In a 1960s homily, Fr. Horacio dela Costa, SJ, reflected on the theme of authority. His main point in his homily was that authority is life-giving. It is interesting that in Jesus’ first encounter with the people in this Sunday’s Gospel, the first impression we get is that he wowed people, “for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.”
This short statement carries with it the context that Jesus enters at the time he started his ministry or mission. He begins his ministry as a teacher, rabbi, in the synagogue, the traditional place where teaching took place. It was the common experience then that the teachers became so highly technical in their preaching, citing all sorts of authorities and sources, that Jesus became a breath of fresh air as “he taught them as one having authority.” He did not need to cite sources and other authorities for his authority came from within, from his deep relationship and union with God, his Father.
This simple statement at the start of Jesus’ ministry reminds us of the most life-giving core we have in our life, our relationship with God. Fr. Herbert Alphonso, SJ, writes in his book “Discovering Your Personal Vocation,” that our vocation or mission is to live out the quality of our relationship with God.
We see this in Jesus. For him, God is Father, a loving father, and all throughout his ministry he lived out this mission to proclaim that God is a loving Father and he is the beloved Son. Everything was about the Father: “I came to do my Father’s will.” “I came to establish the Kingdom of my Father.” “The Father and I are one.” “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” The confirmation to all this was that beautiful statement that reveals the core of Jesus’ truth and authority: “This is my beloved son in whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him.”
I invite you to search for, discover (or rediscover) and enter the core of your relationship with God. This becomes the source of your authority—that which is most life-giving to you and to others.
Passion to connect
Parker Palmer, in his introduction to his classic book “To Know as We Are Known, Education as A Spiritual Journey,” puts it rather eloquently:
“Most of us go into teaching not for fame or fortune, but because of a passion to connect. We feel deep kinship with some subject; we want to bring students into that relationship, to link them with the knowledge that is so life-giving to us; we want to work with colleagues who share our values and vocation.”
This is not to say that the studying, the scholarship, research, etc. are unimportant, but these only become “useful,” i.e., are useful in our mission, when what we do is so life-giving to us and inspires us and gives us the passion to share this with others. Even in such a situation, what attracts people to what we say and do is the passion with which we say and do things.
I will always remember one conversation I had with one of the most brilliant Jesuits I have met and worked with. Fresh out of college, I was then a young teacher in the Ateneo de Manila High School. The high school, at the very start of the school year, all of a sudden was assigned this young Jesuit to teach religion. He was in the middle of earning a graduate degree in sacred scripture from the Gregorian University in Rome.
In one of our conversations, I asked him why he stopped his studies. He said: “I was so in love with scripture that I hated it.” This always left a mark on me about understanding passion. Years after, this Jesuit started to publish books in the field he was passionate about, arts and culture. His books won awards here and abroad. He has gone since full-time into this field as his apostolate, and is one of the leading authorities in the field of arts and culture in the country.
How much have we nurtured our own passion? What is so life-giving to us? What is the quality of our relationship with God? All these will help us better understand and experience what “teaching with authority,” serving with authority is all about.
In Jesus’ time and in our time, this is what people hunger for. They seek for people who speak and work with authority. How often do we hear people complain about agonizing through a homily and comment that it seemed more like a lecture in a theology or scripture class? I have seen former students and friends, schooled for years in Catholic schools and raised in a Catholic family, no longer going to Mass and some even becoming born-again Christians. Most of the latter sit through two to three hours of worship every week, dedicating more hours to bible study groups and prayer groups during the week.
People hunger for authority that will connect them to what is life-giving. This is true for our faith and spirituality and for our religion. It is true for all aspects of our life. We hunger for what is life-giving; what gives our life meaning and inspiration.
In writing my weekly article, I often struggle with reflecting on sociopolitical issues. I tend to avoid doing so. But this week, I will make not so much an exception, but I will take a stand. I’d like to believe it is sociopolitical, but not, strictly speaking, partisan.
Our people are in search also for authority, people who will connect them to what is life-giving. This was true in Edsa 1 in 1986, and it was true in the 2010 elections that gave P-Noy an overwhelming mandate. This is true of the overwhelming support the people have for the impeachment.
If we follow the media coverage, we will see how the shows catering to the AB classes split hairs and analyze pros and cons to death; one sees the stark difference listening to the radio and feeling the so-called pulse of the masses, the CDE classes. For the former, we can get caught up in the technicalities and cite all the legal precedents to muddle up the issue, but for the latter, the majority seek only the truth—that which is life-giving, and “the truth shall set you free.”
When the impeachment became a reality, I had to think about it and discern. It brought me back to what is key in my work and mission, what is life-giving to me—the formation and education of the youth of our country. And since 1995, I realized that the long-term hope for the development of our country lies in the public school system, where majority of our children are formed and educated.
It brought me back to a most inspired moment in the story of our people and nation, Edsa 1. It is our exodus that will forever mark our journey. In Edsa 1, we saw the hopes and dreams of our people not just come to life, but expressed with authority—the multitudes that lined the streets of and around Edsa ready to die for our dreams and hopes.
Some say Edsa 1 was a Manila event, but we must recall the crowds that came out in the different parts of the country for Cory Aquino in the campaign during the weeks that preceded the snap elections and eventually Edsa 1. We must also recall the similar crowds that greeted P-Noy in his own campaign and the mandate he got. This is Edsa 1 coming to life again all over the country.
This spirit is best described by what one person said when interviewed over the radio to react to the announcement that then Sen. Noynoy Aquino was going to run for president: “Pwede na naman kaming mangarap.” (“We can dream again.”)
Edsa 1 is still to be completed. If this is our exodus, perhaps we are in the period of the 40 years of wandering in the desert. We still look forward to entering the promised land where the hopes and dreams of our people will be fulfilled—freedom for hunger, freedom from ignorance, freedom from illness, from homelessness, from poverty and want; when our government is truly democratic—of the people, by the people and for the people—and all its services democratized.
“Pwede na naman kaming mangarap.” This is what our people cry for and long for. I pray, together, we will connect as a people and nation to what is life-giving, especially for the millions, the majority who for so long have lived in want.
De la Costa delivered his homily on Sept. 11 (I could not check the exact year), on the occasion of the birthday of then President Ferdinand Marcos. It was a good reminder to the leader of the land then. It is a good reminder to all of us now. Our people long for leaders, a government that will lead and serve with authority—an authority that comes from within: from a deep relationship with the people, our hope and dreams; from a deep relationship with the truth; and from a deep relationship and union with God.