[Homily: Baccalaureate Mass for ADDU Law and Graduate School]
In every baccalaureate Mass, there is an element of thanksgiving and an element of challenge.
First of all, we are very grateful for the higher degrees that we celebrate today. Education is a valued good in the Philippines. The higher the educational achievement, the more it is honored. For many, the pinnacle of their educational life is the college degree. Today we celebrate those who have achieved even higher, graduate degrees: 34 bachelors of law, 31 masters, and 8 doctors in various disciplines. Academic degrees beyond college are achieved often despite great difficulty in managing funding, work relations, and human relations. Seldom does one achieve higher degrees through the free sponsorship of a generous mother or solicitous father on this level. Therefore the sense of gratitude. It is gratitude for that which need never have been. It is thankfulness for family and friends, for classmates and batch-mates, for funding institutions, foundations, and individual benefactors who have genuinely supported higher education to this happy commencement. It is deep gratitude for individual persons, servants of the truth, who have made higher education a substantial part of their lives. It is loving gratitude for husbands or wives, children or friends, who have set aside their personal needs in order to allow their loved one to finish a higher degree.
We celebrate in gratitude. But we also celebrate in petition for God’s grace for our future lives. Many from this group will be preparing for the rigors of the bar; others will return to the intensity of their academic or professional careers; some will be in the private sector, others in the public sector. Wherever you will be, whatever you will be doing, we beg for God’s blessings on you.
For as graduates of higher education you face many challenges. Unfortunately, ours is not an easy world; it is replete with contradictions: awesome wealth vs. debilitating poverty; powerful technology vs human helplessness; endemic religiosity vs. militant secularization. Journeying though it is fraught with untold dangers and pitfalls. In the midst of this world, our readings from the Acts of the Apostles recommend that we reflect on the early Christian communities. Theirs too were communities in the midst of rejection, ridicule, wars, violence, colonialization, idolatry, alienation from God. It is against this backdrop that we are invited to recall:
“…the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers” (Acts, 9:31).
Earlier in Acts, the early Christian community was described in this manner:
“Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of the people. Day by day, the Lord added to their numbers those who were being saved” (Acts 2: 43-47).
The members of the Early Church needed to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, even as the Lord manifest his presence and confirmed their preaching through ‘signs” of healing and liberation of people from evil. The sick were cured; the dead were raised to life; the demons were cast out. With the early life of the Church however came persecution. The Good News necessarily encountered opposition and violence. The apostles were cast into prison. They were flogged (Acts 5: 17ff). Stephen was stoned to death (Acts 7:54-60). As Christ was put to death. But in their persecution and martyrdom, the young Christian Church grew through God’s power in strength and numbers.
The challenge to you coming from the Acts of the Apostles as superior graduates of higher education may be a discreet invitation to take personal responsibility for the Church of Jesus Christ today. The Power and Spirit that drove the early Christian community are certainly still there. After all, Jesus said, “I will be with you all days until the end of time” (Mt. 28:20b). Somehow, however, we seem to have lost touch with that Spirit and are numb to that Power. The fascination with new technology, the mesmerizing messages of mass media, the alluring promises of the Universe of comfort, wealth and style, draw away from the life of the Christian community. Worse, a series of scandals sullying the personal records and reputations of the Church’s “witnesses” to Jesus Christ, tend, sadly, to cloud its sacred message.
In his sacred Word at this Eucharist, he may be asking you to use your higher learning to serve the Christian community in the modern world – that means here in Davao and in Mindanao. Or, use your higher learning to serve the Religious Community that can lead all “to God (Allah) the Most Great, Mightier than all his creation.” Use your higher learning to help recover the sense of wonder and awe in the presence of the Divine, or to overcome the superficiality of our way of living and dying to rediscover the depth of God’s way of dying. And living.
That only recalls Jesus’ own definition of his purpose: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10). Jesus is about a profound realization of human life, lived not in poverty, not in violence, not in deprivation, not in prejudice, not in wars, not in ignorance, but lived to the full. That is a life lived not only by some but by all. This may be the second challenge that the Lord is giving you in today’s reading. As superior graduates of higher education, take responsibility for realizing “life to the full” not only for some, but emphatically “for all.” Take responsibility for the common good. I say this to you who are expert in development, in education, in the human sciences, in the natural sciences, in governance, in social research, in philosophy, theology and pastoral care, take responsibility not only for the good of some; take responsibility for the shared good of all. I say this especially to you who have labored to become the servants of the law. The law is not about the good of some; the law is about the good of all. You must take special responsibility for the shared good of all, serving laws not blindly, but serving humanity through law with eyes wide open, crafting good laws to replace bad laws, advocating laws that serve social justice and not only the interests of those who can pay large fees because they are violators of justice.
In pursuing the common good, it is very important that you ponder the Gospel for today, which seems to bring anything but Good News. Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.. I am the living bread that comes down from heaven. Whoever eats of this flesh will live forever; the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. … Unless you eat the flesh of the son and Man and drink his blood you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day; for my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in my, and I in them” (Cf John 6:47-56). For the believer in Jesus Christ who came to bring life and to bring it to the full, there is no common good, there is no social justice unless it is based on the life and the imperatives that he brings. Till today, even and especially for challenges related to social justice, he says, “I am the Bread of Life. – I am the Bread of Life-to-the-full.” Eat me. Drink me. Interiorize me. Speak me. Live …me.
At that point, many of his disciples, wagging their heads, deserted Jesus. Sad news. The Good News is, some disciples remained faithful. The question is: as superior graduates of higher education, where will you be when you are challenged by social justice and the common good?
Let’s pray that you be among those who accept Jesus as the Bread of life-to-the-full. That this Bread nourish you in your faith and in your work for social justice and the common good – no matter the cost in persecution or in suffering. Let’s pray that in your personal following of Jesus Christ you achieve your life to the full – and find there your deepest joy!