I wish to thank you sincerely for this distinct honor to celebrate the Baccalaureate mass for the graduates of the University of the Philippines. And let me begin with what I want to say: Graduating is easy; facing the future is difficult. Learning our values and our ideals is easy; living them is challenging.
As most of you know, graduation is the easiest part. To rewind a little bit, the pain of studying is like a tiny bruise than eking it out in the real world. Much of the pain that goes with graduation is the pain of separation and the goodbyes that come with it. Goodbyes are as much a part of life as the seasons of the year. This cycle is indeed c’est la vie, the cycle of life continues throughout our life. The forward movement gathers momentarily in a single moment until we push ourselves farewell and with a throbbing burst of new life, and like a baby with his first cry, we cry hello again to a vastly different world. We are at this gathering moment today: we are through with our studies, but not yet beginning with that new life. We are here to gather the moment in order for us to thrust and to push ourselves with as much momentum for the new life ahead of us.
The Gospel today is about Jesus teaching us how to pray. I would say that Jesus is teaching all of us how to pray. I would further say that Jesus is teaching the graduates how to pray. The month before my graduation from college — March 1989 — there was one question that disturbed me: What will happen next? I applied to the Jesuits but I was not sure whether they will accept me. I did not know what is in store for me. I prayed and wished that I’d find work soon enough, so that I could help my family and live comfortably. I was leaving the college with much confidence, I carried with me my portfolio of achievements, believing that I would definitely succeed with the record that I have. I am sure that you too feel the same way: to graduate from the University of the Philippines assures you of an edge over others, of an even brighter future than others, and of greater opportunities than others.
And then we find ourselves disoriented in the outside world. The walls of UP, we realize, marked a different universe. The outside world is tougher than we think. Then our ideals crumble, our visions about our life vanishes, and our confidence about our own abilities fades. What is in store for us then? How can we actually face the future?
Jesus teaches us to pray: we say “Your will be done,” in perfect love and trust. We say it with gladness and willingness, no matter what God’s will is.
When I was applying to the Jesuits, I prayed that God would grant me the wish to become a Jesuit and a priest. But then the possibility that I may be rejected loomed darkly on the horizon. I said that I would definitely be very hurt if I was not. But, supposing that I was accepted but it was not God’s will for me, would I be happy? It was what I wanted, but was it for me, where I would find myself and my niche in the greater scheme of things? There was no certainty.
However, there were two things that were certain. First, the prayer “let Your will be done”, assures us of the wisdom of God. Sometimes we want something built or constructed, altered or repaired; we take it to a craftsman or an expert. God is the expert in life, and if we follow his will, we will not go astray. Second, we are sure of the love of God. As St. Paul says, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?” (Romans 8:32). We are sure that Jesus would accompany us: “I will be with you till the end of time.” I think this is what we can bring to the future. We cannot know what is in store for us, but we are assured that there is wisdom with what is happening to us, and there is God’s hand to be with us always.
It is not surprising that the word goodbye means God be with you or Go with God. It is recognizing that God is a significant part of the going. When you dread or fear the journey, there is strength in remembering that God who gave and cherish life would be there to protect and to console you. Goodbye is a blessing of love, proclaiming the belief that if God went with you, you would never be alone, that comfort, strength and all the other blessings of a loving presence would accompany you. Deuteronomy says that “God will lead you, will be with you, will not fail you or desert you. Have no fear. Do not be disheartened by anything” (Dt. 31:8).
I am happy that the “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” won best picture at the Oscars. The movie clearly depicts one deep truth: It shows our deepest desire: to have someone with us in the journey, like Sam Gamgee. To some of you, you might find your true partner, and to some you may not. God’s will. But we are all assured that we have a “Sam Gamgee” in our lives: Christ who promised to be with us, no matter what happened (though some wily minds joke about the Sam-Frodo friendship as a Brokeback moment. He!he!he!).
One day in March of 1989, I reached a resolution not to pray about what I wanted, but about God’s will for me, after being assured of God’s wisdom and love.
The day before my graduation, I got a letter from the Provincial of the Jesuits: I was accepted. And so I say this with all my heart and with all my life to all you, graduates: Go with God. Trust God, He knows. He loves us.
* photo by Neo Saicon SJ. The UP Filipiniana Dance Group performing a liturgical dance at mass.