A Jesuit, Filipino, and Asian Ecclesiastical Faculty of Theology
Fr. Antonio Moreno, Vice-Chancellor of Loyola School of Theology, Fr. Jose Quilongquilong, President, Fr. Enrico Eusebio, Dean, Mr. Antonio Meloto, our honored guest, esteemed professors, members of the administration and staff, batchmates, friends, ladies and gentlemen, good morning!
Tomorrow marks the first year of the pontificate of Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope, the first pope to be named Francis, the first from South America. The first time he appeared as the new pope, he wore a simple white cassock. No authoritative red cape, not even the typical red stole. With a very simple greeting, he waved at the waiting crowd and said, “Buona sera;” not the usual formal, episcopal salutation. But who would forget the most surprising and the most touching gesture of all? When the new vicar of Christ bowed before us to ask for our prayers, and only thereafter did we receive a blessing from him. That was also a first.
The succeeding events must have been a nightmare for any protocol-loving papist. So much for the papal limousine waiting for him after his proclamation. The good man rode the bus instead, with the other cardinals on their way back to Santa Martha. So much for sending an advance party to St Mary Major the next day. The good man showed up unannounced for a visit. So much for a secretary, Pope Francis stood at the hotel counter to pay for his own hotel bill. He even telephoned his newspaper vendor in Buenos Aires to cancel his subscription. And to this day, so much for the apostolic palace. Pope Francis continues to live in Santa Martha, enjoying the comings and goings of friends and strangers. There, he says regular mass for hotel workers, Vatican gardeners, and people who clean St. Peter’s square. He is known to greet fellow cardinals as “brother cardinals”; so much for “Lord” cardinals. And recently, he appointed 19 new cardinals to the college, reminding them succinctly that they were not joining a royal court. So much for ecclesiastical monarchy.
We can list more gestures of Pope Francis which captured the hearts of Catholics, non-Catholics, world leaders and even non-believers. But other than these new and refreshing gestures, he has openly and fearlessly expressed his conviction against financial corruption, economic injustices, actively interceding for war-torn countries in their search for peace, and instituting reforms in the roman curia. So just as the Pope has captured many hearts because of his simplicity and personal-ness, his charity-begins-at-home” house-cleaning has also made many clerics nervous about their own misgivings on charity.
Pope Francis preaches the gospel not only with his mouth but with his very life. This is what stirs the world so deeply about the man. He lives out what Francis of Assisi taught when the good saint said: “preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.”
Let us take the life of Pope Francis as a challenge. The time of wrestling with words and doctrines has given way to the opportunity to live them out—to live out our faith in the ordinary run of our post-LST days. We cannot keep God’s unconditional love for humanity only a matter of discussion. We really must dare ourselves to operationalize this love in both touching and dangerous ways, just as Pope Francis is showing. That God is compassionate and inclusive and forgiving is not only a tear-jerker in homilies and retreats we will preach. God’s compassion, inclusiveness, and forgiveness must be the cutting edge of our mission, an edge that can cut us, too, by which we could even bleed, if it means laying our lives down for others. Our new pope has shown us this way of Christ. He has been doing it constantly . He has been doing it so fearlessly, even, that some of us fear a very brief papacy. Some of us fear that the Pope’s cutting edge love might cut him, too. But, you see, that’s why he affects us very deeply. Because each time Pope Francis dares, he dares to love.
Remember the faces of those privileged enough to be in the same place with Fr Francis? We see bliss, as if they’ve glimpsed heaven, as if they’ve seen and touched Jesus himself. Would that our theology have been blissful, too, if it was really the “study of God”. We hope our theology has brought us close enough to see and touch the Lord himself in some way that we can proclaim it to others, to share it with others, to show it to others…”and if necessary, to use words.”
God calls us to be the hands, the mouth, the ears and the heart of our Lord for the sake especially of the poor who themselves are the mouth, the ears and the heart of the Lord as well. We are empowered to stand towards the world as Christ stood towards the world. This is our gift of grace from God. I think of this grace as wine being poured into clear glass. We are not the ‘wine’ being poured, for that would be the Spirit. Rather, we are the glass. When we dare to love in both touching and dangerous ways our ministry, we hope that people see the wine that the glass holds, and not so much the glass itself. They know the vessel is there, but only insofar as the vessel’s clarity makes it seem to disappear, in favor of what it holds inside it.
My experience at LST has taught me many things, and in many ways I am a vastly different person today than I was when I entered my first class here four years ago. Having been with many of you over the last few years, I trust that our experiences have been similar.
Our understanding of creation, the fall, redemption, the cross, atonement, God, Jesus, the Church, Mary, grace, the Triune God, Sacred Scriptures, revelation, the resurrection, eschatology, heaven and hell and everything in between, must move us to a deeper understanding of our faith and relationship with God. But more importantly, God should have proven Himself enough to us that the Word does not stay as word. The word is uttered, so it must create and build, rather than destroy. The word is made flesh, so it must heal, forgive, and reconcile. But the word is misunderstood, so there is tension, persecution, and even crucifixion. But
I really hope that the theology we learned the past four years was theology we did not only with our heads but with our hands and feet as well. But we should not forget that theology must never be divorced from practice. Our actions must always be an outpouring of our desire to put into practice the things that are renewing our minds. However, our actions are not merely expressions of our beliefs, or a nice addition to a well-rounded theology, but are in fact the beliefs themselves. A mere cognitive assent to doctrines does not necessarily add up to a true belief. Conviction in faith always means engagement in action. For we may speak with the tongues of angels, but if we do not love, we are just a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
And so, we say thank you to our dear professors in Loyola School of Theology. We have witnessed how you have deeply felt our Lord in your life and convey this to us in the classroom. We hope to one day follow in your paths, not only as teachers but as instruments of Tradition. Again, our deep gratitude goes to all of you.
We thank our superiors for sending us to LST.
I would like to thank also my classmates. Even if many of us have been classmates for only two years, our friendship will always be fondly remembered. The many “sins” we have confessed to one another in preparation of our ad audiendas confessiones will remain under the seal, even if we have yet to receive our faculty. Seriously, they have been very helpful and may we use our knowledge to bring our brothers and sisters closer to God. The many ‘sharings’ we had, especially these last few months as we prepared for our comprehensives, will always be remembered. I hope to see you future excellencies, eminences and very reverend fathers.
Wherever the Lord brings us, and however that might happen, we will always remember LST. We will always consider LST as our home-school, always for the greater glory of God. Finally, it is time to go and “preach the gospel,” and as St. Francis reminds us, “to use words if necessary.”
I end with the words of Pope Francis from Evangelii Gaudium. “When we live out a spirituality of drawing nearer to others and seeking their welfare, our hearts are opened wide to the Lord’s greatest and most beautiful gifts. Whenever we encounter another person in love, we learn something new about God. Whenever our eyes are opened to acknowledge the other, we grow in the light of faith and knowledge of God.” May our theology ever be new, that is, may love for God and for each other ever freshen it for many, many years.
May God bless us in his kindness. Congratulations to all.
12 March 2014