Towards the Fullness of Humanity

[Address to Graduates of the Integrated Program, SAG Institute for Higher Studies (SAG-IHS), Taunggyi, Myanmar, May 27, 2017.]

It is a great joy for me to be with you today.  I am deeply moved by your welcome and your kindness.  Even the rain is a blessing!  I am awed by the beauty of your mountains, the silent call of your pagodas, the gentleness of your people, and the rich diversity of your cultural traditions just manifested in your dance.  Even as I acknowledge the strength of your Buddhist tradition, I appreciate the mosques in your city, as well as the Catholic churches, and even Catholic schools.

myanmar8 2017

Today I am happy to recognize I am not only in an Institute of the English language.  I am in an Institute of Higher Education.  I am therefore in an institute that stands proudly in the great traditions of the university throughout the world.  What was the university?  It was a community – universitas – of teachers and students who came together in academic freedom to search for truth.   They were interested, as you are interested, in the search for the whole truth about God, about nature, about the human being.  They were interested in why there was being and not just nothing, and what the secrets of the sun, the moon and the stars were.  They were interested in the human being, the human person, and what made the human human.  Therefore, they were interested in such as human life and human death, human joy and human suffering, human love and human hatred.  They were interested in what was right and what was wrong, what had value and what was worthless, in human bondage and in human freedom.  They were interested in human society, the way people live in society and freely create their ways of living, and how the tensions between the human individual, the human group, the human family, and human society as a whole are recognized and resolved.

myanmar7 2017I also recognize that the St. Aloysius Institute of Higher Education is not just an institute of higher eduction, it is a Catholic institute of higher education, as it is Jesuit.  It is an institution that presides over a great tension between, on the one hand, acknowledging Jesus as he presented himself to be, the Way, the Truth and the Life, yet having to search for truth in the diversity of peoples’ beliefs, in the confrontation between faith and reason, in the search for what in life we may do and what in life we ought to do, in the search not just for the good of some but the good of all.  As Jesuit it is given to clarifying the meaning of faith where religions are diverse, to the challenges of social justice, to the preservation and transformation of culture, to the dialogue between the great religions of the world, to the preservation of the environment.

myanmar6 2017The Ateneo de Davao in the Philippines, a higher education institute as yours, stands humbly in this university tradition, aware of the great challenge of being a Catholic and Jesuit university today, yet also aware of its great limitations.  We know of our great responsibility to form not only the mind of our students, but also their freedom, to touch not only their intellect but also their hearts.  We know in many ways we fall short, failing to achieve the learning outcomes we so ardently ambition, failing to appropriately prepare for instruction or deliver our formation successfully, failing in research to continue to find new truth, failing in outreach to appropriately serve our community.  Despite our shortcomings, we know ourselves carried by the university tradition in which we stand, by the nagging eros for truth, which forces us to face our failures and work at overcoming them, so that in our ongoing search for truth, we can continue to grow as a university.

myanmar3 2017With great humility therefore I come to you, our sister higher educational institution in Taunggyi, grateful for the privilege that you have granted the Ateneo de Davao of playing a small part in your own search for truth, and in your magnificent struggle for institutional maturity, little by little, step but step, weathering frustrations, overcoming difficulties, achieving awesome victories.  We started off sharing skills in teaching and methods of teaching in compact modules.  Recently we have shared the dedication of our Cardoner volunteers over longer periods of time.  But over the years you have integrated our piecemeal contributions into your own search for truth and have created an Integrated Program that delivers professional teaching skills, yet transcends them, insisting that the teacher is not just a skilled pedagogue, but first and foremost a human being.  In this institution, that human being is coaxed through his or her own personal search for truth through literature, philosophy, the social sciences, history and mathematics to the fullness of life.  “I have come to bring life,” Jesus said, “life to the full’ (Jn 10:10).  Ateneo de Davao University salutes your achievement, St. Aloysius Gonzaga Institute of Higher Studies, in your Integrated Program!

myanmar4 2017As it salutes the personal achievements of every graduate here today.  You have worked hard and grown much.  You have been tested by fire and not been found wanting.  May your teaching careers be filled with the joy of human fulfillment as you touch your students with the challenge of being persons of deep compassion and joy.  “I have come to bring life,” Jesus said, “life to the full’ (Jn 10:10).   In your teaching, may you be part of the fullness of humanity that Jesus brings.  In your teaching, may you bring your students to the fullness of life.  In your teaching, may your joy be full.

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Pass Universal Access to Higher Education in SUCs and Private HEIs

To our esteemed Senators and Congressmen of the 17th Congress of the Philippines:

In the name of the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA), the unified voice of Private Higher Education in the Philippines, I would like to thank the Senate and the House of Representatives for the hope they afford the Filipino people for greatly improved access to quality higher education in the Philippines through the bills they have separately passed. These both promote universal access to quality higher education.   While the separate bills have yet to be reconciled in the bicameral committee before passage into law, we already wish to manifest our deep appreciation for the recognition both bills manifest, first, of the contribution of the private sector to the Philippine educational system, and second, of the complementarity between public and private higher educational institutions in this system, a complementarity that is mandated by no less than by the Philippine Constitution itself. In this context, we are happy to inform our legislators of the ongoing deliberations between our COCOPEA and the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges (PASUC) towards the greater achievement of this complementarity.

We are appreciative of both the House and the Senate versions of the bill – and look forward to its final passage into law.

But as the bills now go to the bicameral committee for final adjustments and reconciliation, may COCOPEA be allowed some comments? Where there is difference between the versions, kindly allow us to share our preference and why.

Title: The full titles of both the Senate and the House Versions indicate a movement towards universal access to tertiary education through free tuition in SUCs, TVIs and corresponding funding mechanisms. We appreciate the explicit mentions of private HEIs in the House version, and would hope that this be maintained in the final law.

Short Titles: The Senate version proposes the “Free Higher Education Act for All Act.” The House version proposes “The universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act.” Because the House version stresses quality education (a key desideratum in all out COCOPEA-PASUC deliberations), we prefer the House version. Improved access to but poor quality higher education is a sham and greatly harms the educational system.

Objectives: Both versions are satisfactory in the declaration of universal access to quality higher education as an inalienable right of all, etc.

Definitions: The Senate version of the definition of Higher Education Institution (HEI) as “an institution of higher learning, primarily offering bachelor and advanced degree programs” (Art. 3c). The House version narrows this definition to private HEIs and therefore defines it as “an educational institution that offers bachelors degree or graduate courses as may be authorized and recognized by CHED” (Art. 3c). The House version unwittingly excludes the SUCs from this definition. The Constitution however says, “Academic Freedom shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning.” (Art. XIV. Sec. 5.2). In this light, for both the SB and the House version, academic freedom is essentially constitutive of the HEI. It may therefore be more appropriate to define the Higher Educational Institution as “an institution endowed with academic freedom that offers education higher than basic education: bachelors degrees or graduate courses.” This is what is essential to the HEIs.

 “Basic Education” may be defined as Kindergarten to Grade 12 (K-12) that is mandatory in the Philippines.

Student Benefits

The Senate version provides a full tuition subsidy in SUCs and an opt-out provision for students able to pay for their tuition (Sec. 4); it does not explicitly cover fees. The House version covers tuition and other school fees. Furthermore it explicitly prohibits the SUCs and public TVI from collecting tuition and fees from qualified students (Sec 6). The House version is therefore more beneficial for the student. However, clarification in the IRRs is necessary to reconcile the prohibition of collecting fees of Sec 6 with the possibility of collecting certain fees in the Proviso of Sec 4.

Ability of the SUCs to Expand

The Senate version clearly requires any expansion in student population of SUCs to be contingent on CHED’s conditions and approval (Sec 8b). This is a requirement designed to militate against overpopulation of SUCs due to free tuition. It was an oft-repeated fear of SUC administrators in PASUC that while access improves to SUCs, corresponding fund subsidies to develop, maintain or improve quality in SUCs are not provided. This is one of the main reasons why the SUCs through PASUC opposed earlier versions of SB 1034. The House versions requires CHED to consider quality standards prior to endorsing any SUC expansion.

While both versions seek to protect quality by limiting expansion, the Senate version seems more straightforward.


In both bills adequate funding is provided for free higher education in the State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) and public Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET). In the House version, Congress appropriates funds for this upon recommendation of CHED; in the Senate version, there is a Tuition Subsidy Fund (TSF) administered by CHED (Sec 6).

For private HEIs, in the House version, it is through the Unified Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UNIFAST) that funding will be provided students opting to go to private HEIs through various packages according to need. In the House version, however, there is provision for student loans (Sec. 8).

While free education in all SUCs is provided for by both bills, this is not so for all private HEIs. Free education or educational assistance is provided students opting for private HEIs depending on the funds available.

For this reason, in the final version it would be good to provide not only for educational subsidies in private HEIs, but also for educational loans as provided by the House (Sec. 8). Well administered, these student loan funds would enable more students to access higher education through private HEIs.

It is greatly appreciated that in both versions funding is to come through annual provisions of the General Appropriations Act – which recur annually, but normally increase with time and actual need.

But the stronger mandate to funding all provisions of the act makes the version of the Senate preferable. “The amount necessary to effectively carry out the provisions of this act shall be included in the annual General Appropriation Act” (Sec. 13)

UNIFAST Details and Coverage for the Private Sector:

The Senate version is general, requiring the “strengthening” of all Student Funding Assistance Programs (StuFAPs) through the UNIFAST (Sec. 12-13).

The House version is more explicit on its coverage: these include additional subsidies for education-related expenses in the Tertiary Education subsidy (TES) for poorer students for public and private HEIs, plus student loans for private HEIs and LUCs.

The House version is more precise on the repayment scheme and coverage (Sec. 8)

Very significantly, the House version includes expansion of the UNIFAST Board to include the President of the PASUC and the “President” [sic] “of the COCOPEA.”

COCOPEA prefers the House version, but requests that “President” be replaced by “Chairman.” The representation of the two major organizations of public and private HEIs respectively on the UNIFAST Board will keep its deliberations grounded in the requirements of actual HEI practice. The private-sector representation on the UNIFAST Board will also underscore the necessary complementarity between public and private higher education.

For these reasons, the House version is preferred here.

Gratitude and Hope

We reiterate our thanks for both versions, even as we request that our comments be considered for the final version of this bill.

In the imminent passage of this law, we hope for generations of youth more prepared to face the challenges of the world because of the higher education it will provide them in both public and private schools. At the same time we hope for increased actual complementarity between public and private HEIs in shaping these future generations through a well-functioning system of Philippine education.

Sincerely in Our Lord,

(Sgd.) Fr. Joel Tabora, S.J.





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What does “Lobby money talks” mean? PRRD must take over DENR

President Duterte has expressed sadness that the CA rejected Gina Lopez as DENR Secrtretary, on the one hand, saying that he liked her passion, but on the other hand, saying in a democracy, “Lobby money talks.”*  While it is true that there is separation of powers, it would be good for those who feel the environment, the people, and the common good shamefully betrayed by the ignominious CA decision, if it were clarified what “Lobby money talks” means.

If “Lobby money talks” means that there was huge money at play to persuade the population and the members of the CA about the importance of mining for the common good, I am afraid that that message has been lost against the people’s experiences of environmental destruction caused by mining and the fact that it has not been the small people and the farmers who have benefitted from mining but the miners.  Since the passage of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 (a law that still cries out for repeal!) it is indeed questionable whether the Filipino People benefit from mining at all.

But if “lobby money talks” means members of the CA were persuaded to vote against Gina Lopez by bribery, that is a matter that is not covered by the separation of powers.  Because the Chief Executive has promised the Filipino People a corruption-free government, that includes freedom from the pernicious effects of  “lobby money.”

One cannot say, “That’s the way democracy works.”  Where there is bribery and the overweening influence of lobby groups, democracy – the rule of the people – precisely does not work.

Should there even be a hint of bribery in the CA, the President is duty-bound to investigate that and punish those who betray their public trust because “lobby money talks.”

If responsible mining is really good for the country and must continue, then it cannot be the “money talking” lobby group that guarantees that it is being done responsibly.

Under these circumstances, let President Duterte himself run the DENR and continue to use the passion of Gina Lopez for the sake of the environment.

Where there are geopolitical strategic decisions for peace that have to be made where mining plays a key role here, let it be the President himself and not the mining lobby to define those interests and explain them to the people in terms of the common good.

We continue to pray for the success of this administration.



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Do Not Be Afraid!

[Homily:  Baccalaureate Mass of the ADDU Law and Graduate School, Assumption Chapel, 29 April, 2017]

I see from your faces, you are happy.  But I also know that deep within, you know that the happiness of this day carries heavy responsibilities.

You are happy because you made it. Many times you thought it would not be possible.  Many times, you were tempted to throw in the towel and give up.  But you didn’t.  You stayed the course – despite all the competing responsibilities at home or at your regular workplace which complained about the effort you were putting into this graduate degree; they mocked your academic ambition.   But today, wearing the toga in this festive graduation ceremony, you know you prevailed.

And you are grateful.  You are grateful to your families, your spouses and children, to your colleagues at work, to your parents, superiors and benefactors who continued to support you along the way.  You are grateful also to your teachers, no matter how demanding they were, to your alma mater, and to your God.  None of these can be taken for granted; you are grateful that they were there for you.  All of this gratitude you exude at this graduation.  You bring your gratitude to God in this Eucharist.

This grateful happiness, however, carries with it great responsibilities.  The liturgy of this Eucharist reflects that.  It is still liturgy in Resurrection light, celebrating the joy of redemption through the incarnation, ministry, suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Its prayer is for freedom.  You have all been been baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ.  Bathed in resurrection light, we pray, “Give us true freedom….and bring us to the inheritance you promised.”  We pray for freedom because we often know ourselves unfree; we know ourselves diminished by our lazy compromises, unable to live up to the dignity and responsibility that has been entrusted in us.  We often lose sight of the mission and goals which would lead us to “our true inheritance.”  At the same time, in Resurrection light, we know sin, suffering, failure, and death are not ultimate in our lives.  What is ultimate is God’s love and God’s life which he restores to us in the Resurrection.  We live in Resurrection hope.

This is crucial as you freely take on the responsibilities of graduates of higher education at the Ateneo de Davao University.  You are graduates of professional courses in law, arts and sciences, business and governance, nursing, engineering and architecture, and education.  You take on the responsibilities of your technical knowledge; many of you will have your professional knowledge confirmed through professional bodies.  Through your enhanced competencies, you will take on significant roles in our economy and society, many in positions of leadership.  We pray for God’s blessings on your professional careers and increased service to society.

But we also pray that with your growth in professional competence and responsibility, you also grow in your life as a Christian.  This is life not only within the private sphere of the family, nor only within the sacred sphere of the Church, but now especially in the public secular sphere of the world.  Through your Christian life may you be blessed in advancing social justice, contributing substantially to the common good, and leading all you can influence towards a society where all as human beings flourish optimally.  Through your Christian life may the lives of your workers happier, may your students break out of poverty, may you lead your communities to prosperity, and wherever you are ma there be peace.

Today, our Gospel suggests that it will not always be smooth sailing.  You may be smiling and reveling on a graduation day, and there may be many bright and sunny days ahead.  But in time your voyage will lead you to troubled waters.  Not all will go as expected. The waters and waves will rise perilously.  Your vessel will be buffeted by violent winds.  People will disappoint you, friends will hurt you, enemies will attack you ; you will fall, you will fail, you will suffer.   But that may also be a moment of the Holy, where you encounter Jesus walking on the water, telling you, “It is I, do not be afraid.”

That may be God’s graduation message for you:  He is alive.  He is present.  He is in control.  He is with you.  Do not be afraid.


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Law and Graduate Schools Graduation 2017. President’s Address.

As the joy of this celebration comes to an end, allow me just once more to recall to you briefly what your alma mater expects of you as graduates of the ADDU.

Whether already in your professional life enhanced by higher education or as you face the hurdles of professional examinations, ADDU expects you to excel as ADDU sui generis leaders in life.  It expects that the mission and vision of the Ateneo de Davao impact on the quality of your leadership in the world today.

It expects therefore that your leadership be rooted in the faith, promote justice, especially social justice, transform culture accordingly, engage in dialogue with diverse religions, and preserve and conserve the environment God created for the benefit of all.

It expects that this leadership be freely appropriated in your lives and evidenced in the clarity of your outlook, the audacity of your dreams, the reality of your plans, and the real choices you make.

ADDU expects that you express your faith through commitment to justice, and that the nexus between faith and your commitment to the common good be compelling in your leadership.

ADDU expects that you engage in dialogue with peoples of different faiths and cultures in Mindanao;  in this dialogue, which engages Christians, the Bangsamoro, the CPP-NPA-NDFP, it expects that you work for peace.

ADDU expects that you promote environmental responsibility and stewardship, and that you lead in the care of our common home.

It expects that in our society still shamefully plagued by widespread poverty, you create wealth and see to its equitable distribution.

It expects that you work for and with vulnerable communities for their development.

It expects that insofar as you are a Catholic and Christian you serve the Roman Catholic Church as a matter of vocation, or that you serve the faith of your vocation.  Having received the benefits of good education, ADDU expects that you participate in promoting educational reform in the Philippines – or in Myanmar.

Go forth to make your mark in society, dear graduates.  But I invite you to never cease to come home to your alma mater, its mission and vision, its ideals and values.  Come home to join its ongoing conversations –pakighinabi – on the requirements of the common good. Come home to continue to grow in knowledge and insight, to visit your teachers and administrators, to encounter anew your batchmates and friends, but especially, to enter the chapel of the Assumption to converse with your unlikely King looking into your heart from a Cross.   There, with St. Ignatius, you may consider:  “If this is what you have done for me in love, Lord, what have I done for you?  What am I doing for you?  What ought I do for you?” How you answer those questions may be the source of liberation, love, and joy in your lives.

Congratulations, ADDU higher education Graduates 2017!

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Resurrection Light

[Homily: Easter Vigil, April 15, 2014]

This night Light vanquishes darkness.  The flames of new Fire dance against cold and gloom.  The Paschal Candle bearing the wounds of the Crucified Lord heralds Christ alive, the Light, yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and the Omega.  This Light dispels the darkness – the darkness in our Church, the darkness of our world, the darkness in our souls, the darkness of sin. In what is perhaps the most beautiful song in Catholic liturgy, all are now called to exult and rejoice.  Why?  Because “Jesus Christ, our King, is risen.”

They thought he was dead.  They thought they had killed not only him but with him everything he had taught. They thought that all he had said of the Kingdom of God, of his having come to bring life and life to the full, of our need to love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves, and of his being one with the least of our brothers and sisters, was dead.

The Father had introduced him as his Son.  He had lived among the people, taught them, healed them.  He had been recognized as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Mt. 6:16). When his divinity shone through in his Transfiguration, his Father commanded, “Hear him” (Lk. 9:35).  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).  To return to God, to overcome the division between God and man, heaven and hell, God’s will and man’s will, the division that had begun with the sinful disobedience of Adam, one must put faith in him.  He stood up against the forces of darkness:  he rebuked evil spirits and cast out demons; he healed the sick, raised the dead; he battled hypocrisy, he attacked those who manipulated God for their own purposes, who instead of facilitating access to his Father complicated it.  He called them “whitened sepulchers, beautiful on the outside but inside full of dead men’s bones” (Mt. 23:27).  He said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).  He said, “I am” (John 8:31).  He shocked them, scandalized them, angered them.  So they conspired to kill him.  They demanded the Roman authorities crucify him.  Pilate accommodated.

Jesus suffered immensely.  He died.

But this night, we are called to exult:  With St. Peter we know: “This Jesus God raised up again… Having been exalted to the right hand of God…”(Acts 2: 33).  “God has made him both Lord and Christ – this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2: 36). “He is the one whom God exalted to his right hand as a Prince and Savior, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31).  St. Paul says, “Christ became obedient for us unto death, even to death on the cross.  For which cause, God has exalted him and has given him a name above all names” (Phil. 2:8-9-10)

With the Messiah resurrected for all times, the Exultet intones:  “This is the night when Christians everywhere, washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement, are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.

“This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave.”

At this point, the Exultet goes berserk in its praise and exultation:

“Father, how wonderful your care for us! How boundless your merciful love! To ransom a slave, you gave away your Son”.  Such divine extravagance poured out on us!

Then the Church sings the unsingable, speaks the unspeakable:

“O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam,

which gained for us so great a Redeemer!”

Do you hear that?  Sin – which caused the rift between heaven and earth, between God and Man, and which we are supposed to avoid at all costs – is spoken of as necessary.  Fault is spoken of as happy.  For it was because of man’s sin and fault that the Father showed us his compassion, sent us his only begotten Son, who in dying dealt death its death blow, so that together we might all live not unto death, but unto life.

I suppose in celebrating Easter it’s important to hear that:  we do not live unto death, even though we all know that death is inevitable, we live unto life.

“I have come to bring life,” Jesus said, “life to the full” (John 10:10).  As Christians, we live unto life – whose fullness comes through the Resurrection.  Through Baptism, what was Jesus’ is ours:

“Do you not know,” St. Paul asks, “that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?  Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life (Rom 3-4).

That newness of life is Resurrection.  It is the prospect of life after death.  But it is also life before death in Resurrection light, so that even here on earth – in this vale of tears – we might live lives impacted by the Resurrection, transformed by it, energized by it.

This Easter, I invite you to reflect on how true this may or may not be in your lives.

It is important to live the moment, to seize the exhilaration of the present.  But it is important not to live just in the moment, but to appreciate the moment enriched by the past and challenged by a future.  For the Christian, that past is in memory of Jesus and that future is not just unto death, but unto Resurrection.  That makes a difference in the value of a sum of money, a marital relationship, a friendship, a lustful attraction, a use of power, or even of a life. It makes a difference in how I treat my child, or in how I treat my workers.  A life can be very dark.  Or it can be enlightened by the Resurrection.

It is in Resurrection light that one recognizes that the highest good that one can attain is after death in an eternal embrace with the Father.  But it is in that recognition that my behavior on this earth must be determined.  It cannot be as if there were no Resurrection; it cannot be behavior that denies eternal life and refuses responsibility in this life.  The goodness that I have received from the Crucified and now Resurrected Lord must be shared with others in the hope that all without exception may flourish together and that all may cooperate toward this common good in Resurrection light.

It is in Resurrection light that one can feel hope, no matter how discouraging the poverty, how insensitive the selfishness, how callous the corruption, how violent the hatred. We are hurt by the 49 lives of Christians killed in a Coptic church in Egypt, we are mortified by the human beings, men, women, and children, killed by sarin gas in Syria, we are dismayed by weapons of mass destruction fired against “the enemy” and the threat of yet more lethal weapons to be unleashed by martial masters against “the aggressor.”  These enemies or aggressors, whether in North Korea or in Afghanistan, whether in Stockholm or in Moscow, whether in the Mediterranean or the West Philippine Sea are all human beings of delicate flesh that hurts and of blood that flows, of sensitive feeling and of deep love.  We are horrified by the costs of interminable killing, the increasing liability of unending sin.  We are tempted to think this is the way it necessarily is.  But as children of the Resurrection, our perspective is different.  Sin has always been there, and some would say necessary.  But it is in this situation that leads so many to despair, that the Christian encounters the Resurrected Lord inviting – commanding – newness of life, change, love, for which Christians must take responsibility, leading towards the fullness of Resurrected Life.

In the light, life, and hope of the Resurrection, I wish you all the abiding joy of Easter!



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Whoever keeps my Word will never die

Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 1.54.19 AM.pngYour commencement exercises take place in the week prior to the Holy Week, when we recall the suffering and death of our Lord, and its meaning for our lives.

The Gospel for today contemplates Jesus locked in conflict with the Jews.  The Jews here presented themselves as close to God, but they were not.  They touted themselves as teachers of truth and life.  But they were not.  They were teachers of darkness and death.  In this darkness they presented a false God, a depersonalized, legalistic, unfeeling, vindictive God, fully boxed-in in the petty concepts of the Jews and manipulated by their pettiness and scheming.   These Jews did not lead people to the God of compassion, light and life.  They led them to hatred, darkness and death.

Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 1.55.23 AM.pngThat is why Jesus battled these Jews of darkness.  He was the light.  He was the Life.  He was the Word – the Word of Love of the living Father.  “Whoever keeps my Word,” Jesus said, “will never die” (Jn 8:51).  His was a message of life, everlasting life.

Jesus’ statement shocked the Jews.  What was he talking about?  Abraham was the father of the Jews; he was the heroic figure revered in the consciousness of the Jews.  It was he with whom Yahweh had forged an everlasting covenant, “I am making you the father of a host of nations.  I will render you exceedingly fertile; I will make nations of you; kings shall stem from you.  I will maintain my covenant with you and your descendants after you throughout the ages as an everlasting pact, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.  I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land in which you are now staying, the whole land of Canaan, as a permanent possession;… I will be their God.”  Abraham was the father of the everlasting covenant, yet he died.  How could Jesus be promising eternal life if the great Abraham had died?  Jesus’ reply was in effect totally shocking.  Abraham was the father of the Jews.  But he had not heard Jesus’ message:  “Whoever keeps my Word will never die.”

Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 1.56.30 AM.pngThese words must be understood, first, in the context of the Prologue of John’s Gospel and, second, in the light of his other public teachings.

In the Prologue it is stated, “In the beginning was the Word.  And the Word was with God.  And the Word was God.  Nothing was made without him.  … And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (cf. Jn 1: 1-14a).  The Prologue introduces Jesus as the Eternal Divine Word that enters this world manifesting the Father’s special love.  When Jesus says, “Whoever keeps my Word will never die,” he first means whoever accepts him as the eternal, divine Word incarnated into this world to express the Father’s Love, he shall never die.

Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 1.58.25 AM.pngBut he also means all who accept his words, his public discourses, all he had revealed in teaching and healing the people he served.  Among these words were:

“I have come to bring life, life in abundance, life to the full” (John 10:10).

“A new command I give you:  Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34).

“I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one can come to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6).

“Unless a grain of wheat fall into the ground and dies, it remains but a seed.  But if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Whoever loves his life will lose it.  But whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (Jn 12:24).

Jesus meant all of his teachings, all of his words, when he said, “Whoever keeps my Word will never die.” Jesus, the Incarnate Word of God, was offering whomsoever accepts him and heeds his teaching everlasting life.

It is the same promise the Lord makes to you as you move on from Junior High School to the rest of your life: “Whoever keeps my word will never die.”  Whoever accepts Jesus and his words will have life, everlasting life.

While Jesus comes to bring the fullness of life, the enemies of Jesus propose a truncated life, a life lacking in human sensitivity, human love, human responsibility for others and the common good.

Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 1.59.47 AM.pngWhile Jesus teaches, “Love one another as I have loved you,” the enemies of Jesus teach: exploit one another, hate one another, kill one another.  Reduce the other person to your purposes. Convince him, cajole him, bribe him.   Fool him, use him, laugh at his weakness as you subject him to your power.

While Jesus teaches of truth and life and returning to God, the enemies of Jesus speak alternative truths and alternative facts.  They cause confusion intentionally, destroying others’ lives and reputations.  They thrive on wounding and killing, on violent conflict and carnage in war.  They manipulate the concept of God to serve their purposes, making God an inexorable Force of deception. violence and death.

We know, not only the enemies of Jesus but even many of his disciples rejected him and his words.  When he said, “I am the living bread come down from heaven … He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day,” many of his disciples walked away from him.

Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 2.01.33 AM.pngSo in your Baccalaureate Mass, God speaks directly to you: “Whoever keeps my word will never die.”  Do you accept Jesus as the Divine Word?  Do you accept his teachings?  Do you accept Eternal life?

Your answer defines your faith, shapes your convictions, and determines what you make of your life.  In skepticism and scorn, you can take perpetual issue with his words, and choose to put Jesus to death in your life.  Or, with great humility, reverence and love you can open yourself to the Divine Word crucified on a Cross communicating with you.   Your answer is your choice.

Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 2.03.21 AM.pngWhat God proclaims in the book of Deuteronomy may help:  “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.  So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying his voice, and by holding fast to him” (Deut. 30:19-20).

As you move on from Junior High School, my dear graduates, in all choose life.


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