Rekindling the Call to Spirituality and Excellence

[Recollection to Faculty and Staff, Ateneo de Zamboanga University, 6/15/12]

It is a great privilege for me to be here for this recollection – part of the grand celebration of the Centennial of the Ateneo de Zamboanga University. I have been asked to speak on the topic, “Rekindling the Call to Spirituality and Excellence.” In fact, in the three year run-up to this celebration of 100 years of ADZU, you have already spent much time considering the challenges, in the first year, of Excellence, and in the second year, of Spirituality. So this will really be something like a re-collection, an Ignatian repetition – gathering together some of the points where you have – hopefully – already been challenged and moved – and opening yourself to their deepening in the Spirit.

This will also lay the groundwork for the thoughts that Fr. Jett Villarin will offer you tomorrow on Citizenship.

But already here, it would be good to stress this point. This is not a class. I do not come here as a lecturer; this is not a lesson whose content you must learn in its entirety. I am not a recollection “master”; for there is only one master in a recollection such as this – and that is the Lord. I come just to offer you certain points, from which you can pick and choose for reflection and prayer as they “speak” to you. As St. Ignatius said, for a recollection such as this, it is not a multitude of points that is important, but their ability to lead you to reflection and prayer. It is not some objective truth “out there” that is essential, but “truth essentially involving me… and God.”

What I would like to propose is to consider Spirituality as it may lead to Excellence. Spirituality may be considered either on a personal plane, or on an institutional plane. Similarly, excellence may be personal, or it may be inextricably linked with involvement in the spirited life of an institution.


“Spirituality” may be viewed in many different ways. I would like to propose spirituality as the “effective driver of my life.” It is “what makes me tick.”

Let me try to explain what I mean.

When one takes a microphone such as this and asks, “What is its most important part?” and one answers it’s the microphone head, or the carbon particles reacting to sound waves, or it’s the electric current running through wires, or it’s the microphone’s external amplifier, a philosopher like Hegel would call you a hopeless materialist, since you seek to explain reality in terms of its component material parts.

Or if one asks, “What is the most important part of a car?” and one answers the engine, or the steering wheel, or the brakes, or the four wheels, again Hegel would call you a hopeless materialist, since you seek to explain reality in terms of its component material parts.

For Hegel, the most important “part” of either the microphone or the car is not any of its component parts but the “idea” or “thought” that brings these parts together and subjects them to the “purposes” of the human being based on human “science” and “ingenuity.” It is not the material part that is essential, but the non-material idea, “the spirit” that makes the microphone or the car work. If “the spirit” determines the microphone to actually amplify my voice, it works well, and the microphone is good. If “the spirit” determines the car to actually transport me to Davao, and it does so, the car is good.

I submit one can think similarly of the human being. What makes a good human being? One could say “a strong heart,” or “healthy abs,” or “muscular limbs.” One could say it the person’s “beautiful face,” or the person’s “long and healthy hair.” One could say, a person is what he eats, or where he lives, or his access to a country club. All of these are component material parts of a human being’s body, or physically-bound activities that present only a materialistic account of a much more complex human reality. Human reality is more appropriately accounted for in terms of spirit that brings all those parts and activities together. Or, as I mentioned earlier, the “driver of one’s actual life,” or “what makes one tick.”

“What makes me tick” is one’s spirituality.

Clearly, there are many spiritualities, some more appropriate for the human person than others. Some are very superficial – for superficial lives. Some, rather deep, for lives lived more fully.

I once knew a woman who loved to sleep. If you would ask her what she likes to do in her free time, she would answer, “Sleep!” She blocked out the light from her bedroom windows, painted her windows black, and hung up heavy curtains, so that her days could be night, and she could sleep whatever the time of day. She loved the darkness and to escape the challenges of the light. She loved to sleep, and would plan for the long periods when she could sleep. Hers was a spirituality of sleep.

Then there are those whose spirituality is of glamor and fame. They dream about glamor, and yearn for fame. The TV is the source of their iconic ideals and values. They desire, sometimes consciously, many times but subliminally, to look, to feel, to talk, to dance, to emote and to live alike Bea Alonso or Coco Martin, like Sarah Geronimo or Piolo Pascual. They know what they look or sound like, but when they look in the mirror what they want to see is another Richard Gomez or what they want to hear is another Jessica Sanchez.

Of course there are those whose spirituality is of money. For them, the key dogma is: “Money, money, money makes the world go around…!” For them, money is a fetish: it is an object that brings a sexual high. It is an object that is adored as that which mediates all joys and happiness conceivable. The conviction is: the more the money, the more the happiness – even though, time and time again the falseness of this belief is exposed in painful experience. The fetish of money, however, does not respect experience, and disdains non-believers. The fetish mesmerizes, captivates, and nourishes its devotees with endless illusions.

For others, theirs is a spirituality of power. They don’t care much about money. They can be very frugal, or spend humungous sums on trifles. They can flaunt wealth or parade their poverty. They don’t care about money and comfort. But what they care passionately about is power: being able to determine the freedom of others, being able to command their obedience, to say “this,” and they do it, to say “that,” and they pursue it. Many politicians are like that; they are taskmasters in getting others to do as they will. In fact, some teachers are like that. They live to maneuver their colleagues to submission to their will; they live to convince students that without groveling to do their will there is no salvation for them.

On the other hand, there are those whose spirituality necessarily involves a personal relationship with God. God reveals himself in love; they respond in faith. Their spirituality then is a responding to God. For the Muslim, it is an ongoing response to the call of Allah. For the Christian it is an ongoing response to the call of the Father expressed in his incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. In our progressively more secularized society, theirs is a spirituality that acknowledges the presence of God in the world; this God in love calls them to worship and obedience through a community of believers.

For those whose spirituality is Christian, it is further marked by an option that may be referred to as Ignatian. This is because its main features are determined by the profound experiences Ignatius of Loyola had with God, wonderfully shared with us in his Spiritual Exercises. This involves various interrelated, mutually reinforcing realizations: I am blessed in being created in God’s creation. I am a sinner but wondrously forgiven. I am called to Jesus’ mission. Here, I am invited to an intimate relationship with Jesus. In this relationship, I know God present in my life and in my world. I am able to find God in all things.

In sum, on a personal level, spirituality is “what makes me tick.” In this sense, none of us are without a spirituality. In some cases, one’s spirituality is a profound manifestation of one’s deep interiority. In other cases, it is a superficial mockery of human depth. In a recollection like this on spirituality, we are invited to recognize what our personal spirituality is, and to check of any possible disconnect between whom I am in truth and what in fact makes me tick.


I would like to propose that parallel to personal spirituality is institutional spirituality. As individuals can ask “what makes me tick,” so too institutions may ask what make them tick. For some it is a spirit of maximized institutional profit. For others it is a spirit of driving competition to be distinguished in a highly competitive world. For yet others it is a combination of institutional profit combined with social responsibility. As we celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Ateneo de Zamboanga University, it is only appropriate for us to ask: what makes AdZU tick? What is the spirituality of ADZU?

The profoundest expression of ADZU’s spiritualty is in its Vision and Mission Statement. And one of the profoundest things that one can do in celebration of ADZU’s Centennial is to re-visit this Vision and Mission, and to evaluate the extent to which my personal spirituality is intermeshed with the spirituality of the ADZU. For ADZU endures never as an institution abstracted from its people. It endures in its people ever appropriating its mission as their own. Without this people-appropriation, the ADZU Vision and Mission are just empty words. It is the complement of people who make the ADZU Vision and Mission their own that defines at any point in history the level of its greatness.

Hence, “The Ateneo de Zamboanga University is an educational community forming Men and Women of God, Men and Women for Others and serving as an agent of change in bringing about peace and development in the city, the region, and the nation.”

It is not just a business. It is not just about accumulating financial resources in banks. It is not just about survey rankings based of criteria like “name recall” that have nothing to do with its institutional soul.

It is a university. GC 34 defined the Jesuit University first as a university. This was in the original sense of “universitas scholarum et magistrorum.” Here, prior to anything that CHED now defines as minimum criteria for universities, is a criterion lost on many. “Universitas” here simply means “community.” Originally, the universities were simply communities of scholars and teachers who had come together in academic freedom in pursuit of truth. They were communities of learners and teachers pursuing truth against the confining ideologies of the monarchies and the restrictive dogmatisms of religions. They were communities in pursuit of truth, both theoretical and practical, in academic freedom.

“Forming men and women of God.” Every word calls for reflection. “Forming…” In this sense, communicating knowledge, instilling professional skills, and forming freedom. This is “the stuff” of our university, the most challenging of which may be in the apparent oxymoron, “forming freedom.” The graduates of this university are free; they do make their choices freely. But, we pray, as influenced and “formed” by this university.

Forming “men and women.” We are forming good human beings. A good computer is a computer “that works” A good car is a car “that works” What is the good human being that we are producing at ADZU “that works.” The human being learns… He or she loves… He or she takes responsibility for other human beings in freedom… He or she obeys God in faith. How do we form human beings that work?

Forming men and women “of God”. How do we do this in our increasingly secularized world? What kind of pedagogy do we use? What is the shape of our cura personalis here?

We speak of ourselves at ADZU as an “agent of change” towards “peace” and development”. The truth that we pursue in the universitas scholarum et magistrorum demands the change, and that we act together for change. The truth we perceive of violence and war demands peace. The truth we see of perennial poverty and human suffering demand development. We recall the insight of Pope John Paul VI in Populorum Progresio when he said, “Development is the other word for peace.”

Our mission statement is also part of our institutional spirituality. Normally, the vision statement expresses the perennial identity of the institution, while the mission expresses the historical challenges it is currently addressing. It is the institution’s work in progress, true but not yet.

Hence: “The Ateneo de Zamboanga University believes that education is a process of formation that develops in the person the knowledge, skills, and orientation needed for a life of dedicated service. The university also believes that its institutional responsibility includes working for peace and progress particularly in Western Mindanao.”

This is our ongoing work in progress. The challenge to which we are invited to respond in a spirit of magis. Here the ADZU commits itself:

“as a Filipino University – to deepen appreciation for our country’s rich cultural and historical heritage and to help enhance the country’s participation in an emerging global society;

“as a Catholic University – to foster Christ-like values so that they may govern every aspect of the life of the community and of the people it serves while engaging in a dialogue of life with others of different religious convictions or cultural traditions;

“as a Jesuit University – to instill in all who share its life St. Ignatius of Loyola’s spirit of humble service to God’s people and to continue a tradition of academic excellence animated by a faith that does justice.”

As a Filipino university we find our university in encountering other peoples and cultures. As a Catholic University we proceed “ex corde ecclesiae” – from the heart of the Church – where there can be no contradiction between faith and reason, or between faith and science. As a Jesuit university, we live from the depths of Ignatian spirituality and appropriate as our own the mission of the Society of Jesus: the service of the faith, the promotion of justice, sensitivity to culture and cultures, inter-religious dialogue, and a passion for the conservation and preservation of the environment – all at the frontiers of evangelization today.

This is our institutional spirituality.


I propose that our personal or institutional spirituality may lead us to excellence. Again, this is material for reflection.

Jesus said, “I have come to bring life, and to bring it to the full’ (Jn 6:10).

He said this also against all the manifestations of life that are truncated, abstract, corrupted, un-whole , dis-integrated.

In this context, the magis – which we are invited to nurture – is a call to a more meaningful life, a fuller life, through depth in knowledge and imagination.

The magis, more profoundly, is a call to distinguish oneself in the following of Christ (cf. Meditation on the Kingdom, SpEx), which necessdarily inviolves a greater graced participation in the Paschal Mystery – the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord.

The magis may therefore be calling us as teachers to share life in the fullness of its meaning through teaching and formation.

Considering our products, I believe there is much room in all of our Ateneos for improvement here.

Unto this end, we may all ask: What is my personal spirituality, how does it relate to our institutional spirituality, and how does it lead me to greater excellence?

On this Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we end with great hope:

…because there are people like yourselves who dedicate their lives to teaching and formation;

…because people continue to need you;

…because in his Sacred Heart, Jesus continues to love you and to call you to his service;

…and because through your graced commitment institutions like the ADZU can endure.

I wish you all a happy Centennial Celebration of the Ateneo de Zamboanga University.

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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