Good afternoon everyone! Special greetings to you our dear graduates!
The three points I am about to share are not really new to you. You have already heard of them, studied them, or perhaps have lived them out in more ways than one. But I invite you to make this Act of Repetition as among your last lasting acts here in LST.
However, let it not be simply any kind of repetition. But let it be an Ignatian Repetition, meaning, with an inner self docile to the workings of the Holy Spirit, you revisit, you relive, you savor and you taste anew these truths of our Catholic Faith, appropriating, internalizing and sinking them in even more deeply in your inmost being, in such a way that these become firmly engraved in your sacred memory. Because when these truths are firmly engraved in your sacred memory, consequently, they will become a dynamic and integral part of your sacred identity, that identity which was the very first to be particularly emphasized by Father President during his inaugural address.
And so let us make an Ignatian Repetition on these three points: COVENANT, REMEMBERING and DISCERNING.
We know the historical context of our first reading today. It is taken from Deutero-Isaiah. Israel was in exile in Babylon, losing all their prized and precious sources of identity: no land, no king, no temple. The Responsorial Psalm last Sunday gave us a glimpse of such terrible tragedy and affliction.
“By the streams of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion,
On the aspens of that land we hung up our harps,
There our captors asked of us the lyrics of our songs…
‘Sing for us the songs of Zion!’
How could we sing a song of the Lord in a foreign land?”
Unto these despairing exiles, Deutero-Isaiah was sent with assuring and comforting words and more importantly with a particular identity, “Thus says the Lord: In a time of favor I answer you, on the day of salvation I help you; and I have kept you and given you as a COVENANT TO THE PEOPLE…” “I HAVE KEPT YOU AND GIVEN YOU AS A COVENANT TO THE PEOPLE…to restore the land and allot the desolate heritages, saying to the prisoners: ‘Come out!’ To those in darkness: ‘Show yourselves!’ Along the ways they shall find pasture…They shall not hunger or thirst, nor shall the scorching wind or the sun strike them; For he who pities them leads them and guides them beside springs of water…”
It has been by way of Covenant that God has continually wrought and brought about His salvation. Salvation hinges upon the covenants that God makes with His people. St. Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyon in late second-century France, said that to understand "the divine program and economy for the salvation of humanity" we have to understand God's "several covenants with humanity." Eucharistic prayer IV succinctly puts it:
“Father…You formed [us] in your own image
and entrusted the whole world to [our] care…,
And when through disobedience [we] had lost your friendship,
You did not abandon [us] to the domain of death.
For you came in mercy to the aid of [us]…
Time and again you offered [us] covenants…
And you so loved the world, Father most holy,
That in the fullness of time
You sent you Only Begotten Son to be our Savior.”
And by now, you must have known, but let me gently remind you, that there’s a great price to pay for a Covenant to be sealed and kept; because Covenant-making involves the very offering of self in love. Unlike a contract, involving only exchange of properties, products or services, covenant is an exchange of persons, willingly and faithfully.
Thus, there is no covenant without sacrifice. The sacrifice is offered by the people to symbolize their offering of "themselves" to God. The sacrifice is a kind of token of their commitment to the covenant, their commitment to give all that they have and all that they are to God.
Noah makes a sacrifice from each of the animals he took with him in the ark.
Abraham is asked to sacrifice his only son, Isaac.
The Israelites in the time of Moses are required to sacrifice an unblemished lamb in the place of their firstborn.
And in the time of David’s son Solomon, sacrifices were offered daily in the Temple.
And so, I invite you to look back into your years here in LST in this light. “I have kept you and given you as a Covenant to the people.” Since there is no Covenant without sacrifice, “take a long loving look” at your countless hours in the classroom and in the library, your sleepless nights of devouring pages upon pages of articles and notes, chapters upon chapters of books and journals, taking written quizzes, oral and comprehensive exams, preparing reports and writing theological papers, by the wood of your study desks that had become the wood of your own personal cross, and let them be as your tokens of the sacrifice of self to seal and kept your identity, as “Covenant to the people, to restore the land, and allot the desolate heritages…along the ways making God’s people find pasture…”
And I invite you as well to look forward into your coming ministries, engagements and endeavors, this time more equipped and competent and better prepared and ever ready, wherever you may be missioned to, as your concrete expressions of your solemn oath, of your sacred yes, I’M YOURS, LORD, YOU ARE MINE, I AM A COVENANT TO YOUR PEOPLE, let them be tokens of the sacrifice of your own very self, of your own very life. Let your presence and your ministry be God’s tangible way of saying, “For He who pities them leads them and guides them beside springs of water. Sing out, O heavens, and rejoice, O earth, break forth into song, you mountains. For the Lord comforts his people and shows mercy to his afflicted.”
And yet, you must by now know, deep in your hearts, that it was, is and ever will be, God Himself who first makes the sacrifice of Himself in love, in mercy and compassion, to seal and sustain the New and Eternal Covenant, willingly, joyfully, faithfully. Whatever sacrifice we make, it is and will always be but a response! Yes, only a response!
God’s faithfulness to His Covenant leads us now to my second point.
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” To such a cry the Lord replied, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”
In 1985, I was the first in my family to leave our home in Medellin, Cebu; for I entered in Arvisu House, the Jesuit Pre-novitiate here in Quezon City. I was then taking some philosophy subjects in Ateneo. My favorite place upon arriving from the Ateneo was not our merienda room, unlike most of my fellow-pre-novices. My favorite place was my letter box. Every time we’d come home to Arvisu, I’d immediately look into my letter box. If I find no letters there, I’d shout, NOBODY REMEMBERS ME, NOBODY LOVES. But if I’d find letter in it, I’d say, I’M REMEMBERED, I’M LOVED.
You see, there’s something special with being remembered. One feels valued and loved. The same is true with the opposite. When one is forgotten, one feels insignificant.
Indeed, among the heartwarming qualities of God portrayed in Scriptures is that He is a God who remembers. He remembered Noah and the flood subsided, new creation came about. He remembered Rachel, and out of her barren womb, there came Joseph, the dreamer. In the story of Exodus, we are told that the Israelites cry out from their slavery for help from God. And God remembers His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and God takes notice of them. Then comes the Call of Moses: THE ANSWER TO THE PRAYER OF THE ISRAELITES and the REMEMBERING OF GOD, God’s way of telling them I take notice of you!
As you finish your theoligcal studies and formation here in LST, I invite you to “take a long loving look at your call.” This time, look at it from the perspective of the Call of Moses. Let your call be and the manner by which you live out this call in the various ministries you shall engage yourselves in, God’s way of telling His people,
“I have heard your cry of affliction, I am taking notice of you, I do remember you.”
Let your presence and your ministry amongst them be God’s song to them: HINDI KITA MALILIMUTAN, HINDI KITA PABABAYAAN. NAKAUKIT SA AKING PALAD ANG IYONG PANGALAN.
I remember Fr. Jun Bugtas, SJ once told me, “Nol, how can God ever forget us? Our names are not just written on the palms of His hand. Our names are carved on the palms of His hand. Hindi lang nakasulat, kasi kung nakasulat lang, ito ay mabubura. Ito ay nakaukit. Paano nga ba ito mabubura? “And I asked Jun, “Do you know the instrument used to carve our names on the palms of God’s hand?” He only gave me a blank stare as I continued, “Pako, Jun, Pako.”
When things go wrong, when tears and pain come your way in your ministry, when everything seems bleak and meaningless, when the only meaningful words to say are the words of the Psalmist: “My God, my God, why thou hast forsaken me?” May you remember…yes…may you not forget…it is then that God is carving, on the palms of His hands, the names of each of the persons in your community.
As you live out your identity as a Covenant to the people, as you carry out your ministry as a way of God answering the cries of His people and assuring them that He is indeed a God who remembers, take to heart the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel. “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work…I do not seek my own will but the will of the One Who sent Me.”
Yes, your ministry, whatever it may be, make sure that it is God’s work, make it a point that it is God’s will. It is my prayer that your theological years here in LST have already formed in you a discerning mind and a discerning heart, always seeking not your own will but the will of the One Who sends you.
Perhaps it is helpful to refresh in your minds that discerning God’s will is only possible, yes it could not be in any way, except in an ongoing, intimate and personal relationship with God in Jesus through the Spirit. It has a pre-requisite too; that of cultivating hearts that are free from disordered affections and inordinate attachments.
During the Apostolate Day in San Jose Seminary few Sundays ago, a Josefino priest told me of Cardinal Tagle’s recent experience. One of his priests approached the Cardinal, assuring him that he was willing to take any parish assignment. When he heard about his possible assignment, he made an ocular inspection of the parish convent. He went back to the Cardinal telling him, “Mahihirapan po ang Nanay ko sa kumbento, masikip po at mataas ang hagdanan.” “It would be difficult for my mother to live in the parish convent. It’s small and the stairs are steep.”
Out there in your ministry, you will be making decisions, both personal and communal, since most of you will be leaders of your faith communities. May you continue to nurture your intimacy with the Lord. Through Him, may you constantly make your hearts free, seeking only the will of the One Who has sent you, knowing in the heart, that the Lord Jesus is at work even now.
It is noteworthy that the Eucharist is the Supreme Sacrifice of the New and Eternal Covenant. It is also the Sacrament of God’s Remembering, a Memorial of His abiding presence, grace and mercy. It is as well the fount and summit of God’s saving work. Let each celebration of the Eucharist, from here on, be to you a renewing of your identity as a Covenant to God’s people, a re-affirmation of God who constantly remembers through your life and ministry, and a recreating of your hearts as discerning, always seeking the will of the One Who has sent you. Amen!