Thanksgiving Valedictory Address by Sch. Alabanza

After several years of studying theology we graduates should know by now that the word “eucharist” comes from the Greek word eucharistein which means “thanksgiving.” I mention this because this is what we are supposed to be here for today: thanksgiving. And it was a privilege for us graduates to begin our activities today with the baccalaureate mass-the celebration of the eucharist-which is our act of thanksgiving to the Father.

But before I fall into the temptation of giving another of those theological lectures that we have heard all these years, let me be simple in expressing to you how grateful we all are for having arrived at this day. And so, rather than inspire you with profound theological reflections, allow us to inspire you instead with our profound gratitude.

The commencement exercises which we are now observing is usually described as a beginning. But more than a beginning, I believe that it should be a moment of thanksgiving. This is the time when we can look back with confidence at all these years of study and count our blessings and feel grateful for them. Like Mary, we wish to cry out our Magnificat: “Our being proclaims the greatness of the Lord, our spirit rejoices in God our savior!” (Lk. 1:46).

Today, we give thanks.

First of all we would like to thank the Society of Jesus who, through the Loyola School of Theology, is rendering an invaluable service not only to the Philippine Church but also to the Church here in Asia, in its teaching of theology and also its role in preparing future leaders of the Church through theological studies.

We thank the LST Administration, beginning with our omnipresent and ever-patient President Fr. Victor Salanga, SJ, our “father” in this school, who never failed to plead to us, even getting down on his knees to beg us to study well, study well! Thank you to our bright-eyed dean, the humorous Fr. Herbert Schneider and to Dr. Patria Aranas, our school’s Executive Secretary and “maternal figure”. Thanks to you all for the leadership and guidance that you give to LST.

Along with the administration we thank all the people who comprise the LST staff. Members of the secretariat who, in their own right, are also mothers to us, for serving us behind piles of paper and amidst nagging questions and inquiries from the students. We will definitely miss your presence and the waiting in queues during registration days.

We thank our lovely librarians whose stern looks can shut the mouth of the most loquacious student on campus, for making sure that our library is silent, cool, stacked with books, and free from students who aren’t there to study but take a nap in an air- conditioned place. Thanks too to our photocopiers who, in ways unknown to us, keep the “tradition” in LST alive!

We thank all the other persons who silently keep the school humming with health, by keeping our surroundings clean, our gardens beautiful, the classrooms orderly, the restrooms shiny, the computers running, and our stomachs from grumbling. We laud them for their silent witnessing and the inspiration they bring us through dedication to their work.

Of course how could we forget our professors-those “mysterious” persons who, together with us, reflected on the mysteries of our faith. They kept us directly in touch with Scriptures and the great theological minds in the entire history of the Church. Through them we experienced what it was like to read theological books, bible commentaries, Church documents, journal articles and mimeographed handouts. We are grateful for all your requirements-creative reports, case studies, reflection papers, term papers, presentations, even the processing in class, and perhaps at times the lullaby lectures that led us to the bliss of sleep. The experience was worth every breath that we spent in our efforts to learn, to reflect even deeper, and to bring to prayer and life whatever it was that we learned in the process.

We will always be grateful to you-you who have taught us to love the Church, she who is sinful but nevertheless holy. You embody that love in your teaching and more so in your lives. Thank you for loving us and being concerned about God’s people by being concerned about us.

Would you prefer that we remember you rather than the things you have taught us? Or forget you and keep the things we learned from you in our memory? Of course those are silly questions. How can we separate the teacher from the teaching? They are like words and deeds that are “intrinsically bound up with each other” or like Scripture and Tradtion that are “bound closely together, and communicate one with the other”. You and your teachings will always remain with us. We will miss you all!

Our thanks also go to this morning’s presider and guest speaker, himself one of our own professors here, the awe-inspiring Bishop Chito Tagle. Your holiness and your love is truly an inspiration for us. We will always be proud of you. We also thank Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, SJ the president of Ateneo de Manila himself, for gracing this event with his presence and his wisdom in that inspiring homily that he gave us this morning.

To our friends, especially the friends we’ve made while going to school here at LST: thanks to you. Thank you for all the experiences of love and community. We were all pilgrims in the course of our studies and it was such a blessing to journey together with you. Thank you for all the good memories which will live on in our flesh, our emotions, and our spirit. We will miss you and we hope to see you still.

Thanks also to the LST Student Council for being a voice for us and for giving us a very lively schoolyear. You made the LST community throb with activity. We admire you for your initiative and leadership.

We also thank our formators and members of our own communities. Thanks for being patient and understanding despite our frailties. We want to arrive at our full human flourishing and with your help and with God’s grace, we are willing to go through life together with you, looking forward to that fulfillment.

Finally, we would like to thank our parents and family members, some of whom are present here. You have taught us about our faith in ways that no theological school can. We are grateful to God for the gift of your persons and your love will always remain in our hearts.

Our thanksgiving is not simply a praising of God and rejoicing in Him. Our thanksgiving is also a response of commitment in faith to God. And it is for this reason that we say that our relationship with theology does not end today. These are the commencement exercises of a theological school; thus today is only the beginning of an even greater involvement in theology. As we give thanks today, we are well aware that God also sends us from this school of theology to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19).

We know that our learning does not stop here. We know that theology, literally meaning “the study of God,” will not end within the premises of this theological school. We hope that whatever we learned from this school will be made manifest not only in our teaching, but also in our living, praying, and loving-always aware of the people of God and their needs and hungers both spiritual and temporal.

So will this be goodbye? Will our feet ever get to feel the squeaky floors of LST again? Perhaps it would be good to savor the place for one last moment. In case you haven’t been to the Titanic, go upstairs, savor the view and the wind. I don’t know if many of us will miss the Oratory of St. Ignatius, or the La Storta Chapel for that matter. That depends on the memories we have of them, or whether there are any at all. Meaning, did we ever stop to pray and reflect in those sacred and silent spaces? I suppose some of us did before a major final oral exam, or perhaps the comprehensives. But it would be good if we can remember to pass by before we finally leave and simply say “thank you” to God and our Blessed Mother.

In deep gratitude our hearts cannot help but come to God in prayer. There in the silence of His presence, we thank Him for the words and deeds that have come down to us in these memorable years. In this Year of Vocations, let us express our gratitude to God by being faithful to our own vocations and caring for the vocation of others. And as we walk on together let us savor and contemplate the mystery of life in which God is always present. Indeed, because of His presence and His love for us we can only be grateful and in our gratitude our spirits ceaselessly love Him and praise Him in thanksgiving.

And so with the psalmist we say:
May God be gracious to us and bless us;
and make his face to shine upon us.
That thy way may be known upon earth;
thy saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise thee, O God;
let all the peoples praise thee! (Ps 67:1-3)

Thank you, O God. Just, thank You!

Ian Shelley P. Alabanza, CMF
13 March 2002
Loyola School of Theology

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