Do Not Prevent Them

[Homily: Evening Mass, Jesuit Villa, Mirador Hill, 23 May 2018, based on Mark 9:38-40)]

Mirador Homily 2018

In our Gospel, there was someone driving out demons in Jesus’ name. He was driving out demons. The disciples tried to prevent him.

He was freeing a person of an oppressive spirit that made him harm himself and harm others. And the disciples tried to prevent him.

In Jesus’ name, he was doing good. He was doing good.. And the disciples tried to prevent him.

Later they reported this to Jesus: “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us” (Mk. 9:38).

Jesus’ reply was: “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me” (Mk. 9:39). Do not prevent him.

The disciples were looking at the situation from the lens of their own in-group, and the power and privileges that they considered the prerogative of their group alone. To act in Jesus’ name, to help others in Jesus’ name: this was their turf, they felt.

“In Jesus’ Name” privileged them.

Therefore, there was an instinct in the disciples that needed to prevent this unlikely exorcist from doing good. . . “because he does not follow us,” the disciples explained. He does not follow us: he does not do things the way we do. He is different. Because he is not part of our community. Because he has a source of power that we do not know, that we do not control.

Jesus replied: “Do not prevent him. Let others do good in my name.” Considering that Jesus’ focus was not the power, prerogatives and privileges of his followers, but the person himself being finally freed of a demon, his position was: “let others do good to people.”

“…Other people may be different from us. Do not prevent them from doing good, because when they do good, I know they do so ultimately through the power of my Father. “

Our Gospel story may invite us to reflect on “the other” in our lives. How sometimes there is a tendency in our lives to “other” people who are different, who do not do things the way we expect them to do things, who experience good and do good beyond the limitations of our thinking, and even outside the boundaries of our imagination. In “othering” them, we tend to want to stop them from doing what they do, because what they do or how they do it do not fit in our categories, compete with us, are beyond the control, regulation and comprehension of our “in group”, and so make us uncomfortable. They are not the same as us, so even in doing the good that they do, they should be prevented…

We are often uncomfortable that other people are different. I was once in Indonesia with a Muslim friend, Mussolini Lidasan, participating in a conference on inter-religious dialogue. In discussing the Pancasila, the state philosophy through which Indonesia has for a long time been able to integrate different religions into their State, a participant made the declaration, “God created us diverse.” It was a formulation which I’d not heard before, and so, being schooled more in the tradition of “Outside of the Church there is no salvation,” I found the formulation jarring. But I think the Gospel of today might also be pointing in this direction. God created us diverse. So for as long as religions are doing good to the human being, freeing human beings of their many demons, their demons to worship falsely, to live godless, immodest lives, to live inhumane, deprived and oppressed lives, do not prevent them. As Vatican II pointed out, it belongs to the inviolable dignity of the human person to find and serve God as led by the light of his or her conscience.

We should certainly not prevent them from doing the good that they do because we in our in-group are threatened.   The devout Muslims believe in one God and his prophet. They pray five times a day. They give alms to the poor. They make a pilgrimage in the course of their lives to Mecca. During the month of Ramadan, they fast from dawn to dusk.   That may be threatening to us who practically regard money, organization, rationality and power in our everyday considerations as more effective than God, or to us who have difficulty praying even once a day, or to us who feel exempt from giving alms to the poor, or to us who consider pilgrimages as passé or at best only as occasions for free vacations, or to us who never fast or who can never skip a meal. Some of us may feel uncomfortable every time a Muslim praises God in Arabic whenever he stands up to say something in public. But I think even in our day and age, Jesus, who is one with his Father, may be saying “Do not prevent them. They may even be a divine Word addressed to you.”

As the political situation in the Philippines seems to indicate that the Bangsamoro Basic Law may be passed, our Gospel also may be inviting us to consider how over the centuries Christianity has “othered” the Muslim of Mindanao in his or her fidelity to Islam. When we said, “outside of the Church there is no salvation,” we often did so saying, “outside of the Church there is no true humanity.” And since from the vantage point of the Catholic Spanish conqueror or the Protestant American conqueror, all good Filipinos docile to the conqueror were Christian, it was easy to say, “Outside of Christianity there is no true Filipino.” “Muslims are not genuine Filipinos. Christians are.” “At best, Muslims are second-class Filipinos.” Today, finally – hopefully – as a nation and as a Church, we may be ready to hear Jesus’ words in a new light, “Do not prevent them…”

As Atong shared last night, this is really not easy, especially for those of us who grew up in Mindanao. The wounds of wars among Filipinos in Mindanao, caused by people from the north, cut very deep. Many of those wounds are still open and the cause of the prejudices and biases that we are only slowly beginning to admit. Families were torn apart by these wars, and relatives and loved ones were killed. If you talk to Ogie, who grew up in Cotabato City, this is not something that can be solved on the level of peace panels and political declarations. Nor on the level of conceptual clarifications and strident appeals. It needs to be solved on the ground, on the level of shared face-to-face relationships and shared projects, where peoples of different faiths re-discover their shared humanity, and peoples of diverse religions discover together God’s Spirit of reconciliation and peace.

During the last supper, Jesus prayed for us who’ve received his Word. And he prayed for those who through us would hear his Word. He prayed that his joy might be in us and his joy might be complete. That joy we claim during this villa, as we appreciate a renewed Mirador, renew old friendships in our batch and institutional outings, lose all our money to red-dog “memories,” and enjoy Vil-Ma’s good life of sumptuous international cuisines and of rich and diverse Jesuit relationships.

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But that joy we also claim as we journey together on our Road to Mindanao, which starts really from deep desires within, as from within we listen to the heart-enflaming words of this Stranger-Companion who seems so “other” talking to us as we journey onwards, but whom we finally recognize here this evening in the Breaking of the Bread (cf. Lk. 24:13-35).

For whoever is not against us, is for us.

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Much Given, Much Required

law grad address 2018

[Address. ADDU Graduation of the College of Law and the Graduate School. 28 April 2018.]

For this year at Ateneo de Davao, this has been my fifth graduation. In the past, I only had four. But this year, the SHS graduations commenced. I started off with the grade school graduation. I end with yours, the highest of our graduations. Among you are Graduates of Law, Masters and Doctors of various disciplines. You have reached the highest levels, seven and eight, of the Philippine Qualifications Framework recognized and respected throughout ASEAN and the world. You are to be congratulated.

You have worked very hard. Demands were made on you, sometimes almost unbearable. Examinations had to be passed. Recitations had to be survived. Theses had to be completed. Dissertations had to be defended. We needed to pressure you to achieve what you celebrate today. We do not apologize for the pressure. We stand to our standards, and the pressure necessary to maintain those standards. These are not the standards, as some have suggested, of a fascist CHED and government. They are the standards of Ateneo de Davao University. You did not buckle under the pressure. You did not kill yourself because of it. You did not kill us for applying it. You met the standards. And therefore you graduate today.

You have much to be grateful for. Most of you have not been full-time students; you did not have that luxury. Most of you are already working, and work did not stop for you to pursue graduate degrees. Many of you are already married and carry responsibility for spouse and children. Many of you have maintained commitments to your Church or religious communities while you did your research and wrote your papers. For you to have reached this day, budget had to be set aside, pleasures had to be sacrificed, adjustments had to be made in your workplace; there was less time for your family, and less time to work with those you serve. But you did not give up your graduate studies. Indeed, from your spouses, your children, your colleagues, friends and communities, you even found much support. When you were close to giving up, they encouraged you on.

This year, with the support of President Duterte, the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act (RA 10931) was passed. This did not affect you, for it benefits only those taking first degrees, and for now, mainly those going to State Universities Colleges or CHED-accredited Local Colleges and Universities. But RA 10931 signals a massive push of the State towards universal higher education. The country is not satisfied with basic education, even with basic education that might enable its graduates to join the labor mainstream. The country is instead pushing for higher education, convinced that for the prosperity of this country in a global knowledge economy it is not enough to build, build, build physical infrastructure, but absolutely necessary to build, build, build people with higher technical skills, with deeper humanistic insight, with competitive professional know-how.

With the huge amount of money and resources now being poured into higher public education, it might be construed that over time higher private education will disappear, and all Philippine education will be melted down to one monolithic system of public educational provision for all on all levels. That would indeed, I am convinced, effect a melt down of quality education in the nation, where a single system of education publicly funded and centrally administered by the State may be easy prey to corruption, unending political interference, stagnation and quality erosion. Today, as you graduate from a private university, you might be grateful for a constitutional provision, Art. XIV, Sec 4 (1) of the 1987 Constitution, which insists on the complementarity of public and the private schools in the Philippine system of education. It is there not just to increase access, but to guarantee quality to higher education. Reflecting on this, you might be grateful for the private resources that have been poured into the contractual relation between this Ateneo de Davao University and its students and stakeholders over seven decades, that have allowed the scholars, the teachers, the professors, and the support staff to come together in academic freedom, and using the buildings, classrooms, libraries, laboratories and facilities of this school, to produce the 24 graduates of law, the 27 Masters of Arts, 8 Masters of Science, 2 Masters in Psychology, 36 Masters of Business Administration, 19 Masters of Public Administration, 18 Masters in Nursing, 12 Masters in Engineering, and the 13 Doctors that we celebrate today, on top of our 1,543 college graduates, our 1,676 senior high school graduates, our 473 junior high school graduates, and our 467 grade school graduates. One must be grateful that this remarkable provision of education on all levels, but even at the highest levels, at but one private institution, the Ateneo de Davao, happens without major cost to the taxpayer. It happens simply because of the private commitment this University makes to the public good of quality education for its students, and the private support this University receives from its students, their families and their benefactors in achieving that public good. That public good is the quality education you now embody for the good of the country, that is, education that surpasses government’s minimum standards to reach standards of excellence; education that implements our school’s mission and vision in all aspects of its operation, education that satisfies its stakeholders not only in industry but in society as a whole.

As you graduate today with the highest of ADDU’s degrees, remember that you are this university’s most important contribution to the common weal. You graduate not for yourselves alone – that you might now finally get higher compensation or a better assignment – but you graduate to be a leader in society, but especially in Mindanao, in the service of the faith, the promotion of justice, sensitivity to cultures, inter-religious dialogue and the defense of the environment. Fulfill this mission as men and women of higher education, never hesitating to allow your higher learning to lead you throughout your lives to ask questions critically and to seek their answers persistently. Let your higher education allow you to address the worst poverty in the country still in Mindanao, the worst deficit of education in the nation still in Mindanao, the worst manifestations of social injustice in the plight of the Bangsamoro and our indigenous peoples in Mindanao, the consequent alienation of the poor and marginalized but also of idealistic youth from mainstream society in Mindanao, and their penchant to attempt to escape frustration and despair in misleading ideologies and violence in Mindanao. In Mindanao, let your higher education celebrate the richness of our diversity, the strength of our spirit, the hope of our nation, and the light of our faith. The highest of ADDU’s academic degrees impel you to the humblest of conceivable service in memory of the Lord. At Ateneo, in the quiet service of your teachers and mentors, the Lord has washed your feet. “If I the Lord and Master have washed your feet, so too ought you wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14), the Lord said. But he also gave you this admonition and challenge: “To whom much has been given, much will be required; from one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be required. I have come to ignite fire on this earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Luke 48:49).

 

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Believe the Father and I are One

law grad homily 2018

[Graduate Baccalaureate Mass. ADDU Assumption Chapel, 28 April 2018. Based on John 10:22-30]

At your Baccalaureate Mass on the long-awaited day of your graduation, after all the investment you have made in higher graduate education, you are confronted with a command.  But it is a command to what really cannot be commanded, because what is commanded cannot be forced.  It is the command that is central to the Gospel of St. John.  Jesus says.  “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me, or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves” (Jn 14:11).

First, Jesus is saying as it were, “Believe me, because I say so, because you have come to know me, and because I have come to know you.  Believe me, because I am here before you, I am here for you, looking into your eyes and looking into your soul.”  Jesus says:  “Let your heart not be troubled.  As you believe in God, believe also in me” (Jn 14:1).  Believe me because you have been given to me by the Father (Jn 17:6.9), because you are “born of God” (Jn 1: 13) from above, and you therefore know that what I am saying is true.  “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me.”   “The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own authority…” (Jn 14:10a) but of the Father’s, and that “I have not spoken on my own but the Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it.” (Jn 12:49, cf. Jn 7:16).  Presupposed is the profundity of the Johannine Prologue: Jesus is the Word of the Father: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning God.  All things were made through him, and without him nothing has been made …  He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.  He came to his own, and his own did not receive him.  But as many as received him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name: who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”  The command to belief covers Jesus’ startling revelations of himself in the Gospel:  I am the light of the world (Jn 8:12).  I shine on those who dwell in darkness.  I am the Bread of life.  Eat me, and you will no longer hunger. (Jn 6:48-51). I am the source of living water.  Drink me and you will never thirst (Jn 3:14).   I am the door to the flock. (Jn 10:7). He who enters the sheepfold other than through the door is a thief.   I am the Good Shepherd.  I lay down my life for my sheep” (Jn 10:11).  I am the true vine (Jn 15:1).  Unless you remain in me, you can do nothing.  I am the Lord and Master.  But I am he who washes your feet  (Jn 13:14).  I am the Son of Man to be lifted up (Jn 3:14).  In being lifted up I draw all peoples to myself (Jn 12:32).  I am the Resurrection and the Life (Jn 11:25).

Believe Jesus that he and his Father are one, because he says so.    Or believe him because the works, the signs, testify to its truth.  The works are much more than just manifestations of extraordinary supernatural power.  They are signs of unity between Jesus and Father.  They manifest not only Jesus’s access to the Father’s power, but in Jesus they manifest the Father responding to the needs of people in the world.  Jesus’ use of his Father’s power to provide wine for the embarrassed couple at the marriage feast of Cana is the Father’s desire that the newlyweds and their families not lose face.  Jesus’ angry cleansing of the temple is the Father’s dismay that his house had been defiled in being used as a marketplace (Jn 2:13-17).  Jesus’ healing of the man born blind is the Father’s desire that this man see, and his revelation that healing a human being is of more importance than the Sabbath observance (Jn 9:1-7).  Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 hungry persons is the Father’s way of introducing Jesus as the Bread of life offered up – lifted up –  to still the deepest hunger of all of humankind (Jn 6).  Jesus’ extraordinary eloquence at the synagogue despite the tense opposition from the Pharisees is the Father’s truth manifested in Jesus as a two-edged sword (cf Jn 7:46).  Jesus’ compassion for the woman caught in adultery is the Father’s forgiveness for sinners who repent of their sins (Jn 8:3-12).  Jesus’ ultimate self-sacrifice on the Cross manifests the Father’s redeeming love for the world (Jn 19; Jn 3:16).

“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me, or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves” (Jn 14:11).

For persons privileged to have fulfilled the requirements for higher academic degrees at the Ateneo de Davao University, hopefully this is not just pious gibberish.

When Jesus introduced himself as the Bread of Life, many of his disciples were scandalized and just walked away.  The reaction for some of you may be similar, when you hear Jesus ask, “Will you too go away?”  His remaining disciples respond, “Lord, to whom shall we turn? You have the words of eternal life.” (cf. John 6:66-68). You may think this has no relevance for your sophisticated erudite concerns, and be tempted yourselves to walk way.

But hopefully, higher studies in pursuit of truth have given you the opportunity and space not only to increase your professional knowledge and skills but also to reflect on the larger questions of your life:  at your age and station, do you now have a satisfying grasp of life’s meaning, of life’s finality?  Is it clear where you are going, and what you wish to achieve? Do you have insight into what is required of you for a life of integrity?  Have you mastered the art of loving, the joys of giving, the challenge of discerning the requirements of the common good?

Or, even with your job, your career, your marriage, your children, is there an experience of a yet gnawing hunger within for something unsatisfied by the monthly food budget?  In running life’s hectic race to keep up with all of its requirements, including the expectations of your spouse and your children, do you thirst exceedingly for something else?  As you confront the conflicts, contractions and compromises in yourself, do you sometimes find yourself sweating cold in darkness where you come to realize you no longer like yourself?  If so, far from walking away from Jesus, you may wish to turn to him.  “I am the Bread of life” he says, “Take and eat.” “I am the source of Living Water,” he says, “Take and drink.   “I am the Light.”  he says. Vanquish the darkness!  As I am lifted up on my Cross, I draw you to myself, I take you to heart.  “Believe, that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:11).

 

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Taxation for Catholic Schools?

taxation CEAP

Answers to Questions Raised by Ms. Consuelo Marquez of the Staff of The Varsitarian, the official student publication of the University of Santo Tomas

 

  1. Why should the government not impose tax in church-run schools amid clamor from the public that tuition must be lower?

You imply that the public clamor that tuition must be lower should have a bearing on the possible impostion of tax by government on Church-run schools.  But there is no essential connection between tax and tuition in a church-run school.  Tution is part of a contract between a private educational provider and a person seeking education;  here the school and the student agree that for the education the school provides the student will pay tuition.  Since paid tuition and fees enable the school’s provision of competent teachers, appropriate facilieties, adequate libraries, etc, the quality of education is normally conditioned by the amount of tuition and fees paid.  Properly, government should not interfere in this private contract whose educational outcome is a public good.

Tax is what a person or an entity pays as its contribution to funds government uses presumably for the common good.

Church-run schools are tax exempt not because they are Church-run but because they are non-stock, non-profit schools.  They operate as a public service, in contribution to “the complete, adequate and integrated system of education relevant to the needs of people and society (Art. XIV, Sec 2.1) the Constitution mandates the State to provide in recognition of “the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels” (Art. XIV, Sec 1) where public and private schools function in complementarity (Art. XIV, Sec 4).  As non-stock-non-profit schools, no private persons or entities receive private profit from the operation of these schools;  instead, revenues are plowed back into the operation of the school, enhancing the school’s participation in the system of education that is the responsibility of the State to provide.

The tax exemption on the non-stock non-profit school is based, first, already on the contribution of the private entity complementary to the State’s public provision of education, and second, on the fact that the private entity takes no private profit in its operation but plows back revenues to the enhancement of the school in delivering education as a public good.

  1. Are there any other purposes of the tax exemption for church-run schools aside from improving the quality of facilities and teachers’ salary? Why or Why not?

The tax exemption supports the private non-stock non-profit school in playing the complementary role the Constitution foresees for it relative to public schools (cf. Art. XIV, Sec 4.1).  Hence, the Constitution says, “All revenues and assets of non-stock, non profit educational institutions used actually, directly and exclusively for educational pruposes shall be exempt from taxes and duties…” (Art. XIV, Sec 4.3).  The tax exemption, first, helps sustain the school, and second, increases its ability to re-invest revenues into such as improved teacher salaries, faculty development, facilities and the like.

  1. Are there any cases of  church-run schools unable to provide quality education amid the expensive collection of tuition? If so, could this be the reason that church-run schools should not be exempted from taxes?

I have explained the rationale for not taxing church run schools above.

The manner in which they perform is a different issue.  Some schools perform well, others perform poorly.  The taxation proposed is not as a punishment or disincentive for poor performance of some private schools, but a tax for all private schools, including non-stock, non profit schools.  It is a revenue-raising measure which mis-appreciates the support the State should be giving the private schools for easing its constitutionally-imposed burden in providing universal education (cf. Art. XIV Secs 1 and 2).

  1. How can you prove that there would be no corruption or any type of mishandling of funds in church-run schools?

I cannot prove this.  I cannot guarantee this.  Even church-run schools are sometimes prey to inefficient, incompetent or even corrupt people.  The Church-run schools, as all schools, try to minimize this in their operation.  They do so through quality assurance measures, e.g., though adopting procedures for external financial audit, or procedures for accreditation through an external quality assurance agency, e.g. the Philippine Accrediting Association for Schools, Colleges and Universities (PAASCU).

  1. Could you comment on House Speaker’s statement that he referred catholic schools as profitable businesses?

There is a commercial aspect to the operation of even Catholic schools.  If a Catholic school is mismanaged and its losses cannont be arrested, it will close.  Its educational service then ends.  For the continuity of service of a Catholic school, it must be well managed.  I am sure that Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez understands this.  The closure of a good school due to financial mismanagement, or to mis-appreciation of the “business” aspects of the school is disadvantageous to the Philippine “complete, adequate and integrated system of education” foreseen by the Constitution (Art XIV, Sec. 2.1)

But a Catholic school is a non-stock, non-profit operation.  This is different from “a business” whose finality is profit.  Profit goes to the private pockets of owners and investors, which they use for private purposes that have nothing to do with the school.  In itself, profit is not a bad thing.  It can incentivize and enable private investors to run good schools with private money that also contribute to the “complete, adequate and integrated system of education” foreseen by the Constitution (Art XIV, Sec. 2.1).

A Catholic school uses its revenues not for private profit but to improve its operation, to expand its services, provide new courses, engage better teachers, build better facilities, open new campuses, and the like, that benefit its students, ultimately its graduates, and the society they serve.

While a Catholic school may be very successful and have many revenues, it is not a for-profit business nor focused on maximized revenues for the sake of maximized revenues. The revenues of the Catholic school are for the students, the teachers, the graduates and the society that they serve.  Speaker Alvarez may appreciatre that many of the nation’s most successful commercial, professional and political leaders have come from private Catholic schools.  The State invested nothing in these warm-blooded human assets for the nation.

  1. Would you say that religious freedom would be affected if tax-exemption be removed from the church-run schools?

No.  Whether a Catholic school is taxed or not in the Philippines, does not affect the ability of a person to choose and practice one’s religion according to the dictates of his or her conscience.  “The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference” is an inalienable right guaranteed by Constitution (Article III, Sec. 5).

The removal of tax exemption from a Catholic schools, however, will affect either its very ability to operate, that is, to provide Catholic education to those who wish it, or to improve the provision of Catholic education to those already enjoying it.  On both levels the ultimate responsbility of the State to provide quality education to all Filipinos at all levels would be adversely affected.

In the case of a Catholic higher educational institution, if its operation is threatened or impaired by taxation,  academic freedom would be affected, that is, the untrammeled ability of the school to search for and communicate truth that is guaranteed by the Constition (Art XIV, Sec 5.2).  Institutions were academic freedom is respected in the pursuit of truth, innovation, and the relevance of human activity to the satisfaction of genuine human needs are essential for an increasingly humane and prosperous nation.

  1. If the new charter would impose tax in church-run schools and institutions, how will it affect the country’s education and economic implications in the long run?

Should the new charter impose taxes on Church-run schools and institutions it would either threaten the sustainability not only of Catholic schools but also of Protestant schools or Islamic schools which operate on a non-stock, non-proft basis.  It would also weaken the ability of the schools to re-invest that portion of revenues that is being taxed in the school.  Thus, instead of being encouraged by the State to sustain and improve their operations in the service of the State which is mandated by the Constitution to provide education to all, it is punished by taxes for helping the State to fulfill its duty.  The schools which contribute education to Filipinos at no major cost to the State, since they operate on private money, are forced to close or are hampered in their desire to improve the quality of their education.

Thus, government should think twice before it imposes such burdens on private Catholic schools that they may need to close. Catholic schools, before they are Catholic, are schools, competent in teaching basic education (K-12), or in the delivery of higher humanistic and higher professional disciplines on bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels.  Over the centuries these schools, at no major cost to government, have provided Philippine society with educated Filipinos, professionals and leaders.

But Catholic schools are not only schools.  They are Catholic schools.  They provide their learners and students an opportunity not only to learn about God and his relationship to nature and human society, but mediate a real graced experience of Jesus Christ.  For the Philippines this is of value to the majority of its citizens who are baptized, practising and often struggling Catholics.  It is a value to all of society for the values that educated Chrisianity offers to Philippine society:  the respect for the human being in human scoiety, the recognition of the Filpino’s or Filipina’s relation to the Self-revealing Creator in Jesus Christ, the Spirit present in his or her life, and the ethical implications of this for Philippine society, the respect for the environment, “Our Common Home”, as the Creator’s gift to all.  It would not be in the interest of the State and of the comnmon good to harm these Catholic schools through taxation.

What is needed today is not less education, but more access to quality education.  Catholic education delivers quality education in partial implementation of the State’s responsibility to provide a complete, adequate and integrated system of education for all.   It should be supported in this provision, not burdened through short-sighted revenue-raising taxes whose adverse effects may be a more expensive public school system bereft of the complementary innovativeness, quality, and discipline of Catholic schools.  Increased tax revenues may build, build build physical infrastructure (if, as Sen Ralph Recto points out,  the tremendous cost of maintaining the expensive government bureaucracy will allow it!), but the most important guarantee for economic and social success in the future is the quality education of the Filipino genius.

For the reasons I have given you in my answers to your questions, I call on all Catholic schools, their friends and supporters, esp. the Catholic bishops and legislators sensitive to the contribution of private education to the common good, to oppose all new taxes on private education, but esp. on Catholic non-stock-non profit schools.

 

 

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Either Walk Away, or Take and Eat!

[Homily: Graduate Baccalaureate Mass. University of the Immaculate Conception. April 21, 2018. Based on John 6:60-69]

We come together today in great thanksgiving. You have fought the good fight, you have run the race. You have kept the faith. You have been tried and tested. You have not been found wanting. Therefore, our coming together. We are part of a great crowd of witnesses to the grace of your achievement. Your achievement certainly. For it was your diligent study, your passed exams, your finished projects, your accomplished requirements. But your achievements were not only yours, but a product of grace: the grace of the generosity, sacrifice and love of your parents, the grace of the competence, dedication and wisdom of your teachers and administrators, the grace of your God who brought you to this day under the motherly guidance of our Lady of the Immaculate Concepcion.

But in the light of today’s Gospel, we come together in profound Eucharistic thanksgiving. For your graduation joy is linked this day with the profound mystery and challenge of the Eucharist. At the first “Eucharist”, the first “giving of thanks”, it was Jesus who first “gave thanks.” “He took the bread, gave thanks and broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given up for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:20). Then “he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. ‘This is the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many’” he said (Mk 14:22-24). His giving thanks was prelude to and inseparable from his great sacrifice on the Cross, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped at, but emptied himself… and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that every knee should bend, in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the Glory of God the Father.” (cf. Phil 2:6-11). When he was lifted up on the cross, he lifted us all to himself (cf. Jn 12:32). He lifted us into his Paschal mystery, into his suffering, death and resurrection (cf. Rom 6:2-4) so that we might forever abide in him and he in us (cf. Jn 15:4), and thereby enjoy what he had come into our world to bring us: “life, life to the full” (Jn 10:10).

This is the context of our Gospel reading from the sixth chapter of John, his great chapter on the Eucharist. At the outset of this chapter, Jesus takes bread, gives thanks, and responds to the hunger of five thousand people by multiplying bread and fish. But this miraculous multiplication is but preliminary to his much more profound response to all human hunger. Here, Jesus presents himself as the Bread of Life. “I am the Bread of Life,” he declares, “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (Jn 6:35) “…Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them.” (Jn 6: 52-56)

For many of Jesus’ disciples however, this was too much. How could they eat this man’s flesh? How could they drink his blood? They could not understand him. “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him” (Jn 6:66). They turned away from Jesus. They were civilized people. They were not savages, not cannibals.

But for those who had been led to Jesus “from above”, to those who had been “lifted to himself as he was lifted up on the Cross” (cf. Jn 12:32), they knew he and only he had the “words of eternal life” (Jn 6:28).

Today, when a great crowd of relatives and friends witnesses your day of academic triumph, you are also confronted with the Lord who says: to your deepest desires in life, to your deepest hungers, I am the Bread of Life. Take me. Eat me. Consume me. Take me into yourself. Make me a part of you as I make you a part of me.

In our Gospel, many of Jesus’ disciples cannot take this. They turn away. What is your response to him?

On this day of your graduation, in our Gospel, but also in this Eucharistic celebration, as at every Eucharistic celebration, the Lord approaches you and says, “I am the Bread of Life. Take me, Accept me. Eat me. Consume me. Let me fill your hunger with the loving offering of my body. Let me quench your thirst with the loving offering of my blood poured out for you. Let me fill your emptiness within with a loving intimacy that nourishes, enlivens, uplifts, awakens and liberates you from your isolation, your shyness, your paralysis, your fear. Let me fill your emptiness with the challenge of loving others as the Father and I Love you “even to death, death on the cross” (cf. Phil 2:8).

You either walk away, insisting you can feed yourself with pan de sal, instant noodles, Chicken Joy, and eventually through access to all the grandest banquet halls of this famished world, declaring you have no need for this weird Jesus, or you accept the Bread of Life lovingly, since it is offered to you lovingly, so that eating it you too give thanks, take up your Cross daily, and follow him. You too give thanks, and nourished by the Bread of Life say: this my body offered up for you; this is my blood poured out for you. If you do so, in your discipleship, as your University of the Immaculate Conception has impressed on you over and over again: you must “serve others in humility and love, exercise intelligent leadership…, respect the dignity of all persons, esp. the poor, work for justice, promote peace and preserve the integrity of creation” (cf. UIC Mission Statement) in order to contribute to the ongoing realization of God’s Kingdom.  Do this and – believe me! – you will be misunderstood, harassed and persecuted. You will be trolled in Facebook and Twitter, and reprimanded even by those whom you think are your allies and friends. Yet a great cloud of heavenly witnesses will impel you onwards, to advance constantly towards this goal (cf. Heb 12:1) of the fullness of God’s Kingdom. Beneath this cloud of witness, even when your enemies persecute you, “Rejoice and exult, Gaudete et Exsultate!, for so did they persecute the prophets before you. Your reward will be great in heaven.” (Mt. 5:12.)

 

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Alhamdulillah! To God be the Glory!

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[Welcome Address, Culmination Night, Madaris Volunteer Program, Finster Hall, ADDU, 16 April 2018]

At the end of the third year of the Madaris Volunteer Program (MVP) it is my pleasure in the name of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP), the Private Educational Assistance Committee (PEAC) and the Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) to greet you. I welcome our esteemed friends from our partner Madaris and communities. I welcome especially our volunteers.

mvp 04-2018 bTo the volunteers, first, I say thank you. Thank you for your sacrifice of your year in freedom in order to be able to share of your education with our brothers and sisters in their respective Madaris. Thank you for your courage to leave your comfort zones to risk experiencing an unfamiliar culture. Thank you for allowing your desire to share your knowledge and your lives to overcome your fears, and for your generosity in sharing what you were able to share in such as mathematics, science, English, history. Through your generosity you have increased the knowledge of those you taught. You have enriched their lives.

To our twelve partner Madaris in Cotabato, Lamitan and Maguindanao, our host families and their respective communities, thank you for accepting our volunteers, taking care of them during their months in your communities. The volunteers came in order to teach, but because of your hospitality and kindness they have also learned much. You have welcomed them into your schools, into your families, into your culture and into your lives. Because of this, their lives have been profoundly enriched.

It was not always easy. It is not easy for students to learn. The lazy and disinterested student remains the prisoner of ignorance. But to the learner willing to listen to and learn from a generous teacher, new knowledge and the foundations of wisdom is a valued reward.

It was not always easy as well for the volunteer unfamiliar with the customs and values of the community. There were many moments of insecurity, uncertainty, fear and aloneness. There were also occasions one made embarrassing mistakes. But the volunteer who persevered, who stayed the course, the reward was the experience of a new family, a new culture, the invaluable insight that one’s original culture is not the only culture, that there are other ways of doing things and other ways of seeing things, and that these other ways are okay. To the volunteer, there was also new knew knowledge and the foundations of wisdom as a graced reward.

The Prophet – may peace be upon him! – taught: “It is obligatory for every Muslim, man and woman, to acquire knowledge.” It is also taught by Amir al-Mu’minin, “The most valuable treasure is knowledge and wisdom, and the worst misfortune is ignorance.” It is also well known that the first word revealed to the Prophet – may peace be upon him! – was “Iqra!” – “Read! That is interpreted as an imperative to seek knowledge, to educate oneself, to be educated. For it is through education that the Muslim ummah is served and advanced.

In the Catholic tradition, the Christian is commanded to seek, find and love God with one’s whole mind, one’s whole soul, one’s whole strength, and one’s neighbor as oneself (cf Mt. 22:37-38). God manifests himself to us, we believe, in Jesus Christ, his Word become incarnate (cf Jn 1:1-8), who is “the way, the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). The obligation to find the truth, to grow in knowledge and wisdom, is rooted ultimately in our obligation to find and love God, and in finding him to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is in this love of God and neighbor that we are called to serve the Kingdom of God, the community of God’s disciples.

In both traditions, knowledge and wisdom are to bring us to God and bring us to one another in peace. I hope that that has again been possible in this 3rd year of the MVP. To all who have worked hard and sacrificed much to make this possible, thank you! Shukran! Together we say: Alhamdulillah! To God be the glory!

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Rejoice and Exult! Consider Holiness.

SHS Grad Address 2018

[Address: SHS Graduation, 14 April 2018]

Rejoice and exult!  You are now graduates of SHS in the Philippines!  Your graduation today is historic.  In the Philippines, you are part of the first batch of some 1.2 million graduates of SHS as provided by the Enhanced Basic Education Law (RA 10533).  At ADDU, you are the first batch of 1,676 SHS graduates.  For you, these past two years were very intense.  Your schedule was very demanding, moving you from classrooms to libraries to laboratories to general assemblies to large-scale liturgies to exhausting athletics to tireless dancing and to singing ”525,600 Minutes.  How do you measure, measure a year?” And you have had two!  You had to read much, learn much, understand much – not only to collect concepts in your heads, but through your relentless performance tasks to test concepts in practice.  You had to grow much, in height and in girth, in insight and in competencies, but hopefully also in love.  “525,600 Minutes…  Remember the love!”  “Love, love, love!” became something like a SHS byword.  Hopefully, not just a sloppy soppy slogan, but a reminder of how God loves you, how your family, relatives and friends love you, and even how the sun and moon, the oceans and the rivers, the mountains and the trees love you.  Love, love, love!  Hopefully, also a reminder of how you love God, how you love people, how you love God’s creation!  Rejoice and exult!  The love, sacrifice, and dedication of parents, the love and competence of teachers and administrators, the love and wisdom of legislators and statesmen have brought you to the joy of this day.

With the joy of the day comes its challenge.  With SHS done, what next?

The prospects are more than just work or college.  Rejoice and exult!  The last time we heard that was during the Easter Vigil when we lifted up the Paschal Candle symbolizing the Resurrected Lord to allow its light to break the darkness of death and sin.  The Resurrected Lord:  “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).  To  Peter, the Resurrected Lord asks three times, “Do you love me?”  To Peter’s answer, “Yes Lord you know that I love you, the Lord missions.   Three times he says, “Feed my sheep!”  To Jesus’ question to Peter:  Love? Love? Do you Love me? Peter answers, “Love!  Love! You know I love you!  In the context of Peter’s “love, love, love,” Jesus missions:  Go feed my sheep.

With SHS done:  what next?  “Do you love me…?” Jesus as you. If your answer is yes, like Peter’s, he missions you.

It is that mission that should determine what’s next:  what work?  What college? What course?  Whether in Luzon or the Visayas or Mindanao?  Whether in Manila, Cebu or Davao?  Whether among the natural scientists or social scientists, the soldiers or the teachers, the philosophers or the anthropologists, the ideologists or the theologians.  It is that mission that should determine:  what desires I have, what dreams I have.

And what success God has.

Rejoice and exult!  Gaudete et exultate! This is the name of an apostolic exhortation that the Pope has issued just three days ago.  It provides another important context of your graduation and challenge for you as SHS graduates.  Gaudete et exultate!  Rejoice and exult!  It is an exhortation to holiness.  To your many desires – to be an engineer, to be a lawyer, to be a doctor, to be a teacher, to be recognized, to be successful, holiness may not be an obvious consideration.  But that is the main burden of Pope Francis’ exhortation:  he encourages you, in the unique way that is given you and only you, beneath a great cloud of heavenly witnesses, not to be bland, not to be wish-washy, not to be mediocre, but to be holy, be a saint.  “A Christian cannot think of his or her mission on earth” he declares, “without seeing it as a path of holiness” (19).  Love, love, love?  For the rest of your lives, Love, love love!  It is a formula for holiness.  Be happy!  Be blessed!  Be holy.  And even when they begin to persecute and humiliate you and troll you in Facebook and Twitter for this holiness, “Gaudete et exultate!  Rejoice and exult,” Jesus said, “for great is your reward in heaven!” (Mt. 5:12).

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