The Glory of God: “It is I. Do Not Be Afraid!”

[Homily. Baccalaureate Mass.  Classes 2020, 2021.  Based on Rom 5:1-11 and Jn 6:16-21.  April 17, 2021.]

It is a special blessing that we can gather here in the Assumption Chapel for your Baccalaureate Mass, even though because of the pandemic only a few of you can be here physically to represent the 1125 graduates of your combined classes of 2020 and 2021.  For us who are gifted with the faith, this chapel is a sanctuary of our shared hope, immediately in Mary, our mother, whose assumption into heaven reminds us of the special hope bestowed on all of us through the sacrifice of her son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

As we heard in our second reading from the letter of Paul to the Romans, through our faith we rejoice, we boast, in the hope of the Glory of God.  That is ultimately the hope of being overawed by the Glory of God in heaven, as Mary, assumed into heaven, is. 

This is hope on a plane much deeper than any hope you may have because of the higher knowledge, skills and qualifications you have acquired in your college life at Ateneo de Davao.  You have worked hard for these, and the hope they bring you for advancement in this world in indisputable. 

But the hope I refer to springs from the ultimate meaningfulness of your lives that are subject to death, corruption, evil, sin and separation from God, no matter the profession or job you embrace as a consequence of your graduation.  From this sin and evil you are ultimately saved through your faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is only through this faith, as we heard in our second reading, that we have ultimate meaning [justification] in our lives.  It is only through faith that we have peace with God.  And it is only through sustained faith that as Christians we resist evil in the world, fortified by the power of the Risen Lord.  Fortes in fide:  strong in the faith.  That is the fundamental value of ADDU graduates.  “Fortes in fide” comes from the first  letter of St. Peter to early Christian communities of Asia Minor, many of them under threat of persecution.  The passage may speak to you meaningfully on your graduation day.

“Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.  Cast all your worries upon him because he came for you.

“Be sober and vigilant.  Your enemy the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [victims] to devour.  Resist him strong in the faith – fortes in fide knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings.  The God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory through Christ Jesus will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you after you have suffered a little” (1 Peter 5:6-10).

After you have suffered a little.  Because of love.  This is not just a concession that in negotiating this world there will be hardship.  Like all the suffering and dying that has come from the COVID pandemic.  Like all the difficulty that comes from not being able to interact with fellow human beings normally.  Like all the difficulty that comes with adjusting to new work environments, from experiencing gaps in communication between colleagues, friends and loved ones.  Those are hardships experienced by all young people in the Philippines trying to negotiate this world.  But the hardships Sts. Peter and Paul are talking about come  from standing to what you believe in in faith, even as forces in the world inimical to faith like the outright rejection of God or the worship of pseudo gods like wealth, honor, and self glorification militate against your faith.

Even as Paul says, “We boast in the hope of the Glory of God [in the next life]” he also says, “Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance produces proven character, and proven character hope, and this hope that does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our heart through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.  …  God proved his love for us that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”  Boasting in the hope of the Glory of God, we boast in our sufferings today in keeping the faith, in standing strong in the relationship with God, in preserving the peace with God won through the gift of faith, because faith connects me to Christ having suffered and died for me in love.   For God is love, and before I could utter any word of love, God loved me first.  We boast in our afflictions, because afflictions produce perseverance, and perseverance proven character, that is, the person who I firmly am and stand to standing for God in my life in faith.  In contrast to this, how many there are, lacking faith, whose afflictions have produced withdrawal [for they reject suffering, or even just inconvenience], withdrawal producing wishy-washiness, wishy-washiness producing self-rejection, depression and despair!

Proven character produces hope not just for the Glory of God in the next world but the Glory of God breaking into my life in this world allowing me in joy to take up my Cross and follow him, especially here in Mindanao.  Is this not what living for the greater glory of God means, not me adding to the reputation and esteem of God, which he does not need, but living so that God’s love and compassion, his Glory in his Son on the Cross, is manifested more and more clearly in my life through deeds of love urged by faith?  Is this not what happens when as an Atenean I freely share of my knowledge with others, when I stand up for the human rights of another, when I work to protect the environment for others, when I stoop down to wash the feet of others, when I choose the work of my life not in pursuit of my interest but in the interest of all, when I love my God above all things and my neighbor as myself?  Here, are not all the key values of an ADDU education present?  Being women and men for others.  Living ad majorem Dei gloriam.  Being fortes in fide, strong in the faith.

In our Gospel for today, the apostles are in a boat as the waters of the sea are stirred up due to a strong wind.  Jesus is walking on the water.  They began to be afraid.  Jesus said, “It is I.  Do not be afraid!” (Jn 6:20).  That is certainly the good news for your graduation today – and for the rest of your lives.  To each of you in this stormy situation, the Lord says “It is I. Do not be afraid.”  Remember, he said, “I know mine, and mine know me. …  I lay down my life for my sheep” (Jn 10:14-15).  “I have come to bring you life, life to the full” (Jn 10:10).   If this is so, have we anything to fear?  As Paul said, “If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not give us everything else along with him?  Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen one?  It is God who acquits us. Who will condemn?  It is Christ Jesus who died, rather, was raised, and also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.  What will separate us from the love of Christ?  Will anguish or distress or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?  As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being slain all the day;  we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.  No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor height nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:31-39).

In sum, dear graduates of Ateneo de Davao University:  Live strong in your faith; love in being women and men for others, especially in Mindanao; hope in ever allowing the Glory of God to more wonderfully manifest itself in your lives! So will your lives be lived ad majorem Dei gloriam – unto the greater glory of God!

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Mark’s Inappropriate Ending

[Homily. Mark 16:9-15. Live-streamed Mass. 10 April 2021]

The Gospel of Mark is the shortest of the Gospels.  It begins:  “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to which later editors have added, “the Son of God” (Mk 1:1).  This was not just the Gospel that Jesus preached, but the Gospel that Jesus was:  he was the Good News, and the Good News was that he was the Christ, the Messiah.  The high point of Mark’s Gospel is when Jesus, in obedience to the loving will of his Father, dies on the Cross and the Roman centurion who stood facing him said, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mk 15:39). 

As John the Evangelist, also contemplating Jesus’ death on the Cross, later said, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into to world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (Jn 3:14-16).  The pagan centurion had insight into this truth.

After this high point, where the saving power of God himself breaks through in the image of Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the Cross,  Mark’s resurrection account is very brief.  Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome go early in the morning after the Sabbath, so on Sunday, to the tomb bringing spices to anoint Jesus.  There they find the heavy stone that sealed the burial site is rolled away.  Inside, they find the tomb empty.  A mysterious young man proclaims that Jesus has been raised.  He instructs them to tell his disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee.  The women respond with amazement, then fear.  Mark’s Gospel ends with the statement:  “They [the women] went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment.  They said nothing to anyone.  For they were afraid” (Mk.16:8).

It is an abrupt ending to Mark’s Gospel, so abrupt and jarring that scripture scholars theorize that Mark’s original ending may have been lost, or that he may have had for some reason to stop writing before the manuscript was actually finished.  For how could Mark’s Good News of Jesus Christ end in such trembling, bewilderment and fear?  The scholars show that later editors of the second century added the ending that we heard in our Gospel reading for today.  It is an ending that leans on earlier traditions recorded in the other Gospels:  Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene;  Jesus appearing to the two disciples walking in the countryside; Jesus appearing to the Eleven.  After Jesus’ appearances to Mary Magdalene and to the two disciples there is disbelief to what they say about Jesus being alive.  In finally visiting the Eleven, Jesus rebukes them for their disbelief.  This introduces a more appropriate ending to the Markan Gospel, Jesus’ mandate to mission: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned…” (Mk 16:13). 

The inappropriate ending, already because of faith being gifted us in the community of believers, demands an appropriate ending.  The Good News that is Jesus Christ, resurrected from the death he embraced in obedience to the Father, cannot end in those closest to Jesus running away in trembling, bewilderment and fear, unable to share the truth they had heard.  That is also true for us.  From the depths of the faith that is gifted us, in a world where human life is eroded in widespread rejection of God and death stalks the living with a cruel inevitability, we are allowed, if not empowered in grace, to write a different ending, where as close as we are to Jesus, he appears to us as a consoling lover, or as a companion along the way helping us to see, or as the Lord of our life mission, to tell us he is alive, and that the point of his Resurrection is not depression and paralysis but empowerment to share the Good News that is Jesus Christ, alive.   That is certainly true when the virulence of the pandemic appears so overwhelming, or the bad news in social media is so personally hurtful, or the common weal so persistently spurned by the servants of the public good that we are all infected by social cynicism, or the violence in Myanmar against its youth so needlessly cruel, while the world responds only with helpless incredulity and sadness.  The truth of the Resurrection is that in our lives as well Jesus appears.  He is not a ghost, not a figment of our imagination, not an illusion.  But he appears in his own time, in his own style, to bring life, hope, change and courage.  And to make us part of it through belief and commitment.  Even if, in an imperfect world we must pray, “Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief.” (Mk 9:24).   Or cry, “My Lord and my God”  (Jn 20:28). 

Our St. Ignatius also felt all the four Gospels ended inappropriately.  In his view, the first person the Risen Lord appeared to was not Mary Magdalene nor the disciples along the way nor the Eleven, but his mother, who had accompanied him on his Calvary to the foot of the Cross, watched him die by tortuous crucifixion, then his side pierced by a soldier’s lance, and when he’d finally been taken down from the Cross held him on her lap, her own soul “pierced by a sword” (Lk 2:35).  Anyone who does not see it was his mother he first appeared to, Ignatius declared, is “without understanding” – without insight into the personal relationship of Jesus to his mother. Happily, in the Philippine Church Jesus’ appearing to his mother first has become an integral part of the people’s celebration of Easter when in the Salubong before the dawn of Easter Sunday morning, the joyful procession of the Risen Lord meets the procession of the grieving Mother of Sorrows, and an angel – really just one of our children! – removes her veil of sorrow, while all sing joyously:  “Regina caeli, Reyna ng langit, Queen of heaven, rejoice, alleluia!  For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia! Has risen as he said, alleluia!”  In our Assumption Chapel this is depicted in the image of the Risen Lord leading all the rejoicing peoples of Mindanao to take away the sorrows of violence, warfare, social injustice, oppression and massacres in the history of Mindanao represented in his sorrowing mother.  In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius suggests that in regarding the Resurrected Lord we ask for the grace to “feel the intense joy and gladness for the great glory and joy of Christ our Lord.”  This is a grace for which we must not tire to ask.  Especially when we are tempted to become morose in the darkness our generation generates on this wounded planet, we remember his word from the Cross to John ultimately spoken to us all,  “Behold your mother!” (Jn 19:27).  She brings us without fail to her Resurrected Son. She brings us to his power and his joy.   “Never was it know that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided,” we remind her again and again, because she really helps.  This is in my faith experience; I pray it is also in yours.    She teaches us, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5).   Till today, she intervenes to ask him to change water into wine, bewilderment into hope, fear into courage; in her risen Son she helps us to see the Glory of God breaking into our lives. 

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Jesus’ Defense in the Downfall of Unjust Gods

[Homily.  Based on John 10:30-42.  Jesuit Community.  Mar 26, 2021.]

The Jews picked up rocks to stone him” (31).  It was not the first time the Jews took up stones to kill him.  When he claimed to be before Abraham, using language that identified him with God’s unutterable name, “Before Abraham came to be, I AM” (Jn 8:58), they picked up stones to throw at him.  But at that time, he disappeared.  Now in this 10th chapter of John, where Jesus introduces himself as the Good Shepherd, after he said the sheep that had been entrusted to him by the Father, the sheep that knew his voice, as he knew their voice, could not be taken away from him – not even by the self-righteous Jews who were attacking him – they again picked up rocks to stone him to death.  This was because, after he claimed the sheep had been entrusted to him by the Father, he declared “The Father and I are one” (30).  Hearing what they perceived to be an outrageous identification by Jesus of himself as a mere human being with God, they judged the statement to be blasphemy, a sacrilegious act of human arrogance desecrating the sacred Name of God.  In consequently picking up rocks to stone him to death, they were only applying God’s command in Leviticus when Moses brought a man caught in blasphemy to the Lord, and the Lord commanded, “Take the blasphemer outside the camp, and when all who have heard him have laid their hands on his head, let the whole community stone him.  Tell the Israelites…anyone who blasphemes shall be put to death.  The whole community shall stone him; alien and native alike must be put to death for blaspheming the Lord’s name” (Lev. 24:15-16).  Such is the inviolability of the Holy.  We recall the first commandment:  I am the Lord Thy God…  There is only one God.  How dare this Jesus of Nazareth make himself into a strange god not only before God but one with the Holy God!  How dare he take the name of the Lord God in vain? 

His words having sparked the controversy, Jesus could have again slipped away.  After all, his hour had not come.  But in the Gospel for today he stands his ground.  He engages the Jews, his enemies.  It was after all they who had initiated the open debate when they confronted him at the Portico of Solomon in the Temple on the occasion of the Feast of the Dedication:  “How long are you going to keep us in suspense?” they challenged him. “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly” (24).  Jesus answered them.  He said, “I told you and you do not believe.”  What he’d told them he’d accompanied with signs.  “I’ve told you…and the works [the signs, the miracles] that I do in my Father’s name testify to me. But you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.”  These Jews were not included among the chosen sheep. “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me.  I give them life, and they shall never perish” (25-27a).  In other words, Jesus was saying:  You are not among them.  I am the Shepherd.  You are wolves.  I lay down my life for my sheep.  You shall “not be able to take them out of my hand. …  No one can take them out of the Father’s hand.  The Father and I are one.”  This said, declaring the actions of his hand one with the actions of the Father’s hand, declaring the Father and he one, the self-righteous Jews picked up rocks to stone him to death for blasphemy. 

But Jesus engaged them.  “I have shown you many good works from my Father. For which of these are you trying to stone me?” (33).  The Jews would easily have recalled the story of how Jesus had opened the eyes of the man born blind, or how he had fed the five thousand, or how he had healed the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda.  “We are not stoning you for good works, but for blasphemy. You, a man, are making yourself God.”  But Jesus replies –  allow me to paraphrase – “Is it so outrageous that I, consecrated by the Father and sent into this world to do his work, call myself Son of God when in in the Old Testament they called the judges of the Israelites established during the Exodus of the people “gods” because judgement is a prerogative of God?” “In rendering judgement,” the Book of Deutoronomy said, “do not consider who a person is:  give ear to the holy and the great alike, fearing no man, for judgement is God’s” (Deut 1:17).  However, the all-too-human judges were not faithful to this sacred trust.  In Psalm 82, God pronounces judgement on the unjust judges and magistrates of the people, who are referred to as gods.  To understand Jesus’ defense against blasphemy it is relevant to hear the psalm, entitled Downfall of Unjust Gods:

God rises in the divine council,
Gives judgement in the midst of the gods.
“How long will you judge unjustly and favor the cause of the wicked?

“Defend the lowly and fatherless; render justice to the afflicted and the needy.
Rescue the lowly and the poor; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” 

The gods neither know nor understand,
Wandering about in darkness and all the world’s foundations shake.

I declare, “Gods though you be,
Offspring of the Most High all of you,
Yet like any mortal you shall die; like any prince you shall fall.”

Arise, O God, judge the earth, for yours are all the nations. 

The judges and magistrates of the Israelites were called gods because their office was supposedly accomplished in the name of God. Their charge from God was not however accomplished with appropriate works.  They were unjust and favored the cause of the wicked, failing to defend the lowly and the fatherless.  So in Psalm 82 the Lord reminds all that these gods are mere mortals, subject to the judgement of God. 

Jesus was directly confronting “the Jews,” who were purporting to stand in judgement over him like gods, recalling to them that they too will be judged based on the barrenness of their words and stench of their works.  We recall his words in another context: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.  You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth.  Even so, on the outside you appear righteous but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing…” (Mt. 27-28).   “Gods though you be, offspring of the Most High all of you. Yet like any mortal you shall die; like any prince you shall fall” (Ps 82:6-7).

Meanwhile Jesus said in all clarity, “If the law [the Old Testament] calls them gods to whom the word of God came, and scripture cannot be set aside, can you say that the one whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world blasphemes because I said, “I am the Son of God’?[i]  If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me, but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works so that you may realize and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

The Jews tried to arrest him, but his time had not yet come.  He who “from the beginning was with God, and was God” (Jn 1:1-2) escaped from their power and crossed the Jordan to the place where his ministry had begun. And those who had heard his voice, believed in him. 

[i] In speaking of his eventual crucifixion, Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him”  (John 3:1617).

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Love, Love, Love

[Homily.  SHS Baccalaurate Mass.  Mar 26, 2021]

Day after tomorrow the Holy Week begins.  Again, the Catholic Church shall commemorate and celebrate the suffering, death and resurrection of the Lord.  Your Senior High School graduation is celebrated at the threshold of this profound celebration of holy Week.  You celebrate the end of your basic education and very possibly the end of your personal adolescence in the grace, challenge and hope of this Holy Week.  You enter adulthood in the conviction not only that you are not alone in life, but that you are loved, so loved that God gave his only begotten Son to die for you, that through faith[i] in Him you may live in peace with God through the love of Jesus Christ, and rejoice in the hope of the unending glory of God. 

And not only that.  May you in your adult life rejoice in its challenges, trials and tribulations, knowing that this will produce in you perseverance, and that perseverance will prove your character which will increase your hope, hope which will not disappoint.  It will not disappoint because the love of God has been poured into your hearts through the Holy Spirit.  You graduate in the grace of the Holy Week during which you are invited again to experience God redeeming you in Jesus dying for you and in the Holy Spirit convincing you of the hope that is yours in Jesus’ Resurrection.  This hope is of your future not only in the eternal Kingdom of God in heaven but your future in your every undertaking on earth, in your personal life or in your professional life, in bringing your every effort to success, or in overcoming your every disappointment, your future in the power and strength of the God who has brought you through your parents, relatives and benefactors with much care and tenderness to your graduation today and who rejoices with you. 

This is the God who is Love, who manifests himself in the Love of the Son, and who together pour themselves out on you in the Love of the Holy Spirit alive in your family and community.  This is the Love that Sir Rikki and Fr. JBoy and all your teachers and friends have joyfully celebrated in your Senior High School experience, one Love in three, Love, Love, Love:  Love reaching out to you, its prized creation, Love redeeming you, Love filling you with hope.  That is the Love, Love, Love at work in the solemn mystery of this Mass, Love obedient unto death to the Love of the Father “for you” lifting you up in the Love of the Resurrection and gathering you together in the communion of the followers of Jesus.

This said, what say you?  This learned, what is your performance task?  This experienced, how do you respond?  Hopefully, not by taking up rocks to stone Jesus and kill God in your lives, as today’s Gospel (Jn 10:31-42) suggests we can do.  Hopefully not by growing cold and indifferent to Love in our lives.  To Love, Love, Love can there be any appropriate response other than love, love, love – love for the loving Father, love for Jesus expressing the Father’s love for you, love for the Spirit who gathers you together with all the disciples of Jesus into the Christian community and inspires your love for them?  On a broader level:  love for God in this confusing world loving and creating all of humanity with its rich diversity of peoples and religions; love for Jesus sacrificing himself for the peoples of all nations and faiths;  love for the Holy Spirit open to all, including all, leaving no one out.  Love for all in the compassion of the Father, love for all in the service of the Son, love for all in the hope of the Spirit, remembering the grace of your own conversion not by merit but by the sheer gift of God’s love.  

Having encountered Love, Love, Love in this senior high school, may your perspective in life manifest the new life that is gifted you in the Resurrection, the “life, life in abundance, life to the full,” (Jn 10:10) that Jesus brings in the power of the Resurrection.  In love, love, love, may you overcome the compulsion to power, needing always to do “my will’;  may you find liberation in doing God’s will, or joy in doing your beloved’s will.  In Jesus, may you overcome the compulsion to selfishness in the relentless pursuit of self-interest;  may you be liberated to seek the good of others, even at great personal cost;  in the Holy Spirit, may you conquer all tendencies towards discouragement, depression and despair, always finding excitement and joy in the hope that love brings.   May your love for the world and your love for the nation find fulfillment in your love for Mindanao, its Bangsamoro people, its Lumad peoples, and its Christian communities.  Through your higher education, may you be empowered to find the joy of love[ii] in the warmth of family, the love of our common home[iii] for you to cherish and protect, and the love of global fraternity because in this world, as Pope Francis has taught us, we are all sisters and brothers one and need in social friendship to tear down all barriers to achieve that fraternity[iv].

In sum, as a summary of your senior high school experience at ADDU, and as the sum of all it can bring, in Love, Love, Love… love, love, love!  Remember, “Love is patient, love is kind.  It is not jealous, is not pompous, is not inflated.  It is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing bur rejoices with the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. …  At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.  So faith, hope, love remain, these three;  but the greatest of these is love” (Cor 13:4-7.12-13).

[i] These initial wishes for our SHS graduates are inspired by Rom. 5:1-11

[ii] Cf. Amoris Letitia: Post Sunodal Apostolic Exhortation of the Holy Father Francis on love in the family. Pasay City: Pauline Publishing House, 2016.

[iii] Cf. Laudato Si’:  Encyclical Letter of the Holy Father Francis on care for or common home. Pasay City: Pauline Publishing House, 2015

[iv] Cf. Fratelli Tutti:  Encyclical Letter of the Holy Father Francis on Fraternity and Social Friendship. Pasay City: Pauline Publishing House, 2020

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Jesus, Source and Judge of Human Life

[Homily.  John 5:17-20.  Live-streamed Mass. 17 March 2021]

In the Gospel of John Jesus works out seven signs prior to the ultimate sign of the Resurrection.  Today’s Gospel follows on the third sign, the healing of the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda. You will recall from yesterday’s Gospel, for many years the paralytic hoped to be cured in the healing waters of the pool.  Jesus approached him and asked, “Do you want to be well?”  He responded that he had no one to help him reach the pool when the healing waters were stirred. To him Jesus simply said, “Rise take up your mat and walk.”  He did.  Immediately he was cured. 

But the sign was set in a context of controversy.  For the cure had taken place on a Sabbath.  When the paralytic followed Jesus’ instruction to take up his mat and walk, the Jews chided him for breaking the Sabbath.  But he responded that the man who had cured him had told him to take up his mat and walk, so he did.   They asked him who it was who had cured him.  He did not know.  For Jesus had slipped away before he could find out.  Later, however, in the temple, Jesus found him, and had an intimate word with him.  “You are well now; do not sin anymore, so nothing worse may happen to you.”  Jesus knew his background; he knew how he had gotten paralyzed; he knew the persons involved, the mistakes he had made.  He linked his illness with his past life of sin.  He warned him to sin no more, lest something worse befall him. Interestingly enough, it is not clear from the Gospel text whether the cured man took the advice of Jesus.  So often, even the most intimate encounters with Jesus do not end in conversion; that we know from our experience.  What is only clear is that he reported to the Jews that it was Jesus who had cured him.  The result was: “they began to persecute him because he’d cured the man on the Sabbath.”

Our Gospel for today gives an even stronger reason for why they persecuted him.  They actually wanted to kill him.  Jesus had infuriated the self-righteous defenders of their Jewish teachings and culture.  Jesus had not only broken the Sabbath in healing the paralytic.  On the Sabbath, he said:  “My Father is at work until now even on this Sabbath day, so I am at work.“  The third commandment to keep holy the Sabbath day was based on the creation account in Genesis where the Lord after six days of creation rested on the seventh day.  For this reason Jews were not to work on the Sabbath day; they were not to plough their fields, not to clean their houses, not even to “take up their mats and walk.”  They were to rest, as God rested.  But the rest God entered into did not mean he had stopped being God.  God rested from his work of creation.  But he continued to work in preserving, protecting, reproducing, unfolding, fulfilling what had been created; he continued to work in exercising his divine wisdom and power, his goodness and mercy to those whom he created not only six days a week but seven, twenty-four seven.  In this context, Jesus’ words, “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work” were extraordinarily inflammatory.  Only God, resting from creation, continues “to work until now” in making the sun to rise each day on the just and the unjust, in making the moon and the stars shine at night, in making the seasons change;  he continues to rule from the heavens, to show us his compassion and providence, and to work out our redemption.  For Jesus to claim that this God was his Father was blasphemous to Jewish ears.   How could this mere man be claiming God to be his Father?

But on top of that, for Jesus to claim that because his Father works on the Sabbath so does he, this was doubly blasphemous, for he was claiming for himself the prerogative to work in the unique manner in which the Father works on the Sabbath – in sustaining creation, in working out sinful humanity’s redemption.  What the Father does, Jesus does.  “The Son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for what he does the Son will do also.  For the Father loves his Son and shows him everything that he himself does, and he will show him greater works than these, so that you may be amazed” (19-20).    The claim was doubly blasphemous for the self-righteous Jews.  For others, however, it elicited awe and amazement…

In this context, Jesus claims two powers in union with the Father:  the power to give life and the power to judge.  

“For just as the Father raises the dead and gives life, so also does the Son give life to whomsoever he wishes” (21).   “For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he gave to his Son the possession of life in himself” (26).  Life, indeed, relevant for the human race was created through Jesus.  “What came to be through him was life, and the life was the light of the human race;” the Prologue proclaims, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5).  Later in John’s Gospel, in the context of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, he would say, “I have come to bring life, life to the full” (Jn 10:10).  The Son has the power and the life and the mission to give life. 

But the Son also has the power to judge life.  First, in the manner of a realized eschatology, when one who believes in him now is already spared any future condemnation.  “Amen, amen I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life.  Amen, amen I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” (24).  This is Jesus’ own judgement, based on his intimate knowledge of how his Father judges those who believe in him. 

But Jesus is judge, second, in the sense of a future eschatology, of Jesus being the future judge of the living and the dead who will be resurrected to undergo final judgement.  “And he gave him power to exercise judgement, because he is the Son of Man.  Do not be amazed at this, because the hour is coming in which all those who are in tombs will hear his voice and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation” (28-29).  He is the Son of Man who will come in his glory to judge all the assembled nations before him, separating the sheep from the goats, inviting the faithful to enter his Kingdom, consigning the faithless to eternal flame (cf. Mt. 26:31-43).  How Jesus judges however is completely aligned with the judgement of the Father: “I cannot do anything on my own.  I judge as I hear, and my judgement is just because I do not seek my own will, but the will of the one who sent me” (30). 

The non-believing Jews rejected Jesus as the source and judge of life.  But that he was the source and judge of life, was the sign associated with the healing of the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda.  It is the shaft of light offered us today.  In this season of Lent we can reject it as outlandish and completely irrelevant to our lives as we enter into the fourth industrial revolution and work to figure out how we can beat the pandemic through human science and global organization in a world of human reason.  We can continue to say we are the source of civilized human life, we are the hope of our humane human future, and have the capacity to govern ourselves combining the strength of the State and with the will of the sovereign people as in Myanmar, or in China, or in the United Kingdom, or in the Philippines.  We do quite well here, we say; we make our human life, work out our human future, judge our human failures.  We do not need Jesus.   

Or we take this as an occasion to examine our faith, hope, and love. as it gives our lives meaning:  faith in Jesus, source and judge of human life,  through whom, as the letter to the Romans discloses, we find peace with God and have access to the grace in which we stand.  We boast in the hope of the glory of God…boasting even in our afflictions which result in perseverance, which results in character, which results in hope,  hope that does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, the love of God which he manifested to us in Jesus, who even while we were sinners suffered and died for us. Through him we have reconciliation with God and life (cf Romans 5:1-12).

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The Kingdom of Love Entrusted to Us

[Homily.  First Friday.  March 5, 2021]

Our proclamation today from the Gospel of St. Matthew is from the Friday of the second week in Lent.  But this is also the First Friday of the month of March, when we recall God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.  So let us consider this Gospel’s parable about the landowner, the tenants, the landowner’s son, and the outcome of the tenants’ murder of the son from the lens of God’s love for us and of our response to God’s love for us.  In the end, the owner of the vineyard, betrayed by his tenants, entrusts his vineyard to us.    

Our reading is from the Gospel of St. Matthew.  If we take Matthew’s Gospel as a whole, Matthew has two basic messages:  first, that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Christ;  and second, the Kingdom of God.  In the Gospel of St. Matthew, the Kingdom of God is the object of proclamation, of prayer and of hope.   The Kingdom of God is the Good News that Jesus brings;  it is what he taught us to pray for; it is the Father’s dream of happiness and fulfillment for us all in his goodness and compassion; it is the dream that we have in God, our ultimate hope.  

On this First Friday, we can consider The Kingdom of God from the viewpoint of God’s love.  “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8).  He expresses his love and hope for us through his incarnated Son, Jesus.  “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believed in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn 3:16).  Jesus is God’s love.  His proclamation of the Kingdom of God is also a proclamation of a Kingdom of God’s Love for us all.  God loves us in telling us the truth:  “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt. 5:3)  “You cannot serve God and Mammon” (Mt. 5:24b).  “Look at the birds of the air.  They do not sow or reap.  They gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  How much more you?  Are you not of more value than they?” (Mt. 6:26).  God loves us in feeding us, as in the gospels he feeds the multitudes (cf. Mt.14:13-21; Jn 6).  God loves us in healing us, as in the gospels he heals the sick and those possessed of evil spirits (Mt. 4: 23-25).  God loves us in attacking the hypocrisy of the scribes and pharisees (Mt. 23:1-36).  God loves us even in weeping due to our individual and collective opposition to and rejection of his love (Lk 19:41).  The most profound experience of God’s love is that of His Son’s death on his Cross, a death freely embraced in obedience to his Father’s will for our welfare, establishing his Kingdom for all times and forever.  On his Cross, we are lifted up to the Father in love (cf. Jn 12:32).  In his resurrection, we are lifted up from death to eternal life (cf. 1 Thes. 4:13-18).  In his love, we have our most profound hope: of acceptance, forgiveness, of happiness and joy not only in the next life, but also in this.

In being loved today, we are called to love others today.  “A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so ought you to love one another” (Jn 13:34) today.  In loving others, especially the outcast and marginalized, we love Jesus today.  “Whatsoever you do to one of these the least of my sisters and brothers, that you do to me” (Mt 25:40) today.    In stopping, like the good Samaritan did, to care for the wounded man by the wayside, we bring the love of the Father to that person – or even to that downtrodden people beyond our shores (cf. Lk 25-37) today.  In bringing love to the least of our brothers and sisters, excluding no one due to economic status, nationality, race, or creed, we act to realize the Kingdom of God today.  This includes the poor person who knocks on our car window, or the impoverished victims of historical injustice in the Bangsamoro, or the peoples of Myanmar struggling for their human dignity and freedom against a bullying military wielding usurped State power to protect their private interests.  We act in the hope of the Kingdom of Love that God himself hopes for us today.  For in loving us to the end, God entrusts his hope for us all to us in love.  

At the conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said to his apostles, as today he says to us: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:18-20).  Having been entrusted with all power, Jesus empowers us to lead all to the Father’s Love, expressed in Himself and the Holy Spirit, ennobling us with the Hope he had in mind for us in creating and redeeming us.  At the end of his earthly mission, Jesus entrusts his Kingdom of Love to us his stewards, commanding us to observe all he taught us, but assuring us he will be with us always till the end of time.  

And so we receive the challenge we hear today in the parable of the tenants.  Other tenants having failed, on this First Friday we are entrusted with his vineyard, his Kingdom of love.  In Jesus we experience the totality of that love; in Jesus and the Father, we receive the hope of that love, that all of humanity be blessed with the fullness of life not only in the next life but also already in this. That love we are to nourish and make grow not only in ourselves, but in our families, in our communities, in our nations, in our global fraternity.  But that is easier said than fulfilled.  As in the parable, we can not only ignore that Love and its imperative to “Love one another…,” we can again put the Word of God’s love, the Father’s very own Son, to death.  We can crucify and kill Love for money, for business, for sloth, for lust, for lies, for self-deception, for ambition, for hatred, for power.  We can reject the cornerstone and murder the Son again in our lives.  As the parable warns, often we do.  

But what we reject the Lord knows how to preserve and recover, making it the cornerstone of his Church, the community of those who accept him and in his power follow him.

In the parable, those who murder the Son are asked, “What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?”  They answer:  “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants.”  In the Gospel, the master is more merciful to the tenants than they say they deserve.  But he does entrust his Kingdom to others.  What God hoped for them is given to others.  What God hoped for them is now given to us.

Recalling on this First Friday in Lent the love of God for us, our consideration may be:  how do we in our lives fulfill that hope in the people given to our care, like the discarded person we see by the wayside, like our brothers and sister struggling for deliverance from COVID19, like our brothers and sisters sacrificing their lives for freedom and human dignity in Myanmar? In this season of Lent, how are we doing…?  How are we doing with the vineyard, the Kingdom of Love, entrusted to us by God?

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Respice, Adspice, Prospice – Examine the past, the present and the future!

[Welcome Remarks: Forum on Philippine-China Relationships in the Last Year of the Administration of President Duterte: Respice, Adspice, Prospice. March 3, 2021]

Respice, Adspice, Prospice – Examine the past, the present and the future!

With these words I welcome you to this Forum on Philippine-China Relations  sponsored by the Center for Politics and International Affairs under the leadership of its energetic director, Ms. Rhisan Morales.  I welcome all the faculty members, students and guests to what promises to be a very interesting presentation, considering our guest of honor is none other than the Honorable Jose Santiago Sta. Romana.  I regret and apologize for not being able to be here personally.  What was originally scheduled for March 1 was disturbed by the sudden declaration of that date as Araw ng Dabao. 

Respice. Looking back more than 50 years ago, Chito Sta. Romana was the tall and debonair street parliamentarian who fought to change the world using the compelling categories of Marxist-Maoist dialectic;  somehow I was also there on the streets inspired by Fr. Jose Blanco, Ed Garcia and ultimately Ghandi, convinced the world could be changed through the compelling interior power of non-violent struggle.  Chito’s activism led him to forty years of residence in China; mine led me to a study of Hegelian and Marxian philosophy in Austria and Germany.  

Adspice.  Fifty years later, I am running a Jesuit university in Davao and Chito is the Hon. Ambassador of the Philippines to China.  I still pray somehow to be able to help in changing the world.  With Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, I believe in the culture of dialogue as the path, collaboration as the code of conduct, and mutual understanding as the method and standard.  I don’t believe in war;  I reject terrorism.  Chito, I understand, has learned that “as you age, you learn more, you become more realistic, you become more philosophical.  You become wise.” As regards China, I am happy that at ADDU in collaboration with Huaquio University in Xiamen we operate the only Confucius Institute outside of Luzon.  As regards China, I am glad that Ambassador Chito is doing his best to allow wisdom to bring our two countries together as good neighbors and as friends.   

Prospice.   I hope in this final year of Pres. Digong’s administration, Amb. Chito will help allow good neighborliness and friendship, wisdom and diplomacy  to keep our two countries from conflict especially over “troubled waters”, and that – as it has always been from ancient times –  the promotion of vigorous commerce between our two countries will keep us in relationships peaceful and mutually beneficial.  May China’s Belt and Road initiatives build bridges and build railways and build roads to greater friendship, esp. in Mindanao through the Mindanao Railway, the Davao Monorail, the Davao Expressway and Coastal Road and the Davao-Samal Bridge.  I also hope that wisdom will bring us to appreciation of the best of our cultures, in family values, the love for our ancestors, the appreciation of great food, music and dance, including appreciation of our ethnic diversities as part of our national treasures, and that we can rid our relationships of the worst of our cultures:  gambling, drug trafficking and corruption. Finally, in the face of this COVID19 virus, may we learn to respect our environment as deeply as we respect our peoples.  May we learn to listen to their cries.  So may we temper our production so as not to kill our environment.   And may we use whatever resources we derive from nature to keep the human family safe and happy.  

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Understanding Myanmar Today

[Welcome Address.  Pakighinabi. 27 Feb, 2021]

In the Philippines two days ago, the Filipino People commemorated the 35th anniversary of its People Power Revolution through which the Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos was overcome and democracy in the Philippines restored.  Our experience of People Power, however controversial this has become, allows us to look with great sympathy and concern to our sister country in the Association of Southeast and East Asian Nations, Myanmar, where its People today are  in a courageous struggle for a return of power to the People.  On the first day of this month, after a general election had overwhelmingly elected the pro-democracy icon “Mother” Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint of the National League of Democracy to lead the nation, the Tatmadaw or the Military under the leadership of General Min Aung Hliang grabbed power claiming without proof that the elections had been fraudulent, arrested the leaders of the National League of Democracy, and declared it would rule for one year prior to holding another election.  Since then there have been spontaneous anti-coup, anti-military, pro democracy demonstrations, originally in Yangon and Mandalay, the biggest cities of Myanmar, but meanwhile all over the country including the capital, Naypyitaw, Myitkyina in Cochin State, Lashia in Shan State, Bagan, Taunggyi and Dawei.  The demontrations are leaderless but remarkably well-coordinated; to a great extent they involve Myanmar’s youth, the younger internet-savvy generation whose dreams of a bright future in freedom have been interrupted and threatened by the coup.  We have been awed by images of their protest, disciplined, determined demonstrators holding up their hands with three fingers extended, a symbol inspired by the Hunger Games to express their protest against the coup, their protest against the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and the other leaders of the National League for Democracy, and their hope that the disputed election be resolved in truth.  

From ADDU we express our special concern since for some seven years now our Cardoner Volunteer Program has been sending volunteer teachers to the St. Aloysius Gonzaga Institute of Higher Education to support the Jesuit educational mission in Taunggyi, Myanmar.  We have been enriched by this partnership, and we wish that it might continue, even as sad news of violence and deaths among the pro-democracy demonstrators is now reported, and within the last week, news of pro-Tatmadaw demonstrations is registered, resulting in more violence on the streets. Xavier University and Ateneo de Manila University also support the Institute of Leadership in Yangon, while the Philippine Province looks forward to a more structured partnership with the Myanmar Jesuits.  

It is in this context of concern, solidarity and fraternity with the People of Myanmar that we hold this Pakighinabi today On Understanding Myanmar – in order to be able to better understand the situation there, but also in order to be able to understand what our responsibilities are to its People.  Deeply believing in the dignity of all human beings, no matter their national or ethnic identities, we wish well for our sisters and brothers in Myanmar:  we wish them the freedom to be able to choose their leaders, freedom from oppressive rule, and freedom of those who may wrongly have been deprived of their freedom – rights which belong to all human beings in the community of the United Nations and the Fraternity of all peoples of diverse ethnicities created by one compassionate God.  

In this light, welcome to you all. 

Listening to one another, may we be enlightened and strengthened by one another!  To us all, in the name of the God of Compassion, a fruitful Pakighinabi!

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, for another day of major organized demonstrations against the military’s seizure of power. CNN’s Paula Hancocks reports.Source: CNN
Protesters take part in a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on February 6, 2021. (Photo by YE AUNG THU / AFP)
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On EDSA @ 35: From the Eyes of Mindanao

[Welcome Remarks. Webinar.  25 February 2021]

Half of my life ago, I was priest-in-charge of the Sambayanang Kristyano ng Kristong Hari.  That was the huge urban poor community of Commonwealth, QC, adjacent to the Batasan Pambansa that was fighting to be able to win the land of the National Government Center for their home.  Imelda planned to get rid of some 50,000 urban poor families in order to make a national mall in the Capitol City of the country in the style of the national mall of Washington DC.   But the urban poor community fought to make that land their own.  Kristong Hari, with its team of community organizers and its people’s organizations led by the Samahang Maralita Para sa Makatao at Makatarungang Paninirahan (Sama-Sama), was part of that struggle.  

When the EDSA People Power revolution began, we were preparing at night for a thanksgiving Mass the following day of a newly ordained Jesuit priest, Fr. Sunny Barana.  That Mass was never held.  At least not in our church.  From our radios we heard the call of Cardinal Sin.  It was electrifying, compelling.  We were to go to EDSA.  A group of military had made a move against the Dictator Marcos and his wife, Imelda, the “Conjugal Dictatorship,” and the Cardinal was calling them “our friends.” So we went.  Our urban poor were disciplined and organized.  Busses and jeepneys brought us to a certain point on EDSA.  Then we marched to the gate of Camp Crame.   Ground Zero. Adrenalin mixed fear with excitement, anxiety with prayer.  We did not know what to expect.  The military could come and open fire.  Or a plane could come and strafe us, or bomb us to smithereens.  But we were there at the call of the Cardinal.  We were there to overcome the dictatorship which had plundered the country and had had conscientious objectors,  freedom fighters, taken away, tortured and killed.  We were there because we believed what we were fighting for was right.  And we certainly believed we were not alone.  All over the country, as here in Davao, people were rising in the same united power of the People, in the united determination of the People, empowered by God, to overcome the dictatorship.  

Today we come together remembering that national moment which on this day finally chased the Conjugal dictatorship away.  Here, we remember it from the lens of Davao, where we will hear testimonies from our own heroes, who in fighting the dictatorship endured incarceration, and much more.  

Even as we do, 35 years later, I think we are invited to ponder not only its shining moment, but the years when the luster of that moment began to fade, and great hopes turned into disillusionment and disappointment.  35 years later, the dream of a Filipino people emancipated for a socially just society, where each without exception can flourish, is still a dream.  35 years later, the question of how government and people in government can best serve an empowered People is still unanswered.  35 years later, there are still too many poor, especially here in Mindanao, because development continues to be focused in Manila.  35 years later, the appropriate role the institutional Church, its clergy, its religious, and esp. its laity, is to play in a diverse society is still unsettled, just as in the BARMM the role of Islam in a diverse Bangsamoro needs to be settled and respected.  35 years later the cries of the ever-more marginalized Lumad in our national or global self understanding, or even in our understanding of God calling us to get up and go to our EDSA today, need to be heard.  In remembering, we have our uncertainties.  But in remembering perhaps we can remember how we as a People are being called from within to a shared future.  Perhaps it is there that our People Power lives. 

A meaningful commemoration of EDSA to all! 

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Epistemically Reconstituted Decolonial Theology

[Message: Abdon Josol Lecture Series, SATMI-ADDU, 23 Feb 2021]

It is my privilege to welcome you to the now traditional Abdon Josol Lecture Series of the Saint Alfonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in partnership with the Ateneo de Davao University.  For those who do not yet know, the Redemptorist Father Abdon Josol was the energetic and visionary founder of SATMI, in whose honor these lectures are held annually.  In non pandemic years ADDU had the privilege of hosting them in its Finster Hall, always well attended by students and professors of theology, religious, clergy, and leaders of civil society, which much celebration. 

The pandemic prohibits that this year, but cannot stop our coming together nevertheless to listen to one of the most respected guros of Mindanao history and culture, Bro. Karl Gaspar, CSsR.  I will have to allow him to explain to you what he precisely means by sharing with us his contribution to an “Epistemic Reconstitution of Doing Decolonial Theology in the Philippines.”  I suppose it will have something to do with  our needing to do our own theology in the Philippines that is not determined by the thought constraints of our colonizers. These were the Spaniards, the British [pre Brexit!], the Germans, the Belgians, or, from across the Atlantic, the Americans.   Their evangelization was influenced by their colonial intention to subjugate us, or to “civilize” us, they considering themselves superior to us – affecting, willy nilly, the way we encounter God, understand his Word, his Message to us, and how in our society we behave before the powerful colonial bearers of this Message. 

It may also say something about how we Filipinos, influenced by the colonizer, may have tried to evangelize here in Mindanao by confounding civilization with the Gospel, so that the Muslim loyal to his faith was considered savage next to the “civilized Christian Filipino”; the “pagan Lumad”, on the other hand, is regarded as underdeveloped in the rituals he or she believes in to placate the divine spirits. 

Whatever Epistemically Reconstituted Decolonial Theology actually means, I am glad we come together this afternoon in the name of doing theology in Mindanao.  As President of a Catholic University in Mindanao this is a pressing concern. With all the other professional disciplines we deal with, from nanoscience to aerospace engineering, we must be concerned about the way people encounter God in Mindanao, the meaning they find in this encounter, the sacrifice or sacrifices that are considered appropriate to divinity, the influence this has on our society, on our sense of right and wrong, and on the type of society we believe that God calls us to build.  It is all the more urgent because we are in a plural society of diverse religions, slowly learning to embrace one another as legitimately different, yet needing to feel secure in the differentiated faith to which we are called.  Meanwhile, we face serious challenges to the environment that is rooted in our consumerist-driven economy, as we face challenges relative to how the power of the state should be wielded towards the achievement of the common good.  All these need the light of theological reflection.  In this context, I welcome you all to this lecture with the news that as of the last Feast of the Sto. Nino last January 17, 2021 ADDU and SATMI have renewed their commitment to continue collaborating with one another in doing theology with you in the context of Mindanao. 

Today’s Abdon Josol lecture is a happy manifestation of that collaboration. 

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