A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: Do what you can so that our country will have greater equality among all peoples, respect for the rule of law and the sanctity of life Karl Gaspar, CSsR

(Response of Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar Philippines on receiving the Pro Deo Et Patria award at the Ateneo de Zamboanga University on 21 August 2018. The award was bestowed on Gaspar for his “commitment to missionary work and service to God,” his “outstanding and excellent service and generosity of life on behalf of others.”) 

Fr. Karel San Juan, S.J., President of ADZU, the Board of Trustees of ADZU Faculty, Staff, Students and guests at this ceremony

Buenas tardes! Maayong hapon sa tanan!

When I received the first notice of Fr. Karel that I was to be a recipient of ADZU’s Pro Deo Et Paria award for “outstanding and excellent service and generosity of life on behalf of others,” you can imagine I found myself confronted with a complexity of emotions, to put it rather dramatically. Once those emotions subsided, my rational mind went ballistic and like Alice in Wonderland, I got “curiouser and curiouser” as what this Latin phrase was all about.

Like most netizens do these days in the age of high-tech gadgets I googled and lo and behold, I found it rather interesting that it refers to a variety of things including a book written by James Yee in 2005, a title of a TV series in  NBC , the original title of a movie that ultimately was renamed Zero Dark Thirty, a title of a song by a group called Smashing Pumpkins, the name of an album of songs released by Good Riddance, as well as an album of songs of Dolly Parton. There is also another book with this title telling the story of  Father Thomas Scecina, a Catholic priest from southern Indiana and chaplain in the United States army during World War II who endured the Bataan Death March, considered one of the greatest wartime atrocities – although most of you here in the audience,  made up of mostly millennials – may think this is ancient history but you are supposed to have known of this march in your Philippine history classes.

Then, of course, there is the website of ADZU where there is a reference to the school’s seal which has the school’s motto – “PRO DEO ET PATRIA” — IN THE SERVICE OF GOD AND COUNTRY, which echoes ADZU’s  mission  “to produce men and women for others, men and women for the service of God and country”  Having been bestowed this award for which I am most grateful, I feel I am now fully embraced by the arms of this esteemed institution in this year, its 106th since it began as Escuela Catolica in 1912, the second oldest Jesuit school in our country, much older than my alma mater, the Ateneo de Davao.

If I trace my life’s journey from when I started to develop a hint of consciousness to make my life one that is at the service of God and country, it would involve a path where I fortunately encountered other people whose lives – directly or indirectly – manifested their love of God and country. Because of their witness as well as the manner in which they took me under their loving wings, I was molded to what I am today. For the words of Francois Charles Mauriac, a French novelist, poet and journalist and a Nobel laureate for Literature are indeed so true: “We are all molded and remolded by those who have loved us and, though that love may pass, we remain, none the less, their work. No love, no friendship can ever cross the path of our destiny without leaving some mark upon it forever.”

Tracing this path naturally begins with my own parents, my father whose sense of justice must have been provoked by his father’s (my grandfather’s) involvement as a Katipunero at the tail-end of the Philippine Revolution as well as my mother whose grandmother – a devotee of the Nazareno in Quiapo and Our Lady of Antipolo  – taught her to be always compassionate to the stranger and lowly.  It must have been because I grew up in a small town surrounded by Moro and Lumad peoples who I already noticed in my youth as marginalized. There were also the teachers who taught me values touching my heart and molding my mind so that I could reinforce a desire to not just think of my own selfish interests but those of others, too.

But it was as a college student at Ateneo de Davao, in the company of Jesuit Fathers and Brothers and their lay associates in the tumultuous years of 1963 to 1967 when the inculcation of these values was reinforced.  Even then, the meaning of the symbol of the two wolves and a food pot of the Jesuits’ coat of arms that is integrated into the seal of ADZU, namely the values of hospitality and generosity –  were introduced to  us through the liberal education we got. It mattered a lot owing to the situation of the country at that time, the years just before Marcos would declare martial law which was also the time of the rise of the  students’ ferment all across the world.

At the tail-end of my college years, even as we organized exposures to marginalized communities outside Davao City, volunteered as catechists to children in the slums along the city’s Boulevard, marched  in the streets to demand that the government respond to the peoples’ needs and even participated in the mounting of the play – A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS – about St. Thomas More who defied his King for love of God and country, all these cemented already in my early adult years the desire to be at the service of others.

Which is why I will forever be grateful to the Jesuits if only because I acquired an education that  made me the person that I am today. However, half-a-century has passed from 1967 when I graduated from the Ateneo up to this year 2018. I could have easily given up on my youthful idealism like so many others when life’s realities and the need to survive and provide for one’s loved ones take its toll and one gets burned out in the process.

There were certainly moments I wanted to get off this service track to just think of my own interests and enjoy life but for reasons I could never fathom,  God’s will, destiny, circumstances arising beyond one’s control – call it what you may –   somehow I have managed to hold on to these ideals of service, founded on the virtues of hospitality and generosity.  And I thank the Almighty for keeping me along this path till now as I enter perhaps the final chapter of my life.

So what is there to share with you dear students – the hope of the motherland –  as I end this speech?  I echo the words of Bardley Whitford, an American actor and activist who wrote: “Infuse your life with action. Don’t wait for it to happen. Make it happen. Make your own future. Make your own hope. Make your own love. And whatever your beliefs, honor your creator, not by passively waiting for grace to come down from upon high, but by doing what you can to make grace happen… yourself, right now, right down here on Earth.”

Like the vinta in your school’s logo, sail into that deep sea within the locality where you find yourself – for us it would have to be Mindanao-Sulu – and do what you can so that our country will have greater equality among all peoples, respect for the rule of law and the sanctity of life, harmony and mutual understanding among all peoples and that we all engaged in the world by promoting justice, peace and the integrity of creation.

For you millennials – especially those who will soon graduate and enter the work force – take to heart what a young PDI columnist Michael Baylosis recently wrote in his column regarding the rise of “managerial feudalism”:

“With this mindset, we grew up deeply desiring to become just like one of those busy bees rushing along Ayala Avenue. Royalty lived in the topmost floors of tall skyscrapers, where they can be closer to the divine. We aspired for that, too…. Then, we opened Twitter one day and read about a friend who has either already quit and moved on or has chosen to stay but is brooding. We asked ourselves,  why did so many of us become cubicle zombies?

“When did the glamour of boardroom meetings and strategic planning lose their shine? When did the daily grind become exactly that—grinding, tedious and oppressive?…

“… That’s why it feels like grinding toil. Managerial feudalism adds more managers and more employees, and, to compensate, more useless work is also added. People work harder, the rat race intensifies and more people go home tired. Managerial feudalism keeps capitalism humming along, central and influential in people’s lives…

“… Today, jobs are seen as a means to an end. Sometimes, they are also seen as a means to other, grander means. Our white-collared dreams have become selfish things.

“I have learned that the only way to live life is to live it for others. Our purpose is not only for our own advancement, but also for contributing to the greater good.

“In the end, we don’t need fancier positions, bigger offices and swankier business travels. We only need to be able to make a difference.”

Truly my dear friends, in the end, all that really matters is what each one of us can do to make a difference, for the love of God and our country.

Muchas gracias.