Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Catholic in a University

(This piece was written as a term paper for the course on La Sallian Spirituality during the 3rd trimester of AY 2008-2009 at De La Salle University - Manila)

I am a Catholic.

That distinction is very important to me. It was the factor that made me decide to continue my education at De La Salle University. I am just starting to take seriously my vocation as Catholic apologist. I am very active in online forums defending and explaining the Catholic faith to those who are interested. I have read a lot of materials on the subject matter, and I realized that I need to know more. I have heard that La Salle has a large collection of excellent materials on Catholic matters. That alone almost made me decide to go back – but I have a very large problem. I need a very large sum of money to continue my studies at DLSU. I doubt if I could secure a scholarship with my more-than-a-decade of absence.

A year ago, I was already enrolled at the University of the Philippines – Diliman to start my graduate studies in Master of Science in Electrical Engineering (major in Communications and Computers). I had a full scholarship from CHED, but it did not push through. The intervening months allowed me to think things through and discern the path that I need to take. I applied for another CHED scholarship to finance my ‘continuing’ study at La Salle. It was approved. After more than a decade of absence, I decided to get back here, finish what I have started and get a load of Catholic reading materials.

To say that I was cautious at the start of my new trimester here is to put it plainly. I was uneasy with the courses being offered. They were not familiar to me. I had no personal computer. I had not received a regular monthly allowance from CHED. I lived at a far-off place to save on board and lodging expenses. As a result, my grades were deferred until I could submit outputs on programming assignments. Plainly – again – the first trimester did not work out for me that well.

I was hoping then to make good with the courses I have this second trimester. The previous three courses I enrolled in were penalty courses for my more-than-a-decade-long absence. The three other courses I am enrolled now are required courses for the revised curriculum that I have to use now. In effect, I am doing six courses this trimester – three from my deferred ones last trimester and another three on this trimester. This is quite a task for someone who has all those handicaps.

I was looking forward to the first meeting in DLSU orientation course. I have no real expectation except the possibility of better understanding the charism of the La Sallian brothers. In fact, I was thinking that the facilitator would expound on how the College of Engineering – as one of the ‘limbs’ of the institution – contribute to the advancement of this charism. In the next few meetings, I was given – in a way – pieces of information I was to chew on as I struggle to write a decent reaction/term/position paper for the whole series of presentations/lectures. I pray that I have digested those bits of information properly and successfully.

When I first entered De La Salle University way back in 1994, I already knew that it claimed to be a Catholic institution of higher learning. I have no doubt that it is an institution of higher learning. It is for that reason that I am here (although I have a distinct ‘other’ reason for being here – access to a lot of Catholic reading materials). As an engineer seeking advancement on his field of profession, I believe I have made the right choice. I am among fellow professionals who have the expertise to guide me in my journey to seek advancement through graduate studies. I am indeed grateful.

When told to make a reaction/term/position paper as a final requirement for the course, I am not quite sure where to begin or what to take as subject for my paper. I finally decided to expound on my understanding of a Catholic university and the diverse roles of the College of Engineering in accomplishing its objectives.

As have been my practice, I always seek the explanation of the Catholic Church with regard to distinctively Catholic things. In the document written by the Congregation for Catholic Education entitled “The Presence of the Church in the University and in University Culture”, it points out that

The synthesis between culture and faith is a necessity not only for culture, but also for faith... A faith that does not become culture is a faith that is not fully received, not entirely thought through and faithfully lived.
A university then that claims to be Catholic must imbibe the Catholic faith in its very culture to reach its fullness. In this same document, religious communities who work directly in the university (in the exercise of their charism) are advised to “be careful not to draw back in any way, under pretext of entrusting to others the mission corresponding to their vocation”. In the practice of pastoral care, they must endeavor “to create within the university environment a Christian community and a missionary faith commitment”. An apostolic constitution – Ex Corde Ecclesiae – published in 15 August 1990 is quoted in giving us a distinct view of what a Catholic university ought to be:
… [t]he institutional identity of the Catholic University depends on its realizing together its characteristics as "University" and as "Catholic". It only achieves its full identity when, at one and the same time, it gives proof of being rigorously serious as a member of the international community of knowledge and expresses its Catholic identity through an explicit link with the Church, at both local and universal levels; an identity which marks concretely the life, the services and the programs of the university community.
The same document (not the apostolic constitution) points out that
Catholic teachers play a fundamental role for the Church's presence in university culture. In certain cases, their quality and generosity can even make up for imperfections in the structures. The apostolic commitment of the Catholic teacher who gives priority to respect and service for individuals — colleagues and students — offers the witness of the "new Man, always ready to render an account to anyone who asks for the hope that is in him, and to do it with courtesy and respect" (cf. 1 Pet 3: 15-16).
[t]his witness of the Catholic teacher certainly does not consist in filling disciplines that are being taught with religious subject matter. Rather, it means opening up the horizon to the ultimate and fundamental questions, with the stimulating generosity of an active presence for the often inarticulate demands of young minds in search of points of reference and certainties, of guidance and purpose.
That struck me quite hard.

I am a college instructor – and a Catholic apologist. A number of times I have used part of the last 10 minutes of my class to ‘apologize’ on certain Catholic distinctive which seems to be the ‘hot’ topic in some online public forums – especially, local online public forums. When I read the above quote, it made me re-think my practice. I am currently working to be more creative in my approach as I must also answer to “a call to the whole Church to become more and more aware of the specific vocation of the Catholic University and to facilitate its development as an effective instrument of the Church's evangelizing mission”.

What was my reason for doing so?


My reason for being is my love of neighbor. I am a Christian and they – my students – are my brothers, my ‘neighbors’. I feel a personal responsibility of educating them, catechizing them as they should be. My object is the person, the soul – and not the need (e.g., lack of catechism). My aim is to reveal that the Church do have answers to questions that were often asked against Catholics but whose answers were often neglected in the pulpit or in catechism class. Yet, since the end is good but the means is inappropriate, I must find another means to reach out to my students.

Unfortunately, I find no help from the series of presentations conducted. It seems to me that the activities in the College of Engineering are done with able participants in a decidedly technical endeavor offering their know-how without regard to the spiritual aspect of the endeavor or of the recipients. Indeed, most of the activities mentioned are philanthropic but not necessarily charitable. Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of the Council on Foundations (at the time he made the following remark), said that philanthropy is just problem-solving charity – and many Western heads of philanthropic/charitable organizations echo this sentiment. Big corporate foundations like Carnegie and Rockefeller seem to believe this to be the case. I pray that this is not the case with the College of Engineering. I hope that their actions are rooted in the Catholic sense of charity and not philanthropy.

Yet, it appears to me – as they were presented – that the activities of the College of Engineering are done to solve a problem, not necessarily to foster human contact or the sense of familial feeling. It may be because engineers are just not comfortable with such intent. They are, after all, problem-solvers by training. It is the thing they do best – and the College of Engineering of De La Salle University did that quite well. Nevertheless, the works of the College of Engineering must complement – not just supplement – the overall mission of the institution. Pope Benedict XVI issued his first encyclical (‘Deus caritas est’ – God is Love) with the subject on caritas – charity or sacrificial love. It would be worth the time of Catholic and non-Catholic faculty to read the material to find a point of reference in how to work best with the university.

May I suggest then that pastoral care is also extended to the recipients of any philanthropic or charitable activity that the college may opt to participate in? It would help in fulfilling the mission and charism of the La Sallian brothers. It would also expose the faculty to a different aspect of extending help to those in want and a different initiative to support the mission of the university both as an institution of higher learning and as a Catholic institution. The University campus ministry will probably be very happy to extend their help. We did this at the University of San Carlos. It can be done here.

Finally, I have not heard anything regarding formation or capacity-building for faculty of the College of Engineering in affirming the Catholic identity of the institution. Is there any? How did the institution promote the awareness of Catholic identity among its employees – specifically, in the College of Engineering? Are they left on their own? Were there formations or orientation when they enter into employment with the university? How often do faculties go into recollection or something similar in spiritual re-tooling? I could use some inputs on these questions since I am also working in an institution of higher learning which claims a Catholic identity. When I was hired back in 1995, I was never oriented nor informed of how the University of San Carlos make known and practice its Catholic identity. Back then, I was not also interested on such details. I was probably just elated to be part of the best university in the south. Now that I am interested, I am at a lost why the university did not insist on educating newly-hired employees on this vital matter which presumably is central to its mission as a Catholic university.

Why I am interested on such matters when faculty could just be guided by their own free will or conscience? I do believe that even the will and conscience has to be properly formed and informed before one can trust his own. Would the graduates of the university be just a properly and competently trained engineers but not one with a good appreciation of Catholic ‘distinctives’ and sense of charity (even if they are not Catholics)? Would it even be considered important within the college that their graduates shall have such character? Directly and indirectly, the students are being formed and informed by the culture within the university. What kind, breadth and depth of formation and information these students are receiving and absorbing determines the real identity of La Sallian graduates.

Yes, I am asking the same questions in my sending institution – and I am eagerly watching for any response. I pray that there will be. I am a convinced Catholic, and I am of the opinion that the Catholic Church has a lot to offer to the world – if only there are a lot more workers to proclaim it and live it. Like what had been stated in Corinthians, when the sound of the trumpet is distinct, the warrior will respond in kind. If it comes, like Samuel of the Old Testament, I will respond “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening”.

May all who read this paper be blessed by Him, in Whose ho
nor, we all shall live.

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