Noong Biyernes, ika-19 ng Agosto, tumungo ang Obispo ng Malolos, Lubhang Kgg. Dennis C. Villarojo sa Arkidiyosesis ng Cebu upang ipahayag ang homilya sa ordinasyon sa pagkaobispo ng kanyang kaklase na si Msgr. Ruben C. Labajo, P.C. na inatasan ni Papa Francisco na maging Katuwang na Obispo ng Cebu at Obispo Titular ng Abbir Maius.
Ang pagdiriwang ng Banal na Misa sa Katedral ni San Vitalis at ng Inmaculada Concepcion sa lungsod ng Cebu ay pinangunahan ng Arsobispo ng Cebu, Lubhang Kgg. Jose S. Palma at ang Nuncio Apostoliko sa Pilipinas, at Lubhang Kgg. Charles John Brown. Kasama sa pagdiriwang ang 30 mga obispo ng Pilipinas at kaparian ng Cebu.
Sa kanyang pagninilay, binigyang diin ni Obispo Villarojo ang kahalagahan na unawain ang buhay bilang isang paglalakbay tungo sa Diyos. Ito ay kanyang hinango mula sa piniling episcopal motto ni Obispo Labajo na “HUMILITER AMBULARE CORAM DEO” o “Buong pagpapakumbabang sumunod ka sa iyong Diyos” mula sa Aklat ni Micah, 6:8.
Ipinahayag ng Obispo na ang motto na ito ay tanda ng mga tatlong bagay na pinapahalagahan ng bagong obispo sa kanyang ministeryo: “ang hanapin ang katotohanan”, “ang gumawa ng tama”, at “ang kababaan ng loob sa kabila ng pagtawag ng Diyos”.
Ayon sa Obispo, kinakailangan ang ganitong “values” sa panahon ngayon dala ng “paghinuha ng katotohanan bilang pawang opinyon lamang” na nagdadala sa “pagkalgot ng ugnayan sa pagitan ng pananampalataya at paggawa”. Sinasabi ng obispo na ito ang hamon ngayon sa “patuloy na pagtangka na baguhin ang kasaysayan… dala ng paggamit ng ‘trolls’ ng ‘social media’ upang isulong ang kanilang ‘agenda’”.
Kaya naman, sinasabi ng Obispo na ang “ministeryo pastoral ay hindi limitado sa mga sulat o mga blog gaya ng pagsusulat ni San Pablo sa mga pamayanan ng mga Kristiyano”. Aniya, “ito rin ay tanda ng kanyang pagdalaw mismo sa mga pamayanan na iyon upang makasama ang mga mananampalataya”. Sinasabi ng Obispo na ito ang mensahe ng Mabuting Balita ukol sa 70 disipulo na tumungo sa iba’t ibang dako. “Ang gampanin ng mga alagad ay upang bumuo ng pananabik. Pinapapaalalahanan natin sa ating pagdating ang pagkagutom ng tao para sa Diyos.”
Ito ang dahilan kung bakit pinayuhan ni Obispo Villarojo and inordenahang obispo na laging “sumunod sa Diyos”. Sabi niya: “Ang paraan na tunay na sumunod sa Diyos ay ang sumabay sa Kanya sa paglakad Niya dito sa lupa bilang Anak ng Diyos na nagkatawang tao. Ang paraan upang patuloy nating hanapin ang kabutihan ay ang tumungo kay Hesus at hayaan nating mapasaatin ang Kanyang buhay. Ang paraan ng paggawa ng hustisya ay ang tumungo kay Hesus, at hayaan na ang Kanyang katapangan at pagmamahal ang magbigay buhay at lakas sa ating mga gawa.”
FULL TEXT OF THE HOMILY IN ENGLISH (Provided by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cebu)
Kining akong pagabasahon karon, usa ka sulat-suliran alang kang Bishop Ruben Labajo, akong classmate sa una, ug batchmate sa ordinasyon. Kung gusto mong mamati, kay mga marites man mo, mahimo ra, pero ayaw lang mo pagkatulog.
Dear Monsignor Ruben…
When you asked me to help you formulate your motto and design your coat of arms, we walked together down memory lane, to recall the days when we were still young seminarians: awkward, still struggling with our insecurities, unsure of the path we were taking. But you shone out early as the life of the class. You have always been the most popular among us. You found your vocation through the charismatic movement, and I recall how you taught us how to sing “Ala Bare, Ala Barea Miseneor.” We sang it without knowing what it means, without knowing how it is spelled. We just know it was a song of praise to the Lord, because that was how you sang it then, with so much joy and enthusiasm for the Lord.
When you spelled out the values you wanted to express in your motto and coat of arms, you enumerated three images: humility, because you feel that the Lord has lifted you high in spite of your lowliness. Bridge, because you have always desired to bring people together, to bridge the gaps between and among people. And synodality, since you were appointed on this year when we are preparing for the Synod on Synodality, and you received the call from the Papal Nuncio (who is here with us today) on the day when the metropolitan synodal consultation was underway.
When I heard the value of lowliness and being lifted up, I was reminded of a line from the magnificat of the Blessed Virgin. “For he has lifted up the lowly”. But then I smiled when a thought came to mind, the memory of how, one September 8, our class in the college seminary celebrated the birthday of the Blessed Virgin. We went up to San Carlos Heights in Quiot Pardo, and there, somebody came up with the bright idea of dressing up our classmates to represent the titles of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We dressed you up as Birhen sa Regla, and you played the part so well, that you won first prize. But then our father rector arrived, and when he saw what we were doing, he was like Moses looking down on the Israelites who were worshipping the golden calf. He berated us, asked us if what we did was doing honor to the Blessed Virgin. We learned our lesson well, because that is what formation is all about: to acknowledge that one is wrong, and to learn from our mistakes.
And so I thought, no, not a motto that will remind our classmates of how you played the part of Birhen sa Regla. And then you remembered a line from the Prophet Micah: “This is what I asked of you, to seek what is good, to do justice and to walk humbly with our God.” This was often the theme of your theological formation years in Seminario Mayor de San Carlos. And while we were meditating on this line, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, our CBCP President, quoted the same line in his homily during the opening day of the National Consultation on the Synod on Synodality which you and I attended. And it served as confirmation for you. And so, the motto: “Humiliter Ambulare Coram Deo.” “To walk humbly before God.”
The motto abbreviates the longer admonition, consisting of three actions: to seek what is good, to do justice, and to walk humbly before God. Though spoken by the Prophet Micah so many centuries ago, the line resonates loudly to our times, for there is so much confusion about goodness, about justice, about how to walk humbly before God in our times.
You wanted as the major symbol of your coat of arms, the bridge, which at first we thought we could symbolize by using the new CCLEX bridge, but you said no, it will make the coat of arms look like the logo of DPWH or of CEBECO. And so it was suggested that you use the bridge of Adaja in Avila, Spain, to also represent your hometown, Talisay, whose patron saint is St. Teresa of Avila.
The bridge is an important icon of our time, because our time is characterized by many disruptions. You envision your ministry to be a bridge between and among peoples, because you have the charism to reach out to people of different persuasions, character, and interests. Underlying these relational gaps, however, are the greater and deeper ruptures between truth and belief, between belief and action and ultimately, between faith and reason.
First, the rupture between truth and belief. We used to think that belief is directly connected to truth, that truth, by being presented as evidence, is enough to elicit belief, which then leads to the firmness of conviction. No longer today. Truth, through the “dictatorship of relativism,” as Pope Benedict calls it, has been reduced to mere opinion. No matter if it is the truth of faith, or the truth of history, or even the truth of science, people do not believe what evidence they are presented with. Instead, they give credence to the chatter of social media.
This leads us to the second rupture. The rupture between belief and action. It is bad enough that people do not use their minds to discern the truth, but allow themselves to be guided by the chatter of the crowd. It is worse that because the chatter is never clear about anything, as all chatter goes, people go about their lives not according to their beliefs, but according to how they feel. Action no longer flows from conviction, but from emotions elicited by the chatter.
This ultimately is rooted in the ongoing process of de-rationalization, the rupture between and among human faculties, most importantly, the rupture between faith and reason. Faith has been relegated to the merely cultural and celebratory aspects of human life. It no longer governs our moral choices. Even the celebratory aspects of faith, has been taken over by purely secular celebrations, without any reference to God or the sacred.
Reason on the other hand, has been reduced to pragmatics. Whatever is functional and useful today, is what is reasonable. This has been watered further down, into what is useful and functional for me, today, leading to social dysfunction and dissolution of social justice. People seek what is just for himself or herself alone, here and now, with utter disregard for solidarity, the common good, and long-term consequences.
If we no longer know how to seek goodness from truth, how can we do justice? If people listen only to the chatter of the crowd, how can we discern truth from error? If people relegate their faith to the merely cultural and celebratory, how can we walk humbly with our God?
The Synod on Synodality called by the Holy Father Pope Francis, gives us occasion to pause and reflect on the changing realities of today and discern how we, as church, can face the challenges of our time. In the face of the ever-increasing noise of the chatter in social media, how can we engage people in their own milieu? The initial solution is to join social media and be present there, to be one of the many voices that compete with the attention of everybody. It is but right. But would it be enough?
We have seen in the latest attempt at revising history, when our beloved Carmelite nuns were portrayed as playing mahjong, that trolls will stop at nothing to promote their agenda. The work of trolls is neither art nor entertainment, it is cheap propaganda, designed to offend and to malign, to provoke us into a shouting match. But engaging propaganda in a shouting match raises the decibels, but not the level of dialogue. In a shouting match, we raise our voices but lower our intelligence.
The trolls pit us against each other while their wealthy and powerful patrons stay above the fray, looking well-mannered, and harping about unity.
Pastoral ministry it seems, cannot be limited to letters or blogs. St. Paul wrote to many communities, but his ministry was never limited to writing letters. In fact, he wrote letters to the communities only because he has visited them himself. Even the Letter to the Romans was a prelude to his eventual visit, and martyrdom in Rome.
This is where I take confidence in your desire to build bridges between and among peoples, and to be a real bridge, a pontifex, between God and His people.
When you received your first assignment as pastor of Sta. Fe in Bantayan Island, the town was considered far-flung and difficult. When you left to be assigned to another parish seven years later, you made have made Sta. Fe a choice assignment. You were a genuine bridger of islands in that parish. Like St. Paul, you risked being shipwrecked, floating around for 8 hours in the open sea in a boat with its engine dead. All because you had to fulfill a commitment in an island where people waited for you. During the time of the pandemic, you did not stay in your own cocoon, hiding from the virus which cannot be contained by walls anyway. Instead, you set out to the mountain barangays in your parish, giving catechesis, baptizing babies, celebrating the Eucharist, eating and sleeping with the people.
This brings me back to the memory of that unfortunate September 8 activity again, when we tried to impersonate the Blessed Virgin by dressing up ourselves in her various titles. We were naïve then — youthful enthusiasm that needed to be purified and formed into the real essence and practice of the faith. After years of formation, we have learned that the true form of representation is not impersonation or mimicry, but incarnation. The faith may be initially transmitted by imagery, but even iconography can degenerate into mere cultural celebration. The way we can truly walk with God is to walk with him as He walked the earth, the incarnate Son of God. The way we can continue to seek what is good is to walk with Jesus and allow His own life to enter into ours. The way we can do justice is to walk with Jesus, and allow His courage, and yes, His love, to empower our actions.
Jesus in the Gospel we read today sent the seventy disciples to walk the roads that lead to the towns and places He Himself would be visiting. All disciples are sent like John the Baptist, walking as precursor to the Lord. The mission of every disciple is to create anticipation. We are to excite expectation from among the people. Our coming does not satisfy the people’s hunger for God. It reminds them of their hunger. It gathers them to a meeting where they can expect to experience his presence, but we do not provide that presence. We are merely barkers or hawkers, calling all to a gathering. Bells that announce an event, bridges that allow the crossing, but are not themselves the meeting place. People cross the bridge, but they do not come to gather on the bridge. They walk through the bridge and trample on its pavement, but they do not stay on the bridge. That is what we are: mere instruments that create expectation. Mere signs that arouse anticipation. The one who is expected, the one who is anticipated, He is the one who sent us.
Today, Bishop Ruben, the Lord is sending you. He is sending you as lamb among wolves, but perhaps, by bridging the ruptures, you can reconcile lamb and wolf together. He asks you to bring peace to every home you visit, but perhaps, you could also announce justice, without which there could be no peace. He asks you to bring no purse with you, no haversack, no sandals, to leave behind your sources of security, to trust in God’s providence alone, for that is what it means to “walk humbly with your God.” “Humiliter Ambulare Coram Deo.”