Homily of His Eminence Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle
Closing Mass of the LHS-LST Jubilee Celebration
September 11, 2016
My Brothers and sisters in Christ, it is good to be here. It is good to join our Loyola House of Studies and Loyola School of Theology communities in giving thanks to God for fifty years of faithful service to the Church not only in the Philippines but also in other parts of the world. This celebration of this culminating Eucharist is made more special by the presence of the bishop of Cubao who allowed us to come together and who allowed me to preside, Bishop Ontioco, who was also a student here, a graduate of Loyola school of Theology. And another alumnus, Bishop Mylo Hubert Vergara of the Diocese of Pasig. Of course we have our distinguished Jesuits, led by the Provincial Fr. Tony Moreno and our guests here, and most of all you the students and employees of LHS and LST. It is quite intimidating to preach before your former professors, some of them cannot hear anymore but some of them are still very sharp. But is good to be part of this culminating activity. We were here last year to open the Golden Jubilee and yes we are here again to close.
The readings for this Sunday’s liturgy present to us a drama. It is very dramatic, the whole theme of the readings, and they spell out for us the very drama of salvation history and of our lives as Christians. Who are the characters of the drama? In the first reading from the book of Exodus, we have God, Israel – unfaithful to God, and Moses. God is angry because the people have forgotten him and his great deeds. In his just anger, God decided “I will consume, I will destroy this people.” Then came Moses. Moses did something very simple. He reminded God that “they are your people.” How could you destroy your own people? How could you destroy the people that you have liberated? Then something deeper than anger and justice surfaced. God remembered and He repented. No destruction happened.
In the second reading from the first letter of Paul to Timothy, we have Jesus Christ, Paul, and Timothy representing the Church. Jesus, he started a community, he fulfilled the prophets and the law, but people like Paul, in his zeal, which he later called unbelief, persecuted the followers of Christ. He persecuted the body of Christ. But then Jesus was merciful to him, so merciful that Paul, the worst of sinners according to his own estimation, now becomes an apostle, an apostle before Timothy and the Church, a witness to what the patience of God could do. Paul was not destroyed. In fact he is the vessel of God’s word.
Then the gospel, all too familiar to us, the three parables of mercy. We have Jesus, and the tax collectors and sinners, and the third character, the Pharisees and scribes. Jesus eating and mingling with sinners, and this caused the Pharisees and scribes to murmur, to even question the sanctity of this teacher, Jesus. But through three parables Jesus presented the image of God, and this is the whole drama. In the three readings the question is “Who is God?” Do we really know God? Who is the God we claim we are following? And who are we? Who are we as sinners before the God that Jesus reveals? Let’s go right to the three parables.
The first parable of the lost sheep begins with Jesus questioning all of us. “What man among you having a hundred sheep will leave the ninety-nine in search of the lost one?” He is addressing it to us, to the Pharisees and scribes. Who among you will leave the ninety-nine good sheep to look for the one that is lost? Who among you would do that? Probably no one, or maybe a few crazy ones. I tried it in a bible study group. I asked them, “who among you will leave the ninety nine?” No one will leave the ninety-nine. Then the next parable, what woman, or the women among you here, losing one coin will sweep the whole house to search for that one coin when you have nine other coins. Will any of the women here clean the whole house for that one coin? Maybe not many. Maybe my mother would. But really that is ridiculous. And then finding the lost sheep you call your neighbors to a feast. You find the lost coin you call your neighbors to celebrate. Now this one is overacting, OA. Sobra na ito, masyadong maarte. (This is too much, too overacting)
And now we go to the third parable, the lost son, whom by the way was also a lost brother. He asked for his inheritance, virtually telling his father “I wish you’re dead, but since it is taking you time for you to die I cannot wait, please give me my share of inheritance.” How painful. But the father gave it and he squandered it. And he came to his senses and reversed a line: “I am no longer fit to be called your son, hire me as a servant. That is what I am right now, a servant.” But then the father saw him, even from afar, and he broke all conventions, especially the protocol that governs wealthy families. The father left the house, ran to the child, to his lost son. Embraced him, literally fell on him. And before the son could even finish the reversed lines the father stopped him. The father would not want him to be reduced to a slave, to a servant, and restored him to the dignity of a son, with the clothing, with the sandals, with the ring. And again, overacting, you have a feast. That is why we sort of understand the reaction of the elder son, who did not, by the way, feel like a son. He described himself as a servant, “I labored for you.” Naku, kawawa naman sya. Akala natin mabait na anak pero ang pakiramdam nya pala nya, “alipin lang ako.” (What a pity. We thought he was a good son but he actually felt like a slave.) And he refused to join the celebration.
Again, who is God? Who is God? In the first reading he is a God that recoils, recoils in his anger because he remembers “they are my own.” In the second reading, there is Jesus who trusts someone who persecuted him in his body and goes beyond it and even entrusts to his persecutor the mission to be his great apostle. And in the gospel, a God who shows us the way to respond to a lost sheep, a lost coin, a lost son, and even a lost the elder son who refused to join the feast. He got out of the house again and begged the child, the son to come home.
Who is God? And who are we? Salamat na lang sa Diyos na kung minsan di natin maunawaan, tayo ay buhay, tayo ay may pag-asa pa rin na maging anak. (Thanks be to God, whom we sometimes cannot understand. We are alive. We still have hope of becoming his children.) We may be lost, we may be wounded, but we are never absent in God’s mind and heart. If we are totally absent, God will not look for us. God will not search for us. We may distance ourselves from God but we will never disappear from God’s heart. The gospel invites us the way Jesus invited the Pharisees, those who could not accept this God, Jesus tells them there is great rejoicing in heaven. Can you not rejoice here on earth when our God is rejoicing in heaven. The Pharisees and scribes, they are not rejoicing, they are sad that God through Jesus mingles with sinners. Who are we? On what side are we? Do we rejoice with heaven or do we rejoice in our anger, our sense of righteousness, in our sense of justice. Do we define ourselves in relation to God, the God who has his own ways and his own thoughts. The God who is mystery, of fidelity and mercy. But thanks to this God no one is forgotten. No one is totally lost. You are my own. You are my son. The only reason why God searches even for the people that the world considers useless because “it is mine, it is my own.” That is our God and that is the drama of life. Will we rejoice with God? Will we be with God or would we choose to be with the God that we fabricate, very different from the God who saves. The God who gives hope. The God who embraces the wounded, the lost.
I would like to think that is precisely the drama of Loyola House of Studies and Loyola School of Theology. For what is formation all about, what does formation consists in? Formation consists in entering that drama – God, you, the world, and the Church. What is theology? Theology is a drama where you grapple with the true God. So as you progress in your theological studies, the idols that you have fabricated, the idols that the world has passed on to us, the idols that even our professors create, will be revealed for what they truly are, they are not the true God. And then in our encounter with the true God we could witness before the world and the Church. After fifty years of dramatic existence, we hope that Loyola House of Studies and Loyola School of Theology will continue to participate in the unfolding drama. Sige magkaroon tayo ng Loyola House of Drama, Loyola School of Dramatics. Ito yung kailangan ng mundo, yung tunay na drama, na sa bandang huli you know the story, the true God will triumph. (Let us have a Loyola House of Drama, a Loyola school of Dramatics. This is what the world needs. Real drama, that in the end we know the true story, God will triumph in the end.) The true God will not even talk about the sin of the lost son. The true God talks only about “he was lost and is found, he was dead and has come back to life.” I wonder why the true God speaks this way. What God have we been following and preaching all along? What is the terminology that we use of our concocted, fabricated gods? We pray that the God of mercy will always be compassionate and faithful to Loyola House of Studies and Loyola School of Theology, so that like St. Paul, these two great institutions will continue to witness to the world of the patience, the love, the forgiveness of the true God. Let us now pause and open our hearts to the God being revealed to us by Jesus. Can we rejoice with God?