[Address: CEAP Superintendents’ Commission Annual Assembly, Century Park Hotel, Malate, Manila. Sept. 30, 2018.]
So close to the opening of the CEAP National Convention, it is my privilege to address this Annual Assembly of CEAP Superintendents’ Commission with its theme, “Embracing Holiness; Enflaming our Mission.”
Let us take the “Embracing Holiness” first.
This is a challenge which comes from Pope Francis. To those of us who think life is demanding in the ongoing service of our schools, that proceeds despite what many consider to be the brokenness of our educational system, or the brokenness of our national government, or the brokenness of our families, or our own personal brokenness in our efforts to address the brokenness – to protest, to repair, to heal – activities that often cost us great sacrifices, suffering and persecution, Francis says, “Rejoice and be glad’ (Mt 2:5:12) … The Lord asks everything of us, and in return, he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created. He wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence” (GE, 1). These are the opening lines of Francis’ recent apostolic exhortation, “Gaudete and Exsultate” (GE), in which as a 21st Century challenge, he re-proposes “the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges, and opportunities” (GE, 2). Here, he is not talking about an elite type of holiness, but the holiness of the person next door, or of the person who works at teaching and serving right next to me. “I like to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God’s people,” Francis shares, “in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile. In their daily perseverance, I see the holiness of the Church militant. Very often it is a holiness found in our next-door-neighbors, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them ‘the middle class of holiness’” (GE, 7). Francis speaks of the Lord addressing “each of us” … ”personally” … ”each in his or her own way” (GE,10).
I guess that means that called to the service of a superintendent in charge of schools, there is not only remuneration, adulation and the perks of the Supcom to be enjoyed, but holiness to be gained in those superintendents who shepherd their schools with much love, who face great adversity without ever losing their smile. There is holiness in taking on the responsibility of educational leadership in your congregation or in your diocese, in exerting the effort to embrace its difficult responsibilities, to study and make sense of the complex and oftentimes confusing institutional and academic demands of CHED or DepED, but more importantly to embrace the specific responsibility of our schools as privileged loci of the evangelization and formation of the Catholic youth. There is holiness in dealing with the demands of bishops to keep schools running despite the meager resources one is given, and in laboring to keep schools alive when you are competing with government schools that give education for free and raise salaries recklessly through legislation. There is holiness in trying to keep schools catholic when many are really more interested in just quality education or personal power and privilege rather than in catholicity. There is holiness in bearing the frustration of training teachers in pedagogical and content competencies only to lose them to the public sector when they attain their license to teach. There is holiness in humbly begging parishioners and parents, friends and relatives to support our schools through their donations, especially when the faces of students and learners eager to learn and not just their number become foremost in one’s educational shepherding. There is holiness when the pain and sacrifice of being a good superintendent are unified with the pain and sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross. But there is holiness also when it is not only about pain and suffering, but about love, joy and hope. Schools that teach truth and form students in truth proceed from the heart of the Church. The heart of the Church is Jesus Christ. Union with him in the mission that comes from his heart is holiness. It is not only suffering. It is also resurrection and hope.
Enflaming our mission
If we are to follow the inspirations of Gravissimum Educationis (GE) we have a mission to competent humanistic education that instructs and forms learners and students towards the common good. GE teaches that all human beings have an inalienable right to this education (GE 1).
But integrated with this is our mission to Christian or Catholic Education. Let us review what GE says, then let us briefly unpack it: “Since all Christians have become by rebirth of water and the Holy Spirit a new creature so that they should be called and should be called children of God, they have a right to a Christian education. A Christian education does not merely strive for the maturing of a human person as just now described, but has as its principal purpose this goal: that the baptized, while they are gradually introduced to the knowledge of the mystery of salvation, become ever more aware of the gift of Faith they have received, and that they learn in addition how to worship God the Father in spirit and in truth (cf. John 4:23) especially in liturgical action, and be conformed in their personal lives according to the new man created in justice and holiness of truth (Eph 4:22-24); also that they develop into perfect manhood, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ (cf. Eph 4:13) and strive for the growth of the Mystical Body; moreover, that aware of their calling, they learn not only how to bear witness to the hope that is in them (cf. Peter 3:15) but also how to help in the Christian formation of the world that takes place when natural powers viewed in the full consideration of man redeemed by Christ contribute to the good of the whole society.”
Let us unpack this.
In Gravisimum Educationis we have a twofold mission. They are not two missions, either / or. They are one mission, both-and, in each other intertwined.
Humanistic education. If we are to enflame it, we must work passionately to promote competent humanistic education, which is the right of all human beings.
Christian education. If we are enflame it, we must work passionately to promote and demand competent Christian or Catholic education, which is the right of all Catholics in the Philippines, particularly of those under my supervision. This involves:
Making them aware of the gift of faith. Making them conscious of it, that it is undeserved, that it is a relationship. That one cannot be forced to it. But that one embraces it in freedom. It is a gift that is more precious in the context of materialism, creeping secularism, religious pluralism, inter-religious dialogue, and even in the context of clerical and episcopal abuse scandals that rock our faith community today.
Forming them to worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. Teaching them not only prayers learned by rote, but teaching them to converse with the Father, Son and the Spirit, with Mary, the apostles and all the saints. Teaching them to respond to the love of the Trinity in the celebration of the Eucharist and the sacraments, and to develop in each a personal prayer life.
That they develop into “perfect” humanity, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ, that is the Christian community’s distinct contribution to a more humane humanity. That they not be dwarfed in a truncated, undeveloped type of humanity, mired in poverty or deficient education, or fixated on self-glorifying activities and consumerism.
That they strive for the growth of the Mystical Body. The growth of the Church. That they appreciate the Christian community in the school that is one with the Christian community beyond the school witnessing to the reconciling life of the Trinity in our world. That they contribute to this with great freedom and generosity.
That they help in the Christian formation of the world. This is the transformation of the world based on the Trinitarian communion that impacts on and imprints itself on the more humane humanity that we strive for in transformative education. With Jesus, our schools participate in calling for, in working for, in establishing – to the extent grace allows – the Kingdom of God on earth.
We are enflamed in our twofold mission when we realize that in all of its richness and complexity we do not just choose it. We are chosen for it. In the missioning of a religious superior or of a bishop, the mission is not just ours, it is God’s. With that, the conviction that ultimately he sustains our educational apostolate.
Setting the world on fire.
Jesus says, “I have come to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already burning” (Luke 12:49). Embracing holiness, enflaming our mission, let us work with Jesus to set the world on fire. It is God’s fire. But it will not burn in our world without our ongoing labor, courage, persistence, passion and creativity in pursuing our mission.
In this context, allow me to say the following:
We must fight for our schools. We must fight for our schools because of the people that they reach; because each school crucial to the lives of people is precious in the eyes of God. We must fight for them – against whomever their enemies may be – because we believe in their educational mission. We believe it is important that Filipinos who have the right to good humanistic education get it, and that Filipinos who have the need for good professional education get it. More than this, we must fight for the institutions that allow us to preach the Gospel through our classrooms, libraries, playgrounds and school chapels and transform men, women and society in the light of the Gospel.
We must fight the tendency of unenlightened politicians to kill the complementarity between public and private education in this country and to develop public education by crowding out, smothering, and strangling private education. We must fight the politicians who are cowed by the leftists who demand that all Philippine education be given through one system of education that is run by the State and subject to the corruption, inefficiency and politicking of public administration. We must fight the politicians who believe that the problems of Philippine education are best solved today by multiplying state universities and colleges and local colleges and universities. We must fight politicians who would subject all Filipinos and Filipinas to one uniform centrally administered educational system.
We must fight for the fair and complete implementation of the universal access to quality tertiary education (RA 10931). This law is not “the free-tuition in SUCs law.” This law is the universal access to quality tertiary education act that respects the complementary roles of public and private education. We must object to its skewed implementation in favor or SUCs and LCUs. We must object to the late publication of its IRRs which have deprived our students of access to the Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES) and the Student Loan Program, even while free education in SUCs was already being implemented.
We must fight the pernicious lie – or the reckless hope – that the country can afford free quality education for all. Quality education has a price. Those who wish to benefit from it must be willing to pay for it.
We must fight for a performance evaluation on the implementation of the K-12 law.
We who are superintendents but throughout the CEAP, we must close ranks to fight for our schools through developing our politically-relevant constituency that can influence politicians to support our schools in their service of the common good and remove politicians from office who do not. We have the numbers. We have the national reach. We have the organizational capability. But we must decide to unify, coordinate our forces, hone our skills in lobbying, in utilizing mainstream and social media, in tweeting, in posting, in “adding”, in “mentioning,” in “hashtagging” and in engaging those who would detract and attack us in the social media. We must use our vote to protect and advance our schools in the Philippines.
Finally, recalling our history of providing quality education in the Philippines that is close to five hundred years old, education that evangelized and honed the leadership of heroes, we must move away from thinking that the State will solve all of our problems, even pay for all of our salaries and bills. We will collaborate with the State, as the Philippine educational system is the responsibility of the State. But over-reliance on the State will weaken us, muzzle us, and kill us. We must draw strength from our God-given mission, and fighting as we must for our schools, put our trust not in the power of the State but in the power of God. Only in this manner might we continue to serve the State competently and independently. Relying on God and on one another, we must return to our original spirit of God-inspired, prayer-driven and apostolically-motivated entrepreneurship and self-reliance. Relying on ourselves we must and will respond to the challenges of artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, robotics and 3D printing. But we must also respond to the challenges in our world of disbelief, unbridled consumption, pernicious global production machines, environmental destruction, exclusion, violent extremism and strongman politics.
No matter the cost.
In this manner, we are invited to move from brokenness to holiness. Let God’s Spirit enflame our mission to “Go, set the world on fire”!