SAFIRE Celebration and Graced Expectations

xmas party mass 2018

[Homily: Ateneo de Davao University Thanksgiving Mass.  Martin Hall. 14 December 2018.]

This afternoon we come together in great thanksgiving.  But also with deep expectation.

In great thanksgiving because we celebrate the Safire Seventieth Anniversary of our Ateneo de Davao University.  In thanksgiving because we, Jesuits and partners-in-mission,  are custodians of its tradition of excellent service to Philippine education.  We give thanks that we continue to offer this service with dedication and excellence, guided by our vision and mission.  We come together in thanksgiving because in this service, we have achieved a certain professionalism that translates not only to sustained and improved service, but also, when freedom, consent, and grace allow, to friendship, oftentimes deep friendships for life, and in some very privileged cases even to marriage.  We come together as a university community, and in many respects as a university family, despite our great diversity in personalities, genders, ideologies, disciplines, views and opinions, where our occasional disagreements, conflicts and fights – sometimes overcome, sometimes not – confirm us in a community of service as a viable work in progress.  We know, not everything is instant coffee.  The rose garden is also a garden of thorns.  Sometimes, even the roses wilt.  We know: not everything is in our hands.

So our Safire thanksgiving today is celebrated in tension with a certain sense of all being yet unsettled, unfinished, incomplete.  Not everything is as all can be – or ought to be.   We are not all where we want to be.  Instead of being in a lush garden of butterflies, blossoms and fruit, we are in an arid desert.  Certain hurts still fester; certain wounds still bleed.  Certain gaps gape too greatly for our bridging.  Certain walls are too thick, too high, too impermeable.   Too frequently, the violence of words; too painfully, the aggression of silence; too chronically, the admission of damage incapable of repair – and the temptation to despair.

But because this darkness within wrestles with the gratitude in our hearts as we turn 70, our Safire celebration is in tension with our celebration of Advent.  From the dark dryness within, our liturgical celebration begins with the declaration, “Behold, the Lord will come…”  Against your darkness he comes as light, as truth, as life.  That introduces yet another tension.  We know:  the Lord is here.  He is the source of the truth we seek.  Yet, in our university, knowing the source of truth, we have yet to search for truth.  Not all is right in the City of Man.  Not all is true in the Communion of God.  Not all is safe for the children of man.  In the Creator’s Garden of Eden there is a serpent of deception and the forbidden fruit I choose to eat.   We know, we must pursue truth.  Yet even as we pursue truth, we have yet to wait for truth;  truth is not only achieved, it is gifted. It is gifted when finally it is found, as truth from within me and within Him long awaited.  So easy, so necessary then for us to pray the Advent mantra, “Maranatha!” – “Come, Lord Jesus, come!”

In this hope, in this expectation that the Lord comes to us as a community but to each of us individually, our advent liturgies offer us beautiful messianic images.  I mention only three:

First, the Lord comes as King.

Listen to his proclamation by the prophet Isaiah.  “On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.  The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him:  a Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a Spirit of counsel and of strength, a Spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.  Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.  Justice shall be the band around his waist. Then the wolf shall be the guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid: The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.  The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox.  The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.  There shall be no harm or ruin on my holy mountain”, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the sea is full of water” (Isaiah 11:1-10).

As we celebrate our Safire Anniversary Let us open ourselves to the coming of this wise King who brings reconciliation in justice, who allows old enemies to lie down with each other as the calf and the lion, old adversaries to touch and greet and bless each other.  The enemies and adversaries will be “guided by a Child.”  The Child is called Emmanuel.

Second, the Lord prepares a banquet.

“On this mountain the Lord of Hosts will prepare a banquet for all the peoples, a feast of aged wine, of choice meat, of finely aged wine. On this mountain he will swallow up the shroud that enfolds all the peoples, the sheet that covers all the nations;  He will swallow up death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from every face and remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth.  (Isaiah 25:6-8)

As we celebrate our Safire Anniversary let us get in touch with our deepest hungers and that for which we most desperately crave.  Hungering, let us open ourselves to the banquet the Lord of hosts prepares for us, a feast of choice meat and finely aged wine.  How do we imagine this meal of profound blessing?  It is a meal where the choice meat he offers is his flesh, and the finely aged wine he offers is his blood.  The Lord’s banquet is inseparable from the Cross, the Lord’s body broken for our nourishment, the Lord’s blood which wipes away our sin.  The banquet celebrates the redeeming action of our Messiah.

Third, with the coming of the Lord the desert flowers.

“The desert and the arched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom.  They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song.  The glory of Lebanon will be given to them, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.  … Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you … Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe.  The burning sands will become pools, and the thirsty ground, springs of water.  The abode where the jackals lurk will be a marsh for reed and papyrus,” (Isaiah 35”)

As we celebrate our Safire Anniversary, let us be aware of what may be a desert within, the interior aridity which has recently become chronic in me, killing my passion, extinguishing my joy.  It is what happens when one decides to walk away from the Lord because what the Lord repreesents is too overwhelming.  One walks away from the Lord sadly, as the disciples walked away after he had said, “I am the living Bread” (Jn 6:51)  At Advent let us open ourselves to the Lord coming into our inner desert to restore us to joy and exaltation, to command flowers to bloom, streams to burst forth from the desert, and burning sands to become like pools of refreshing water.  What the Lord brings is not just water.  He brings living water which quenches thirst eternally.

With great thanksgiving we gather together today grateful for 70 years of Ateneo de Davao and the roles we all play in it.  But we also come together in our neediness, confident that the Lord comes.  He transforms the desert within into a lush garden.  He prepares a banquet for us in the sight of our foes.  He is King, Emmanuel, who reconciles us with his Father, with one another, and with his Creation.  From the wood of his Cross, as from the wood of his manger, he peers into our eyes, and into our souls with love.

Maranatha!  Come, Lord Jesus, come!

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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