The incoming Chair of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’s Episcopal Commission on Youth, Daet Bishop Rex Andrew C. Alarcon, D.D. opened UST’s Academic Year 2019-2020, in the traditional Misa de Apertura (Opening Mass), held on August 1 at the Santísimo Rosario Parish Church.

It is not just reason

In his homily, Bishop Alarcon said that the academic community of a Catholic university is not just bound to the human and secular sciences. Instead, we are called to combine reason with faith and together seek the one Truth, which is Jesus. “The search for truth is not only through the path of reason—not simply academic path. Do not fail to sit before the table of the Word of God,” the Thomasian bishop said. Concretizing how this blending will happen, Bishop Alarcon said: “Being part of the Catholic University is to respond to the call of bringing the Christian wisdom in dialogue with the secular sciences.”

Answering the question of what happens when either faith or reason is absent, he said: “If we separate these two, we are incapable of truly understanding ourselves, the world, and God. As we sharpen our intellect, let us cultivate our faith, which provides us an inner eye to the mysteries of life.”

The three postures

To sit

True to the nature of an academic community, professors, academics, and students must continue in their quest for knowledge. In this quest, while we diverge into our different specializations, Bishop Alarcon reminded the community that: “We are not simply experts in our own fields, not simply as doctors of the secular sciences…but we are gathered as believers, as followers of Jesus. As we sit now, may we recognize that it is not our academic degrees that bind us together, but our faith. It lies beneath our togas and our uniforms.”

In universities, especially Catholic universities, “We allow the encounter of Christian wisdom and the culture of the young.” This is what can enhance further the academic offerings of universities.

To walk

Recognizing that the world today is so different from the previous generations’, the Daet bishop said that in the face of Industry 4.0 and all technological advancements, we are no longer just confined to “[choosing] between the home and the Church. Now, people have multiple spaces, doubled by the digital space.”

Because of this chance to see different people with ease, “the surroundings and departments are more diverse. We now live in a period of diversity and pluralism.” He warned, though, that if not managed properly, this reality can cause “distraction, confusion, complexity, and uncertainty.”

To make sense of this multiplicity of cultures, Bishop Alarcon reminded that there is one common culture. “There is only one culture: the culture of man. All the more we see that we need to get in touch with our common humanity due to Industry 4.0.”

With this in mind, the emphasis on interdisciplinarity and interdependence was given, for “No single unit, department, and individual can fulfill the task of the university. We must exert effort to meet the other, encourage one another, but also beg the Holy Spirit to stir in us the spirit of unity, cooperation, respect, and solidarity, and the Spirit of synodality.”

To kneel

Recalling his own experiences as a seminarian, when he would witness members of the community praying in the Chapel, Bishop Alarcon said: “I would admire the professors, students, priests who would spend time in the Chapel. I did not know their IQ, but each was someone who was humble enough to kneel before the Truth.”

This humility, Bishop Alarcon stressed, is necessary especially when as one acquires more and more knowledge. As one becomes more knowledgeable, though, we recognize how diverse problems and challenges can be. “In humility, we must accept that no single effort solves every single problem. May the disciplines be pathways of understanding ourselves and the world, but also in discerning God.”

Furthermore, the new Thomasian bishop expressed hope that we will not quit in the search for answers and for meaning. “The men and women of our time, as in the past, they are in search for meaning. We can respond to this need. Our Christian inspiration allows us to include the moral and spiritual dimensions in our research. We cannot avoid truth. We cannot live in doubt, uncertainty, and deceit. If we do so, we will live in fear and anxiety.”

A Thomasian comes home

Bishop Alarcon was ordained priest in 1996 and earned his licentiate and master’s degrees in theology from the University of Santo Tomas. “I had no second thoughts because I am very grateful to this venerable institution which has nurtured my mind and heart during my stay in Central Seminary 25 years ago.”

He likewise earned a licentiate in Church History from the Gregorian University in Rome. He was once Director of Naga Parochial School and was also Director of the Commission on Evangelization and the Stewardship Program of the Archdiocese of Caceres, where he was secretary of former Caceres Archbishop and first Filipino Rector of UST, Most Rev. Leonardo Z. Legaspi, O.P., D.D.