“To the Ends of the Earth” Today

[Homily:  First Friday.  June 3, 2022.]

From the side of the Crucified Lord flowed water and blood.  From the side of the Crucified Lord flowed the Church.  From the side of the Crucified Lord, St. John Chrysostom said, flowed the water of baptism and the blood of the Eucharist, that is, the Church. 

Today, we celebrate the one Paschal Mystery in time, and celebrate aspects of it one by one:  the Eucharist on Holy Thursday, the Suffering and Death of the Lord on Good Friday, his Resurrection on Easter Sunday, his Ascension on Ascension Thursday or the Sunday after, and Pentecost, ten days after the Ascension, this coming Sunday.  In Ordinary Time we celebrate the Church.  But the Lord before he suffered, died, and rose again, said he needed to return to his Father’s house to prepare a place for us, and in order to be able to send us the Holy Spirit.

The ends of the Earth in the West.

The Spirit would remind the young Christian communities of all the Lord had taught us.  It would guide the development of the early Church that grew from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.

In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter preached to Jewish Christians in and around Jerusalem.

Paul was the Apostle of the Gentiles.  Towards the end of the Acts of the Apostles, we hear in our First Reading for today, Paul needed to defend himself against “the Jews” in Jerusalem before the new Roman Governor Porcius Festus and before the King of Judea, Herod Agrippa I. It was by “appealing to Caesar” that Paul escaped murder in Jerusalem and was sent as a prisoner to Rome where even as a prisoner he was able to preach the Gospel in what was for Luke at the ends of the earth. 

Historically, it is uncertain how Paul died.  Some say he was martyred – beheaded – under the brutal Roman Emperor, Nero.  But Paul wished to bring the Gospel further east, to Spain. If he was not martyred in Rome, he may even have reached there!  Through his life mission, marked by travail and persecution and directed by the Holy Spirit, the small sect of Jewish believers in Christ was transformed into a world religion which changed the course of human history. 

The Apostle of the Gentiles traveled West, “to the ends of the earth.”

The ends of the Earth in the East

Reflecting on this, we may consider that we are at the opposite “ends of the Earth” in the East.  Europe is called the Land of the Setting Sun.  We are in the lands of the Rising Sun.  Today we are invited to appreciate how the Gospel needed to be brought to us also under the guidance of the Holy Spirit by such great missionaries as Francis Xavier and Mateo Ricci.  Francis Xavier brought the faith to Goa then to the Moluccas, then to Japan. After returning to Goa on official business as Provincial then returning to Japan he died on the Chinese Island of Shanchuan, short of entering mainland China.  Mateo Ricci did, not only by entering the great Chinese Middle Kingdom but by entering its culture.  Till today he is honored not only as a great missionary of the Church but as a great sage of China.  Of course, it was the Spanish missionaries who just over 500 years ago brought the faith to us in the Philippines. 

The ends of the Earth in Africa and the Americas

From Europe, the Gospel was preached to the ends of the earth in Africa not only by Catholic Christians but also by Protestant Christians. 

The Memorial that we celebrate today is that of the Christian witnesses in Africa (1885-87), St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, martyrs of Uganda.  Their martyrdom is tied to that of another Ugandan martyr, St. Joseph Mukasa Balikudembe.  All were in the service of King Mwanga II of Buganda.  When King Myanga II insisted that Christians prove their loyalty to him by renouncing their religion, upon their refusal, he killed them all, including and Anglican bishop, James Hannington.  Joseph Mukasa Balikudembe, the mayor-domo of King Mwanga II, reproached the king for these executions.  For this he was beheaded. 

Charles Lwanga was made to take his place as major domo.  As head servant, he acted to protect the male pages from the sexual abuse of the pedophile king.  After refusing to renounce his faith, Lwanga was executed with twelve others.  They were burned at the stake.  From the earliest accounts of the Church, “the blood of martyrs” has been “the seed of the Church.”

Of course, the Good News has been preached and the blood of martyrs spilled in North America and in South America as well.

The Ends of the Earth at “the Peripheries”

But today we may consider that under the Holy Spirit the good news preached “to the ends of the earth” is not merely geographical.  Pope Francis repeatedly admonishes us to bring the Joy of the Gospel to the peripheries of our society, to the outcaste, the discarded poor, the homeless refugees, the despairing youth, the unarmed victims of violent extremism and violent wars.

Today the witnesses of the Gospel may be those who in conscience struggle for the common good, e.g., those who offer their personal talent, time and treasure to provide a viable political alternative to voters despite insurmountable odds, those who stand for their political convictions even when on a stretcher they can no longer stand and cast their vote trusting in the power of God, those who stand courageously against people who in selfish interest would kill our common home as through open-pit mining in South Cotabato, those who sacrifice time and treasure to bring nourishment to the stunted and wasted malnourished, those who continue in social friendship to work against the obstacles to genuine fraternity in our Mindanao and in our world, no matter the cost.  These, St. Ignatius would say, follow not only “a human king” but “Christ our Lord, the Eternal King.”  These are those who have considered following Christ not only with “judgement and reason” but by “distinguishing themselves” making it “my earnest desire and deliberate choice, provided it be for thy greater service and praise, to imitate Thee in bearing all wrongs and all abuse and all poverty, both actual and spiritual, should Thy most holy majesty deign to choose and admit me to such a state and way of life” (cf. SpEx, 91-98, esp. 98).

Looking at the Crucified Lord we know such interior movements only make sense in the Spirit convincing us of God’s love for us from the Cross and moving us to love for him in our world – till the end of the earth.

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To the Ends of the Earth

[Homily based on the Acts of the Apostles, Friday, May 27, 2022.]

We have been reading from the Acts of the Apostles.

As we have been celebrating the profound mystery of the Resurrection and are about to celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension this Sunday and the Solemnity of Pentecost the following Sunday, I would like to invite you to a prayerful reading or re-reading of the Acts of the Apostles.  Many of us may not yet have an opportunity to do this.  In the flow of our liturgy, now may be the time.  In the first pages of the Acts, there are accounts of the Ascension and of Pentecost: 

Acts says of Ascension Thursday [yesterday, 50 days after the Resurrection]:  Jesus said, “’You will receive power when the Holy Spirt comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this as they were looking on, he was lifted up.  A cloud took him from their midst” (1:8-9).

Of Pentecost, Acts reports of the apostles who had huddled together in the upper room in fear, “Then there appeared to them tongues of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim” (2:3-4). 

Two Volumes of One Work

It is good however to locate these events in the context of the integral unity between Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.  Luke is the author of both.  He did not mean them to be read in isolation of one another, but as two volumes of one work, that is, two volumes of his intended “narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us” (Lk 1:1).  The narrative does not close with the Ascension.  Instead, the Ascension is a transition to the fulfillment of the promise that reached beyond the Ascension:  “…the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and “…that repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached in his name to all the nations beginning from Jerusalem” (Lk 24-47).   That fulfillment is described in the entire book of Acts, where after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles in Jerusalem, Luke narrates how the Gospel is preached first to the Jews, then to the non-Jews or Gentiles, to the ends of the earth.

Of course, the whole New Testament is how the Old Testament covenant between Yahweh, who is faithful, and his People, who are unfaithful, is finally fulfilled in the New Covenant, the New Testament, where Jesus, the Messiah, suffers, dies and is raised from the dead to redeem and reconcile God’s chosen People with the Father.  But Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are saying it does not stop with the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.  As Jesus in the Resurrection is ascended to the Father, so does he together with the Father send the Holy Spirit to us – as he promised – to bring together those who believe in Jesus Christ into a new community, which under the direction of the Holy Spirit will bring the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. 

So if in the narrative of the Gospel according to St. Luke Jesus’ ministry moves from Galilee gradually to Jerusalem, the narrative of Acts is how from Jerusalem with the outpouring there of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of Jesus, the Gospel under the direction of the Holy Spirit is preached to the ends of the earth.

St. Peter’s Leadership and Witness

In the beginning of Acts, the leader and spokesperson of the community of believers in the Resurrected Jesus is Peter.  When, after the Pentecost event in Jerusalem, some people deride those who had received the power of the Holy Spirit as drunkards, it is Peter who addresses them declaring they were not drunkards but witnesses to the Resurrection of the Lord whom the Jews had wrongly put to death.   He calls for repentance and belief in the Gospel, that is, in Jesus as our redeemer.  It is Peter who in the name of Jesus cures a crippled beggar and many other sick, and so wins the belief of more people in Jesus.  It is Peter who defends the new community before the hostile Jewish Sanhedrin that attempted to gag them from preaching about Jesus as the Messiah.  Peter and the Apostles declare, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to obey you rather than God, you be the judges.  It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard” (4:19-20).  The good news about Jesus needed to be preached.  The immediate outcome:  Jewish Christians.  Practicing circumcised Jews who became Christians.  Their opponents, Jews who refused to become Christians. 

The Gospel needed to be preached not only in Jerusalem and in the territories around Jerusalem.  The Gospel needed to be preached to the ends of the earth.  It needed to be preached to people who were not Jewish nor Jewish Christians, but who may have had other religious beliefs. 

God’s Conversion of a Jewish Pharisee

That’s also what’s exciting about the Acts of the Apostles.  For these non-Jewish people, or Gentiles, God intervenes very dramatically.  He takes a young man from Tarsus specially educated under the famous Jewish rabbi, Gamaliel, who had been appointed to the central Jewish governing body, the Sanhedrin;  he was a learned and ambitious Pharisee who had been brutally persecuting the believers in Jesus.   On the way to Damascus and Antioch to proclaim the formal prohibition of the Sanhedrin to believe in Jesus, God knocks him off his horse with a light that actually blinds him.  Jesus complains, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  It was not only a vision but a deep and personal experience by Paul of the Crucified but Resurrected Lord.  This experience changed his life – and changed the course of human history.  It obligated him to give witness to the Crucified and Resurrected Lord as the source of salvation for all who would believe in him to the ends of the earth.  

To the Ends of the Earth

The rest of Acts is an account of how Saul suffers, first,  in order to find his way into the very Jewish Christian Community of “The Way” that he used to persecute, and then how he suffers eventually to bring the Gospel beyond this first community of Jewish Christian believers to communities of non-Jews, the Syrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans , that is, to the Gentiles.  Paul undertook three separate missionary journeys on foot and by sea, first in Asia Minor, but then all the way to Greece, including those ancient cities we have heard of in our recent readings at Mass.  In Athens, Paul tries to evangelize the Athenians by identifying the Athenian statue “to the Unknown God” with Jesus, the Messiah.  But when the intellectual Athenians hear of a man resurrected from the dead they laugh him out of Athens.  In today’s reading he is in Corinth where despite the attacks of the local Jews, obeying the Lord’s mandate he stays for a year and a half to build up the Corinthian Christian community.  From his letters to the Corinthians, we know that this was a community endeared to Paul but challenged, and some of the most moving pastoral sentiments of Paul in caring for the Corinthians can be found in 2 Corinthians.   Finally, in Paul’s last trip to Jerusalem, he courageously faced the Jews who wanted him put to death for preaching Jesus Christ.  He escapes death as a Roman citizen by appealing to Ceasar.  On this appeal he endures shipwreck and the attack of a viper in Malta to finally make it to Rome.  Here, Acts ends, with Paul as a prisoner, yet free enough to preach the Gospel of Jesus in Rome, fulfilling Jesus’ mandate that Gospel be proclaimed to the ends of the earth.

“…if only we suffer with him…”

As I said, it is time to read or re-read the Acts of the Apostles especially before the Feast of Pentecost.  Understanding the experiences of Peter and Paul in establishing the first Christan communities under the direction of the Holy Spirit would help us better understand our calling, our responsibilities, and our future under the Holy Spirit:  “The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit,” Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “that we are children of God, and if children then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:16-17).

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Feed my Lambs.  Feed my Sheep.  Feed my Malnourished Children

[Homily.  First Friday Mass.  Jn. 6:60-69. May 6, 2021]

What Jesus said in today’s Gospel was controversial.  Those who were listening to him quarreled about what he really meant.  In fact, when Jesus had finished teaching, there were those among the disciples of Jesus who were so perplexed, if not scandalized, by it that they were forced to disassociate themselves from Jesus.  “This saying is hard,” they said. “Who can accept it?” (60).  “As a result of this many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him” (66).  The departure of these disciples must have been one of the saddest experiences of Jesus in his public ministry.  Their departure meant they had rejected Jesus. 

Today the saying remains controversial.  For unless you “get it,” you’d think that Jesus was offering his flesh to eat and blood to drink in a type of bizarre cannibalism.  “Amen, amen I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.  For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (53-55).  What Jesus was talking about was all that he was about:  the eternal Word of God, the expression in the flesh of the Father’s compassion for humankind, the incarnated Word of God who, coming to bring us “life, life to the full” (Jn 10:10), suffers, dies and is raised up for us.  That self-sacrifice in love for us is his Body given up for us and his Blood poured out for us through which he is uplifted on the Cross, raised in Resurrection, that we may be all raised redeemed to the Father in love.  Is this not what we actually remind ourselves of every First Friday?

In appreciating Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist which uses Bread to bring to light the profoundly spiritual aspect of the Eucharist, that it was much more than the bread that was multiplied to actually feed more than five-thousand people who were hungry, that it was much more than the manna that fell from heaven to actually feed the Israelites wandering in the desert on their way to the Promised Land who were hungry, it does not erase the fact that God was concerned about human hunger and responded to this not just with spiritual words but with food.  It is in this context important to note that the Resurrected Jesus continues to concern himself with the importance of stilling hunger as a sign of acknowledgment that he is alive.  In Luke’s Gospel, when the Resurrected Lord appears to the gathered disciples for the first time, and their joy and amazement is yet mixed with fear, incredulity and doubt, Jesus asks, “’Have you anything to eat?’ They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them” (Lk. 24: 41-43).  The sign of Jesus’ resurrected life was clear:  ghosts do not eat.  In the Gospel of John, after a group of disciples had labored the whole night fishing in the Lake of Galilee and had caught nothing, Jesus calls from the shoreline, “Have you caught anything to eat?”  When they reply, “No” (Jn 21:6), he instructs them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat.  Catching almost more fish than they can handle, they recognize it is Jesus.  Again, it is food astonishingly provided that helps them to recognize the resurrected Jesus.  On the shore, over a charcoal fire, the resurrected Jesus actually prepares breakfast for them.  He “came over and took bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish” (Jn 21:13).  The breakfast is but a prelude the intimate conversation between the resurrected Jesus and Peter who on the night of Jesus’ arrest denied him thrice.  Jesus now asks him three times, “Do you love me?” Every time Peter said, “Yes, I love you.  You know that I love you!” Jesus’ instruction to him was “Feed my lambs.  Feed my sheep.  Feed my sheep.”  Of course, that may mean spreading the entire profound doctrine about Jesus as the Bread of Life, but its anchor in actual feeding may not be overlooked.  The Father was concerned for his People actually hungry in the desert, so he gave them manna.   Jesus was concerned for his listeners actually hungry, so he gave them bread and fish.   He was actually hungry with hungry people, even the most morally dubious, with whom he shared table fellowship, and so he ate with them.   Today he continues to be concerned about the actual hunger of starving and malnourished people to whom the Good News of the resurrected Lord is preached.   For what would be the genuineness of our faith in and love for the Risen Lord if we proclaim him alive, but do not care for his lambs, his sheep?

We cannot say today our faith is strong in the Risen Lord and not care about hungry people.  Recall the words of St. James, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works [deeds]?  Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well, but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?  So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jas. 2:14-17).  Finally, consider an essential criterion for the glorious Son of Man coming as Judge of Heaven and Earth admitting a believer to paradise; Jesus says, “For I was hungry, and you gave me food…” (Mt. 25:35).  When the believers ask him when it was that they fed him, he replies, “Whatever you did for one of these least sisters and brothers of mine, that you did for me” (Mt. 25:40).

The resurrected Lord asks us, “Do you do you love me?”  If we reply yes, Jesus answers, “Feed my lambs.  Feed my young children who are hungry.  Feed my children who are so malnourished they are ‘stunted’.  Feed my children who are ‘wasted’”

My sisters and brothers, ADDU is now involved in daily supplementary feeding of malnourished children, Catholic and Muslim, in Brgys. 76-A, 21,22,23 and Ma-a of Davao through a program called Malnutrition Intervention Alternatives (MIA) in collaboration with the Department of Health and the Local Government of Davao.  Should you, in your declared love for the Resurrected Lord still concerned about the hunger of his people, wish to help bring healing nourishment for children documented as stunted and wasted, please contact our Eucharistic minister, Ms. Nelia Villarta, who is the nutritionist head of this program.  She will tell you how you can help.  Stunted children are too short for their age; wasted children are too thin for their height.  In the Philippines, a high 30% of children under five are stunted, while this is only 20% in countries of comparable income.  In our Bangsamoro areas, 40% of children under five are wasted.  To address this problem, Nelia oversees the production and distribution of the MIA “power powder” of nutrients that the children are now either eating straight from the package or adding to their meals.   The quantities that they consume daily are calibrated against the severity of their malnutrition.

Meanwhile, beginning today, the collections and donations that we receive on First Fridays shall be dedicated to feeding the Lord’s malnourished children in this project. “If you love me,” he says, “feed my lambs…  I am the Bread of Life.”

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Strong in Faith, in Hope, Discerning and Wise

[College Graduation Address.  23 April 2022]

It has been my privilege today to officially confer on you your degrees for the courses you have completed.  You have worked hard for them.  Rejoice in them. 

Bear them both with pride and with humility.  With pride because they do attest to real knowledge, skills and competencies which you have acquired through difficult college years that were benefitted by the K-12 reform and challenged by the COVID 10 pandemic.  You have learned such professions as business management, accountancy, chemistry, nursing, education, philosophy, psychology, architecture, civil engineering, electronics engineering, even aerospace engineering, in some cases with outstanding achievement. 

Bear these, however, also with humility, because no matter how much you have learned, you know that there is much more you could have learned, and, as professions develop, so much that you yet have to learn.  Indeed, where frameworks of learning change, paradigms shift, and modes of production are revolutionized, you know that there is much you may have to unlearn.  No matter how much we may wish a world that is stable, certain, simple and clear, if ever that world existed, it is now gone.  The ongoing wars and real threats of nuclear war, the clashing public policies of polarized politicians, indeed, the confusion of clashing ideologies, some stressing freedom and liberty, others stressing efficiency and expediency, the unmitigated climate change causing devastating weather extremes and catastrophic calamities, the absolute claims of religions for unquestioning obedience or death, and the yet ongoing fourth industrial revolution destroying old professions and creating new, points to a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. It is a world in which you must continue to learn, adapt, change, rethink assumptions, shift courses, reset targets, collaborating with people and experts you have yet to meet, trust and befriend.  You either deal with this world or you perish. 

That may seem like a lot of pressure.  And your response may be, “Stop the world, I want to get off!”  Instead, where this world is volatile, fall back on your faith, and be strong in your faith.  Faith is a gift.  It is given to you freely.  And freely you must accept it.  Accept that in this world there is a God, that he is good, and that he means well to you.  Remain faithful to this God and he will remain faithful to you.  Remember it was he who first called you to be with him in love.  He is a faithful God.  Where this world is uncertain, fall back on the hope that God gives you with faith.  In faith you know your hope is not only in this passing world.  Ultimately your hope is everlasting glory with God.  But in this hope you know that the trials, tribulations and ordeals you endure in this world themselves generate hope ultimately because you know yourselves loved in Jesus Christ.  Where this world is complex, fall back on the habits of discernment that you have encountered in Ignatian spirituality, testing the spirits in order always in the vuca world to follow the the promptings of the Spirit.  Finally, where this world is ambiguous, be wise – not just with the wisdom of the ancient sages, but with the humility that seeks in life to find what God wills and the obedience to freely accept and do God’s will.

In encouraging you in a vuca world to be strong in the faith, rich in hope, practiced in discernment and imbued with the choicest of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, wisdom, I now invoke the Lord to bless you all…

May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May He make his face shine upon you
And give you Peace.

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A Celebration of Thanksgiving

[College Baccalaureate Homily:  Luke 24: 35-48.  21 April 2022]

Every Eucharist is a celebration of thanks.  This comes from the first Eucharist when taking bread, the Lord gave thanks, gave the bread to his disciples and said, “Take this all of you and eat of it. This is my Body given up for you.” Then he took wine; he blessed it, and gave it to his disciples saying.  “Take and drink.  This is my Blood poured out for you.”  The first Eucharist was one with the passion and death of our Lord, where his body was sacrificed and his blood poured out in love for you.  Beyond his suffering and death for you, Jesus’ thanksgiving is also for what we heard in our Gospel for this morning.  Jesus died.  But he was raised from the dead.  He had confronted the evil powers of sin and death.  But in dying he overcame sin; in dying he dealt death its death blow.  In remaining obedient to the Father’s will unto death, he ultimately triumphed for you.  That, turning away from sin, you may find forgiveness and life in the Lord.  “Thus it is written,” Jesus explains in our Gospel, “that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” You are witnesses of these things” (24:46-48).

It is in this context that we give thanks this morning.  One week ago on Holy Thursday, we celebrated the first Eucharist which was inseparable from the memorial of the Lord’s passion and death “for you” on Good Friday, also inseparable from the celebration of the Lord’s resurrection for you on Easter Sunday.  In life, which through Jesus ends not in the darkness of a tomb in the light and glory of eternal life, this is what we ultimately give God thanks for. 

But today we also give thanks for your college graduation.  And give thanks you must, for this has been a long and difficult journey for you.  You are the first batch of graduates who have experienced the full effects of the K-12 reform.  Before your time, 10 years of basic education was considered sufficient for college.  But all over the world basic education required 12 years.  So in the Philippines we added two years.  Those two years we now call senior high school. Here at ADDU, we began SHS at the Jacinto campus. But we finished it in our own brand new dedicated senior high school.  Those were years where you had to do a lot of adjustment – to academic programs and formational activities that were new, exciting and exacting.  Your SHS ensured that when you entered college you were a mature 18 years of age.  Your maturity and intelligent participativeness  in classes were immediately noticeable. In 2020 however the COVID 19 pandemic struck.  It was totally unexpected.  It upended many of our lives.  It adversely affected many of our parents’ and relatives’ businesses, livelihood and jobs.  In the beginning the lethal virus was far away.  In time, however, many people we knew got very sick from COVID; many people we know, some of them our relatives and friends, died.  Alone.  Isolated from relatives and friends.  In this context the University shifted to online learning.  No matter how difficult that was, we were blessed to be able to do that.  We had the infrastructure.  Our teachers and staff and students came together to ensure the continuation of your education.  It was not always a smooth ride.  There were many bumps along the way.  You had to cope with difficult teachers, with isolation, with poor internet access, with less than ideal learning conditions.  You missed the interaction, the learning together, the singing together, the dancing together.  But the shift allowed you to achieve, if not surpass, minimum learning outcomes.  That is why we are here today, giving thanks to God for your graduation.

This Mass is an occasion for thanksgiving. For your parents and relatives who sacrificed much that you might graduate today.  For your teachers, your administrators, your friends. For the God who creates you, redeems you, and loves you in Jesus Christ, walking with you on your journey of life.  The journey included your pioneering the K-12 reform.   It included swimming through the murky waters of the pandemic.  The journey does not end today.  It continues not only in the fresh hopes that your academic achievements bring, but in the hope of his death and resurrection embraced for you in love.  As Jesus said, remain in that love.  God is love. 

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A Stellar Online Batch

[Address.  SHS Graduation.  22 April 2022.]

It is a privilege for me to finally be able to address you, if not face to face, online.  When you enrolled for the ADDU Senior High School (SHS) two years ago, the pandemic had already begun.  We had a spanking new stand-alone SHS campus in Bangkal dedicated to the special pedagogical purposes of the K-12 reform.  This campus was built for you.  But you are now graduating from the ADDU SHS without ever having used the campus.  Indeed, your limited enjoyment of it shall be just throughout the month of May when you go to Bangkal in order to take selfies and batch pictures.  Your entire ADDU SHS experience was online, and your experience of one another virtual.  So when you go to the Bangkal, for most of you it shall be the first time that you meet your class- and batchmates face to face, see the sizes and shapes of their physiques, hear the sounds of their natural voices, catch the joy in their laughter, see brightness of their eyes and the warmth of  their smiles.

The remarkable thing however is when that day comes, you shall not be strangers.  In fact, you shall share a bondedness with one another that comes from two whole years of online learning and interaction with one another that have distinguished you as a stellar batch.  From the hour of your enrollment you knew that your ADDU SHS  experience would be online. You did not complain about this.  The pandemic was getting people very sick, then even taking lives.  You did not whine.  Instead you embraced your online education as a matter of choosing what was necessary to continue your education.  Online you met teachers who worked hard on appropriate coarseware to make your online learning experience productive, if not even enjoyable; you met formators who attended to your spirit, to your moods, to your ups but also to your downs, in respectful conversation, in recollections, in retreats.  They worked so that as your knowledge increased, you also grew stronger in the faith.  But online you also met your classmates – in strands, in sections, in clusters, in shared subjects, in clubs.  All was online, but you drew maximum fruit from the platforms in creativity, so that the bonding among yourselves was strong.  With one another, you shared your talents and your skills by actively participating in class and in SHS celebrations and programs.    Today you recall the orientation programs, the fiestas, the IGNITE intramurals, the Christmas parties, Teachers’ Day, Strand days, the research disseminations, the competitions both inside and outside ADDU.  Through your Pulsong Atenista Student Government Officers you remember how a harmonious relationship between learners and teachers, and formators was cultivated.  Remarkably, online, you developed a powerful sense of belongingness to your batch – a sense of quiet triumph in shared achievement.

You are a batch of 1,392 graduates.  But of your batch 705 or 51% have graduated with academic honors.  In your batch, for the first time ever, there are ten of you who have graduated with highest honors, that is, with an average of 98% or above over four consecutive semesters.  Happily, your strengths have been developed coming not only from private but from public schools.  Your valedictorian, Mr. Hyram Yusico, comes from a public high school;  your salutatorian, Mr. Zaidamin Haron, hails from a private school. 

You are a stellar batch.  You have learned much.  But in humility you also know you have much yet to learn, even as many of you continue to cope with financial challenges brought about by the pandemic, or with mental stresses as you tackle multiple challenges coming at you from different directions all at the same time.  Challenges notwithstanding, you have gone through Senior High School with a dream – a dream to be able to give back to your families who have sacrificed much that you may go through ADDU’s SHS, a dream that through your successes in this SHS you may move on to college, there to prepare yourselves for life.  Hopefully in the SHS, as I mentioned earlier today in our Baccalaureate Mass, part of your life dream emerges from your experience of being truly loved – loved by your families and friends, loved by your faith community, loved by your school community.  But also loved by your Father, loved by Jesus, your brother and redeemer, and loved by the Spirit of Love.  Love, love, love!  Love received, love appreciated, love shared – especially with the least, the lost and the lonely in Mindanao.    Hopefully, your life dream includes them.  That in the special competencies you acquire, you may be able to lead them to a more humane life. 

Congratulations, graduates of ADDU SHS, graduates of basic education at ADDU.  In the ardor of this Love, Love, Love, go now and set the world on fire!       

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A Lakeside Breakfast with the Risen Lord

[SHS Baccalaureate Mass.  Jn. 21:1-14.  22 April 2022.]

In the Gospel of John, the Resurrected Lord appears to the disciples first on the evening of Easter Sunday.  They were gathered together behind locked doors for they were afraid of the Jews.  Suddenly Jesus is in their midst and wishes them Peace.  He shows them his hands and his feet, and the disciples rejoice.  Already with that first appearance, he missions them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.  Whose sins you retain are retained.” As a fruit of the Resurrection, he sends out his disciples to forgive sins. 

Thomas was not with them then and shows himself skeptical of what the other disciples have reported to him.  A week later, Jesus appears to the disciples again, this time with Thomas present.  He wishes all Peace.  Then very personally he says to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand here and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving but believe.”  Responding to the Lord alive, present and addressing his earlier disbelief, he responds with what is a high point in John’s Gospel, “My Lord and my God!”

The Gospel of John could have ended at that point.  But it continues with the passage from John the Church gives to you on the day of your graduation from Senior High School.  Here, Jesus is at the shoreline of the Sea of Tiberias also known as the northern Lake of Galilee.  He has a charcoal fire going to prepare breakfast.  He means “to reveal himself again to his disciples.” 

The day previous, on the suggestion of Peter, the disciples went fishing.  They had labored the whole night, but had caught nothing.  They see the man on the shore, but they do not recognize him.  He asks, “Have you anything to eat?”  “No,” they answer. They are tired, and the question only sharpens their frustration.  Then, as many times in the Gospel of John, Jesus sets a sign to reveal himself, his power, his relationship with his Father.  “Cast your net over the right side of the boat and you will find something!” he calls out.  They do.  Their catch was overwhelming.  To fishermen it was specially eye opening.  John understands the sign, and tells Peter, “It is the Lord!”  Peter gets it, puts on clothes, then jumps into the water to meet Jesus in all his excitement, even as the other disciples labor at bringing in the extraordinary catch of fish.  Cooking even some of the 153 fish the disciples dragged ashore, the Resurrected Lord prepared breakfast for them.  In this way he revealed himself alive, eating with them, helping them overcome their fear, preparing them for mission. 

What follows the lakeside breakfast in John’s Gospel is Jesus’ intimate conversation with Peter.  It is as if the breakfast is but as prelude for this intimate encounter.  For all of Peter’s bravado, when Jesus was arrested, he denied him thrice.  We know that when Peter had realized what he had done, he wept bitterly in remorse.    So now in their first intimate face-to-face encounter since his death and resurrection, Jesus asks him, “Do you love me.” Peter says yes. Jesus tells him.  “Feed my lambs.”  But then Jesus asks him again, “Do you love me?” Peter says “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  Jesus tells him, “Tend my sheep.” But then a third time Jesus asks him, “…Do you love me.”  Peter, distressed at the repeated question, replies, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”  Jesus replies, “Feed my sheep.”  In this encounter between Jesus and Peter, for as many times as Peter denied him, he draws out his confession of love.  For as many times Peter confesses his love, Jesus forgives his earlier failures to love.  For as many times Peter confesses his love,  Jesus missions him now to care for his lambs, to care for his sheep.

In your senior high school, you have heard it over and over again: love, love love!  Hopefully, this is something you will not allow yourselves to forget as you move on in your journey of life.  Many times, things do not go the way you expect.  In your senior high school in pandemic years, there were many examples of this.  Many times, like the disciples, you went fishing the whole night and caught nothing.  Many times, it may have been difficult for you to find God, to acknowledge that he was and continues to be with you, especially in your moments of fear and discouragement.  Many times he appears in your life, knowing quite well what you are experiencing, but you do not recognize him.  And yet, quietly he has continued to lead you, helping you to cast your nets where you can be fruitful and successful.  Many times, using the fruit of your faith, he continues to nourish you.  And then to you, he asks, “Do you love me?”  “Do you love me?”  “Do you love me?”  And if you say, “Yes, yes, yes, I love, love, love,”  Jesus replies, “Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep. Feed my sheep.”  Love, love, love.  Where there is hatred, love.  Where there is poverty, love.  Where there is ignorance, love.  Where there is disbelief, remember: God is love.  His Son is love.  His Spirit is love.  Be strong in faith and truthful in deeds because God accepts your love. 

This is what the Resurrected Lord reveals on the shore of the Lake of Galilee. 

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One Man Should Die for the People

[Homily.  9 April 2022.  Jn 11:45-56.]

Our Gospel for today begins right after Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead.

It was the seventh of Jesus’ signs or works in the Gospel of John. 

Typically a sign manifested who Jesus was, what extraordinary powers he had, what his relationship was with the Father.

In these signs, Jesus manifested his power to change water into wine, to heal the sick son of a royal official in Capernaum, to tell a paralytic on a Sabbath day to take up his mat and walk, to feed 5000 men from five barley loaves and two fish, to walk on the water, to restore the sight of a man born blind, and to raise a dead friend to life. 

Jesus’ Signs Brought Belief or Enmity

The signs brought many to belief.  But they enraged “the Jews” – in John’s Gospel, the enemies of Jesus.

When the Jews challenged him as to whether or not he was the Messiah, Jesus said, “I told you and you do not believe.”  Then referring to the signs he had given, he said, “The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me.  But you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.  My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.  No one can take them out of my hand.  My Father who has given them to me is greater than all, and no one can take them out of my hand.  The Father and I are one” (10:25-28).

Jesus’ identification with the Father enraged the Jews.  “We are not stoning you for a good work.  You, a man, are making yourself one with God!” (10:33), they charged.  That people nevertheless continued to believe in Jesus, to accept his oneness with his Father, that here on earth he was the Way to the Father, the Truth of the Father, and how the Father brought Life to a dying world, enraged them all the more. 

The Sanhedrin Acts to Kill Jesus

After the sign Jesus set in raising Lazarus to life, there was a surge in the number of people who believed in him.  Belief in Jesus, who had lambasted the Sadducees, scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy, undermined the Jewish elite and their hold on the people.  So, in our Gospel for today the Sanhedrin was convened.  This was the highest and most powerful policy-making body of the entire Jewish world; it included the chief priests, the conservative majority of Sadducees and scribes and the more liberal minority of Pharisees.  Convened officially, the Sanhedrin deliberated on the threat that Jesus brought.  “What are we going to do?  This man is performing many signs.  If we leave him alone, all will believe in him., and the Romans will come and take away our lands and our nation” (11:47-48).  Caiphas, the high priest that year, says, “How ignorant you are!  You do not consider that it is better for you that one man should die for the people” (11:49-50).  He was implying that Jesus’ attacks on them who were subservient to Rome would cause the Romans to think the people were rising against Rome, and therefore come and destroy Jerusalem.  For Caiphas, then, it was better that Jesus, one man, should “die instead of the people, so that the whole nation shall not perish.”  It was a self-serving rationalization for the violence planned to keep the whole nation under the control of the Sanhedrin.  This was the Sanhedrin’s decision: “From that day on they planned to kill him” (11:53).   Even without Jesus present, he was condemned to death.

God Leads His Scattered People Back to Jerusalem

Meanwhile, the evangelist, John, sees Caiphas’ words in another light.  Caiphas, speaking officially as high priest, in fact “prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation and not only for  the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God” (11:51-52).  On one level, the dispersed children of Israel are the people Ezekiel refers to in our first reading, whom God leads back to Jerusalem from exile no longer as two nations, Israel and Judah, but as one people of God; no longer the humiliated people scattered in exile, but the people re-constituted and rehabilitated in the compassion of God.  God resets a covenant of peace with his people:  “My dwelling shall be with them; I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Ez 37:27). In John’s Gospel, this prophesy is fulfilled beyond expectation in the Incarnate Word of God dwelling with his people (cf 1:14), having “come to bring them life, life in abundance.” (10:10).

Jesus Would Die for the Nation

In John’s Gospel Jesus dies for the nation.  He is crucified with the inscription above him, “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.”  His death is not something forced on him;  it is something he freely embraces in the glory of the Kingship he assumes in obedience to his Father.  In the Gospel of John this is the 8th and ultimate sign of the compassion of the Father manifesting itself in the passion and death of his Son, where all who believe in him are lifted up with him lifted up on the Cross and so through death brought into the glory of new life, eternal life, life to the full.  All this takes place with the quiet dignity of the Suffering Servant of the Lord about whom we hear in the Prophet Isaiah:

There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him,
nor appearance that would attract us to him.
He was spurned and avoided by men,
a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity,
one of those from whom men hide their faces,
spurned, and we held him in no esteem.

Yet it was our infirmities that he bore,
our sufferings that he endured. 
While we thought of him as stricken,
as one smitten by God and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our offenses,
crushed for our sins.
Upon him the chastisement that makes us whole,
by his stripes we were healed… (cf. Is 52:13 – 53:12)

In this light, Caiphas, unwittingly echoing Isaiah, does prophecy that Jesus would die for the nation. 

Does this sign deepen our faith, raise our hope, strengthen our love?

Or does it align us with the well-respected, well-educated members of the Sanhedrin who resolved to kill Jesus to reject his Kingship and preserve their power?

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In a VUCA World, “Take Courage, Do Not Be Afraid!”

To Our Students, Prospective Students, and Our Parents:

Before the COVID 19 pandemic, there were other pandemics.  When the COVID 19 pandemic finally ends, there will still be pandemics.  It is certain: more pandemics will come.  Uncertain is only how transmissible and how lethal they will be. 

Before the COVID 19 pandemic, there were wars and the upheavals that war brings.  When the COVID 19 pandemic finally ends, there will still be wars.  The conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the East and the West, the North and the South, Iraq and Iran, Jerusalem and Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, the USA and China and North Korea point to this sad reality.  The world organization created to eliminate war, unfortunately, has failed.   

Before the COVID 19 pandemic, there was the struggle of our planet to survive the ravages of global warming due to carbon emissions. When the COVID 19 pandemic finally ends, this struggle will continue, punishing both those who heed it and ignore it with unprecedented extreme weather occurrences, unprecedented destruction due to typhoons and hurricanes, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, burning forests, flooded coastal cities, increasing temperatures killing agriculture on parched soil.   Climate change promises to bring more global upheaval and suffering than the COVID 19 pandemic did.

Before the COVID 19 situation, there were upheavals in our historical, social, and political landscape in our People’s struggle towards freedom and prosperity for all without exception.  When the COVID 19 pandemic finally ends, this struggle will continue demanding from each intelligence, knowledge, insight, commitment, sacrifice and cooperation unto a shared common good.

Before the COVID 19 pandemic, the fourth industrial revolution had begun. When the COVID 19 pandemic finally ends, the fourth industrial revolution will continue to upend old modes of production. It will replace tired manners of consumption, change the rhythms of everyday work, alter the universe of goods and services, and transform the ways of exchange and the worlds of finance.  To produce today to respond to increasing human consumption, we are beyond just harnessing steam, electricity, and computers and information technology.  Industry is integrating complex systems of electronically-automated systems of production using data science and artificial intelligence to become more efficient and responsive to (or exploitative of) current human “needs” – themselves created by the revolution.  Integral to this upheaval is the communications revolution giving people access to quick information and knowledge, but also to propaganda and wholesale disinformation.

Education had to change

Already before the COVID 19 pandemic, it was clear to educators that education had to change.  The classroom setup, which over centuries had equipped students with sufficient knowledge, skills, and disciplines for a lifetime career, had to be redesigned. Rich libraries, expensive laboratories, and a dominating – if not eccentrically domineering – teacher needed to be rethought and updated.  The 4th industrial revolution was sounding the death knell to many repetitive professions, even as it created hundreds of thousands of new jobs that were not on the lists of academic concentrations. 

Meanwhile, more and more people gained access to the benefits of basic and higher learning, debunking the idea that higher education was a privilege for the wealthy and not a right for all.  More and more educators began to see the benefits that the computers and smartphones in the context of the increasingly available internet could bring to people desiring education. Higher education could be democratized.  In time, prestigious institutions of learning began making their precious courses available to all free of charge online.  Whole collections of classical literature and scientific knowledge were put online.  So too everyday information about history, science, cultures, religions, and sacred books were made available.  “Google” was redefined as a verb used in the imperative.  If you had a question, “google it!”  Short courses on the Bible, archeology, politics, economics, dance, potting plants, and even – as was recently made clear to us – on how to make Molotov cocktails to repel invading Russians were available on YouTube.  Technology is now an inextricable part of the way people educate themselves today. 

ADDU HISflex classroom (photo by Igy Castrillo)

Hybrid-Blended Learning at ADDU

When ADDU declares it looks forward to a future of hybrid blended learning, this is the context.  The world has outgrown what the old face-to-face classroom with its single teacher dominating the learning experience of his or her students and leading him or her to the security of a single profession.  It has outgrown the comfort of the student in expecting a good grade for regurgitating what the teacher has taught in the classroom – all questions on content not taken up in class totally “unfair.” The world is now much larger than that classroom; the teacher only one among a host of other possible teachers online to enrich the students’ learning experience, the learning resources much richer than the school’s library collection and the re-hashed handouts the “experienced” teacher has used over generations of students.  And while ADDU continues to affirm the validity and imperative of the student working hard to gain the knowledge, skills and competencies of a recognized and regulated profession, the student today must also learn that the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world must be engaged beyond that profession.  See what AI – artificial intelligence – can do to the call center agent or entrepreneur and 3D printing to the traditional civil engineer!

The pandemic gave us a vivid experience of how a virus can cause volatile upheavals in our society, knocking out our economy, causing death-dealing crises in our health systems, because of the uncertain nature of the virus, the untested method of responding to it and the complexity of how it is to be responded to using protocols that were scientifically ambiguous.  We are in a vuca world.  That volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity will be no different with future pandemics or with future crises brought about by wars and the conflicts among nations, the real effects of climate change, the socio-political national landscape, or by the 4th industrial revolution.  Filipinos fishing in Philippine waters can cause an international conflagration. 

21st Century Skills in a VUCA World

To meet the challenges of the 21st century, our basic education must deliver foundational literacies – verbal literacy, numeracy, scientific literacy, ICT literacy, financial and cultural literacy.  In the hybrid-blended learning of our higher education, beyond the professional disciplines our students must learn, our students must be exercised in critical thinking (not just in the way that their teacher prescribes), in creativity (not just in acceptable and legitimate forms of creativity), in communication skills (which have them communicating in the languages of their age that the teacher may not be literate in) and in collaboration (with partners in learning who may become partners in a variety of projects in life).  They must be able to deal with the farmers of South Cotabato and fishermen of Sulu, but also with the government officials of the BARMM, the national officials of the Philippines, and even with representatives of the Organization of Islamic States.

They must learn to whet and satisfy their own curiosity (and not just wait for a teacher to do this), to exercise initiative (not possible if a teacher is always directing this), to develop grit and persistence (not possible if they’re always telling themselves they’re about to have a mental breakdown), to be adaptable (not possible if they are fixated on only one mode of educational delivery, if they whine and complain if things are different from what they want or expect), exercise leadership (that is different from dominance) and social and cultural awareness (not possible if they are not accepting of often unsettling diversity). 

Collaborative Online International Learning

In all this the technology will allow the students to benefit from collaborative online international learning (COIL) – with student counterparts or internationally-known experts in their disciplines or in other disciplines coming from foreign countries in the hybrid blended-learning classroom.  We have already begun this in some courses through our ADDU Internationalization for Mindanao (AIM) office.  What we have learned is that COIL is not new.  It has been practiced in many universities since 2009.  Looking forward, COIL is not a substitute for but a complement to international global learning.  A face-to-face encounter with counterpart students in a trip to Korea, Indonesia or Singapore is prepared for and followed up by online encounters – making possible personal contacts for life. 

In basic education, there is an attempt to reach out to the global network of Jesuit schools. We are beginning to bring to our learners’ (and teachers’) consciousness the need to be formed as “Global citizens.” They are those who actively seek ways to deepen their awareness of their roles and responsibility in an increasingly interconnected world. They are those who uphold solidarity (and fraternity) with others in the pursuit of caring for our common home and building a humane humanity. The main vehicle for this global effort is the Educate Magis – Jesuit global network of schools.

Technology-Enhanced Skills for Life-Long Learning

Finally, in hybrid-blended learning the student will become familiar with and have gained skills in the technology that enables lifelong learning.  As stated above, frontloading enough knowledge and skills in one course is no longer sufficient for life in the 21st century.  One needs continually to be able to learn more on one’s own in response to changing conditions in a vuca world.  But “on one’s own” doesn’t mean alone.  Through the technology of online or blended learning one can connect to the lifelong learning offerings on one’s alma mater where personal learning is complemented by faculty coaching.  Or one can connect to the adult-learning programs of countless other Universities.  One can gain new degrees in order to enhance one’s resume (e.g. the master’s and doctoral degrees desired by many working professionals for career advancement) or focus on particular skills or competencies (like expertise in renewable energy or in basic education) that can be accomplished through bite-sized chunks in a busy world.

HISFlex at ADDU Compatible with Socialization

At Ateneo de Davao University we have opted to use a Hybrid Implementation Strategy using the FLEX modality of blended learning (HISFlex).  For our HISFlex classes, we privilege the courses whose content needs face-to-face learning, e.g., courses in engineering, the natural sciences and physical education.  Unto this end, fifty of our classrooms and 29 of our laboratories have been retrofitted for HISFlex classes for SY 2022-23 at an appreciable cost of PHP 50 million.  In future years we will retrofit more classrooms in higher and basic education as our budget allows.

While HISFlex classes and online instruction can adjust to different ALERT levels of the COVID 19 pandemic which the current COVID situations in China and other ASEAN countries insist is not yet over (indeed, experts are already predicting that after the elections the pandemic will surge!), when the pandemic is finally over, it is clear that hybrid-blended learning is compatible with students meeting and interacting face-to-face normally on campus – having fun with one another, studying together in groups, interacting in student organizations, engaging together in outreach activities, singing and dancing!  The student activities led by the Samahan Central Board, the annual Fiesta, the College Days, the organized outreach activities, the pakighinabi, the Viewfinder, the daily Masses, the Christmas parties, the face-to-face graduations will all return. 

Ongoing Implementation of the ADDU Vision and Mission

Hybrid blended learning is a technologically-enhanced manner of instructional delivery. It is an improved way of delivering instruction today.  It is offered by ADDU in a VUCA world still in the context of the implementation of the university Vision and Mission.  It, therefore, needs to be complemented by appropriate Catholic and Jesuit formation as well as formation in freedom for leadership and service in Mindanao.  The Ignatian Spirituality and Formation Office will continue to provide vital and age-appropriate institutional interventions towards the appropriation by all of the values and methods of Ignatian Spirituality, especially through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and the practice of Ignatian discernment.  Here, students, administrators, staff members and students build up one another as each individual comes to a deeper encounter with and following of the Lord.  This occurs not only in the very personal sphere of interior freedom in discerning and doing his will, but also in the external sphere of the actual promotion of social justice for Mindanao.  As our Mission entails, this includes especially service to the Bangsamoro and the BARMM as well as to Lumad communities.  It includes the protection and promotion of the environment in Mindanao.  It includes courageous interventions for peace and the human prosperity that peace brings.  It entails the peculiar formation in leadership for social justice particularly in Mindanao that our vision and mission demand (ADDU sui generis leadership).  

In the pandemic experience, however, we have learned that what seemed to be possible in spiritual formation and spiritual encounters with the Lord and one another only face to face is now also possible through fully online or hybrid encounters.

Because our graduate is our most precious gift to society, to respond to a VUCA world, we undertake to form a graduate who is steady in a volatile situation, sure of him/herself and of his/her gifts and resources when things are uncertain, cool and analytical when things are complex, and skilled in clarifying issues when things are ambiguous.  More profoundly, we undertake to form a graduate strong in the faith, imbued with hope, discerning, and wise – committed in wisdom to implement God’s will as discerned – no matter what the future may bring.

“Take courage,” the Lord said, “It is I. Do not be afraid” (cf. Mt. 14: 22-27, esp. 27).

In Our Lord,

Fr. Joel Tabora, S.J.

ADDU HISflex classroom (photo by Igy Castrillo)
ADDU HISflex classroom (photo by Igy Castrillo)
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They Wanted to Kill Him, but His Time Had Not Yet Come

[Homily.  Friday, 4th Week of Lent, First Friday. April 1, 2022.]

Our Gospel opens as the Feast of the Tabernacles is about to take place.  This was the joyful annual week-long celebration of how Yahweh took care of his people as they wandered for forty years in the desert journeying to the Promised land.  During these years, they were led by the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night.   They ate the manna from heaven and the quail the Lord provided them.  They lived in tents or booths.  In biblical usage, a tabernacle was a movable dwelling of lightweight materials.  That is why the memorial was called the Feast of the Tabernacles.  Every Jew who could went to Jerusalem for this feast.  Remembering how the Lord freed them from slavery in Egypt and led them to the Promised Land was central to Jewish consciousness.

But even as people were excited preparing to go to Jerusalem for the Feast, our Gospel shows Jesus in Galilee not wanting to go to Judea in whose highlands Jerusalem was “because the Jews were trying to kill him.”  Why?

Why They Wanted to Kill Jesus

Jesus had made it clear: he was the Divine Word of God incarnated into our world. “To those who accepted him, he gave power to become children of God. To those who believed in his name, who were born not by natural generation, nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God…” (Jn 1:12-13).   Accepting Jesus through God’s decision, they accepted him as one with his Father from the beginning, fully expressing his Father’s unconditional compassion for us all in being “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:28).  They accepted that Jesus was the only Way to the Father, that he therefore was the Father’s Truth, and ultimately the true bringer of Life, Life to the full.   This was manifested in signs: as when he changed water into wine to save a newly-married couple in Cana from embarrassment, as when he cured the paralytic in the pool of Bethesda on a Sabbath day, as when near the sea of Galilee he fed 5000 men through the five barley loaves and two fish of a boy, as when he raised the dead Lazarus to life.  It would also be manifested when ultimately he was lifted up on a Cross to lift us all up the Father, and from his pierced side flowed blood and water. God then would raise him up to his glory.

While some accepted him, others wanted to kill him.  This creates the tension in our Gospel today.  While those who believed encountered in him the incarnate Word of God, those who did not believe found in him a religious imposter and blasphemer.  “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, but the world did not know him.  He came to his own, but his own people did not accept him.” (Jn: 1:10-11).  The Jews attacked him for curing the paralytic on a Sabbath when work was not to be done. But Jesus insisted that far from violating God’s Sabbath the healing was actually the Father at work on the Sabbath, continuing in his providence to give life and to heal life. “My Father is at work until now,” he declared, “so I AM at work” (Jn 5:17).  Making himself one with God, and even using his sacred name (cf. Ex. 3:14) in reference to himself, incited the Jews to try to kill him.  

But it was not only his enemies who rejected him.  After the multiplication of the loaves, when he presented himself as the Bread of Life given for us that each one must accept and eat for eternal life, “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him” (Jn 6:66). Eventually, he was betrayed by one of the Twelve apostles closest to him, Judas Iscariot, and the apostle who had once recognized him as Messiah denied him thrice.

Opposition to him and his message was strongest, he knew, in Jerusalem, where his and his Father’s enemies were concentrated and had control of the Temple and sway over the belief of the people.  So despite the danger, he eventually decided to go to Jerusalem, again to speak the truth, truth that would inspire believers, but enrage his enemies.  He went to Jerusalem surreptitiously, but in Jerusalem he spoke openly in the temple.  He knew where he was from, even if his enemies did not.

Do We Still Want to Kill Jesus?

On this First Friday, just two weeks before Good Friday and the celebration of the Paschal Mystery of the Lord, when we review our lives, our own wanderings in the desert, our own experience of how God has intervened in our lives, nourishing us with his providence, enriching us with his love, searching for us when we have sinned, lifting us up when we have fallen, but leading us from slavery to freedom, from lies to truth, from death to life, how do we experience him today?

Are we able to say with the Psalmist, “O Lord you know me, you know when I sit and when I stand; you understand my thoughts from afar…” (cf Ps. 139).  You know everything about me.  You know my faults and my failures.  You know my transgression, my sins.  And to me, it is comforting, wonderful, liberating that you know me.  For in Jesus you are my Savior.  In his Passion is your saving compassion.  In his Sacrifice and death is your eternal Life gifted to me.

Or are we somehow irritated, if not exasperated, by recurring reminders that in life we must love, in having we must share, in governing we must be just, in being wronged we must forgive, in seeing a person violated we must act courageously to correct this.  In seeing Jesus we want to erase him from our radar, take him down from our modern walls – kill him.  Kill him, reduce him to a cultural caricature, a religious ideology, so that having killed him we can kill others for power, wage war for national glory, and gloat over the bodies of dead enemies for historical notoriety.  That is described in the first reading: “The wicked said among themselves, thinking not aright, ‘Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against all our doings, reproaches us for transgression of the law and charges us with violations of our training.  … He calls blest the destiny of the just, and boasts that God is his Father.  … With revilement and torture, let us put him to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience.  Let us condemn him to a shameful death…’  These were their thoughts, but they erred for their wickedness blinded them.” (cf. Wis 2:1a. 12-22).  

Contemplate the Heart of the Crucified Lord

On First Friday, we again contemplate the heart of the crucified Lord, peering into the heart of God beating for me in love.  Would that through this contemplation, aware of my shortcomings and even sins, I might pray, “A clean heart create in me O God; renew in me a steadfast spirit.  Do not drive me from your presence; sustain in me a willing spirit. … For you do not desire sacrifice; a burnt offering you would not accept.  My sacrifice, God, is a broken spirit; God, do not spurn a broken, humbled heart” (Ps. 51: 12. 18-19). 

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