A Jesuit, Filipino, and Asian Ecclesiastical Faculty of Theology
REVELATION TO THE CHILDLIKE
Most Rev. Bishop Pablo Virgilio "Ambo" David, D.D.
Mass of the Holy Spirit, August 24, 2016
"I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the clever and the learned, you have revealed them to the childlike.* (Luke 10:21)
I used to think of the Loyola School of Theology as an elite school for clever and learned theologians. Our Gospel reading for this Mass makes me think otherwise. Perhaps if we truly wish to be properly disposed for God's revelation, for a genuine theological experience, we have to imagine LST instead as a "preschool for kids", a Loyola PreSchool of Theology. A preschool whose main purpose is to make us properly mature from grownups to children, not the other way around. A preschool that will help us face the bigger school out there, to discover the world, not as a prison cell or as a big factory, but rather as a spacious playground; God's kingdom in our midst. I also propose to portray Jesus' role in this preschool, not as that of a teacher, but rather as that of a playmate. Perhaps the appropriate Jesus image would be the Santo Niño, the child Jesus dressed like the Little Prince. You might want to use as manual for this theological preschooling that famous little book, which is referred to as a "children's book for grownups". (I am more and more convinced that the French pilot Antoine de Saint Exupery, wrote that book with the Johannine portrait of Jesus in mind. I am also convinced that he had the Santo Niño as inspiration for his sketch of the playful Little Prince, and us humankind in his portrayal of the fox whom he had tamed.)
If you find this thought ludicrous, it might surprise you to know that the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the revered father of postmodern thinking, once proposed something similar. In his book "Thus Spoke Zarathustra", Nietzsche laid out what he called a process of metamorphosis that the human spirit undergoes as an evolution in three stages. He calls the first phase the camel stage. That's what we are like at the start, he says; like beasts of burden bearing loads of tradition as we cross the desert. We obey because we do not know better; we take the word of grownups who tell us reality is what they say it is. Because we are in no position yet to question them, we take it all meekly and trustingly. Soon we outgrow the camel and turn into a lion, an angry and ferocious beast. We begin to question the world. We become critical of traditions and institutions. We're always on the lookout for lies and deceptions, ready at each time to tear them down. That's when we become rebellious and learn to say to our elders, "Just because you say so doesn't mean it's really so. Give me a good reason why I should take your word for it." (Whenever I listen to President Duterte, I keep hearing the word "angry". I wonder if we have a president who is in his lion stage. The type who has no qualms to question established institutions like the Church, the Pope and bishops, the United Nations, the constitution's provisions on human rights, etc. Perhaps we should say "good for him; he has at least outgrown his camel stage". That's why he doesn't mind hurting sensibilities by using the PI cusswords and the F-Word on just anyone or anybody. He needs to rub it in. He is eager to tear down hypocrites, like a lion. But isn't that also the case with old revolutionaries and activists who have not yet outgrown the angry lions in them. Kaya siguro at home siya sa kanila.)
Nietzsche says the third and final stage of our spiritual metamorphosis is that of the child. That's when we stop being angry and allow ourselves to be truly delighted by life as it unfolds. That's when we no longer take ourselves too seriously and learn to laugh at our blunders. That's when we can rejoice in the Spirit like Jesus in the Gospel. In the version of Matthew, the text gets a bit more elaborate. After thanking the Father for revealing himself not to the obedient camels or to clever and learned lions, but to the merest children, he invites his disciples to learn to be gentle and humble of heart, to seek, not the heavy yoke of the camel or the stressful anger of the lion, but rather a burden that is easy and light, one that can truly give rest to our weary and restless souls, one that can turn us into children and make us truly playful, one that is suffused with a profound sense of awe and wonder... What we call pagkamangha in Tagalog. Wala kasing kinamamanghaan ang kamelyo; sasabihin niya, "Nakita ko na iyan. Papunta ka pa lang pauwi na ako." At wala ring kamamanghaan ang leon. Lahat kailangan niyang wasakin o lansagin!
As we begin this academic year, I declare the playground called the Loyola Preschool of Theology open! I hope you, dear students and professors, are eager to explore the deepest mysteries of faith like little children having fun, like kids who are excited to dance in the rain, to gaze at the stars at night, and to play with insects. It's ok to be foolish; it is what the prophet Joel says is bound to happen when God pours out His Spirit on his children. Para silang mga hibang. People would think we're just drunk, like they said about the apostles at Pentecost.
"Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even upon your male and female servants, in those days, I will pour out my spirit."
When that time of our final stage of metamorphosis comes, St Paul says, we should not be worried about being like little babies who do not know yet how to talk. He says "...for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings".
It's ok to babble like children or to speak in tongues. Isn't that what happens when you put children of various nationalities together who are unfamiliar with each other's languages? They'll communicate and play. Today, I ask you to think of your theological studies as a task of learning the grammar and vocabulary of the Holy Spirit. Be open to the Spirit who alone can teach us to understand God's will and to respond with love to the God who loved us first. He alone can enable us to listen even to those who don't agree with us. Like the Father whose house has many rooms, he will teach us to make space for everyone, even those who may have wronged us. Yes, including fools and troublemakers, addicts, neurotics and psychotics.
I wouldn't end this sharing without giving due regard to the great apostle Batholomew (called Nathaniel in John 1), the man called "unpretentious" by Jesus. Legends say he was skinned alive. I think it is true, but only figuratively. His encounter with Jesus taught him to be naked like a child, "shed off his skin", meaning his mask or his pretensions, and taught him to become his true self "under the fig tree", meaning, in the company of the messiah.
Perhaps we can seek his intercession as we begin this academic year, and ask him to accompany us as we metamorphose together, as we shed off our camel and lion skins and become like little children who can see fields of green, and red roses blooming, and skies of blue and clouds of white, bright blessed days and dark sacred nights, making us think to ourselves WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD IT IS INDEED!