Summer Grad Speaker Sheds Light on ‘Via, Veritas, Vita’
(Note: The following is the speech delivered by Rev. Dr. Lourdino A. Yuzon during the Summer School Commencement Ceremony held May 19 at the Silliman University Church. [Read news: '114 Graduate this Summer']
VIA, VERITAS, VITA
Thank you very much for inviting me to deliver the sermon or address at this baccalaureate service cum commencement exercise. This is a great honour that I may not deserve at all. But President Ben Malayang III may have taken a great risk in pressing into service this junk, not adjunct, professor who is 82 years young, not forty years old. Retired and perhaps now mentally retarded, I could speak for one hour without saying anything important at all. So please bear with me.
Allow me to express my heartfelt congratulations to all of you, graduating students, for having completed your study programs. This day is the crowning moment of years of diligent and persevering effort on your part to attain what you had set out to do when you entered the halls of Silliman University years ago. This is the reward for work done! We are proud of you. We salute you.
May I also congratulate you, parents, of these graduating students. It is because of your self-giving support that your sons and daughters were able to realize their dream of earning a quality Christian Education at Silliman University. We share your joys.
The Guiding Star
Friends, soon you will leave the halls of Silliman University to “ roam the world o’er near and far” and find your rightful places in the wider communities of your choice. When you do that, feel assured that you will not be alone for the “faith and truth” that Silliman University has given you will be your guiding star. But what is that faith and truth? To me, that is enshrined in the University’s motto: Via, Veritas, Vita which is based on Jesus’ understanding of himself as “…the Way, and the truth, and the life.” On the basis of this assumption, let us try to unpack this tremendous saying of Jesus. In the process, let us suggest ways by which we can relate those insights to real life situations.
The Three Nouns.
To begin with, it is important for us to take note of the fact that the nouns “truth” and ‘life” function as appositives in relation to the leading noun, “way.” That is to say, “they clarify how and why Jesus is ‘the way’” (Gail R. O’Day, The Gospel of John,” New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX, p. 742). Jesus is the way to God the Father precisely because he is the embodiment of God’s truth and life.
“I am the Way.” In Psalm 119:1, “way” “is used as a metaphor to describe “a life lived in accordance with the law or will and desire of God .” It highlights a “person’s personal unity with God” (Gail R. O’Day, Ibid, p. 742). I believe Jesus used the term Way in this sense. In saying that he is “the Way,” Jesus did not have in mind a road that leads us to a physical destination. Rather, he suggested that in life we journey with Him not in a spatial, but in a relational, sense. We begin that journey from the point of our separation from God to the point of our reunion with God. And because He is with us and we are in Him, we will not lose our way to the Father.
Picasso once asked his friend Rodin if he liked his (Picasso’s) latest (abstract) painting that was yet unsigned.
Rodin studied the painting from all directions and, only after careful deliberation answered Picasso, “Whatever else you do… sign it. If you do that… we will know which way to hold it (1001 Humorous Illustrations, p. 32).
I am the Way.” Jesus does not confuse or mislead us with mixed signals.
What Jesus does for us is that He does not only give advice and directions. He takes us by the hand and leads us; he strengthens and guides us personally every day. He does not tell us about the way; he is the Way. Jesus leads us into God’s presence without fear and without shame (William Barclay, The Gospel of John, Vol. 2. Rev. ed. ,p. 157).
“I am the Way.” This saying has at least two practical implications. For one thing, we have the assurance that in and through Christ, we can arrive at our ultimate destination which is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism). As such, our journey in life will be full of meaning, joy, fulfilment, courage, hope and a deep sense of purpose. We will overcome fears, anxieties and despair. And when the time of departure comes, we can say with Rick Warren, “I am not leaving home; I am going home” (The Purpose Driven Life).
Another practical implication of this central affirmation of the Gospel of John is that because in Christ our separation from God has been overcome, we have the assurance that by God’s grace, we can repair the brokenness of our relationship with one another and create inclusive human communities of mutual acceptance and respect.
“I am the Truth.” In scholarly pursuits, truth means that a statement corresponds to verifiable facts. In our moral and spiritual life, however, truth means integrity of character in which what we say is matched by what we do. To have this kind of truth, we should not just talk about it; we should embody it as Jesus did. For instance, Jesus did not just teach that we must love God with our whole being and our neighbour as we love ourselves. He lived it by actually loving and forgiving his enemies. “The tremendous thing about Jesus is not simply that the statement of moral (and spiritual) perfection finds its peak in him; it is that the fact of moral (and spiritual) perfection finds its realization in him” (Barclay).
“I am the Truth.” One practical implication of this central claim of Jesus is that it challenges us – you and me — to lead morally and spiritually upright lives in the way we relate to God and to others. It will empower us to resist the culture of lying, dishonesty, deception and double talk. We will not say with a devious bamboo philosopher, “I swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth even if I have to tell a lie.” We will not download essays from the internet, call them our own, and submit them to our unknowing and trusting professors. It inspires us to fervently pray, “Teach me Thy way, O Lord, that I may walk in thy truth.” The philosopher Immanuel Kant claimed that truthfulness is so fundamental a moral virtue that without it, a viable community life is virtually impossible. Isn’t it that even robbers recognize the need for each of them to honor the promises they make to one another?
A scholar who is a congenital liar may effectively teach science and mathematics. But he has no credibility at all telling us that we should be honest even if others are not; even if others cannot, and even if others will not.
It may sound like a broken record for us to say that while the Philippines is the only Christian country in Asia, its social morality is far less Christian. To a significant extent, this is due to the fatal disconnect between our verbal and ritualistic profession of faith on the one hand, and our ethical expression of it, on the other. The late Fr. Jaime Bulatao, a respected Filipino Jesuit theologian and psychologist once coined the phrase, “split-level Christianity.” Bulatao claimed that in the case of nominal Christians, their encounter with God in the context of public worship does not exert a formative and normative impact on what they do beyond the four walls of their religious sanctuaries. Their spirituality does not bear the ethical fruits of truthfulness, honesty, justice and righteousness.
Sooner or later, you will be caught up in such a situation. When that happens, remember that at least at the level of individual relationship, you can help rectify moral problems of that nature. How? By witnessing by word, deed and example to the liberating power of God’s truth which has decisively changed your life for the better.
“I am the Life.” Jesus is the “Way,” precisely because He is “the embodiment of life with God… Jesus is the “Way” because Jesus brings God’s gift of life to the world. Jesus is “the Way” because he is the access point to God’s promise of life” (Gail R. O’Day, op. cit., pp. 742-743)
The practical implications of life with God are many and varied. As exemplified by Jesus, life with God means that we should approach God in awe and reverence and not think of God as some sort of a cosmic bellhop, at our beck and call. It means that we should love our fellow humans as we love ourselves, serving them in imitation of Jesus who is our Servant Lord. It means that in our economic way of life, we should, as John Wesley puts it, gain all we can, save all we can, and give all we can. It means that in terms of governance, we are to lead not by the use of the power to dominate and exploit others, but by the power of self-giving service. It means that we should be responsible stewards of creation, taking care of the world of things instead of dominating and exploiting it to serve and protect our profligate, consumerist life-style. It means that as Jesus grew not only in stature but also in wisdom, so we, too, must be engaged in an ongoing process of intellectual growth through disciplined study and research so that its fruits can enhance human life. It means that we should be prepared to accept not only the joys but also the costs of following Jesus.
An Eschatological Dimension.
Some of us may say in a dismissive tone that talking about Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life in the sense that we have outlined is a waste of time because it is impossible to relate its insights to real life situations. To a point, this observation is valid. But it must be borne in mind that there is an eschatological dimension to the claim of Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life. That is, we cannot fully experience its creative powers on the plane of humanity’s chronological time, but in God’s kairos time, that right and opportune moment when God will bring human history to a grand climax. Nonetheless, if we have a focused vision of, and a single-minded commitment to, the divine-human life that is shaped by Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, we will be empowered to strive towards that goal. In the process, we will experience greater and greater approximations of it however incomplete and imperfect they may be. This is the fundamental logic of the process of enabling people and human communities to conform themselves to the mind and spirit of Jesus.
We can see examples of this process even in the secular world. In his inaugural address, President Noynoy Aquino said that his administration was committed to the goal of eradicating corruption in government. “Walang mahirap kung walang corrupt.” That was his battle cry. To lend credibility to his crusade against corruption, he has since led a morally transparent life. In a relative sense, he has been as blameless as Caesar’s wife. Has he succeeded? Not perfectly because, among others, the structures of corruption are still intact. But neither has he failed completely for he has succeeded in creating a culture of moral transparency that, in turn, generates trust and confidence. Consequently, our country has earned two investment grades from Standard and Poor, one in December 2012, and another, early this month. And in the mid-term election that was held last Monday (May 13, 2013), the majority of the Filipino people renewed their mandate for Noynoy’s “tuwid na daan” and gave another vote of confidence to his program of good government.
So even if we can have only partial, minimal and imperfect approximations of ideal situations, let us, with the spirit of Silliman burning brightly within us, strive “in season and out of season' (2 Timothy 4:2), to live out the mandates of our chosen vocation. And in the process, let us allow ourselves to be empowered by the profound and compelling insights of Silliman University's guiding star, Via, Veritas,Vita.
“I am the Way, and the Truth and the Life.”