Praying Before the Crucified Lord

[Homily. Assumption Chapel. 24 Sept 2022.]

Yesterday we reflected in our first readings on the wisdom of Qoheleth;  the wisdom of being content with life in an unchanging world lived from the hand of God.  That was wisdom we said which called forth a deeper wisdom.  Some of that deeper wisdom is expressed in our Gospel readings yesterday and today from the 9th chapter of Luke.

First, the opening phrase, “once when Jesus was praying in solitude…” (Lk. 9:18).  The gospels show Jesus in his public ministry fully absorbed by his mission of preaching the Kingdom of God and accepting in life what the rule of God entails.  That was the wisdom that Jesus preached in such declarations as:  “Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours.  Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied.  Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will weep for joy.” (Lk 6:20-21).  Or:  “To you who hear, I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Lk 6:37).  His preaching was supported by his healing:  he healed the centurion’s slave (Lk 7:1-10); he raised the widow’s son (Lk 7:11-17); he healed the daughter of Jairus and the woman with a hemorrhage (Lk 8:40-56).  He preached the Good News of the Kingdom of God being fulfilled in himself even when for doing that the Jews and religious leaders wanted to murder him (Lk 4:16-30).  We must appreciate that as driven as Jesus was to do the will of his Father in preaching the good news, in healing, and even in confronting the religious establishment that resisted his teaching as blasphemy and eventually killed him, Jesus needed to pray.  Oftentimes throughout the night in solitude with God.  His disciples certainly noticed this, as we do today.

Perhaps we should allow ourselves to be awed by this prayer of the Word of God who from the beginning was with God and God.  It was a prayer which brought the pressures of the ministry in a difficult world to the Father, a prayer which praised, but also asked for guidance, if not for relief.  “Father, hallowed be thy name.  Thy Kingdom come.  Thy will be done on earth as in heaven” (Lk 11:2).  Or later:  “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me, still not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22: 42).  In the end, his prayer for relief yielded to total obedience to his Father’s will.  Appreciating Jesus absorbed in prayer, perhaps our prayer today should be the same as Jesus’ disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray…” (Lk 11:1).  “Teach me to pray.  Teach me to pray like you do.”  Personally, when I have difficulty with prayer, this is my humble prayer.   I know:  Jesus does teach us to pray, the Father listens and lets his face shine on us, the Spirit encourages and helps us to understand.

Possibly, personal prayer could help us answer the question that Jesus puts to his disciples:  “Who do the crowds say that I am?  … But who do you say that I am?”  The Lord is not asking you to reply from your knowledge of history, not even from your conceptual knowledge of theology.  The Lord is asking you to reply from within, from your lived experience of him, from the history of your interaction with him, from the outcome of your having asked him over and over again, as St. Ignatius urged, for an intimate knowledge of him.  Who is this Jesus whom you know from your mother, from your father, from the helper in your household, from your parish community, from your school community, from your life in the world which too often ignores him?  Who is this Jesus who dies to be part of your life, who lives anew to be a more intimate part of your life, who prays for you from the heavenly sanctuary that you may fully partake of divine life, life to the full” (Jn 10:10).

Indeed, personal prayer may also help you understand what Jesus said and the disciples could not understand.  From yesterday’s gospel:  “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised” (Lk 9:22).  And from today’s gospel, soon after the account of the Transfiguration where against the shadows and darkness he encountered in his mission divinity broke through in light (Lk 9:20-36), Jesus again announces: “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men” (Lk 9:44b).

In Luke’s Gospel, the crucified Word from the Cross was, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Lk 23:34).  Perhaps in the consciousness of our many sins, our many shortcomings, our many unfulfilled promises, our prayer might echo that of the good thief, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom…”  (Lk 23:42). 

In the quiet of our prayer may we hear Jesus’ personal reply to each of us…

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Wisdom that Calls Forth a Deeper Wisdom

[Homily.  Assumption Chapel.  Sept 23, 2022.]

Yesterday and today our first readings are taken from the Book of Ecclesiastes, also known as Qoheleth.  Let us reflect on these readings today.

The book opens with the introductory declaration: “The words of David’s son, Qoheleth, king in Jerusalem.”  David’s son, of course, was Solomon, renowned in his time for his wisdom.  Scripture scholars say the true author of Ecclesiastes was not Solomon in the 10th century BC but a wise man who wrote in the period after the Babylonian exile, about 200 years before Christ.  The attribution of the book to the wise King Solomon was usual in wisdom literature.  Qoheleth meant teacher or preacher.  The Greek translation of this was Ecclesiastes. 

Qoheleth gives us an account on his experience of human life.  Then, he shares his reflections on it.  It is not a bright account of life.  Indeed, it is rather somber.  But his reflections lead us to an insight into how man must accept the God who rules in our world.  The wisdom in this reflection affords us a certain liberation, even if for Qoheleth it is necessarily incomplete. 

His experience of life:  “…vanity of vanities!  All things are vanity.
What profit has man from all the labor
when he toils under the son?
One generation passes and another comes,
but the world forever stays.
The sun rises and the sun goes down;
then it presses on to the place where it rises,
All speech is labored;
There is nothing man can say.
The eye is not satisfied with seeing
Nor is the ear filled with hearing.
What has been, that will be;
what has been done, that will be done,
There is nothing new under the sun.  (Qoh. 1:1-9) 

Qoheleth’s experience is of a world that does not change.  No matter the succession of generations the world stays the same.  All that you do, all the work and toil that you undertake, doesn’t change this.  Qoheleth declared, “I applied my mind to search and investigate in wisdom all things that are done under the sun  …  I have seen all things that are done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a chase after wind…” (Qoh 1:12-14).

Qoheleth had the same experience in once pursuing pleasure and enjoyment of good things, of laughter and mirth, even of beguiling his senses through drunkenness.  These brought him to nothing.  Then, he busied himself undertaking “great works”;  he built his houses, planted his vineyards, cultivated fruit trees of all sorts, even constructed reservoirs to water his woodlands.  But he arrived at the same conclusion:  all is vanity, a chase after the wind.  In the end, one toils for naught.  All is meaningless.  Like chasing the wind. 

His frustration extended to what he would do with all that he had built up and achieved when death is near. “I detested all the fruits of my labor under the sun, because I must leave them to a man who is to come after me.  And who know whether he will be wise or a fool?  Yet he will have control over all the fruits of my wise labor under the sun.  This too is vanity.  So my feelings turned to despair of all the fruits of my labor under the sun” (Qoh 2:18).

In this turmoil, Qoheleth arrives at the following conclusion: “There is nothing better for man than [simply] to eat and drink and provide himself with good things by his labors.  Even this, I realized is from the hand of God.  For who can eat and drink apart from him?  For to whatever man he sees fit, he gives wisdom and knowledge and joy…” (Qoh. 2:24-26a).   In this unchanging world, one must not overwork to overcome the world by amassing stunning possessions.  “To the sinner he gives the task of amassing possessions [only[ to be given to whatever man God sees fit.  This is also vanity and a chase after wind” (Qoh 2:26b).

In the context of this same unchanging world of vanities, except for the wise man, as we heard in our first reading for today,.  Qoheleth says

There is an appointed time for everything,
and a time for every affair under the heavens.
A time to be born, and a time to die,
a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant.
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to tear down, and a time to build,
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a tie to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them;
a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away.
A time to rend, and a time to sew.
A time to be silent, and a time to speak,
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time for war, and a time of peace.   (Qoh 3:1-8)

All things in this unchanging world have their appropriate time.  It is God who is the Lord of time, God who is the Lord of fruitful work in time.  “I have considered the task which God has appointed for men to be busied about,” Qoheleth says.  “He has made everything appropriate for its time.”  What man may have in his heart, to build or to tear down, to love or to hate, to wage war or to sue for peace, is “timeless”, that is, are interior aspirations not realized in time.  Such desires of the heart can only be realized in God’s time, if God so wills, over which man has no control.  “He has made everything appropriate to its time, and has put the times into their hearts, without men’s ever discovering, from beginning to end, the work which God has done” (Qoh. 3:11).   

In the end, the wisdom of Qoheleth is in calmly accepting the difficult world that cannot be changed, in living simply from the hand of God, and being content to achieve in time whatever He may allow us to achieve in his time.  It is supposedly a formula of wisdom, knowledge, and joy. 

But the joy is thin if the unchanging world, also corrupted by evil, is not changed.  It is ultimately sad if shaping or re-shaping the world by a human being created in God’s intelligent and creative image is considered “vanity and chasing the wind.”   Perhaps to overcome the impression of vanity, Qoheleth’s analysis of the world, created by a compassionate God, would include not only a consideration of its changelessness, but its having been fundamentally damaged by sin – the sin of Adam and Eve, the sin of Cain against Abel, the sin of David, the unending sin of man worshipping false gods through a succession of faithless kings – as we may know from our own worship of money, power and reputation.  What would be required against sin is not just a simple life sensitive to God’s rule in time as suggested by Qoheleth’s wisdom, but redemption through a Savior, a Messiah.  That of course would come with Jesus Christ whose wisdom was the Cross and Resurrection – “foolishness for those who are perishing, but God’s power to us who are being saved” (1 Cor. 1:18).   Out of compassion, out of Love, the Redeemer challenges all to follow him: ”Whoever wishes to follow me must deny himself, take up his Cross daily, then follow me” (Lk 9:23).  

That is wisdom Qoheleth could not fathom.

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Celebrating Mary, Model for Evangelization, on Her Birthday

[Homily.  Assumption Chapel.  Sept. 8, 2022.]

Today is the Feast of the Nativity of Mary.

In our Church, the theologians say there are other more important celebrations of Mary.  The three solemnities of Mary are the Immaculate Conception, the Divine Motherhood, and the Assumption.  They celebrate that Mary, chosen to conceive and nurture Jesus in her womb, was preserved from the stain of sin, even original sin; that she was the mother not only of a human baby but of the divine Word made flesh who from the beginning was “with God and God” (Jn 1:1), and therefore that as a human mother she was the mother of God; and that after the course of her life on earth was ended, she received the first fruits of her Son’s suffering and death and was assumed into heaven.   Behind all these glorious titles is the young virgin who, having been told by the angel Gabriel that she was chosen to be the mother of Jesus, responded in readiness with her famous words, “Let it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).  It was her consent to a God who created us free and values our free consent to collaborate with him in the work of redemption.  Without this consent, redemption would not have taken place. 

But today we celebrate Mary’s birth.  It is not a solemnity, but a feast nevertheless.  Mary’s birthday.  It is a feast that has been celebrated in our Church since the 6th century.  There is no account of Mary’s birth in our Gospels.  Instead, the circumstances of her birth are told in the apocryphal Gospel of St. James.  According to this devotional text that embellishes the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke, Joachim, a successful herdsman, and his wife, Anna, were unhappy that they were childless.  When Joachim prays for a child while Anna lamented her childlessness, God is moved by their situation.  Angels announce their child’s birth.  Born after but seven months, Joachim and Anna name their child Mary and dedicate her especially to the service of God.  When she turned three, she is brought to the temple, and there she is raised.    

But in her twelfth year, according to the Gospel of St. James, she is removed from the temple before her menstrual blood can make her unclean.   To care for her, God finds Joseph, an elderly widower who already has children and so has no interest in carnal love. With a love that is simple and fatherly, he is betrothed to Mary. 

When the angel Gabriel announces that Mary is to conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary consents to God’s plan for her.  She conceives her child.  Joseph, however, is upset, fearing that the priests may think he had acted improperly.   The inevitable accusations are made, but overcome.  On the way to Bethlehem, in obedience to the requirements of a Roman census, the virgin Mary gives birth to a Child. And they name him Jesus.

The details in this apocryphal text have no historical value.  It is not Gospel truth that Mary married an old widower, even though his children provide a convenient explanation for “the brothers” of Jesus (cf. Mk 6:3) whose mother was a virgin.  It is not clear that Joachim and Mary were old and childless before she was born.  Joseph need not have been betrothed to Mary as a widower and an old man.  He could have been much younger, healthier, and truly in love with her.  What is clear is that when Mary was born, she who would give birth to the Son of God, was especially born.  Conceived without original sin in anticipation of her divine Son, her birth occurred already in graced holiness.    

Today we celebrate simply because it is Mary’s birthday.  With joy, we celebrate her birthday as we celebrate the birthdays of our mothers and fathers, our sisters and brothers, our relatives and friends.  We celebrate her because we have experienced her presence in our lives, ready to help us whenever we need help, ready to bring us closer to her Son. 

But also because she helps us in our mission of sharing the Good News of salvation in her Son with others. 

On her birthday, may we who celebrate her, as Pope Francis says, share “in the revolutionary nature of [her] love and tenderness.  In her, we see that humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak but of the strong who need not treat others poorly in order to feel important themselves.  Contemplating Mary, we realize that she who praised God for ‘bringing down the mighty from their thrones’ and ‘sending the rich away empty’ (Lk. 1 52-53) is also the one who brings a homely warmth to our pursuit of justice.  This interplay of justice and tenderness, of contemplation and concern for others, is what makes the ecclesial communion, [the Church], look to Mary as a Model for Evangelization” (Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, #288).

We celebrate her especially in Mindanao, wherein the light of the historical injustices done against the Bangsamoro through Mary’s intercession, we must evangelize but not proselytize, respect others created “in God’s image” and not just in ours, share truthful lives, not just dogmatic truths, where humility is not a warrant for pride in vanity but genuinely allows us to admit shortcomings and sins against a gifted human fraternity, and where the Son of Mary is not an agent of vengeance and violence but a Word of love, a Word of dialogue, a Word of collaboration and understanding, a Prince of peace. 

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In this Season of Creation, A Cry for Conversion

[Homily. First Friday. In the Season of Creation. September 2, 2022.]

We celebrate our First-Friday Mass today within the Season of Creation, that special time of the year set aside by Pope Francis from Sept 1, yesterday, to October 4, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.  In this Season we recall the blessings of the Father’s gift of Creation to all his creatures in love, but also our personal and collective responsibility for Creation, our “common home.” Sometimes living in gated subdivisions or working in air-conditioned offices keeps us apart from creation.  We can no longer smell the flowers, nor miss the green Negros fruit dove or the yellow Isabela oriole.

Appreciate the Miracle of Creation

Yet, why is there something and not nothing?  Why is there being rather than non-being?  Genesis invites us in the words of the Priestly author to appreciate the miracle of Creation “from the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth,” the light against the darkness, the sky opposite the dry land, the dry land separated from the sea, the plants, the blossoms, the shrubs, the trees that beautify the land, the stars to decorate the sky, the sun to govern the day, the moon to light the night. Then God created the living creatures that fill the land, the lakes, the rivers and the seas.  Finally, the human being created “in the divine image,” male and female he created them, self-conscious and free he created them, conscientious and creative he created them.  He found that all he had created “was very good”.  On the seventh day, he rested. (cf. Gen 1:1-2:4).

As we are invited every sabbath, now Sunday, to rest, to recall the gifts of the Father’s creation and the fruits of our creative works in his image during the week and to give thanks, so too in this Season of Creation we are invited to do the same.   Possibly because when we witness a powerful sunrise vanquishing the night or gaze into stars twinkling against the endless darkness, we only see curiosities of nature or complex questions of science and nothing of the grandeur of God.

A Deepened Appreciation

Indeed, St. John invites us to a deepened appreciation of Creation as further revealed by God.  Creation was not only the work of the Father.  It involves the collaboration of the Son bringing life and light, life to oppose the deadening truncation of life, and light to oppose the darkness.  Genesis’ Priestly creation account began with the words, “In the beginning….”  So too the words of St John’s Prologue: 

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him.
And without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and the life was the light of the human race;
The light shines in the darkness.
And the darkness has not overcome it.  (Jn. 1:1-5).

From the beginning when God created heaven and earth,
Jesus, his Word, was one with him, was God with him.
All things came to be through him
and without him was made nothing that has been made.

From the beginning, the Word.   God creates with his Word of Love.
From the beginning all are created, esp. man and woman wrought in his image,
with a Word of generous self-sharing, a Word of nurturing kindness, a Word of guidance and warning,
a Word of compassion and forgiveness, a Word of redemption. 

Creation is re-created in redemption, ours and the world’s, through Jesus’ suffering, death on a Cross, and rising to divine glory.  The glory belongs to the Father, the Son and the Spirit, “as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.”

His Redeeming Love for Creation

On this First Friday, we are invited to appreciate in the obedience unto death of the Crucified Son not only an image of the Father’s redeeming love for us all but also of his redeeming love for all his creation.  For man had implicated Creation in his sin against the Father; he alienated Creation from the Father’s purpose in love through his violence and sin.  Instead of Creation being a world of grace for all, it became a world for selfishness, sin and suffering.  

In the Cross not only is man redeemed but creation with him.  But in earth, air, fire and water – as we see more and more frequently in our daily news – this redemption is a work in progress.  It is a cry of the earth for reversal, a cry for conversion, a cry for metanoia. It is a cry not only to God but to me and you.

Earth, Air, Fire and Water

Earth.  From the dust of the earth man was formed, from the side of man his companion, woman, was formed.  From the earth he was formed like clay in the Father’s hands to plant his crops and tend his sheep.  But man disobeyed the command of God; that which was forbidden he violated. Thereafter, the earth which was paradise became a world of struggle, hardship, estrangement from God and sin, where a brother out of envy killed his brother.  And brothers warred on brothers, drenching the earth with blood of deadened fraternity.  Meanwhile, the earth which is given to all for their sustenance and shared enjoyment is abused.  Especially today when its majestic trees are felled and the earth disgorged of its precious minerals to bring profit to the few and misery to the many. 

Air.  The air is for everyone’s breathing.  Air is life.  So everyone has a right to clean air.  Around our planet the air is for everyone’s protection, shielding the planet from overheat.  But man in his mindless consumerism pollutes the air not only with the toxic fumes from his industries but with greenhouse gasses from his relentless burning of fossil fuels.  As from our cars, cattle and coal-fired power plants in Mindanao.  The gasses lock the sun’s heat on earth causing the globe to overheat.  The result: today’s disastrous climate change. 

Fire.  Fire is for warmth.  And for cooking.  But also an expression for energy, fervor, and the Spirit.  In the dark, fire is light.  In loneliness, fire is love.  But in a world where climate change has already constituted a climate emergency, forcing temperatures in once temperate zones to beyond 40 degrees Centigrade, fire is the wildfire of the burning forests of Spain, France, Italy, the United States, and Australia.  Fire is the temperature that burns you up and kills.

Water.  Water is for everyone’s drinking.  Water too is life.  So everyone has the right to clean water.  Water cleans and purifies.  But with global warming, water is the most threatened of life’s essentials.  With old forests destroyed, great lakes and mighty rivers are drying up.  Yet people are in denial.  They waste water as if the supply of water were endless.  But all of a sudden, there is no water.  Draught.  Faucets and wells run dry.  People go violent to secure their water.  But even with violence, new fresh water is not produced.  Without water, death.   On the other hand, in other parts of the globe, glaciers melt and sea levels rise.  Coastal settlements are inundated.  Meanwhile, waters made violent by climate change are overwhelming, falling much too quickly on parched soil that cannot absorb it, causing killer floods in Pakistan, Sudan, the United States and Indonesia.  With these waters, death.  We must ask:  What have we done to our common home?

The Cry of the Lord from the Cross

The “cry of creation” on this First Friday is like the cry of the Lord from his Cross.  “My God, my God why have you abandoned me?” Or: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Do we hear it?  Do we comprehend it?  Do we know the evil that we do?  Yet beneath this cry is still the whispered Word of love from the Cross, the love in the Father’s face shining on us in Jesus, and the Word, which became flesh and dwelt among us on our Earth, impelling us in the Spirit to respond to love in love. 

“Come Holy Spirit to us in this Season of Creation.  Fill the hearts of your faithful servants.  Kindle in them the fire of your divine love.  Send for your Spirit and they shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth.”

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Healing Beyond Expectation

[Homily.  Assumption Chapel. 31 August 2022.]

Our Gospel for today is from the 4th chapter of St. Luke.  Jesus has just made his first public appearance in a synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. 

He declared that in the Spirit of the Lord, he was the one anointed to bring good tidings to the poor, liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind.  He earned the awe and acceptance of some, but the ire and rejection of others.  Declaring that God’s saving grace was being brought not only to them, the “chosen people,” but to gentiles like the widow of Zarapath and to Naaman, the Syrian, the Jews in the synagogue were “filled with fury.”  They drove him out of town and wanted to throw him down a precipice to his death.  But his time had not yet come.  He passed through the midst of them and went away. 

He Taught with Authority

In Capernaum, he taught in the synagogue on the Sabbath; he astonished people because he taught with authority.  The authority came not only from his command of the Scriptures and the certainty with which he spoke of his Father, but also from the “signs” of extraordinary authority that we see in our Gospel passage for today.  Jesus was a healer.

He liberated a man from a demon that had long tormented him.  He entered into the home of Simon where his mother-in-law was suffering from a severe fever;  he cured her.  “At sunset, all who had people sick with various diseases brought them to him.  He laid his hands on each of them and cured them” (Lk 5:40).   Because he understood the suffering of people who were ill, he cured them to free them of pain.  Because he wanted people to know who he was and who his Father was, he healed them so that in his action they could more intimately experience the compassion of his Father.

Our Lord cured those they brought to him.  But the next day he left Capernaum, saying, “To other towns I must proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent.” (Lk 4:43).  There may have been other persons to be cured who would have been brought to the healer from other towns and villages of Galilee, but his priority was to move on and proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.  Healing was not to distract from his message, but to support it. 

Invitation to Bring Our Sick to Jesus

Our Gospel for today is an invitation to bring our sick, our paralyzed, our persons with withered arms, or our loved ones and friends suffering from epilepsy or leprosy, or from cardiovascular illnesses, diabetes, dementia and cancer to Jesus.  We bring them to Jesus whether or not we have access to doctors, nurses, caregivers and hospitals.  Sometimes, we may find it difficult to approach Jesus.  Sometimes, he may seem so far away.  So we work creatively, and like the friends of the paralytic in the Gospel of Luke even lower our sick down through a roof to get them to him (cf. Lk. 5:17-39).

Very often, we have personally experienced how Jesus heals:   In the little manifestations of grace that often come with prayer.  How a dreaded positive in a diagnostic test becomes negative.  How a feared operation finally goes well.  How he brings resources together from unlikely sources to make an operation for a loved one possible. 

He Heals, But Not in the Way We Expect

But sometimes, we also experience how Jesus heals without healing.  We pray and we pray and we pray, but our loved one remains sick, and we find ourselves overwhelmed by the great mystery of suffering.  Yet, even in prolonged sickness, in irreversible weakening, or ongoing pain, we know that the Lord is not absent.  He is healing – just not in the way we demand, or just not in the way we expect.  He is healing not only the patient, but ourselves, helping both to say, “Father, if you are willing, take this chalice away from me, still: not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:32).  Or, we experience how, before a person is healed, the Lord first says – or must say – “Repent and believe in the Gospel” or, like he said to the paralytic lowered down from the opened rooftop: “This is my good news for you:  Your sins are forgiven you” (Lk 5:19).   Sometimes, the healing without healing takes place in the patient’s peace in the Lord’s forgiveness and the hope of eventually coming “to a better place.”  At other times it is in the wide-eyed and free acceptance of the illness as a special participation in the passion and death of the Lord that is the sick person’s way of discipleship.   “If anyone wishes to come after me,” Jesus said, “he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Lk 9:23).  This is not easy.  It is suffering that happens in silence.  At its profoundest, it is suffering that is accepted in love.  In union with the God-Man on the Cross. 

Jesus healed the sick of Capernaum.  But he left Capernaum with many ill unhealed because he needed to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of his Father to other towns and villages.  After his death and resurrection, he left this world with his Kingdom not fully established, also to be able to send us his Spirit to remind us always of what he had said and meant – like when he taught, “Seek first the Kingdom of God!”  That is a Spirit of healing and of joy, but also a Spirit of wisdom and understanding, a Spirit of fortitude in adversity and of enduring love in agony.  It is the Spirit that leads the sick and the suffering to a deeper surrender to the Kingdom of God through union with the King on the Cross. 

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Invitations to a Deeper Following of Jesus

[Homily. Assumption Chapel. 23 August 2022.]

Those of us who pray for the grace to know Jesus intimately know that his public life was no bed of roses.  He had the company of his disciples.  He loved his disciples.  But often the closest to him did not understand him; eventually one of them betrayed him.  He had the company of his relatives, but even some of his relatives considered him “mad” (cf. Mk 3:21). He announced the Kingdom of his Father and called people to repentance to prepare for his Father’s reign.  But much of this fell on deaf ears.  Unlike his ascetic cousin, John the Baptist, he was notorious for keeping company with tax collectors and sinners, explaining that it was not the healthy that needed the physician, but the sick.  Many remained numb to his call, even though the Kingdom of God that he proclaimed was the Kingdom of a loving Father, one who would respect the freedom of a prodigal son, allow him to experience the consequences of his adamant decisions, and eventually the need to return to his Father’s house, there beyond expectation to experience the warmth of his Father’s forgiving  embrace.  His proclamation of the Kingdom of God grated against the diverse convictions of the religious leaders of his day:  the learned scribes, or teachers of the Law, the conservative priestly Sadducees, the relatively liberal Pharisees.  Eventually they would unite in the conviction that “one man should die for the people”;  they would plot and scheme until he was tried by the Romans, convicted, tortured, crucified and dead.  Or so they thought. 

Towards the end of Matthew’s account of the public ministry, just before his account of the end-time when Jesus, the Son of Man, was presented as the judge of heaven and earth, Jesus delivers a tirade against the religious leaders of his time, introducing each critical attack with, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites…”  There are seven such denunciations, each expressing Jesus’ exasperation and anger ultimately at their inability to understand or accept his core message about his Father, that he is a God of compassion, a God of redemption..  The Woe-statements help explain why the religious leaders ultimately conspired to kill Jesus. 

But as Matthew’s Gospel itself was addressed to early Christians or would-be Christians, Jews and non-Jews alike, as an invitation for them to embrace the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, the Woe-statements of Jesus also serve as warnings to them – as well as to us – to beware of pernicious attitudes that block true faith. 

While there are seven Woe-statements in Matthew’s Gospel (Mt. 23:15-36), our Gospel for today only mentions two.  So we will confine ourselves to just these. 

Focus on Non-Essentials

First, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithes of mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law:  judgment and mercy and fidelity.  But these you should have done without neglecting the others.  Blind guides who strain ought the gnat and swallow the camel.”

The Law prescribed a tithe for grain, wine, oil and flocks (cf. Deut. 14:22.23).  But no tithe for spices such as mint and dill and cumin.  Jesus was attacking the religious leaders for boasting of their self-tithing in these spices, giving people the impression that their righteousness was more than justified by their giving beyond what was required.  They may have exceeded the requirement of the letter of the law, but Jesus charged that they neglected the weightier things of the law:  judgement or justice, mercy and fidelity.  Their attitude was akin to one in our community who takes pride in his rosaries and novenas and Masses and published projects to help the needy, but lacks justice, mercy and fidelity.  He fails to keep his obligations in justice to his employee;  when he is wronged, he is harsh and fails in mercy;  he is unfaithful to his promises, especially to the Lord.  He says, I love you, Lord, and I will find time to pray.  But his faith wanes because he does not pray.  He says, I love you, Lord, in the needy neighbor I will help.  But the help is not delivered.  Or, if delivered, only grudgingly.  So woe to the persons who in their relationship with God and the Christian community are proud of what is not important and blind to their neglect of what is. 

They strain out the fly from their coffee, and swallow the cockroach. 

Focus only on externals

Second, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.  You cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence.  Blind Pharisees, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.

You are focused only on externals.  You purify your body according to the prescriptions of the law.  You dress according to the prescriptions of the law – wearing the phylactery on your forehead and on your arm (cf. Deut 11:18) and four tassels on your mantle to remind your of the Torah.  But what you wear for show you do not live. You do not heed the words of Yahweh that you wear and have even memorized, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  Therefore you shall love the Lord, your God with all you heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.  Drill them into your children.  Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.  Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be a pendant on your forehead.  Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.”  Jesus called Woe on the scribes and Pharisees because they complied with the Law only externally but failed to remain faithful to the one God, worshipping false gods in graven images, or in money, or in power, or in lust, being full of greed and self indulgence.  We wear scapulars or Roman collars or necklaces with crosses, sometimes even rosaries around our neck, but we are “full of greed” for money, for praise, for affirmation, and we are full of self-indulgence, entitled by our religious status to good food, comfort, pleasure, ease and the good life.  Woe to you, Jesus declared, because your piety is all external.  You failed to love God from within and hear his Word, who said, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

Jesus’ Woe-statements are not just attacks on the scribes and Pharisees.  They are invitations to a deeper following of Jesus.  

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Christ the King, Mary the Queen

[Homily.  ADDU Chapel of Christ the King.  For the SATMI Community.  22 Aug. 2022]

I would like to welcome you all to this Eucharistic celebration here in the Chapel of Christ the King.  It is because of the persistence of St. Miriam that we are here today.  First, at the outset of this academic year, she wanted me to say the Mass of the Holy Spirit for SATMI.  But the Jesuits’ Province Congregation and the concerns I had as a new academic year at ADDU was beginning prevented that.

Then there was the request that you celebrate Mass here – to appreciate its special Mindanao accents.  I told Sr. Miriam that Mr. Rikki Enriquez had given his go ahead for your Mass this afternoon at 2:30 pm, but that I would not be able to make it due to my weekly DACS Advocacy meeting.  So she met with you and you decided to shift the time to the morning to accommodate my schedule.  I told Sr. Miriam that she reminded me of the woman in Luke 18 whose persistence even the Lord could not resist.

But I am really very happy to be here!  I built this chapel out of a deep devotion to Christ the King.   Those of you who know me more personally know that before I got into the work of university administration, I worked with the urban poor.  The community I served even before it became a parish was the Sambayanang Kristyano ng Kristong Hari – the Christian community of Christ the King.  That was a community of some 50,000 families of urban poor informal settlers living on government land called Commonwealth around the Batasan Pambansa; they were struggling for the legalization of their homes through the acquisition of their land.  In our simple wooden church at that time, we organized those who came to our Masses to understand that if the Christ of divine love for all was indeed King, the phenomenon of some Christians enjoying huge mansions in plush, exclusive subdivisions while so many brothers and sisters were squatters because they had no access to affordable land, constituted an affront against the King.  At that time we were working with the families of a barangay called Sitio Kumunoy to help them acquire their land through the government’s new Community Mortgage Program.  One morning however, all their homes were demolished by the QC government at the behest of the landowner and developer, Filinvest.  I will never forget the rage in the teary eyes of the youth who watched their homes torn apart.   From Kristong Hari we responded.  We initiated an urban poor movement to stop inhumane and unjust demolitions with the assistance of community organizers (COs) of Commonwealth and the support of Jaime Cardinal Sin.  The result of that effort organized under the banner of Kristong Hari, Christ the King, was the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992 (RA 7279) which recognized the right of the urban poor to humane housing, and declared that demolitions of their dwellings could no longer happen without relocation, that demolitions without prior notification and in the rain were illegal and that the land-use plans of local governments should include sufficient land for the shelter of the urban poor whose contribution to the life of a city was undeniable. 

When I helped the urban poor whose resettlement from the North Triangle to Montalban had been peacefully worked out through dialogue and negotiation build a parish church, it was named in honor of Christ the King.  So too the university chapel I built for the Ateneo de Naga.  In building the University Chapel here in our Jacinto Campus, which has arguably more of a Mindanao flavor than this chapel, it was already dedicated originally to the patroness of the ADDU, Our Lady of the Assumption.  So in building this Chapel it needed to be dedicated to Christ the King.

For me, and perhaps for you as well, the true image of Christ the King is not that of a medieval king in velvet robes arrayed with scepter and orb, but the crucified Lord, above whom was proclaimed, “Jesus Christ, King of the Jews.”  For St. Ignatius of Loyola the Crucified Lord, obedient to the Father even to death on a Cross, expresses par excellence the Love of the Father for us.  Contemplating this image we ask, “If you have done this for me in love, Lord, what have I done for you?  what am I doing for you?  What ought I do for you?

Perhaps today, looking at the image of Christ the King, you may ask the same questions.  Some of you may be responding to a call to know the Crucified Lord more intimately as he impacts on your lives as theologians as well as on the lives of others you know in Mindanao.  Others may be responding to the Lord revealing himself to you in the rituals and traditional prayers of our indigenous peoples.  Others may be responding to the hunger and malnourishment of the poor and there encountering the hungry and needy Jesus revealed in them.  Others may already be involved in an intense search for divine truth through human dialogue and collaboration with peoples of other faiths.  If in this chapel the image of Christ the King has a Mindanaoan hue it shall be because of the way you respond to Jesus peering into your heartsher3e in Mindanao.

Today is also the Feast of Mary the Queen.  It is a celebration that is inseparable from the recognition of Christ the King.  As Pius XII explained,

“He, the Son of God, reflects on His heavenly Mother the glory, the majesty and the dominion of His kingship, for, having been associated to the King of Martyrs in the … work of human Redemption as Mother and cooperator, she remains forever associated to Him, with a practically unlimited power, in the distribution of the graces which flow from the Redemption.[i]

Christ the King reflects on his heavenly mother “the glory, the majesty and the dominion of his kingship.”  We know, however, this is not political glory, not royal majesty, and not dominion over people conquered by force, but the freedom and humility that allowed him to obedient to the Father even unto death on a cross.  The glory, the majesty and the dominion of his kingship is his Cross; reflected on Mary, it is her humility, her openness to the Father’s will, her declaration, “Let it be done to me according to your will” [“fiat,” Lk 1:38], her bearing her Son and caring for him, her allowing her heart to be pierced by a sword, as she witnessed him express the fullness of the Father’s love for us on the cross that makes her Queen.  The unlimited power of Mary is her powerlessness standing before her crucified Son, and then her turning to us to say, “Do whatever he tells you.”

As we encounter Christ the King more deeply, may we benefit from the light that is reflected on Mary, the Queen. 

[i] Pius XII, in his Radio message to Fatima in 1954, Bendito seja (AAS 38. 266).  Cf:

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Mary Assumed into Heaven

[Homily.  Feast of the Assumption.  Aug. 15, 2022.]

It is a mystery that God made the history of salvation dependent on the consent of a young virgin from Nazareth, Mary, who was already betrothed to a just man, named Joseph.  But that was the case, a mystery of how much God values human freedom and consent.  Without Mary’s fiat,  Jesus, the Savior, would not have been born.  Without our consent, God does not save us.  

Having given her consent, Mary watched Jesus grow in wisdom, age and grace.  But not without suffering.  Early on, in the temple, the holy man, Simeon, had told her that the Child in her arms was destined “for the rise and fall of many in Israel, and to be a sign that would be opposed” and that a sword would pierce her soul. (Lk 2:34-35)

When Jesus was older, and Mary and Joseph had brought him to the Temple of Jerusalem, the Temple of His Father, he made it clear to them he would be given to the work of His Father, and that they should not be surprised if he separated himself from them in order to do his Father’s business (cf. Lk 2:41-59).  Yet, until his public ministry, he remained subject to them as he grew in wisdom, age and grace.

Later, in the height of his public ministry, when he healed the sick and taught of the Kingdom of his Father and so incurred the wrath of the scribes and Pharisees, she would seek his company.  He was informed that she and his relatives were looking for him.  He, however, would not be distracted from his Father’s business.   She and others would be told that doing his Father’s will was his mother and brother and sister, that there was no human relationship more important than his fulfilling his Father’s will. (cf. Lk 8:19-21).  “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God” (Lk 9:62), he taught.

What his Father’s will entailed, she witnessed painfully: that to show the depth of his Father’s love for us, her Son suffered death on a cross to conquer death in us. She witnessed that.  

How he was falsely accused, derided, forced to carry his cross, was stripped of his clothes and crucified. 

At the foot of his Cross, she stood with John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. He said to her: “Woman, behold your son.”  “Son, behold your mother.”  (cf. Jn 19:26-27).

To his mother, he entrusted all those for whom he was suffering, all those who would believe in him as the source of their salvation, all of those who would be his community of disciples.  He entrusted to her all of us.   To us, at the foot of his cross, he gave us his mother.  

When in death the soldier pierced his side with a lance, her heart was pierced with a sword.  From his side flowed the water of baptism and the blood of the Eucharist – the signs of the nascent Church, the living communion of his disciples that would proclaim salvation in the Crucified and Resurrected Lord “to the ends of the earth.”

Today in the hope and glory of the resurrection, we thank God specially: “For today” we say in our Preface, “the Virgin Mother of God was assumed into heaven…”

In this context in 1950 Pope Pius XII declared: “We proclaim and define it to be a dogma revealed by God that the immaculate Mother of God, Mary ever virgin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven.[3]

She was assumed into heaven, we pray in our Preface, “as the beginning and image of your Church’s coming to perfection as a sign of pure hope and comfort to your pilgrim people.”

In heaven, she is a sign of hope that we too, having united ourselves to the death and resurrection of her Son, will get to heaven.

And therefore at the outset of this Mass we pray:

“That always attentive to the things that are above we may merit to be sharers of her glory.”

That we may not be overwhelmed by the cares of this world below, by the compulsions of selfishness, the temptations of promethean power, the comforts of much money.

But that we think of “the things that are above” – of the things that are above our pettiness and weakness:  of how we can be of service to the least of our sisters and brothers by uniting ourselves to the power of Jesus.

As Mary did when she had compassion on the bride and groom at the marriage feast of Cana;  when they had run out of wine she approached her Son.  And even though he responded that his time had not yet come, she instructed  the servants “Do whatever he tells you.”  He instructed them to fill to the brim six stone water jars, each holding 20-30 gallons.  Later the stewards observed with astonishment, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine…  But you have kept the good wine until now.”  (cf. Jn. 2:1-11, esp. 5.10.)

Mary continues to do this.  That is part of our rejoicing and gratitude today as we praise God for her being in heaven not only for herself but also for us.  She continues to be our mother in heaven, Jesus’ gift to us from his cross, who helps us in the power of her Son.  For “never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession, was left unaided” (Memorare).

That we know from our experience.  When we asked her for help, she helped.   All of us, I am sure, can recall instances in our lives when we called on her for help, and in the power of her Son, she helped.  Like when on the steps of her basilica in Naga, she helped my mother and father, long estranged from each other, to come together in reconciliation before they passed away.  So let us praise the Lord for our Mother assumed into heaven who continues to pray for us.  In meeting the challenges of this world, may we never lose sight of the hope undying – dulling the sting of death – of joining her in heaven.  

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Denying Oneself to Find One’s Self

[Homily.  First Friday Mass.  Assumption Chapel. Aug. 5, 2022.]

Once again on this First Friday, we contemplate “the Man on the Cross.”  He is not only a man; he is God-made-man as willed by the Father as an expression of his profound love for us.  He is the Father’s Word-of-love-made-flesh to dwell among us, as a man like us in all things but sin, to heal us from our infirmities, to teach us of the Kingdom of God, to nourish us with the Bread of Life, to battle those who make experiencing the goodness of his Father difficult and burdensome, to weep over the lost, the lonely, the victims of our individual and collective sin.  He is divine Love-made-human for us on the Cross,

Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.  (Phil. 2:6-11)

In contemplating the Man on the Cross this First Friday we recall the God who never tires of loving us in our lives, no matter our shortcomings, no matter our sins, no matter our lapses in failed discipleship.   With St. Ignatius we ask:  If you have done this for me in love, O Lord, what have I done for you?  What am I doing for you?  What ought I do for you?

Our gospel for today, helps us with our response.  Quietly, Jesus says:  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”  He must deny himself:  not his deeper self, but his superficial unreflected self that militates against the self that really expresses one’s self.  St Paul described this in the inner turbulence a person experiences still hoping to be liberated from the compulsion to sin, “…I do not do what I [really] want, but I do what I hate.  Now if I do what I do not want, I concur that the law [what God wills] is good.  So now it is no longer I who do it but sin that dwells in me” (Rom. 7: 15b-7).  Jesus too experienced this, not in sin driving him to sin, but in freedom providing him the clear option to do what was not the Father’s will.  In freedom, Jesus had to struggle and suffer for his freedom.  Agonizing against this possibility of wellbeing rather than pain, of wholeness rather than brokenness, of living for himself rather than dying for others, till he even sweat blood, he finally said, “Not my will, but your will be done, Father.” (cf. Lk 22:44)  – “I will that not my will but your will be done, Father.” 

And so today all of us are being invited to consider our manner of responding to the Father’s love expressed by Jesus peering into our hearts from the cross.  “My response to your love,” we may say, “is my coming to this Mass every First Friday!”  That is certainly meritorious.  But is that it?  Is that the denial of self the Lord requires in letting go of that dark corner of my life I plot and scheme to preserve for myself and shield even from divine light and intervention?  Is that the denial of self the Lord requires – in my opening myself more to God wanting me to know him more intimately?  in my helping others to find God in resolving their conflicts and quarrels?  in my helping ourselves reverence the Creator in protecting and preserving our common home –  even if it costs us millions in profits from projects that destroy the environment?  Perhaps we may consider how my following of Christ is often hindered by the manner in which I relate to money.  I will to follow you, Lord, but I deny my workers the living wage they deserve because I need to invest it elsewhere.  I will to serve you, Lord, but put me into an executive position where I can “earn” handsomely!  I will to do your will, Lord, but just don’t will that I give up the business practices that destroy the environment and discard people who are no longer relevant to production.  Jesus said, “Whosoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” In loving us, Jesus paid a price in accepting his cross.  In following him; we too must pay a price, take up our cross, and follow.

“For what profit will there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Mt. 16:26a) Jesus asks.   In this world we are led to think that there is life in plush houses, fame, glory, global riches, and being able to think well of oneself.  But Jesus says, I have come to bring you “life, life to the full” (Jn 10:10).  “Without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15.5b). 

Indeed, Jesus said, “He who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt. 10:39).  He will find the “life, life to the full” that Jesus brings. 

For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his or her conduct.  St James says: 

What good is it, my brothers,
if someone says he has faith
but does not have works.
Can that faith save him? 
If a brother or sister has nothing to wear
and has no food for the day,
and one of you says to them,
“Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,”
but you do not give them the necessities of the body,
what good is it?
So also faith of itself, if it does not have works
is dead.   (Jas. 2:14-17)

At the Second Coming, when the Lord will judge heaven and earth, he will separate the sheep from the goats, the sheep being those who had compassion on the Lord’s needy ones, having given them food in their hunger, drink in their thirst, welcome when they were strangers, clothes when they were naked, care when they were ill, company when they were imprisoned.  To them, the Lord says, “whatever you have done to these least of my sisters and brothers, that you did to me” (cf. Mt 25:31-46).

The news of the Last Judgment is good news.  It brings joy and hope to the righteous.  But it also calls those of you who know yourselves to be sinners to consider the Man on the Cross, to feel the Father’s love Jesus is expressing for you from the Cross, inviting you to respond… to God in love.  Love for love. “If you have done this for me in Love, Lord, what have I done for you?  What am I doing for you?  What ought I do for you?”

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Catholic Higher Education in the Philippines: A Commitment to Quality Education in the Spirit

[ADDU University Lecture, July 29, 2022.]

Our University Celebration of St. Ignatius of Loyola today is occasion for reflection on Catholic Education in the Philippines and how it is a commitment to quality education in the Holy Spirit.

Catholic education (CE) in the Philippines has a long and distinguished history. Augustinian missionaries opened the very first Catholic school in Cebu in 1565.  The Jesuits opened the College of San Ignacio in Manila in 1596 to educate priests.  The Dominicans established the University of Sto. Tomas in 1611, and in 1632 the Colegio de San Juan de Letran.  In 1632 the Colegio de Sta Isabel was founded as the first women’s college which has been run by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul since 1632.  In 1859 the Jesuits returned from their suppression and opened the Escuela Municipal of Manila, the first Ateneo.  In 1862 the Vincentians established Conciliar seminaries in in Manila, Naga, Cebu, Iloilo and Vigan. In 1904 the sisters of St. Paul de Chartres opened the first Paulinian school in Dumaguete, Negros Oriental. In 1911, the Brothers of the Christian Schools opened their first La Salle school in Manila[i]

In Mindanao the Jesuit missionary, Fr. Saturnino Urios, founded the all-boys parochial school in Butuan in 1901; this has since developed into the renowned Fr. Saturnino Urios University now run by diocesan priests.  The Religious of the Virgin Mary founded the University of the Immaculate Conception in Davao City in 1905.  The Jesuits founded Ateneo de Zamboanga in 1910, Xavier University in 1933, and our own Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) 75 years ago in 1948.

In 1941, the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) was founded. 

Behind these quality Catholic schools were religious orders or congregations with long-standing and revered traditions in education, including the Augustinians, the Dominicans, the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, the La Salle Brothers, the Religious of the Virgin Mary and the Jesuits.

But Catholic Education in the Philippines is not the monopoly of religious orders and congregational schools.  As the membership of many teaching congregations diminished, their schools were turned over to bishops, who in turn turned them over to diocesan priests whose seminary formation had prepared them to lead parishes, not Catholic schools.  It was from these diocesan priests in the CEAP, many of them now heads of or superintendents of diocesan Catholic schools, that the impetus for Philippine Catholic School Standards (PCSS) came.  What is Catholic education in the Philippines?  What is the good Catholic school?  How is it achieved?  How does one know that it is being achieved.  With the support of the Phoenix Publishing House Foundation, CEAP began answering these questions systematically in 2016 with the Philippine Catholic School Standards for Basic Education (PCSS-BE).  Because of their well-researched, systematic and compelling presentation they are now a powerful tool for the ongoing operation and renewal not only of diocesan but also of congregational Catholic schools in the Philippines and even of Catholic schools owned and run by lay persons.

Defining characteristics, standards, benchmarks, rubrics and domains.

The idea was simple, but thorough.  If there are Catholic schools in the Philippines, PCSS-BE asked what are the characteristics which define them as Catholic?  What are their defining characteristics?   But if there are defining characteristics of Catholic schools, how do these generate statements of excellence to which the Catholic schools aspire to be true to themselves.  PCSS-BE call these standards.  Here the articulation of the ideal standard is not meant to remain in the ideal realm, but to trigger a self-realizing dynamic.  If there are standards, what must be done in order to attain the standard?  These actual accomplishments the PCSS-BE call benchmarks.  Given the benchmarks, how is the accomplishment assessed relative to its attainment of the benchmark?  Does it only initially meet the benchmark, or partially meet it, or fully meet it, or even exceed the benchmark?  These evaluative indicators the PCSS-BE calls rubrics, including suggestions as to what in the school might evidence this achievement.  Finally, if there are standards, benchmarks, and rubrics, how are these called forth not only by the defining characteristics of the Catholic school, but by the essential operational aspects of each school, namely, its mission and identity, leadership and governance, learner development, learner environment, and operational vitality.  These the PCSS-BE calls domains


As schools in the Philippines under the supervision of the CEAP began to use the PCSS-BE as a tool for the internal quality assurance of their catholicity, the CEAP embarked on a project that had not yet been attempted among Catholic educational institutions worldwide, namely the articulation of the Philippine Catholic School Standards for Higher Education (PCSS-HE).  This was challenging because the Higher Education Institution (HEI), i.e., the University or the College, is generally understood to be a community (universitas) of scholars who come together in academic freedom to search for truth.  The Philippine Constitution guarantees HEIs academic freedom (Art. XIV, Sec 5.2); the Church’s Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Colleges and Universities, Ex Corde Ecclesiae,  (JP II, 1990) guarantees academic freedom as well “within the boundaries of the truth and the common good” (ECE, 29). What differentiates and distinguishes HEIs from BE schools is academic freedom.  How would the PCSS-HE handle the academic freedom of the HEI, first, relative to the government body mandated by law to enforce minimum standards of various academic disciplines in HEIs but has had a record of “overreach” or administrative over-centralization, undermining the academic freedom of the HEIs?  Or, second, how would PCSS-HE handle the academic freedom of Catholic researchers searching for truth in such as in the contentious right to abortion based on the right of a women to privacy, the LGBTQ+ community, clergy abuse, capital punishment, democracy vs socialism or communism, individual freedom vs. coercion for the social good, the “just war” vs Russian aggression, new scientific theories concerning the birth of the universe vs the biblical creation accounts, and the persisting marginalization and oppression of human beings by human beings in a “Christian” culture marked by self-interest, consumerism and corruption?  How can the academically-free search for truth be guaranteed in the context of Government regulation and of Church authority?  In a post-truth context of increasing secularization, how is the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ relevant to empirical and disciplined research in a CHEI.?

Focus on PCSS-HE

As the title of my lecture indicates, without discounting the PCSS-BE, I would like to focus on the recently-published PCSS-HE (2022), as a way of understanding CE in the Philippines but also as an invitation to its use for internal quality assurance (IQA) in Catholic Higher Education Institutions (CHEIs), but particularly in the Ateneo de Davao, which is not only a Jesuit and Filipino University but also a Catholic University.

What is CHE in the Philippines?  As explained above, based on the PCSS-HE we will try to answer these questions by referring to the CHEI’s 8 defining characteristics, 23 standards, 106 benchmarks, each with corresponding rubrics as applied to 6 domains.[ii]  In the little time we have today, however, we will certainly not be able to go through all of this material, which could use a good semester of elucidation!  But I do hope to be able, by choosing some examples of standards working within six domains, to present an idea – a sampling – of how through the PCSS-HE a sizeable number of Catholic Educators in the Philippines[iii] live the challenge and reality of CHE in the Philippines today – ultimately in the Spirit.  At the end of this presentation, I will offer some reflections on the PCSS-HE.

The Defining Characteristics of Catholic Education

The eight defining characteristics of Catholic higher education for the excellent CHEI are as presented not essentially different from those of basic Catholic education.  In considering them, however, we should be wary of reducing them to slogans, or to a mere check-list facilely ticked off in a superficial review. 

“An excellent CHEI is:

  1. Centered on the person and message of Jesus Christ
  2. Participating in the evangelizing mission of the Church
  3. Animated by the Spirit of communion
  4. Established as an Ecclesial Institution.
  5. Distinguished by a Cultural of Excellence
  6. Committed to Integral Human Formation
  7. Engaged in the service of the Church and Society with Preferential Option for the Poor
  8. Promoting Dialogue on Faith and Life and Culture” (pgs. 9-11)

In the self-realizing dynamic of the PCSS-HE,  they are listed and attributed to the excellent CHEI as an invitation, if not an imperative, to realization in actual CHEIs.[iv]  The day-to-day Catholic atmosphere of the school sometimes wears down, gets tired, and no longer animates the members of the CHEI to their catholicity.  “Identity” becomes just a workplace, and “mission” becomes just another job.  Here the defining characteristics can act as a constant call to the school community to be defined anew by such as the person and message of Jesus Christ, the call to participate in evangelization, or to be open to the Christian communion that only the Spirit effects.

The 24 articulated PCSS-HE standards are distributed among six domains – six essential areas of the CHEI’s operation.  These are:

  1. The Catholic Identity and Mission (IM, pg 12 ff)
  2. Leadership and Governance (LG, pg 38 ff)
  3. Learner Development (LD, pp 53 ff)
  4. Research and Community Engagement (RCE, pg 76 ff, or R and CE)
  5. Learning Environment (LE, pg 101 ff)
  6. Operational Vitality (OV, pg 124 ff.)

The fourth domain, Research and Community Engagement, is proper to the PCSS-HE, so not included in the PCSS-BE.

All the Standards, Benchmarks and Rubrics are listed under their respective domains in the table of contents of the PCSS-HE (ix-xix).  It is a convenient way of getting a quick overview of the PCSS-HE.

So let us look first at:

Domain 1.  Catholic Identity and Mission

PCSS-HE lists 5 standards for this domain with 24 benchmarks. 

Brief summary of standards:  An excellent CHEI is “animated and driven by a PVMGCV [philosophy, vision, mission, goals, and core values]” that manifest its “identity as HEI and as Catholic HEI” (1), is “dedicated to the search for truth” (2), “is an evangelizing community” (3), is “faithful to the Church’s preferential option for the poor” (4), is a community of scholars from diverse disciplines “who witness to the unity of truth” (5).

Let us take a closer look at the first two::

Standard 1. “An excellent CHEI, as a community, is animated and driven by a philosophy, vision, mission, goals, and core values (PVMGCV) that embrace, preserve, renew, and promote its identity as HEI and as Catholic HEI.”

The formulation of Standard 1 under the Domain IM in the self-realizing dynamic of the PCSS-HE calls forth not only the articulation of a PVMGCV but also its implementation.  Cf Benchmark 1.3: “Members of the CHEI community share, adhere to, and realize the PVMGCV[v] and communicate these effectively to the public.

It is similar with Standard 2:

Standard 2: “An excellent CHEI is dedicated to the search for truth, committed to the building of a civilization of love, and strengthened by members of the community who nurture and advance faith formation, integral development of persons, intercultural dialogue, academic formation and community engagement.” (pg 19)

Standard 2 under Domain 1 already involves all the other domains:  LG in determining how the “search for truth” is demanded, initiated, sustained, evaluated, and advanced, LD in those who provide for ordered “faith formation” and “integral development of persons” among learners and external stakeholders, R in those truly engaged in the “search for truth” and CE in the “building of a civilization of love” and in other “community engagement” activities, LE  in “the search for truth” in academic freedom, and OV in the search for truth and instruction and formation that is sustained.  The “civilization of love” mentioned is a technical term referring to social conditions which “allow various cultural expressions to co-exist and to promote dialogue so as to foster a peaceful society” (cf. pg 128). Using another lens, this standard under the Domain of IM, involves the domains of administration, formation and instruction, research and extension.

What must be done to achieve this standard?  There are eight benchmarks also involving different domains.  These indicate how the standard is attained under different domains.

2.1  The CHEI engages in a continuous search for truth about nature, human person, common good, and God, and in finding truth communicates, celebrates and lives it. [R, LD, LE]. 

The rubrics say this benchmark is achieved when “The CHEI establishes policies and systems that call on the community to discover new understandings in the light of the Catholic faith about nature, the human person, the common good and God through research and interdisciplinary dialogues.  The new understandings are communicated, celebrated and lived.”

2.2  The CHEI establishes and develops harmonious relations with people of other cultures and faith traditions through sustained dialogue and meaningful partnership.  [LG, LD, CE]

2.3  The members of the CHEI community build a culture of peace, justice, charity, integrity, mercy, and compassion.  [LD, LE, CE].

2.4.  The CHEI integrates faith formation into the curriculum, governance, learning environment, and partnership with stakeholders.  [LG, LD, LE, CE]  

2.5.  The CHEI creates and sustains a distinctively Catholic environment that provides varied opportunities where Jesus is encountered and experienced, esp. in the Eucharist, by persons and communities.  [LG, LE]

2.6  The CHEI formulates and implements program and activities that address and advance the physical, economic, intellectual, psychological, emotional, relational, social, political, cultural, moral and spiritual development of the stakeholder  [LD, LE, CE]. 

2.7. The CHEI aligns the curriculum and instruction, research and community engagement agenda with its philosophy, vision, mission, goals, and core values.  [IM, LD, RCE]

Let us now look at Domain 2, Leadership and Governance, under which there are three  standards and 13 benchmarks.

Domain 2. Leadership and Governance

Brief summary of standards:  The standards speak of “transformational leaders who are witnesses to Catholic discipleship…and [are] recognized by competent Church authority” (6); they follow “relevant government and higher education standards and policies and [that are] consistent with Gospel values and teachings of the Church” (7).

Standard 8:  An excellent CHEI is governed and administered by visionary leaders who are innovative and creative in their work, resilient, and committed to the pursuit of the institution’s philosophy, vision, mission goals, and core values and the formation of an authentic Christian community and the achievement of wholeness and holiness among is personnel and other stakeholders. 

The leaders are visionary, but their vision pursues with “a sense of ownership” the PVMGCV of the institution which involves instruction, research and community service.  They are committed to its realization which again involves the different other domains: 

The benchmarks of this standard with the domains they affect are:

  • The leaders of the CHEI manifest a sense of ownership of the institution’s philosophy, vision, mission, goals, core values (PVMGCV) [IM, R, CE] , programs and activities [LD], and exercise accountability at their respective levels of responsibility [LE]

Rubric. Level 3. The benchmark is achieved if leaders take the initiative in the articulation of the institution’s PMVGCV, ensure the implementation of the programs and activities across the institution, and accomplish their duties and responsibilities with dedication and commitment.  They report on how they meet established goals, find ways to facilitate the attainment of these goals, evaluate their performance, and take responsibility for decisions and actions made. 

  • The leaders of the CHEI build a Christian community marked by worship, joy, charity, integrity, and solidarity [LE] through a holistic formation program [LD]. 
  • The leaders of the CHEI implement policies and code of ethics for its personnel that uphold personal integrity and are rooted in spiritual values [LE] common to all belief systems. 
  • The leaders of the CHEI seek new ideas [R], formulate new policies, and implement systems that enable the institution and its community to move forward in the attainment of its philosophy, vision, mission, goals and core values [IM, LD, R and CE, OV]
  • The leaders of the CHEI ensure the continuity of learning in times of crises, disasters, disruption and emergencies. [IM, LD, LE, OV]

Domain 3.  Learner Development.

In Domain 3, Learner Development, there are 4 standards and 19 benchmarks.

Brief summary of standards:  An excellent HEI ensures the “integral formation of the human person” (9), “provides…a community of professionally qualified, competent, scholarly, socially engaged and committed faculty” (10), employs “relevant assessments” (11), “establishes linkages with industries, government, non-government, Church and other organizations for learner development” (12).

Standard 9.  ”An excellent HEI ensures the integral formation of the human person through a robust curriculum and quality instruction that will enable them to succeed professionally and engage in the service of the Church and society.”

We are focused here on what is done by the CHEI in the service of the learner.  Integral formation involves instruction, delivering knowledge to the mind, and formation, forming the heart through values, convictions and commitments.  It benefits the Church and society. The benchmarks, involving different other domains, are:

9.1  The curriculum is relevant, transformative [CE] and competency based [CE].

9.2   The curriculum develops the learners’ intellectual, creative and aesthetic faculties for the formation of reflective judgement, the endowment of a high level of professionalism and rich humanness and skills that are part of the service of the common good [CE].

9.3  The curriculum is meaningful and responsive to the needs of the learner for effective professional and social engagement [CE].

9.4.  The curriculum is directed towards the formation of learners to become catalysts for societal transformation [CE] and Church renewal [CE]. 

9.5  The curriculum is informed and enriched by the contents and methods of various disciplines towards integrative knowledge and learning [MI].

9.6  The curriculum  is aligned with national standards and international quality frameworks [OV].

9.7  The curriculum integrates the Gospel values of justice, peace, compassion for the poor, servant leadership and care for creation [LE, CE]

9.8  The CHEI utilizes various instructional resources and technology in guiding and engaging learners to think critically, reflect on and solve problems creatively, work collaboratively, communicate effectively, and demonstrate skillfully the competencies required by the profession [CE].

9.9.  The CHEI provides programs, offers services, and builds an atmosphere that empowers learners to be resilient in times of crisis, disasters, disruptions and emergencies (LE, OV)

Domain 4:  Research and Community Engagement.

Brief summary of standards:  An excellent CHEI “engages in research to examine critically and systematically the problems and realities of the human condition … in the light of God’s revelation and Church teachings” (13), “cultivates a sense of global citizenship and understanding of the diversity of cultures and faith traditions in the light of its Catholic identity and mission…” (14), “pursues and commits itself to community engagement …in accordance with its identity and mission” (15), “engages in the advocacy for justice and peace, ecological integrity, engaged citizenship, poverty eradication, gender equality, and youth empowerment (JEEPGY)” (16), sponsors “research-based programs that provide opportunities for the community to actively participate in [activities] that uphold the sanctity of life, truth, justice and human rights and the rule of law: (17).   With these five standards there are 19 benchmarks.

We may note that Standards 13 and 14 deal more with Research while Standards 15-17 deal more with outreach or Community Extension.  We sample a standard from each and, because of our time limitations, only briefly describe their benchmarks:

Standard 13.  An excellent CHEI engages in research to examine critically and systematically the problems and realities of the human condition towards the discovery and dissemination of new knowledge, solutions, and perspectives that uplift human life and reflect on their meaning and significance in the light of God’s revelation and Church teachings. 

         The corresponding benchmarks provide, among others, that the CHEI articulates an inter- and multi-disciplinary “research agenda  guided by ethical norms and provides for innovative practices and answers to contemporary problems affecting the quality of human life”… (13.1); “uncovers the transcendent and Christian dimensions in the findings of its various researches and relates their impact and oral implications on the integral development of the human person … and the advancement of the Kingdom of God” (13.2); “using research methods that adhere to academic excellence and ethical standards” “offers faculty and learners the opportunity to generate new knowledge and perspectives in the continuing pursuit and elucidation of the truth about God, [the] human person, society and nature” (13.3).

         The “contemporary problems” referred to are not to be glossed over in “uncovering the Christian and transcendent aspects of the problems.”  This has everything to do with CEAPs this-worldly outreach agenda expressed in the acronym, JEEPGY:  justice and peace, including the problems of historical injustice inflicted by the State on the Bangsamoro; engaged citizenship, including citizen responses to such as authoritarianism, populism, state violence; ecological integrity, including issues relevant to climate change due to the abuse of the environment due to human consumerism and due to unbounded human habitats destroying the  habitat and extinction of other species; poverty eradication, including the problem of the worst poverty in the Philippines still in Mindanao and especially in the communities of the Bangsamoro; gender equality, including not only the equality between males and females in such as the right to life, housing rights, the right to education, the right to vote, but also the human and social rights of members of the LGBTQ+ in contemporary society, and youth empowerment, including enabling the youth to shape society according to the rational and religious values they hold.   AS JEEPGY calls forth profound research, so does it call forth courageous advocacy as provided for in the following standard. 

Standard 16.  An excellent CHEI, inspired by its vision and mission and informed by evidence gained from research, prophetically and proactively engages in the advocacy for justice and peace, ecological integrity, engaged citizenship, poverty eradication, gender equality, and youth empowerment (JEEPGY).

         The corresponding benchmarks provide, among others, that the CHEI provide activities “that promote international perspectives and partnerships marked by inclusiveness, interdependence, global equality, social justice and peace” (14.1); provide for “learners experiences that develop sensitivity to and appreciation for the diversity of identities, cultures and faiths, the capacity for intra-faith, interfaith, and cross cultural dialogue and reflection, and the discernment of spiritual values that permeate all faith traditions” (14.2)

Domain 5.  Learning Environment

The Domain “Learner Development” is complemented by this fifth Domain.  It has five Standards and 21 Benchmarks.

Brief summary of standards:  The Standards provide that the excellent CHEI “sustains a culture conducive to lifelong learning and a living and growing encounter with Jesus Christ” (18); “is a life-giving community” benefitting the learners (19); is “an inclusive community … promoting… respect, understanding and appreciation for varied worldviews and human expressions” (20), “accompanies the learners and develops in them a virtuous character to live and work ethically according to the demands of their profession and faith” (21); and “as a community of scholars upholds and cultivates academic freedom and autonomy within the confines of truth and [the] common good” (22).

Let us sample two of these standards.

Standard 18: “An excellent CHEI creates and sustains a culture conducive to lifelong learning and a living and growing encounter with Jesus Christ that leads to a life of personal commitment and witnessing to Him and the service of the Church”

The corresponding Benchmarks provide, among others, that the CHEI community “foster the internalization of the Catholic faith that affirms its identity, vision mission and core values” (18.1); “puts up signs and symbols related to the Catholic faith and its identity … to enhance the learners’ appreciation of them” (18.2); provides for “experiences of God’s presence in self, others and creation” (18.3); “builds and maintains facilities” appropriate “to the learners’ professional and spiritual growth” (18.4); ensures “a resilient environment that will sustain teaching and learning” (18.5) 

While the standard provides for a culture conducive to lifelong learning (in the awareness that today one cannot frontload learning sufficient for life in a vuca world), the benchmarks support the living and growing encounter with Jesus Christ.

Standard 22:  “An excellent CHEI, as a community of scholars, upholds and cultivates academic freedom and autonomy, within the confines of truth and the common good.”

The Benchmarks provide that the CHEI support the “faculty’s autonomy and freedom in research and teaching according to the methods of each individual discipline in their search of all aspects of truth and in the pursuit of the common good” (22.1) and guarantee “the learners’ autonomy and freedom in research and study according to the standards and requirements of their degree programs” (22.2)  They do not mention institutional academic freedom.

Domain 6.  Operational Vitality

In this last and final domain there are 2 standards and 8 benchmarks.

Brief summary of standards:  The Standards provide that the excellent CHEI ensures “the institution’s sustainability and continuous improvement” (23) and develops and maintains “partnerships for its sustainability, advancement of its vision and mission, and societal transformation of the common good.” (24).

Standards 23.  An excellent CHEI effectively and efficiently directs its resources in the spirit of stewardship to ensure the institution’s sustainability and continuous improvement in its pursuit of quality instruction, responsive community engagement, and rigorous research.

The Benchmarks provide that the CHEI have “a strategic plan that facilitates … management of its human, financial and physical resources in the spirit of stewardship” (23.1); “provides living wages and other social benefits” (23.2), “designs and implements training programs to advance its PVMGCV and to ensure the continuous professional development and holistic formation of its human resources” (23.3); “observes sound principles … in the management of its finances” (23.4);  “sets up appropriate physical plant facilities” to support the institution’s ends (23.5); operates “a quality assurance management system and utilizes data generated therefrom to foster its identity and mission” (23.6); utilizes an appropriate “Management Information System” (23.7) and “effectively communicates to its publics” (23.8)

Personal Reflections

I have sought to present to you an idea of what Catholic Education is in the Philippines through a very imperfect presentation – a sampling – of the recently-formulated PCSS-HE.  Educators representing 1520 Catholic schools of which 320 are CHEIs including 40 seminaries would say Catholic Education in the Philippines is in the self-realizing dynamic of the PCSS-BE and PCSS-HE.  CHEIs are Catholic through eight defining characteristics, 23 standards of excellence, 106 benchmarks with accompanying rubrics for six major operational domains of the CHEI.  Catholic education defies facile conceptual definition being very much this work in progress not only of the schools’ respective communities and of the organized community of these communities in the CEAP, but also, as I would like to stress, of the Holy Spirit.

An Invaluable Guide.  A Daunting Challenge.

To those who would like to run a Catholic Higher Education Institute in the Philippines, or work at the ongoing improvement of one, the PCSS is an invaluable guide.  As well as a daunting challenge.  In basic education heavily determined and regulated by the Department of Education (DepEd) and in higher education where the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) determines and enforces the institutional and program minimum standards, the Defining Characteristics and Standards of Catholic Education are signposts of excellence – standards that in and of themselves exceed the required or minimum standards of state governance.  In the Philippines, it is the state that is responsible for the integrated national educational system in which public and private educational institutions [supposedly] function by mandate of the Constitution in complementarity. 

A Tool for Internal Quality Asurance

The PCSS-HE are presented to the Catholic educator as a tool for internal quality assurance (IQA).  In the academic freedom of the CHEI, however, with the collaboration of other CHEIs, they could also be used as a tool for external quality assurance in order to improve one’s realization of the PCSS-HE.

In the PCSS-BE, following recent DepED terminology, those who learn are referred to as learners.  In the PCSS-HE, this reference is carried over.  However, in HE, “student(s)” may be more appropriate. 


It is to be noted that except for the reference to the “HEI” and the “Catholic HEI” in Standard 1, the PCSS-HE does not distinguish systematically between the noun “HEI” or “University” and the adjective “Catholic” as applied to the HEI.  The PCSS view is understandable.  The CHEI does not operate in abstraction from its catholicity.  Thus, even such as the characteristics “Distinguished by a Culture of Excellence” or “Committed to Integral Human Formation,” which are numbered among the defining characteristics of Catholic education, can characterize a purely secular HEI, e.g., an HEI whose identity and mission is to make quality higher education accessible to the Lumad. 

Nevertheless, the clear articulation of what is meant by the noun “university” or “HEI”, such as a community (“universitas”) of scholars who come together in academic freedom to search for and transmit truth in the service of human beings, can in effect highlight what is distinctly the adjective, Catholic, in the CHEI, e.g. “centered on the person and message of Jesus Christ,” “participating in the evangelizing mission of the Church,” “animated by the spirit of communion” and “established as an ecclesial institution.”  In the Philippines, as Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian once remarked, among the strongest arguments for private education is that it can deliver Christian education.  Public education cannot.  Delivery of quality Catholic education is a contribution to the common weal. 

Academic Freedom Essential to the HEI and CHEi

At the same time, academic freedom which is an essential and constitutive characteristic of the HEI, is in the CHEI only an excellence standard – the 22nd of the PCSS-HE’s 24 provided under the domain, Learner Environment.  In the level-1 rubric, where the CHEI but initially meets the benchmark, “the CHEI … [has] plans to uphold academic freedom.”  Possibly here the commitment to the Christian message may be keeping academic freedom on the level of a mere plan, an intention.  In such a case, where actual academic freedom is not a minimum requirement of the CHEI, can it still be considered an HEI?

In this light, for the CHEI, “a community of scholars exercising academic freedom in the search for truth” – or the HEI as such – may even need to be numbered among the defining characteristics of CHEIs.  The Philippine Constitution provides, notably with the mandatory “shall”, that “Academic freedom shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning” [Art. XIV, Sec. 5 (2)].  Because of the CHEI’s identity and mission, it would be clear that the constitutionally-guaranteed institutional academic freedom is exercised towards attaining the standards of CHEIs which realize the HEI’s PVMGCV. 

No Reference to Institutional Academic Freedom

However, it is to be noted here, not without a certain trepidation, that the benchmarks of Standard 22 “guarantee the faculty’s autonomy and freedom in research and teaching according to the methods of each individual discipline in their search of all aspects of truth and in the pursuit of the common good” (22.1) and “guarantee the learners’ autonomy and freedom in research and study according to the standards and requirements of their degree programs” (22.2).  There is no reference to institutional academic freedom, the ability of the  university to determine for itself on academic grounds who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study.[vi]  Whether the benchmarks for faculty and learner academic freedom are sufficiently formulated so that the PVMGCV can be safeguarded through the governance of the CHEI in exercising its institutional academic freedom against excesses in the exercise of the academic freedom of faculty or of students is unclear.  In a Catholic HEI the institutional academic freedom guides the research and instruction of its faculty members and the research of its students and confirms the methods of their disciplines as consistent with the Catholic PVMGCV of the CHEI.  It engages positions inconsistent with or contrary to the PVMGCV of the CHEI in a relentless and ongoing search for truth.

Obligations in Academic Freedom for CHEIs in R and CE

In the PCSS-HE the standard of excellence is what “the excellent CHEI” achieves.  It is the articulation of the ideal in 24 standards that responds to 6 operational domains.  There is however nothing sacred about the number 6, so nothing that confines the domains to 6.  Indeed, the PCSS-HE’s finality of quality improvement through self-assessment may have been better served if “Research and Community Engagement” were two distinct domains.  This would have allowed for a deeper understanding of standards for both R and CE in the light of the essential academic freedom in the CHEI.  How is academic freedom positively embraced by the CHEI in the search for new knowledge, the development of innovative programs of instruction against a given educational landscape, the development of genuine responsiveness to stakeholders in need?  How from the heart of the Church does the CHEI in academic freedom necessarily embrace the imperative to theology that is responsive to the particular context of the CHEI and articulates how God continues in the truth of the Spirit to reveal himself blessing, redeeming, guiding and transforming the local or global situation in which the CHEI is called

Indeed, when all the standards are introduced by “the excellent CHEI” and the implementation of a standard involves many domains that appear to overlap in a type of dialectical circularity between “the excellent CHEI” and the actual, striving CHEI, which member(s) of the community is or are mainly responsible for the realization of the standard is blurred.  Another way of applying standards to the CHEI’s operations may be to use the domains: Administration, Formation, Instruction, Research and Extension (AFIRE) that implement a vision and mission, as is our wont at ADDU. 

I have referred to the self-realizing dynamic of the PCSS-HE.  This is true only if the Catholic educators within the community of the CHEI commit themselves in academic freedom to meet, if not surpass, the 24 standards.  Such would presumably be the highest form of exercising academic freedom communally in a particular CHEI.  Through this exercise of academic freedom, the CHEI is realized.

Two Major Limitations: The Public Educational Landscape

But there are two major limitations on the community’s ability to achieve the excellent CHEI in the Philippines.  There are realities essential to this achievement that are beyond the CHEI’s control, no matter the intense dedication and vowed commitments of the CHEI community to achieve the standards.

One is the public educational landscape that conditions the CHEI’s operation and the ability of the State to kill private CHEIs and Catholic schools and universities through its one-sided support of public schools.  This happens through legislation and public administrative policies which are insensitive to the operational limitations of the private schools.  Private schools run on tuition and fees dependent on market conditions, which enable or limit the ability of students or their parents to pay tuition and fees, whose collection determine such as teacher salaries and educational facilities.  Public schools run on legislated government budgets allocating taxpayers’ money for the support of the public schools.  The Constitution provides for the “complementary roles of public and private institutions in the educational system” [Art XIV, Sec. 4 (1)].  While this ought to mean that both operate complementing the other,[vii] it is now being exercised so that in time the strengths of one will annihilate the other.  No matter the commitments of the CHEI community to its sustainability and continued improvement in the service of the students and of the community (Standard 23), government can erode and kill the operations of the CHEI by not seriously attending to the complementarity of public and private schools and bullying the private schools out of the market and therefore out of existence.  Under the domain OV, a more robust articulation of the imperative for the CHEI to engage in organized advocacy in collaboration with the private sector to ensure the sustainability of CE vs. killer national and local legislation is warranted.  This may be considered in the light of the right of Catholic citizens to Catholic education as articulated by Gravissimum Educationis.[viii]

The Holy Spirit

The other limiting factor is more profound.  In a CHEI community that is centered on the person of Jesus Christ, participates in the evangelizing mission of the Church, is animated by the Spirit of communion, is engaged in the service of Church and society with a preferential option for the poor, and promotes inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue concerning faith and life and culture, none of this is achieved through the sheer willfulness and rationality of administrators, faculty members, staff and students.  None of it is possible without the Holy Spirit and grace.  The CHEI is not a proprietor of the Holy Spirit; it does not govern the Holy Spirit, a sine qua non in the faith life of each and every Christian member of the CHEI and indeed in the lives of members of the university of other religions or beliefs seeking truth.  The shift from the articulated “defining characteristics” like “centered on the person of Jesus Christ” to an actual centeredness on Jesus that is life giving for a particular CHEI is not achieved by educators and students alone but granted by the Holy Spirit, not in the approved timeframe of a strategic plan, but in the Holy Spirit’s own time.  Not all the members of the CHEI find their center in Christ Jesus at the same time, with the same intensity, with the same consequentiality, so that the realization of a CHEI’s vision and mission may often need to wait for the Holy Spirit to move, to inspire and to transform.

The “limitation” is instructive.  Working with the PCSS-HE, perhaps, need not end in an exclamation, “Thank God we are not like the rest of the CHEIs since we have achieved at least Level 3 in all 24 standards!” but “Have mercy on us, Lord, in our shortcomings and failures!” (cf. Lk 18:9-14).   Especially in our shortcomings in faith.  “I believe in you, Lord.  But help my unbelief” (Mk 9:24).  In administration and governance, “I am anxious and worried like Martha, Lord” but help me to see “the better part” that Mary preferred.  Help me find the distance from the endless chores and tasks and pressing deadlines to find the quiet to sit at your lap and converse with you, Lord (cf. Lk 10:38-42).  Where it is clear, Lord, that separated from you I can do nothing, “Lord, teach me to pray” (Lk 11:1-13).  Teach me on my knees to search for truth even knowing you as the font of truth!  In becoming more aware of God’s grace actually working in the dedicated talents and skills and struggles of people in the CHEI community, or in the real situations of human and environmental emergency the CHEI addresses, one may progress not just through greater degrees of excellence but through greater degrees of humility.  And gratitude.

In the end, the self-realizing dynamic of the PCSS-HE is not just the commitment and work in progress of “the excellent CHEI’s community” and of the community of these communities providing quality Catholic education to the Philippines.  It is the work of the Holy Spirit. 

[i] Cf. Pastoral letter of the CBCP on the Occasion of the 400th Anniversary of Catholic Education in the Philippines, 2012:

[ii] The PCSS-BE has 8 defining characteristics, 15 standards, 62 benchmarks and 5 domains.

[iii] “As regards CEAP Membership, our official number is 1520 schools and 120 superintendents. Our number of HEIs including seminaries is 321 but without them, we have around 270+ colleges and universities” (Allan Arellano, CEAP Executive Director).

[iv] Appreciating the defining characteristics, they are not only willed outcomes of of a CHEI’s community, but the product of the Spirit “who blows where he will.”  The PCSS needs prayer.  Conversion.  Mission from God.

[v] Indeed, if already in Standard 1 the PVMGCV of the CHEI is realized, one would wonder why there is need for other standards.  But the PCSS-HE is a circle of circles, a self-realizing dialectic between the ideal and the real, between the whole concept and the particular details.

[vi] In Philippine jurisprudence, Garcia vs. Loyola School of Theology (Nov 28, 1975) was decided in favor of LST with reference to the US Justice Frankfurter, concurring in Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 US 234, 236 (1957).  Justice Frankfurter, with his extensive background in legal education as a former Professor of the Harvard Law School, referred to what he called the business of a university and the four essential freedoms in the following language: “It is the business of a university to provide that atmosphere which is most conducive to speculation, experiment and creation. It is an atmosphere in which there prevail “the four essential freedoms” of a university — to determine for itself on academic grounds who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study.”  This “business of the university” is institutional academic freedom.

[vii] This has been the object of intense and enlightening research.  Cf. Paqueo, et al., Making Public and Private Sectors Work Complementarily in Education: A Strategic Framework (Manila: Philippine Association of Colleges and Universities with funding from the Philippine Educational Assistance Committee and the Department of Education, 2022).  “This study seeks to contribute to the clarification and operationalization of the concept of public and private education complementarity.  Specifically, it aims to address the following questions.  How can the govern, public schools and private education sector be made to work complementarily?  What does complementarity mean in the first place?  And how can the Philippines build a Constitutionally mandated tentgrated national education system (iNES) that  is highly motivated and able to maximize its performance?” (pg.1).

[viii] Paul VI, Gravissimum Educationis, Encyclical (Vatican: 1965).  No. 1 asserts the Universal Right to Education.  No 2 asserts the right of the Catholic to Catholic education. 

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