A Beautiful Occasion

Service Awards at Ateneo de Naga University
March 3, 2010.

I have already written a little word of congratulations to you all. It has been printed in your beautiful program of profiles, and need not be repeated here. I am deeply grateful that Dada spared me from having my full-length profile picture printed in your souvenir programs. After spending a week in Germany drinking the beer that celebrates friendships over decades but expands one’s girth explosively way beyond measure, mine is not the profile that you want on in your printed memento for this occasion!

It is a beautiful occasion, is it not? It is a celebration of milestones in service counted off in fives – except for the final milestone which jumps from 25 to 40. I am honored to be here to express the gratitude and well wishes of the University to those who today are celebrants – but perhaps today even to those who are celebrating in between the milestones. The university is grateful for your presence here at Ateneo de Naga University; it is grateful for the work you have accomplished; it is grateful for the miles we have walked together within it in shared mission. It wishes you well as you continue to accomplish the work you do, and as we continue to journey together in the consolation that service in mission brings. Not after five, not after 25, not even after 40 years of service are you emptied of service. You give, and continue to give, and dare to pray, “to give” further and “not to count the cost.” God surprises you; after a while he shocks you; he answers your prayer. You have given, and you have not counted the cost. You have given as the sun has risen; you have given as the sun is setting; throughout the years, you have given even in the dark, frustrating and painful nights. This we celebrate today in gratitude.

My personal gratitude is special today. I have presided over these service awards before, these conferrals of University awards with every career milestone. But this shall be the last time I shall do this at the Ateneo de Naga as your university president. I celebrate with you therefore today in gratitude for you all, and for the service and friendship we have enjoyed together; but in all honesty I celebrate also with sadness, knowing that soon I shall have to move on. For a long time, through November, December and January, I denied it. Now , as graduation nears inevitably, I have come to accept it. There is no escape. What God has given, he can also take away. At the same time, I know that the Lord who has brought us together in shared mission, no matter where the Lord’s mission leads us, will continue to keep us together in shared mission. He prayed, “That they may be one.” This, too, is my prayer. That we may always be one! This is my hope.

We all know, our Lord came to serve, and not to be served. This is the attitude, this is the life, we must continue to cherish. Otherwise, we would not have accepted to give long difficult hours, and not to count the cost. Otherwise, we not have accepted to give without being commensurately more comfortable, without being more appropriately compensated, without being given more perks. The attitude comes, on the one hand, with a personal closeness to our Lord, who was himself a laborer being son of a carpenter, but himself also a master teacher being son of His Father. His passion was to make people accept the challenge of the Kingdom; his passion showed itself in tireless service, service which accepted the tensions service required, tensions which became contradictions, love offered absolutely and absolutely refused in the contradiction of the Cross. The attitude of service, on the other hand, also comes with a closeness to the persons we serve. These may be the students we enlighten, or the weak whom we strengthen, or the deprived whom we lift up, each with faces, stories, individual homes of elation and grief; in the work we do, they may be the teachers whom we support or the administrators whom we help. But it is through their human closeness, or their beings friends in mission, or their beings sisters and brothers in the Lord, each with a face, each with a smile, each with eyes of light and mystery, that we are motivated to serve – way beyond that for which we are paid. If we are to remain one, we shall remain one in their service – God’s service.

And we shall remain friends. We are servants to one another. But God doesn’t call us servants, he calls us friends. The terms of our service are not set in bondage, not fixed in calculated contracts, not limited by exhausting work schedules, but determined in freedom – the freedom of the Children of God – which goes beyond our University into our homes and onto our shared tables of friendship. God did not first call us employees; he called us friends. Without setting aside the importance of the employer-employee relationship, it is, I think, friendship among us that keeps Ateneo de Naga going from strong to stronger. For it is with a friend that one wishes to go the extra mile; it is with a friend that one best overcomes the problems of the season, it is for a friend that one is willing to sacrifice time, comfort and treasure; it is through a friend that one comes to a deeper realization of who one is, how much one is loved, or how much one can be forgiven, or what it is that one must now finally do. God does not call us servants; he calls us friends. We are friends to one another. But we are also friends with him. That is key for Ateneo de Naga. We are friends in Jesus. In Jesus, we are friends in one another.

This is a beautiful celebration, is it not? For one last time, I thank you for your service to the Ateneo de Naga. I thank you for your friendship. May the Lord continue to keep you in his service, and continue to keep us friends in the Lord – friends with one another and with him. This is the cor of Ateneo de Naga, the heart of our university. It is the heart of the Lord beating in our every heart. It is truth, light and love beating ex corde ecclesiae – from your hearts.

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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