A Jesuit, Filipino, and Asian Ecclesiastical Faculty of Theology

Sunday, August 20, 2017
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Commencement Address of Fr. Gerard Francisco P. Timoner III, O.P.
Prior Provincial of the Dominican Province of the Philippines
Vice Chancellor of the University of Santo Tomas
 
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Very Rev. Fr. Antonio Moreno, SJ, Provincial Superior and Vice Chancellor
Rev. Fr. Jose Quilongquilong, SJ,  President of Loyola School of Theology,
Rev. Fr. Enrico Eusebio Jr., SJ, Vice President for Academic Affairs,
Faculty and Staff of LST, especially our esteemed Jesuit Professors,
Parents, families, formators, friends and fans of the graduates,
Bro. Mark Yoniz Beley, OMI, Class Valedictorian,
Brothers and Sisters,
Our dear Graduates,
 
I am sure you are wondering how a Dominican got invited to the commencement exercises of the renowned Loyola School of Theology?
 
I met one of the graduating students two weeks ago at a book-launching event, and he said there are ominous murmurations among the graduating students whether the presence of a Dominican in LST could be one of the portents of the parousia!
 
I am as perplexed as you are, and only Fr. Quilongquilong knows the answer! While we were waiting for Pope Francis at UST, Fr. Joe told me that he would invite me here at LST. I thought the invitation was for coffee and cake, so I readily said “yes”.  I could not take back that “yes” when I received the formal letter asking me to speak on your graduation. It would be impolite, not the least indelicate, for a Dominican to decline a Jesuit’s invitation. I have a confrere who was invited to give a talk on a topic he hardly had any competence. After the talk, he knew in his heart that he did poorly. As he sat with the audience, he told one of his listeners, “I hope it was not that bad”. He got a quick reply: “It's alright, I do not blame you, I blame the one who invited you!”[1]
 
Years ago, I set foot on LST with some Dominican student brothers to seek permission to use the LST library, which has a better collection on St. Thomas Aquinas than we had in our Studium at Santo Domingo. We went to the dean and introduced ourselves as Dominicans, he smiled and said: “it’s alright, nobody is perfect, you are welcome to our library!”
 
But the first time I came to LST was in 1986 to apply to the Society of Jesus. I shared this experience with Fr. Tony Moreno but he did not take me seriously! I was already in the Dominican aspirancy, but I still could not shake off the desire to become a Jesuit. My father was a basketball varsity player at the Ateneo de Naga and I often hear him talk fondly of the Jesuits, especially his coach, Fr. Thomas Murphy, and other Jesuits like Fr. McNully and Fr. Salvador. My eldest sister also went to the Ateneo de Naga and she spoke highly of the Jesuits she knew. It seemed natural for me to wish to be a Jesuit. But after my conversation with the vocation director, I felt he helped me discern more clearly my Dominican vocation. When my eldest sister died during my novitiate year, a Jesuit came all the way to Daet to celebrate the Eucharist for her. I am here to give thanks to the Jesuits who have been kind to my family, and to Fr. Catalino Arevalo, the acknowledged dean of Filipino theologians, whom I revere (yes, we, Dominicans, also admire Jesuits, especially now that we have a Jesuit Pope!)
 
Misericordia Veritatis
 
In his letter to the Catholic University of Argentina last March 3, Pope Francis described good theologians as similar to good shepherds who smell like the people, who bear the odor of God’s flock, and who “with their reflection, pour oil and wine on the wounds of the people.” How could our theological reflection help bring healing to wounded souls and hope to fractured communities? The first thing we must do is go where the wounded are. Teaching and studying theology, the Pope tells us, means “living on a  frontier, one in which the Gospel meets the needs of the people which should be  proclaimed in an understandable and meaningful way.”[2]
 
Let me share with you a few of these frontiers of evangelization[3] that my Dominican confreres have identified some years ago in Avila:
 
  1. The frontier between life and death, or the challenge of justice and peace in the world, the frontier where economic and political structures place a large number of people between life and death situations;
  2. The frontier between humanity and inhumanity, or the challenge of the marginalized, the frontier described by the Pope as a “throw-away culture”, where people are seen as “disposable”, a frontier that is partly created by an economy of exclusion;
  3. The frontier of Christian experience, or the space where Christianity meets the major religious traditions of the world;
  4. The frontier of religious experience, or the challenge of secularization, where religion is pushed from the public to the private sphere.
  5. The frontier of the Church, or the sphere where the Catholic Church meets the plurality of Christian confessions and movements.
 
We need not go far to stand on any of these frontiers that often intersect with one another. We find the borders between humanity and inhumanity, between life and death on our streets. Pope Francis says that poverty and hunger in our world is a scandal. And a bigger scandal is we are no longer scandalized, we have become immune and desensitized to pain and suffering around us. We are no longer bothered by this “negative experience of contrast”: If we are God’s children, how come many live lives that are beneath the dignity of God’s child? God’s generous providence is terribly offended when His children go hungry in a fruitful world, go naked in a world filled with all kinds of materials for clothing, and go homeless and landless in a wide and spacious world.
 
Pope Francis calls on consecrated people and, on you, dear graduates, to wake the world up! But are we truly awake when we see people asleep on the streets; or are we also asleep with the sleep of indifference?
 
How can theology help bind the wounds of our brothers and sisters on the frontiers? A faith that seeks to understand and transform the negative experience of contrast eventually finds misericordia veritatis, the mercy of truth.
 
For Pope Francis, the hermeneutic key to theological understanding is mercy. In his message to the youth of the Philippines, he said: “The marginalized people, those left to one side, those who are discarded are crying. But we don’t understand much about these people in need. Certain realities of life we only see through eyes cleansed by our tears.” Compassion cures our blindness. Our study must ultimately lead us to perceive human crises, needs, longings and sufferings as our own. Good theology is “linked with that misericordia which moves us to proclaim the Gospel of God’s love for the world and the dignity which results from that love.”[4] Only then could we say with the Church: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.”[5]
 
Filipinos instinctively know that mercy is a key to understanding. For us, mercy is not just a matter of the heart but of the mind as well. It is interesting, that for us, to “know” or “understand” is to be “compassionate”. The Filipino word UNAWA (una ang awa) encapsulates this best. Una-awa. Upang maunawaan natin ng lubusan ang isang tao, kailangang mauna ang awa. (Marahil may ilan sa atin dito ang pumasa dahil naunawaan ng professor!) A merciful attitude disposes us to understand persons and our world better. Mercy is no mere sentimentality. It involves both heart and mind. Similarly, understanding is not purely cognitive. Unawa makes the heart and mind one. “Compassion brings humility to our preaching and teaching, humility for which we are willing to listen and speak, to receive and give, that we may influence and be influenced, to be evangelized and to evangelize.”[6]
 
Culture of Encounter
 
Mercy brings us to the frontiers and thresholds, and therefore, to the possibility of encounter. Pope Francis wrote on the guest book of UST: “May the Lord bless all those studying and working for a culture of encounter.”
 
A culture of encounter is a phrase that figures prominently in the teaching of Pope Francis. Last year, he asked people in social communication to “build a culture of encounter” that requires them “to be willing not only to give, but also to receive from others”. He said the exact same thing to the youth of the Philippines. Reflecting on the Gospel story of the young man who asked Jesus what more he ought to do to inherit eternal life, Pope Francis told us that, like the young man, we still lack one thing; it is not enough to simply give, we must also allow ourselves to receive; it is not enough to love Jesus, we must open ourselves to be loved by Jesus. Generous giving to the poor is no encounter at all, if all we do is give without humbling ourselves to receive from them in return. The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines has called our attention to the same reciprocity: No one is so poor that he cannot give, no one is so rich that he cannot receive. The Pope invites us to know our poverty, to understand what we lack that we may learn to beg, that we may discover our insufficiency - that we need God and other people. As the Pope reminds us, it is easier to love because we can decide how to manifest that love; it is more difficult to be loved, to receive love, because, we are not in control, we cannot know in advance how the other would give love.
 
Pope Francis gives his blessings to all those “studying and working for a culture of encounter”. If we are to take the Pope’s words very seriously, then we need to evaluate not only what our students learn from their teachers, but also what teachers have learned from their students, or administrators from their colleagues! If students are given exams in order to assess what they have learned, there should be an analogous evaluation of what teachers have learned from their students! When students know that their teachers learned something from them, then they understand more; they experience what the Holy Father calls, an encounter.
 
This commencement exercises is a fitting testimonial to the years of assiduous study of our graduating students as much as it is a tribute to the excellent teaching of the professors of Loyola School of Theology – something on which Jesuits and Dominicans would all agree, for God’s greater glory, for His most merciful Truth.
 
So, let me invoke a humble Dominican blessing upon all of you; and greet you most warmly, Congratulations! A Blessed Golden Anniversary of LST! Mabuhay po kayo!
 

[1] Timothy Radcliffe, OP, The Joy and Sorrow of Priesthood Today Given at the National Conference of Priests at Digby Stuart College, Roehampton. United Kingdom 17.09.2002
[2] Pope Francis, “Letter to University of Argentina” March 10, 2015.
[3] General Chapter of Avila (1986)
[4] General Chapter of Providence, 108, 2001.
[5] Gaudium et Spes no. 1
[6] Carlos Aspiroz-Costa, OP “Proclaiming the Gospel in the Order of Preachers” Rome, 7 November 2002.