Homily given at UPCM 2014 Homecoming Mass (Dec. 19, 2014 UP-PGH Chapel)
Good morning. I have had a number of memorable masses in my almost 10 years of being a Jesuit priest and this one will certainly be one of the most special ones. It is so heartwarming to see the celebrating classes here especially the UPCM class of 1989.
In today’s two readings: the first reading from the Book of Judges and the Gospel passage from Luke, we are presented with a very similar story. In the first reading we read about a couple: Manoah and his wife, who were childless. And in the Gospel from Luke we come across the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, who are also childless in their old age. However, the similarity does not end there for an angel of the Lord appeared to Manoah’s wife and promised her that she would bear a son, Samson. And an Angel of the Lord also appeared to Zechariah and promised that they would bear a son, John the Baptist. So amid this background of barrenness, the Lord steps in and makes a huge promise to them, a promise that would end the childlessness of both couples.
Can we relate to this? Wasn’t there a promise made to us that year we decided to enroll at the UP College of Medicine? I still remember back in 1984 when I found out that I got accepted to the UP College of Medicine class of 1989. It ended so many anxious months of waiting for the admission results. For most of us it was perhaps the biggest decision we had ever made in our lives…the decision to start medical studies…and not just at any medical school…but the University of the Philippines College of Medicine, no less. But coming to the UP College of Medicine implied accepting a promise being made to each and every one of us. After all the raison d’être of any medical school is to train young men and women in the science and art of medicine, to pass on to them invaluable knowledge and skills, and to furnish them with the essential foundational capacities to ensure a successful career as medical professionals. We may not have been aware of such a promise being made to us when we showed up at the BSLR-E on that first day of class but without such a promise there would really be no point in embarking on our medical studies at all.
Let us go back to the two Scriptural passages. Not only did the Lord make promises to both Manoah’s wife and Zechariah, more importantly He made sure that this promise was fulfilled. All of God’s promises are always fulfilled according to God’s holy will and in God’s own time. Manoah and his wife had Samson while Zechariah and Elizabeth gave birth to John – tangible proofs of the fulfillment of God’s promise. If a promise was made to us years ago that we would be transformed from ordinary young women and men into highly skilled and competent medical practitioners, would we be able to confidently say today 25, 40, 50, 60 years later that the promise has been fulfilled in our days?
Looking out at all of you I begin to experience a flood of memories – memories that go back to the ‘70s when I was in grade school with some of you: Joyce Balbin Vallesteros and Vic Lorica. I remember Joyce always had socks that came up all the way to her knees. Then came the high school years with Ching, Grace, Bambi, Au, Bong, Len, Marleen, Leni, Tere, etc. It seems like it was just yesterday when Grace, Ching, Bambi, and I were in first year high school and part of the Glee Club. The college years were filled with memories of zoology field trips with Jun, Au, Minie, Arnel, Carissa, and others. And of course 1984 signalled the beginning of our medical studies here at UP PGH…five glorious years of small triumphs and initial failures. I remember a classmate of ours whose Tagalog was not that good telling a patient, “Sana po ‘di na kayo magtagal,” when what he really meant was that he was hoping she would be discharged soon. As clerks rotating in the surgery wards there was this classmate who was not comfortable asking post-op patients in Tagalog whether or not they had already passed gas. And there was this other classmate who bungled his first internal exam while another’s first attempt at giving an infant an IM injection (as an ICC) caused the mother of the patient to start crying since the student was shaking like a leaf.
My point is this, we have known each other since the time when we did not know a thing about medicine. And over the years we have grown into the professionals we are today: well-respected clinicians, knowledgeable professors in the academe, passionate scientists, committed university and hospital administrators, or however we have decided to live our lives. It is without a doubt, therefore, that the promise made to each one of us years ago has indeed been fulfilled, and continues to be fulfilled in our lives.
What now? Being back here at UP-PGH – where all our journeys began – as we all celebrate our respective anniversaries we are filled with an immense and unequalled feeling of gratitude to our alma mater – the UP College of Medicine – for what it has done for all of us. I believe we would never ever completely grasp just how much UPCM has given us, both individually and as a class. Nevertheless, we need to consciously embrace this sense of gratitude because gratitude is one of the best motives for service. Ever since our graduation in 1989 we have accepted the mission given to us: to use our knowledge and skills to work for and further the common good, that is the health of society, in general. This is indeed our God-given vocation. In the past 25 years we have taken on the responsibility to care for the millions whom we have served in various capacities both here and abroad. It is through this service to humanity that we find meaning, purpose, and connectedness in our lives…hallmarks of a life well-lived.
The UP College of Medicine is like a parent who nurtured us during our formative years. It is in the hallowed classrooms of the College and the wards of the Philippine General Hospital that we learned our first words: the technical jargon of medicine that would become so much a part of us; our first steps: the skills in taking a good medical history and physical exam and the techniques involved in surgery or delivering a baby; our foundational knowledge of anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, microbiology, pharmacology, etc. And in the same way that a child owes her parent her life, we realize we owe this College so much. And filled with this gratitude we are stirred to give back to this parent of ours. But how exactly does one give back to a parent that would surely outlive all of us? The best way would be to ensure that this venerable institution would continue to carry out its mission for many, many more years to come.
And in a very concrete way to achieve this end we, the UPCM class of 1989, have chosen to financially support the establishment of the Learning Center of the UP College of Medicine Library. Whether as members of sororities, fraternities, organizations, or as individuals, all of us have the capacity to give back to the College by participating in philanthropic projects that slowly but surely transform our alma mater into the medical school that would be competitive on the global scale. Hopefully we would be able to continue to do this whether we are a jubilarian class or not. This is the least we can do.
As we appreciate the familiar faces around us inside this chapel, we realize that our medical school experience was made unique by the people we studied with. The Golden Jubilarian class of 1964 is uniquely the class of 1964 because of the members of that class, in the same way that the Silver Jubilarian class of 1989 is uniquely the class of 1989 because of the members of that class. And as we celebrate this homecoming, let us also take time to remember the members of our class who have gone before us: Vicky Laxamana, Binky Miranda Rilloraza, and Alan Sulit.
Finally, my wish for all of us is this. I hope that we all measure success not by the wealth we have, the power we wield, the fame attached to our names, or the social stature we possess but by having a conscience that, now more than ever, is still disturbed by the injustice in our world. May we never yield to complacency but work hard to be part of the solution rather than the problem. May we always work for the common good and be respectful of the dignity inherent in every single human being. Unless this is true, everything else would be in vain. And as we return in gratitude to the place of our professional birth, may we be recharged and rejuvenated enough to last us the next 25 years or more.
May God bless the UP College of Medicine Class of 1989. May God bless the other Jubilarian classes. May God bless the UP College of Medicine!!!