Friday, August 07, 2009

Two SVD Scholastics Renew Vows

Here's the homily of Fr. Jerome Marquez, vice-provincial of SVD Philippine Central Province and director of St. Jude Catholic School. The occasion is the renewal of SVD vows of two chinese seminarians (names and pictures withheld) on the Feast of Transfiguration (6 August 2009).

The homily reinterprets the initial difficulties of foreign student-seminarians as a commitment to the Cross (and "rose" to use Cory's word) in the life of a religious-missionary. Such life demands living the vows in the social context of the country in which one is called to live.

Feast of Transfiguration (Mk 9: 2-10)
Renewal of Vows Homily: Fr. Jerome Marquez, SVD

Cory Aquino: Truly Catholic, Truly Filipino
Yesterday’s event was another defining moment for the late President Cory Aquino and the Filipino people. I was at DZMM Teleradyo for the 9-11AM broadcast of the funeral mass at the Cathedral. I joined the broadcast because it was my little way of thanking Tita Cory. I also wanted our young people to see a model of leadership that can truly be emulated. I believe Cory’s life is a testimony of how one can truly be Catholic and truly be Filipino. Indeed, she made me feel proud again being a Catholic Filipino.

When the mass ended, I rushed my way to the route of the procession and so I went to Osmena hiway in Manila. We parked along the road near a community of informal settlers hidden by the MMDA’s Metro Gwapo. I became one with the multitude of urban settlers, those coming out from their narrow shacks and alleys, enjoyed the downpour of rain and confetti, manifested Laban signs and chanted for the last time the name of our icon…Cory, Cory, Cory! To most of us, we came out beyond curiosity. It was our last glimpse to the woman we all want to pay our respect. But deeply, I was moved by the jubilant spirit of the crowd. I saw and was part of how truly the Filipino people can love and say its “salamat and paalam”.

Yes today, we have renewal of religious vows of two confreres from China. The timing merges with this special historical moment when we are defining what Cory stood for and how this country can move further after being touched by Cory’s magic. And maybe we, as SVD religious and communities, begin to reflect more profoundly - what renewal is needed as a missionary and religious institution in the Philippines, after remembering and rejoicing this gift of 100 years.

Renewal of our Radical Following of Jesus
Virgil Howard and David Peabody, both scriptural scholars, find several traits in the gospel story that are drawn from the Old Testament: six days and the high mountain from Exodus, the dazzling garments from book of Daniel, the figures of Elijah and Moses, and mention of tents as in “booths” in Leviticus. However, through all these images and details, the gospel leads us to its main point: Jesus himself and the revelation of him as God’s Son. “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him”. This message is given secretly to the inner core disciples of Jesus. It is a knowledge that is supposed to define their understanding of Jesus the Messiah who will later meet his passion, death and resurrection.

Profession of Vows as Second "Baptism"
As Jesus is the central image on this transfiguration story, he is the same central person in consecrated life. The very foundation of this calling and this free and total self-donation to God is to seek a closer following and imitation of the chaste, poor, and obedient Christ. Profession of vows is seen therefore like a second baptism. We are more profoundly incorporated into Christ and into the life of the Church. In this renewal of vows, we re-commit to insert ourselves into the paschal mystery of Christ that life of suffering, death, and resurrection. Following the spirit of the 16th General Chapter, “Jesus is our model par excellence of prophetic dialogue”. Thus our SVD identity grows more from this relationship and from the example of the incarnate Divine Word. His identity and mission are discovered in dialogue with the Father; in dialogue with the people he lived with, and in dialogue with the socio-political reality of the people of Galilee (see In Dialogue with the Word No. 7-September 2007, pp 22-23).

To be an SVD implies making incarnate this same practice of Jesus in our religious and evangelizing communities. Far from being absorbed by our theological studies, weekly apostolate and community living, we need to cultivate more the centrality of this dialogue with God in our daily living. It may be one of the good reasons why our Pink Sisters have been attracting local tourists to visit their cloistered chapels. They are branded as a praying community. It is their best witness to the world – their dialogue with God. The same Jesus in dialogue leads us to see the need for real respect on the experiences of people we serve. Such is the attitude of an SVD in true dialogue, which is not just another pastoral activity but an “attitude of solidarity, respect and love” (Gaudium et Spes 3).

One of the things I asked from Saint Jude Catholic School as a Director is to lead students and teachers into a life in solidarity with people. Yes, the school gives donations every year. But more than the power of our purse, I also felt a more transforming need on the power of our students to be in solidarity with the poor. So the Chinese Filipinos will also be less afraid that they are “kidnappable” and to erase a notion that the poor are only interested on what they can get from them materially. So our students and personnel started to share where they are best at: to educate. They started visiting alternative learning system communities in Dasmarinas, Bacoor, and Palawan. They started offering for our weekly Saturday masses only school supplies. They started tutoring out-of-school learners into what they truly have and can truly share: their competence in Math, Science and English. They started exchanging stories, texts, and life. Indeed, education is not just within the corners of the classroom. Education means transforming one’s attitude towards humanity.

This renewal of vows means a lot to us. It demands our re-commitment to Christ himself and our renewal to the commitments of Christ. In a special way, we SVDs commit ourselves to our preferred dialogue partners: the poor and marginalized those from other faiths and faith seekers, other religions and ideologies, and those from other cultures. Most of the time, I, too, ask myself, “Have I truly loved and followed you, Lord, through the SVD way?” And my most honest response is: NOT AT ALL TIMES, LORD. But, please, still give me a chance to love and follow you in the SVD preferred way. And that is why I emulate Cory. For her life of selflessness and sacrifice are all rooted on God who is her bedrock. In his homily yesterday for the funeral, Fr. Catalino Arevalo says, “Cory’s greatest strength is her faith”. To me, such is an act of true consecration. Total abandonment of one’s life and one’s will to God. Such is the also core of a life of a missionary. When we allow God to lead us to whom we are called to serve, especially to commit our life to whom the SVDs prefer to serve.
Renewal of our Commitment to the Cross
I remember last year, there were discussions on the difficulties of Chinese seminarians here in Tagaytay. Some former OTPers from Taiwan, specifically Fathers Roland Aquino and Ricardo Miranda, had to sit down with the Chinese seminarians on the status of their academic studies and cultural integration into DWST and the Philippines. I remember our SVD-St. Jude community even inviting these young seminarians to dine with us. We went to an excellent Chinese restaurant along Roxas Boulevard and offered them to eat whatever they like, whatever you missed back home. Well, they ordered noodles. They also ordered Mantou. I saw how you relished the Chinese food as we all enjoyed that supper with you. But for us from Saint Jude community, that invitation simply means -we want you to persevere. We want to send the message that we know you are struggling. We cannot take away the struggles from you, but you have fellow SVDs who journey and pray with you.

We know English language is a struggle, even theology students of San Carlos seminary and UST struggle with it; we know learning the Filipino culture is a struggle, even Malacanang had to argue why they chose Carlo Caparas as a national artist. We know your theological studies in Tagaytay is a struggle, well if you do not struggle with your scripture professors (like Father Randy Flores), then I doubt if they truly loved you at all.

The point here is that suffering is integral in following Christ and in doing his mission. If I will say there is no cross, then it will a big lie. Because for sure, not everything will be okay in living and doing mission. For us, the cross is a reality in community living and mission life. Be patient. I think we can learn much from Tita Cory about her attitude on suffering. Fr. Arevalo mentioned that Cory gave her a painting of crosses and roses. Around the 7 crosses, which refer to the 7 months and 7 weeks of Ninoy in incarceration and the 7 coup attempts against her presidency, she also painted many roses around it. For Cory, crosses and roses make her life more meaningful. So she said, ”I can’t complain”.

But by the fruits of your patience, the good signs are coming. I heard the Chinese seminarians talking with more confidence in English. You are smiling more and joking more. You are becoming more involved in apostolate and spending more time being with people. Moreover, your professors passed you from their subjects, not by an act of charity and mercy but by the merits of your performance which makes it just and fair to all. Yes suffering for us mean, just being patient on what God wants us in life. It is not magical. Just take it and trust that God will accompany us.

I wish to end by quoting Canon 607 which tells us about the nature and end of religious life: “As a consecration of the whole person, religious life manifests in the Church a wonderful marriage brought about by God, a sign of the future age. Thus the religious brings to perfection a total self-giving as a sacrifice offered to God, through which his or her whole existence becomes a continuous worship of God in charity.”

Year for Priests Launched

Earlier (3:00 pm), the Year for Priests was launched in the Diocese of Imus was inauguirated with the mass at the Lourdes Church presided by Bishop Chito Tagle attended by the Imus clergy, members of the Tagaytay Religious Association (TRA), and representatives of the different parishes nearby.
In his homily, Bishop Chito encouraged the priests, in the presence of a huge congregation, to "listen to him" (Jesus), same words used in the today's Gospel (Transiguration): "Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" (Mark 9:7).

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