[Homily. Baccalaureate Mass. Classes 2020, 2021. Based on Rom 5:1-11 and Jn 6:16-21. April 17, 2021.]
It is a special blessing that we can gather here in the Assumption Chapel for your Baccalaureate Mass, even though because of the pandemic only a few of you can be here physically to represent the 1125 graduates of your combined classes of 2020 and 2021. For us who are gifted with the faith, this chapel is a sanctuary of our shared hope, immediately in Mary, our mother, whose assumption into heaven reminds us of the special hope bestowed on all of us through the sacrifice of her son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
As we heard in our second reading from the letter of Paul to the Romans, through our faith we rejoice, we boast, in the hope of the Glory of God. That is ultimately the hope of being overawed by the Glory of God in heaven, as Mary, assumed into heaven, is.
This is hope on a plane much deeper than any hope you may have because of the higher knowledge, skills and qualifications you have acquired in your college life at Ateneo de Davao. You have worked hard for these, and the hope they bring you for advancement in this world in indisputable.
But the hope I refer to springs from the ultimate meaningfulness of your lives that are subject to death, corruption, evil, sin and separation from God, no matter the profession or job you embrace as a consequence of your graduation. From this sin and evil you are ultimately saved through your faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. It is only through this faith, as we heard in our second reading, that we have ultimate meaning [justification] in our lives. It is only through faith that we have peace with God. And it is only through sustained faith that as Christians we resist evil in the world, fortified by the power of the Risen Lord. Fortes in fide: strong in the faith. That is the fundamental value of ADDU graduates. “Fortes in fide” comes from the first letter of St. Peter to early Christian communities of Asia Minor, many of them under threat of persecution. The passage may speak to you meaningfully on your graduation day.
“Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your worries upon him because he came for you.
“Be sober and vigilant. Your enemy the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [victims] to devour. Resist him strong in the faith – fortes in fide – knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings. The God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory through Christ Jesus will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you after you have suffered a little” (1 Peter 5:6-10).
After you have suffered a little. Because of love. This is not just a concession that in negotiating this world there will be hardship. Like all the suffering and dying that has come from the COVID pandemic. Like all the difficulty that comes from not being able to interact with fellow human beings normally. Like all the difficulty that comes with adjusting to new work environments, from experiencing gaps in communication between colleagues, friends and loved ones. Those are hardships experienced by all young people in the Philippines trying to negotiate this world. But the hardships Sts. Peter and Paul are talking about come from standing to what you believe in in faith, even as forces in the world inimical to faith like the outright rejection of God or the worship of pseudo gods like wealth, honor, and self glorification militate against your faith.
Even as Paul says, “We boast in the hope of the Glory of God [in the next life]” he also says, “Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance produces proven character, and proven character hope, and this hope that does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our heart through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. … God proved his love for us that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Boasting in the hope of the Glory of God, we boast in our sufferings today in keeping the faith, in standing strong in the relationship with God, in preserving the peace with God won through the gift of faith, because faith connects me to Christ having suffered and died for me in love. For God is love, and before I could utter any word of love, God loved me first. We boast in our afflictions, because afflictions produce perseverance, and perseverance proven character, that is, the person who I firmly am and stand to standing for God in my life in faith. In contrast to this, how many there are, lacking faith, whose afflictions have produced withdrawal [for they reject suffering, or even just inconvenience], withdrawal producing wishy-washiness, wishy-washiness producing self-rejection, depression and despair!
Proven character produces hope not just for the Glory of God in the next world but the Glory of God breaking into my life in this world allowing me in joy to take up my Cross and follow him, especially here in Mindanao. Is this not what living for the greater glory of God means, not me adding to the reputation and esteem of God, which he does not need, but living so that God’s love and compassion, his Glory in his Son on the Cross, is manifested more and more clearly in my life through deeds of love urged by faith? Is this not what happens when as an Atenean I freely share of my knowledge with others, when I stand up for the human rights of another, when I work to protect the environment for others, when I stoop down to wash the feet of others, when I choose the work of my life not in pursuit of my interest but in the interest of all, when I love my God above all things and my neighbor as myself? Here, are not all the key values of an ADDU education present? Being women and men for others. Living ad majorem Dei gloriam. Being fortes in fide, strong in the faith.
In our Gospel for today, the apostles are in a boat as the waters of the sea are stirred up due to a strong wind. Jesus is walking on the water. They began to be afraid. Jesus said, “It is I. Do not be afraid!” (Jn 6:20). That is certainly the good news for your graduation today – and for the rest of your lives. To each of you in this stormy situation, the Lord says “It is I. Do not be afraid.” Remember, he said, “I know mine, and mine know me. … I lay down my life for my sheep” (Jn 10:14-15). “I have come to bring you life, life to the full” (Jn 10:10). If this is so, have we anything to fear? As Paul said, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not give us everything else along with him? Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen one? It is God who acquits us. Who will condemn? It is Christ Jesus who died, rather, was raised, and also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish or distress or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor height nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:31-39).
In sum, dear graduates of Ateneo de Davao University: Live strong in your faith; love in being women and men for others, especially in Mindanao; hope in ever allowing the Glory of God to more wonderfully manifest itself in your lives! So will your lives be lived ad majorem Dei gloriam – unto the greater glory of God!