A Jesuit, Filipino, and Asian Ecclesiastical Faculty of Theology
As we begin another year of theological studies, academic year 2015 is made more special by the glorious celebration of the Golden Jubilee of Loyola School of Theology. The biblical celebration of a jubilee requires that the land not be tilled so it can rest, slave will be freed, debts are called to be cancelled and the mercies of Yahweh shall be lavishly given. This is a good year for you, students of LST, because if you fail and flunk your exams, you can remind your professors it’s the jubilee year of LST and they should be merciful to you and give you a passing grade!
We thank God for what Loyola School of Theology has contributed to the Church and society. Over the past 50 years, Loyola House of Studies has been called home by around 400 Jesuits who were formed in philosophy and theology. In five decades of sowing seeds, LST contributed to the intellectual and spiritual growth of 17 bishops, around 1,200 priests, 1,500 religious sisters and brothers, and 800 lay workers for the Lord’s vineyard. The last 50 years, indeed, has been years of being faithful, fruitful and also calls you to be forward-looking!
On this Red Mass on the 50th year anniversary of LST, let me offer 5 points for reflection on how LST can remain faithful to its identity, continue to be fruitful in its mission and challenge itself to be forward-looking in the next 50 years.
1. First, learn theology at the margins.
In our elementary school years, we have been taught never to write beyond the margins of our sheet of paper or notebook. We should stay within the margins. It would make your paper look neat and tidy. The other times we hear the word “margin” is when it is connected with research: margin of error, plus or minus; or, with money: profit margins. The bigger the profit margin, the better! Yet, when we look at our master teacher, Jesus, we find Him many times with those who were considered lost in the error of their ways: The sinners! The margins was the favorite location of Jesus. If there was a GPS or location service in the time of Jesus, the margins is where He will be found!
The margins is also the defining and constitutive character of the pronouncements of Pope Francis. Even before he became the pope and more so as pope, he always spoke of the margins. In Spanish, he calls it “la periferia,” those at the periphery and the outskirts. Remember when the Holy Father visited us last January and how he always finds a way to go to the margins? After his mass with bishops, priests, and religious at the Manila Cathedral, he chose to go to a group of street children near the cathedral and forego the scheduled time with the bishops.
As you harness your theological acumen and increase your knowledge of faith seeking understanding here in LST, bring it to completeness by making the margins your added teacher, classroom, library, and the world-wide web. The margins can be deadly, smelly, even deadly. There is nothing worthwhile in those things. The only reason for a preference for the margins is because there we can encounter Jesus, our teacher and master. When we get to the margins, Jesus is already there ahead of us! If the subject of theology is Jesus and no other, then, learning at the margins is required for it is there that He is surely found. We are not the center, Jesus is.
2. Second, learn theology on your knees.
It is not surprising if you hear students of theology questioning the practicability and usefulness of a rigorous studying of theology. With so much instability, poverty and uncertainty in our country, why waste out time and energy on the discipline called theological studies? Not to mention that not many of those preparing for ordination will be seminary professors but will be sent to remote barrios you cannot find in the map, or be in a mission school with no textbooks and two teachers who can teach. And you’re one of them! Would it not be a waste of effort?
The theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar described his time in the Jesuit scholasticate as a period of “languishing in the desert” (Balthasar, My Work in Retrospect, 89.). Such were his sentiments because he saw how dry the approach to studying theology was using the manual tradition. There was no room for a God of mystery or a searching faith. For him, there was a need to reunite theology with prayer, a mingling of theoretical speculation with meditative/contemplative theological discourse. In his own writings, Balthasar shows a prayerfulness rare in present-day theological work. He calls his “kniende theologie,” or praying or kneeling theology.
I’m sure you will be burning the midnight oil preparing for exams, finishing term papers, writing research papers or meeting deadlines for projects. You’ll be spending so much time sitting at your desk, standing by the book shelves and reading in the library or staring at the computer screen, pounding on your computer keyboard thinking of your despicable professors who made your life miserable! They are all good and necessary. But make sure that such sitting, standing, reading, and writing down your thoughts about the divine will also bring you to your knees in prayer with so much awe, reverence and love for the person of the God-made-man. With the vast amount of knowledge you will discover about God, may you come to know that you really do not know. And may that bring you to the ground on both knees in sheer humility. For humility is the beginning of wisdom. As G.K. Chesterton wrote: “Humility is the mother of giants.” With humility, being on your knees brings you closer to the God who chose to humble Himself taking on our humanity.
3. Third, learn the teachings of the Church first before the latest theological opinions.
“Sub umbra Petri” is an expression that means “under the shadow of Peter.” It’s normally heard by priests or lay doing theological studies in Rome. It’s a reminder and a reality that they will be immersed in the documents of the Church, teachings of the Church Fathers, pronouncements of different councils and popes as well as scriptural interpretations throughout the history of the Church. In a word, they will draw from the richness and depth of the teachings of the Church and its saints throughout its history. I remember a story how a group of theology seminarians were assigned to be the servers at Mass in a very big gathering with thousands of people present and a cardinal from another country was presider. They failed miserably serving at that Mass and ruined the solemnity of the celebration. The thurifer did not know what he was doing, those bringing the cardinal's miter and staff had no idea what to do. There was chaos and confusion in the sanctuary. Their theology professor was there and witnessed the whole liturgical debacle. He said to them: “You can know many theological treatises of the latest theological trends. But you have failed miserably in the communal worship and praise the Church offers to God!”
Don’t fall into the trap of dissent or critique of Church teachings without even knowing what they are or understanding what they mean. As Pope emeritus Benedict has reminded us, we live in a time where the tyranny of relativism can sway even the most steadfast in the faith. We need to moor the anchor of our faith in the divinely revealed tenets of the Church. Orthodoxy and fidelity to Church teachings is not mindless assent but a soulful acceptance even with some struggles and doubts in the process. As St. Augustine says, “A thousand doubts do not constitute a single unbelief.”
4. Fourth, learn that the Word is not a “what” but a “who.”
The gospel of St. John tells us that in the beginning was the Word; and the Word was with God; and the Word was God! Cardinal Chito Tagle has a Sunday TV program entitled “The Word Exposed.” Many people appreciate the exposition on the Sunday readings by Cardinal Tagle. Priests also “steal” what he says in the program for their homilies. What makes his “Word Exposed” attractive? I think it’s not so much WHAT he says but WHO he exposes to the tele-viewers: No other than the person of Jesus. He humanizes Jesus in a very intimate manner, making Jesus truly personal for those who listen to him. In doing so, he brings the sparks of the divine closer and we enjoy basking in its warmth. The power of the Word, therefore, is not so much WHAT we can say or know about it. It is WHO we come to know and encounter in love, the person of Jesus. I hope and pray that you not only know what Jesus is about, but who He truly is and your personal response to His revelation of Himself.
5. Fifth, learn theology at the foot of the Cross.
We call Christ by many titles: Christ the Lord, Christ the Infant Jesus, Christ the King, Christ the Risen Savior. But what brings together all of these titles and makes them meaningful is the title Crucified.
The lesson plan or learning objective of the cross has three big ideas: Wounds, Mercy and Love. In reality they are fully learned if they do not remain as mere ideas but are transformed into pulsating realities and life-giving actions.. In his homily during the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, Pope Francis said: “The path to our encounter with Jesus-God are His wounds. There is no other … Jesus tells us that the path to encountering Him is to find His wounds. We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy, giving to the body – the body – the soul too, but I stress, the body of your wounded brother, because he is hungry, because he is thirsty, because he is naked, because he is humiliated, because he is enslaved, because he is incarcerated, because he is in hospital. These are the wounds of Jesus today. And Jesus asks us to take a leap of faith towards Him, but through these wounds.” And then Pope Francis ends with these words: “We need to touch Jesus’ wounds, caress Jesus’ wounds, bind them with tenderness; we must kiss Jesus’ wounds literally… To touch the living God, we do not need to attend a refresher course but to enter into the wounds of Jesus…” In and through the wounds of Jesus, mercy and love flowed. It is said that mercy is not getting what we deserved. And love is getting what we do not deserve.
As we start another academic year of theological studies we implore once again the Spirit of the Lord. Not only to renew the face of the earth, but also to renew our fidelity to the Church, on bended knees, at the foot of the cross to know who Jesus is, calling us to meet Him at the margins. Amen.
August 26, 2015
Oratory of St. Ignatius of Loyola
Loyola House of Studies