I only had time to view and listen to the pre-recorded talks of our revered speakers for this quadricentennial retreat as part of the grand celebration of the 400th Foundation Anniversary of the Colegio de San Juan de Letran last night. After listening to their talks, I am now more convinced than ever that the Order chose the right leaders to steer the Order towards new heights in the 21st century. They are not only Masters of the Order. They are also Masters of spirituality. Listening to them is not only edifying and uplifting. It is also soothing, healing, inspiring, giving hope and saving. I listened to their talks up to 12 midnight. They gave me so much serenity that I slept so tightly, so tight that I fell from my bed straight to the wooden floor of my room and with a split-second stopover on the telephone desk beside the bed. My right arm and my face hit the corner of the telephone desk so I have now a scratch on my right arm and another one on the right side of my chin. In those parts of my anatomy, I now have grand quadricentennial scratches.
They all spoke of joy and all other dispositions related to joy. Indeed, their talks did not only speak to us. They evoked feelings of joy and hope and gratitude in us Fr. Timothys’s talk assures us that whatever negative experiences we find ourselves in, like the Prodigal Son, we could look at it not as an end but a new beginning. We may have lost our jobs during this pandemic, our loved one, most dear to us may have succumbed to death, we may have lost all our money and we are almost begging for help, we may have committed serious blunders and everybody seems to look down on us. In the process, we may feel dejected, defeated. But we must try to live with the assurance that joy will have victory, sadness will be defeated. So we can begin to celebrate now. We just have to come home where we are accepted as we are, where we are not questioned. Letran can be our home. The Church is our home. Whoever we are, whatever we have done, we do not have to justify ourselves because we are at home. In Letran, and in the Church, where Jesus is, we can be at home. So let’s join the party, let’s play an active role in our celebration realizing that Jesus had a party with prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners as much as he had meals with good people like Lazarus, Martha and Mary.
Furthermore, Fr. Timothy reminds us not to be in the same disposition as the elder brother who embodies unhappiness, unable to join the celebration because he wants to be at the center of it. He wants to be recognized for every little thing that he has done, he wants to be rewarded for his good deeds and he does not want the Father to be generous to those whom he considers to be not as righteous and as faithful as he deems himself to be. The paradox of Christianity, Fr. Timothy explains, is that we can be truly joyful when we are able to give of ourselves. That is why there is a need to escape from the bubble of the self.
How do we do it, how do we escape the bubble of the self? Fr. Timothy said that we have to dare to be touched by the joy and sorrow of another person. If we want to be joyful, we have to be touched by the pains of the world. And as we are touched by the sorrows of others, we can be moved to give them our blessings.
Only when we see our own grief and pains from the perspective of faith, and when we dare to be touched by the sorrows of others and the world, can we truly experience joy and celebrate with a dance.
Fr. Bruno’s talk echoes the insights of Fr. Timothy regarding joy but added his own profound ideas. He started with the invitation of St. Paul to all of us, “Rejoice!”. He invites all Letranites to join in thanksgiving for all the work they accomplished together for 400 years, for being a part of the Colegio de San Juan de Letran, for God’s fidelity through all these years. For him, gratitude and joy are inseparable. A grateful person is a joyful person because he realizes all the blessings he has received from friends. Letran is a friend. God is the first among our closest friends.
Gratitude and joy are rooted in the goodness, the faithfulness and the truth of God with whom we should forge a communion of hearts. Our God heals us and creates us again and again. We can rely on his fidelity and we should have that desire to be and live with him. This insight truly reflects the Colegio’s motto, Deus, Patria, Letran, in which God is foremost in every Letranite’s heart and mind.
If we are able to experience the truth of God in our beings, we can be joyful amidst the friction of our lives. This explains why some people can be more joyful that the others. They know how to taste better the flow of the grace of life, the happiness of love, the simplicity of friendship, the enthusiasm of celebration that nourishes the family, and the joyful spontaneity of existence.
Fr. Bruno reminds us that we cannot justify the precariousness of existence manifested in widespread poverty and injustice that lie in the horizon of future prosperity and peace. We can neither be naïve and indifferent to them, meaning that we have to participate in doing something to address them. I think Letran is not lacking in this regard. With the Justice and Peace Commission of the DominicanProvince of the Philippines currently headed by Fr. Vic Calvo, O.P., Letranites have been very active in addressing poverty through the ‘Tulong Letranista’ whose help has reached as far as Bicol and Isabela.
Nevertheless, echoing Fr. Timothy, Fr. Bruno says that we should never give up joy even in the midst of evil. We must live in the original trust that the world is good and that God is there and he is Good. This should give us the courage to live in joy and allow others to experience this joy.
That is why, Letran should continue with the task of evangelization which is none other than giving people, especially young people, the opportunity to have the joy of a personal encounter with Jesus who is a Friend for everyone, who offered his life to gather all people for the Father.
Our very own Fr. Timoner echoed Fr. Bruno’s insight on gratitude. Our Grand Quadricentennial Celebration must be rooted in gratitude. He quoted the Dominican, Meister Eckhart,, an acknowledged expert on spirituality, who said: “if the only prayer you said in your life was “thank you”, that would suffice.”
Fr. Timoner noted a powerful historical insight by saying that the Colegio de San Juan de Letran was founded as an act of mercy. Letran was originally a merger of two orphanages that extended an act of mercy to children who were orphaned. It would not be surprising if in the heart of every Letranite there dwells a compassionate spirit that makes it easy for the school to gather donations and encourage volunteers for its drives to help the poor and victims of calamities. A true Letranite embodies the compassionate spirit of its founders.
Another powerful insight that Fr. Timoner shared with us is regarding our battle cry’ “Arriba Letran”. It is not only to cheer on our athletes for the championship in sports, nor is it only to encourage our
graduates to top in the board examinations. More than those, it is to seek transcendence. We have to transcend our petty quarrels, our narrow self-interests. Linked to our motto, “Deus , Patria, Letran”, our battle cry should lead us from Letran to love and service of country, and then to love and service of God. Arriba Letran!
Fr. Timoner, echoing Bishop Soc Villegas, also reminded all Letranites that Letran as an ALMA MATER, is a nourishing mother. She welcomes not only saints and heroes, not only champions and board passers, not only successful entrepreneurs and politicians but also those who have erred, the suspected and the convicted, those who are shamed because of what they have done. Letran also welcomes them to bring them to the heart of God.
Finally, Fr. Timoner like Fr. Timothy and Bruno, ends with a message of hope. He assures us that God abides with us, that God will not abandon us.
We are saints, we are heroes. We are Letran. There is enough reason to celebrate with joy.
In sum, the Quadricentennial Retreat was well organized and planned. Those who joined it did not make a bad decision nor did they waste their time. I never regret laboring to listen and to understand the profound insights of the speakers. By listening to them, I have grown 10 years older in wisdom, and 20 years younger because of joy and hope. I wouldn’t mind falling from my bed again and again if only to hear those beautiful insights.
Siempre Arriba! Siempre Letran!