[Homily. PAASCU National Convention, Our Lady of Assumption Chapel, ADDU, Feb. 11, 2016.]
So much of life is about choice, isn’t it?
Sometimes choices are trivial: like the choice between green or blue. Whether you like a blue shirt or a green shirt is inconsequential. Except of course when you’re wearing green at an Ateneo-La Salle game. Choices between beige or brown may seem inconsequential, but in a context where colors either blend or clash, the choice of beige may reveal taste, the choice of brown cultural insensitivity. In the myriad choices that we make in our lives, each day, each hour, we hardly notice we are making them, choosing sinangag over muffins, a malong over a sweater, a grab car over a taxi, and oolong over English breakfast tea. We forget that the fact that we make choices deliberately and freely is what distinguishes us from the monkeys – even in the year of the fire monkeys. That we choose makes us like unto God, especially when the choices we make are far from trivial. Choosing quality, might exemplify that, where quality is not only just preferable to quantity, but – for those here from PAASCU! – the difference between a good school and a bad; the difference between a school with great teachers and lousy; between teachers who excite students and call forth the best from them, and teachers who bore them; between teachers who use the truth to form minds, force thought, build character for life-service to the community, and teachers who just re-heat and re-serve the same bland alphabet soup over and over again with no greater personal concern than the inadequacy of their bi-monthly paycheck. The difference between a quality teacher and a lousy teacher, a quality school and a bad school, a quality administrator and bad administrator, is a matter choice: the choice to prepare class well or to watch television, the choice to go for the higher degree or mark time, the choice to take a student seriously or to dismiss her, the choice to fundraise for scholarships and financial aid or to whine about students who can’t pay, the choice to own transformative education as the soul of a school community, or to relegate the disturbing concept to the dusty shelves of the library.
Life is about choice. Just as a quality life is about choice. One must choose the quality life, and be reflective enough to understand the difference between the quality life and bad life, between a life lived superficially and a life lived in depth. Here in Davao there is a raging debate about green spaces. The City Council recently repealed the mandatory provision for green spaces in its Comprehensive Land Use Plan. The environmentalists in civil society and academe have gone to the barricades. Central to their argument is that green spaces are about the quality of life for all in Davao, not just for those who live in the gated subdivisions of the wealthy. The developers are wailing that the green spaces are a waste of money and “for cattle.” The environmentalist are insisting they are about natural healthy space for human beings, the ability of all to enjoy the blessing of living waters and flowers and trees and birds; it is about the ability of all to breath clean air, to be cooled by a refreshing breeze, to be revitalized by waters from continually replenished aquifers. The subdivision developers are saying it is all about houses of cement and steel and glass, but also, of course, about humongous profits that living ravenous buwaya crave. Ultimately, the quality of life is about choice. One chooses right, one chooses wrong. One chooses to respond in liberty to the common good, or one chooses to lose liberty in selfishness and greed.
Life is ultimately about choice. That is what our Scripture readings for today are telling us. Deuteronomy states it clearly: If you obey the commandments of the Lord, loving him, walking in his ways, keeping his commandments, you will thrive. If you turn your hearts away, be led astray, and serve other gods, you will perish. God sets before us a clear alternative: the blessing of life, or the curse of death. Incredibly, he recognizes that the dignity of human life is not about the obvious but about choice, the essence of quality human life is not about uniformity but about freedom. And so, his challenge, his invitation, his appeal: choose life! Choose life by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him.
Choose life, as the Father, looking on a sinful world doomed to death, chose life. Choose life, as the Son chose to suffer greatly, be rejected by the elders, the chief priest and the scribes, and be killed to rise on the third day that we might have life. Choose life, as the Son chose life in being uplifted, in lifting up life, in looking deep into our hearts from the Cross, and loving us. Choose life in response to this loving, suffering Lord “for whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Choose between losing yourself to gain the whole world, or finding yourself in God.
So much of life is about choice; so much of choice is about life. Often, as teachers or as parents we choose this or that for our students or children, convinced we know better then they. Sometimes, we do, sometimes we don’t. Consider however that God, who always knows better than we, never undermines our choice. In his omniscience, he never chooses for us. In his omnipotence, he cannot choose for us. That is a profound mystery. The divine imperative is but a humble plea, the Spirit’s overpowering re-creative wind but a gentle breeze, not a shout but a whisper: choose life!