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Fr. Jose Cecilio J Magadia, SJ's homily at the investiture of Fr. Jose Ramon T Villarin, SJ as 30th President of the Ateneo de Manila University

Homily at the Investiture of Father José Ramón T Villarín SJ
as Thirtieth President of the Ateneo de Manila University
Feast of the Nativity of Our Lady, 8 September 2011
by Father José Cecilio J Magadia SJ, Provincial Superior 

With all the media exposure, Father Jett has really turned into a celebrity. But I do not envy him. Now there is no place to hide. He has become a very public figure overnight, a real celebrity. A witty remark once made went something like this: “A celebrity is a person who works hard all of his life to become well known, and then wears dark glasses to avoid being recognized.”1 But the problem with celebrity status sometimes is that one can forget the basics. It is not only the celebrities who forget; so do all of us. Today, on this Marian feast, we let Our Lady bring us back to basics.

At the end of every UAAP game, there is always that moment of authentic and profound pride when we sing “down from the hill” and of undeniable confidence when we affirm that it is this school we choose, win or lose. The refrain then tells us that we do what we do as Ateneans, not for our school and not for our selves, but for Mary, we say – for Mary, mother of Jesus, the lady whose blue and white we have adopted as our own.  

On this day that we remember her birth, let us take a closer look, first at her blue, and then at her white, and learn from her what our lives are for – the basics we must always come back to. 

In 1973, Father Miguel Bernad said that the Ateneo was like malaria. Once you get the germ, he says, it remains with you forever. You cannot get rid of it. It is like insanity, a recurring ailment with lapses of intelligence and intervals of sanity. That Ateneo germ is blue. It works its way deep into our system, and colors our blood. It shows in the way we take stock of things – how we analyze situations, how we cut to the chase and hit at the heart of the matter, how we organize our thoughts and choose our words, how our mind questions and seeks the truth.  

All this is good, but there is one other thing, which became clear when I met an alumnus who said something I could not forget. He said, “You know, Father, it was the Ateneo that ruined me.” I was not sure how to react, because my Atenean yabang had already conditioned me to hear about how great a school we had. So, he went on to explain, and I understood. “The Ateneo complicated my life,” he said, “It made me see things I wish I had never seen. And now, I cannot not care.” The Ateneo ruined me and now I cannot not care.  

Yes, the Ateneo blue has come to mean excellence. It is the color of coolness, and we, in the Ateneo are not driven mainly by wildness. We are not frenzied angry birds, whose simple mandate is to hit the pigs, green or red or otherwise. Yet neither are we bereft of boldness. Our blue truly has energy and action, but it is tamed by intelligence and skill. We aim for blue. We fly to the sky, like our eagle. But the thing is, it is not for ourselves. It should not be for ourselves.  

We know that the sharpness of mind and the power of eloquence mean little unless they are brought to bear on a world that has to be made better, that cries out for heroic acts, not from super beings working wonders, but from simpler men and women who are willing to be inconvenienced for others. We cannot not see the many others in the world, who cannot feed their families adequately or put a roof over their heads, who cannot pay for the expensive medicine of their sick, who have to suffer the loneliness and woundedness of work abroad. We cannot not see that there are many as well who have much but don’t have God – TS Eliot’s ‘hollow men’. We cannot not see how the earth is ravaged by human greed, or how governance can be eaten up by human corruption. We cannot but bring into our lives that which is ugly and unpleasant and unsettling. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was supposed to have said, “He who has a Why to live for can bear with almost any How.” Perhaps, for us in the Ateneo, this should instead read: “We must always have an ‘other’ to live for, and it is then that we can bear with almost any How.”

We turn once more to the lady in blue, who from her birth was, to use Saint Paul’s words in the first reading, predestined and chosen. Predestined and chosen to do what? Predestined and chosen to give her life to something beyond, to someone other. “Woman,” Jesus said from the cross, “Behold your son.” Behold all the women and men of the ages, to care for, to reach out to, to journey with. We turn to the woman in blue, and do as she does – make people stronger because they know that she and her soldiers will always be looking after them, making sure that the wine at the wedding will never run out.  

So first, Our Lady reminds us that our lives are for others. But secondly, she also reminds us that our lives are for God. 

Now, from the blue, we turn to the white. From the cool to the quiet. From blue’s multiplicity of hues, to white’s simplicity. From blue’s movement, with deliberation and discipline and direction, to white’s serene stability.  

This white stability is often captured by simple statements about what life is all about.  

For Katy Perry, life is all about being a firework and showing the world what we’re worth. She says that we “just gotta ignite the light and let it shine”  and let our colors burst, “even brighter than the moon, moon, moon.” For her, life is about asserting our selves, and telling the world that indeed we have something good inside. 

For Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins, life is about good conquering evil. The mission is to defeat the darkness of Lord Voldemort and Lord Sauron, those who seek to rule over all and destroy whatever might stand in the way. Life, therefore, is about this great quest to conquer sin and selfishness. 

For the friends in “Rent”, life has to do with relationships and friendships. And the way to measure the 525,600 minutes of a year, is not by truths learned, nor times cried, nor bridges burnt, but by loves lived.  

These are all very good. But for me, the most powerfully simple statement about life comes from Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She says that we were not put into this world to be successful; we were put into this world to be faithful. Faithful to whom, to what? Faithful to God. Faithful to who we are as human beings. Faithful to investing our whole heart in our mission to mirror the Lord’s love to each other, in the million and one ways possible.  

It is sad that so much of our lives is measured by success, by the wealth and comfort we are able to build, by the reputations we fight hard to protect, by the good looks and the nice smell and the classy clothes. It is sad that there is so much addiction in the world, in cyberspace, and not enough passion for good. It is sad that many still do not get what Augustine pointed out so long ago, about the restlessness of the human person, and how only God can fill the emptiness, and how we must learn to look hard all around us and see the hand of God, who opens to us windows to eternity. 

Mary is the woman who showed Mother Teresa what it means to be faithful. Mary saw things in their raw simplicity, and so, was able to treasure the movements of God in her heart. Mary in the gospel of today is the one who opens her womb to salvation, and is gifted with a son who is Emmanuel, God with us. We are invited to do the same, to open the wombs of our minds and our hearts, and allow God to come in and fill it and make it fruitful. We are to offer our few loaves and fishes, and then let the Lord take care of making the miracles. We should do all we can as Martha did, and after everything is done, learn to just sit at Jesus’ feet and trust that all will be well. This is the faith that Mary had when she said yes. This faith is the white that anchors our energetic blue. We are back to basics, are we not? And Mary reminds us what she must also have taught her son, our Lord – that our lives are for others and our lives are for God, and that this makes all the difference. 

Mary, for you, for your white and blue. We pray, you’ll keep us, Mary, constantly true. We pray you’ll keep us, Mary, faithful to you.