University Chapel (Roxas Campus)
8 January 2024, 3:00 p.m.

Feast of the Baptism of Jesus
Gospel Reading: Mark 1:7-11

Brothers and sisters, in Christ:

The gospel reading from St. Mark that we just heard proclaimed is seen as the beginning of the public life and ministry of Jesus, the beginning of his MISSION. To that MISSION, all of us — in various degrees — are invited to participate in, each according to his/her vocation in life.

Today, we mark the beginning of Father Karel’s tenure as the 5th President of this Catholic, Jesuit University. I am tempted to say — and I will say it — that we are not just installing Father Karel to a lofty academic office, but, more profoundly, we are celebrating Father Karel’s new and deeper insertion into that MISSION of Jesus himself.

St. Mark’s account of how Jesus begins his MISSION is terse and laconic. But it leaves us with so much to reflect on. Perhaps, that is the reason why Father Karel chose today, the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, for his installation day. He, together with his new academic community, and all of us here, have quite a bit to reflect on.

Allow me, then, to draw some lessons from today’s gospel reading as my clumsy attempt at accompanying you in spirituality savoring the significance of what we are doing today.


We begin with John the Baptist’s opening statement that he is merely preparing the way for Someone, and that someone is so much greater, so much important than him. John is implying that what he is doing, his MISSION, its purpose and dimensions, are not his to determine.

In effect, John is saying: I may be a lonely voice crying out in the wilderness (Is 40:3), but I am not alone. I am part of a plan. My role in that plan is preparatory. That role ends when the one I am preparing for finally arrives. By then, “He must increase, I must decrease (Jn 3:30)”.

In just a few verses, John the Baptist has captured the essence of what it is to be “on MISSION.”

To be on MISSION is to be part of the grand plan of God that involves so many who have come before us, and many more who surround and help us, and still more who will come long after we are gone. Many have labored in this vineyard called Ateneo de Davao, because this University was not built in a day! There are names on plaques on some of the buildings standing on the three campuses of the university, “del Rosario”, “Thibault”, “Daigler”, “Barcelon”, “Finster”, “Dotterwitch”. —– to name a few.

They are your “John the Baptist”. They have prepared this place for you. Each of them has a story to tell about their struggles and victories, about how they came to know bit by bit God’s plan for his people as they journeyed along. Knowing what they have accomplished, you cannot stop wondering how amazing God’s grace is: He, the ultimate planner, who enables those whom he calls to do so much with very little.
The first lesson, then, Father Karel, (if I may be allowed to address you directly) is RELAX! Cool ka lang! Don’t lose your hair like some of us! Others have done it. And there is a loving God that holds you in the hollow of his hand.


And now to my second lesson.

To begin his MISSION, there was no “going to Jerusalem” for Jesus. There was no “ascending Mt. Zion” amid the fanfare of trumpets blaring and the resounding acclamation of the people. That was the usual, initial ritual of countless chosen ones in the history of Israel as described many times by the psalmist.

Instead of that, Jesus goes quietly to a small corner of the River Jordan, and accepts baptism from John. There is no grand ceremony of ascending to power, but a humble ceremony of submission. The ritual by which sinners humbly accept the loving forgiveness of God becomes for Jesus the humble acceptance of the authority and preferred ways of the real author and architect of his MISSION.

It is not enough that Jesus had become man; had endured being born in a stable; had been to the desert to fast and pray for forty days and nights. He must believe once more and accept the low-key methods of the Father. He must be ever mindful that the Father is partial to small, obscure beginnings, like the tiny mustard seed that is hidden in the soil but eventually becomes a huge tree; like the yeast that in small amounts is hidden in the dough but eventually makes the bread rise.

In the hustle and bustle of the apostolate, which is at once a human effort as it is a divine project, we always seek the best human means to accomplish our intermediate goals. We have been taught that grace does not take the place of nature but builds upon it. So, we do our best to avail of the latest that human know-how has to offer: we make use of multi-media, digitalization, even A.I., to cite a few examples. But sometimes even our best intentions and mightiest efforts do not meet with success.

Or … just when you think you have it in the bag, you find out you failed. When that happens, is it time to blame God? After all, are you not doing his work, serving his people, seeking his greater glory? You certainly can! God has been known to handle some of the most bitter recriminations from a few of his own anointed down the history of salvation.

But on second reflection, it might be that God is just telling you that you need another baptism, another surrender of your will to his, another acceptance of his absolute ownership of the MISSION, the accomplishment of which, though secured and certain, will come about only in his own good time.

The second lesson, then, for all of us who are partakers of his MISSION is this: God likes baptisms, and may require us to go through it more than once in our lifetime.


Now, to my third and last lesson.

Why did Jesus deliberately joined the crowd of prostitutes, tax collectors, common sinners who were seeking to be baptized by John? Jesus was no sinner. He did not stand in need of baptism? He had no need of forgiveness. Yet, like all the rest of the crowd, he stood in line to be baptized by John.

After much insistence on Jesus’ part, John did baptize him. What Jesus did, or what Jesus allowed to be administered on his person, met the approval of his Father in heaven. For as he emerged from the waters after baptism a voice is heard: “You are my beloved Son, and with you I am well pleased.”

The Father is pleased with Jesus because he went to the unredeemed and identified himself with them. The Father loves Jesus because he accompanied those in need to find redemption in the baptism of John. The Father loves his Son because he has accepted, in no uncertain terms, the MISSION to be mediator and Savior of Mankind.
In a word, the Father loves the Son because the Son is not for himself but for the world.

Here, the question may be raised: How can the Ateneo de Davao University be for the world in this particular time and place?

Like the Son, whose MISSION is to be the servant of the world, Ateneo de Davao University must continue to learn how to serve its region, its island (which is Mindanao), and beyond.

If war breaks out in Cotabato or Maguindanao it must continue to push for dialogue and champion the ways of peace. As it has done in the past, it must seek the cooperation of so wide a network of collaborators that the few who actively espouse violence and revenge will be effectively sidelines and discredited.

If the hinterlands are exploited by irresponsible mining, the rivers and waterways polluted by careless mining practices, the University should revive, as in the past, its campaign against the selfish interests behind those practices. The campaigns should continue in in our local churches, in Congress, in the local legislative bodies, in social and mass media, in newspapers and other publications.

God forbid that there will come a day when the Ateneo de Davao University shall no longer have enemies and shall have grown fat from the favors lavished on it by the enemies of the common good. I pray to God that that day never comes. I pray that Ateneo de Davao University, under the leadership of Father Karel, continues to form and produce men and women for others, continues to seek and do the MISSION of Jesus.


+ Most Rev. Romulo G. Valles, D.D.
Archbishop of Davao
7 January 2024
Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

Share This