DO YOU HAVE AN ATENEO BLUE EGO?

This homily was delivered at the Mass of the Holy Spirit at the Church of the Gesu.

You may have heard this riddle before…

Suppose you decided to have an intimate little birthday party. You invite exactly four guests: (a) your best friend, (b) a humble Atenean, (c) a poor La Sallite, and (d) a UP student who graduated on time.

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Suddenly the lights go out and when it goes on again, your cake is missing. The million-dollar question is: “Who took your cake?”

The answer, of course, is (a) your best friend–because all the other guests are just figments of your imagination!

While there’s no doubt that the jokes about La Salle and UP are exaggerated stereotypes, I’m not so sure about the humble Atenean. Too many people have made too many similar observations too many times for us to think it’s all just a joke. Granted most of them are kidding, but a few have sounded dead serious. So I wonder: Is the humble Atenean just an imaginary friend?

Ateneans of an older generation were notorious for their so-called “Arrhneo accent”–a brand of English with a distinct twang acquired from their New York Jesuit mentors. It separated our “old boys” from the rest of the world—but not always in a good way. Nowadays we talk about “The Ateneo Way” to express our commitment to excellence in the things we do–as well as our pride in the way we do things. That’s all right when everyone else in the room is a true blue Atenean. But try saying it to a more diverse audience, and you’d better watch out for all the furtive collective eyeball-rolling and eyebrow-raising that’s sure to go around.

On the occasion of this Mass of the Holy Spirit, as we begin a brand new school year here at the Ateneo de Manila, here’s a good question to ask, a question that I think both the new and veteran Ateneans among us will gain much from asking: “Do you have an Ateneo blue ego?”

You heard me right. Not Ateneo blue eagle, but Ateneo blue ego. Not the giant university mascot billboarded on the facade of Loyola Center, not our men’s varsity basketball team—those are certainly good to have. But I’m referring instead to what Ateneans end up growing if they’re not careful just hanging out here on campus: an Ateneo blue ego.

There’s nothing wrong with school pride; it’s a wonderful virtue to celebrate at graduations and sports competitions. But if it’s taken way too seriously–as it sometimes is, one could get carried away and end up carrying it beyond the occasions where it properly belongs. A healthy dose of school pride could morph into a subtle and dangerous sense of self-entitlement based on nothing but one’s diploma.

Maybe it’s the occupational hazard of the magis–that constant striving for excellence that the Jesuits encourage us to engage in ad majorem Dei gloriam (or in English, “for the greater glory of God”). The trouble is that typical of human nature, we sometimes end up replacing God’s glory with our own true blue ego somewhere along the way.

And it’s certainly no help that in this day and age, ego is such a blatantly fashionable and celebrated thing. All you need to do is watch reality TV–or its close relative, politics—to see how it’s the people with the biggest egos who seem to get the loudest laughs and the most rousing applause. It’s the clips and tweets of fast-talking self-glorifying narcissists that go viral.

Today’s Mass of the Holy Spirit is a great time for us to pause and to examine ourselves about our respective Ateneo blue egos because whether we like it or not, it’s absolutely the last thing that’s going to summon the descent of the Holy Spirit.

You see, it was something else that pried the heavens open that day when our Lord emerged out of the Jordan after his baptism. It was that something else—a special endearing quality about Jesus—that managed to coax the Holy Spirit to flutter out of hiding and made the Father break his silence to utter one word: “Beloved.”

That day, standing there between the river and the desert, Jesus basked in the loving gaze of his Father and received an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that would soon lead him to the desert, there to be schooled in preparation for his public ministry.

What was it? What was that special quality that made the heavens buckle at the knees and fall for Jesus?

One thing for sure, it wasn’t any form of ego. On the contrary, it was Jesus’ humility, the humility of a Son of God! Recognized immediately by John the Baptist, Jesus was clearly told that he–of all people–did not require baptism or the forgiveness of sins that the crowds needed. He didn’t have to, but just the same he waded into the river anyway, to make himself low, to become one of us.

When you think about it, in fact, our Lord Jesus didn’t need to be human in the first place too. He could have stayed divine and distant from sinful humanity. He didn’t have to, but just the same he waded into time anyway, to make himself low and to become one of us.

And it doesn’t stop there, as we know. Our Lord didn’t have to die the humbling and humiliating death on the cross, the type of execution reserved by the Romans for their worst criminals. Again, he didn’t have to, but just the same our Lord waded into his enemies’ hands and allowed himself to be taken to his death, to make himself low so that the worst among us would never be able to claim that he wasn’t one of us.

Which brings us to a big idea about humility: Humility is the great bridge that connects us to all of humanity. It is what has connected God to us sinners, and it is what will connect us Ateneans to the people that we are invited to serve with our Ateneo education. What distinguishes a true Atenean, after all, is precisely this connection to neighbor. Without humility, one can’t become the “person for others” that every true Atenean is called to be.

It is Jesus’ exemplary humility that moved the heart of the Father and poured out the Spirit over Jesus. It is the same humility that we need if we want our hearts–and the heavens–torn open for the outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit this new school year year.

So how do we become humble? Humility begins with gratitude and the realization that everything is gift. All that we have, all that we are, our every breath, our every bread—every single one of these is a gift from God. Being here at the Ateneo, the opportunity to learn, the chance to grow in such an environment and to develop our gifts to serve others—these are valuable gifts not deserved and certainly not given to all. And like all gifts, we are invited to make the most of the gift of an Ateneo education so that we can share it with others. We need to nurse it in order to disburse it. The best antidote to our Ateneo blue egos, therefore, is gratitude. Only with this sense that all is gift can we begin to be humble.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, has an unforgettable phrase to describe humility. “Humility,” he writes in the Jesuit Constitutions, “a virtue never sufficiently praised.”

Humility is not only a virtue never sufficiently praised, but also one never sufficiently practiced–not just on our campus, but everywhere in the world. As we begin this brand new school year, with all its hopes and promise of learning new things and meeting new people, let us learn from the humility of our Lord and begin to practice it a little bit more of it today. Let us be grateful for the gift of our Ateneo education and commit ourselves to sharing its fruits with those who most need our help.

And if for whatever reason, if this early, you can already detect it lurking somewhere inside you, no matter how embryonic still, wrench out that Ateneo blue ego and toss it out on to the streets of Gate 3. Don’t be a big ugly Atenean! Be more than an imaginary friend: Be a humble Atenean.

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28 thoughts on “DO YOU HAVE AN ATENEO BLUE EGO?”

  1. This beautifully sums up what I’ve always thought. I have refrained from buying, much less wearing, anything with the Ateneo logo so as not to inflate my Blue Ego. That doesn’t mean I don’t love the school. I do project and volunteer work for Ateneo because I believe in what it stands for, and I love the community. I just have to keep in mind why I’m doing it: it’s for Ateneo, it’s not about me.

  2. Just points to ponder:
    Reality: 4 out of 5 companies prefer hiring applicants from the top 3 schools including Ateneo, DLSU and UP even if the course is not related to the job
    Reality: padrino system is still rampant in philippine society,therefore, by virtue of alumni from same school betters the chances of getting the upper hand in opportunities
    Reality: 9 out of 10 HS/College girls will still prefer an Atenista or LaSallista for a suitor if given a chance to choose among many guys from other schools
    Reality: 10 out of 10 public school students adamantly chooses Ateneo, LaSalle or UP as their choice of school if for some miracle they will be granted free education anywhere they choose to.

  3. Thank you for such an inspiring homily, Fr Johnny Go. You speak so direct and clear, and so much like our Holy Father when he speaks to the youth. How true it is that we should look at Christ’s life when we want to know how to be truly humble. It is a grace, a gift, we need to ask and pray for, which is probably the first step to being humble. It’s not something that we become just through education and upbringing. We become humble by praying to become “another Christ, Christ himself” to others. Anything short of that and our being a man for others is mere vainglory or philanthropy, to paraphrase Pope Benedict XVI. God bless you and thank you for providing me with something so necessary and apt to ponder in my prayer.

  4. Was one of ADMU’s cross-enrolees and felt at home. Even proceeded to Canisius, Buffalo NY and Loyola Chicago for grad studies and more of the same. Now realize could be coz of my ego too LOL There is one everywhere; don’t beat yourselves too much. It’s just time to get over our intellectual conceit and yes, translate it to serve others. Right now, our Mediators’ Forum has other Jesuit products, Nap Rama, Jr., Atty. Kris Ablan and my HS classmate Ma. Aurora Dee, graduate of CEFAM. Amin o Ateneo! haha

  5. Hi fr johnny! This is a very inspiring and uplifting homily; very good reminder of the virtue of humility and gratefulness. Glad to be an atenean and will always be thankful to my parents for sending me to the jesuits schools and to my Jesuit mentors for their formation and values. May the Good Lord continue to bless you and your works. Stephen

  6. I am a 2nd generation Atenean. More than my Ateneo education, it was my Father’s Ateneo spirit that has inspired me to try to live a Christian life.

  7. This homily lacks the HOW. The real meaning of humility is hidden in beautiful words and not translated into the real world. No wonder there is no such thing as a humble Atenean.

  8. An example of this misplaced pride is the audacity of whoever it was that disrespectfully replaced the Mabuhay announcement anthem of the President’s grand entrance & replaced it with the Ateneo Fly High theme.
    As citizens beyond Ateneo, now is this funny or what?

  9. There is a paradox in this homily–i.e. seeing “the” Ateneo education as a special gift that not everyone is entitled to. I have studied in this institution for 16 years and I realized that this messianic perception that we “stand on a hill” and that we have to be “men and women for others” to those outside the hill is One Big Farce! More than any group of persons in the Philippines, these spoiled and sheltered Ateneans need to be schooled by the folks of the outside world!

    So, how do we become humble? We should inculcate in students that they are NOT special because of their Ateneo education. Students should be taught earlier on that disgraceful citizens of the Philippines graduated from this institution, for instance, Mike Arroyo, Renato Corona, Juan Ponce Enrile, Gloria-Macapagal Arroyo, Abigail Binay, and the countless Atenean “hambogs” and “matapobres”. It is only by teaching students that they are not special that they will learn how to be humble. In my fifty plus years of living, I became more comfortable with myself when I hid or denied the fact that I am an Atenean. Being an Atenean is more of a handicap rather than an asset.

    One suggestion to correct the system: the admission committee should lessen their acceptance rates of students of Chinese descent and those coming from wealthy, affluent, and political families. These students only use their education to further oppress the marginalized in our society. If we want to tilt the scales in favor of the oppressed, the Ateneo should have a 50:50 ratio for scholars and paying students.

    Further, the school should not allow luxury or expensive vehicles to enter its premises. Expensive clothes/fashionable clothing should also not be allowed. I have seen how kids today spend more time in choosing which clothes to wear before going to school rather than prepare for class. Having a uniform–just like for majority of all colleges in the Philippines–should also be set in the Ateneo.

    1. You have a point, but there is also something to be said about the “special” gift of the Ateneo education. It’s special not because only a few are entitled to it. The opposite is true: everyone is! But the fact that only a few can avail of it–the way only a minority can benefit from a La Salle or UP education–underlines the special responsibility that goes without.

    2. In my 12 year stay in Ateneo and only on the first step of my 20s, we “standing on a hill” just means we are capable. As simple as that – NOT more capable than others. It’s just that Ateneo /knows/ it’s students can do more because they believe in the education they give to their students. We humble ourselves by being a person for others, because when we simply bask in our education, we begin feeling entitled of it. These “spoiled and sheltered” Ateneas /are/ such people – when we fail to give after what was given to us.

      I would disagree that Ateneans should not feel special because of our education. Heck, each school really has it’s own perks to their respective educational system, but do we glorify ourselves by saying we come from a specific school? No. Rather, we say thanks to the schools we come from by doing the good we can as the school’s alumni because we, literally, grew up in these institutions and that our parents believed in the institution they put us in. Those people you mentioned? Other schools have their own set of people who have gained big names for themselves, but have questionable credibility. Ateneo is no different. And why highlight people like them in your education? There are better people to talk about especially those that aren’t politically related to the young aspiring students. If you’re so ashamed of our school, didn’t you ever think that maybe it’s because you’re using the school’s name the wrong way? Does it bother you that people use stereotypes against us? Have you put yourself low enough to be bothered by mere stereotypes? Be proud of where you come from, whatever school it is, whatever job you tried, because no one but you has seen every moment of your life fighting through all these hurdles and emerging victorious in one way or another, one after the other.

      It’s 2016 and you’re hand picking races and judging social classes still. It’s no one’s fault that they were born of that descent, that they’re in this working class and not that, that they can afford something and buy it, that they speak in one way and not the other, that they wear a set of clothes you wouldn’t, that they love others differently. Why oppress a certain class – deprive them of an education of a specific school they want and think is best for their children? It’s not their fault for doing such things and if you’re going to tell me they should be doing school work first, then yes, I would agree, but then maybe the problem there then is in the children’s upbringing and not in being humble per se. It’s our job as older people to guide them AS MUCH AS letting them enjoy themselves, because having rules that limit your self expression is definitely NOT being humble.

      After reading your comment, it’s sad to see that you have lost your Atenean Way and that you’re even ashamed of it. I didn’t choose Ateneo for college and I do hear about our stereotypes being used in jest or simply against me, but that doesn’t stop me from showing the world that my school, my literal childhood, did not help in molding who I am now. You may say that I may be young and foolish, but isn’t it great to be foolish and still be able to dream big. I do hope you find yourself again – the one that loved being in our school.

      And everything I said about Ateneo can be said about any other school. In fact, replace all of my mentioning of Ateneo with your own school and this would sound just as great. Love your school. Love your origins. Just remember that we make the name for our school, not the other way around, so do this well.

    3. I like the idea of a 50:50 ratio for paying students and scholars now the question is who will pay for the scholars? I hope as an alumni you also contribute to make it happen.

  10. Jolo said : “Well, an Atenean by heart is to find God in all things. and to be compassionate at all times”… And yeah! I agree of his line :)

  11. What a timely homily, Fr. J. Considering what our present society values and emphasizes, it is good to be reminded about a virtue that we often forget (or should it be “I often forget”)…humility.
    AMDG.

  12. Thank you, Fr Johnny
    This is a very enlightening and inspiring homily.
    Definitely something to reflect on and live by
    One Big Fight.
    Marijo

    1. It is not only an eye opener for me but a great realization how I grew to be selfish than selfless. I just realized that I never did practice what Ateneo has taught me to be ” Men for others!”because I was engulf with the ways of the world and blinded by pride.

      Thank you, Fr. Johnny because I believe it is not too late to be the humble Atenean that I should have been.

  13. Humility

    by Merry Cardinal del Val, secretary of state to Pope Saint Pius X
    from the prayer book for Jesuits, 1963

    O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

    From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, O Jesus.
    From the desire of being loved, Deliver me, O Jesus.
    From the desire of being extolled, Deliver me, O Jesus.
    From the desire of being honored, Deliver me, O Jesus.
    From the desire of being praised, Deliver me, O Jesus.
    From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver me, O Jesus.
    From the desire of being consulted, Deliver me, O Jesus.
    From the desire of being approved, Deliver me, O Jesus.
    From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, O Jesus.
    From the fear of being despised, Deliver me, O Jesus.
    From the fear of suffering rebukes, Deliver me, O Jesus.
    From the fear of being calumniated, Deliver me, O Jesus.
    From the fear of being forgotten, Deliver me, O Jesus.
    From the fear of being ridiculed, Deliver me, O Jesus.
    From the fear of being wronged, Deliver me, O Jesus.
    From the fear of being suspected, Deliver me, O Jesus.

    That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
    That others may be esteemed more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
    That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease,
    Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
    That others may be chosen and I set aside, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
    That others may be praised and I go unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
    That others may be preferred to me in everything, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
    That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
    Charity
    “Charity is patient, is kind; charity does not envy, is not pretentious, is not puffed up, is not ambitious, is not self-seeking, is not provoked; thinks no evil, does not rejoice over wickedness, but rejoices with the truth, bears with all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
    To have Charity is to love God above all things for Himself and be ready to renounce all created things rather than offend Him by serious sin.
    ( Matt. 22:36-40)

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