San Jose Seminary Alumni Homecoming 2007
I wonder if you are aware that the Department of Education requires elementary and high school students to sing, in addition to the national anthem Lupang Hinirang, also the song of Kuh Ledesma entitled, Ako ay Pilipino. In our seminary in Pampanga, even if we just happen to be passing by, if we chance upon the national anthem being sung, we normally also stop, face the flag and put our right hand on our chests and join in the singing.
One time, one of my colleagues was passing by the quadrangle and the Lupang Hinirang was intoned. Like the others, he stopped when the singing of the anthem began, but proceeded as soon as it was over. Another colleague stopped him and said, Hindi pa tapos, meron pa. The impatient colleague continued walking and said, looking back, Kailan pa naging pambansang awit iyang kanta ng Kuh Ledesmang iyan? Ayoko ngang kantahin iyan, ang yabang ng dating.
I reviewed the lyrics, and I ended up agreeing with him. The song says,
Ako ay Pilipino may dugong maharlika,
Likas sa aking puso ang adhikaing kay ganda
Ako ay Pilipino, ako ay Pilipino
Taas noo kahit kanino, ang Pilipino ay ako.
I do understand the intention of reinforcing in our students a sense of patriotism. But a song like this sung as an anthem for schools can indeed come only from a nation that is suffering from a very low collective self-esteem. Para bang kung hindi man natin maranasan sa totohanan, e di kantahin na lang natin?
Dear brother alumni of
Ako ay Josefino may dugong maharlika
Likas sa aking puso, adhikaing kay galling
Ako ay Josefino, ako ay Josefino
Taas noo kahit kanino, ang Josefino ay ako.
Baka sabihin sa atin ng mga taga-ibang seminaryo, "Ok, Josefino na kung Josefino. E ano ngayon?"
When I hear ourselves engaging in a collective ego-trip about the superiority of the Josefino brand of formation, I am tempted to recall that our own Jesuit formators who have established their own excellence in various fields of discipline, have an anthem that is meant to remind them who they are before God. It says,
Sino kayong napabilang sa kanyang kapisanan?
Sino kayong tinawag niyang katoto at kaibigan?
And the answer to numerous lines asking the same question Sino Kayo is:
Kayo'y taong makasalanan hinubog sa lupa't kahinaan
Kayo'y taong makasalanan inampon sa kanyang pangalan.
The Jesuit who is asked who he is, is supposedly expected to answer: a sinner.
Excellence is not excellence if it needs to advertise itself. I think it has to speak for itself. Having made my point about what I do not intend to say about the topic Ang Josefino: Asin at Ilaw ng Mundo, let me now proceed with my reflection.
"Asin ng daigdig at ilaw ng mundo." Sa madalas tawaging "Pangaral sa Bundok" (Sermon on the Mount) sa ebanghelyo ni
Let me begin with salt. Salt is probably the humblest, the cheapest, but the most basic ingredient for cooking our food. It is colorless. Kahit mukhang puti, pag nilagay mo sa tubig hindi nito kukulayan ng puti ang tubig. It quickly disappears when mixed with food. It does not even have its own smell to add to the food. (Ang toyo pag nilagay mo sa pagkain, bibigyan niya ang pagkain ng lasang toyo at amoy ng toyo. Ang patis, gayundin, bibigyan ang pagkain ng lasa at amoy ng patis. Pero and pagkain pag nilagyan mo ng asin, hindi mo sinasabing lasang asin o amoy asin. Pag napansin mo nga ito, ibig sabihin hindi tama ang timpla. Maaring matabang o maalat.) You know only that you have put the right amount of salt in the food when you don't even notice it. What you notice instead is the natural taste, the natural flavor and aroma of the meat or vegetables that you are cooking.
I'd like to believe that Jesus had all these in mind when he used salt as an analogy for the mission that he expected his disciples to take part in. It is in fact an image that reminds me very much of several of our revered senior Josefinos. Take his eminence, for example, our dear Lolo Dency Rosales. In the height of his stature as archbishop of
O, baka naman maging para eulogy na ito, e buhay na buhay pa itong ating si Lolo Dency. Marami tayong ganitong mga Josefino-ordinaryo ang dating pero matinding kagaya ng asin. (At pag nalagay sa mata o sa sugat, mahapdi.) They are so accessible, so reachable, so human, and remain so, even when bestowed with power and authority. Ganyan din ang ating si Lolo Angel Lagdameo, current president of the CBCP and Apu Ceto, head of the CBCP Commission on Family and Life. Because of Church leaders like them, our CBCP assemblies are never a stressful or intimidating kind of experience. To my pleasant surprise when I joined their ranks, the mood is friendly and familial, never formal or business-like. Of course meron ding occasional tendencies sa CBCP na mag-grand-standing o magpaistaran, but always, when you have people like Lolo Dency, Lolo Angel, and Apu Ceto and other alumni-bishops, such tendencies are easily put on check and dissipated. Their presence is always reassuring, sort of silently saying, "Come on, there is no need to over-assert yourself. We are family here; you are a brother, a friend. There is no need to pretend, no need to impress anybody, no need to seek approval. You can be your true self with us; we will accept you for who you are." That, for me, is an empowering presence.
Even our dear Chito Tagle is like that. You know, he seldom even raises his hand to speak at our CBCP meetings. Pero pag may trabaho nang kailangang gawin, si Chito lagi ang paboritong alipin. Kasi walang kiyeme, walang angal, laging "at your service", at "service with a smile." College pa lang kami, idol na ng bayan iyang si Chito. Kasi super-galing, pero walang ere ni katiting. Despite his brilliance he can make fun of himself. He makes lofty ideas sound so simple, mas magaling pang mag-explain sa mga professors namin. With Chito explaining things, even Marcel, Buber, Heidegger, suddenly become so easy to understand. I remember how in college, during one group review, a brilliant fellow seminarian explained a philosopher and he sounded so complicated parang ang feeling ko, napakabobo ko yata, ba't di ko maintindihan. And then when Chito explained the same stuff, it was so easy to chew and digest. When you get to participate in the discussion and follow Chito's style of putting complex ideas in simple words, pakiramdam mo ang galing mo na rin. Asin din iyang si Chito. Superior na walang superiority complex. Magaling na hindi nagmamagaling. In his company, hindi ka mabobobo. Magiging mahusay ka rin.
You are the light of the world. May iba-ibang klaseng ilaw. Merong spotlight na nakatutok lang sa isang direksyon. May mainit na halogen lamp na nagpapatingkad mabuti sa iniilawan. There is also the lamp shade in a corner that illuminates a room in a soft way. Pero anumang klaseng ilaw, iisa ang silbi nito-hindi upang manilaw kundi upang tanglawan ng liwanag ang paligid. (Di ba kawalan ng modo ang itutok ang flashlight sa mukha ng kasalubong na tao?) Sinisindihan ang ilaw hindi upang panoorin ito o pagmasdan, kundi upang maipakita nito ang kapaligiran, o ang ating patutunguhan. Talking of light may mga Josefinong napakaliwanag sa CBCP hall-si Bishop Nes. Makintab ang ulo. Si Bishop Ted maliwanag ang mga mata. Paligsahan kaming dalawa. At naku, kapag masyado nang complicated ang usapan, may magtataas kamay na Kuya Jess Mercado na magbibigay liwanag sa mga bagay-bagay, ang interventions nya laging simple, maikli, pero malinaw. And those CBCP statements that shine out in clarity over matters of faith and morals, informed by Scriptures, tradition and the magisterium? I tell you, most of them bear the silent unwritten signature of the small but terrible Lolo Orly Quevedo.
I don't know if my fellow junior bishop Kuya George Rimando feels the same way, but I am silently edified when I note the strong but unthreatening influence of brother Josefinos in the CBCP. But I don't want to push it too far lest we sound like bragging or boasting again. The light isn't there to shine out, not to try to outshine anybody. (I think, one of the curses of our Josefino aspiration for excellence is really that tendency to be sobrang bilib sa sarili, or even to develop an unhealthy sense of competitiveness. Di ba natin madalas marinig sa mga ibang pari na madami din sa atin ang medyo pasaway ang dating? What else can temper this tendency except a serious spiritual and prayer life that alone can put us in our proper places, and make us boast only in the Lord?) John of the Cross once said, "The closer I get to the light, the darker my own darkness seems." Even Matthew is clear about the purpose of shining out-"Your light must shine before people that they may see your goodness and give glory to the Father in heaven."
But take note, the Gospel is clear and categorical about it: Let your light shine that they may see. And perhaps we might even add: that they may feel it, hear it, smell it, touch it, experience it. through us!
One thing has become clear to me after almost 20 years of ministry as seminary formator: we spend many years in the seminary not just to train candidates to communicate the faith. What we shape in our candidates is not just the intellect but the whole character-a priestly character according to the mould of Christ.
Rolheiser says-and I hope you don't mind that I quote him at length, because I cannot say it better than he does- "Good theology stimulates and inflames the intellect. Thomas Aquinas and Bernard Lonergan add that it also helps to move the will. The heart needs to have some intellectual vision. Good ideas play no small part in any healthy change."
"Thus, the Christian community is always in need of good academics. As history shows, every time the Church has compromised on its intellectual tradition, seeing it as unimportant, it has paid a heavy price. Good, sound, abstract, academic theology is perennially the great corrective within church life and spirituality."
"More recently," he continues, "we have been blessed with an abundance of good theology. It is hardly the academy of theology that is weak at the present moment. The last thirty to forty years have produced (literally) libraries full of wonderful books on scripture, church history, liturgy, dogmatics, moral theology, spirituality, and pastoral practice. We are not lacking for solid ideas." he says.
What Rolheiser thinks we are lacking however, is "fire, romance, aesthetics, as these pertain to our faith and ecclesial lives. What needs to be inflamed today inside religion is its romantic imagination. " He insists that "solid ideas and solid programs alone are not enough. We need someone to re-inflame the romantic imagination of Christianity, a new Francis, a new Clare, a new Augustine, a new Thomas More, a new Ignatius, a new Therese of Lisieux."
Rolheiser also says the same thing about vocations to the priesthood and religious life. He says, "More than strategies of recruitment, we need new romantic fire." He proceeds to cite romantic figures among the religious of the past few decades like Thomas Merton, Mother Teresa, and Sister Helen Prejean and asks why one stirs up vocational romance more than another. Rolheiser also cites the explanations proposed by both conservatives and progressives over the graying and the emptying of Churches in the western world. He recognizes that there is some truth in all the reasons they propose but insists that "Among other things, we lack a romantic ideal for our faith and church lives. We have too little idealistic fire left.. We need to re-romanticize faith, religion, and church and give people something beautiful with which to fall in love."
None of this is possible at all if we allow our petty selves to get in the way of the mission of Christ. Unknown to many, the real reason why I chose KENOSIS as motto for my coat of arms was precisely to temper that over-assertive ego that often gets in the way of the ministry. (Perhaps it is the same spirit behind Ignatius' AMDG-because the world tends to condition us to aspire for our own glory.) There is much that must decrease in us if God is to increase through us. Paul must have struggled with this tendency himself. He was all too aware of his inner inconsistencies. In his desire to be strong, he is supposed to have asked the Lord to remove his weakness. And God's reply is, "My grace is enough for you. For in weakness, power reaches perfection. It is when I am weak, that I am strong." (2 Cor 12:9) In our weakness, we have reason to hope only in the power of God made most clearly manifest in the weakness of the cross. This experience of paradox once moved Paul to say, "This treasure we possess in earthen vessels in order to make it clear to us that its surpassing power comes from God and not from us." (2 Cor 4:7) I think you know well as I do that this is not always clear to us.
And strangely, it will always be the worst and most painful trials that will make this gradually clear to us-the many experiences of self-emptying and dying to self, the many instances that would prove Francis of Asisi right when he said,
For it is in giving that we receive
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
I started with salt, so let me end with salt again by reading to you the story of the salt doll that a friend of mine quoted in full and wrote in a hand-made card he sent me on the occasion of my ordination as bishop. The story goes:
A salt doll journeyed for thousands of miles over land, until it finally came to the sea. It was fascinated by this strange moving mass, quite unlike anything it had ever seen before.
"Who are you?'' said the salt doll to the sea.
The sea smilingly replied, "Come in and see.''
So the doll waded in. The farther it walked into the sea the more it dissolved, until there was only very little of it left. Before that last bit dissolved, the doll exclaimed in wonder, "Now I know what I am!''
Sabi ni Father Roque Ferriols, ang tanong na SINO AKO ay hindi masasagot nang minsanan. Paulit-ulit din nating sasagutin kung SINO TAYO, mga kapwa Josefino, hanggang di natin natutuklasan na tayo'y asin at ilaw. Mga mistulang manikang asin na unti-unting malulusaw sa dagat; mga mistulang kandilang aandap-andap upang magbigay ng konting liwanag hanggang sa tuluyang maubos tayo at maging kabahagi ng ganap na liwanag ng Diyos.