A Season of Dreams, Surprise and Change

Video: This is the rehearsals of the Hark! Ateneo High School Christmas concert. Paskong Pinoy Medley was the finale of the concert held at the Church of the Gesu, 14 December 2012.

19 December 2012

Christmas Mass Homily
Ateneo de Manila High School
Note: This has been in given to the Ateneo High School community, but the points can speak for all. Use if it helps.
I have a story: While Joseph and Mary were on their way to Bethlehem, an angel had a secret meeting with the animals to choose which of them was to help the holy family in the stable. Naturally, the lion volunteered first. “Only a king,” said he, “is worth to serve the ruler of the world. I’ll tear to pieces anyone who gets anywhere near the child.”
“You’re too overpowering,” said the angel.
Next the sly fox sidled up and with an innocent face remarked, “I’ll see to it that the Baby Jesus gets the sweetest honey and I’ll steal a chicken each morning for His mother to cook.”
“You’re too devious,” the angel told him.
Next the peacock came up and unfolded his marvelously-colored tail feathers. Said he, “I’ll decorate that little barn better than Solomon did his temple.”
“You’re too vain,” said the angel.
Many others came up and offered their services. Not one was chosen. The angel took a final look around and then saw a donkey and an ox out in the field working with a farmer. The angel called them over, “What have you got to offer?” he asked the pair.
“Nothing,” said the donkey as he dropped down his long ears. “We just do what the farmer commands us to do.” Then the ox added bashfully, “Well, maybe there is some little thing we could do, like keep the flies away by swinging our tails.”
“Right on!” said the angel. “You are the two we want.”
From then on, the Christmas belen will not be complete without the ox and the donkey.
The story of the ox and the donkey tells us what Christmas is all about. Looking closely at the story of the Christmas will actually jolt us to what we have been used to think and feel.
First, it is a season of dreams. Of the impossible becoming possible. The angel Gabriel has said this to Mary, “With God, nothing is impossible.” Christmas allows us to dream with God, and God’s dream is far beyond what we think we are or can do. In fact, the bible says that God’s ways are not our ways. What is impossible for us to accomplish, may not be impossible for God. And therefore, Christmas allows us to dream.

For St. Ignatius of Loyola, dreams are not fantasies. The difference is in the rootedness with reality. Fantasies are not rooted in what is. Dreams are deeply rooted in who we are, what we are and what we can become based on the individual graces or blessings that the Lord has given us. To fly like Superman can be fantasy; but to fly using technology was once a dream that has turned into reality. Through Fr. Jett Villarin, our president, the Ateneo de Manila University has been dreaming with the 3 Strategic Thrusts of Mission and Identity, Nation-building and Environment and Development. Under Nation-building, Ateneo has explicitly said that we would like to “defeat poverty.” To me, this is not a fantasy, but a dream. If we put together all our efforts and as a community begin a lifestyle of honesty and generosity, we can eradicate poverty.
The class banners are an example of dreams. We dream of a character change. A metanoia or a change of heart. The very virtues which we have drawn into a symbol should remind us of what we want to become. The coat-of-arms of St. Ignatius with the two wolves eating from the pot is a symbol of generosity. Until now, it reminds us that if we want to be marked as Ateneans, one trait that we have to live by is altruism, or an other-centered life.
What then are your dreams? For yourself. For your family. For the country and the world. At Christmas, we are reminded that the fulfillment of those dreams of yours is not impossible despite the many barriers that seemingly bar the way. We dream with the ancient Israelites who dreamt of freedom from their bondage in the book of Isaiah. And it is also in the book of Isaiah that the Lord continued to promise them a Messiah. And it is with Jesus that this promise has been fulfilled. Dreams are God’s promises to us if we cooperate and participate with His grace. Christmas gives us that very hope, that one day, we too will find our dreams turn into a reality. And it may not be how we think it should be accomplished, but eventually, how God would like it to be achieved.
Second, Christmas is the season of surprises. Fr. Horacio de la Costa SJ wrote that Christmas is a shocking event because it overturns all our expectations: A mother who is a virgin; a child who is God; a King in a filthy stable and wrapped in swaddling clothes. The Christmas story is an embodiment of a radical shift, a shunning away of the usual, a trashing of what we are used to know, a vigorous rocking of our boat, almost at the point of being thrown out at sea.
The story of the ox and the donkey is not a paradigm shift. It is not a change of perspective, but an overhaul change of how we do things so that what should not change is highlighted and placed on the forefront of consciousness. The king of animals is rejected; the intelligent and wily is faulty; the display of affluence and wealth is unacceptable to serve the King of Kings. Totally not the values of the world.
But it is the simple, as the ox and donkey, that is the most appropriate character for  the King of the Universe. Isn’t this the story of the Little Drummer Boy who had nothing except his drums? And it is to him, that the Baby Jesus gave his most beautiful smile.
Third, Christmas is a Season of Change. It is the story of God intervening into history and changing its course. In the meditation of the Incarnation in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, the retreatant is asked to imagine the Holy Trinity looking at the world with love and concern. And speaking to each other, the Holy Trinity decides that it is time to insert themselves in the course of history, because at that point, humanity was on a self-destruction spree. The announcement of the angel to a simple woman began God’s work to change the world. That is why history, is HIS Story, Christ’s story. Christ becomes the hinge between the BC (Before Christ) and the Anno Domini (In the Year of our Lord). We are in the year of our Lord. Christmas then celebrates this change while it also challenges us to change.
At Christmas, it is profitable to remind ourselves of our “raison d’être” or the rationale of our existence as the Ateneo High School. Our mission says “inspired by the Ignatian tradition and guided by Ignatian pedagogy, we aim to form young men into future leaders who will serve the Filipino society and contribute to the global community.” In order to achieve this dream, then it is imperative that we acquire the core values in the spirituality of St. Ignatius: the value of openness to change, the virtue of flexibility and adaptability to a discerned strategy. John P. Kotter in his Harvard Business Review article, “What Leaders Really Do” distinguished between managing from leading. Managers cope with complexity and bring order and predictability to a situation. But in order to succeed, you need leadership, which is about learning to adapt with rapid change. Thus, leadership will need setting a new direction and providing new ways of doing things.
And this is within the Christian tradition. Jesus teachings at his time was radically shocking, but refreshing. It was shocking because he was a teacher, but taught “with authority” not in the usual synagogues but in the field; He taught loving one’s enemies; and He ate with the sinners and outcasts shocking the so-called “rabbi’s” or “teachers” of His time. St. Ignatius and the Jesuits have always been marked as radical and shocking. Mateo Ricci, discovering that the Chinese did not listen to him when he wears is garb, discerned to change his dress into a rich merchant’s clothing that earned him a place in the Emperor’s court and gained for him the respect he needed to teach about Jesus.  St. John de Brito, also threw away his priestly garment, and wore the orange garb of a monk in India because people listen to them better. In the Paraguay Reduction, the Jesuits used music to evangelize, the same way St. Francis Xavier used music for catechism in India. And finally, the Jesuits were known to have used theater for education. In all of these, we got flak and worse, we were expelled. We’re used to it. Centuries later, the Church affirmed these innovations in the radical council of Vatican II. She called these innovations, “Inculturation.” Innovation is the mark of a Jesuit school. Finding God is an active act: finding what is the most effective means in the spread of the Gospel even to the point of “going where there is greater need” – where most people fear to thread.
This is precisely the point of Hark, the Ateneo High School Community Christmas Concert. Hark means to listen. In the Christmas Season, to hearken is to listen to the angels’ sing and move towards its direction.
How have we responded to change during the school year? Are we stuck with the past? Are we afraid to innovate? Or in any changes in school, have you ever contributed to activities whether it is within your class or school-wide, or have you complained but have never lifted a finger to help out? Remember a talent as that of the ox and the donkey is all you need. It is as small as words of encouragement. Notice that the only thing that should and will never change is Jesus. He is the Big TRADITION. The rest are small traditions that can come and go.
In Lent, you will see Jesus reacting to those who can’t accept that new wine should be placed in new wineskins. He said this verbatim, “Woe to you, Pharisees!” If this shocks you, so much the better: remember, that those who eventually killed Jesus were Pharisees.
So this Christmas we celebrate the Season of Dreams, Of Shock and Surprise, and most importantly, Of Change.

Have a meaningful Christmas and a discerning New Year!

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