We Give Thanks

Homily: Ateneo de Naga University Homecoming, 2010

As we close the Grand Celebration in the Archdiocese of Caceres and throughout the world of the 300th Anniversary of the Devotion to our Lady of Peñafrancia, and as we close the celebration at the Ateneo de Naga University of the 70th Anniversary of its Founding, we come together this day for the grand gathering from all over the world of the Ateneo de Naga Golden Knights, young and old, welcoming especially our sponsoring batch, the Silver Jubilarians of 1985, and our special honorees, the Golden Jubilarians of 1960. The day is filled with activities which have already begun to unfold. There will be ample opportunity for renewing friendships, for harmabugan, for eating and drinking. But the most important event is arguably our gathering this hour here in the University Church of Christ the King for this Eucharistic Celebration. We come together in thanksgiving.

In the silence of this University Church, beneath the Cross of Christ, Our King, before his Altar of Offering and his Manger, we come to give thanks. Each will have his or her own special reason for giving thanks, recalling especially the days spent in this campus, when things were much more simple, and the world was much less complex. We give thanks for beautiful experiences then, for teachers, Jesuit and lay, who taught us values that for the most part have stayed with us throughout our lives: the value in our school motto, Primum Regnum Dei, the values in our marching song, “…our flag is carried flying high in victory or defeat. … We’ll cheer our men until the end, we’ll cheer them as they fight.” Even as they taught us to be competent, they taught us to be sensitive to right and wrong, and choose the right; the be sensitive to the needs of the poor, and to share of what we have; to always center our lives on Jesus Christ and doing His Father’s will in Love, rather than centering them on money, honors, and pride. That is, after all, the meaning of Primim Regnum Dei, is it not? First, the Kingdom of God! Before our wills, His will. Before the world of competition, comfort, and pleasure, His Kingdom. Of course, for all of us, young and young at heart, all this is a work in progress. They didn’t give us then enough post or jug or wack-wack to make these values stick enough. We have had our ups and downs. Nevertheless today we are still giving thanks.

We come together specially grateful for the friendships we made here. Many of these have become friends for life, who stuck with us through thick and thin, who helped shape our lives and define our life-projects and values. Some of them have passed away and have gone on, we hope, to a better place. But most of them are still alive, and many of them are here. Some have traveled from the other side of the world to celebrate with us, even as others have come from Calabanga, Camaligan, Magarao, Libmanan, Legazpi, Manila and the like. Here, from near and far, we are grateful to find one another older, fatter, thinner, handsomer, prettier, richer, poorer, healthier or sick! Whatever their size or shape, whether still reciting Shakespeare or rapping with the youth, we are grateful that they are here.

We come together grateful too for this educational institution, Ateneo de Naga University. 70 years ago the Bishop Pedro Santos of this Diocese of Caceres, which then included the whole of Bicol, was worried about the inroads Protestantism was making in Bikol. He asked the Jesuits to take over a school. The result was the Ateneo de Naga – originally as a grade- and high school. Many things have happened since then, including its having been taken over by the Japanese during the war. Before Fr. Bonoan came over two decades ago, they almost closed this school. But over the years, through the intercession of Ina, God has blessed this institution; today it is arguably the most distinguished University in Bikol, the only autonomous University in the region, and still one of only two universities in the Philippines that enjoys PAASCU’s institutional accreditation. It has formed statesmen, teachers, priests, religious, engineers, computer experts, digital animators, healthcare specialists, communications professionals, businessmen and entrepreneurs. But, we believe, it has also formed good human beings, people who know how to love, how to value friendship, how to serve the community, how to walk humbly in life and worship the Lord. Because excellent universities like this don’t have to exist, because they depend on the commitment of human beings whose teaching lives are lives of heroic sacrifice, for the Ateneo de Naga we give thanks.

So, as our responsorial psalm exhorts, “Let the heavens be glad and earth rejoice…” (Ps 96: 11a). For our knowledge, for our values, for our friends here today, still alive and kicking, home at the Ateneo de Naga University, still alive today, and thriving!

“Let the heavens be glad and earth rejoice…” for in this season we know: “God is Emmanuel … God is with us” (Mt. 2:23), through the ups and downs of our lives, through celebrations and crises, through successes and failures.

“Let the heavens be glad and earth rejoice…” for, as our Gospel implies, with the coming of the Child lain on the wood of the manger, you have redemption (cf. Lk. 2:38). With the coming of this Man, nailed to the wood of the Cross, you have redemption. You don’t have to have done it all, you don’t have to have become perfect. In this Child, you have redemption. As our first reading says, in Him “your sins have been forgiven; you know your Father from the beginning; you are strong; the Word of God remains in you; you have conquered the Evil One” (cf. 1 Jn 2:12-14)

So, at this Eucharistic Celebration, grateful for Ina, our school, and one another, we give thanks. We give thanks that we are here, and that God is Emmanuel. We are here, and God is with us!

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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