A Jesuit, Filipino, and Asian Ecclesiastical Faculty of Theology

Tuesday, May 23, 2017
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alt“Come, Holy Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.”

I welcome you all to this new academic year.  I wish to convey a special word of welcome to the new students, the new faculty and staff of Loyola School of Theology (LST).  We are now at the threshold of the Golden Jubilee Anniversary of LST. We recall that in September 1965, the teaching faculty of San José Seminary transferred to Loyola House of Studies to commence theological formation.  Thus LST was established.

This year is significant for the Church as we celebrate the Year of the Laity.  For us, Jesuits and our lay partners and friends, this year, we commemorate the restoration of the Society of Jesus 200 years ago.  We were suppressed as a religious order in 1773 except in White Russia.  In 1814, forty-one years later, we were given the green light by Pope Pius VII to re-commence our missionary work.  The Jansenists, one of our fiercest opponents for 150 years, accused the Jesuits for promoting lax spirituality.  For instance, if what was taught then was communion once a year, the Jesuits encouraged frequent communion. In the words of Fr John Padberg, the Jansenists thought the Jesuits were “making it easy to heaven on feather beds instead of taking the faith seriously.”  True or not true, I hope you, my dear students, are not here to study theology and show the faithful the easy trip to heaven.

At this Mass, we invoke the presence of the Holy Spirit, first, to keep the fire burning within us; second, to inspire us in our search for the truth; and third, to empower us to be creative.

1) On fire

One of the most powerful symbols at Pentecost is fire.  We see this in the first reading: “Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them” (Acts 2, 3).  Fire stands for energy. Without energy, there is no life.  All around us is energy.  Fans stay late at night to watch their favorite teams play in the World Cup in Brazil.  Last month, I saw for myself an unusually labeled plane in the airport.  It had a huge name of “Taylor Swift.”  Inevitably, some took photos of her plane knowing they won’t be around for her concert in Manila. If one can’t have a selfie with Taylor, at least have a selfie with her plane.  People get so excited for all sorts of reasons.  Many things energize people.  One wonders what energizes us.

Jesus in the Gospel breathed on his disciples who locked themselves for fear of the Jews.  Jesus energized his fearful friends.  He consoled them with the words: “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

I think a great danger of our times is spiritual inertia.  No movement. No energy. Nothing excites us. Nothing thrills us. A friend of mine who has taught for many years told me how bothered she was by the lack of anger (or fire, if you will) of our students in the face of corruption and inequality in our country.  These realities don’t disturb them.  These things have become accepted realities and to question them seems out of place.  What a way to begin our theological studies without fire, without energy, without passion, without great desires.  Let us be on fire then at the beginning of the school year as the disciples were at Pentecost.

2) On search for the truth

We invoke the Holy Spirit not only to keep the fire burning within us, but also to guide and inspire us to search relentlessly for the truth.  Last month, two great pioneers of our LST faculty returned home to the Lord: Fr Joe Smith and Fr Jack Schumacher.  We rejoice in that we still have with us, Fr Catalino Arevalo, the one and only Theologian of the founding faculty of LST.  They devoted their lives totally to the formation of the ordained ministers, religious and lay people for the life and mission of the Church.  They did not just simply teach us, they showed us the way to the truth.  They spent hours and hours in research, painstakingly searching for the truth, generating new ideas, and making the research outcomes accessible to the public through their lectures and publications. Such ministry requires a fair amount of solitude, focus, discipline, erudition and asceticism.  Sadly, fewer and fewer church people are into this kind of ministry.  Church ministers and lay people would rather be in the thick of action rather than pursue the truth and generate theological ideas that will inform and guide people in our faith and action.  Many competing attractions dissipate our focus.  I hope this does not mean that intellectual sloth has gotten the better of us.  I hope this does not mean that mediocrity or “pwede na” mentality is the new norm in our pursuit of the truth.

Last year, Cardinal Orly Quevedo OMI, the first Mindanao-based Cardinal, was conferred an outstanding alumnus award by the San José Seminary alumni.  He singled out one thing he appreciated most in the seminary.  He declared: “San José Seminary taught me how to think.” The Church deserves thinking and discerning ministers and leaders.  The people of God are hungry for the truth, for theological ideas that lead them to greater faith and commitment to transform our world into a better place.

I urge our students, faculty and administration, as I have expressed this in one FASRA meeting, that we take seriously our ministry of research.  Learning is not simply repeating what authors or professors are saying as if the world around us has not changed over time.  Learning is also articulating our new discoveries, new insights, and new ideas that bring us closer to the God and God’s people.  Learning is also what we can contribute to the corpus of theological literature, not simply what we can repeat from the body of knowledge we inherited.

3) On creativity

At the moment of Pentecost, Jesus shared his own Spirit to create a community of faith which we now call Church.  Clearly the birth of the Church was not “business as usual” for the disciples of Jesus.  It was a turning point for them, from being disciples (learners) to being apostles sent by the Holy Spirit.  Thus in today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  Acts of sending show that God has not abandoned God’s people.

At this Mass, we ask the Holy Spirit to re-create the world around us.  A fruit of the Holy Spirit is creativity – new life, new hope, new direction and new world.  Vatican II, which ended nearly 50 years ago, was perceived by many as a new Pentecost of the Church.  Our own reception of Vatican II through the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II) in 1991 in some sense was a home-grown Pentecost.  PCP II canonized our aspiration to be a “Church of the poor.”  We are aware, however, that the re-creation of our Church is an ongoing process.

Today, in our Church, we witness some form of rebirth in the person of Pope Francis.  Often it is said that he is a breath of fresh air in the Church.  His leadership is one of creative fidelity.  It is something new and yet remains connected to the Church’s tradition.  In these realities, whether Vatican II, PCP II or the leadership of Pope Francis, we feel the presence of the Holy Spirit.  We experience new life, new hope, new direction and new world.

Success has a way of making us complacent in our search for the will of God.  So, our natural impulse is simply to replicate success stories. By doing this, we run the risk of staying within our comfort zones.  We run the risk of not searching what more God is asking us to do.  The outpouring of the Holy Spirit cannot rest content simply on what works and what is practical.

Creativity, of course, does not mean we just simply dream and go for the impractical.  Creativity is intimately linked to the promptings of the Spirit – what God invites us to pursue.  The study of theology, I hope and pray, can widen our horizon of imagination – always in pursuit of promptings of the Spirit.  If our theology fixates us, blocks our creativity, keeps us away from theological frontiers, inhibits our longing to be with God, then I am afraid we are not allowing the Holy Spirit to grasp our lives.

May the Holy Spirit keep the fire burning within us, enable us to pursue the truth through our research and study, and empower us to be creative in our theological reflection. 

Come, Holy Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.

25 June 2014

Fr. Antonio F. Moreno, S.J., is the Provincial of the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus and Vice-Chancellor of Loyola School of Theology.