[Homily. Baccalaureate Mass. Assumption College of Davao, April 12, 2019]
Your Baccalaureate Mass falls on the Friday before Good Friday. This Sunday, the Church will celebrate Palm Sunday. This will commemorate the bitter-sweet entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem when the people cried out, “Hosannah! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” but within the week will cry out “Crucify him, crucify him!” Within a week the Church will commemorate the Paschal Mystery, the suffering, death and resurrection of the Lord, the ultimate manifestation of God’s Love for us and of our redemption, won for us on the Cross by Jesus, our Savior.
The situation of Jesus in today’s liturgy is very tense. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is the eternal Word made flesh dwelling among us. Jesus is the manifestation of the Father’s love made manifest to us.
But the whole Gospel of John is of how the Word of God, Jesus made flesh, is rejected by some who do not recognize him, even as the whole Gospel of John is of how the Word of God made flesh, Jesus, is believed and accepted as the Manifestation of the Father, our Savior and Redeemer.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus seeks to win the belief of people through signs, like when he changed water into wine at the Marriage of Cana in order to spare the bride and groom the embarrassment of having run out of wine (Jn 2:1-2), or when he fed five thousand from five loaves and two fish in order to introduce himself as the Bread of Life (Jn 6). Responding to the signs, some were brought to belief in Jesus; they recognized him as the Messiah. They were empowered, the Gospel of John said, to become children of God.
Others were not brought to belief, but to cynicism, disbelief, rejection and opposition to Jesus. Some of these, scribes and Pharisees and teachers of the law, saw in Jesus a threat to the religious power and social position they enjoyed. These are in play in the Gospel reading for today. On the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple, Jesus is in its Solomon’s porch. He is confronted by the Jews. “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (Jn 19:24). Jesus answers truthfully, “I have told you and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father name bear witness to me” (Jn 19:25). Indeed, Jesus had earlier told them, “I am the Bread of Life” (Jn 6:35). They did not believe. He had said, “I have come to bring life, life to the full.” They did not believe. Later he would say, “I am the Way, the Life and the Truth” (Jn 14:6) and they still would not believe. Now Jesus was saying, if you do not believe what I have said, believe what I have done. Understand the signs: The royal official’s son in Capernaum was healed (Jn 4: 45-54), the paralytic of Bethesda was healed (Jn 5:1-15), the man born blind from birth was healed (Jn 9:1-7).
But these signs they did not believe. They believed neither him nor understood the works because they were not of the sheepfold, they were not given to him by the Father. They did not recognize the shepherd’s voice. “I and My Father are one” (Jn 19:30), Jesus declared. Those who believe in me are those whom the Father has given to me. Those who believe in me are those whom the Father saves in me. Those who believe in me come to the Father. Those who do not believe in me have no belief in God. “I and My Father are one.” This is the reason they wanted to kill him. He had made himself one with God. He was a blasphemer, they declared. Within days, they would succeed in putting him to death. But being lifted up on the Cross, he would lift all of us to himself, and being raised up from the dead, he would lift us all back to the Father.
On this day, you give thanks to God for the gift of your education. Having come a long way, you may be happy that you have successfully passed all your prescribed courses and have fulfilled all the requirements for graduation. But graduation is famously referred to as a commencement. It is the end of a long journey; but it is really but the beginning of an even more challenging journey onward.
It is a journey into the world of human and professional responsibility that you undertake with great gratitude for the education that you have received here at the Assumption College of Davao. You are grateful to your parents who have sacrificed so much to bring you to the joy of this day. You are grateful to your teachers and administrators who have taught and cared for you, often as their own. But in the context of our Gospel, it is a journey that you undertake with profound gratitude for your faith.
In our Gospel it is very clear, faith is not the result of a logical argument. It is not compelled by a personal encounter nor warranted by even extraordinary events experienced in the world. Faith is a gift. It is a gift given freely in the compassion of the Father expressed through Son calling forth our belief in him through the Holy Spirit. It is a gift freely received through the Spirit in believing in Jesus as the Word of the Father.
It is in the context of the faith that as graduates of Assumption College of Davao, with its mission of transformative education, you accept your mission of the transformation of the world in solidarity with the poor, the oppressed, the outcast, the excluded according to the imperative given us by the Lord who came that we might all have life, life to the full! This is life not diminished by poverty, ignorance, miscommunication, injustice. This is the fullness of human life that you must contribute to with your educated life. In so doing, may you accept its necessary sacrifices. But may it bring you the fullest of joy!