THE 8th batch of graduates of The Manila Times College (it was formerly known as The Manila Times School of Journalism) and their parents had to endure my extemporaneous commencement address yesterday.
The graduates had all been my students in some lecture class or some hands-on work or another here at The Times. They first saw me as a rather strong and healthy figure.
Now they were seeing me using a cane. That gave me a reason to tell them that some friends had been wondering why I still work, why I don’t want to retire and enjoy my sunset years just having fun. And that my answer to these friends is “I love working and doing my duty to God and the people around me, which is to work, work, work until the end.”
I did not give the graduates advice about how to get on with their lives now that they have bachelor’s degrees. And I did not tell them that the end of their schooling is the commencement of a new phase in their lives. What I decided to tell them was the most important reason why they should never forget the call to excellence that the College had drummed into their heads throughout their schooling.
This call The Manila Times College makes to every student is repeated even at the very last moment. In the Pledge of Loyalty all graduates recite before the commencement exercises ends, the first pledge they make is to “strive to live up to the standard of excellence of my Alma Mater.”
This important reason is not the fame and money they will make if they become topnotch professionals. It’s much more than the good feeling of having done something very good.
This important reason is that working, and working well, is the ordinary—the commonest—way for a human being to partake of God’s creative power.
This is something that anybody who reads the writings of St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, is familiar with.
In Friends of God, the second book that compiles St. Josemaria’s homilies (the first one is Christ is Passing By), one of the homilies has the title “Working for God.”
The message that I gave the graduates—and the parents and other guests present yesterday—is paraphrased from these paragraphs of the homily. I didn’t just read the paragraphs. I interspersed St. Josemaria’s exposition with references to the experiences I had with those whom I had mentored.
“From the beginning of creation man has had to work. This is not something I have invented.
It is enough to turn to the opening pages of the Bible. There you can read that before sin entered the world, and in its wake death, punishment and misery, God made Adam from the clay of the earth, and created for him and his descendants this beautiful world we live in, ut operaretur et custodirect illum, so that we might cultivate it and look after it.
“We must be convinced therefore that work is a magnificent reality, and that it has been imposed on us as an inexorable law which, one way or another, binds everyone, even though some may try to seek exemption from it. Make no mistake about it.
Man’s duty to work is not a consequence of original sin, nor is it just a discovery of modern times. It is an indispensable means which God has entrusted to us here on this earth. It is meant to fill out our days and make us sharers of God’s creative power. It enables us to earn our living, and at the same time, to reap ‘the fruits of eternal life’ for man is born to work as birds are born to fly.
“To this you might reply that many centuries have gone by and very few people think along these lines, that most people when they work, do so for different reasons: some for money, some to support their families, others to go on in society, to develop their capabilities, or to contribute to social progress. In other words, most people regard their work as something that has to be done and cannot be avoided.
“This is a stunted, selfish and earthbound outlook, which neither you nor I can accept, for we have to remember and remind people around us that we are children of God, who have received the same invitation from our Father as the two brothers in the parable: ‘Son, go and work in my vineyard.’ I give you my word that if we make a daily effort to see our personal duties in this light, that is, as a divine summons, we will learn to carry them through to completion with the greatest human and supernatural perfection of which we are capable….”
I then brought up a point that St. Josemaria spoke about earlier in this homily “Working for God.”
This point is that if it is a human being’s duty to work, if working for the good and in the service of others, is the way that one can show his Love for God, then one has to work the way the perfect Man and Perfect God Jesus did. He did his work –from little everyday things to the great miracles–in such a way that people said of Him (and here I amazed myself for remembering the Latin that St. Josemaria wrote) “bene omnia fecit,” he did everything exceedingly well.
I repeated it like a mantra–work, work, work. For it is only through work that we can go to heaven.
And it is only by trying hard to do our work well–to deliver much better than palpak or pwede na, results–that we can become other Christs, Christ Himself, He who did everything exceedingly well.