Emmanuel: God is with Us

(Homily: Mass at Advent Gathering of the ADDU Community)

We should consider ourselves blessed to be able to come together this afternoon.

In many other communities not far from here, violent winds and raging waters have not only swept homes and meeting places away. They have swept people away – hurting them, killing them, not respecting persons, women and men, lolos and lolas, children and infants. In places where communities once thrived, and joyful people came together at Christmas time in gatherings such as this, Nature did its thing – not Nature the Calm, the Beautiful, the Refreshing, but Nature the Violent, the Powerful, the Destructive. Where once whole barangays thrived, whole barangays have been swept away. In their place today the eeriness of empty fields, or the harsh presence of rocks and boulders: it is as if a capricious force had turned living people into dead stones.

We are blessed that we are here. Too often we take life for granted. We human beings think that all in our polis is ordered, aided by the power of our rationality, and the strength of our science. We think we have subdued the earth successfully, so that nothing untoward happens without our fiat. In fact, in our accumulated power we think we can violate this defenseless nature, fell its mighty trees, burrow through its belly in pursuit of hidden treasures, and damage its atmosphere with deadly emissions. Now, we realize anew, that Nature asserts itself according to its own laws still largely un-mastered by our minds, not to punish – for Nature does not judge! – but simply to be itself. In sober response, we are reminded, nothing happens without the fiat of Nature. No life projects are fulfilled, no corporate designs succeed, no national purposes achieved without the fiat of Nature.

Sure, companies may revel in the instant wealth that comes from the intrusion of small minds into nature. But Nature will be itself. One religious sister in Compostela said, “We thought we would be protected from the raging winds by the guardian hills.” But smart people had deprived the hills of their protective trees – the giant, nameless, majestic trees that had once covered the hills with an absorptive living carpet of green. So, when the storm struck, from the hills came not protection but destruction. Waters of life, under conditions wrought by the folly of men, had become floods of devastation and death.

Small people had thought that in toil and persistence the dark, narrow tunnels would yield for them deliverance from poverty in ores of gold; big people with man-made power had thought that their fortunes could be enhanced by exploiting the small miners’ hunger, hopes and illegality, withholding from them legitimacy and technology that would have better respected Nature and human community. But both groups disrespected Nature. In grounds that could no longer drink in the deluge, Nature asserted itself according to its own laws. The earth shifted, pieces of earth slid down destabilized slopes; tunnels supported by dismembered pieces of the hills’ trees, gave way; vacuums were filled with mud mindless of the human flesh and the human spirits there. Tunnels of life, became tunnels of death. Tunnels of exploitation became tunnels of shame. To date, the truth of these mines is still shrouded in silence, not only the silence of death, but the enforced silence of those who fear the truth.

We have to consider ourselves blessed, I think, that our lives are not defined by the harsh reality of deadly mines, even though we sometimes mindlessly celebrate our love, our vanity, and even our worship in gold that comes from these mines. We have to consider ourselves blessed that we live in our City, the fastest growing City in the Philippines, far from the hills that people from this City have denuded. Well, relatively far, since many of us have relatives there, and for many of us people there are not just ciphers in statistics, but friends with once glistening eyes and memorable smiles. We have to consider ourselves blessed that we enjoy a prosperity that cannot be separated from sins of the past, passed down into sins of the present, passed into the fabric of our lives together. We must consider that if there is something like a collective guilt, like a sticky mud that covers us all, there is also something like a collective responsibility to heal the suffering, to correct the wrongs, and to build our City into a community of genuine human communion not divorced from but in love with Nature, not divorced from but in love with people, that – with the help of the author of Nature – frees us from the mud.

Perhaps, in no other time in our personal memory do we feel more the need of a Messiah, the need of the Savior in the manger.

We come together this afternoon in collective acknowledgement of that truth. We need a Savior. Other institutions have given up their Christmas celebrations in deference to the suffering and death that Typhoon Pablo has wrought. They have converted Christmas merrymaking into gifts of compassion. We have also done that in a manner of speaking, converting our planned banquet into todays simple merienda. But we have also felt the need to come together as the community we are in acknowledgement of truth – the truth of Advent. Together, we await a Messiah, we await one who can free us from the mud that keeps us mired in our insensitivity, disrespect and lack of community.

We also celebrate ourselves related to God. That is ultimately the core truth of Christmas: “Emmanuel: God is with us” (Is. 7:14). God is with us as we labor to be this Jesuit, Catholic and Filipino university together, as we labor to communicate the truth in instruction, or to discover it in research, or to share of it in reaching out to sisters and brothers in our larger human community who are in need. God is with us telling us of the deepest truth of ourselves, encouraging us to discover this ever deeper in our prayer and research, and to share of it in our service of others. God is with us as we reach out in gratitude to each other, seeing not deans nor administrative assistants nor ranked faculty nor students nor agency workers nor Jesuits nor lay, but a community of vulnerable human beings called by God in many diverse ways to perform the service of this university community. It is a challenge and a task larger than life. If it functions, if it functions well, it is not because of any one administrator, nor of any one labor leader, nor of any one genial faculty member. It is rather because we know, “God is with us.” Each of us touch each other in God touching us. That is our insight. That is our faith. Once we know that, we know nothing can be the same.

There are many achievements that we can celebrate at this Mass as we acknowledge our community touched by God-with-us. We will not even attempt to begin to list them. But at this time of graced togetherness, in praise of God with us, we wish to acknowledge that even as Pag-asa failed to warn people of the true strength of this storm, UCEAC’s Meong Cabarde and tireless volunteers of students, faculty and staff members and administrators, were already putting together relief goods. Even before the violent winds of Pablo made landfall into Baganga, Gail Ilagan and her COPERS team were giving life-saving advice to the military on how to encourage people to evacuate. From Day One of the storm, the ADDU relief teams were distributing whatever relief they could to help whomever they could. On Day One, the COPERS team was already in Davao Oriental, then considered cut off and unreachable, doing trauma debriefing, helping people to recover the powers they needed to pick up, rebuild and move on. The need of course was far greater than what our teams could bring, and the need for spiritual help far deeper than what could be delivered. But instead of giving up in despair, the ADDU teams continued helping. From relatives and friends, here and abroad, from the other Ateneos, even from Fr. General in Rome, they allowed themselves to be helped to continue helping. In this spirit, units gave up their Christmas parties to help; more than PHP 300,000 earmarked for this Christmas celebration was re-dedicated to relief. Every day from Day One, missions of relief were sent out from ADDU to communities in need. As of two days ago, we had packed and distributed 10,143 relief bags, reached 34 communities in the provinces of ComVal, Davao Oriental and Agusan del Sur. We brought relief help to the municipalities of Nabunturan, Compostela, New Bataan, Monkayo, Montevista, Baganga, Cateel, Boston, Veruela, and Sta. Josefa. Through COPERS, we did psychosocial debriefing in Baganga, Cateel, Monkayo, New Bataan and Compostela. Through our School of Nursing, we conducted a medical mission in Banganga, and through our Center for Renewable Energy and Appropriate Technology, we took our solar panels from the roof of the Finster Building and metamorphosed them into charging stations for Compostela, New Bataan, Monkayo, Cateel, Baganga, Lambuhon, Manay and Caraga.

The packing and repacking continues in the covered court of the Jacinto Annex. And the relief missions will continue throughout the holidays, with only Christmas eve as a break. Thank you – faculty members, administrators, staff and students – for being part of it!

We thank God for bringing us together. We come together not in pride, nor in triumphalism, but in deepest humility. Not understanding the meanness of winds that can rip a mother’s child from her arms, not understanding the horror of people swept by killer flash flood to their deaths, not understanding the bereavement of youths suddenly bereft of parents, brothers and sisters, teachers and friends, not understanding the reason why human beings can be responsible for environmental destruction and still find respectability in society, not understanding why we are here in relative health, able to assist and not needing to be assisted, we thank God for bringing us together. Together we acknowledge the great Advent truth, “We await a Savior.” Together, we acknowledge the great Christmas truth: God is Emmanuel. Deep down, in the silence of our hearts, we know that. He is with us.

And we are grateful.

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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