(Response in the Naming Ceremony of the Ateneo de Davao University Sports Center, delivered on March 11, 2011, at the Matina Campus, Davao City.)
It is with a deep sense of gratitude that I make this response.
For really, it is only with gratitude that one can possibly respond to the magnanimity of heart that is manifested by this gesture of naming this sports complex in my honor. And so, I would like to thank the Chairman of the Board, Mr. Paul Dominguez, the members of the Board of Trustees, the Jesuit community of Davao, the Ateneo community and, above all, Fr. Antonio Samson, the President, for this distinct honor. It is truly satisfying that the ideals of youth that Fr. Samson and I shared when we were both young high school and college students at the Ateneo de Manila should be reaffirmed more than fifty years afterwards in this meaningful way. Your mom and my mom would be particularly pleased.
You honor me as a way of thanking me for the contributions I made to the Ateneo de Davao University during my years as President, and it would not be true to say they were not significant contributions. But it would be a short-sighted and superficial person that would make those achievements as entirely his own.
In the book. The Diary of a Country Priest by George Bernanos, there is a favorite quote of Fr. Ben Nebres, a short and simple pregnant sentence that reads: “All is grace.” Those achievements that occasion this naming ceremony are just that—grace, something underserved, and totally gratuitous. One can take the most visible aspect of those achievements: the concrete buildings. Well, I can give you the names of those who actually built these buildings: Arch Rolly Mercado, Engr. Henry Omolida, who are both here with us this morning; Mam Odette, my assistant, the late Mr. Barlis, the treasurer at that time, Linda Arreola and Tita Jaca, Venus and Nits, Steve Fundador, to name only the more obvious ones. Then there are the administrators and faculty and staff, both in this Matina campus and in Jacinto, not to mention the lay people both members and non-members of the Board. If I mentioned all their names, it would take some time. I do not mean to say that I just had a small role in all of this. After all, I was the Chief Operating Officer. But if you were to credit me with management skills, then I can tell you that I owe that to a Fr . Wally Campbell who mentored me when I was editor of the college yearbook, to a Fr. Jim Donelan who was President when I was regent at the Ateneo de Manila University, to a Fr. Joe Cruz who took me in as school administrator, to my peers and fellow-Jesuits, alumni and friends, as we interacted and dealt with the concerns of the various Ateneos. And if you were to credit me with some capacity for critical thinking, sound judgment, and effective communication, the list gets even bigger, for it now involves the whole range of training and resources of the Society of Jesus—not only in the Ateneo or the Loyola School of Studies, but also in Oxford, Innsbruck, Toronto, and Cambridge. There are names and faces associated with all these places and phases of training, some now dead, all quite real. Finally, as against a background that makes all this visible and possible, there is the presence, often unadverted to but always there, of the silent abiding love of my family and friends. They just let me be, and watched supportively from the sidelines, so to speak. It would indeed be foolish if I were to claim the achievements for which you honor me today as my own, All is grace, and the grace is the love and care I have received so constantly and generously from others.
I am likely to be accused of painting too rosy a picture in all this, for in fact, human relationships are not always smooth; at times they are stormy. But just as success cannot be taken in isolation from the total reality of which it is a part, so also conflicts and failures are not isolated events, but part of a bigger picture. Limited human beings that we are, there is the tendency to see things in the limited—even selfish–perspective of our likes and concerns. And so we can be lifted up in pride by our success or drowned in despair by our failures, complacent in good times and stressed in bad times. But if we can see the bigger picture, not only success and smooth sailing, but also setbacks and rough sailings, are like shadows and textures that are part of the total picture. Just as seeing the total picture prevents one from the pride of claiming success as one’s own, so also the bigger picture allows one to see setbacks and rough times as part of a wise and provident unfolding of life.
To see the bigger picture is to try to see things not from one’s limited, even selfish, perspective, but to see them from the perspective of God. God is the creator of heaven and earth, the Lord of history. It was not by chance nor without purpose that the first Jesuits, led by Fr. Bove, came to Davao and began his missionary work. It was not by chance or without purpose that the Jesuits were invited in 1948 and Fr. Daigler took over the parochial school that became the Ateneo de Davao. It was not by chance or without purpose that I was assigned to Davao and now celebrate this event with you. Everything that transpired in Davao transpired in exactly the way they did for a purpose in God’s providence. And if we can accept that purpose in the obedience of faith, we can bless the Lord in good times and in bad.
Scripture compares man’s life to the flower of grass, that is here today and gone tomorrow. But the amazing thing—the amazing grace—is that brief and passing as our work and lives may be, we have been given the privilege to truly play a role in the bigger task that will surely succeed and that will surely last. In the words of scripture, the task is “the creation of a new heaven and a new earth”, the establishment of “the kingdom of God,” “the building up of the Body of Christ, that is the Church.” These realities we can only see dimly in faith, just as Fr. Bove in the 19th century could only see dimly, if at all, what the Jesuit presence in Davao might be like in his future. But now we see his future more clearly, and what we see and celebrate today would never have been were it not for Fr. Bove’s work and that of his original 18 Jesuit companions. We all move on, and in time become forgotten. We do our work which others may continue or still others may undo. But that passing life that we lived and that passing work that we did is a sharing in the work of Christ, and in Christ they have lasting significance. To share in the work of Christ, as we care for the students of our school– that is the meaning of our work, that is our achievement that continues beyond our lifetimes, and that is our glory that no one can take away. And that we should be invited to share in that work of Jesus Christ is pure grace—a pure gift.
Once again, I thank you.