2021: Continued Mission in Truth, Ignatian Spirituality, and Christianity in Dialogue

At the beginning of 2021, let me welcome you back to a continuation of our SY 2020-21 at Ateneo de Davao University in our Basic Education Grade School, Junior High School, and Senior High School, and in our Higher Education Undergraduate and Graduate Schools and Law School!

We have paused to celebrate the birth of our Messiah, Jesus Christ.  We have celebrated  him as the Word-made-flesh, Emmanuel, God with us.  We celebrated him given the Holy Name of Jesus, meaning, God saves.  We celebrated his mother, Mary, Mother of God.  Yesterday, through the homage of the three wise men from the East, we celebrated him made manifest not only to the Jews, but to all women and men of good will.

We celebrated him as the Word of the Father’s Love.  And we rested in that Love. 

Continued University Mission

In the continuation of this academic year, we continue, as our vision and mission declare, to participate in the Father’s reconciliation of ourselves with Himself, of ourselves with other human beings, and of ourselves with his gift of our home shared with the rest of Creation.

Covid 19 will continue to be a challenge to us this year.  As the vaccines make their way legitimately into our communities and eventually into our arms most probably, according to IATF Sec. Carlito Galvez, only in 2022, unless we are prioritized for early vaccination, let us continue to be vigilant, taking care that we do not expose ourselves to the virus unnecessarily nor expose others to the virus unwittingly.  Let us continue to care for our health, physically, mentally and spiritually.  Let us continue to be resilient servants of light, truth and hope.

Depending on the differentiated requirements of our academic units, let us continue to pursue truth, liberating knowledge, personal and professional competencies appropriate for this 21st century through online education.  Pupils, learners and students must learn to take personal responsibility to achieve the minimum standards in learning outcomes required of them in their respective courses, as teachers and faculty members guide, coach and coax them to this learning through the proper use of online educational pedagogy and technology.  Learning must be solid and evidenced, with the current pandemic no excuse for failing to achieve minimum learning standards.  This means that in these pandemic years, an Ateneo de Davao student must gain the necessary insight into the challenges of humane humanity in order to meaningfully pursue the common good in personal freedom and responsibility; an Ateneo de Davao lawyer must be no less competent than lawyers produced in pre-Covid years; an Ateneo de Davao biology student in pre-med must be prepared to tackle medicine proper competently;  a Ateneo de Davao aerospace engineer must be able to contribute meaningfully to the Philippine Space Program; an Ateneo de Davao chemist or entrepreneur must be able to contribute to the development of wealth and its equitable distribution In Mindanao – whether or not he received instruction face-to-face or online. 

Meanwhile, let us continue to pursue truth through research and service to the community.  We cannot let up our efforts towards an integral ecology through research and advocacy in how to mitigate climate change, promote renewable energy, and develop ecologically responsible materials for industry.  Especially in these pandemic years, we cannot cease to use research and outreach to advocate internet democracy through satellite technology.  We cannot cease in social justice to advocate absolute closure the Tampakan mines. 

In our Ateneo de Davao University community, whether we be students, faculty members, formators, staff or administrators, let us help and encourage one another to grow in truth, love of God and of his creation, personal learning and competencies, freedom and responsibility – especially for the poor.  Let us remember and put into personal practice Pope Francis’ call to Fraternity through Social Friendship in that we are all sisters and brothers, Fratelli Tutti. Let us understand this does not just mean more words, words, words, but “good” political planning, organization and effective action. 

Ignatian Year: 500th Anniversary of the Conversion of St. Ignatius

This year, 2021, as a Jesuit University, let us also join the Jesuits in the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Conversion of St. Ignatius.  It will open formally on May 20, 2021, the anniversary of Ignatius injury at Pamplona, and conclude on July 21, 2022, the Feast of St Ignatius.  Its theme is: “To see all things new in Christ” and “to be renewed by the Lord himself.”

The high point of this year will fall on the March 12, 2022, the 400th anniversary of the canonization of St. Ignatius with St. Francis Xavier, St Theresa of Avila, San Isidro Labrador, and
St. Philip Neri.   

500th Anniversary of the Coming of Christianity to the Philippines

While we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the conversion of St. Ignatius this year, we must not fail to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the coming of Christianity to the Philippines in April 2021, even though because of the pandemic its celebration has been postponed to April 2022.  There is no better way to prepare for this than to beg “for a renewed personal encounter with Jesus, for the joy of discovering he is waiting for us with open arms, that he never tires of forgiving us, that he has given us a dignity through his boundless and unfailing love, that no matter how darkly we may have sinned, with a tenderness which never disappoints, he is capable of restoring our joy and helping us to start anew.”[i]

In this spirit let us celebrate our being Christian in Mindanao by sincerely opening ourselves to be enriched and edified by the experiences of God and of his transforming love in the personal faith of our Muslim sisters and brothers.  Perhaps we might also seriously reflect on the meaning of the coming of Christianity to the Philippines to the peoples of Mindanao, Islamized and Non-Islamized, and on the relations between Christians, Muslims and Lumad throughout these 500 years.  These have not been without pain and injustice inflicted on Muslim and Lumad communities in Mindanao.  This year Pope Francis challenges us anew to commit ourselves to “the culture of dialogue as the path, collaboration as the code of conduct, and mutual understanding as the method and standard.”[ii]  Above all, let 2021 be a year of peace!  Salaam!


[i] Cf.  Francis.  Evangelii Gaudium, (2013) #3.  Further referred to in this homily as EG.

[ii] Cf. Fratelli Tutti, (2020), # 285.  This was incorporated into the papal encyclial from the Declaration on Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together jointly signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Ahmed Al Tayyeb, in Abu Dhabi on Feb 4, 2020.

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Mary, the Mother of God, in God’s Saving Love

[Live-streamed Mass, January 1st, 2021.]

The Romans used the word, Kalends, to depict the first day of every month.  But about 150 years before Christ, Kalends took on a more specific meaning.  It referred to the first day of January, and so the first day of the entire new year.  The Romans celebrated it with great revelry and debauchery.  That is why in the early centuries of the Church, as a counterpoint to the excessively lusty Roman celebrations, Christians were urged to fasting and prayer on Kalends, New Year’s Day.[i] 

It was only somewhere around the 6th century that the Church of Gaul commemorated on January 1st the circumcision of the Lord, in recognition of Joseph’s and Mary’s compliance with the command of God preserved in the Torah, “Throughout the ages, every male among you, when he is eight days old, shall be circumcised.”  This was in observance of the foundational covenant between God and his chosen people (Gen 17:1-13).

In the seventh century the focus of the celebration in the Church shifted to the Octave of the Birth of Jesus, the completion of the celebration of Christmas on the 8th day, which included a celebration of the naming of the Child Jesus, as the Angel Gabriel had announced, meaning “God saves” or “God helps.”

So, on the first day of the New Year 2021 all of these elements come together in the celebration of this special Solemnity in the Church:  the circumcision of the Child; his Holy Name, Jesus; the completion of the Octave of Christmas, but especially the Church’s gratitude for the role Mary played as Mother of the Christ Child, without whose fiat the Christ would not have been born.  The Christ Child, of course, as proclaimed in the Gospel reading of St. John’s Prologue on Christmas Day, was not only a human Messiah.  He was the eternal divine Word of God who in the beginning was. The Word was with God.  The Word was God.  And the Word was made flesh, empowering those of us who believe in him to become Children of God.  Thus Mary, the Mother of Christ, was and is, Mother of God. 

Because God loved us first

This year, our celebration of Mary, the Mother of God, falls on a First Friday, when we remember the love God has for each of us in the personal love of Jesus.  The coincidence allows us to underscore an essential truth about Mary as Mother of God.  Her love as mother which she poured out on Jesus and which she also pours out on us is preceded by the Father looking on our sinful world and refusing to abandon us to self-destruction.  It was in concern for us in this world that he sent his divine Word, his only Son, to take on human flesh, dwell among us in this world, and so manifest His love for us all. It was a highpoint of this manifestation of love that he called on Mary to provide the Word the womb through which his Son would be born as Jesus, the Christ. 

It was because God loved us first that Mary was called to accept to be the Mother of his only begotten Son.  Because she accepted this role so freely and generously, Jesus, having grown under her care in wisdom, age and grace, and having embraced the mission given him by the Father:

…did not regard equality with God something to be grasped at.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness; and found in human appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on the Cross.
Because of this God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend
of those in heaven and on earth
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord
to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:5-11).

The name that is given the Child on behest of the Angel Gabriel is the name through which, by will and mission of His Father, He is Savior, Messiah and divine King.

Petitions at the Beginning of 2021

It is the name that on this First Friday manifests the tender love of the Father for us all.  It is the name of her Son that Mary calls every time we flee to her as our Mother for her help, protection or intercession.  It is the name that we invoke as this New Year begins:

Asking the Father in the name of Jesus through our Mother Mary for a renewed personal encounter with Jesus, for the joy of discovering he is waiting for us with open arms, that he never tires of forgiving us, that he has given us a dignity through his boundless and unfailing love, that no matter how darkly we may have sinned, with a tenderness which never disappoints, he is capable of restoring our joy and helping us to start anew.[ii]

***At the beginning of this year in the name of Jesus through our Mother Mary we ask the Father for the growth, strengthening and deepening of conjugal and family love, for we know that many of our Christian families are flagging, or even in distress.  We ask to be reminded and inspired by the truth that “love is patient; love is kind; love is not jealous or boastful; love is not rude.    Love does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrong, but rejoices in the right.  Love bears all things, believes all thing, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:4-7).[iii]

In the name of Jesus through our Mother Mary we ask the Father for the ears “to hear the cry of the poor” (EG, 191).  With Pope Francis we pray that it be given us to come into close personal contact with the poor and that we understand our role in providing them “education, access to health care, and above all employment.”  We pray with Pope Francis that in the language of international cooperation there be room for the category of love “understood as gratuitousness, equal treatment, solidarity, the culture of giving, fraternity and mercy.”[iv]  We pray for liberation from our addiction to consumption, our belief that it is in ever having more and consuming more that bring us lasting joy.  We pray for liberation from the mammoth production machine driven by the technocratic paradigm that uses, abuses and destroys the environment, generates overwhelming waste, and discards people who are irrelevant for its continued functioning.[v]

In the name of the Creator who made us all brothers and sisters in creation, we pray that especially this year we may contribute to the preservation of our shared environment, our common home, where we are all connected.  We pray that we commit ourselves not only to measures that mitigate global warming, deforestation, the irreparable loss of bio-diversity, the trafficking of wild animals, the loss of our fresh water sources, the pollution of our air;  but we pray that we commit ourselves to a world and cities habitable for all human beings without exception, not only for those who are privileged by education and training to contribute to the existing economy.  We pray to be able to contribute to global fraternity by knocking down the walls and barriers which separate us from the poor, the oppressed and the discarded.  Through dialogue may we come closer in understanding and fraternity to peoples of diverse faiths and ideologies.  Through good politics, may we bring about a world order that reflects our being sisters and brothers despite the color of our skin or the slant of our eyes. [vi] 

The Father’s Work of Reconciliation 

In beginning of this New Year, we beg to be personally helpful in the Father’s work of bringing about our reconciliation with Himself, our reconciliation with our fellow human beings, and our reconciliation with Creation.  For this reconciliation in love was why the Father spoke to us in the first place through Word incarnate, Jesus;  this was why Mary, the Mother of God, said yes, “Let it be done to me according to your will.” In an ever-deeper discernment of God’s will, God’s plan, God’s dream for our lives, let us also say, “Yes, Lord, let it be done to me according to your will.”

____________

***[For the Jesuit Community:]  In the beginning of the new year, through the intercession of Mary, Mother of God, and in the name of Jesus after whom our least Society is named, we ask for the graces of this special Ignatian Year of 2021 proclaimed by Fr. General Arturo Sosa as a year to commemorate and celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the conversion of our founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola[vii], with its theme, “To see all things new in Christ” and for the whole Society “to be renewed by the Lord himself.  The Ignatian Year is an “opportunity to know, to love and to follow the Lord of all things.”  As Fr. Sosa says, “It is my desire that at the heart of this Ignatian year we would hear the Lord calling us, and we would allow him to work our conversion inspired by the personal experience of St. Ignatius.”[viii]  Through the Universal Apostolic Preferences he further says, “Let us take this opportunity to let God transform our life-mission, according to his will. 


[i] Reference: cf: https://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/Feast+of+the+Circumcision

[ii] Cf.  Francis.  Evangelii Gaudium, (2013) #3.  Further referred to in this homily as EG.

[iii] Cf.  Francis.  Amoris Laetitiae, (2016).  Chapter 4.

[iv] EG, Chapter 4

[v] Cf. Francis.  Laudato Si’:  On the Care for Our Common Home (2015).  Chapters 3 and 4. 

[vi] Cf. Francis.  Fratelli Tutti:  On Fraternity and Social Friendship, (2020).  Chapters 5, 6, 8, esp. #285. 

[vii] i.e., from May 20, 2021, the anniversary of Ignatius’ injury at Pamplona to July 31, 2022.  On March 12, 2022 the canonization of St. Ignatius with St. Francis Xavier, St. Theresa of Jesus, San Isidro Labrador and St. Philip Neri will be commemorated. 

[viii] Letter of Fr. Sosa to the Society of Jesus, September 27, 2020.

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Empowered to Become Children of God

Close to noon on Christmas Day we come together to celebrate the birth of our Savior.  The reading from the Prologue of John’s Gospel gives us a different perspective from the readings at last night’s Midnight Mass and this morning’s Dawn Mass.

At the Midnight Mass last night, from the Book of Isaiah the Church recalled, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; among those who dwell in the land of gloom a light has shone.  You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing…   For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. His dominion is vast and forever peaceful…” (cf. Is 9:1-6).

The Messiah, the Christ, from the kingly house of David was not born in a royal palace.  Rejected by the innkeepers, he was born in a stable.  Last night’s Gospel from Luke recalled: his mother, Mary, in the peacefulness of the silent night “gave birth to her firstborn son.  She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for him in the inn” (Lk 2:7).

At the Christmas Mass at Dawn this morning, the Gospel recounted how ordinary shepherds “went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in a manger.  When they saw the child, they made known the message that the angels on high had heralded about him: “Today, in the City of David a savior has been born to you who is Christ the King” (Lk:11).

It was a silent night.  A holy night.  But the title given him, “Christ the King”[i] would have consequences.  When he had grown in wisdom, age, and grace and had commenced his public ministry, he proclaimed the Kingdom of his Father.  But his was a controversial message, telling of a compassionate, forgiving, non-vindictive Father, calling some of his listeners to deep conversion, others to indignant rage.  When for his preaching they ultimately crucified and killed him, the sign above him would identify him as, “Christ the King, Jesus Christ the King of the Jews.”[ii] 

Further Revelation About Jesus Beyond Imagining

But from the near idyllic story of the birth of the Messiah born to be an unlikely King, the truth of Jesus would be further revealed almost beyond imagining.  From the images of the Child lain on the wood of the manger, protected by Joseph and cared for by Mary in that solemn silent night, from the images of the shepherds who had left their flocks in the hillside to come to worship the newly born King, our Gospel in the noonday light of Christmas Day takes us beyond this Child’s birth, growth, ministry, suffering, death on the wood of the Cross and resurrection as our Savior in this earth into its eternal origin, divine nature, and ultimate finality.  Our Gospel regards this Child beyond its immediate significance for the Jews, even beyond its immediate significance for the Gentiles and thus ultimately for all of humanity;  our Gospel takes us to the origin of this Child “in the beginning” – in the unthinkable beginning because we cannot think the beginning without already breaching it.  Nevertheless, our Gospel ultimately proclaims this Child as the divine Word, as the divine Logos, revealing its new ultimate meaning to the Jews, the Gentiles and all of humanity with whom God in the Word relates.

“In the beginning was the Word
And the Word was with God
And the Word was God
He was in the beginning with God” (1:1-2)

In the unthinkable beginning, transcending time and space, through whose categories we alone can think, was the Word.  The Word was with God.  “The Father and I are one,” Jesus would later say (Jn 14:28).  The Word was the Self-Expression of God, not “exhausting” the self-expressing God as he is.  Paradoxically,  Jesus who said, “The Father and I are one” also said in this context, “The Father is greater than I” (Jn. 10:30).  “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God. And the Word was God.”

From that undefinable “beyond” God created the world in space and time, the here and now, with the Word.  “All things came to be 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” (Jn. 1: 2)

From that undefinable “beyond,” we can view creation from another perspective.  God created the world with the Word in Wisdom. From the Book of Proverbs we have a remarkable revelation about the role of Wisdom, the role of the Spirit, in creation.

“The Lord already possessed me long ago,
when his way began,
before any of his works
.
23 I was appointed from everlasting
from the first,
before the earth began
.
24 I was born
before there were oceans,
before there were springs filled with water.
25 I was born
before the mountains were settled in their places
and before the hills,
[when the world was made][iii]
30 I was beside him as a master craftsman.
I made him happy day after day,
I rejoiced in front of him all the time,
31 found joy in his inhabited world, and delighted in the human race” (Proverbs: 8:33-31).

Power to Become Children of God

The Word manifesting God’s will with the Wisdom of the Spirit
allows all that has come into being through creation to be.  But in John’s Gospel the divine pre-existing Word takes on flesh not only to “make his dwelling among us” in an astonishing Creator-creation, Divine-human solidarity, but to offer those who believe in him the power to become children of God.

“But to those who did accept him
He gave power to become children of God,
To those who believe in his name,
who were born not by natural generation,
not by human choice, nor by man’s decision
but of God.
And the Word was made flesh, and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory, the glory of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:12-14).

On this Christmas day, in the fullness of this day’s light, what we celebrate is this divine incarnation which brings us not only redemption from our sins, but the empowerment to become children of God through faith, the offer of receiving the divine life of the Father in fraternity with Jesus, who “came to bring us life, life in abundance, life to the full” (Jn 10:10).  In this way is Jesus “the way, the truth and the life”:  he is the Way to the Father; in Truth, the only way to the Father, and so for us the only channel of divine Life.   

The Gospel message is appreciated, even as in today’s Gospel and throughout the Gospel of John it is clear there are those who reject Jesus.  “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 people did not accept him” (Jn 1:10-11).  The signs he would be giving of God’s saving action in the world – like when he fed 5000 (Jn 6:5-14) or when he raised Lazarus from the dead (Jn 11:1-45) – would be accepted by some in awe, but rejected by others in hostility.  In time, he would be crucified.  But part of today’s Good News is:  “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 1:4-5).  In his last supper discourse, Jesus would say, “You will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy” (Jn 16:20).  “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (Jn 16:33b).

“And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”  And God dwells among us.  In a way no one could conceive without it having been revealed, God is Emmanuel – God with us.[iv] 

The highpoint of John’s Gospel comes after Jesus meets the doubting Thomas and says, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand here and put it into my side.  Do not be unbelieving but believing.  Thomas replies, “My Lord and my God.” 

We can end by repeating the prayer at the beginning of the Mass:


O God who wonderfully created the dignity of human nature
and still more wonderfully renewed it, grant, we pray,
that we may share in the divinity of Christ
who [this day] humbled himself to share in our humanity.

 


[i] Or “Messiah and Lord” (NAB).

[ii] This recalls Jesus words to Nicodemus during their conversation in the night, “…Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up [on the Cross] so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.”  The newborn Child was the Savior, Christ the King, and his birthday is celebrated as a day of salvation.  But being Savior and King would cost him crucifixion and death.  For us, however, raised from the dead, he would bring salvation and eternal life. 

[iii] The full text of this beautiful passage:

26 when he had not yet made land or fields
or the first dust of the world.

27 “When he set up the heavens, I was there.
When he traced the horizon on the surface of the ocean,
28 when he established the skies above,
when he determined the currents in the ocean,
29 when he set a limit for the sea
so the waters would not overstep his command,
when he traced the foundations of the earth…”

[iv] cf. Is 7:14 and Mt. 1:23 together.

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Sacred Silence

[Homily:  University Pre-Christmas Mass.  Dec. 19, 2020.  Live-streamed.]

We come together today with great joy. It is nice that at this time of the year – despite the pandemic – we can come together as a University.  We come together with representations from the Graduate School, the Law School, Undergraduate Higher Ed, the Senior High School, the Junior High School and the Grade School. We come together with representations from administration, faculty, staff and students.

We come together as one community in Christmas joy, even though we are still in the season of Advent.

But, you know, Advent notwithstanding, in the Philippines the Christmas Season begins in September when Filipinos begin singing about Christmas in our hearts with Joe Mari Chan and  “remembering the Child in the manger as he sleeps”.… Remembering that Christmas is not about the externalities of tinsel, flickering lights, and forced exchanges of gifts and cards,  but something “truly in our hearts.”  There, in our hearts, we recall “the love we have for Jesus’  praying that he will be the one to guide us as another new year starts.

September began the Christmas Season four months ago, but today, five days away from the celebration of Christmas, we are still in Advent, with the Church still telling us to wait…

The Birth of John the Baptist

Today, despite our excitement about Christmas, the Church asks us to wait, and prayerfully consider the story about how the birth of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, was announced. We heard this in our Gospel proclamation.  Zachariah and Elisabeth were good people:  they were” “righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.”  But both of them were old.  Sarah was childless, barren.  That she could have no child was a social disgrace.  This was a burden that Zachariah and Sara carried together throughout their lives into their old age. 

At the time of our reading, the privilege fell by lot to Zachariah, a priest, to enter into the Holy of Holies of the Temple of Solomon in order to offer incense to the Lord.   The Jews believed the Lord dwelt there in the ark of the covenant.

In the holiness of this inner sanctum of the Temple, the Archangel Gabriel, the messenger of the Lord, appears to Zachariah and says:

13  “Do not be afraid, Zachariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

For all of his righteousness before God, Zachariah must have heard the message of the Angel.  It must have sounded good to him, since for many years he and his barren wife, Elisabeth, prayed for a child.  But now that he and his wife were in his old age, the good news must have also sounded like a mean joke to him, mocking him and his wife in their life-long humiliation.  His reason said the news could not be true; so easily, his incredulity turned into skepticism:  what was said could not be true.  That was the tone of his response to the angel when he asked,  “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

Hearing his lack of belief and his obstinate cynicism, the Archangel responds with a corrective intervention:  “’I am Gabriel.’ the archangel said to him, ‘I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.’”

We must remember Zachariah was a good person, righteous in the eyes of God who kept all the commandments of God blamelessly.  But this was not just a matter of keeping religious rules and of pious practices.  This had to do with responding to a very special disclosure from God which he had long awaited, but when it came with its life-changing power, it required openness, trust and faith.  Here, Zachariah lapsed.  He did not sin.  He fell short. 

What God is Disclosing to Me

Today in the light of Zachariah’s experience we may be being invited to reflect on what it is that we have long been waiting for God to disclose to us, even as in our lives he may actually already have been long disclosing it, but where, like Zachariah, we have been rejecting and blocking it in our cynism, in our knowledge of the world that we think surpasses God’s.   

Like the Lord coming to us to say very personally, very intimately:

I have come to share with you my love.

I have come to court you.

I have come to make your soul my bride.

I have come to take away your loneliness.

I have come to take away your darkness.

To hold you in the warmth of my embrace.

I have come to mission you to do my work in the world I created.  

Signs of His Love in My Life

When he does, when his truth knocks us off our high horses and removes the scales from our eyes, hopefully we would then be better positioned to recognize the signs of his personal love in our individual lives – like:

In the fraternity of our university community;

In the gift during this pandemic of privileged employment sustained by one another so that we can sustain ourselves and our loved ones in plenty of God caring for us;

In the shared mission of bringing truth to the minds and hearts of others;

In the personal and shared sacrifices freely made to keep the mission alive;

In the warmth of a family’s love in newfound bonding;

In the great manifestations of friendship through which we care for each other, no matter the cost;

In the dialogue that finds truth and ends in reconciliation;

In the privileged mission of learning and growth in social responsibility

Beg for Sacred Silence

If we don’t recognize them perhaps we might freely beg the Lord for the sacred silence that Gabriel imposed on Zachariah.  This divine intervention  was a grace in love in order to help him recognize and cherish the truth of God’s disclosure. 

Perhaps this may be the sacred silence we need at Advent to prepare to accept and understand the meaning of Christmas in our hearts that Zachariah eventually proclaimed:

That he would free us from the hands of our enemies
Free to worship him without fear
holy and righteous in our sight
All the days of our lives.

Our enemies today:  no longer the swords and chariots of the Canaanites, the Philistines, the Babylonians, the Assyrians.  Our enemies today:  perhaps, our chronic forgetfulness of God, our selfishness in making decisions, our insensitivity to the clear need of others, our religiosity that like the Levite and the Pharisee allows us to walk by a person in need.  Our enemy today: our intransigent complacency in the darkness that envelops our lives. 

But the good news of this day emerges from the sacred silence that brought Zachariah to truth:

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 in the shadow of death
and to guide our feet into the way of peace. 

May this sacred silence also be yours as you prepare for the coming of your Messiah. 

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The Old Testament Prophet and the Profound Mystic of the Cross

[Homily:  Live-streamed Mass, 14 December 2020]

Today is Monday of the Third Week of Advent.  The day we have been awaiting is near. Our entrance hymn proclaims, “Our Savior is coming. Have no fear!”

This is undoubtedly the message of the first reading for today from the Book of Numbers.  The Book of Numbers, you may recall, recounts the wanderings of the Chosen People in the desert on the way to the Promised Land.  Two remarkable Old Testament personalities figure in this reading, both of them not belonging to the Chosen People, but both of them mysteriously interacting to provide for us the key revelation for today.  The first is Balak, the King of Moab, who feared the Chosen People; they had entered Moabite territory coming from their exile far away Egypt; they were fearsome to Balak because of their victories against the Amorites. (cf Numbers 22.-24.).  So Balak calls on Balaam the prophet to put a curse on the Chosen People. 

The Star and the Scepter

Balaam was not a Jew, but he is resolutely loyal to the will of God the Most High.  When Balak tells Balaam to curse the Jews, God tells Balaam not to, no matter the insistence and bribes of Balak, because this People coming from the South is blessed.   In three oracles before the one read in today’s first reading, instead of cursing the Chosen People, Balaam blesses them: “How can I curse whom God has not cursed?  How to denounce whom God has not denounced?” he cries. “Here is a people that lives apart and does not reckon itself among the nations.  Who has counted the dust of Jacob, or numbered Israel’s wind-borne particles?” (23:9-10).  In a second oracle, Balaam declares, “Misfortune is not observed in Jacob nor misery seen in Israel.  The Lord, his God, is with him, and with him is the triumph of his King” (23:21).  In a third oracle: “How godly are your tents, O Jacob; your encampments, O Israel! … It is God who brought him out of Egypt, a wild bull of towering might.  He shall devour the nations like grass…  Blessed is he who blesses you and cursed is he who curses you”  (24:5.8-9).  Balak is enraged by these prophetic utterances, but Balaam is able only to proclaim what the Lord moves him to say. 

In the fourth oracle of today’s first reading, Balaam, seeing far beyond the Chosen People before his eyes, speaks of that which God allows him to see: “I see him, though not now; I behold him, though not near.  A star shall advance from Jacob, and a staff [scepter] shall rise from Israel, that shall smite the brows of Moab, and the skulls of all the Shutthites” Balaam proclaims (24:17).  From the trials of Israel’s wanderings in search of the Promised Land, the prophet Balaam sees not just the star and scepter of King David who would smite the Moabites (2 Sam. 8:12), but the star and scepter of the long-awaited Davidic Messiah.  When the wise men from the east would come to pay homage to the Messiah in the Manger, they would say, “We have seen his star in the East” (Mt 2:2).

St John of the Cross’ Dark Night

But today, as we continue to await the coming of the Messiah, we also celebrate the memorial of St. John of the Cross, who with St. Theresa of Avila was a co-reformer of the Carmelite order and co-founder of the Order of Discalced Carmelites (OCD).  To introduce the profundity of this mystic, let me quote a paragraph from the book of Fr. John Venard, OCD, on the Spiritual Canticle[i]:

“It is this mysterious but real knowledge of God which St. John of the Cross presents and explains to us in the Spiritual Canticle.

“It is not a way of spiritual consolations or extraordinary manifestations; certainly not a way of visions or revelations.  These happen if God wills it, and St. John refers to, without describing, raptures and ecstasies which may occur at a certain stage.

“But like St. Therese he is at pains to point out that these phenomena are not necessary, and should not be desired.  If God allows them, they will be of profit to the person who receives them humbly – they are not a sign of great holiness in themselves, rather they could be proof of weakness.

“The Saint makes it clear that God draws each soul differently.  He has mapped out a way to God of which he and many others have had personal experience, and he invites us to follow;  it will be the way of the Cross, in which a certain darkness in Faith is to be expected, and preferred, ‘inasmuch as God does not communicate some supernatural light, He is intolerable in darkness when He is near.’ We will know the sufferings of unrequited love, the seeming absence of God, the experience of his transcendence; but if we are courageous and persevering, there awaits us the ineffable joy of union with the Beloved.  Beyond the Cross and Resurrection, the lived experience of God’s immanence of ‘God with us.’”

Through the Dark Night, John of the Cross maps out the journey from the moment of one’s call or vocation to the Beatific Vision in the holy darkness – or sanctifying desolation – that is his gift in love to those hoping in humility – discalced, barefoot –  to approach him. 

We Embrace Your Holy Night

We often quietly sing of this Dark Night in the song of Dan Shutte “inspired by John of the Cross.”[ii] entitled “Holy Darkness”.  Let us be introduced to John of the Cross’ Dark Night of God’s love in its lyrics:

Holy darkness, blessed night,
Heaven’s answer hidden from our sight,
As we await you, O God of silence, we embrace your holy night.

God’s talking to us:

I have tried you in fires of affliction; I have taught your soul to grieve,
In the barren soil of your loneliness, there I will plant my seed.

I have taught you the price of compassion;  you have stood before the grave,
thought my love can be like a raging storm.  This is the love that saves.

Were you there when I raised up the mountains?  Can you guide the morning star?
Does the hawk take flight when you give command?  Why do you doubt my pow’r.

In your deepest hour of darkness, I will give you wealth untold.
When the silence stills your spirit, will my riches fill your soul?

Our response:

As the watchman waits for morning, and the bride awaits the groom,
so we will wait to hear your footsteps, as we rest beneath your moon.

Whether from the prophecy of Balaam or the profundity of John of the Cross, we wait… and the Savior comes as God with us – as our redeemer in glorious Light, as our Lover in the Dark of night.


[i] John Venard, OCD, The Spiritual Canticle of St. John of the Cross  (QC: Claretian Publications, 1980) pg. xii

[ii] Composed by Dan Schutte, originally in the Album and Scorebook, Prayers in the Upper Room, included in Bayan Umawit, (QC, Jesuit Communications Foundation, 2015), song #262.

In this Mass we played the beautiful rendition of Holy Darkness by Srs. Bubbles Badojo rc and Sasay Valdez, rc included in, Holy Darkness: the Ignatian Spirit in the time of Covid 19, 2020, available on YouTube.  While Sts. Ignatius, Theresa of Avila and John of the Cross were batchmates in canonization, properly St. John of the Cross should be acknowledged in Holy Darkness..

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In Advent: Save Yourself, Save Others

[First Friday, Dec. 4 in Advent, 2020.  Isaiah: 29:17-24]

Advent is the season of waiting.  It is the season of hope. 

Since the onslaught of this “Coronavirus disease 2019 that has “claimed lives and affected many” we have been waiting in the hope that humanity would find a vaccine to end this pandemic.  We have been waiting only since last March, nine months ago, but it seems like it has already been an eternity.

Praying the “Oratio Imperata” we have begged the Lord daily to “guide the hands and minds … of those government and private agencies that must find a cure and solution to this epidemic.”

Prayers answered…

Last November 18, Pfizer and Biontech announced the conclusion of the Phase 3 testing of its vaccine with a startling efficacy rate of 95%[i].  It was quickly followed by a similar announcement by the firm Moderna with a 94% efficacy.  Soon after came the announcement of the Oxford-based British firm, AstraZenica, of its vaccine.  Although to date all three vaccines have yet to win full approval from their national and world regulatory boards, our waiting for the end of the pandemic through a vaccine has clearly not been in vain.  Meanwhile, China, Russia and India are also announcing vaccines.   In faith, we can say:  God is responding to our prayer, our oratio imperata, in the development of these vaccines.   As they are further developed and further perfected, in faith we can see in these vaccines God’s benevolent hand.   We prayed for them.  He has responded.  In this season of Advent our waiting may now be more joyful. 

And more grateful in the context of illnesses for which scientists and medical experts have sought safe and effective vaccines for decades, but without success.  Among these are illnesses we are familiar with:  Malaria, HIV/AIDS, and Dengue.[ii]

Save [for] Yourself, Save Others

Recently I have proposed that those of us who are not provided for in the deal forged last Nov 27th between big business leaders and government through Sec. Carlito Galvez of the IATF, nor among the frontliners and poor for which Government is taking special cudgels, make our own private sector partnership deal with government.  We commit ourselves to save up enough to vaccinate ourselves, and at the same time commit ourselves to provide vaccination for at least one other person.  In this commitment we ask government only to provide us an affordable, safe and efficacious vaccine soonest.  Should you wish to be part of this Save yourself, Save others project, just let me know.  I am happy that Sec. Carlito Galvez has responded with openness to this deal, especially in order for us soonest to reopen our schools. 

That is certainly something to make our Advent waiting more joyful.  The pandemic has caused much disruption in our lives, especially among our youth struggling to learn online with poor internet connections, among our faculty at pain to teach online using unfamiliar technology, within our homes turned intrusively into workplaces, in our relationships starved for the warmth and smiles of face-to-face encounters.  Now we are seeing a possible end to it, they say, possibly around the second quarter of 2021.  This is certainly happy news on this First Friday of Advent.  

The vaccine would then be a new lease on life. 

But then in this Season of Advent only a new lease on life.  We are now more convinced than ever that we have no absolute control of life.  Life is but leased to us.  We have learned painfully: life can be severely threatened, the global world can be brought to its knees, by but a microscopic parasite that beyond the host it invades has no life.  We have learned that the populations of the richest and most powerful countries of the world can be attacked by this sub-life enemy that thrives on disdain for truth and science, misinformation, improvidence in leadership, lack of docility to civil authority, failures in humility and self-discipline.

The Life We Yet Await

Perhaps, looking back, in this Season of Advent we can look back at the many times during this pandemic we reflected on what was happening and asked:  What is Nature telling us in this viral uprising against humanity?  What is the world of captured, wild, over-stressed animals, and destroyed bio-diverse forests, poisoned sources of water and suffocating rivers telling us in this pandemic?  What is the God of Creation disclosing to us about how we abuse creation to feed our unbridled consumption?  What is our provident God telling us about all the wastage in our throw-away society, that in providing for the conspicuous consumption of the few,  employs and rewards the highly educated and especially skilled, but throws away the unemployed, the unemployable, the useless, the illiterate, the disabled, the elderly?[iii]  Even as we look forward to a new lease on life through a vaccine, what is the life that we look forward to?  Is it going back to our old life?  Or shall it be a life that is different because during the disruption and moments of the Holy of this pandemic we also somehow encountered God.

The reading from the Prophet Isaiah (29:17-24) may help us understand the “different life” we are waiting for in this Season of Advent.  In Isaiah’s profound encounter with the Holy when he was called to be a prophet (Is 6), his life changed.  He prophesied in the name of the Holy.  When King Hezekiah spurned his advice to trust in the power and providence of the Lord against Assyria and instead went into an alliance with pagan Egypt, Assyria under King Sennacherib destroyed Jerusalem.  In our reading, Isaiah speaks about how God will restore Jerusalem.  But in this season of Advent he is also describing the future life we today are waiting for.  In this life “the wild untamed land” – the wild, untamed spaces of our lives – shall be “turned into an orchard.”[iv]   We would need to remain faithful to Holy lest the orchard decline again into a forest.[v]  In this life, Isaiah says, “The deaf shall finally hear the word of the book” (Is 29:17a):  like: what have we been deaf to in his Good Book?  “Love one another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another” (Jn 13:34).  Or:  “Whatever you do to one of these the least of your sisters and brothers, that you do to me” (Mt. 25: 40.45).  Or: “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more importance than they?” (Mt. 6:26).  In this life, Isaiah says, “The lowly shall ever find joy in the Lord and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel” (Is 29:19).  Like when they praise him for being the One on whom they depend; like when they thank him for bringing them the wealth of his providence:  “Blessed are you who are poor,” he said, “yours is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Lk 6:20).  In this life, Isaiah says, “Out of the gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see” (Is 29:17b).  Out of the gloom and the darkness of this pandemic, is this not what we are waiting for?  What we, “dwelling in darkness and the shadow of death” (Lk 1:78), have been praying for?  “Lord, that I may see…” (Lk 18:41).

Turn to Me and Be Safe.”

We have a new lease on life on this First Friday of Advent to see, as in Psalm 63, “Your love is better than life!” (Psalm 63:3). 

The life lived in the Savior’s love is the life of the awaited future.  It is the life of the awaited Savior lain on the wood of a manger.   It is the Savior fixed to the wood of a Cross that gives life.

Only in accepting him – not a vaccine but our Savior –  can we really save ourselves and save others.  “Turn to me and be safe [saved], all the ends of the earth,” the Lord says. “For I am God; there is no other” (Is 45:22). Only in accepting the kindness of the Holy can we come to safety and find lasting joy.






[i] Cf. https://www.pfizer.com/news/press-release/press-release-detail/pfizer-and-biontech-conclude-phase-3-study-covid-19-vaccine

[ii] https://blogs.bcm.edu/2013/09/03/vaccine-nation-10-most-important-diseases-without-a-licensed-vaccine/

[iii] cf. Pope Francis reflections on the technocratic paradigm in Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home (Pasay City: Paulines Publication,2015) esp. #106-114

[iv] “…till the Spirit is poured on us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest” (Is. 32:15)

[v] “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit” (Mt. 21:43)

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Anti-COVID 19 Vaccination: Save [for] yourself, save others

As the newly discovered vaccines make their journey to the Philippines, let us accept that it will take some time before they turn into life-saving vaccinations in our people’s arms.

It is good news that steps have been taken for the Philippines to secure 2.6M doses.  Happily, this is a joint undertaking by the government and the “private sector” that has put up PHP 600M for the AstraZeneca vaccine.  While there are still questions about the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine for the Philippine population[i] vis-s-vis the Pfizer and Moderna  vaccines developed at 94.5% and 95% efficacy respectively, the deal is a good concrete beginning. 

Under the deal, the “private sector” buys the vaccines and donates this to government.  At this stage, without government, the “private sector” could not have bought the vaccines.  Government receives the vaccines from the “private sector,” but agrees to use half for government frontliners, the other half would cover both regular and private employees included in “the government list of priority sectors.”[ii]  I surmise that this includes not only regular and private employees of the donating “private sector” companies, but includes the private-sector frontliners and those whom President Duterte has said government would prioritize in vaccination distribution, like the security sector and especially the poor. 

And while the “private sector”-government deal is good news because it promises vaccination soon for 1.6M Filipinos/as, the better news is that there are some 110M of us Filipinos/as today.  Next year there will be even more!

If the poverty incidence among Filipinos/as is still 26.3% according to the Philippine Statistics Authority[iii], government is prioritizing the vaccination of some 28.9M Filipinos.  Among these are many poor but promising learners and students in public and private schools.

But what about those of us not included in the deal nor in the government priorities?  The signatories to the “private sector” deal with government reads like a who’s who list of the elite leaders of the corporate world of the Philippines.   There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  Through the healthy operation of these companies, the jobs and livelihood of millions of Filipinos/as depend.   So too hopes for a reinvigoration of the Philippine economy.

But the private sector is also peopled by the entrepreneurs of small and medium enterprises, civil society organizations, farmers, fishermen, laborers, artists, writers, entertainers, tourist guides, market vendors, delivery boys, scientists, engineers, researchers and teachers.  It is also peopled by the private schools of the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations and of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines.  The interests of this private sector are not necessarily represented by “private sector corporate Philippines.”

That is certainly true when one considers troubling issues like the environment, mining, old-growth forests, biodiversity, food security, internet democracy, inclusivity in the management of land-use, the rights of the indigenous peoples, and the like.   Not all of the private sector live in walled-in, gated communities (cf. Fratelli Tutti, 27).

Why am I bringing this up?  Because in the end, distribution of the vaccine in the Philippines must be based on one’s claim to it in humanity, and not because one is a frontliner or an essential part of a corporate conglomerate or because one is useful in this or that enterprise, nor even because one is poor.  If prioritization in distribution is necessary, as it is, the prioritization should be part of a roadmap that sees all 110 million of us vaccinated.  That is not just government’s responsibility nor that of the “private sector.”  It is our responsibility as human beings. 

Why?  Pope Francis would say:  because Fratelli tutti:  because we are all brothers and sisters.

My humble suggestion for the rest of us who are not included in the 1.6 million who will benefit from the “private sector”-government deal, let us be happy for those who will benefit from it!

But while the vaccine is making its way to the Philippines and eventually to the private sector through the government or the commercial markets, let us each work to save up to afford the vaccine for oneself and at least for one other.  This would mean, I think, saving up something like a thousand pesos for yourself and another thousand pesos for every other person you help. 

Saving to get the vaccination for yourself is not selfish.  It is like the adult who must put on the oxygen mask in an airplane first before helping one’s child put on its mask.  Saving to get the vaccination to another human being who needs it is an act of love.  “Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus teaches (Mt. 22:39).

For small private enterprises who are all self-respecting contributors to the economy and the economic recovery of the country, the principle would also apply.  Let the private enterprise provide vaccinations for its personnel – through corporate initiatives or private interventions – so that the enterprise may function well in society, i.e., survive in humane entrepreneurship and contribute to the upliftment of all in our Philippine community. 

And when our enterprise or school is provided for, let us use our resources to help others get vaccinated.  Government says it will take care of the poor.  But considering the number of our poor, we can be able to help.   We will help.  That could be our deal with government.

If the vaccines will be in the Philippine market “by the second quarter of 2021 at the earliest”[iv] We can begin preparing for this now.

What government must do for us is what we cannot do for ourselves:  make sure that a safe and effective vaccine is available to us in the Philippine market at reasonable rates.  Keep the vaccination market free of all corruption and profiteering.  For this, we can rely on Sec. Carlito Galvez of the Inter-Agency Task Force.

What we can do for ourselves and others in genuine freedom and social responsibility, we do in a genuine spirit of bayanihan.  Pope Francis, I think, would also call this social friendship in promoting our shared fraternity.[v]

Saving up for this vaccine for ourselves and for others may well begin as we prepare for Christmas.  Advent begins today.  Let us spend less on holiday consumption that threatens life.  Let us save up for a vaccination that will save our lives and save others.  Let us look forward to a future normal of less selfishness, less private interest, and more responsiveness to all our sisters and brothers in our Philippine community.

That would be a nice way of responding this year to God’s gift of the Child in the manger… 

_______


[i] Cf. “DOH Awaiting AstraZeneca Expalanation on Trial Results” by Louella Desiderio (Mla: Phiippine Star, Nov. 28, 2030) pg 4

[ii] Cf. “Phl Secures 2.6 M Doses of AstraZeneca COVID Vaccine” by Louella Desiderio (Mla: Phiippine Star, Nov. 28, 2030) pg 1

[iii]Cf.  https://psa.gov.ph/tags/official-poverty-statistics

[iv] Cf. “Realistic timeline for COVID Vaccination by Q2 2021” by Rainier Allan Ronda (Mla: Phiippine Star, Nov. 28, 2030) pg 4

[v] Fratelli Tutti: Encyclical Letter of the Holy Father FRANCIS on Fraternity and Society Friendship.  Pasay City: Paulines Publication, 2020

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Promoting Quality in a Time of Disruption

[Address:  PAASCU General Assembly, Nov. 27, 2020.]

The Corona Virus Disease of 2019 (COVID 19) hit us around March.  It was an invisible invader, but breathtakingly contagious.  And lethal. The World Health Organization reports that since its emergence in Wuhan, China, it has infected some 55 million people and killed some 8 million.  In the Philippines it has infected some 410,000 and killed 25,000.  In an effort to keep the infections down to numbers that our fragile health system can cope with, the Philippines responded to COVID 19 with advisories relative to hand washing and physical distancing; local and national executive orders were issued imposing different levels of quarantine.  All of them proscribed close-quarter, face-to-face (f2f) gatherings as happen normally in our classrooms.  Advisories prescribed online learning or flexible learning.  For many of us, the virus disrupted our teaching – and our lives – mid semester, leaving us with studentries that preferred the cancellation of classes for all rather than the advancement in learning for some.  For others it disrupted the time-tested cycles of f2f teaching, learning, assessment and quality assurance.

Disruption and Heroism

The situation was daunting, bringing schools with emptied classrooms to their knees.  But it failed to kill the Philippine educators’ soul.  Despite the disruption, the desire among our teachers to teach and to teach well remained strong.   This was not just a requirement of a job, it was the call of a vocation.  The Philippine educators’ soul was alive not only in the individual teachers.  It was also alive in their respective institutions, whose soul was the shared vision and mission of the educational community.  Administrators faced the crisis, perceived the dangers, assessed their resources, and recognized the need for accommodation and change.  For many, enrolment was down.  Cash flow was precarious.  Salaries were endangered.  They confronted the risks, but made the decisions to accept or mitigate them, just to continue educating.  Where necessary, they found the resources – from banks, from mission funds, from creditors, from benefactors.  Drawing strength in the identity of the institution and the urgency of its mission, they found courage to challenge teachers and staffers to sacrifice, to retool, to learn new modes of delivery, just to keep the shared commitment to teach and to teach well alive.  Educators and staffers, drawing strength from the same educators’ soul, obliged.  Where f2f instruction was no longer possible, they shifted online, willing life into often ignored IT infrastructure, gamely managing difficulties with internet connectivity and uneven access to gadgets.  Where online teaching was not possible, they used modules of selected learning materials supplemented by public television or radio or recorded lessons on YouTube, to keep their students learning and reporting back to them on their progress.  In the institutions whose identities and missions mandated it, this went beyond online instruction to continued research and service of the community, often with newfound technical creativity, energy and tenacity. 

As this school year slowly unfolds, and the results of courageous efforts of our institutions to keep implementing their educational mission are still outstanding, many new challenges appear, especially the challenge to mental health.  Working with the internet, working from home, working apart but coming together online, coming together virtually but not coming together in the warmth of personal relationships, working synchronously and asynchronously at will, i.e., without careful coordination, have placed unexpected strains on our teachers, administrators, staff and students.  The home, yesterday’s haven of rest and of privileged familial communication, has been ruthlessly transformed into a place of work.  So where do tired teachers and exhausted students get their rest?  Where online education is supposed to be more student driven, overused compulsory synchronous sessions keep them teacher-driven and hog the discretionary time of the students.  Where asynchronous sessions are supposed to encourage student-driven learning, inappropriately mediated learning material dumps indigestible content on hapless students and creates experiences of frustration, discouragement and depression.  Meanwhile, formative exams, simply meant to track learning, create unexpected pressures.  Where in basic education the help of parents is welcome and essential, some parents for all their enthusiasm over-supervise their children, answering the questions of the teachers rather than allowing their children to do this.  As this academic year yet unfolds, we are learning there is great need for educators to closely monitor what is happening in the online instructional process, and if necessary, to intervene with compassion, flexibility, better understanding of the teaching strategy, more pragmatic understanding of the pedagogical tools, innovation and rest.  How provide for the mental health of teachers and students while minimum learning outcomes are yet to be achieved and evidenced?

To the challenges of online education, flexible learning and modular delivery, to the challenges of mental health and of counseling services, spiritual care and formation online, then came Typhoons Quinta, Rolly, and Ulysses heartlessly.  These brought fierce winds, punishing rains, rushing waters from imperiled dams, and widespread flooding in Luzon.  Serious damage to our schools and power outages further disrupted our operations.

In these months of chaos, uncertainty, and the need for survival, the drive to deliver quality education remained and remains alive. Perhaps today as we come together we must celebrate that, quietly recognizing the heroism in it all – the heroism of our efforts powered from deep within our Philippine educators’ soul.  For some it was the call within just to continue teaching, and to continue teaching well.  For others it was also the need to respond to the call of a God of compassion, who wills his truth to be known.  But ours was a response which we must pause to applaud in recognition of and encouragement of one another.  So today, coming together in this general assembly as PAASCU educators despite the pandemic, let is give each other a round of applause.  ….

PAASCU’S Response

Clearly, with all that you have gone through to keep quality education alive in your schools, you could not be thinking our accreditation processes as usual.  PAASCU was aware of the disruption the pandemic was causing in our schools.  It also caused disruption in the operation of PAASCU, in the lives of its officers, administrators and staff.  On May 22, the PAASCU Board “resolved that accreditation visits be suspended for one year, from June 1, 2020 to May 31, 2021.”  The PAASCU resolution was complemented by a PAASCU-led Board resolution of the Federation of Accrediting Associations (FAAP) on July 7, 2020, that the “accredited status certified by FAAP be extended by one year on top of the grace period provided in the FAAP policy on expiry date.”  The resolution would benefit not only the accredited program of PAASCU but also those of PACUCOA and ACSCU-AII.   For the schools dealing with the disruption of the pandemic, the pressure from the normal cycles of accreditation was off.

But this did not mean that PAASCU stopped fostering, advancing and advocating “quality education through voluntary accreditation” as PAASCU’s vision and mission require.  It did not stop promoting their member institutions’ implementation of quality education.  It did not stop seeking to improve the accreditation process in pursuit of a culture of excellence in education. 

As you addressed concerns of survival and emergency educational delivery, PAASCU kept in touch with you through surveys, webinars, and relaxed payment of fees; we believe that meanwhile we became more responsive to your needs.  We attempted to create a community of support among our member schools and volunteer accreditors through frequent meetings.  As of today, PAASCU’s eight Commissions have come together through 111 meetings this year in pursuit of improved quality.  Through shared challenges and shared burdens, friendships deepened and the quality of our work improved.

Much has happened meanwhile.  You have been part of it.  What is happening is still ongoing.  It is a shared work in progress.  But PAASCU’s promotion of quality for  its member schools, for itself, and for the nation – despite the pandemic – is very significant.  Let me just mention three areas:

  1. We are revising the instruments of accreditation to make them more responsive to the realities of the schools and to base them on shared standards of quality. Work is ongoing today on 14 different instruments. 
  2. We are revising the accreditation process to accommodate the new instruments and to integrate new technology into the accreditation process. 
  3. We are now implementing the use of the 23 Standards of Quality Practices in Institutions that respondents to our survey last August and September overwhelmingly ratified. 

Standards of Quality Practices:  Empowering Institutions to Authentic Quality Assurance

In the time that I have left for this address, I would like to focus on the significance of these 23 Standards of Quality Practices. 

Three years ago, when we celebrated 60 years of PAASCU accreditation, I said, “Of the many types of possible quality assurance procedures, PAASCU chose the most challenging – accreditation.”  Today, PAASCU continues to choose accreditation. But then I also said, accreditation involves “the school’s evaluative self-survey of programs based on an instrument that carries the standards of the PAASCU accreditation process, including the standards for faculty, instruction, administration, facilities and community involvement.”

Then, and for all the 60 years preceding in PAASCU’s history, the standards of quality practice were never explicit, never transparent.  They were there, but only in a manner of shared agreement in praxis.  They were never articulated.  They were never owned as standards of quality practice; instead they were insinuated in the instruments PAASCU used without question or challenge as a requirement of accreditation.  As such, they supported a “functional framework” of doing accreditation, taking areas such as administration, faculty, curriculum and instruction, library, laboratories, and student services as funtions in and for themselves, abstacted often from the vision and mission of the school, the type of students the school served and the external stakeholders it needed to be sensitive to.  Merely implicit, they could favor and reward institutional inputs without due attention to institutional results.  Indeed the insinuated standards were often confounded with “best practices” collected from various schools over years of accreditation, often imposing a practice developed by a wealthy school in its pursuit of quality in an urban setting on a resource-challenged mission school pursuing quality in the service of indigenous peoples.  In this manner, the implicit standards were effectively prescriptive, constraining, not empowering.

Moving away from this abstract “functional framework,” PAASCU’s adoption of explicit standards of quality practices makes our accreditation process much more transparent.  It challenges those who use these standards to understand them, own them,  and to appreciate critically how they impact transformatively on the quality of their school.  It thereby empowers the school to take authentic responsibility for the quality it pursues.  Owining the standards it freely uses in its own authentic pursuit of quality, the school recognizes these standards in the revised instruments of PAASCU’s accreditation process.  In this manner, PAASCU affirms with the AQAF that “the institution has a primary responsibility for quality” (3.1).  Indeed, “a fundamental principle in quality assurance of higher education is that quality primarily rests with the higher educational institutions themselves” (3).  What is asserted by AQAF for higher education may here also be applied to basic education.  Even for stand-alone basic education institutions, or for basic education institutions integrated with college or university operations, quality assurance rests with the educational institutions themselves. 

Our educational institutions promote quality.   Guided by PAASCU’s four-fold definition of quality, they promote quality through “[1]the implementation of their vision, mission and goals, [2] achievement of minimum standards and evidenced [3] excellence through learning outcomes, and [4] responsiveness to stakeholders.” The 23 standards of quality practices further guide the educational institutions in pursuing quality under this definition.  You have seen and approved the list of 23 standards divided into eight areas: Leadership and Governance, Quality Assurance, Resource Management, Teaching-Learning, Student-Services, External Relations, Research, and Results.  Each of them are overarching and pragmatic statements of principles that guide schools and agencies such as PAASCU to quality assure institutions and the programs they offer.  They are broad and inclusive, especially in emergency times like ours during this pandemic, when schools are adopting various modalities of teaching and learning and finding creative and innovative ways to serve their students and other stakeholders in fulfillment of their unique mission.  They were formulated for us by our Commission on Standards led by Sr. Marissa Viri, RVM, but only after benchmarking with the international standards of such as the ASEAN University Network, The ASEAN Quality Assurance Network, The European Network for Quality Assurance for Higher Education, among others. 

Pursuing Quality Through the Standards of Quality Practices

But let us now view the statements as a further clarification or operationalization of the educational quality we pursue.

In pursuing quality through [1] the implementation of the educational institutions vision mission and goals, we are further guided by the quality practices under:

Leadership and governance
Quality Assurance
Resource Management
Results: specifically, Finance and Competitiveness Results

In pursuing quality through [2] achievement of minimum standards and evidenced [3] excellence through learning outcomes, we are further guided by the quality practices under:

Teaching-Learning
Research
Student-Services
Results: specifically, educational results and research results.

In pursuing quality through  [4] responsiveness to stakeholders, we are further guided by the quality practices under:

External Relations
Research
Results: specifically, community engagement and service results as well as research results. 

After our long argument with government criticizing “outcomes-based quality assurance” as in CMO 46 s. 2012 as one-sided, we may appreciate that our quality practices value both inputs and results.  Through our appropriation of the 23 practices, and our discussion of them today, may we discover in them the powerful help they provide in advancing our own internal quality assurance (IQA) – even during this time of pandemic.  We need to ask how have we been leading our institution towards the fulfillment of our vision and mission with the limited resources we have;  even short of accreditation, how have we been exercising quality assurance exposed to the possibilities and perils of flexible learning?   How have we been handling our online or modular instruction and making sure our students are achieving minimum learning objectives?  How have we been supporting our students not only in their academic pursuits, but also with their bouts with isolation, loneliness, frustration, self-alienation and depression?  Too often did we hear in the COVID months of sad suicides of isolated students unseen in their depressive silence.  Despite the pandemic, how have we been keeping up with allied schools and organizations in pursuit of our vision and mission and in support of theirs?  How have we still managed to impact our communities in researched service, in transformative activities, or in prophecy?  Even during this pandemic, how have we not just survived, postured in stunning activities that put us in the newspapers, but really achieved results that are not just hoped for, but evidenced?

We will emerge stronger.

This pandemic has been disruptive, but we will survive it.  We will survive it for as long as we draw strength from within by our abiding desire to teach, and to teach well not just as isolated teachers but as quality institutions.  Teaching and teaching well despite this pandemic, we will emerge as institutions more empowered to pursue their mission and vision, their minimum learning outcomes, their outcomes that manifest  excellence, and their service of the community through the twenty-three standards of quality practices.

Just as PAASCU will emerge stronger as an external quality assurance agency (EQAA) with new or updated instruments formulated using the twenty-three standards of quality practices.   They will be the core of a new accreditation process (EQA-SP) that will quality assure our programs and institutions.   

With your unqualified support, PAASCU will survive these disruptive times to thrive in a quality future.  That is the imperative of our Philippine educators’ soul.

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On Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti: On Fraternity and Social Friendship

[An Attempt to Understand Key Concepts of Pope Francis’ Latest Encyclical in their Relevance for Establishing Harmony and Peace in Mindanao and in the World.]

To the Co-Convenors of the Bishops’-Ulama Conference,

Most Rev. Fernando Capalla, DD, Most Rev. Hilario Gomez, Jr.,  Aleem Abu Cali, OLP, Brothers and Sisters in Mindanao representing the Bangsamoro, the Indigenous peoples, and the other communities of Mindanao, greetings of welcome, respect, love and peace!

It is a great privilege for me to address you on the occasion of this Mindanao Week of Peace.  From various religious traditions we come together this year under the theme: Dialogue Towards Harmony.  With the approval of the Bangasamoro Organic Law we rejoice in the advances that have been made through the establishment of the BARMM in implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement Bangsamoro.   At the same time we know that our shared dream of establishing lasting peace and harmony in Mindanao is still a work in progress.  For instance, while we recognize the positive contributions towards peace of newly formed Mindanao youth groups like the Salaam, we also note that other youth are still pulled towards separatist terror groups, calling forth violent encounters with the military.  While we rejoice in youth taking on the responsibilities of public service and of the common good in the BARMM, we also note that many college graduates, even those directed towards responding to pressing concerns in Mindanao, have difficulty seeing beyond the demands of their families or the consumerist demands that bombard them in their cellphones.  While we laud the firm intent of the Bangsamoro leadership to govern according to the imperatives of morality and integrity,  we also note the continued activity of political constellations impelled by disruptive self interest and divisive tribal or dynastic values.  While we rejoice in the recognition by the BARMM of its responsibility for the indigenous peoples within the Bangsamoro territory, we are saddened by the displacement of IP families in Maguindanao. 

In this context the importance of the theme of the Mindanao Week of Peace (MWOP),  Dialogue Towards Harmony, is evident.  We can already recall the historical Document for Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azahar, Ahmed Al-Tayyeb on Feb 4, 2019, whose central message was a shared declaration of “the culture of dialogue as the path; mutual collaboration as the code of conduct, and reciprocal understanding as the method and standard.”  In Pope Francis’s latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, On Fraternity and Social Friendship, Francis integrates the insights and declarations of this Document largely verbatim (cf. 285). 

For this Ignatian Conversation on the occasion of the MWOP, I would like to simply introduce this latest encyclical of Pope Francis which he signed on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi last October 4 at the culmination of the yearly Season of Creation.  The encyclical is a voluminous work bringing together many disparate themes touching on our troubled world.  Nothing that I do here can substitute for your own reading of the text.  It can easily be downloaded from the internet, and is now available in print by the Paulines Publishing House.[1] In an effort to introduce and understand the gist of the encyclical I would like to focus on five topics or concepts: an anti social or anti human dynamic in the world for which human beings are responsible, fraternity, social friendship, good politics, dialogue, and perhaps, conversion to fraternity.[2]

An Anti-Social Dynamic in Our World Today

Let us begin with a review of what Pope Francis in Laudato Si’ calls the  technocratic paradigm that uses science and technology developed especially over the last 200 years.[3]  This gives man suddenly an ominous self-created power and dominion over created things.  Here created things are no longer appreciated from the viewpoint or purposes of the Creator, but are abstract spaces [neutral realities]  over which man exercises his power and dominion to manipulate, transform, or destroy limitlessly in order to feed the ever-increasing, ever more unbridled consumer needs of men and women.  The behavior plunders the earth to generate the products that those who are able can and – under the coercion of the dynamic of this paradigm – must consume, rewarding those who own and manipulate the technology, its managers, its cooperators, its technicians, with the benefits of profits, earnings and therefore of consumption.  Here, freedom appears to increase the more one is free to consume.  Even as in consuming, the paradigm generates more appetite to consume in quality and quantity;  innovation then feeds the technocratic paradigm and bestows on the masters of the paradigm more power and dominion to subject more of creation to consumption.  Those however who do not participate in this process, the process ejects, discards, possibly not intentionally, but nonetheless really, and so painfully.  These are those who are not owners, not engineers, not professional managers, not empowered by education, those irrelevant to the technocratic paradigm.  These are the weak, the old and the unwanted unborn.  {…..}  The technocratic paradigm creates a vicious cycle using more and more sophisticated science and technology to feed increased consumption in  order to create more consumption, using science and technology to more and more gravely plunder the earth to feed the consumption, creating a society of consumers and non-consumers, useful people and useless people, the useless people being discarded.  Germans describe a vicious cycle as a Teufelskreis, a cycle of the devil. 

In Fratelli Tutti’s section entitled Dark Clouds over a Closed World Pope Francisdescribes anti-social realities in our world, none of which can be separated from their underpinning in the globalized technocratic paradigm.  He speaks of the global economy that “unifies the world” but divides persons and nations (12), allowing a world which once gamely rejected war forever to regress again and again into war and even into the threat of catastrophic nuclear war (11).  The technocratic paradigm conditions  a “cultural colonization” under this paradigm that empties great words such as “democracy”, “freedom,” and “justice of their meaning (14) for “democracy” is determined by the manipulation of the haves, “freedom” is understood in the terms of the freedom to consume on the basis of what one has, and “justice” is based on who have the money to make the laws that ultimately protect rights to consumption.  Political life is described as domination and control exercised by the spread of despair and discouragement without any long-term plans to improve people’s lives (15) or any shared vision (17) or of an economy based on integral human development (21).  Here, victory consists in eliminating one’s opponents (16) so that one might continue to enjoy life in a throw-away world where “parts of the human family can be sacrificed for the sake of others considered worthy of a carefree existence” (18).   In such a world then human rights are not equal for all (22), the wealthy, educated and powerful have more human rights to life, recognition, respect, and fulfillment than do the poor.  Men have more rights than women.  Slavery continues to exist in persons treated as objects (23).  In this world, war, terrorist attacks, racial or religious persecution, evils in themselves, are judged, depending on how convenient they may be for economic interests.   It is a world war, Francis decries, fought piecemeal (25).  Particularly heartless in today’s world is the manner in which refugees fleeing from difficult humanitarian situations or simply seeking better ways to provide for their families are rejected by wealthier nations  (129-138).  Similarly heartless vis-à-vis the genius of local cultures, is when people seek “the better humanity” of the globe with unresolved resentments against their own peoples (145).

In this world infected by the technocratic paradigm where people are killed by violence, excluded from one’s borders, rejected because of nationality or race, or thrown away by the economy’s productive machinery, Francis introduces his concepts of Fraternity and Social Friendship.  He is inspired by Francis of Assisi who called for “a love that transcends the barriers of geography and distance” (1).  He wishes to make a “modest contribution to continued reflection” on the universal scope of fraternal love.  He hopes that in this manner we may prove capable of responding with the new vision of fraternity and social friendship that will not remain on the level of words (6).

Fraternity

Created by a loving God we are “brother and sister to the sun, the sea and the world, yet even closer in fraternity to those of our own flesh” (2).  In this fraternity, all are connected as sisters and brothers.  As human persons, all belong to one “single human family” (8).  No one is excluded.  All possess an inviolable human dignity.  No one is excepted.  This is the real fraternity as created naturally by God.  It is the fraternity willed in created nature by God, even as he created man and women free.  Fraternity is thus not an abstract concept of humanity, but created man making him- or herself in history, each individual realizing him- or herself in contributing to the realization of fraternity, that is, universal humanity.   In a world in which this fraternity is denied in practice, its reality is a self-fulfilling aspiration, a shared, self-fulfilling dream, a shared self-realizing obligation, despite the tendency in man to selfishness – “concupiscence” –  that shatters this dream (166).   This is an obligation the human being fulfills in exercising the power he has to fulfill it.  It cannot remain merely conceptual, merely “on the level of words”.  It involves self- and humanity-changing action that allows all “to live together in harmony and peace, without all of us having to be the same” (100).

Social Friendship

When St. Francis of Assisi called for “a love that transcends the barriers of geography and distance, and declares blessed all those who love their brother as much when he is far away from him as when he is with him” expressing “the essence of a fraternal openness that allows us to acknowledge, appreciate and love each person, regardless of physical proximity, regardless of where he or she was born or lives” (1), he [St. Francis] was calling for what Pope Francis calls social friendship.  It is “a love capable of transcending borders” (99).  It is first and foremost love.  As humans, we cannot remain isolated.  “Our love for others, for who they are, moves us to seek the best for their lives.  Only by cultivating this way of relating to one another will we make possible a social friendship that excludes no one and a fraternity that is open to all.” (94)  It impels us towards true human communion (95). “Genuine social friendship within a society makes true universal openness possible” (99)  It acknowledges “the worth of every human person, always and everywhere” (106) and that each “has the right to live with dignity and to develop integrally,” “a fundamental right that cannot be denied by any country” (107).

Social friendship, therefore, promotes fraternity.  I give only some of the examples Pope Francis discusses.  It consciously cultivates fraternity, promotes it through “political will, through education in fraternity, through dialogue, through recognition of values of reciprocity and mutual enrichment” (103).  It is freedom directed above all to the love of all (103).  It is the equality of all achieved in the historical cultivation of fraternity (104).  It is the hard work and craftsmanship demanded to attain social peace (217).  It is relating to the truth not to lead towards revenge, but rather to reconciliation and forgiveness (227).  It is astute negotiation crafted above all by peoples (232).  It is getting people to tread the path to peace:  to work together, side by side, in pursuing goals that benefit everyone and serve the common good (228).  It is mediating reconciliation among belligerent parties (233).  It is working for equality and integral development as a condition for peace (235).  In the end, Francis says:  There is no end to the building of a country’s [or the world’s] social peace; rather, it is “an open-ended endeavor, a never-ending task that demands the commitment of everyone and challenges us to work tirelessly to build the unity of the nation [or world].” At its center:  the human person and respect for the common good (232).

The main point of Pope Francis’ elaborate retelling of the story of the Good Samaritan (56-86) is to present a man who exercised social friendship.  Robbers had left a person to die by the wayside.  He was robbed and then discarded.  Two religious persons, one a Levite, the other a Pharisee, see him, but pass him by.  Only the Samaritan, the despised outsider, had the humanity to interrupt his journey in order to help the victim.  Only he had the social friendship to be a neighbor to the victim.  The victim was a stranger.  Yet the Samaritan recognized in him a brother, came to his aid, brought him to an inn to be cared for, and used his personal resources to make sure he was attended to.  He did not ask for any return.  Yet it was he who in embracing this victim was most human.

The Anti-Social paradigm

In Fratelli Tutti, the victim left to die is humanity itself.  Perhaps in the light of Pope Francis’ invitation to reflect on fraternity and social friendship as a way of responding to eliminating or ignoring disadvantaged people, we might reflect on the following cases. 

First, the resurgent large-scale open-pit Tampakan mines, principally in South Cotabato.  The argument for the mine is economic, a parade example of the vicious circularity of the technocratic paradigm.  Science and technology enhance the human appetite for products of the mine, either raw or finished.  The productive engine exploits the earth.  As productive engines develop with increasing demand, the earth is not only used.  It is abused.  The planned Tampakan mine will abuse the earth with a gaping 500-ha.-large  open pit with a depth of 800 meters.  This is a deadly wound in a fragile archipelagic landscape.  Its excavation will produce a toxic mountain whose discharges will poison six rivers, threatening the rice fields of Mindanao and the livelihood of 20,000 farmers. It will kill old growth forests and destroy rich biodiversity.  It will also displace some 800 B’laan famiies.  But as the project matures and destroys the environment, not only the cultural wealth of the IPs is compromised, but the food supply of the people of Mindanao, if not of the country. Because the satisfaction of consumer needs only creates new and more demanding consumer needs, the technocratic cycle is repeated.  But not without excluding those who are irrelevant to the operation of the mine, including increasingly affected Mindanao residents of this generation and future generations who have a right to eat, a right to drink freshwater, a right to enjoy their common home in the ecological integrity that God endowed it with.  What operates here is the opposite of social friendship: a human-made humanity-destructive anti-social paradigm fueled by the technocratic paradigm.

Second, it is similar when one considers the effects of consumption-driven use of persuasion psychology integrated with the artificial-intelligence-driven technology of social media like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and the like.   The human users that think they are using the social media products for free become the social media products sold to consumption-driving companies that exploit you for profit.[4]  The social media companies compete for your attention, your time, and your life on the screen in order to be able to sell your personal data to companies.  Without your knowing it you are part of the business model of the social media companies that use artificial intelligence and big data analysis and technology to connive with producers to monitor, predict, manipulate and exploit all your needs, even creating new needs that you ”really need” to satisfy your hunger and increase their earnings.  This includes the manipulation of the self-concept of young and vulnerable users (or of older and naïve users) who grow in self worth less and less from relating to real family, friends, and human beings, and more and more with a virtual community of likers and dis-likers that is in the end impossible to moderate or monitor, driving many of our youth to self-doubt, insecurity, depression and, as we all know, often suicide.  The technocratic paradigm made more compelling by persuasion psychology continues to drive the consumption that destroys the environment and discards people in order to order to create more and more consumption.  The evil here is that in the end what is consumed, robbed and left by the wayside to die is humanity itself.  Social media thrives on an anti-social paradigm.  Pope Francis recommends social friendship to recover real fraternity.

Third, we must consider the anti-social paradigm at work in politicians who exploit “the people” to gain power or to keep power.  It is often manipulative and cynical because it presents no clear roadmap to lead the people, among them the impoverished, exploited, manipulated, and excluded, to genuine fraternity.  Such manipulators do not hesitate in the name of “the people” to foment or exploit conflicts in order to maintain themselves in power.  “The people” do not represent all human persons and the common good, but is just a tool to divide the people into those included in the politician’s interests and those excluded, othered, and when convenient targeted in conflict.  Conflicts, especially those which cost precious lives and call forth more conflict, are profitable from the viewpoint of those who produce, control and sell arms.  “Why wage peace when waging war is much more profitable?” the technocratic paradigm asks.  Why organize efficient security forces when there are more power and profit in allowing the traditions of rido in Mindanao to continue?  Why travel the straight and moral path when the perilous path is more profitable?  Meanwhile, the traffickers in arms also traffic in illegal drugs and in people; for the profits of increasing sales, they rob and batter humanity and leave it on the wayside to die.  Here, Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar insist, true religion is not involved.  True religion does not engage in terror and war.  True religion is not subject to the manipulation of individualists.  It is not anti-social.  True religion, in the name of Allah, in the name of God, in reverence and gratitude to the Creator, acts in social friendship to recognize and promote fraternity.  The Good Samaritan stops to lift up dying humanity – even here in Mindanao. 

Good Politics

For Francis, politics must be based on love, the type of love that is realistic, has insight into the relationship between the people’s needs and real institutions and “calls for an effective process of change that embraces everything:  institutions, law, technology,…etc” (165).  Also, for a “change of heart, attitude and lifestyles” to reject an “individualistic and uncritical culture subservient to unregulated economic interests and societal institutions at the service of those who already enjoy too much power. (166)” 

In talking about the politics we need, Francis stresses, “politics must not be subject to the economy, nor should the economy be subject to the dictates of an efficiency-driven paradigm of technocracy” (177).  This is reference to the technocratic paradigm.  He stresses, “economics without politics cannot be justified, since this would make it impossible to favor other ways of dealing with the present crisis” i.e., the present anti-social crisis exacerbated by the technocratic paradigm.

Against petty politics based on immediate interests, Francis says the politics we need involves “true statecraft” that “is manifest when, in difficult times, we uphold high principles and think of the long-term common good” … “a common project for the human family, now and in the future” (178).

For Francis, because it seeks the common good, politics, far from being dirty, is a “lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity” (180).  This can range from “small gestures of mutual care” (181) to the reform of the United Nations Organization to give it “real teeth” in protecting the dignity and rights of the poor or their organization against powerful states and even more powerful international economic and financial interests (170-175) in advancement of the “truly universal common good” (174).

Dialogue

The truly universal common good is fraternity.  And the way to get there is through social friendship, which includes good politics.  It also includes dialogue, the dialogue advanced earlier in the Document on Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together that I mentioned at the outset of this presentation. 

Francis describes dialogue in different lights:  Dialogue is approaching, speaking, listening, looking at, coming to know and understand one another and to find common ground.  It does not make headlines, but helps the world.  In a country, dialogue is that which allows it to flourish in its many cultural components (199).  Dialogue is engagement, not parallel monologues on social media (200).  It is a respectful process aimed at achieving agreement on a level deeper than media’s potpourri of facts and opinions (201).  It is concern for the common good, and not for the imposition of power or of one’s opinions (202).  Authentic social dialogue involves the ability to respect the other’s point of view and to admit that it may include legitimate convictions and concerns. … In the true spirit of dialogue, we grow in our ability to grasp the significance of what others say and do, even if we cannot accept it as our own conviction  Dialogue appreciates that “differences are creative; they create tension and in the resolution of tension lies humanity’s progress” (203).

Conclusion

This has gone longer than I expected, and I thank you for your patience.  For an understanding of Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti, I have tried fundamentally to present his concepts of Fraternity and Social Friendship.  I linked it to the technocratic paradigm. And linked this to what may be described as an anti-social paradigm which together harm and kill human beings and imperil both the future of humanity and of the planet.  I ended by showing how Francis insists we human beings in social love or social friendship must take power in order to defeat this vicious anti-social, anti-human, dynamic that is at work in our economic system often without our being aware of it.  The anti-social dynamic must be defeated through good politics, among the highest forms of love, and through dialogue.   Only in this manner can we achieve the harmony we envision in this Mindanao Week of Peace.  I think, however, this is not just a matter of willful decision.  It is a matter of conversion from consumerism, individualism and proclivity to sin through the indispensable help of God.  In the name of peace, in the name of our future, in the name of our common home, in the name of our Creator, may we in social friendship advance fraternity through good politics and dialogue. Why?  Because Fratelli Tutti, we are brothers and sisters all. 


[1] Fratelli Tutti, Encyclical Letter of the Holy Father FRANCIS on Fraternity and Social Friendship.  Pasay City: Paulines Publishing House, 2020.

[2] Comments of theologians in America Magazine focus on other important themes:  discernment, rejection of retributive violence, right to private property not  absolute, the inability of the market to solve all problems, the value of politics for what it may bring and not for what it is, the right to be different,  Francis’ skepticism concerning a “just war” today, loving an oppressor does not mean allowing the oppression to continue.

Cf: https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2020/10/07/catholic-theologians-takeaways-fratelli-tutti-pope-francis

[3] cf. Laudato Si’, Encyclical Letter of the Holy Father FRANCIS on Care for Our Common Home (Pasay City: Paulines Publishing House, 2015), esp. Chapter Three, The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis.  I attempt to summarize thoughts taken from these chapters.  I recommend the Netflix documentary:  Pope Francis: A Man of His Word. 

[4] See the Netflix documentary: The Social Dilemma

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Our Prayer in Dialogue

[Prayer at the beginning of the ADDU Academic Administrators – Samahan Student Government Dialogue, 23 November 2020]

Heavenly Father, you sent to us your Son
as your Word of Compassion, Love, Reconciliation and Peace. 
He is your divine Word in an ongoing dialogue
between yourself and ourselves as sinners. 
He is your Word-made-flesh in our restless world.

This Word continually calls forth our response in dialogue,
shaped we pray by the Light of your Spirit.

From our experience, Lord, we know it is possible to reject your Word,
and to freely shape a response in darkness.    

Having just celebrated the Solemnity of Christ the King,
we ask that He be present with us in your Spirit
helping us to listen to one another,
helping us to find your Will in Wisdom,
helping us to heal. 
From yesterday’s Gospel, let us recall His Word,
“Whatsoever you have done or not done for one of these
the least of my brothers and sisters,
that you have done or not done to me.” 
What we say or do to one another
is ultimately our response in dialogue with you, O Lord.

Many times, in our quest for peace
among conflicting parties in Mindanao
we have advocated to others  the declaration
of Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar
in the name of the suffering we humans inflict on one another,
in the name of our inconsistencies and foibles and failures,
in the name of the victims of hasty judgments and harsh words that fail to honor truth and often turn into violence,
in the name ultimately of you our one God,
of “the  adoption of a culture of dialogue as the path,
mutual cooperation as the code of conduct,
reciprocal understanding as the method and standard.” 

This morning we ask that you give us the grace of
this culture of dialogue, this mutual collaboration,
this reciprocal understanding for ourselves.   
In our stubbornness and need always to be right
we know this is a grace

And where in the recent past we may have failed here,
failing to be sensitive to the good intentions of each,
we beg you to
“forgive us our trespasses,
even as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

With Pope Francis, let us recall that
while we are administrators or teachers or student leaders,
we are all sisters and brothers created by a loving God
responsible in social friendship for the fraternity or sorority
that we share
and the peace that it brings.

Thank you for bringing us together this morning in dialogue!
Let each of us, we pray, be inspired by a prayer attributed to
Francis of Assisi, your servant of fraternity and peace:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console,
To be understood, as to understand,
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Amen.

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