[Homily: College Baccalaureate Mass, April 1, 2016]
Our Baccalaureate Mass this afternoon is in the light, joy, and hope of the Lord’s Resurrection. It is an appropriate context for your glowing faces, your happiness, and your optimism as you graduate from the Ateneo de Davao University.
Our Gospel today proclaims the resurrected Lord appearing to various chosen personalities (cf. Mk 16: 9-15). He appeared – not just as spirit, but in the flesh, talking with those to whom he appeared, eating with them, convincing them he was alive. The evangelist Mark says he appeared first to Mary Magdalen. Mary of Magdala, the woman from whom Jesus had expelled seven demons, had been one of the close followers of Jesus. She listened to him. She believed in him. She stood by him during his way of the Cross. She witnessed his crucifixion. Contemporary artists speculate beautifully that there was a special love relationship between Jesus and Mary. Remember Mary’s song in Jesus Christ Superstar? “I don’t know how to love him. What to do, how to move him. I’ve been changed, yes really changed. In these past few days when I’ve seen myself, I seem like someone else. I don’t know how to take this. I don’t see why he moves me. He’s a man. He’s just a man. And I’ve had so many men before in very many ways. He’s just one more. …. Don’t you think it’s rather funny I should be in this position… Yet, if he said he loved me, I’d be lost, I’d be frightened. I couldn’t cope, just couldn’t cope. I’d turn my head, I’d back away. I wouldn’t want to know. He scares me so. I want him so. I love him so.” The truth is: Jesus did love Mary. Specially. As he does us all. And a sign of this love was that resurrected, he appeared to her.
But he also appeared to the two dejected disciples walking to Emmaus. They had taken the crucifixion at face value. Jesus was dead, and with him all their excitement, hopes and dreams for what Jesus had proclaimed: the Kingdom of God, the welfare of the least of his sisters and brothers in society, love for God above all things, love for one’s neighbor, justice for all, the forgiveness of a compassionate Father. They thought it was all dead with Jesus dead. But on the way to Emmaus, the stranger open their minds and inflamed their hearts. Jesus had to suffer these things “to enter into his glory” (Lk: 24:26). Later, in the breaking of the Bread, they recognized Jesus.
Jesus also appeared to “the Eleven”. They were afraid. If Jesus had been arrested, tortured and killed on a cross, the same fate might befall them. Jesus had had a huge influence on their lives. But he was now dead. They had heard rumors that he was alive. But the rumors were too good to be true. Who could believe such nonsense.? In their midst, Jesus appears. He rebukes them for their disbelief. They were now to go into the whole world to proclaim the Good News to all.
Considering the appearances of Jesus reported in the Gospels, St. Ignatius of Loyola says, “But it has to be clear that the first person that Jesus appeared to was his mother, Mary.” He says this almost as a rebuke to the Evangelists who did not report it. On the other hand, it really need not have been reported. Any person who had insight into the heart of Jesus would know this. If Jesus appeared to the apostles in the upper chamber, to the disciples on the way to Emmaus, and to Mary of Magdala, he would have first have appeared to his mother, Mary, who had given birth to him, breast fed him, raised him, taught him, supported him in his ministry, witnessed him betrayed and condemned to death. As his heart was pierced, so was her heart pierced. Before anyone else, Ignatius was convinced, Jesus would have first appeared to his sorrowing mother to bring her into the joy of the resurrection.
From this Ignatian insight, one of the most popular devotions in the Philippine Church has emerged: the Salubong. Before the dawn Mass of Easter morning, a procession of darkness led by the Mother veiled in sorrow and grief moves through the gloom morning the death of Jesus. It is a procession of people trapped by the power of sin, despairing redemption in the death of their Messiah, a procession of inhumanity, immorality, strife, violence and death. It is met however by a procession of rejoicing and jubilation, celebration and light led by the victorious resurrected Lord. He approaches his sorrowing mother. In their encounter – Salubong – her veil of sadness is removed. The procession of resurrection light overcomes the procession of darkness and sin.
For this Chapel, the veteran Davao artist, Bong Espinosa, has re-presented the Salubong using images of Mindanao. In the procession of light, all the Mindanao tribes are represented: happy, hopeful, joyful in the families and communities, cared for, caring for one another, contributing to the common good. In the procession of darkness, all the Mindanao evils are portrayed: strife, gambling, misuse of drugs, violence, religious intolerance, abortion, even the tragedy of Mamasapano.
As you graduate and move onward into the world, it is something for you to appreciate and consider. The truth is, the Lord is alive, not dead. To some of you, he has appeared during your college life; you have experienced him in the neediness of your friend, in the love of your parents, in the goodness of your teachers, in the generosity of your benefactors, in your wrestling with the professional challenges of English, business management, business administration, marketing, and political science, in the cry of the poor and the excluded. But you have also experienced darkness: moments of compromise, selfishness, and sin. You have experienced these two processions as they meet in you. The truth of the Resurrection is, the procession of darkness is taken over by the procession of light, if you so allow it. The reign of darkness is overcome by the Kingdom of God, if in your life you say yes. The love of the resurrected Lord removes the veil of sadness, if you freely choose to respond to the love of the Lord.
In this sacred chapel then as you graduate, no matter your academic discipline, I encourage you, in response to the love of the Crucified Lord, in the light, joy, and hope of the Lord’s Resurrection, freely choose life, choose light, choose joy, choose to walk in the procession of the Risen Lord.