Friday, July 12, 2013

THE BLESSINGS OF EDUCATION AND FAITH FORMATION

Most Rev. Mylo Hubert C. Vergara, DD, MA, SThD
Homily during the Mass of the Holy Spirit, PaDDS, June 28, 2013

I would like to begin this homily with a prayer, borrowing the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians which we heard in our second reading: “May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, grant each of us the spirit of wisdom and insight to know him clearly.  May he enlighten us so that we may know the great hope to which he has called each of us. Amen.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, at the beginning of this school year, allow me to share two important things administrators, teachers, catechists and students must realize about education.

First, we are blessed to be educated so let us be grateful and not put it to waste. Not all people are given the blessed opportunity to study in elementary, high school or even college.  In this morning’s news, a 100-year old woman from Mexico was praised for completing her elementary education.  She said that she was not given the chance to study when she was a child. Here in our country, even though we have public schools that give free education, there are still a great number of young people who don’t or can’t go to school for one reason or another.  Some years back, I remember when I was former bishop of the Diocese of San Jose, Nueva Ecija, we had an Educational Summit held at San Jose City, Nueva Ecija, the first for the our growing municipality. In that gathering, we learned from a report that San Jose City had 5000 out-of-school-youths, much worse and sadly, Cabanatuan City had 26,000 out-of-school-youths.  I also recall in one of my pastoral visits to the mountainous regions of Caranglan, Nueva Ecija where I had to walk and cross rivers on foot for hours, I witnessed how one of my Cannosian sisters taught some children belonging to an indigenous community. These children, who had no access to formal basic education, came every afternoon for tutorials in writing, reading, singing, story-telling and other group activities. There were also some adults who came and were enthusiastic to learn reading and writing.  One time, there was this young man from an indigenous tribe, twenty-nine years old and single who assisted us in crossing the rivers. He did not even finish his elementary education.  Because of this, he found it hard to speak and read English. But he was interested to learn so he joined the children.  He was not at all ashamed to learn and join the kids.

It is just sad that there are some students who don’t appreciate and value their education.  They spend more time doing “facebook”, playing video games and watching TV.  There are those who are not serious in doing class work and just contented to get passing grades.  Some even skip classes if they find a way.

Dear students you are blessed to be educated.  Be grateful to your parents and teachers who make this possible for you.  Don’t waste this precious gift which a great number of young people like you do not have in their lifetime.  

Second, we are blessed to have a catholic education so let us take to heart the faith formation we receive.During this first year of preparation for the 500th anniversary celebration of the coming of Christianity to the Philippines, we are challenged by the Bishops of the Philippines to take to heart the first of nine pastoral priorities of the Philippine Church, that is, Integral Faith Formation. In the CBCP Pastoral Letter “Live Christ, Share Christ”, Abp. Jose Palma pointed out: “What a blessing it is that this first pastoral priority coincides with this Year of Faith as declared by the Holy Father!.... Faith formation has one objective: a more intimate relationship between Jesus and his followers.”

How can integral faith formation be a priority for students at the beginning of our school year?  Practically speaking, how can our administrators, teachers, catechists and students develop a more intimate relationship with Jesus?  

In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks in behalf of the Lord and tells the foreigners who converted to the Lord: “Observe what is right, do what is just.” (Is 59:6)  God was telling them that right sacrifice done in God’s altar must be coupled with social justice.  Any holocaust offered to the Lord had no meaning if injustice was done to others. 

This message has something to do with what catholic education is all about.  In our parochial schools, it is a great blessing that we are taught about our catholic faith, about what it means to be a child of God our Father, about being close to Jesus in prayer, about going to mass, about valuing the sacraments, and about being holy and doing good.  All these boil down to knowing and practicing our faith.  By seriously studying our faith and sincerely expressing this in our worship life, we observe what is right; and by showing acts of love and kindness to others, we do what is just.

In a recent meeting with students of some Jesuit schools in Rome, Pope Francis told the young students: “Why do you go to school, what would you answer me? There would probably be many answers according to the sensibility of each one. However, I think that it all could be summarized by saying that school is one of the educational environments in which one grows to learn to live, to become adult and mature men and women, capable of walking, of following the path of life….”  He even told them to be magnanimous, explaining to them what magnanimity means: “It means to have a big heart, to have greatness of mind, it means to have great ideals, the desire to do great things to respond to what God asks of us and, precisely because of this, to do well the things of each day, all daily actions, commitments, meetings with persons. To do the little things of every day with a great heart open to God and to others.” (June 7, 2013)

To end this homily, let us go back to the task Jesus commissioned his disciples to do.  He instructed them: “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19-20)  This task of evangelization is addressed to all of us.  But you and I know that this can only be accomplished if we take to heart what renewed integral evangelization means in the spirit of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP-II) and in this Era of New Evangelization.  What is this? We have heard this so many times, that is:  Before we can evangelize, we first have to be evangelized!  In this sense, being evangelized means not putting to waste the blessings of our education and faith formation.  By seriously valuing them, we become effective agents of evangelization in today’s world.  Amen.

  

PCC at 100 and Beyond: Receiving and Giving Jesus



Homily of Most Rev. Mylo Hubert C. Vergara, DD, MA, SThD
Closing of the Centennial Year,  Immaculate Conception Cathedral, June 29, 2013

As we close the Centennial Year of Pasig Catholic College (PCC), we can just marvel at how God has blessed us with the many activities that have actually been festivities for us.  We could enumerate all of them and go on and on to recount how happy and successful they have been for the PCC administrators, teachers, non-teaching personnel, students and alumni.  But I guess what matters is that this year has been a year of joyful celebration for all of us.  Indeed, our centennial year has been a Year of Grace.  Our gracious God has blessed us with the grace not only to thank him for what has been and what is but also what will be.  In thanking him, we acknowledge the many blessings he has and continues to bestow on us.  So what now after 100 years?  What is God calling us to do?  Allow me to use an often quoted line from scripture that may provide a challenge for PCC.  The words come from Jesus himself when he said: “What you have received as a gift, give as a gift!” (Mt 10:8)

PCC has been gifted with 100 years of existence as an educational community. And through these years there have been many particular blessings: the many physical structures that have risen in what Msgr. Gerry calls “this little acre of grace”: the increase of the student population from the hundreds to the thousands; the effective educational management systems that made PCC what it is today and, of course, our successful alumni who have made their mark in Philippine Church and society.  These are just some of the gifts we can mention and I am sure there are many more.  So we have received so much.  Now God calls us to give.  What are we to give, then?  Let us take the cue from our readings as we celebrate this mass on the occasion of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul.

In our first reading (Acts 3:1-10), when Peter and John were before the crippled beggar who expected alms from them, what did Peter tell him: “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.”  So what did the apostles give him?  Was it his ability to rise and walk?  Think again.  It was more than that.  They gave him Jesus.  Yes, Jesus!  The gift of Jesus to this crippled man who was able to walk was testified in what happens after.  This man went to the temple walking and praising God. 

In our second reading (Gal 1:11-20), St. Paul testified that he was given divine revelation of Jesus Christ.  He refers to his dramatic encounter with Christ on his way to Damascus.  This encounter resulted to his conversion from being a persecutor of Christians to becoming an apostle to the Gentiles. He received Jesus that brought about his change of heart.  Consequently, he gave Jesus to the Gentiles by proclaiming his message to unbelievers.  And we all know what Paul underwent.  He suffered as an apostle of Jesus and was martyred for the Lord.

In effect, as a catholic college for 100 years, all the blessings PCC can count was made possible by Jesus.  We have received Jesus, the greatest gift of God the Father to us.  And since we have received him, we are called to give him, nothing more and nothing less. Giving Jesus to others by being his witness in word and deed, in what we have learned about the life and love of Jesus through the many persons we have encountered in this little acre of grace is what 100 years and beyond is all about.  If only each of us working and studying in PCC, even the alumni who have received Jesus in PCC, mirror Christ and show this by the great wonders of our little acts of faith, hope and love, then we have accomplished our task—to give Jesus to everyone we meet.  Jesus is the gift we have and always receive.  Jesus is the gift we have to give. To use the words of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta: "Let us give only Jesus, always Jesus."

In our gospel (Jn 21:15-19), Jesus asked Peter thrice, “Do you love me?”  And after every affirmative response, he told him: “Feed my sheep.” Giving Jesus to others means feeding them the only spiritual food one needs, the Lord Jesus.  So practically speaking, what does this mean?  Well, if you ask me, this means doing the task which Saints Peter and Paul and the other apostles did: proclaiming our faith in Jesus Christ. 

Proclaiming the faith is the unique character of any catholic institution.  For PCC then, her daunting task is to constantly and consistently teach the faith, particularly the articles of faith summed up and capsulized in the “Apostles Creed”—Our belief in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, and our devotion to Mary; our belief in one holy catholic and apostolic Church; our belief in the communion saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting.  But this will not be easy?  Especially, in this post-modern age, our faith has become unpopular. Jesus is seldom talked about at home, in the streets and in the workplace.  And if one dares to talk about Jesus, one is subjected to ridicule, rejection and cynicism. 

In one of my book of homilies, I shared this testimony of a friend who had her share of persecution in this day and age. My friend wrote:

For the first time here at work, we are being reminded on how to celebrate Christmas ('holidays' for them). It's really sad... even last year, during our Christmas holiday luncheon here in our Human Resources department, we cannot use the word Christmas in order to show respect to those who are not believers. The management team sung like this, ‘We wish you a happy holiday. We wish you a happy holiday....’ instead of Merry Christmas!  So this year, after working here in the same company for 15 years, I am not attending our luncheon. Recently I got reprimanded by my manager because I sent an email asking for prayers for my co-worker who, at that time, has a husband (also a co-worker) in a very critical condition.  She's now a widow... and not back to work yet. Anyway, just sharing... how difficult it is to be a Christian.  But I am happy and I know God will never abandon me, especially during difficult times like this. Our reward is eternal life with Him!  Amen! (A Shepherd’s Staff, pp. 43-44, 2008)

Just recently, I heard of this true story of a college student who graduated with top honors from a catholic institution in the United States. She became a registered nurse, was employed in a big hospital and was give a high salary because of her excellent resume.  She had a bright future ahead.  However, the first task she had to perform was to assist a doctor in doing an abortion.  Because of her catholic conscience, she could not do it and resigned from her work.  She gave up what could have been a promising career and financial stability for Jesus.  She made this sacrifice for Jesus.

How many parents, experiencing financial difficulty, still opted to enroll their sons and daughters in PCC because of their confidence that their children will receive excellent religious instruction as foundation for being God-fearing and God-loving persons in future service to family, Church and society. It would have been a better alternative financially to send their children to a public school rather than PCC.  But they made sacrifices, struggling to make both ends meet for their family in their daily needs, because they firmly believe that education in faith matters most to truly build persons of character and competence who will be exemplary role models in the Christian faith. 

Dear friends in Christ, receiving and giving Jesus entail suffering and sacrifice. Inevitably, we have to follow the footsteps of Jesus who carried his cross to Calvary, was nailed on it, died for our sakes and rose again so that we may have life.  This will be our task for PCC at 100 years and beyond.  It will not be an easy trek. Definitely, it will still be a long, arduous journey in which each of us will have a share in the paschal mystery of Christ.  But we should not be afraid because Jesus will be there to carry us through it all. 

A bishop told a story of a century old wooden church in a small rural town that the people decided to break down and burn with his permission because they had a new church structure where people went to and worshipped.  There was no more use for the old church and the faithful found the new church more accessible to their homes.  The fire department supervised the burning of the old church which lasted until evening.  People saw how the burning church appeared like a big bonfire that lit the sky that night.  The following morning the bishop saw what the people picked up from what was left of it. And you know what?  They were picking up the nails that were neatly arrayed and stacked on the ashes.  Lo and behold, the fire burned the wood of the church so well that what was visibly left were the nails that were previously lined up and pinned to each wood that made the church structure rise and stand for the past 100 years.  The bishop cried when he saw those nails because he realized that those nails made that church stand for a century and was what remained after the church building was burned into ashes.  He realized that they were like the nails of Christ who hung on the cross that holds the Church together now and until the end of time.  These nails caused the wounds of Christ that makes each of us stand up when we fall, that makes us hope amidst suffering. (Dolan, To Whom Shall We Go?, pp. 140-141, 2008)

Not all institutions reach 100 years.  There are those that last 10, 20 or 50 years and then close shop or simply shut down.  PCC is a century old and going strong with a bright future ahead.  But even though a time comes when PCC will cease to exist for whatever reason, we should be consoled that it is Jesus Christ, through the nails of his cross, through his wounds of love, which made PCC stand with resiliency, courage and hope. Amen.