We Give Thanks

Homily: Anniversary Mass of Ateneo de Naga as University.  My last.

I was present in February, 1999 when the Ateneo de Naga was raised to the status of the University. Then, I was still President of Loyola School of Theology. Fr. Raul Bonoan had gone out of his way to invite me – all expenses paid – to the glorious day. I remember the togas of academe fluttering in the wind, the festive strains of the band, the grand speeches. I remember Fr. Rolly proudly raising the heavy university mace. Neither Fr. Rolly nor I had any inkling then that within a few months I would return to the AdNU as its new President.

Since that day, much has intervened. In preparation for the corporation and board meeting tomorrow, where I am to give something like a final, exit report, I’d asked Dr. Fred Fabay and others to help me with a brief summary of achievements and suggestions for future directions. That brief summary has meanwhile become 50 pages still awaiting further completion, and the summary is now being subjected to further summary!

But in this context of transition, with Fr. Provincial and Fr. Jun Viray also present, we come together on our University Day to give thanks. I give thanks with you for having had the privilege of serving this Ateneo de Naga from the year it was raised to University status to the end of this academic year. That has included many milestones: the build-out of our physical infrastructure, the raising of this University Church, the construction of our new high school in Pacol, the development of an independent high school culture that radically improved the quality of the high school student’s day, the dedication of the Bagumbayan campus to the colleges and the graduate school with their special culture, the development of the academic, the research and the social involvement councils, the public recognition we received through accreditation, centers of excellence or development for excellence, and autonomy. In all of this we give thanks for the dedication of the people at the Ateneo de Naga towards the achievement of these goals. I am certain: what we have achieved in these years could not have been achieved without the love, dedication and fierce passion of the university community to the Ateneo de Naga, a love and dedication that you have allowed to be nurtured through spirituality of our friend, St. Ignatius of Loyola. You have prayed, “Lord teach us to be generous… to give and not to count the cost.” You have prayed. God has taught. You have learned – and continue to learn – his way of service in this University, his positive regard for this world entrusted to us, his call to truth, reason and deeper humanity, his love for the poor and the needy, and his concern for the world in which we all live. You have prayed. God has taught. You have learned in your growing intimacy with our Lord to find him in all things – in the silent struggle of a student to learn, in the efforts of an instructor to teach well, in the elation of an academic success, in the relations that we have with each other. So today we give thanks.

We give thanks especially for the relationships we have with each other. We are not just here to “make money,” as important as salaries, benefits, and material rewards may be. We are here called together to participate in the same mission. We have considered it, we have accepted it, and in our dedication to it, we have found our way to one another – as colleagues, as professionals, as friends. We have found ways of sharing our experiences and concerns, of helping one another to be more productive, of supporting one another in adversity, of helping out with one another’s problems even beyond the University. Even as we have become more professional, and have learned better to communicate with each other in hard academic discourse, we have learned to accept one another with our limitations, faults and foibles. Before the crucified Lord, we have all admitted our sins, we have all asked for forgiveness, we have all asked how we can better respond to his love. We do this as we do so often before each other: we admit our shortcomings and failures, beg each other for forgiveness, and ask how together we might better respond to God’s love in mission. And so, today, we give thanks for friendship in the Lord – precious in that it is so rarely given, treasured in that it is ours to preserve and celebrate.

Finally, we give thanks that as presidents have come and gone through the 70 years of the Ateneo de Naga, its life and mission continue. We give thanks that that Board of Trustees has chosen a Jesuit whom I am sure will continue – with your help – to lead this university towards a deeper realization of its mission in greater service to Bikol and the Philippines. Recently, Fr. Provincial articulated four apostolic thrusts for the Philippine Province: depth, Mindanao. China, and the Spiritual Exercises. They are thrusts which also challenge us as a university. Depth: the need to combat the superficiality of the global world with depth of knowledge, tenacity of research and quality of service. Mindanao: the need to continue to work for peace and development in Mindanao, peace between Muslims and Christians and Lumads, justice between the powerful and the weak, fairness between he moneyed and the poor. China: the need to widen our efforts to relate with China, to learn of its language and culture, and to prepare for a future in Asia that shall certainly be influenced by a stronger Chinese presence. And finally, the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: the need ourselves to grow in and share the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Together, in this mission, you will grow as a university in getting to know Jesus more intimately, and in following him more nearly.

We end then with Jesus words from today’s Gospel: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it. But whoever wishes to lose his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it” (Mk 8:34). We give thanks that in the service of this university we take up our cross daily and follow him, losing our lives in following him, that he may restore us to ourselves, that through us he may restore others to his Father. We look forward to the day when “the Kingdom of God shall come in power” (Mk: 8:39). The Kingdom of God comes in his power; we are only in service of that power. Yet for us at the Ateneo that service is a prior concern: primum regnum Dei – first, first always, the Kingdom of God. In instruction, first always God’s Kingdom of Knowledge and Wisdom; in research, first always, God’s Kingdom of compassion and truth; in outreach, first always, God’s Kingdom of service and love.

Twelve years ago, we became a University. We thank God that since then we have grown as a University – Filipino, Catholic and Jesuit. And that in his power, we look forward with great hope.

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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