[Homily: Baccalaureate Mass, HS Graduation, 29 March, 2012 based on Gen. 17:3-9 and Jn 8: 51-59]
There is a lot of excitement that accompanies graduation day. What to wear? Whom to invite? Where to eat? There is a lot of preparation needed to finally get all the pomp and circumstance right. But at your Baccalaureate Mass there is opportunity for some quieting. And prayerful reflection.
First of all there is opportunity to quietly thank God for all the people who have made this graduation possible: your parents, your brothers and sisters, your relatives and benefactors. For them, we give thanks. We also thank God for your teachers, administrators, moderators, coaches, and members of the staff. Without their dedication and commitment to your education, there would be no Ateneo de Davao High School. We thank God for your fellow students and companions. Your batch mates, and especially your friends, are precious. They will accompany you throughout life. None of them really had to be here with you throughout these years, as you did not really have to be here. They are a great gift, as Ateneo education is a great gift for you. Cherish all the people who are part of your ADDU high school experience. And give thanks.
Give thanks that you are graduating from high school! In the Philippines, only one in five students makes it to high school graduation. And of those five, only one will graduate from college. Your success in basic education has been way above the national average. And your prospects of graduating from a good college or finding a meaningful job are excellent. Be thankful.
But in all this, there is much room for modesty.
As my friend, Gina Lopez, President of ABS-CBN Foundation, pointed out to a group of Ateneo graduates recently,* this is not an easy world. We wish you could be graduating in a world that were more orderly, more kind, more just. We wish that in your immediate horizon you did not have to learn of extrajudicial killings, controversial death squads, corruption that is called endemic to Philippine culture, violence in the homes, interreligious discord, and driving poverty. We wish that after high school graduation, further education were a mater of course, and finding a job were an easy option. We wish we could give you a Philippines where its forests still covered over 90 percent of Philippine territory, and the specter of mining did not threaten our beautiful archipelago. We wish things could be otherwise for you. But they are not.
This is a world where over and over again you will be faced with problems
My advise to you as graduates: make every problem a learning experience. Study in order to face problems. Make every problem you encounter a learning experience. Choose your work or your college course in order to meet the problems you are being called to address. Some of you may see the problem of corruption, and feel shame and frustration as it cripples us so thoroughly. Study to spend your lives fighting corruption. Some of you may feel the problem of driving poverty, and feel shame and dismay at the painful inequality in our country. Study to spend your lives creating wealth not only for yourselves, but especially for the poor. Some you may be acutely aware of inequality in the Philippines between the haves and the have nots, between the Christians, the Muslims, and the Lumad, between Manila and the provinces, between foreigners and nationals, between women and men. Study to spend your lives addressing these problems as economists, as anthropologists, as social entrepreneurs, as enlightened politicians. The problems you are aware of, and not just dreams of high paying jobs of leisure, must be the driving imperative of your desire to study.
Whatever the problems that you address, whether they are problems for the long term, (like how to discern your vocation) or problems for the short term (like where to spend your vacation and what do with your free night), do so with an uncompromising commitment to integrity. There is enough corruption in our society; we do not need more “wise” graduates to make corruption worse. What we need are enlightened graduates who from the very beginning decide they will not be part of the problem, but part of the solution. Be honest. Don’t cheat. You always know when you are cheating.
Second, never, never, never think that you are small. If you think that you are small, you will only have small dreams. Always recognize that you are big, loved by so many people, cherished by so many friends, nurtured and sustained in God’s creation. If you recognize that you are big, then you will dream big. You must face the problems that we have in this world with big dreams, dreams that they can be overcome, dreams that you have a place in overcoming them, dreams that come true with imagination, courage, patience, and much, much work.
Third, as early as now, as graduates of the Ateneo de Davao High School, wherever you go to college, whatever profession you take up, you must always have room and space in your lives for silence. There is a conspiracy in modern global life against silence. At parties, at the concerts, in the street fiestas, in the discos and bars, the music is played so loudly, the announcements so shrill, the laughter so boisterous, that all human communication is drowned out. Even in a quiet household, the TV must be blaring as the stereo cassette is playing as each stuffs his ears with earphones in order to hear the drum beats and the rapping inside an iPhone or MP3. The noise conspires against one’s communion with oneself. Against all this default noise, one must choose to build in some silence in one’s life: twenty, thirty minutes a day, so that one can re-call who one is, and what one is about, and what one’s personal calling and mission in life is. Without the silence, one is torn here and there, and life becomes insanely superficial. Silence is the necessary condition for depth. Gina Lopez says she cannot let one day pass without one hour of meditation.
Meanwhile, do not forget the secret Ateneo de Davao has shared with you. Many deny this secret, others ignore it, others use noise and wealth and power to conspire against it, to undermine it, to kill it.. But the secret is all-important and not to be forgotten! The secret is crucial and essential for success in a global world. The secret? There is a God. There is a God! And this God does anything but plot and scheme to keep his existence a secret. In history, he is a self-revealing God in the wonders of creation and the events of salvation history. As our readings say, he enters into agreements, covenants, with man and woman, saying he will be their God, if they would recognize him and allow themselves to be a source of blessings for others. In the new and everlasting covenant sealed by the blood of the Son of God, he would forgive their sins if they would accept his love manifested on a Cross. Amidst the computers and space ships and skyscrapers and celfons and iPods and iPads, there is a God, and this God loves you.
As there is a God, dear graduates, you must do all you can to come personally into contact with this God. In facing the problems of life, in facing the challenges of his confusing world, despite all the noise and distractions, find your way of coming into contact with this God, this loving God.
Finally, respect God’s creation. Do not kill the forests. Do not destroy the diversity of species God put into this world. Do not tear up the countryside for minerals; use the fields to plant your rice and grow your mangoes and mangosteen and durian. Preserve the fresh water in the rushing waterfalls, the flowing rivers, the tumbling streams; preserve it and for human drinking. Protect the dolphins, the whale sharks, the plankton, the corals in the sea. Do not fill the pristine waters with toxic waste, with heavy metals, with industrial debris. Do not destroy the ozone layer, pollute the air we breathe, fill our mornings “underneath the cloudless skies” with smog. Keep God’s creation a home for all of creation, for your generation and all generations to come, and not a hell because of some who have no shame.
You will have to pay a price. Anyone who meets these challenges with integrity, with self-respect, self-discipline, self-reliance, self-reflection, and in contact with God will have to pay a price. Anyone, who stands up and says, I am for the Kingdom of God, will pay a price, as Jesus did.
But this is what we expect of you as your graduate from high school. That you recognize Him who in your Graduation Gospel says: “Before Abraham came to be, I AM.” “I am, who am” – the God of your life, yesterday, today, now and forever. Pay the price.
To His high command your hearts bow.
And give thanks.
*[This homily is inspired by the address of Ms. Regina Paz Lopez, President of ABS-CBN Foundation, upon receiving the Doctorate in Humanities, honoris causa, from Ateneo de Naga University, 2011]