[Homily. Mass for CEAP National Convention, SM SMX Convention Center, Davao, ]
While we were resting last night, remarkable things were happening on the world stage. Under the leadership of American President Barack Obama, the United Nations passed a unanimous resolution practically of war against violent extremism, exemplified primarily by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It was only the sixth time in the entire history of the United Nations that such unified resolution had ever been passed.
The extraordinariness of the resolution was warranted by the unprecedented barbarity with which the ISIS had promoted its cause. They brutally punished those who did not accept their doctrine, surrender to their will, and join their ranks. They stripped them of their dignity, paraded them publicly in shame, raped women as a weapon, made them dig their own graves before murdering them en masse, and slaughtered innocent children. To these they added high-profile murders of westerners: James Foley, American journalist, beheaded; Steven Sotloff, American journalist, beheaded; David Haines, British aid worker, beheaded; and just yesterday, Herve Gourdel, French tourist, beheaded. ISIS atrocities had become so ghastly that Islamic scholars and Imams had declared ISIS had nothing to do with Islam. Instead of ISIS, UN President Ban Ki Moon has declared their name to be: Un-Islamic and Non-State; the French have started calling them “Daesh” – evil.
Meanwhile, last night, the silence and darkness of the Syrian night was broken by Arabian and American warplanes that simultaneously bombed some sixteen oil refineries controlled by ISIS. The world war declared, the intention now was to deny the ISIS a major source of its funding: oil. Through the airstrikes, the ISIS would lose oil income of some two million dollars daily.
The ISIS has been among the most vexing challenges to humanity in recent history. Their way has been intolerance, violence, and brutality. Their truth has been their skewed notion of Islam. Their life has been imposing their untruth on others and annihilating all those who did not bow.
Against this context, we are invited today to reflect on the words of Jesus in the refrain of today’s responsorial psalm, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:16). As Catholic educators, we recall Jesus’ words, “I have come to bring life, and to bring it to the full” (Jn 10:10). Necessarily, these words must be close to us who in the articulation of our standards of Catholic education profess Jesus Christ to be the very center of our education. We teach our students these words, and form them to accept them in understanding and in practice, in conviction and in freedom.
At a national convention of Catholic educators such as this, we are however invited to pause and ask ourselves whether these words ring true in what we believe, how we live, and what we teach our students. We must ask ourselves, whether in these words we experience the joy of the Gospel, the Evangelii Gaudium, of which Pope Francis so convincingly speaks. At the same time, we must also ask ourselves whether in these words we experience horror whenever we experience the fullness of life violated in the injustice and violence of our world. Responding in horror to the brutalities of ISIS, President Obama said, “No God condones this terror.”
As the world in the United Nations declared war on violent extremism, British Prime Minister Cameron said, “The root of extremism is suffering, oppression and invasion.” We know that. The root of terrorism is dehumanizing poverty, exclusion from all that humanizes, desperation at loss of human dignity. We have enough of that in our experience. People can be driven to extremism in their hunger, their nakedness, in their flooded hovels, in their lack of drinking water, their sickness, their loss of their human face.
This is something that we must consider as we recall the Lord’s words, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” The way of violence, the pain of terror, the deceptions of war bring us no consolation. We must teach a way, a truth, a life that brings more hope. It is a truth that does not commence in an after life, but in this life in social justice.
“I have come to bring life, and to bring life to the full.” These words of Jesus challenge us in our commitment to Catholic transformative education.