[ADDU JHS Baccalaureate Mass, Matina Sports’ Center, Mar 24, 2018.]
You are celebrating your graduation at the threshold of Holy Week. I believe it is both a blessing and a challenge that you are doing so on this day. Tomorrow, Palm Sunday, begins the most solemn week in the liturgy of the Church with the enthusiastic welcome of Jesus to Jerusalem as the Messiah. But in the course of this week, shouts of praise, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Jn 12:13) shall metamorphose into murderous cries, “Crucify him, crucify him!” (Jn 19:16). In Jesus’ fidelity to his mission – to manifest the redeeming love of the Father despite the opposition from his enemies – he confronts the darkness and sin of this world; from the depths of this darkness he is “lifted up” on the Cross, drawing all men from darkness to himself (cf. Jn 12:32), then “lifted up” from the dead in his resurrection, then “lifted up” in glory to sit at the right hand of his Father (cf. Phil 2:9-11).
Tomorrow is also the 25th of March, nine months before the 25th of December. Despite Palm Sunday, we do not forego celebrating the Annunciation. We celebrate it today.
We celebrate two history-changing yeses.
First the yes of Mary. The angel Gabriel announced that Mary was to be the mother of God. But this would not happen without her free consent. On this feast we celebrate Mary’s yes, her fiat, her “Let it be done to me according to your word,” (Lk 1:38), her consent to be the Mother of God. With this, the Word of God, the Word of God’s love for us all, is made flesh in her womb. No greater event had ever taken place in the entire history of the universe. Divinity is made flesh in humanity. Divinity empties itself in redemption of humanity. As St. Paul explained in Philippians: Jesus Christ “who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking on the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:6-11). This cosmic miracle all pivoted on the yes of Mary.
The yes of Mary consents to a prior yes of the Father. This is the second yes we consider today. This prior yes refuses to disown the fundamental goodness of creation, even though it had been corrupted by man’s sin. This prior yes refuses to abandon the fundamental goodness of humankind created lovingly in the image and likeness of God, even though man betrayed his own goodness in conceit and recklessness. This prior yes, instead of turning its back on humankind in its pride, infidelity, idolatry, covetousness, mendaciousness, hatred, violence, war, embraces man, loves him even in the depths and despair of his sinfulness, liberates him, lifts him up.
Through the yes of Mary on the Feast of the Annunciation, we celebrate the yes of the Father in the solemnity of the Holy Week. It is from these two yeses that we draw out the two particular challenges of your graduation.
First, as Mary said yes to God’s will for her, do you say yes to God’s will for you? When you pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done…”, can you recognize that he may will something for you totally different from anything that you may now imagine? Yet, do you understand that with all the possible choices you can make in this world, exciting or boring, innovative or conservative, you can choose to do not your will, but God’s will, no matter the cost. It was indeed what happened to Jesus. It came to a point where it was clear that doing God’s will entailed the Cross. He said, “Father, if it be possible let this chalice pass from me. But not my will, your will be done.” (Mt 26:39). On this day of your JHS commencement, can you say yes to God will?
As God’s will was to save humankind made in the image of God, and so missioned Jesus to this task, could you say yes to work at the side of Jesus to accomplish the will of the Father? Jesus’ whole preoccupation was to establish the Kingdom of his Father. That continues to this day. Could you say yes to work with Jesus in the service of the Kingdom of God? The Kingdom of God is a rejection of poverty, a rejection of war, a rejection of discrimination. It is a rejection of everything that demeans and debases God’s creation of man in his own image. It is a rejection of ignorance, a rejection of hatred, a rejection of whole systems of human behavior, human production and consumption, that alienate the human being from the human being. It is a yes to bringing about those conditions on this earth where all human beings without exception can flourish in prosperity and love? Would you be willing to sacrifice your self in the service of God’s Kingdom? Where the Kingdom of God has so many enemies in the kingdoms of pride, glory and riches, would you be willing with all your intelligence and strength to fight for the Kingdom of God?
Is this not indeed among the most profound of challenges at the Ateneo de Davao? We have sung it many times in our Blue Knight song: “Men and women, knights in blue, for Christ King fight strong and true… With visors high and sword in hand, come blue knights take your stand.” Take your stand for truth, for justice, for social justice, for respect for cultures, for love, for peace, for Mindanao. “Fight on with virtue” – with faith, with hope, with love, with perseverance, with grit. Fight on “with strength renewed” because it is an exhausting struggle, and your strength will falter, and sometimes you will fall. But “in Our Lady’s white and blue…” and in God’s mercy, your strength shall be renewed. Our Lady never fails to help you. And Jesus never refuses to listen to his Mother. So, “let all you knights of Davao to God’s high command your hearts bow…” That is the profound challenge of the Ateneo education: “to God’s high command your hearts bow.” My prayer on this Solemn Celebration of the Annunciation at the threshold of the Holy Week is that “to God’s high command your hearts bow”: that you say yes to discerning and doing God’s will throughout your life, and that you say yes to working at the side of Jesus for the Kingdom of the Father!