[Homily: Baccalaureate Mass: Wis. 2:1a,12-22; Jn 7:1-2,10, 25-30, 23 March 2012]
Every Eucharist is an opportunity to give God thanks for his many graces. This afternoon we gather together in profound thanksgiving for special graces. You are graduating from the colleges and graduate school of the Ateneo de Davao University. Many youth only dream of an Ateneo education. Many never even make it to college. Many, having entered college, discontinue their studies because of a death in the family or a tragic wrong turn in the family’s financial fortunes. Even many of your erstwhile batchmates have not made it to this day. Some because of academic deficiencies; others because of problems with health or of problems at home. Of 1789 expected to graduate, only 1404 are actually graduating. 385 or 21.6 percent of your batch did not make it. You have. You have finished your projects, passed your exams, done well, if not outstandingly well, in your various courses. You have been tried, you have been tested, and not found wanting. From bleary-eyed, innocent high-school graduates four- or five years ago, you have transformed yourselves into matured young men and women today ready to take on the challenges of life. It is for this reason that we rejoice. And give thanks.
In a sense we can say, a chapter in your lives is ending. There have been many memorable moments in the Jacinto classrooms, in the packed elevators, in the crowded corridors, in the gardens under the shade of the Jacinto acacias or talisays. There have been wildly happy moments in the covered courts after cheer dancing on college days or the sports tournaments of fiesta. There have been profound moments of insight after long hours of study, happy feelings of accomplishment after the projects are finally done, or deep “aha”-experiences after immersion in the communities of the poor. There have even been dark moments of tears and near despair as things did not turn out as you expected. Hopefully, there have also been moments when you have encountered the guiding goodness of a teacher or the enduring consolation of a loyal friend. For these memorable moments that have accompanied your preparations for becoming managers or accountants or entrepreneurs or engineers or lawyers or psychologists or scientists or doctors, we give thanks.
We give thanks hopefully also because your Ateneo de Davao experience is not just abruptly ending. Graduation exercises are called commencement exercises, marking not merely an ending, but a beginning. You are Ateneans not just for the years of your study and formation here. You are Ateneans because having studied and grown, having been tried and tested, in this Filipino, Catholic and Jesuit university, you are Ateneans wherever you are, whatever you do, with whomever you live and work, forever. This means, fundamentally, that whatever your circumstances are, you must be good human beings, willing to use your knowledge and your freedom to accomplish your duties and responsibilities to your God, to your neighbor, and to creation. It means that you live your faith to face the challenges of your life with faith. It means that if you know Jesus Christ and his Father, you grow through the Spirit in intimacy with Jesus and deeper knowledge of the Father so that in the strength of the Spirit you can accomplish his will in our difficult world. It means that you continue to grow in awareness of your own spirituality and open yourself to the impulses of Ignatian spirituality. Here you are challenged to distinguish yourselves as Christians in responding ever more profoundly to the mystery of the Lord crucified for you. We give thanks because your commencement means beginning to bring the fruits of your Ateneo education to enable you to respond to the challenges of the world. This is not just your professional training, it is also your human formation that you use to respond to the world, so that in life, it is not you that are overcome by the world, but you who in the Spirit overcome the world.
You are Ateneans, for better or for worse. That is perhaps the reason why this day, even as we rejoice and give thanks, we also earnestly pray in supplication. Being a graduate of the Ateneo, we know, is not a surefire formula for human success and moral uprightness. There are Ateneans who as soon as they are in the world worship money and spurn the faith. There are Ateneans who as soon as they are in the world use their position to exploit and harm fellow human beings. There are Ateneans who as soon as they are in the world amass fortunes at the cost of massive destruction to the environment. There are Ateneans who are overcome by the world. Our earnest prayer of supplication is that in the Spirit you decide to be good human beings, always loving, always free, always doing what you know to be right. Our prayer is that in the Spirit when tried by temptations, by adversity, by pain in the world, you show yourselves true.
Isn’t that something about which you have sung since your youthful years: “Come Blue Knight take your stand. Be men [and women] tried and true in your armor white and blue.” What does this mean? As Ateneans, when tried, be true. As Ateneans, when tried by power, by wealth, by fame, be free to be yourselves, enlightened by your mind, impelled by your conscience, led by your God. As Ateneans, when tried, be just.
Jesus, in working for the Kingdom of his Father, modeled who “the just man” is. He was just in bringing the Good News to the poor, healing to the infirm, comfort to the sorrowing. He was just in insisting that among all values first should always be the Kingdom of God! He insisted on this even though he upset people, and disturbed traditions, and threatened power structures. This is why in our Gospel today people were plotting and scheming to kill Jesus. He was the just one spoken of in the first reading who had become obnoxious to people because he modeled a way of living that was just. “To us he was the censure of our thoughts; merely to see him was a hardship for us.” So they plotted to kill him. Eventually they did.
Yet, in his being just, in his being true, it was he who overcame the world, as he continues to overcome the world. “These things I have spoken to you, that you may have peace. In the world you have tribulations: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).
As you graduate from Ateneo de Davao, and choose, hopefully, to use your education when tried to be just, to be true, find your strength in this Lord who has conquered the world. “To his high command, your hearts bow!” Do no forget: Be strong in faith: “fortes in fide.” Find strength in your faith in him.
And give thanks.