All is Grace

[Homily: 50 Anniversary of Entrance into the Novitiate of the Society of Jesus in the Philippines, Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Jesuit Community Chapel of St. Ignatius, ADDU]


As I look back today on fifty years in the Society of Jesus, I look back with great gratitude a long list of Jesuits who have shared their lives with me: their passion, their wisdom, their experience, their patience, their love. The grace of a Jesuit’s life is the grace of many Jesuits in his life. Giving thanks to God this evening for this half century, I thought I would give thanks for them.

Grateful for Jesuits in My Life

It is Jesus who calls you to companionship in the Society, but in my case, Jesus called through Fr. Ernie Javier. He was my class moderator in first year high school at Ateneo. At the end of my freshman year, he sent me to Challenge House.

Challenge House at that time was a house for anyone who might be thinking of becoming a priest. It was run by a senior Jesuit, Fr. Johnny Gordon, who went around saying, “O joy and happiness and salubrious wonders!”   When after two years in Commonwealth, my father no longer felt it healthy for me to stay there (“I should live a normal life,” my father said, “and get a girlfriend.”), Fr. Gordon did not insist I stay at Challenge House, but sent me home. But before I left Challenge House, he told me, “You have a vocation.” I obeyed my father. I fell in love with young, soft-spoken lady with smiling eyes from Assumption College. But it was a retreat under Fr. Ray Gough which convinced me I was still being called to the priesthood.

I joined the novitiate on July 16, 1965. That was 50 years ago. The big Jesuit influence during novitiate, of course, my novice master, Fr. Charlie Wolf. He introduced me to life in the Society of Jesus, and led me through my first experience of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. He had three messages: the first was Jesus, the second was depth, the third: all is grace.

When we got to Loyola House of Studies in 1967 for pre-divinity studies, things were already in ferment in the Church and in Philippine Society. An older scholastic, Tony Ledesma, got me involved with the Layman’s Association for Post-Vatican II Reforms. Under the leadership of Fr. Joe Blanco, we took to the streets calling for change in the Church and picketing Rufino Cardinal Santos of Manila for the speedier implementation of Vatican II. I was deeply impressed that our Provincial then, Fr. Horacio de las Costa did not stop the pickets, but supported them. It was around that time, that I also got involved in an adaptation of the Cursillos de Christianidad for the youth: the Days with the Lord. That was when I met Fr. Kiko Glover, not as a physics teacher, but as a speaker and confessor during the Days.

During my undergraduate philosophy studies, two Jesuits were giant influences on my intellectual life: Fr. Roque Ferriols and Fr. Joe O’Hare. I was terrified of Fr. Roque. But he taught me how to question in search for truth, how to think, how to think out of the box. Fr. Joe O’Hare was the one who introduced me to Karl Marx – the philosopher I would eventually study for my doctoral dissertation. Of course, not all Jesuit life is intellectual. At that time, I was wrestling with issues in our family – which then put my stay in the Society in Question. Invaluable for me at that time were my spiritual directors, Johnny King and Tom O’Gorman.

I began my regency in the Jesuit Community of Ateneo de Manila, and ended as assistant to the director of Arvisu House. My fellow regents were two Americans, Joe Cronin and Joe Parkes. Both taught me how to drink alcohol: don’t drink alone, never mix alcohol types, drink with alcohol contents rising. Joe Cronin eventually left, and Joe Parkes became the Provincial of the New York Province. But I would eventually spend most time during my regency at Arvisu House, then led by Fr. Agatonico Montero, the master punner from Surigao.

After finishing my MA in Philosophy from Ateneo de Manila on philosophy of the young Marx, on the recommendation of Fr. Catalino Arevalo, I was sent for Theological Studies in Innsbruck, Austria. Since my superiors wanted me to do a doctorate in Germany on Karl Marx, I was sent to Innsbruck to learn not only theology, but German. Well, I learned the German, but I also learned to hike in the mountains and to ski. I met many great and lasting friends there. I mention only one, a fellow scholastic from the Austrian Province, Severin Leitner, who was very personable, always smiling, intelligent, astute, caring, supportive, a great skier and an accomplished mountain climber. Many times, we would go skiing together. Severin went on to become the novice Master, then the provincial of the Austrian province, then one of the general counselors of Fr. General Adolfo Nicolas in Rome. Whenever we would meet there, it would be as if no time had lapsed between us. Last month, after some intense sessions in the general curia, he went mountain climbing to relax, and fell to his death. Very sad. But he is praying for us now. Severin had a special caring eye then not only for me, but for a young man who eventually found his vocation by living in Jesuitenkolleg and scrubbing the cold marble floor of Jesuitenkirche. That young man is now is Fr. Art Borja now at Xavier School and Mary the Queen.

After ordination to the priesthood, I returned to the Philippines for exposure to the Philippine pastoral scene. I was supposed to stay a couple of months in San Pedro Resettlement Area, which was being administrered by my batchmate, Fr. Nilo Tanalega, then assisting Archbishop Gaviola of the Share and Care Apostolate for Poor Settlers. Because it was my first real immersion with the poor, I was grateful to Fr. Provincial Bernie Bernas that I was allowed to work there not only for two months, but two years.

All good things come to an end. In 1983, I returned to Europe for my doctoral studies. This brought me first to Berchmanskolleg in Kaulbachstrasse, Munich, but I would end my studies back in Innsbruck, Austria. The first big Jesuit personality then, was Fr. Peter Ehlen, the mentor I would eventually leave. I asked him which should I study first, Marx or Hegel. He said both, together. Unfortunately, that wasn’t too helpful for me. The second big Jesuit personality was Fr. Walter Kern, who eventually got me through my doctorate by insisting I give up all my apostolic involvements in my beloved parish of Unterschleissheim in Munich and practically putting me under house arrest in Innsbruck so that I could finish. I hated it, but he succeeded in initiating me into the mystery of Hegelean dialectic and getting me to finish my dissertation. The third important Jesuit personality was Fr. Patrick Riordon, who was a fellow doctoral student, a companion, confidant and friend, who listened to me in my crisis moments, and kept me on track. I am delighted that he is here with us at this Mass!

After I finished my doctorate in ‘83, I was finally allowed to come home. The country was again in ferment after the assassination of Ninoy Aquino. After a few semesters of teaching Marx to the wealthy at Ateneo de Manila, Fr. Provincial Ben Nebres gathered the scholastics together at LHS to say that the large urban poor area of Commonwealth was going leftist, and that Jesuit presence there would be good. I immediately volunteered. It was therefore Fr. Nebres who missioned me to work with the urban poor of Commonwealth. During the six years of living there, the Jesuit who was most supportive, spiritually and materially, was Fr. Ruben Tanseco.

 My tertianship was in the Philippines under Fr. Gerry Coleman from Australia, the gentle Jesuit who guided me through the Spiritual Exercises again and was a great spiritual help to me in helping me to find myself in this confusing world..

After final vows, I was assigned as rector of San Jose Seminary, even as I tried to continue my work with the urban poor in Commonwealth. In this time, the biggest Jesuit help to me was Bishop Cisco Claver, who helped me disengage from the community I loved in Commonwealth, as another priest was appointed now as parish priest.

I was privileged to be sent as a delegate of General Congregation XXXIV. This was a wonderful experience of the Society of Jesus at work. The big Jesuits there: Fr. Peter Hans Kolvenbach, Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, Fr. Joe Daoust, Fr. Jaime Oraa, but also Fr. Joaquin Bernas, Fr. Noel Vasquez, Fr. Koso from Japan and Fr. Andrew Kim from Korea.

In 1995 I became President of Loyola School of Theology, with a specific mission from Fr. General to work for its status as an ecclesial faculty. But I think the big personality that impacted on me then was our great church historian, John Schuhmacher, who would pester me with all the things he thought I should do as President. We became wonderful friends in forging a pact. I proposed, “You’re a teacher, you teach. I’m the administrator, I administer.” He agreed.

I did not expect to go to be sent to ADNU as a result of the untimely death of Fr. Rolly Bonoan. But even after his death, his love and passion for ADNU continue to impact of me.   Inspiring for his direct work with the high school students was Mike Rooney, who spent himself totally in caring for his students. Inspiring also: Frs. Danny Isidro, Ernie Carretero, Ritsche Elot, Jun Embile and then regents: Florge Sy, Nono Ordoñez, Renel Dimacali and Gil Donayre. In navigating the Ateneo de Naga experience, Fr. Provincial Danny Huang was an exacting leader and compassionate counselor.

Just over four years ago, I arrived here at ADDU. What I have been able to accomplish here was greatly due to the fiscal providence of my predecessor, Fr. Ting Samson, and to the Jesuits who are here are this Mass: Frs. Dan McNamara, Gaby Gonzalez. Kiko Glover, Rene Ocampo, Kim Lachica, Mike Pineda, Denny Toledo, DJ de los Reyes, Bill Malley, Manny Perez, Charlie Cenzon, Tony Basilio and Bros. Jeff Pioquinto and Tony Dass Joe.


 On the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel

All is grace. Since we celebrate the 50th anniversary of my entrance into the Society of Jesus on today’s Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, whose image we venerate in this chapel, allow me to share with you the story of Sr. Lourdes, OCD, then one of the out-sisters of Carmel Bacolod.

Before leaving for my undergraduate theological studies in Jesuitenkolleg, Innsbruck in 1972, which would eventually lead me after ordination to doctoral studies there, I served a Mass at the side altar of the Church of Carmel Bacolod of my newly-ordained friend, Toto Suplido, now Msgr. Rufino Suplido of St. James the Great parish in Alabang, together with Sr. Lourdes, OCD, then one of the “out-sisters” of the Carmel Monastery in Bacolod.

In sharing Communion with one another at that Mass, Sr. Lourdes undertook to be my “spiritual Mom” as I accepted to be her “spiritual son.” Throughout my years abroad in Innsbruck and Munich and my early pastoral years as priest-in-charge of San Pedro Resettlement Area, she was my ardent prayer warrior until she died. She would send me letters and hand-made cards, stampitas, and bookmarkers, to remind me that I was in her prayers and loved. The sisters of Carmel now relate that when she was dying of cancer and in excruciating pain, she would conceal her painkillers instead of taking them, in order to offer up her sufferings for her spiritual son.

I now have the tin box in which she kept all my letters to her. On my altar in my private room, beneath the image of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, I venerate her vow crucifix.

I believe I have remained 50 years in the Society of Jesus on the grace of such prayer and loving sacrifice, not only of Sr. Lourdes, but of the entire community of Carmel, Bacolod, as well as the prayers and witness of the many Jesuits and Jesuit-partners, my dear family and friends, who have been grace in my life and have not ceased to pray for me.

This anniversary is not an achievement in perseverance, but testimony to God’s fidelity beyond all deserving. It is a milestone in grace.

All is grace.



About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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