UAGS 50th Anniversary Grand Alumni Homecoming

To all UAGS alumni
alumni officers and organizers,
former and present administrators,
former and present faculty members and staff,
friends and guests:
to the University of the Assumption Grade School!

We seldom hold Grade School homecomings.
I, for one, have never heard, never been invited to, much less attended a GS homecoming.
We hear, organize and attend high school and college reunions and homecomings.
But homecoming among grade school batches and classmates?
Therefore, I would like to thank and salute the organizers of this event.
I’m sure this gathering was the fruit of countless meetings, late night planning,
networking, text and social media blasts, personal follow-ups,
just to see it through.
What about a big hand to the organizers!

Just a few thoughts on the gospel reading for the 3rd Sunday of Easter
and on the occasion of UAGS 50th Anniversary Grand Alumni Homecoming.

All of us must have heard about Alzheimer’s disease,
a brain disease that slowly destroys memory and other mental functions.
My first encounter with the reality of this disease was through a classmate.
Three years ago, I was in Cebu,
together with 6 other batchmates
to celebrate our silver anniversary as priests.
We were ordained in 1988.
My classmate’s father has married twice.
His first wife died after giving birth to their first child.
He soon remarried and had another child—
This only child by his second wife is my classmate – Fr. Mon.
Early on Fr Mon and his mom noticed on the father
what seemed to be the firsts signs of a memory problem:
forgetting names of otherwise familiar people,
forgetting important dates or events,
asking for the same information over and over,
forgetting about the water he was boiling which almost set the house on fire.
Fr. Mon tells me that Alzheimer’s is degenerative when it comes to memory loss:
slowly eroding and wasting away memories from the most recent to the earliest.
from the past 10 years, and then the next 20 years,
until one’s memory is blank, like a reformatted hard drive.

Loss of memory can inflict so much emotional pain.
Fr. Mon’s mother felt the first stab of pain caused by memory loss
when the father began calling Fr. Mon’s mom – the second wife –
by the name of the first wife.
I love you Inday, he would say endearingly –
when her lving wife’s name is Anna.
Is it only a loss of memory?
Is he referring and talking to the same person, called by another name?
Or is it not only a loss of memory but a complete dissipation of love as well.

Sorry to start this sharing with alzheimer’s disease.
The only point I want to put across is:
what brings us together this afternoon is a common memory.
We are gathered because of a common experience.
The common story, the common narrative that weaves our lives
is what we want to retell and retell so as not to forget.
We are connected much like a rosary –
with rich, unforgettable individual and group experiences,
punctuated by significant people.
It would be such a pity if such a common memory is loss.
Once memory is lost, everything is lost.

The central character in our gospel for this Sunday, as expected, is Peter.
Peter followed Jesus in his public ministry.
He witnessed Jesus healing people,
performing wonders,
forgiving sinners and tax collecters,
mingling with people whom society abhorred and pushed aside.
At around the time Jesus was about to be arrested,
Peter promised that he would never leave his Lord,
even to the point of sacrificing his own life.
All of a sudden, Peter denied Jesus three times.

In our gospel today, Jesus asked Peter: “do you love me?” three times.
perhaps to remind Peter that he had committed mistakes,
but also to make him believe that he, Peter, has been forgiven, and all is well.

We all know that Peter finally offered his life for his Lord.
Opting to be crucified upside down
as he was unworthy to be crucified
in the same position as Jesus
who loved him and gave himself up for him.
Why did Peter offer his life?
I think it was because of his memory
of being forgiven and loved without limits.

I wonder if Peter would have offered his life
had he been, early on, inflicted with Alzheimer’s disease.

Only people who remember give thanks.
Forgetful people are never, can never be grateful.
Gratitude, it is said, is the memory of the heart.
It is not something we do.
something we express or something we feel.
Gratitude, at its deepest, is something that we are.
Meister Eckart reminds us:
If the only prayer we said in our whole life was, “thank you,”
it woud have sufficed.

Today we are not only gathered by a common memory.
We also gather around a common memorial – the eucharist.
“Do this in memory of me” – Jesus commanded us.
And what more could be most expressive of our gratitude
than offering the greatest act of thanksgiving for us Christians?

In this mass therefore we call to memory
and thank God for the blessings of the past 50 years.
We thank God for our teachers:
who, unfortnately in this country, are always under-appreciated.
We thank them for their ability to recognize potential
and help people make them real.
They are indeed the backbone that sustained UAGS in all those years.
UAGS is what it is today,
we are what we are today,
because we have had great teachers.

Of course we remember in a special way
the person who started it all: the late Bishop Emilio Cinense.
Only by hindsight can one really appreciate the vision of this man of God.
He easily recognized the pivotal role education plays
in the creation of “a new heart and a new spirit” (cor novum, spiritus novus).
Indeed, the formation of a new heart and a new spirit
starts not in high school, not in college,
but at its most foundational and elementary stage: grade school.

We also thank the non-teaching staff and personnel
who have been an important part of the UAGS for the past 50 years.
While, most of the time, they have been working behind the scenes
their contribution to the formation of thousands of UAGS students
has been and will remain invaluable.

Lastly, I’d like to sincerely thank you
all you alumni of UAGS for your continued support and trust.
In a very true sense, you are our best advertisers and endorsers
of the quality education that UAGS provides.
A school is only as good as the alumni it produces.
And for the past 50 years
you have been shining testimonies
of the enduring validity of UAGS vision and mission.

A little over a week ago, we held the UAGS graduation ceremony.
As I stood shaking the hands of these little graduates,
I always wonder what they would become in the future.

Perhaps that was the same feeling of the ones
who shook your hands at graduation many, many years ago.
Who would have thought at that early age,
that some would turn out to be business people,
doctors, nurses, engineers, bankers, teachers, priests, etc.
contributing in their own unique ways
in making a part of this world a better place.
And it all began in a school community called UAGS.

The late Jaime Cardinal Sin
on the occasion of his 50th anniversary as a priest said:
At 25, I had my silver.
At 30, I had my pearl.
At 40, I had ruby.
And now at 50, I have my gold.
I consider myself rich, he said,
I am a “bejewelled man.”

UAGS is proud of its priceless jewels:
the memories of teachers, personnel,
alumni and students for the past 50 years.
Memories which, hopefully, not even
an Alzheimer’s disease can take away.
but memories which will tide us over the next 50!


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