Homily by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II Mass of the Holy Spirit for the College Department Our Lady of Fatima University, Valenzuela City 06 September 2021
"Those who seek truth seek God, whether they realize it or not." - St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
Last August 9 we celebrated the memorial of a modern saint who died at the gas chambers of Auschwitz during the Second World War. She was a German Jew named Edith Stein who became an atheist but later regained her faith as she pursued higher learning in the field of philosophy that was so rare for women at that time.
As she progressed into her philosophical studies working as an assistant to Prof. Edmund Husserl known as the “father of phenomenology”, she converted into Catholicism, eventually leaving her teaching post at a university to become a Carmelite contemplative nun, adopting the name Teresa Benedicta dela Cruz.
Congratulations, our dear students in college who dare to learn and seek the truth by enrolling in this Academic Year 2021-2022.
Students and teachers are both seekers of truth. As St. Teresa Benedicta had experienced, every search for truth leads us to God, the ultimate Truth.
This is a very difficult and trying year for us all but like St. Teresa Benedicta and all the other saints as well as great men and women of history, they all sought for the truth in the most troubled time in history. Trials and hardships in life make learning more “fun” – and an imperative at the same time. In fact, the more we must study and search the truth during critical moments in history and in our lives in order to learn more lessons that are valuable not only to us in dealing with our problems but also with the succeeding generations.
Two important virtues we need to cultivate in seeking the truth, in learning our lessons in this time of the pandemic that I hope you, teachers and students will rediscover this Academic Year: patience and humility.
This pandemic may be considered as another Pentecost, teaching us the value of patience, of patient waiting for everything, reminding us that the beauty of life is best experienced by allowing nature to take its course, without shortcuts nor rush, to enjoy its beauty as it unfolds before us.
Patience is from the Latin “patior” that means “to suffer, to bear with.”
Learning is a process. We cannot know everything right away. It requires a lot of patience on every student and teacher.
This is the reason why Jesus assured his disciples at the Last Supper that he would send them the Holy Spirit he referred to as the Advocate.
“When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me. And you also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning… I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.John 15:26-27, 16:12
In the last 20 years, so much have changed in our lives brought about by modern means of communication.
Great volumes of information have become so readily accessible at great speed, that many in the younger generation have seemed to have lost the virtue of patience. At the snap of your fingers, you can easily have almost everything you need aside from information and music – including food and groceries, clothes and appliances, plants and pets, even medicines and dates!
But life, most especially learning, takes time, requiring a lot of patience in waiting and searching.
Like the Apostles of Jesus who had to wait for the descent of the Holy Spirit at the Upper Room in Jerusalem.
This pandemic may be considered as another Pentecost, teaching us the value of patience, of patient waiting for everything, reminding us that the beauty of life is best experienced by allowing nature to take its course, without shortcuts, to enjoy its beauty as it unfolds before us.
Let our Lord Jesus Christ be our example in following in the path of patience, of suffering; every trial becomes a blessing, a moment of transformation when seen in the light of Jesus Christ who suffered and died for us on the Cross. His very life tells us that there can be no Easter Sunday without a Good Friday.
This pandemic period is an extended Good Friday but in between those moments of sufferings, we experience little Easter if we try to be patient like what some of you have experienced when you graduated in this time of the pandemic.
The second virtue I wish to invite you to rediscover, teachers and students alike, is humility which is again from the Latin word humus that literally means “soil”.
From humus came the words human and humor.
Man was created from clay, a kind of soil. A person with a sense of humor is one who can laugh at things because he or she is rooted on the ground. We call a person with sense of humor in Filipino as “mababaw” or shallow – not empty but close to the ground or deeply rooted.
It is very difficult to learn anything nor discover the truth unless we first become humble. Pride and ego are the greatest stumbling blocks to any kind of learning. You will find in history, even in our personal lives how many opportunities in the past were lost simply because of our pride or “ego trip”.
Pride was the very sin of Adam and Eve that led to their fall. That is why when Jesus came to save us from effects of that Fall, humility became his central teaching when he demanded us to forget ourselves and, most of all, to become like that of a child so we shall enter the kingdom of heaven.
This humility Jesus himself showed us the path by being born like us – small and helpless.
And that has always been the way of God ever since: the small and little ones, those taken for granted, the unknown and rejected are always the ones used as God’s instruments, the ones always effecting the most far-reaching changes in history and our personal lives.
Even in the story of the Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, we find the centrality of becoming small to become a part of the whole.
It is the exact opposite of the story at Babel when people in the Old Testament dared to build a tower reaching to the skies; because of their pride, God confused them by making them speak different languages that led to the collapse of their tower and ambitions. During the Pentecost, the people were all united as one despite the different languages they speak because everybody was willing to listen, to become small in themselves to give way to others.
Like during the Pentecost, let us allow the “tongues of fire” and the “strong, driving wind” of the Holy Spirit part us of our fears and indifference, pride and ego during this Academic year 2021-2022 to fully realize and learn the important lessons and truth this pandemic is teaching us.
Whenever, and wherever there is a search for truth that leads to the discovery of God through our patience and humility, there springs simultaneously the growth of a community. It is no wonder that wherever there is prayer and worship, there is always learning leading to bonding, or communing.
The first universities – from the Latin term universitas or “community of teachers and scholars” – where all offshoots of the efforts of the monks in their monastery as they evangelized peoples, teaching them not only prayers but also the basics of learning like reading and writing. Eventually monasteries had annex buildings as schools and universities that led to the establishment of towns and cities in Europe that spawned the growth of commerce and trade following the great many interactions among peoples.
Here we find the beautiful interplay of the search for truth that leads to discovery of God that bears fruit into mercy and love among people.
Another learned Saint who sought the Truth, Thomas Aquinas said that the more we learn the truth, the more we become intelligent, the more we must become holy.
How lovely it is, my dear students and teachers of Our Lady of Fatima University that wherever there is Truth which is Veritas, there is also Misericordia, the two mottos of our beloved University.
Amid the threats of COVID-19, amid the difficulties of online learning, let us continue to seek the truth, be patient and humble with one another as we try to build a community of “achievers” by “improving man as man”, “rising to the top” not to be conceited and proud but to be able to offer ourselves in the service of the country and of the world, for the praise and glory of God.
May our Patroness, the Our Lady of Fatima, lead us closer to Jesus Christ who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” Amen.