Homily for the Ateneo de Naga 80th Foundation Anniversary Mass
Fr. Roberto EN Rivera SJ
University Church of Christ the King
Trinity Sunday, 7 June 2020
My sisters and brothers in Christ. As we celebrate this Solemnity of the Holy Trinity and 80th foundation anniversary of Ateneo de Naga, let us talk about parents and children. Parents know very well the pain of being separated from their child, in the course of a lifetime. It begins with the children’s first day of school. It continues when the teenager starts to gravitate towards a group of friends, and begins to develop a rebellious streak against father or mother. The separation is heightened when the child, now a grownup, moves on to college and to the professional life, and onto marriage and a family of his or her own. Though the parent learns and becomes at peace with the reality of separation, it is no less painful. But parents endure all these because of one simple truth: they love their children.
In this light, we now turn to our Gospel for today, perhaps the most famous passage in all of Scripture, and the central verse, John 3, 16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, so that all who believe in Him might not perish, but have eternal life.” If the human parent experiences the pain of separation when the child begins to live his or her own life, what more the pain experienced by God the Father when He gives up His Son for the world? God the Father’s pain is unfathomable because of His Divinity, just as the Jesus the Son’s suffering is incomprehensible, because He has given up His Divinity to share in our humanity.
But there is one fundamental difference. Unlike the love between human parents and children, the love between Father and Son is so great, it overflows onto the world. Indeed, John 3,16 begins with that line: “For God so loved the world ….” God the Father and God the Son’s love for each other is so great, that it binds not only the two, but also the whole world and all creation in one Divine embrace.
And that, my brothers and sisters, is the perfect image of the Holy Trinity that we celebrate today. It is God the Father and God the Son bound by an unimaginably intense love that reaches out to each and every human being. But you might be asking, wait, that’s only Father and Son, what about the Holy Spirit? Well my brothers and sisters, figuratively at least, the Spirit is in plain sight. As many theologians over the centuries have pointed out, the Holy Spirit is nothing less than the Love which binds Father and Son, and which is eventually shared with the whole world. It is a love that has been promised to humanity since the time of Moses, as we heard in our first reading. It is a love that compels the Father to send the Son into the world in the fullness of time, and eventually to send the Spirit, the Divine Love, into the world, from the Father, through the Son.
Just to point that out visually: our idea of the Trinity is usually symbolized by the triangle, with each corner of the triangle one person in the Godhead, Father, Son, and Spirit. But now, perhaps, we are called to imagine the Trinity as two circles, one the Father, the other the Son, and arrows going back and forth between them, the Holy Spirit, binding them in love. Eventually, the arrows go out into very direction, which is what we celebrated last Pentecost Sunday with the descent of the Holy Spirit into the world.
In this time of pandemic, there is much that should comfort us as we reflect on this image of the Trinity. One could very well say that separation is the hallmark of this crisis the world now finds itself in. We are unable to be physically present to our loved ones, because of the constraints placed upon us by COVID-19. More sadly, countless people have died alone, and many have lost loved ones, denied of the presence of family in their last agonizing moments. The simple act of going to work or school, because of the hazards brought by the virus, becomes a tense moment of separation. It is a time when not only human endurance, but also human love itself is tested. But in the end, we know that love triumphs even in this terrible time, because the Love of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, continues to console us, to strengthen us, to inspire us. Because of the Spirit of love, the parents of our frontliners are able to go beyond their fears, to entrust everything to God as their children generously serve those in need. Because of the Spirit of love, loved ones separated from one another do their best to be in touch, much more so than they did in the old normal. Because of the Spirit of love, generous individuals overcome their own fears to reach out and help those disenfranchised by the pandemic.
And in the same vein my brothers and sisters, as we celebrate and inaugurate today the 80th year of Ateneo de Naga, perhaps we can ask in a special way for the Holy Spirit of love between Father and Son to strengthen us as we continue our mission. The Jesuit fathers who established the Ateneo eighty years ago left home and family to put up this institution. Their dreams for the Ateneo were still in infancy when World War II engulfed the world, and our campus was turned into a Japanese prison camp. From the ashes of World War II arose the Ateneo de Naga as we know it today. In this age of pandemic we find ourselves dealing with similar, though surely less grievous challenges, as we are called to re-found our school and reinvent our work for the “new normal,” and to usher the Ateneo into a new era of hope and promise.
As we do so, we give thanks for all that has been given us, through our forebears in this mission, in 80 years of Ateneo de Naga University. And as we face the future, let us take to heart St. Paul’s exhortation: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of us. Amen.”