didn’t want the yes-people.  I wanted those who had strong convictions.  I said, let’s talk.  So in the Davao Eden resort the Davao eagles gathered, passionate people all.  They came from the unions, the outreach institutes, the grade school, the high school, the colleges, the law school, the students, the staff, the administrators, the alumni.  They came curious about who the new university president was, as I came curious about who they were.  For five days, we discussed four questions:  What is your personal passion?  Are you able to express this at the Ateneo de Davao?  If yes, how do you do so.  If not, why not?   What resulted was genuinely profound.  People who were battle scarred from the conflicts with management through the unions expressed their dismay and hurt.  They had been trained by the Jesuits in social justice.  How was it that they were now on the opposite sides of the bargaining table?  People who were once friends expressed how difficult it was to repair damaged relationships. People who used to know the Ateneo de Davao as a place where each knew everyone else were dismayed by the segmentation of the university into groups that did not communicate with each other.  Teachers who had an eros for research expressed dismay at being held back from research.  Faculty who had a passion for the environment expressed their isolation in their engagement.  People who were focused on teaching had complaints about the cramped facilities of their work spaces.  As I listened to the frustration and the complaints, it was clear to me that all was rooted in a manifest appreciation for the university and its mission.  So in that privileged moment in Eden which had been dubbed, “Shared Passion, Shared Mission,” I worked to understand whether we did share mission, whether we did share a mission as a university that was not only about instruction, but also emphatically about research and outreach, and that as a university, we shared appreciation of being Catholic, Jesuit and Filipino.  We came out with no document in that Eden experience.  But we did come to a meeting of minds, a convergence of spirit, which defined our universitas, our community, from within.  We decided that what made us tick was the same, a shared passion, a shared mission in our community to search for and serve truth through the service of the faith, the promotion of justice, sensitivity to cultures and the protection and preservation of the environment.

When we left the gardens of Eden and came back to our classrooms and offices, we allowed the acknowledged shared passion and shared mission to shape the reformulation of our Vision and Mission statement.  In our identity-statement we clearly acknowledged ourselves to be a university – a community of scholars and researchers pursuing truth in academic freedom.  But we also declared ourselves to be Catholic, Jesuit and Filipino.  The mission statement was a declaration of how our university identity manifests itself in our mission:  in the formation of leaders for the Church and society in Mindanao, in the promotion of faith that does justice, in cultural sensitivity and transformation, and in inter-religious dialogue, particularly with the Muslim and Lumad communities of Mindanao.  ADDU would promote communities touched and transformed buy the faith.  It would promote social justice, gender equality, good governance, the creation of wealth and its equitable distribution.  It would engage vigorously in environmental protection, the protection of biodiversity, and the promotion of renewable energy.  It would promote educational reform.

Walking the Talk for the Environment and for Peace

The mission statement was longer and more detailed than usual in such statements.  But that was because it gathered together the actual convictions and commitments of people belonging to the community.  What however soon became evident was that it was not just words.  It was not just a poster on the wall for accreditors.  ADDU was suddenly in the thick of public opposition to the large-scale open-pit SMI mines in Tampakan, South Cotabato.  It took the side of the Blaan people opposing SMI’s destruction of their homeland.  It took the side of the lowland farmers whose rice fields would be threatened by permanent destruction from the toxic effluence of the mine.  It disputed the claim that a pit 500 hectares large and more than 800 meters deep – the depth of two Empire State Buildings place one on top of the other – would not adversely affect the environment.  It took the side of the Philippine environment whose old-growth forests and biodiversity would be adversely affected by the mining project.  It took the side of the Philippine nation whose interests are adversely affected by implementation of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 – which some have described as treasonous.  Our opposition was determined and effective. We gained many friends among environmentalists, including the social action groups of the Archdiocese of Marbel.  But because we were effective we also gained many enemies, foremost among them the Chamber of Mines.  We also lost friends.  The chairman of our Board of Trustees, whose family had financial interests in Tampakan, resigned.

ADDU also got quickly involved in the peace process.  It took its mission commitment to inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue seriously.  As a Catholic and Jesuit university, it is the only Jesuit school in the Philippines with an AB in Islamic Studies focusing on the political economy.  Soon after the Shared Vision, Shared Mission event, it set up its Institute for Muslim Identities and Dialogue in Southeast Asia under the leadership of Datu Mussolini Lidasan.  Before coming to Davao I was not sensitive to the historical plight of the Filipino Muslim community.  I soon learned that its struggle – whether for independence or for genuine autonomy – was ultimately a struggle for social justice – or for a righting of historical injustice – and for a homeland.  This was the struggle of a proud people whose culturally rich sultanates under the crescent moon were formed centuries before the arrival of the Spaniard and the Cross.  In Mindanao, through the actions of the Spaniards, the Americans and in time, what many do not understand, even the Filipinos, they were in their native land relegated to the wrong side of history.  In the Treaty of Paris they were sold by Spain to the US, even though Spain had never conquered them and so were not Spain’s to sell.  They were mesmerized and deceived by the Americans in the Bates Agreement, massacred by the Americans in Bud Bagsak and Bud Dajo through Generals Wood and Pershing who considered them barbarians, marginalized and minoritized through the creation of the Moro Province ruled from Zamboanga, then later the Department of Mindanao and Sulu ruled from Manila, where under the civilian governor Frank Carpenter, they were “Filipinized” by subjecting them to the rule of Christian Filipinos from the north. Through the Agricultural Colonies Act under the Americans (1913) and the Colonization Act under the Commonwealth (1935) they were pushed off their lands and subjected to a land registration system that was foreign to them, alienating them permanently from their lands. Closer to our times, they were subjected to the Jabidah Massacre.   The misunderstanding and discrimination is rooted in their culture inseparable from their diverse receptions of Islam persist to this day.  It can be said the contemporary struggle for a Muslim Homeland through a constitutionally mandated Bangsamoro Basic Law begins there.  ADDU has involved itself deeply in this struggle, making the Bangsamoro struggle its own.   It continues to do so in its research, its instruction, the Madaris Volunteer Program, the Mindanao Peace Games, and the ongoing advocacy of a meaningful Bangsamoro homeland in the Philippines.

Our Vision and Mission Statement committing us to self-transformation and the transformation of society is not just words;  it are the soul of the university as it is the soul of my leadership and I daresay the soul of all who teach, who research and serve the Mindanao community from the university.  It is the soul behind what I approve or disapprove, promote or discourage, reaching back in me to that discomfort in my youth with the reality of squatters on the other side of the wall, or the unequal of the poor right inside our household, or the idol I found in a Wahoo Taylor who decided he had something to contribute to better the lot of the poor.  The faith-based commitment to social transformation in the university is the soul which we nurture through a program that promotes Ignatian spirituality on all levels for the University, for faculty, staff and students.  The programs are not mandatory, but because they are highly appreciated they are highly subscribed.  They involve our community in three-day, five-day, eight-day and recently even thirty-day silent retreats.  We have carefully trained lay faculty members who guide these retreats. We have a facility and staff in Samal, the St. Ignatius Spirituality Center, dedicated exclusively to silent retreats;  we open this not only to Catholics but also to Muslims seeking silence to find the will of God.  Ultimately, the institutional faith-based commitment to social justice is the commitment of the members of the community that finds the energy, stamina, generosity, courage and self-sacrificing dedication to fight for the common good in their quiet listening to God in their lives during these retreats.

The ADDU Graduate:  Our Most Important Contribution to Social Change

Meanwhile, the spirit and insights of the Shared Passion, Shared Vision experience in Eden have been re-articulated by similar representations of the various units of the university in another Eden experience this time in the ADDU Strategic Plan for 2015-2020.  Here, once again, beginning from the Vision and Mission of the University we move through five core principles, through nine mission goals, through nine key result areas and accompanying key performance indicators, unto an articulation of the profile of our graduate.  We call the Strategic Plan “AFIRE for Social Justice and the Common Good”, calling forth from us the Administration, the Formation, the Instruction, the Research and the Engagement that ultimately produces our graduates for the common good, declaring that our graduate is our most important contribution to social change and transformation.   We expect that our graduates, rooted in faith, would:

  1. Be educated leaders in society for the common good, especially for Mindanao;
  2. Express their faith through works of justice;
  3. Positively contribute to belief in a secular world;
  4. Engage in dialogue with peoples of different faiths and cultures, and work for peace;
  5. Live out and promote environmental stewardship;
  6. Have an entrepreneurial spirit; produce wealth and ensure its equitable distribution in society;
  7. Work for and with vulnerable communities for their development;
  8. Serve the Roman Catholic Church;
  9. Lead in the promotion of educational reforms.

To recap:  I had been requested to talk about transformative school leadership and about guiding change towards valued institutional goals.  I said that leadership has something to do with the leader, and what makes the leader tick. My early personal commitment to social change through experiences which confronted me with I perceived to be social injustice helps account for what makes me tick as a university leader.  This early commitment was reinforced in my appropriation of the mission of the Society of Jesus which involved a faith-based pursuit of social justice inseparable from sensitivity to cultures, inter-religious dialogue and environmental responsibility.  Our university was Jesuit because it appropriated this Jesuit mission, calling for the appropriate transformation of the university community and the community beyond.  This shaped the mission and vision of the school.  It shapes its strategic planning, including the institutional goals as articulated and pursued.  Most of all, it shapes the day-to-day real activities that demonstrate the truth of the mission and vision: like the public protest of the university against large scale mining, and the sustained  advocacy of the university for a Bangsamoro homeland. Like our efforts in instruction and formation to sensitize our students to the demands of the common good and make this the mark of their ADDU sui generis leadership when they graduate.

Not a Rose Garden Without Thorns

I would mislead you were I to give you the impression that this is a rose garden without thorns.  We do have our problems of miscommunication, underachievement, fatigue, discouragement and overwork.  We have our problems with competition and our challenges in our relationships with the Department of Education and the CHED.  We still have ongoing problems in our college faculty union, which have reached external bodies such as the DOLE and the courts. We are disappointed when despite our formation programs there are those who would seem to sacrifice authentic joy, social purpose and personal development in their work for issues of compensation, benefits and power. It is for this reason that I am deeply grateful that in running the university I am not alone.  I run the university with a host of faculty members, staff, administrators and students who truly love the university, who fight for its just rights, and make it function as it does.  I also run the university inspired by the example and dedication of other educational leaders in the CEAP, the COCOPEA, the PASUC and PAASCU who network and bond in the service of education in the Philippines.

Because we are not perfect, because we are a human organization whose excellence is dependent on the freedom and dedication of our co-workers, because good people can get tired, suffer fatigue, and must address challenges beyond the university in their homes and communities, because the roster of our co-workers is vulnerable to the market both local and foreign, because people resign or retire and new people come with unusual ideas or different cultures of work, and ideals of excellence may flag, I am a great believer in quality assurance and in the ASEAN Quality Assurance Framework.  We must assure ourselves and others that what we claim is true and can be evidenced.  This demands quality assurance based on an external quality assurance agency, on external processes and standards, on an internal quality assurance culture, operating within a national qualifications framework.  Of these, I believe that the most important insight of quality assurance is that it is the educational institution that has the first responsibility for quality.  Because the institution must find truth, communicate truth and serve the community in truth, it must take first cudgels for the quality of its activities.  Because we are serious about our institutional goals, quality assurance is indispensible.

Thank you for this opportunity to share something of my leadership and my life with you.  In my youth I never dreamed of this role.  I wanted to be a fireman.  But having had the privilege of university leadership, I would now not want it otherwise.  In the Philippines, we have yet to realize the full potential of an integrated self-governing higher educational community where public and private universities work together to improve higher educational delivery for Philippine students.  We have yet to experience a higher educational community that in academic freedom not only outputs the professional expertise and social leadership of the country today, but also stands as a critical promoter and fierce protector of the common good with all its challenges and complexities.  But what we have yet to experience is part of the challenge of educational leadership on our watch.  Thank you to the Center for Educational Measurement for the invaluable service you render education in the Philippines.  As we continue our service, may God continue to disturb us in the many who are poor and ignorant, may he strengthen us in our educational institutions, and in our commitment to truth may he grant us peace!

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Living and Dying for the Lord

[Homily: 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Assumption Chapel, 16 Sept. 2017.]

Our Lord

Our readings for this evening coming from Matthew and the Book of Wisdom are beautiful and challenging, but I would like to focus on the message for us of the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans (14:7-9).  It is a profound passage short enough to be memorized, but important enough to be prayed over for life:

Brothers and sisters, none of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself.  For if we live we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord;  so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 

For this is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

It is a quiet text, I think, talking to us gently; we are told our lives and deaths are not for our selfish purposes, but for the Lord’s.  It is a text that invites us to look at our lives and ask ourselves, for what or for whom do we live, and should we ever face death, which for us all is certain, for what or whom shall we die.  It is a gentle text which quietly suggests an ultimate disjunction:  either we live for ourselves, or we live for the Lord.  Either we die for ourselves, or we die for the Lord.  It is not a text which diminishes our selves, which themselves are a gift of the Lord, but a text which proclaims fullness of our selves in living for the Lord, and the ultimate meaning of dying in having lived for the Lord.

While it is healthy to dream and plan for our futures in life, as all people who are young are encouraged to do, St. Ignatius suggested that for life it is salutary to look at our lives from our deathbed, first, because after death there is either salvation or damnation, but more so to be able to check the quality of our living today.  Is the life that we live truly good?  Is it genuinely joyful?  Or is it wasted in pure drudgery on that which I know is meaningless.   Today we may not need  St. Ignatius’ deathbed exercise to reflect on the quality of our living.   With every passing day the news reminds us increasingly that death is immanent, and life is precarious.  We may dream to live a comfortable family life in a beautiful home, but each day we are reminded how such dreams realized at great sacrifice, and sometime even through great compromise, may be shattered by an earthquake, a typhoon, an act of criminality, a police action that mistakenly claims our lives, a deadly terrorist action taken for some unholy purpose.  What has happened to Kian de los Santos, unfortunately, can happen to anyone of us; and what exploded in Marawi can be repeated in other cities like our own.  Or in London, in a subway filled with innocent people.  Death is in the air as North Korea shoots missiles over Japan in aggressive self defense, as South Korea responds by firing two missiles (one of which fails) in self-defensive warning, and as the US President Trump, whose tweets fill us all with confidence, says he does not discount to the arrogant threats of North Korea a military response of fire and fury that the world has not yet seen.

Paul says:  none of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord;  so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 

We must admit, I think, that for many of us this is not true.  We live for survival, we live to keep living.  To live, we live for money.  To flourish, we live for more money.  We spend the money on many “necessities” that most people don’t need.  We relate to God to grant us success and to protect us from harm.  We help other people to feel good.  And when death comes, well, we pray, so that in death we might be saved.

But this type of a life is far from what Paul articulates as true of the genuine Christian.  The Christian does not live for oneself.  The Christian does not die for oneself.  The Christian lives and dies for the Lord.

What that means in your lives you may need to work out for yourselves in genuine reflection, prayer and spiritual conversation.

Paul says:  none of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself…  What compels that is not a matter of force;  it is a matter of freedom.  What makes that imperative is not a matter of fear, it is a matter of love.  It is the outcome, I think, of prayer that can take place right in this chapel before the crucified Lord, where we appreciate that Jesus did not live for himself as he preached to open to us the Kingdom of God.  Jesus did not die for himself as he was misunderstood and killed for what he preached.  Jesus lived and died for us.  This is part of Paul’s message for today:

… whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.  For this is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.  He died, that he might deal death its deathblow.  If Jesus lived and died for us, it is now only fitting that we now freely respond with Paul’s words:   For if we live we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord;  so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 

Living for the Lord does not mean giving up our friends or our families or our civic responsibilities.  Quite the opposite.  It means making the Lord proud in the way we value our friends, care for our families and discharge our responsibilities to the common good.  It means glorifying the Lord in the way love, serve, and forgive.  It means cherishing a friend as Jesus cherishes us as friends; it means caring for our families and being faithful to our spouses until married life reflects the mutual love between God and his people;  it means pursuing God’s will in our workplaces and in advancing the common good.  I wonder how many of the congressmen who so generously voted all of one-thousand pesos for the Commission on Human Rights even considered the Lord.  Even in politics, Christian politicians ultimately serve not Speaker Alvarez nor President Duterte nor Mammon nor Power nor their own selfish ambitions, but the Lord.  Why?  Ultimately because: if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord;  so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.  On this is decided salvation or damnation. “Whatever you have done for one of these the least of my brothers and sisters, that you have done to me” (Mt. 25:45). the Lord said.  When it is clear that we live not unto death but unto life, it is the Lord who says or does not say,  “Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…” (Mt. 25:34).

 

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That dry cups be filled with wine

[Homily: Birthday of Mary, Chapel of the Assumption, 8 September 2017]

Today is the birthday of Mary. Where many of us for whatever reason may have taken a step away from Mary, on her birthday, I propose we take a step closer to her.

Why do I say many of us have taken a step away from her? I guess it’s simply because times have changed, values have changed. And what was taken for granted in the past, may no longer be taken for granted in the present. In the past it was a celebrated mark of an Atenean that he or she have a rosary in his or her pocket. That was because in the past it was part of the day of the Atenean to pray the rosary. That may no longer be the case today. And if so, it is a bit sad. Because through the regular prayer of the rosary – the repeated prayer of the Hail Mary, the Our Father, and the Glory Be – one developed a closeness to Mary.   Through this closeness to Mary, one also developed a familiarity with her Son, and a deep gratitude for the history of salvation. That’s what happens when one regularly recalls in prayer the mysteries of the rosary: the joyful, the sorrowful, and the glorious mysteries. Relatively recently, Pope St. John Paul II added the luminous mysteries. For me, I consider that one of the greatest contributions of his papacy to the Church! So in coming closer to Mary through the rosary, one entered more and more deeply into the mystery of salvation by regularly contemplating such as the incarnation of the Son of God, the birth of Jesus, the baptism of the Lord, the marriage feast of Cana, Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God, the transfiguration, the institution of the Eucharist, the suffering and death of the Lord, the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Decent of the Holy Spirit and his sanctifying action in our Church, the Assumption of Mary (that is celebrated specially in this chapel) and her Queenship in heaven. That we no longer pray the rosary daily, habitually, and no longer carry a rosary in our pockets, so that in fingering it we are reminded to pray it, is sad. This would mean, as I said, we have taken a step away from Mary.

Today is Mary’s birthday. And I am glad we are all here in this Chapel of her Assumption to celebrate with her. For she is our mother. From his Cross, Jesus gave her to us as our mother. And I would like to bet we have all had special moments of intimacy with her as our mother: when we knew she was very close, when we knew that she was listening, when we knew that she had spoken to Jesus on our behalf, and when we knew she’d worked out a little miracle for us. In my life that happened in Bicol, when Mary, Our Lady of Peñafrancia, Ina, wondrously intervened there in the long-estranged and often tense relationship between my mother and father, worked out that they after many painful years of conflict meet “accidentally” on the steps of her Basilica, and there, for all to see, brought them together in a loving kiss. The great Jesuit theologian once told me, “Accidents, accidents! There are no accidents, only grace.” Mary has a lot to do with winning for us these graces that appear like accidents. Sometimes, however, because we are so educated, or so sophisticated, or because we think cynicism more fashionable than humility, we block ourselves off from perceiving miracles and remain with the accidental, and so shy away from praying to our Mother Mary. We think we are grown up. We think we can solve our own problems. We think if we cannot solve our problems, no one can. Should that be the case in our lives, it would mean we have taken step away from Mary.

In the prayer of our Mass today, we proclaimed, “The birth of Mary’s Son was the dawning of salvation…” We recalled the birth of our Savior in our Gospel. The angel proclaimed: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary, your wife, into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She is to bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew explains: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” Through Mary, God is Emmanuel. Through Mary, God is with us. Through Mary, God is Love, Compassion and Peace for us.

On the birthday of Mary, where we may have stepped away from her, we ask for the grace to turn around, and once again step towards her. We ask for the grace again to pray the rosary daily in our lives, and to discover that this prayer, simple as it is, really helps. Another step back to her would be to ask for the grace to pray and mean the Memorare. Did you ever know the Memorare? As kids, we were asked to memorize this prayer. But too often, even I forget.

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. 

Let us not be shy about bringing Mary our concerns – no matter how great they may be. If we are hungry, let us bring our hunger to our mother. If we are sick, let us ask her for healing. If we are in conflict, let us ask her for peace. In this spirit, our prayer with the entire Church in this Mass is: “May the celebration of her birthday bring us closer to lasting peace.”

Peace. Let us take a step closer to Mary by putting into her motherly hands our concerns for peace in this world. The situation is precarious. North Korea will not back off from its dangerous nuclear arms program. The United States and its allies will not back off from opposing this program.   A war of words has been joined. One can say, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But these words call forth action. Yet action in this case, be it the action of a rogue politician or a ponderous statesman, would be totally catastrophic. Today, we must bring this dangerous situation to our Mother Mary.

We must also bring the situation of peace in Mindanao to our Mother Mary. With our Muslim sisters and brothers we share a deep devotion and love for Sitti Maryam, Holy Mary. On her birthday, let us bring our hopes for lasting peace in Mindanao to her for her intercession. The guns in Marawi must finally be silenced. The peace that we have hoped and prayed for for more than four decades must finally be achieved. The autonomy and self determination the Bangsamoro claim and deserve must finally be granted in the passage of the enhanced Bangsamoro Basic Law. Let it be granted despite the spoilers and the spoiled among politicians; let it be granted despite the determined effort of a minority to impose their reception of Religion on all. Let it be granted in the press of diverse faiths seeking the one Divine will. Let us put this situation in the hands of our mother, recalling to her, that never was it known that anyone who fled to her protection, implored her help, or sought her intercession was left unaided.

Take a step closer to Mary. Even on her birthday, show her, our mother, our cups gone dry. Let her whisper to her Son, that our vessels of water may be changed into the finest of wine!

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