Samahan ang Pinas, SAMAHAN Para sa Pinas 2022

[Message during the Kick-Off Program. 25 Sept. 2021]

To Mr. Alessandro Karlo Torreon, Samahan President, and Youth Leaders of the Ateneo de Davao University:

Congratulations in undertaking to support constructive political and social dialogue among Mindanaoan youth, to encourage high voter turn out esp. among registered voters of ADDU, and to work creatively on engaging citizens in this period of transition.  Engaging citizens: meaning turning people’s citizenship on, making citizens aware of their power to make a difference in shaping our national community, empowering citizens to act in responsibility for the shared common good that is ours in belonging to this nation.  Committing not only to accompany but to support our Philippine nation as we transition from one set of leaders to another:  Samahan ang Pilipinas, samahan ang Pinas!

For today’s Samahan ang Pinas Kick-Off Program, congratulations on being interested in essential topics relating to voter engagement and other pressing social issues.  If I understand this correctly, you are interested in the issues, including the social issues that would engage voters, shake them out of their complacency and comfort zones, and move them to respond to these issues in their use of the vote.  

I googled “major election issues for 2022.”  Google offers three:  (1)  Covid, (2) China, and (3) Domestic issues.  COVID:  the manner in which the Administration handled the COVID pandemic in this country.  Worldwide, 4,550,000 have died from this virus.  Nationwide, 36,018 have died.  All nations of the world struggled with this, the richest and the biggest struggling ironically most.  How did our elected official do in protecting lives, in managing infections, hospitalizations, hunger, in acquiring and distributing vaccines?  This is an election issue.    CHINA:  the manner in which the Administration handled the relationship to China, including its aggressive and belligerent claims to the West Philippine Sea.  The Administration announced an independent foreign policy posture, decoupling itself initially from the USA, its traditional ally; it dealt one-on-one with the Chinese government;  it opened up the Chinese market; it invited Chinese investment in the Philippines; it confronted a complex and shrewd and determined giant.  How did it do as recently it re-coupled with the USA in defense of its territories, its waters and its interests against China?  Then, DOMESTIC ISSUES:  How did the Administration do in areas  like the state of education in the country today, like the state of free enterprise in the Philippines today, or like the Build! Build! Build! Infrastructure program, whether this helped the poor or mainly the business elite;  like the care of the administration for the environment and the recent reopening of largescale mining in the Philippines and in Mindanao; like the regressive taxation system used in the country today, and finally the peace and order situation, like the creation of the BARMM as a contribution to peace in Mindanao, or the withdrawal of the Government of the Philippines from peace negotiations with the CPP-NPA-NDFP in favor of a whole of nation approach to overcome the most protracted communist rebellion among nations in the world today.  There are many such issues.  Considering them could help guide political choice.

Meanwhile, some would say that in the Philippines the essential determinant in Philippine electoral choice is not the issues but the personality of the candidate you are voting into office.  What are the candidate’s virtues and vices?  Is the candidate a person of integrity or corrupt, a person of reliable character or volatile and unpredictable, a person who speaks truth or who speaks lies, a person who is credible or is not, a person who genuinely cares for the people and their welfare, or a person who merely constantly refers to two deceptive words “the people” in order to justify authoritative or unconventional  or shocking decisions in governance?  In political choice, is the assessment of a candidate’s personal life relevant:  the quality of his or her spiritual life, the quality of his or her married life, the respect or disrespect he or she has for other genders, the manner in which he or she expresses his or her ideas?  Is a candidate’s respect for law relevant to the person who would make decisions to enforce the law, or does the candidate’s zeal to enforce the law especially in difficult situations entitle him or her to break the law for the common good?  Is character then the set of virtues by which one makes decisions in unflinching integrity, or the courage to depart from the consolations of integrity when the situation demands that complex evil be overcome?  Do you choose a personality whose virtues on earth are heavenly, or one willing – as the song goes – “to march into hell for a heavenly cause”?

These are not easy alternatives.  How you decide them, I suggest, indicates the quality of your choice, not immediately right or wrong, but each alternative pushing the nation and its governance into a culture which in daily life makes a difference.  For me, in this context, a fundamental consideration is whether you are choosing candidates who would support a democracy or candidates who would drive an autocracy.  When the verbiage justifying one or the other of these alternatives is set aside, in a democracy the people really count.  The people, all the people without exception, not just the ruling elite, not just the educated class, not just the drivers of the economic system, are respected.  The people are served.  This means, the people are consulted.  And what the people think or want or dream of counts.  Therefore in decision making there is time for information dissemination, adequate discussion, consensus building, and for “free, prior, and informed consent” to courses of action.  Why?  Because in a democracy the people count – more than the economist’s genial programs or more than the businessman’s compulsive gain.  Humans count, especially their fundamental human rights, most especially their right to life.  In a democracy, elections count; votes are protected, counted and honored.  The will of the electorate counts.  A democracy, famously, is the rule of the people, by the people and for the people. 

A democracy is not the rule of persons who manipulate two deceptive words “the people” or even the word “democratic” to justify their autocratic rule.  This is the rule of “the people” as in the People’s Republic of China or in the Democratic Republic of Congo or in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or in the Federative Republic of Brazil.  Autocracies today are even in vogue, with more and more democracies falling in favor of the perceived efficiency of the autocrats. They are governments of persons who think of themselves as the wise leaders of the generally dumb people who need their leadership.  Or they are the wise leaders of a wise people whom they must forcibly keep dumb.  Because they are wise, they tend to consider criticism dumb, or as a treasonous attack against their authority.  Because they are wise, they deal with such critics as dissenters or as rebels; they deal with them not with the force of reason but the overpowering  arguments of their guns or the silent screams in their prisons.  Autocracies “get things done,” most often through the power of the military or the police, since there is no need for rational dialogue, arduous debates and political discernment – even when what is done serves the political interests of the autocrats more than the welfare of the people.  Since they rule for “the people” the human rights of a few are of no consequence, nor are the personal or cultural sensitivities of the people important.   Critics can be exiled, imprisoned, tortured by autocrats in the interests of the State;  the State can even eliminate whole ethnic groups because they are different from the ethnic majority.  They do this through “othering” and hatred, violent genocide or equally pernicious “cultural integration”; they do this to eliminate cultural differences that are inconsistent with their worldview.  An autocracy is the rule of the few in the name of “the people.”

Certainly choosing between democracy and autocracy is an issue to engage voters – especially youthful voters.  What is the future for the Philippines that you choose in voting?  Do you vote to take responsibility for political conduct in the Philippines or do you vote to cede your responsibility to a mother figure or a father figure or a Lolo or Lola figure?  After all, you might say: in my real life, what I take responsibility for is not the welfare of all, but just my job and making sure that through that job my family can eat.  Kaya, nananahimik lang ako.

So, consider the fundamental choice between democracy and autocracy.  It is not just a choice of this or that candidate, but the choice in choosing a candidate to own democratic responsibility for all decisions made in government, or to disown that responsibility and leave public governance to the wisdom or folly of selected politicians.   

Finally, but only briefly since my time is running out:  truth matters. Samahan ang Pinas in truth, not in lies.  The global pandemic today, in my view, is not the Coronavirus.  It is a crisis in truth. Many of our big words like democracy, service, commitment, right, wrong, justice, the common good, have been so abused by non truth that they have lost the ring of truth.  President Biden says, democracies deliver.  But in the face of Afghanistan, in the face of Myanmar, and possibly even in the face of the Philippines, do democracies deliver?  Till today, the reputedly greatest democracy in the world cannot seem to withstand a leader who trumps the system just by repeating and repeating lies.  When politicians say, “I promise…,” “I will do this, I will do that…” do what they now say ring true.  When a political figure bows to his electorate and kisses the flag does this manifest love for the nation or is it a shameless gesture in cynical hypocrisy? That’s what Trump did as he kissed the flag, cried Make America Great Again  and then proceeded to undermine its democratic institutions in self interest.  So in the Philippines, what is the truth about the poor who are desperate about how to survive?  What is the truth about students who are anxious really to learn so that in a better future they might thrive?  What is the truth about the poor in our Build!  Build! Build! economy?  What is the truth about the environment as large-scale open pit mines take down old growth forests, kill bio-diversity, poison river systems and deliver the patrimony of the people to foreigners.  What is the truth of the politicians’ concern for the families of drug addicts ravaged by drugs if in a campaign against illegal drugs the most vulnerable victims of the drug trade are killed?  What is the truth of peace in the Philippines, if peace is hollow unless built on social justice, and social justice is empty unless respectful of the dignity and rights of human person?   What is he truth that your conscience is pointing to? 

Dear youth, citizens of the Philippines, these are issues that require serious reflection, true discernment.  My plea:  upang samahan ang Pinas, accompany, support the Philippines in truth.  Vote truth.  And when you vote truth, remember you cannot separate truth from the God of Truth.

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Let Your Light Shine Forever!

[Homily. Mass. 20 September 2021]

“No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light.” (Lk 8:16).

When I read this line from our Gospel today, I immediately thought of Dr. Jenner Chan, Dean of our School of Business and Governance, the largest of our higher education schools.  Dr. Jenner is famous among many other things for his mantra, “May the light shine forever!”  The wish – or prayer – is part of his official address and personal identity.

Those of you who know Dr. Jenner’s cheerful, optimistic, supportive and friendly manner, may consider the mantra natural for him, reflecting the bright optimism of his personality.  For him: there’s no time to waste wallowing in toxic situations.  For him:  Feel the refreshing breeze, smell the flowers, savor the flavors of life and love:  let the light shine forever!

However, the quotation from our Gospel encourages more than the natural  light of personal charisma to shine.   Indeed, when Dr. Jenner uses this mantra, I believe he is also using it in the biblical sense:  as an exhortation to believing members of the Christian community not to hide the light of their faith “under a bed” or “under a bushel basket”, but to put it on a lampstand that people may see and appreciate the light.   Share the light of your faith;  do not hide it in a dark and private closet.  Let the light of your faith shine!

Referring to the immanent coming of the Messiah, Zachariah also uses the metaphor of light.  He compares the coming Lord to the Dawn overcoming the darkness of night:  “In the tender compassion of our God the Dawn from on high shall break upon us to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death and to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:78-79).  For the old man Simeon, long awaiting the coming of the Messiah, the Child he finally sees is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people, Israel” (Mt. 4:16).  For the evangelist John, the light is associated with the Word, with God from the beginning, the Word that is God: “All things were made through him, and without him nothing came to be.  What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race;  the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn 1:3-4).  John the Baptist was not the light, but “the true light which enlightens everyone was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him.  He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.  But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God.” (Jn 1:9-12).  For the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, God spoke to us in partial and various ways through the prophets, but now he speaks to us through a son, the “heir of all things and through whom he created the universe, who is the refulgence, [the brilliance, the brightness, the light] of his glory, the very imprint of his being, who sustains all things by his mighty word” (Heb 1:2-3).

For John, for those who by God’s decision were enlighted enough to accept him as God’s Word of compassion and redemption, “he gave power to become children of God” (Jn 1:12).  St. Luke is saying, if this is the light you bear, if you have been graced enough in the darkness of this world to recognize the Light, and so know yourselves empowered to be children of God, do not hide the Light under a bushel basket, but put it on a lampstand, so that others may see it and be saved.  Do not fear!  Do not think you can run away from this light, escape from this light into your private darkness and your personal ineptness.  “Where can I flee from you presence?” the Psalmist asks.  “If I go up to the heavens, you are there;  if I make my bed in the depths of hell, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you, the night will shine like the day, or darkness is as light to you.” (Ps. 139:2-9)  Indeed John says his first letter, “God is light, and in him there is no darkness” (1 John 1:5a). So, “If I walk in the valley of darkness, no evil would I fear.  You are there with your crook and your staff.  With these you give me comfort’ (Ps 23:4).  Indeed, let the light shine forever!

Let the light shine in your lives, allowing your selves to be transformed in your encounter with the Light.  1 John says, “Whoever says he is in the light yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness.  Whoever loves his brother remains in the light…” (1 Jn 1:9-10).  Put away, as Paul said to the Colossians, “anger, fury, malice, slander and obscene language. Stop lying to one another since you have taken off the old self and its practices and have put on the new self which is being renewed, for knowledge in the image [or in the light] of its creator.  … Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.  And over all these, put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.  And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were called in one body.  And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, do everything in the name of the Lord, Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col 3: 8-17).

So during this pandemic, be light in the manner in which you care for each other, share your burdens with others in trust, lighten each other’s burdens in generosity.   Afflicted in this mesh of afflictions, encourage one another in adversity, overcome adversity in the Power of the Cross, smile in the glow of the Resurrection.  In hunger and thirst, share your food and drink, your bread and wine, whether in plenty or in need;  to feed the multitude you only need five loaves and two fish or a widow’s mite.  Laugh with one another in hope and live with one another in peace.  Do not let your light be hidden under your bed.  Instead, recall, “The Lord is my light and my salvation –  whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)

May the light shine forever!

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Concerning “the Ignatian Pursuit of Truth in Science”

[Introductory Message | University Lecture by Br. Guy Consolmagno, S.J., Director, Vatican Observatory, sponsored by the University Research Council, Ateneo de Davao University, 13 Sept.. 2021]

In celebration of this Ignatian Year, I would like to welcome you to this University Lecture entitled the Ignatian Pursuit of Truth in Science.  Indeed, from the Autobiography of St. Ignatius we read, “The greatest consolation he received … was from gazing at the sky and at the stars, and this he did often, and for quite a long time.”  He who was so deeply devoted to the divine mystery and majesty of God saw an image of it in the stars that he contemplated twinkling against the backdrop of the infinite heavens.  “The heavens proclaim the glory of God; the sky proclaims its builder’s craft” (Ps. 19:2), the Psalmist proclaimed. “O Lord, our Lord, how awesome is your name throughout the earth;  you have set your majesty above the heavens! …  When I see your heavens, the work of your hand, the moon and the stars that you set in place, what are humans that you are mindful of them, mere mortals that you care for them? … O Lord, our God, how awesome is your name!” (Ps 8:2.4-5,10).  The awe of Ignatius and the psalmist gazing into the heavens was rooted in their understanding of the all things, including the heavens, created by God.  On the fourth day of first creation account in Genesis, God said, “’Let there be lights in the dome of the sky, to separate day from night.  Let them mark the fixed times, the days and the years, and serve as luminaries in the dome of the sky, to shed light upon the earth.’ And so it happened:  God made the two great lights, the greater one to govern the day, and the lesser one to govern the night; and he made the stars.  God set them in the dome of the sky, to shed light upon the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness…” (Gen 1:14-17).  Appreciating the manner in which the great celestial lights demarcated night from day, season from season, they experienced God’s Wisdom in creation.  Praising God, they say, “With you is Wisdom, who knows your works and was present when you made the universe” (Wisdom 9:8).  Just as they praise the role fulfilled by Jesus, the Word and Image of God, in creation. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning God.  All things came to be through him, and without him was made nothing that has been made” (Jn 1:1-3a).  “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creatures. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers;  all things were created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col 1:15-17).  Ignatius and the writers of the Sacred Scriptures looked into the sky and they saw God.  They saw the majesty of the Lord, “the Way, the Truth and the Light.”

The Egyptian astronomer, Ptolemy, also looked into the sky in the second century A.D.  From a fixed and stable earth, just as we seem to experience it, he saw a set of nested spheres revolving about the earth, the moon, first, then Mercury, then Venus, then the Sun, then Jupiter and Saturn.  Experiencing their regularity, he predicted their movements by using his mathematics-based model of the universe.  He too rejoiced in the truth he found gazing into the heavens, seeking to understand.  In the 16th century another astronomer turned Ptolemy’s truth inside out.  It was not the stable earth that was at the center of the Universe but the sun, and it was the earth with ourselves on it that was revolving around the sun.  In the next century, Galileo, now aided by a telescope which he used to observe the celestial bodies in the heavens, confirmed the Copernican revolution, and said we were indeed revolving around the sun with all the other planets of our galaxy.  That couldn’t be true, the doctors of the Church said, relying on the truth of the Bible and the truth of revelation, or so they thought.  They muzzled Galileo for speaking a truth that was different from biblical truth, a sin for which he was absolved only in 1992, when the Church apologized to him.  Today when people gaze into the skies and its celestial bodies, many no longer see an artisan God creating the universe in six days with delight, but a big bang  that they estimate took place some 13.2 billion years ago that eventually generated all the elements of our universe.  In this view, we no longer see the sun at the center of the universe; indeed, we have difficulty speaking of the center of the universe at all as in this view of truth “other galaxies are moving away from our own at great speed, as if they had all been propelled by an ancient explosive force.”  So, what is true?  And what is truth, even as science continues humbly to ponder its own nature pursuing truth, its relationship to a God of truth, or its relationship to a cosmic Reason, a Word, a Wisdom that is not the result of its science but its indispensable condition.   Today, as we look into the skies with Ignatius and are consoled by the myriad stars in our hope in faith eventually to behold the glory of God, their Creator and ours, science needs patiently and relentlessly to search for truth in and beyond that which we are able to experience, theories upsetting theories, and paradigms upsetting paradigms, and views of the universe upsetting views of the universe, affirming with Ecclesiastes that even in science’s search for truth “there is a season for everything under God’s heavens … a time to build up or to tear down…a time to seek and a time to lose, a time to keep and a time to cast away”  (cf. Ecc 3:1-8).

In this context we are privileged to welcome Br. Guy Consolmagno, S.J., director of the Vatican Observatory, who continues to look into the heavens to find truth.  In this Ignatian year, he has come to help us “see all things new in Christ” – unto God’s greater glory.

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DACS EcoWarriors in the Season of Creation 2021

It is a privilege for me to congratulate all the newly trained EcoWarriors of DACS!  I thank all from the DACS’ leadership, administration and active advocates for the environment who in these past days have trained you.  But most of all today I thank you for your readiness to be trained.  I thank you for your willingness to gain insight into how gravely our environment today is imperiled through our human ignorance of, insensitivity to, and sins against the rights of Creation.  I thank you for your manifest willingness to war against those who would continue to sin against Creation, God’s gift to us all.  For if we are Catholic educators in Davao, Digos, Tagum and Mati, but more fundamentally recipients of the common home that God has given to all his creatures in our shared region,  we have the duty to care for it.  To those who would dare to threaten it mortally, to deal it its death blow, we have the duty to fight for it – in our teaching, in our organized advocacy, in our willingness to put our lives on the line – in order to be God’s EcoWarriors. 

Let us not think that as part of the human family we do not have the ability to wound the environment mortally.  We are Mindanawons, we are Filipinos, we are members of a yet struggling nation to survive on this planet, a struggle that has become ten times more difficult recently due to the COVID pandemic that the human family has apparently itself called forth by its abuse of Mother Earth.  We have only to turn on our TV or radio or pay attention to postings in Twitter and FB about how strongly Mother Earth is protesting today against the abuses humanity has brought against her:  [Mother Earth is protesting] through typhoons and hurricanes and tornadoes of unprecedented violence such as Hurricane Ida that just in the past two days ravaged the so-called most powerful nation in the world from Louisiana to mighty New York with punishing winds and floods, turning streets into rivers and subways into subterranean graves.  Wind and water on the one side, but on the other side: heat and raging fires that consume ancient forests and vast wildlife habitats and human dwellings, respecting no human ownership, no pompous paper documents that they have absolute ownership of the land and absolute ownership of the house, while their dreams and their memories are burned in smoldering ruins.  Nor are these raging fires confined to the north western United States.  Just in the past months, they have hit the forests of Greece, of Italy, of France, and even of Morroco. 

Our Pope Francis has warned against this.  Scientists have warned against this.  If we continue to put greenhouse gasses in the air – coming from our consumption of the fossil fuels in our cars, in our machinery, in our factories, in our coal-fired power plants,  the planet will get warmer and warmer causing the glaciers to melt, the sea levels to rise, the storms to become more violent, the forests to burn, not just occasionally but seasonally.  If we continue to destroy our forests, our natural habitats for bio-diversity, our lowlands will flood, crops would be destroyed, houses would be inundated.  And if we allow a project like SMI Tampakan to be realized, our rivers systems in Mindanao will be poisoned, and with that, our rich sources of food imperiled.

Your training as Ecowarriors takes place just as we are beginning this year’s observance of the Season of Creation.  This is a Season when Christian communities throughout the globe come together to more deeply appreciate, celebrate, and undertake action in favor of protecting the Environment.  The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) envisions us “journeying together this Season of Creation 2021 towards renewing the oikos of God.”  Renewing the common home of God involving action, not just contemplation.  Opposition, not just resignation.  War, not just the timid acceptance of the evil and harm brought on our common home by some people in self interest. 

The Season’s organizers are keen on using the Greek word oikos.  In its original Greek usage, oikos referred to the home wrought from three essential elements: the house, the family, and the family property. 

In scripture, in the first Creation account of Genesis, God creates a home for all creatures by creating a dome separating the waters of the heavens from the fertile earth, creating the domus, the domicile, the home for the human family and all other creatures, who share the earth on which they all live.  This is the oikos of God, the created home, the family of creatures, the world, given by God as a gift for all.

In this Season of Creation, we are invited to gain deep insight into how this home that God has lovingly given to all his creatures to tend and share, is alienated from his original intention.  How easy, and legal, and accepted it has become for us to say this is my home and not yours, my land and not yours, my air and not yours, my water and not yours,my South Philippine Sea and not yours, and should you not accept that, there is warrant to persecute you, punish you, kill you, even to wage war against you.  How easy it has become for humankind to say, this earth is given to it to dominate and subject to its own ends, even if in its domination it deprives other creatures of space on the planet, kills the species of flora and fauna that God so providently placed  on this earth.  How easy it is to say, let my plantation flourish, let my highways be built, let my mines operate even if the Philippine eagle, the tamaraw, the tarsier, and the sea turtles all go extinct.  For they are of no monetary value to me anyway. 

Thank you for your commitment to be EcoWarriors in this situation.  Thank you for being ready to fight that all may with St. Francis of Assisi come again into deep communion with God through communion with his creatures.  That all may join him in his Canticle of Creation, Laudato Si’!  – a song of praise.  “Praised be you, my Lord, with all your creatures!”  He praises God for Sir Brother Sun, for Sister Moon and the Stars, for Brother Wind, for Sister Water, for Brother Fire, for Sister Mother Earth, even for  Sister Bodily Death.

Thank you for your commitment as EcoWarriors to journey with fellow Christians throughout the globe to a triple restoration of the oikos, the home the Father gave us in love through Jesus Christ:

To restore the dome of our domicile which we have broken through our carbon emissions, thereby causing our planet to overheat and to react in violence;

To restore the earth which we have ravaged through our unbridled consumption, turning rainforests into mono-crop farms, turning biodiverse mountains into gaping mines, turning rushing rivers into parched riverbeds, turning habitats for wildlife into cemented-over settlements for human consumption.

To restore the fraternity not only of human beings but of all creatures:  Where we can speak of Brother Afghans and Sister Ugandans, Mother Malaysia and Sister China,  Brother Sun and Sister Moon. 

In your work may you find Jesus at your side, walking with you, yet carrying his Cross, through the created world!  As we heard in yesterday’s Mass, as the world, implicated in our sin, groans for redemption,  Jesus “is the image of the invisible God.  For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth …. All things were created through him and for him. … For in him all the fullness [of grace, of love, of divinity] was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile  all things for himself, making peace by the blood of his Cross…” (cf. Col. 1:15-20). Walking with Jesus, DACS EcoWarriors, may you fight the good fight to reconcile this alienated world with the Creator’s provident will in creating a home for all through Christ Jesus, our Lord! 

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September’s Seasons of Christmas and of Creation

[Homily: 3 September 2021. Based on: Col 1:15-20]

In the Philippines September starts the Season of Christmas normally with the strains of Joe Mari Chan’s  “Christmas In Our Hearts.”  Many of us know the lyrics by heart, or at least we recall significant phrases or images like: “I remember the Child in the Manger as he sleeps” or “Let’s light our Christmas Tree for a bright tomorrow, when nations are at peace and all are one in God.”

Peace:  So different from what we have all recently witnessed in Afghanistan:  Suicide bombers killing 183 people and wounding many more – “Allahu Akbar” – in praise of God.  An angered American President vowing non-forgiveness and vengeance praying, “God bless our troops.”   Peace:  so different from the ongoing conflict between the powerful state of Israel and the stateless people of Palestine, between the communist rebels in Tigray and the elected government of Ethiopia;  between the sullen silence of youthful pro-democracy protesters on the streets of Myanmar and the military commands that imprison, that torture, that kill all who challenge their greed and brutality.

Peace:  So different from the fear, anxiety, frustration, loss of property and lives due to extreme hurricanes such as Ida, the wildfires in northwestern USA, in Italy, in Greece, in France and Morocco, the killer landslides in Japan, the extreme floods in China, and yesterday’s killer floods in the north-eastern USA and even in mighty New York!.  Peace:  so different from the anguish and death among friends and relatives afflicted by COVID 19 and its Delta variant, “delta” standing for “deadly.” Or “dead.”

“Let love like that starlight on the First Christmas morn lead us back to the manger where Christ the Child was born.”  He was born as our Savior from our offences against God, from our trespasses against one another, but also from our sins against Creation. 

As September starts the Season of Christmas in the Philippines, it also starts the global Season of Creation:  a worldwide celebration of prayer and action to protect “our common home”  – our environment, our God’s Creation.  This has been celebrated by the Christian Family since 1989, by not only the Catholic Church but by many non-Catholic Christian communions.  It is celebrated from the beginning of September till October 4, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.  St. Francis experienced deepest communion with God in communion with his Creation, in fraternity with all creatures.  He expressed this fraternity in his Canticle of Creation, Laudato Si’!  – a song of praise.  “Praised be you, my Lord, with all your creatures!”  He praises God for Sir Brother Sun, for Sister Moon and the Stars, for Brother Wind, for Sister Water, for Brother Fire, for Sister Mother Earth, even for  Sister Bodily Death.

The theme of this year’s Season of Creation is first a question:  “A Home for all?”  The environment is meant to be “our common home.”  But how do we treat it?  How do we tend to make it my home and not yours, my land and not yours, my water and not yours,arrogate it as humankind’s home and not also that of God’s other creatures?  Presuming it is “our common home,”  this year’s Season of Creation is dedicated to “Renewing the Oikos of God.” The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) envisions us “journeying together this Season of Creation 2021 towards renewing the oikos of God.”

The Season’s organizers are keen on using the Greek word oikos.  In its original Greek usage, oikos referred to the home wrought from three essential elements: the house, the family, and the family property. 

In scripture, in the first Creation account of Genesis, God creates a home for all creatures by creating a dome separating the waters of the heavens from the earth, creating the domus, the domicile, the home for the human family, who share the earth with other creatures on which they all live.  This is the oikos of God, the created home, the family of creatures, the world, given by God as a gift for all.

But unfortunately this common home is disrespected, abused, destroyed, debased – implicated in humankind’s sin.  God’s created garden is where Adam and Eve disobey God;  it is in the created world where Cain murders Abel.  Romans recalls how people made creatures into idols, repugnant to God, “While claiming to be wise, [people] became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes” (Rom 1:25).  Creating idols out of things in creation is not a vice just of the past but continues to be a major temptation and sin;  we worship created things in our fixated greed for land, property, wealth, food, pleasure, the flesh.  In our frenzy to satisfy our increasing need to consume, our envy and greed, we kill not only one another, as Cain killed Abel, but we murder Mother Earth in our decimation of her forests, in our destruction of her biodiversity, in our world-class disembowelment of Mother Earth through large-scale, open-pit mining.  The signs of abuse are now more than ever before manifest:  in climate change which heats up the planet, melts the glaciers, causes the levels of the oceans to rise, bringing hurricanes of unprecedented strength, tsunami and devasting floods in the east and angry wildfires in the west.  COVID 19 as a pandemic is not just a random widespread viral disease;  it is Mother Nature’s groaning indictment  of how the human being has mishandled and abused her. 

So is Creation alienated from its proper functioning by the sinful abuse of humans.  St. Paul says that Creation, subjected by sin to futility, hopes to be set free from corruption and share in the freedom of the children of God.  With them, it groans awaiting redemption.  It groans in hope of being restored to its meaningful, not futile, but glorious role in the oikos of God (cf. Rom 8:18-25).

The Season of Christmas:  it’s not just a soft celebration of pious sentimentality… but urgently a Season of Creation when we need to examine our relationship with Creation and grasp how urgently Creation needs to be rescued from our sins, from us.

Christ for whom there was no room in the inn and so lain in a manger does not come only to save human beings from their sins against God and one another.  But he comes also to save the oikos, the world, from our destruction.  Christ hears the cry of the earth.  He hears creation groaning.  He cares.  He has a personal stake in it. 

For it was not only the Father who created the world.  Our first reading is the lyrics of yet another song.  It is actually an ancient song about Jesus, quite similar to the Prologue of John’s Gospel.  It is an extraordinary testimony of the profundity of the faith in the early Church of Colossae and in the role of Christ in creation:

He is the image of the invisible God,
The firstborn of all creation.
For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth,
The visible and the invisible,
Whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers;
All things were created through him and for him.
He is before all things
And in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, the church.
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead that in all things
he himself might be preeminent.
For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell,
and through him to reconcile all things for him,
making peace by the blood of his cross
[through him] whether those on earth or those in heaven. 

                                                                                 (Col 1:15-20)

In this song the invisible Creator becomes manifest in the image of Christ, just as in John’s prologue the invisible God is manifested in the Word-made-flesh.  He existed before things were made.  All things are created through him and for him.  He is the preeminent one.  In him all things are held together.  In him the fullness [of grace, of love] reconciles all things for him making peace by the blood of the Cross.  That we can also appreciate on this First Friday:  For from the Cross “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit…  God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” … that we might be “saved by his life.” (cf. Rom 5:5-11)

The Season of Christmas begun in the Philippines in September ultimately also celebrates Jesus the co-Creator of all creation who comes also to reconcile us by his blood  with the Creation we have abused and misused in our sin.

The Season of Christmas calls forth the Season of Creation where we journey together to a triple restoration of the oikos, the home the Father gave us in love through Jesus Christ:

To restore the dome of our domicile which we have broken through our carbon emissions, thereby causing our planet to overheat and to react in violence;

To restore the earth which we have ravaged through our unbridled consumption, turning rainforests into monocrop farms, turning biodiverse mountains into gaping mines, turning rushing rivers into parched riverbeds, turning habitats for wildlife into cemented-over settlements for human consumption.

To restore the fraternity not only of human beings but of all creatures:  Where we can speak of Brother Afghans and Sister Ugandans, Mother Malaysia and Sister China,  Brother Sun and Sister Moon. 

In the Season of Creation we know we need redemption, we know we need a Savior from ourselves.  Remembering “the Child in the manger as he sleeps,” we behold in our darkness “the Light for a bright tomorrow.”

Graphics from https://seasonofcreation.org/

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Youth: Empower Yourself to Shape the Future!

[Address:  Simulan Natin Online Convention.  GoodGovPH. 21 August 2021]

My warm greetings to the participants of this Simulan Natin Online Convention.  I thank the youth leaders in GoodGovPh, Good Government Philippines, for convening this.  Thank you for this opportunity to  share with you my thoughts on our forthcoming elections, and on how we can participate in it meaningfully.

I am very happy I am speaking to young people.  Youth in senior high school.  Youth in college.  Youth beginning to enter into the world of work in order, as they say, to earn a living.  Youth in Mindanao.  Many of you belong to Generation Z.  Those of you born between 1996 and 2010, that is, between the ages of 11 and 25, belong to Generation Z. 

Memories from an Earlier Generation

I belong to a much earlier generation.  I was born in 194-gotten.  So was President Duterte.  So was Sen. Dick Gordon.  Coming from a generation earlier, and so from 19-even-more-forgotten, was former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile.   We have memories of when Ferdinand Marcos was elected to power.  But of how he imposed martial law on the country, and fomented social division and violence in what was once a much more peaceful Mindanao.  Under him, the divisions between the Muslims, the Lumad and the Christian settlers of Mindanao worsened.  He supported the violent “Christian” Ilagas, who needed to be opposed by similarly violent Muslim Barracudas and Blackshirts.  He exploited the Jabidah Massacre, which most believe he instigated.  Against the calls for the independence of Mindanao, which at first were not taken seriously by the Mindanao Muslims but eventually gained the support of the Moro National Liberation Front, he justified his imposition of martial law nationwide.  I belong to a generation that remembers martial law with horror.  They were years of the conjugal dictatorship, of strong central government, government by decrees enforced by the military through repression or through the barrel of a gun.  But they were also years of great valor among the people, when students your age dared to oppose the dictator with their idealism, their futures and their lives.  They proudly allied themselves with opposition groups, with or within the Church or with the Kabataang Makabayan and the newly-re-founded Communist Party of the Philippines.  For God, for human dignity, for freedom, they were tortured , imprisoned, and killed.  The Marcos nightmare was broken by the EDSA People Power Movement, which was not just in EDSA in QC but here in Davao in the courageous demonstrations and rallies against the dictator.  The People Power dream was for a Philippines liberated from political dictatorship, social injustice and poverty.  Its dream was for a functioning socially-just democracy, many of whose beliefs are enshrined in the 1987 Constitution.  Unfortunately, many of these dreams were disappointed, many of these values trumped by self-interest or corruption.  Poverty continued to be worst nationwide in Mindanao, especially in Muslim Mindanao.  Here the call for independence of the Muslim people, the Bangsamoro, now under the determined leadership of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), continued to be strong.  Moro was no longer a bad word;  it was borne with pride and called Muslims in the Philippines  to unity, even as ethnic divisions among the Moros pulled them apart.  We remember President Estrada’s all out war against the Muslims, the naked contradiction of the Philippine State against the Moro whom we hoped would embrace the descriptor, Filipino, with pride.  We remember the centuries-old historical injustices against the Bangsamoro and how only through the intervention of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation the journey towards lasting peace in Mindanao began anew under an Aquino President who called himself Pinoy.   We remember the sterling role that was played by my co-speaker, Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, as chair of the GPH Peace Panel.  But we also remember the siege of Zamboanga.  And the horror of Mamasapano.  And how even with the Comprehensive Agreement Bangsamoro and the Bangsamoro Organic law and the now functioning BARMM all is yet unfinished. 

I’m sorry for rambling.  I know your generation is very different.  But we are shaped by our memories.  Without our memories, we are but victims of dementia, unable to find our way home, unable to find our way to one another.  Without our memories, we forget our identity, the lolo and lola, the mother and father, the teachers and the idols, the friends and the persons  who have spoken to our hearts.  Without our memories we forget the persons we have long wanted to be, despite the many times we seem to have forgotten.  We forget the dreams which give us hope, especially when we commit ourselves to their realization, or better, when we actually come together to work collaboratively for their realization.

You Bring the Uniqueness of Generation Z to the Elections

We’re coming to an election in October of next year. For these elections, the special genius of our respective generations, our memories, our dreams, our hopes for the futures, our commitments to make those dreams come true are all important.   You bring the unique viewpoints, the special competencies, the refreshing sensitivities of your Generation Z to the ballot box.  Correct me if I am wrong.  But your generation seems to be open to great diversity.  You are comfortable with people who are different.  In our time, a member of the LGBTQ++ was considered unnatural, or weird, or sick.  For this reason he or she was discriminated against, bullied, persecuted, outcaste.  It was not easy in my generation to say, “I am gay.”  Or, “I am trans.”  That’s different in your generation.  It’s easier to say in your generation,  “I am me and you are you, and that’s okay! That’s cool!”  And we in our generation are learning from you.  In our generation, we enjoyed singers and dancers from Hollywood in the United States or from Liverpool in the United Kingdom;  in your generation it’s the singers and dancers from the Philippines, and if not from the Philippines, from Japan or Korea.  I’m amazed at those from your generation who can sing in Korean and can dance, and move and look like the BTS!  In our generation, I think we were driven by ideals, even if not realized they were like lies.  In your generation, you seem to be driven by what works.  You love not according to a philosophy of love, but by your experience of love, even if love today is mediated by social media, and sometimes social media doesn’t work.  You don’t write love letters;  you send emoticons.  You like; you unlike.   You friend; you unfriend.  You are pragmatic, careful with what’s yours, your money; you’re discriminating in what you consume.  But you’re terribly creative.  You do incredible things with computers and tablets and cellphones.  In your choices, you show a concern for the socially disadvantaged, the poor, the marginalized, the outcaste, perhaps because in your lives you’re not afraid to be different and you’re sensitive to being different. In our generation we were more worried about being correct and about what people said about us.

Crucially Important:  Register.  Express Yourselves.

I guess my recommendation for you today is to express yourselves in your ballot.  Your ballot is like a cellphone.  Your cellphone communicates you.  You don’t leave your cellphone around unused.  You don’t leave it in its original packaging unopened.  You don’t leave it uninitialized, without power, without load.  To shape the future of our country you need to vote.  To empower yourself to vote so that your vote communicates what you desire, you need to register.  Period.  Register, or your cellphone communicates nothing.   Register, or your chance to make a difference is extinguished. 

When you express yourselves in your ballot, the openness of your generation to diversity is crucially important.  It makes a difference.  In Mindanao, we have killed one another because we were each different from the other; we couldn’t deal with the different other; we othered the other because of our fierce dogmas and our infallible convictions.  In your ballot, your generation’s openness to dialogue, collaboration and mutual understanding is important.  In Mindanao, we have experienced not dialogue but dictation, not collaboration but killing, not mutual understanding but mutual demonization.  In Mindanao, your generation’s openness to a creative pragmatism is important, where lasting peace has been thwarted by traditionalism or datuism or even by religious texts torn away from the one God of Peace and Compassion whom we all worship, whether Muslim, Christian or Lumad.

Appreciate that We Can Still Vote Freely and Meaningfully

When you decide to register and consider the names you will write on your ballot, we all need to step back, to value the opportunity we have in the Philippines to vote and to vote meaningfully.  Countless attempts to undermine the right to vote in this country have been thwarted by people who thankfully understand the value of the vote.  Our situation is different from China, where only the Party votes for the leader, and the leader determines the Party’s votes.  Our situation is different from Russia, where the main oppositionist to the incumbent, Alexei Navalny, was poisoned in exile  and is now imprisoned in Siberia.  Our situation is different from Nicaragua, where the incumbent, Daniel Ortega, has jailed all the seven opposition candidates.  Our situation is different from Hong Kong, whose youthful pro-democracy leaders like Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow have been jailed in China for their insistence on democratic values.  Our situation is different from Myanmar where 95% of the population voted for their democratic leaders, Aung San Suu Kyi and Win Myint, but where the military stole the election from the people, incarcerated the elected leaders, and since Feb. 2 has been killing, torturing and suppressing pro-democratic youth demonstrators in the streets.  Our situation is different from the United States of America, once respected as the model for democracies in the world, but whose democracy is now critically wounded by a past President who has refused to respect a peaceful and orderly election, has himself led an insurrection against the Capitol Building, and continues to undermine democracy by lies and a politics fueled by obstructive partisanship and overt racism.  Our democracy is different from Afghanistan whose democracy was so dependent on the apron strings of the US military, it collapsed ignominiously when the apron strings were pulled away by the US in national self interest.  President Biden had said, democracies deliver.  In Afghanistan, the US democracy delivered Afghanistan to the Taliban.

Two Crucial Choices

I said your vote is like a cellphone in your hands.  You need to use it to be heard.  To push this cellphone metaphor a little further, let me suggest that there are two major sets of apps you can choose from in casting your votes.

The first app is named Autocracy.  The second app is Democracy.

The third app is called: Ignore Common Home.  The fourth app is Protect Common Home

Facing the 2022 election which apps would you choose to open?

If you choose the app Autocracy, you will be saying yes to candidates who are strong leaders.  They believe in themselves, in their leadership and in the small group of people around them.  They govern with a strong arm, or through the force of arms, decisively supported by the security forces of the State, the military and the police.  They prefer to be feared than to be understood;  to be terrifying rather than loving. Autocracies are the global trend in the world today.  More and more countries are giving up the freedoms of democracies and the human rights democracies protect for governance systems where one man (like Lukasheno of Bellarus) or a small group of persons (like the Communist Party of China led by Xi Jinping or the Communist Party of North Korea led by Kim Jong-un).  These autocracies in pursuit of the common good suppress the rights of individuals willy nilly (e.g. the Uighurs of China suppressed in favor of the Han majority, or the Blacks of America suppressed by white supremacists).  In these autocracies, the rulers have to make wise well-informed decisions in the pursuit of the common good to succeed.  Citizens have to be obedient.  Many such leaders think they are wise or that they possess the truth.  Sometimes they do.  Sometimes they succeed.  But when they lack wisdom or truth or sufficient science, they fail.  As they impose their positions against minorities or defend their positions against critics, human rights are trampled on.  When people protest against human rights violations, they are repressed in the name of the State or in the name of the People.  If you want this kind of government for the Philippines, open this app Autocracy. 

If you choose the app Democracy, you will be saying yes to candidates who truly believe government is of the people, by the people and for the people.  Ultimately, the mission to govern comes from the mandate of the people and their consent to be governed.  For these candidates what the people wills is crucial.  It is not he or she who makes the people obey him or her; it is rather the people who make the politicians obey the people.  They appreciate that the wisdom of the people is superior to the wisdom of individual politicians.  Consultations with the people therefore are vital for these politicians, just as local and national discussion of issues and consensus building  are vital for the people.  The shared ability of all to come to an enlightened assessment of the truth through news services, public opinion, university research is crucial.  In a government of, by and for the people, the human rights of each individual is sacred.  The common good is not achieved unless it defines a state of human flourishing for all without exception.  Democracies however are vulnerable to the attacks of individuals, within or beyond the democracy, who are motivated by private interest, including corruption in selfish interest.  Therefore the interests  and values of a democracy must be safeguarded by the participants of a democracy, and each democracy must be safeguarded by a family of democracies.  For example,  when a democracy is attacked by a leader who refuses to accept the results of a valid election through lies and insurrection, members of the democracy must come together to protect the democracy by neutralizing the toxic leader and recognizing truth.  When in a war on COVID 19 the human rights of individuals are trampled on by the State, beyond the push back of the members of the democracy, the family of democracies must safeguard the threatened democracy by sanctions.  In a democracy people are more important than power.  The people make sure that power is used not just for the rich and the wealthy, but for all.  If you want this kind of government for the Philippines, please press open this app Democracy.

Please note that if you press App Democracy, App Autocracy will close.  But if you press App Autocracy, App Democracy will close.  In the real order, you cannot have a democracy that is an autocracy, nor an autocracy that is a democracy.

The Third App is Ignore Common Home.  The third app opens you to candidates who lead you in their policies to ignore the environment, which is our common home.  It allows you to consider the raging wildfires in northwestern USA, in Greece, in Italy, in France and in Morocco and the unprecedented floods in China, in northern Europe and now in Japan as just unfortunate occurrences in other countries, with no imperative affecting my individual behavior or our collective behavior as a local community in a global human society.  The unbridled consumerist needs of human beings must be met, which create gargantuan production machines to fulfill these needs and create new needs, which exploit and plunder the environment to feed the production machines, which richly rewards the actors in the production machine, and discards human beings who cannot participate in the production process.  They are the uneducated, the non tech savvy, the retired, the redundant, the elderly, the yet unborn human beings.  The third app lauds candidates who cry, Build! Build! Build! or Consume! Consume! Consume! and Mine! Mine! Mine! because they believe the most important thing to maintain is the trajectory towards individual and national wealth so that comfort and wealth can be mine!  Focused on the consumerist economy, they have no need to care about an environment, no interest in a common home shared with human beings and other creatures in nature.  If you want politicians who ignore the environment, choose app Ignore Common Home.

The fourth app is Protect Common Home.  The fourth app opens you to candidates who understand the serious deterioration in our environment, our common home, as the result of human activities.  These are candidates who realize we human beings have killed our rainforests, denied wildlife its natural habitats, overheated our planet with carbon emissions, polluted our common home with unbiodegradable plastics and toxic waste, threatened our sources of fresh water and clean air with industrial emissions and disrespected our relationship with our fellow creatures on this planet.  The fourth app opens you to candidates who are sensitive to the relationship between the abuse of the earth and the pandemic and who realize that we cannot continue to live as human beings on a planet that we collectively destroy through our consumerism.  We cannot enjoy  the beautiful biodiverse garden God created for us as we turn it into a gaping open pit mine in Tampakan.  We cannot be the breadbasket of the Philippines and poison our rivers forever with the toxic tailings of mines.  We cannot solve our urban garbage problems by burning trash to pollute and poison the air.  The fourth app will open you to candidates searching for a new normal.  It will open your heart to saving our common home here in Mindanao.   

Again, in this cellphone, if you press App Ignore Common Home for Consume! Consume! Consume! the App Protect Common Home closes.  If you open the App Protect Common Home the App Ignore Common Home closes.  If you press, App Ignore Common Home, you will witness the destruction of the Mindanao environment.  If you press, App Protect Common Home you will participate in saving the planet. 

On the other hand, if you press and app and it doesn’t show you the candidates you require, you must search for them, demand that they come out of their private lives and enter into public service.  You might even, for the love of God, country and the planet, become a candidate yourself!

Thank You, Youth!

Thank you, Generation Z,  for your patience in listening to this old man from the 194gotten generation!  May your voting cellphone not remain unused.  Register!  Bring to your vote the genius of your generation for Mindanao!  Make your considered choice between App Autocracy and App Democracy.  Between App Ignore Common Home and App Preserve Common Home.  In our troubled world today, let us treasure our ability yet to participate in real and meaningful democratic elections! 

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Message: Indayog 2021. Fiesta. Feast of the Assumption.

It is my great pleasure to welcome you all to the 73rd Ateneo Fiesta!  I am happy to echo what Samahan President Karlo Torreon has stated, “This is one of the most highly anticipated events in the academic year.”  So let its anticipation not disappoint!  Let us all come together and enjoy ourselves! 

This year’s fiesta is branded as Indayog 2021.

As you may know, in Filipino, Indayog means rhythm.  It may refer to the rhythms of music.  There will certainly be a lot of music in this Fiesta!  The rhythms of songs of festivity and dances of celebration!

But Indayog also means the rhythms in poetry.  The rhythms in the words, the rhythms in the lines, honoring, remembering, celebrating life and life’s rhythms. 

Remember: in Davao, life is here, the rhythm of day followed by night, the rhythm of the hot season followed by the wet season, the wet season followed by the dry season, the dry season followed by the hot.  The rhythm of waking and sleeping, of going to work and coming home from work, of weekdays and Sundays.

For the longest time, it was the rhythm of going to Ateneo, and going home from Ateneo, of being with family and then of being with teachers and friends.  The rhythms of generations going to Ateneo and graduating from Ateneo, of living life and generating life, and of generating the generation that again goes to Ateneo.  These are beautiful rhythms.  And they are profound. 

In the Bible, there’s the beautiful passage from Ecclesiastes or Qoheleth which expresses the same experience of rhythm in life: 

There is an appointed time for everything,
and an appointed 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 time 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 of war, and a time of peace.  (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

The rhythms repeat and repeat and repeat, until you’d think their rhythms are eternal. 
But against these rhythms we also have another experience:

The rhythm of winter, spring, summer and fall, which in the song reminds us of friendship and the loyalty of friendship (“…winter, spring, summer, and fall all you’ve got to do is call…you’ve got a friend!”) is disrupted by climate change in nature and the fickleness of human commitments in love.  The rhythms of face-to-face friendships in schools and workplaces and face-to-face encounters at home are disrupted by the Coronavirus pandemic.  What was once so taken for granted in the mesmerizing rhythms of life is disrupted by the unexpected and the unwanted.  What was so deserving of celebration has suddenly become toxic.   What was perceived to be a timeless rhythm, is now disappointment.  Frustration. Where once we could say, Life is here, now we can say, a year and a half into the pandemic, Death is here as well.  Sure, that rhythm of life and death we’ve acknowledged!  But this is not just a lifeless assertion of life.  I know the people who have died.  They were my relatives, my friends.  I know their names. 

The rhythm that we celebrate in this fiesta is of another dimension.  The rhythm of God speaking to us in love, and of our speaking to God in love, of God inviting and man responding, as Mary did when she said, “Let it be done to me according to your word.”  The rhythm of God leading and man obeying, of man searching and God disclosing – through the interior rhythms of consolation and desolation, of sin and forgiveness, of frustration and recovery, of despair and hope.  St. Paul says our ultimate hope is in the glory of God.  This is what we ultimately look forward to, present to us now, but only partially, like in a mirror dimly.  But it is that which lifts us out of the ruts we repeatedly find ourselves stuck in as we negotiate the treacherous rhythms of life.  Mary assumed body and soul into heaven, helps lift us up out of these ruts to bring us to intimacy with her Son and the certain glory of God in heaven. 

In celebrating Indayog 21, the rhythm of life and the music take us through Mary, assumed into Heaven, ultimately to the glory of God.  It was through Mary that Jesus became Emmanuel, God-with-us, and through Jesus that Mary is now with God, bathed in the light of his glory.  Mary in heaven is our hope that we too will get there, that we too will stand before the glory of God unto his greater glory.  It is the hope that we treasure and celebrate, the future that this Fiesta leads us to. 

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God Breaks Through

[Homily.  Feast of the Transfiguration and First Friday. 
Live-streamed Mass.  August 6, 2021.]

On this First Friday we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. We are invited to contemplate this mystery as we continue to beg God for an intimate knowledge of Jesus and of God’s love. 

The account by Mark of the Transfiguration is the simplest of the synoptics.  Jesus takes the apostles Peter, James and John up a high mountain and is transfigured before them.  “His clothes become dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.”  Matthew’s account adds Jesus’ face:  “His face shone like the sun and his clothes became white like light” (Mt 17:2).  In Luke’s account there is a detail about prayer.  Jesus had gone up the mountain with his chosen disciples in order “to pray.”  Presumably while praying, while in communion with his Father, “his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white” (Lk 9:29). 

All three describe this extraordinary event in the context of what had happened a week earlier in Caesarea Philippi.  Jesus had asked his disciples what the people were saying about him.  When they reported that some were saying he was John the Baptist, others Elijah or one of the other prophets, he asked them, “But you:  who do you say I am?” Mark reports Peter replied, “You are the Messiah” (Mk 6:29).  Luke underscores his divine origin, “You are the Messiah of God” (Lk. 9:20).  Matthew reports similarly, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”  But to this response, Matthew adds Jesus’ description of Simon’s special vocation:  “Blessed are you Simon, Son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.  And so I say to you, you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it…” 

But when Jesus took the occasion of his having been recognized as the Messiah to state that this meant “he must go to Jerusalem  and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised” (Mt 16:21), Peter took Jesus aside to push back, “God forbid, Lord!  No such thing shall ever happen to you!” (Mt 16:22).  Perhaps he was thinking he would defend him with his sword!  But Jesus swung around to sternly rebuke Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are an obstacle to me! You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do!” (Mt 16:23).  Jesus’ angry rebuke must have devastated Peter.  How else could he have been thinking except as a human?  He only meant he did not want to see Jesus hurt. Or killed.   Why was that so satanic?  But Jesus’ logic was based on his commitment to obey his Father, whatever this may entail.  So Peter’s words were a temptation he needed to repel.  At the same time, Jesus’ anger could only have been a symptom of the inner turmoil he was experiencing.  What Peter suggested was what Jesus was actually grappling with within.  Being acknowledged as the Messiah meant not just an entry into Jerusalem where the people would be chanting, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  It also meant climbing the Mount of Calvary in great suffering to be stripped of his garments, nailed to a cross, raised up on the cross, hang, suffer and die.  Wasn’t there a more humane way of doing this?  This prospect was so overwhelming, it overshadowed his having spoken of resurrection after three days.  Within, he was already experiencing how he would agonize in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweat blood, and cry, “If it be possible Lord, take this chalice away from me! … Yet, not my will, thine be done!” (Lk 22:42).

It was with this heaviness that our Gospel today says Jesus climbed the mountain with his most trusted followers to pray, to converse with the Father he could only obey.  It was as he was praying that the transfiguration took place, his face shining like the sun, and his garments becoming white like light!  In his human turmoil his divinity breaks through;  in his human struggle with darkness, his divine Light breaks through, in his struggle with his humanity, his divinity breaks through.  In the experience, the Father is reassuring him in his mission.  And also revealing to us more profoundly who Jesus is.

Peter, James and John witness this, and are overwhelmed.  Meanwhile they witness Jesus conversing with Moses and with Elijah.  He was conversing with the one called by God to lead the Israelites out of slavery and the prophet who battled the priests of Baal to preserve the People of Yahweh  from idolatry.  He was conversing with the representatives of the Law and of the Prophets.  In Luke, what they conversed about is explicit: “they spoke of the exodus he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem” – not just the exodus from Pharaoh’s slavery, but the exodus of all humanity from the slavery to sin and death.  “Let us build three tents here,” Peter says senselessly, “one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah!” (Mk 9:5b).  He wanted to stay forever transfixed by the mystical moment, not getting the meaning of the exodus Jesus needed to effect through his death and resurrection in Jerusalem.

Then Mark reports that a cloud came over them, cast a shadow over them, then a voice proclaims, “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to him” (Mk 9:7b).  The experience of Jesus transfigured as he prayed is a theophany:  a manifestation by God the Father of his Son.  It is similar to the theophany that occurred when Jesus was baptized and the Father, well pleased with him, introduced him as his Son (Mt. 3:17).  Now, however, well into the public life of Jesus, after Jesus had countless times spoken of the coming of the Kingdom of God, and the need for men and women to repent, now, after countless miracles of healing of the infirm, making the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the dead to be restored to life, and the indifference that all this effected in many of his listeners, God needed to say, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him!”

It is the message that is being given to us today, on this First Friday.  This is my beloved Son… There is a word there that is not being heard.  There is a song there that is not being sung. There is a stubbornness in us that resists the consent to this Jesus, that refuses faith in Jesus, and so closes our eyes to this moment of transfiguration and our ears to the Father’s saying, I have sent him to you in love.  He will do everything for you in love.  He will die for you in love.  Listen to him!.  But we refuse to listen.  Who can deny this?  The stock market is more interesting.  The newspapers more black and white.  The internet more exciting.  Worldly glory more enticing.  And the message of the scribes and Pharisees, with their rules and regulations, and their shameless hypocrisy, much less demanding than this thing Jesus calls faith!  But Jesus’ transfiguration is God’s invitation to our own transfiguration in God’s power and Jesus’ Love.  Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  Whoever does not deny father, mother, sister, brother, fields and property for my sake is not worthy of me (cf. Mt 10:38; Mk 10:29).  Even as this current walk in the valley of darkness becomes darker with every new report of pernicious variants, virus mutating itself in newer and deadlier forms, infecting and even killing not just people out there but our relatives, our friends, just as sin in our world mutates itself in newer and various forms, infecting and killing not just people out there but ourselves, our relatives and our friends!  We say, this should be so easy to overcome.  We have the scientists, we have the knowledge, we have the reason, we have the technology, we have the freedom to do the right thing.  We just don’t.  We are happy to trump the truth if trumping the truth works for us.  There is always darkness I can hide in.  There is always the grand lie I can use to cover up my failure, my nakedness and my shame.  And yet, in the darkness of it all, in the endlessly self-sacrificing service of the front liner, God breaks through.  In the volunteers in the vaccination lines, divinity breaks through.  In the breaking of the seven loaves of bread and the sharing of the two fish,  Compassion breaks through.  In the honest service of the civil servant, Light breaks through.  In the humble prayer of the repentant sinner, Forgiveness breaks through in the gentle breeze.  Sometimes, in all the crazy godlessness, God does break through;  and in all the misgovernance and malgovernance not only in government but in my life, God’s Kingdom does break through. 

Then a voice says in love, “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to him.” 

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Pakighinabi: Promised Legacy of Ending Armed Struggles with Enduring Peace (PLEASE Peace!)

[Message. Pakighinabi: Promised Legacy of Ending Armed Struggles with Enduring Peace (PLEASE Peace!)  22 July 2021]

With Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Ahmed Al Tayyeb, we at Ateneo de Davao University wholly accept “the culture of dialogue as the path, collaboration as the code of conduct,  and mutual understanding as the method and standard.”   This is different from the culture of hate-filled passive and active aggression, the culture of killing and terror, and the culture of demonization that eventually accompany conflict and war.  It is different from the conviction that victory is possible only through the annihilation of the enemy, and that ultimate power comes through the barrel of a gun. 

From this lens it is a blessing that at this pakighinabi representatives of the Government of the Philippines, of the Govt of the Ph Peace Panel, of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and presumably also of the BARMM, and of national and international peacemakers are present to take a step together towards dialogue hopefully eventually once again with the National Democratic Front, the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines and of the National People’s Army (NDF-CPP-NPA).

We all know that many attempts at achieving peace through dialogue were attempted in the past, and failed.  But we must not tire of engaging one another in dialogue, especially as over time we tire of othering, hating, killing and damning one another for all eternity as our once shimmering goals pale and against the endlessness of it all.  Those goals can emerge from the need to extirpate the heartlessness of capitalistic production through revolution, or to life-sacrificing determination to protect society from the godlessness of revolution.  They can be amplified by the need to protect the people against a foreign invader, as happened in Central Luzon, or even the need to protect a nation against a dictator, as happened in Mindanao.  They can be motivated by the most profound hopes for social justice and of the extirpation of the unjust, as they can be energized by the passionate desire to protect the freedom of the individual, the freedom to create and build up for him- or herself happiness and prosperity, no matter the suffering of laborers, of peasants and of those excluded from work. 

At such a pakighinabi, we have opportunity to ask, “Hey, where are we, and what are we doing to one another?” What happened to the promises for humanity in your ideology or in mine?  What happened to PRRD’s Promised Legacy of Ending Armed Struggles with Enduring Peace?  What happened to PRRD’s promise to end corruption and to take to heart the welfare of the poor and the marginalized?  We can talk about this in this Pakighinabi, which really sounds like a plea from deep within:   Please, no more killing!  Please no more violence!  Please, peace! 

And when we say, “Peace,” let’s please talk about what we mean.  The peace that comes when state security uses its mailed fist to finally kill or subdue all the revolutionaries?  Or the peace when the revolutionaries finally sieze state power to impose their will on all?  Please, peace!  Let’s talk peace, but as we talk peace, let’s continue to kill one another, so that you understand how seriously I demand peace!  Does this make sense?  How do we talk peace when there is so much cynicism, so much distrust, so much frustration…?  In the Marxian dialectic, this must be the ultimate dialectical contradiction:  when the revolutionary negation just no longer negates into the necessary realization of humane humanity, but is prolonged into an endlessness of negativity.  It is not just that the revolution is invalidated, but the whole dialectic, the whole conceptual ideal that they call materialism.  But if this is so, where is the hope for the excluded and discarded as the technical paradigm that we set into motion in our endless consumerism kills our people and kills our planet? 

So, thank you for your participation in this afternoon’s conversation.  Whether you represent Government representing the people or the CPP representing the people or the international peace-keeping groups representing the people, in the name of humanity, in the name of God, PLEASE, peace!

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I Don’t Know How to Love Him

[Homily:  Live-streamed Mass, July 22, 2021.]

Fifty years ago Frank Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar first appeared on Broadway.  Perhaps, on this Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, it’s not irrelevant to recall that production’s portrayal of Mary Magdalene’s relationship with the Superstar who has apparently awakened her love.  As you know, it is a tender and vulnerable love.  It affected her.  It changed her.   And scared her. 

In the Gospels,  Mary of Magdala is one of a group of women who accompanied Jesus and his twelve apostles “as they journeyed from one town and village to another preaching and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom” (Lk 8:1).  These women provided for them “out of their resources”, and so were not poor.  It may be imagined that they took care of their needs in food, clothing, and whatever shelter they required on their journeys.  Mary Magdalene is also identified as the woman “from whom seven demons had gone out” (cf Lk 8:2-3), exorcized possibly by Jesus himself.  She was close to Jesus, not only having listened to his sermons and seen the way he interacted with the sick and healed them, but was also pained witness to his suffering, death, burial and all that happened afterwards.  She was among the first to discover the empty tomb.  As our Gospel for today recounts, having witnessed the tomb empty, she wept.  She did not know who had taken him away, nor where they had brought him.  But the Gospel also recounts how she was the first human being to encounter the Risen Lord.  “Why are you weeping?” he asked her. She told him.  They had taken Jesus away;  she did not know where they had brought him.  Then he said, “Mary!” And she recognized him (cf. Jn 20:15-16).

In the 8th century, in a series of homilies delivered by Pope Gregory, Mary of Magdala was identified with Mary of Bethany, despite the fact that Magdala is in Galillee and Bethany in Judea.  Since then, this has become a popular interpretation in the Church.  Mary of Bethany was the sister of Martha and Lazarus.  When Martha complained that Mary wasn’t helping her, but was just sitting at his feet listening to him – or gazing into his eyes – Jesus defended her, saying she had chosen the better part (Lk 10:38-39 ).  Mary is also identified with the woman who before his crucifixion anointed his feet with precious oil and wiped them with her hair.  (Mt. 26:6-13; Jn 11:1-2).  It was an anointing which showed the depth of her understanding of the ordeal he was to suffer.  This insight could well argue for the identity of Mary of Bethany with Mary of Magdala. 

In Jesus Christ Superstar, Mary of Magdala and Mary of Bethany are one and the same person, intimately close to Jesus, yet alienated from him by the shame of past sin; feeling unmoved by him, yet feeling changed;  feeling profoundly loved by him, yet not knowing how to respond.  I think that recalling the lyrics of her famous song originally sung on Broadway by Yvonne Ellmann can awaken us to our own struggles in loving him.  Or today, beyond recalling lyrics, sing it.  But sing it as a prayer.

I don’t know how to love him,
What to do, how to move him.
I’ve been changed, yes really changed.
In these past few days when I’ve seen myself
I seem like someone else

I don’t know how to take this
I don’t see why he moves me
He’s a man. He’s just a man
And I’ve had so many men before
in oh so many ways.
He’s just one more

That is what many of us reduce Jesus to: just another man.
And yet, as just another man, he so overpowers us/me,
my independence, my freedom, my arrogance in willing to fall and sin
that crazily I feel I need to defend myself against him.  But defend myself against love? 
I’m so confused!

Should I bring him down
Should I scream and shout
Should I speak of love?
Let my feelings out?
I never thought I’d come to this!
What’s it all about?

Yes, what’s it all about?

Don’t you think it’s rather funny
I should be in this position?
I’m the one who’s always been
So calm, so cool
No lover’s fool
Running every show
He scares me so.

Like when Jesus approached the man possessed by an unclean spirit, the spirit cried out scared:  “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” (Lk 4:34).  Or like when Peter experienced the holiness of Jesus in the unexpected catch of fish, he exclaimed, “Get away from me, Jesus, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8)  Or, like when we speak of fear of the Lord.  Which is not really fear for oneself, but fear of messing up before the Lord.  Fear of missing the Lord. Fear of not being adequate to love.  Because of love.

I never thought I’d come to this!
What’s it all about?

Yet, if he said he loved me
I’d be lost, I’d be frightened
I couldn’t cope, just couldn’t cope.
I’d turn my head, I’d back away.
I wouldn’t want to know.
He scares me so
I want him so
I love him so. 

But Jesus does say he loves me.  It’s his Word on the Cross.  It’s the Word of his Father. It’s his Word of whispered Love.

It frightens me.  I turn my head.  I back away.  The attraction, the revulsion; the desire, the denial; the confidence, the fear;  the exhiliration, the compulsion are all part of the religious experience of divine love.  “For the love of Christ impels us,” Paul said. “He died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor 6:14-15).

He scares me so. 

Yet, I want him so. 

I love him so. 

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