On the Call of the Rogationist School in the Philippines Today

[Address to Rogationist Educators, Rogationist College, Silang, Cavite, 15 Feb., 2014]

It is an honor for me to be invited to participate in your quest to more deeply understand the mission implications of your religious charism.  It is a beautiful charism:  fundamentally, to pray and to serve.  Its roots are in the remarkable life of St. Hannibal Mary di Francia.[1]  He was born to nobility, but even as a child recognized nobility precociously in a hapless poor person victimized by his schoolmates’ cruelty and meanness, to whom he brought a basket of food and drink in humble yet courageous kindness.  He was later ordained and educated, but followed a blind person to the darkness and desolation of the poor community of Avignone, where he found life-changing light.  That light was insight into his calling.  Confronting the “wretched promiscuity amidst misery, filth, confusion, ignorance, material and moral disorder of the worst kind,” he knew, as he himself later wrote,  Avignone  “was really a place where a lot of work of Jesus had to be done” (SB,9).

From Avignone to the Rogationist Charism

He made Avignone the center of his charitable work, including and emphatically  “his concern for the little ones and the poor, especially the neglected orphans, spread out all over Italy and now, to the rest of the world” (SB, 9).  There he experienced personally what Jesus in the Gospel had said, “Whatsoever you do [or do not do] to one of these the least of my sisters and brothers, that you do [or do not do] to me!” (Mt. 25:40).  In the poor, St. Hannibal experienced Jesus.  He experienced Jesus suffering.  But also Jesus’ compassion not just for an Avignone but for a world filled with the poor, the suffering, the excluded, the unattended, the unserved, the neglected.  That was a compassion that originated from deep within his Sacred Heart, and moved him to his remarkable mandate for all: “Pray (“Rogate”) the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his vineyard” (Mt. 9:39).   Pray the Lord send more priests into the midst of this suffering humanity, men who would sacrifice themselves to care for the orphaned, the sick, the ignorant, the elderly, the forlorn.  Pray that there would be priests who would proclaim the Good News of the Father’s love not only through the polished words of a homily, nor only through the subtle concepts of a theology, but through the service of pastors who practiced what they preached, who walked their talk, whose love was translated into deeds and achievements in service of the poor.  It was in this sense that the charism of Hannibal’s Rogationists of the Sacred Heart was not only of service of the poor, but of deep prayer that the poor be served more through priestly vocations.  But it was such a prayer that required that those who pray it dedicate themselves more to this service.  If they pray for others to be sent to reap the Lord’s harvest, they themselves must dedicate themselves to that service. “If we pray for good workers,” St. Hannibal said to his religious, “we must be and work like zealous workers ourselves…” (SB, 16).

Therein I think is the special genius of the Rogationist charism:  it is not just a conceptual dialectic between prayer and service, similar to the dialectic between theory and praxis, which may be realized or not realized. It is a charism born of a deep personal experience of the redeeming Lord praying in concerned compassion for his flock, a prayer that motivates discipleship in this prayer, and itself conditions the imperative to service of this flock in love.  It is St. Hannibal’s personal experience of Jesus’ compassion that has made all the difference in the Rogationist’s own prayer and service.

Need to Return to the Founding Experience of Jesus’ Prayer

A communal effort today to renew the Rogationist congregation or the Rogationist family with its cohorts of lay collaborators, supporters and benefactors, in its charism must return necessarily to the founding experience of Jesus praying for his flock in genuine concern, and all that this prayer entailed.  He taught this flock of the Kingdom of God, and was rejected by those who preferred a kingdom of religious rules and rituals;  he taught the flock of the necessity to put God’s Kingdom first in all aspects of lived human culture, and was rejected by those who preferred to put mammon first in all things;  he taught the flock of the joys of a Kingdom of Love and Peace, and was rejected by those who preferred governance by power, violence and war.  He taught the flock who would not learn, and taught the flock who would not hear, and taught the flock who would not obey, and accepting the flock more deeply than their rejection, and loving it more passionately that their indifference, he prayed the Lord to the Harvest to send laborers into his vineyard.  It was a prayer of compassion for the flock that he knew would force him to his Passion; it was a prayer for co-workers in teaching Life whom he knew would have to share his lot in death.  “Did you not know,” Paul asked, “that through your baptism you are baptized in the suffering and death of Christ” (Rom. 6:3).  It is only in this shared death that there is Resurrection and Redemption.

Without this return to the experience of Jesus praying in compassion for his flock, and yourselves praying in compassion for the same flock, with your own hearts beating in resonance with the loving heart of Jesus, your efforts at improving your formation system will lose their formative fire, your efforts at improving your governance system will lose their renewing power, your efforts at improving your service institutions will lose their effectivity in charity, and your efforts to improve your educational service will lose their ability to open the educators’ heart to the crying needs of the flock today in education.  Outside of this experience of Jesus’ love for the flock unto death, your education will be abstract, disjoined from the needs of the flock, unable to comprehend the persons whom you teach, having no sympathy with their suffering, and no ability to lead them to fulfillment and joy.  There would be no desire to “relaunch” the Rogationist mission, there would be no “educational emergency,”[2] there would be no sensitivity to a “dawn of a new humanity” that could also be its dark night.  For the flock for which Jesus prays today has filled mammoth computer servers with endless knowledge, which penetrates to the farthest reaches of the galaxies and peers into the secret burlesques of celfon memories, but has lost its wisdom.  The flock that prides itself in rationality and autonomy, has lost its sense of meaning.

But with the return to this founding experience we can expect a renewing relaunch of the Rogationist mission to attune it more vibrantly to the signs of the times.  We can expect that its sensitivity to the “educational emergency” shall allow it to discover ways of delivering education that are sensitive to the learning conditions within local and global societies today and creative in its manner of delivery.  We can expect a response that is truly sensitive to the confused situation of the human flock today.  This assumed, allow me simply to articulate challenges that I think all Catholic education in the Philippines[3] must assume on its various levels:

The Desolation and Anguish of Lost Meaning

First, we must address the question of desolation and anguish of lost meaning that we perceive in contemporary Philippine life.  This is a situation that Pope Francis described generally for all of humankind in his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium:  “The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ” (EG, 2).  It is a situation with which we must deal in the communities of our schools:  compelling consumerism, desolation and anguish, complacency jarringly coupled with covetousness, feverish pursuit jarringly coupled with frivolous pleasures, conscience jarringly described by the adjective “blunted,” interior life alienated by self-interest and personal concerns, the elimination of the poor and the other from interior concerns, the inattention to God’s voice, the self-elimination from feeling and savoring the joy and love of God.  Francis has described a sad world, trapped in its own contradictions, unable to move on from a debilitating rut.

This is why I think the return to the founding Rogationist experience of Jesus praying for his flock, asking the Lord of the Harvest to send laborers into his field, is so urgent.  This is not a situation where our teachers discover problems with students, then solve their problems.  It is not a situation where Rogationists perceive problems in lay-teachers, then fix the problems.  It is a situation where the educational community experiences Jesus prayer not just for a distant flock, but for itself as part of his flock, all beset – teachers, students, administrators, and staff alike – by the anguish and desolation of people in today’s world sickened by consumerism.  In praying with Jesus for the flock, that good laborers be sent into the harvest, the community grasps it is really praying for itself in its own loss of joy due to a creeping personal alienation from Jesus, in itself being possessed by the daemons of consumerism.  This consumerism has so skewed personal values and pedagogical methods, that while we think we are teaching the Good News of Jesus Christ, we are actually teaching the good news of the latest tablets and celfons; while we think we are forming people for the common good, we are actually forming them for private interest; while we think we are liberating them from hunger and need, we are actually awakening more hunger and more need by committing them to an economy that intoxicates, enslaves and excludes.  For what indeed is the operative concept of the “successful” student, the “successful” alumni/ae, and therefore of the “successful” teacher that plays such a significant role in teaching and forming students?  Do we not rejoice when our former students get a good job which pays big, or are elected to a government position, or are able to start up a thriving business in the market?  But is this what Rogationist education is about – jobs, political positions, profitable businesses?  Is this not rather the malaise of human society which forces even the resurrected Jesus today still to pray for his flock?  Is this not the sadness in society which forces even ourselves to prayer? In my view, the problem of desolation, confusion and anguish in society is at core a problem of faith not only as professed but as lived – or not lived.  In whom do we believe truly?  Do we believe in Jesus as the source of our joy, or in Apple, Sony, Samsung or Nokia?   Is it concern for our neighbor that talks to our hearts, or fascination with the latest of gadgets or accessories that somehow leave us empty, even when we acquire them?  This challenges our educational communities not only in the academic outcomes they ambition for their students, but in the lived faith of the teachers and administrators, who today are only credible and convincing if they themselves are persons of lived faith.  So where are we educators in terms of being possessed by the daemons of consumption?  What are the values which we witness to in the manner in which we regard “things” – including our own computers, cars, clothes, and fashionable accessories?  What are the successes that we tend to praise and urge our students to emulate among our alumni/ae?

From Jesus’ Prayer to the Common Good

The second big area which education in the Philippines must address is:  the challenge to the common good.  St. Hannibal’s encounter with the poor of Avignone motivated him himself to care for particular orphans, to provide them food and shelter, and to worry about their welfare even when the world quaked and shook their orphanages to ruin.  But in the rogate prayer, where his heart was formed by the Lord praying for the entire flock, his apostolic zeal was not exhausted by the service of just some poor children, but transitioned to concern for the entire flock of humanity.  His love was shaped not only by alleviating the hunger of individual children, but by Jesus’ heart confronting the need of society itself for a solution to the problem of poverty as such.  For why should there be some who have so copiously, while there are others who are deprived so cruelly?  Why should some be earning enough for multiple houses and lavish yachts and personal jets, while others are hungry, homeless and naked?  Why should some have so much terrible power over the lives of people, while others are utterly powerless and helpless?   St. Hannibal’s love could not be exhausted by particular acts of kindness, but needed in Jesus’ heart to extend to love for humankind.  For in the prayer of the rogate, he knows Jesus does not love individuals in isolation from others, but individuals as belonging to the flock of humanity.  His prayer for the particular good of one was at one and the same time a prayer for the common good of all.

While the social doctrine of the Church underscores the importance of the common good, I believe it is an area that has been neglected by Catholic education in general, and especially by Catholic education in the Philippines in particular.  We tend to join the bandwagon of education in the Philippines and educate for a job.  While this is certainly not bad from the viewpoint of needing to educate to help individual students pull their families out of poverty, do we not neglect to cultivate a parallel sensitivity for the common good?  While we encourage our students to work hard so that they can help their brothers and sisters in their particular families, do we not neglect to sensitize them to the need of working for the good of the human family?

This is certainly not an easy challenge.  Its difficulty may be part of the reason why it has been widely neglected in our schools.  It is not easy balancing the claims of the industrialist to serve the common good versus the claims of the environmentalist.  Some argue higher taxes are better for the common good, others plead for lower taxes.  Some think large scale mining in the Philippines serves the interests of the common good, others reject all mining and advocate ecotourism as most conducive for the common good.  One man’s convictions about the common good may clash with another man’s convictions.  Your schools’ convictions and advocacy for the common good may clash with the private convictions and interests of among your most generous benefactors. Indeed, in advocacy for the common good, wars have been ignited and fought.  The difficulty in finding the common good, however, ought not intimidate us in Catholic education from searching for it and insisting on it.  Pope Francis, kind and amiable as he is, powerfully advocates the common good in saying, “No to an economy that excludes!” and “No!” to an economy that worships money rather than serve the common good, that forces the human community to serve the financial system rather than the financial system serve humanity.[4]  Indeed, the search for the truth of the common good belongs eminently to Catholic higher educational institutions missioned to the search for truth; it is motivated by Jesus who declared himself to be “the Way, the Life and the Truth” (Jn 14:6) and who walked his talk in dying for it. From the educational halls that find special inspiration in the same Jesus who prayed the Lord of the Harvest to send more laborers to harvest the good for the whole flock that he loved, the common good must be an abiding concern.

Dialogue and the Quest for Peace

This leads us to another urgent challenge for schools in the Philippines:  the need for our schools to work for peace, and so to engage proactively in dialogue for peace.  We are a democracy ruled by a majority, but this does not mean that the majority does not have a debt to pay in social justice to minorities.  These minorities include the Muslim and indigenous peoples of our country.  The quest for peace, therefore, is the concern not only of these minority peoples in our country; it is the yearning of the entire Filipino people – which includes Christians, Muslims, Indigenous Peoples, rich and poor, tillers of the soil and urban poor dwellers, educated and uneducated – for the common weal, the common good, under which all can live in harmony with one another and flourish in celebrated diversity.  This quest must include the ability to better understand and accept one another in cultural and religious diversity.  This quest must begin in all our Catholic schools.  As we educate and form our students in their religious Catholic identity, based on their personal encounter with the love of Father through the Spirit in Jesus Christ, so must we also educate them through this identity to openness to the way other peoples, religions and cultures find and worship God.  This is true in the Philippines especially for the Muslim faith: we must respect and understand how our Muslims find and worship God in the nuances of their various receptions of Islam.  We must rejoice in the way God leads diverse peoples to himself, and through the ardor of their faith find greater ardor in our own faith.

As ongoing peace processes in the Philippines unfold, including the peace process between our government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and between our government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), it is urgent that our schools mediate a deeper understanding of reasons in history why the problems between our Filipino peoples emerged, what their causes were conditioned by the interventions on our soil of foreign powers, and what the effects on the people of Mindanao were of the migrations of Filipinos from the north.  These varying narratives shall not be without contentiousness.  But the schools must play their role in articulating them, evaluating them, and participating in a national conversation that shall hopefully develop into a national consensus of peace.

While only the most theologically qualified of our schools may be able to enter into a dialogue of diverse theologies between our faiths, our Catholic schools may help significantly, whenever conditions allow, in bringing about a dialogue of life between and among persons of differing faiths.  These would involve friendships between Christians and Muslims where life is shared “in season and out of season.”  The dialogue of life may condition a dialogue of cooperation based on advocacy for shared concerns:  better education for all, including better education in Catholic schools and in Muslim madaris,[5] better programs for livelihood for all, better conditions for shared humane living in an environment preserved in shared advocacy for all.

Engagement for the Environment

That brings me to another urgent point.  As we experience the fatal ferocity of such as Typhoons Yolanda and Pablo in our country, the extreme freezing temperatures of the polar vortex in North America, and the scorching temperatures of the heat wave that plagued tennis athletes in Australia, our schools must take greater responsibility in caring for the environment.  This is especially so as we learn from scientists that these changes in climate are with highest probability caused by actions originating from humankind.  The protection of the environment for our present generation and future generations to come is no longer merely an option; it has become an imperative.  In the name of the Creator who made our rivers and streams, mountains and valleys, forests and oceans for all, in the name of the common good, our schools must shape the minds and consciences of our students today towards greater environmental responsibility.  This, of course, starts with forming in the student an awareness that the environment is to be respected the gift of the Creator for all; it is to be enjoyed not destroyed, cared for, not polluted, respected not taken for granted, preserved not destroyed.  It may be formed by awakening students to the wonder of the seed that grows into a tree, by making them sensitive to the reproductive cycles of insects, or by giving them insight into the geological history of the mountains and valleys they see.  It may be formed by walking them though a forest and disclosing to them the wonders it contains, or by teaching them of the habits of migratory birds, or by alerting them to the heavy smog that so often looms over Metro Manila.  I am sure that in your schools, which are very close to nature, your students have many first-hand experiences of nature other students are deprived of.  Perhaps from your schools should come the needed pedagogies to sensitize especially our urban students to the wonders of nature.  Perhaps you can help urban students, fixated on tablet screens and but digital images, to come to experience through special workshops how rice or corn grow in the Philippines – and how these could be endangered by a ravenous western economy.

Not all is well in the world of Philippine agriculture.  It is also through our schools that we should alert our students, our farmers and our lawmakers to some of the ill effects of genetically modified rice and corn on our environment, and how these man-made modifications shall eventually alienate our Philippine farmers from the land on which they till.  It is through our schools that we should teach the future leaders of our agro-industries of the deleterious effects of such as large-scale monocrop farming of palm oil on the environment.  It is through our Catholic schools that we must insist that the environment is God’s gift for all, not just for the further exploitation of the developed world, and that multi-billion investments of foreigners that bring high profits for some and large revenues for government, but destroy the environment are immoral and need to be rejected.

Challenge to Form Christian Leaders

“Pray the Lord of the Harvest that he send laborers into his vineyard.”  The prayer is, of course, that the Rogationist schools may participate in qualifying young women and men to work in the Lord’s vineyard.  If the grapes and the vines of the vineyard are precious, the laborers sent into them must know enough not to harm the vines; they must not only be knowledgeable but skilled in harvesting the fruits of the vineyard.  There must be skilled laborers, but also strong leaders formed to make sure that the fruits of the harvest are not stolen by robbers and thieves, but used for the care of the entire flock.  In this context among the greater challenges to the Rogationist schools is to form Christian leaders.

I would like to suggest that the formation of the Christian leader cannot stop with “leadership training” sessions aimed at instilling “leadership skills” in the students.  Skills such as public speaking, argumentative writing, debate, organizational skills, and the like, cannot be neglected. A leader is handicapped who stands up and cannot handle him- or herself competently in the language he or she may be using.  A leader is disadvantaged if he or she has no “people skills,” no ability to make others feel welcome and important, and inspire them to performance.  These are all important.  But they are without ultimate worth in our context if they are used to injure the flock.  Unfortunately in the Philippines, some of the rogue leaders of the country are products of Catholic schools.  They are champions of private interest, or, unfortunately, even promoters of corruption. Taking note of this, the Catholic and Rogationist school must form Christian leaders today who shall be ready to promote the values and goals we have discussed:  the meaningful life based on the Gospel, the common good, dialogue in the quest for shared peace, and the protection of the environment.  In the flood of consumer goods that inundate humanity today, they must be able to articulate what contribute to meaning, and what not.  In the global culture where the clinching argument of “reason” is self-interest, Christian leaders must recognize and pursue the common good.  In the arena of intercultural resentment and hatred, the Christian leader must promote understanding and peace.  In the global world where the economic argument trumps all concern for the environment, the Christian leader must stand up for the environment.

My conviction is that with the help of God’s grace we must systematically and willfully form Christian leaders for the Philippines today.  They will not emerge simply as a by-product of  achieving formal minimum academic standards.  They will emerge only because over and over again our schools have insisted on the meaningful life in the light of the Gospel, the value of the common good, the importance of dialogue, the imperative of peace and the sacredness of the environment.  They will emerge in the Providence of the Lord of the harvest, who will send these leaders into his fields. But they will not emerge without our prayer; they will not emerge without our educational and formative service.

The Joy of the Gospel 

We have talked about the need for the schools to help restore meaning to human beings living in Philippine society today, about the need to thematize the common good and understand it not as an option but as an imperative, about the need in our schools to promote inter-religious dialogue towards the attainment of peace, about the need to promote environmental consciousness and preservation in our schools, and about the need to form Christian leaders for the common good and shared peace. In all this, I think, we have not strayed away from, but entered only more consistently into the sui generis charism of the Rogationist:  prayer and love, prayer and charity, the rogate prayer with Jesus concerned for the welfare of humanity, pleading for workers to labor for the harvest that serves all humanity, for ourselves as workers in obedience to the Father’s mission to serve the whole of humanity through our charitable works, now especially through our schools.  We have taken note of the “educational emergency” and the Rogationist desire to relaunch its mission according to the needs of the “signs of the times.”  That led us to our consideration of the particularly urgent charitable activities of schools:  finding meaning in God’s love, finding the common good in love, finding peace in love, and finding God in all things, including and especially in the environment.  It led us to considering forming Christian leaders shaped by these activities and values. All this, of course, is no mean task and may seem overwhelming.  But I suggest we take heart in the faith and courage of our Pope Francis who calls us back to the joy of the Gospel.  Our schools, in all they do, must proclaim the Gospel.  They must proclaim the Gospel in the joy of the encounter with Jesus.  That is the joy ultimately of the encounter with the crucified Jesus, who peers into our eyes and says …   What does he say? What he says for you and your schools, I leave to you to discern.  It will be a response to your prayer as Jesus prays for you.  It will be a response to your charity as God cannot be outdone in charity.  In your prayer and love, your cor charism, may Jesus, from his Cross, touch you, move you, enlighten you, enflame you and overwhelm you with his joy!

[1] St. Hannibal Mary Di Francia: A Short Biography (SB)

[2] Fr. Hannibal Mary Di Francia’s Pedagogy and New Educational Challenges:  Identity, Relevance, Perspectives (Rome: 2013), 6ff.

[3] Cf. Address of Abp. Socrates Villegas, “The Role of the Catholic University in the Philippines Today,” to CEAP Presidents of HEIs, DLSU, 13 Feb., 2014.

[4] Francis, Evangelii Gaudium (EG), 52-60

[5] plural of madrasah, an Islamic school


About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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