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Fr. Jett Villarin, President of the Ateneo de Manila University, is the lead celebrant in this year's Baccalaureate Mass.

‘You are shepherds first,’ Fr. Jett reminds graduates

Stressing that lawyering is not a mere profession, but rather a vocation, Fr. Jose Ramon “Jett” T. Villarin, S.J., President of the Ateneo de Manila University, challenged the new graduates of the Ateneo Law School (ALS) to be shepherds of the flock and not to be scared of the wolves and predators that plague the legal profession.

Fr. Jett delivered his message before 151 Juris Doctor (J.D.) and two Masters of Law (LL.M.) graduates in his homily during the Baccalaureate Mass held on April 25, 2015 at the St. Thomas More Chapel of the Ateneo Professional Schools Building. The mass was also concelebrated by Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J., Dean Emeritus of ALS; Fr. Artemio N. Ferrer, S.J., ALS faculty member; Fr. Lito A. Mangulabnan, S.J., ALS chaplain; and Fr. Ismael Jose V. Chan-Gonzaga, S.J., incoming ALS senior. April 26, the fourth Sunday of Easter, also happens to be Good Shepherd Sunday and Vocations Sunday.

“The truth is: you are more than your craft, your profession. Your becoming lawyers is a calling, a vocation. That means there is always some shepherding, some leading that you do in your work as lawyers,” Villarin posited.

“Believe me, the Ateneo would just as well shut down if we did not take to heart what we are doing here. And what, you might ask, are we doing here? We are forming you not to become mere technicians of the law who can just as easily reengineer the truth to suit your ego or your client. We are not forming you to become wizards of the law just so you can pass the bar. But please do,” he jested, drawing laughter from the crowd.

“The Ateneo is all about forming you to see who you are through the lens of your profession yes, but also through the optic of your humanity, your calling, your vocation. Your destiny and mission, should you decide to accept it, is not to become mere hires who at the sight of wolves, would just leave their flock to be devoured by ravens and predators. Your flock is not just your family, not just those who are in your charge, not only those who are dear to you. Your flock includes those who are dear to the Good Shepherd—those who live at the margins, the peripheries, the poor, those who have less in law and justice,” Villarin said. “Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to protect the common good. Not just some narrow and private good, that undermines the good of the community, the good of the flock.”

Explaining the implication of lawyering as a vocation, he said “The truth is, my dear Ateneans,  you are a child of God who happens to be a lawyer, not a lawyer who happens to be a child of God. You are a shepherd first who happens to be a lawyer; not a lawyer first and shepherd second. That is the meaning of your vocation as a shepherd-lawyer.”

Fr. Jett then posed a double dare to the graduates. “First of all, I dare you, lawyers that you are, to refute the truth of who you are. To invalidate the truth of God and the goodness of the Good Shepherd. You can study and learn case after case about those who have chosen to renounce or to simply set aside their rootedness in God. In your refutation, you can use as basis those who have chosen to become mercenary lawyers for hire, those who have allied themselves with wolves who prey on the weak, who take advantage of the vulnerable. You can examine the lives of those who have chosen to live safely on the fence lines, in apathy and willful disengagement, and see for yourselves what happens when you defy the truth of who you are as God sees you, when you deny what those who love you see in you.

The second dare is less negative: I challenge you to open your mind and your heart to the reality and presence and love of God. I know, I know. You’ve been schooled to look at the evidence. And the evidence of evil can be more compelling than the presence of love, which appears at times to be more evanescent than enduring. My advice to you in all this: remain open to the essential openness and goodness of life, the possibility of hope that rises with every heroic and holy desire. Don’t let the wolves get to you. Don’t let the dark side scare you or turn you into some jaded soul you are not meant to be. If there is anything that the risen joy of Easter tells us, it is this: wolves may stalk and lure and terrorize all they can, but love never leaves, love defends, love stays with the flock, love suffers and dies and rises. Love endures,” he continued.”

When the going gets tough, Villarin reminded the graduates to remember their roots as Ateneans. “Come back to the Ateneo every so often, especially when the world filled with wolves is too much for you. Come back to the Ateneo to rediscover the truth of who you are. You are not wolves, you are not mere mercenaries for hire. You are a child of God. You belong to the fold of the Good Shepherd, who never leaves you, who knows you by name, and who keeps calling you to become shepherds yourselves to those He entrusts to your care and protection and love.”

Dean Candelaria’s message

Right before the final blessing, Dean Sedfrey M. Candelaria also delivered his congratulatory message to Batch 2015, the first ALS batch to be under his complete tutelage since he assumed the deanship in November 2011.

Addressing the concerns regarding the dismal performance of the Ateneo in the previous Bar examinations, Candelaria said that he, together with the ALS administrators and faculty, share in the “pain and anguish” of the recent Bar results. As such, he requested the new graduates “to remain solid and steadfast with one another,” together with the additional 100 ALS alumni who will retake the examinations this coming November.

He shared some tidbits from the recent meeting of the Philippine law school deans with Supreme Court Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Chairperson of the 2015 Bar examinations, last Thursday, April 23. It was revealed that this year’s test will be purely in essay format. The multiple choice questions (MCQ) part, which has been introduced in 2011, has been entirely dispensed with. Candelaria noted that Justice Leonardo-de Castro had emphasized three points for the coming Bar exams: (1) fundamental principles; (2) mastery of the code; and (3) recent jurisprudence.

The 69th Commencement Exercises of the ALS will be held tomorrow at the Meralco Theater in Ortigas Center at 4:00 P.M.  Aside from the actual graduation ceremony,  there will also be a tribute to Fr. Bernas during tomorrow’s event. As such, Dean Candelaria’s final challenge to the graduates: “Yours is the task to carry his (Fr. Bernas) torch.” P

A special tribute to Fr. Joaquin Bernas will form part of the 69th Commencement Exercises tomorrow, April 26.

A special tribute to Fr. Joaquin Bernas will form part of the 69th Commencement Exercises tomorrow, April 26.

Dean Sedfrey Candelaria congratulates the first ALS batch under his complete tutelage since he assumed the deanship in November 2011.

Dean Sedfrey Candelaria congratulates the first ALS batch under his complete tutelage since he assumed the deanship in November 2011.

ALS Batch 2015 during the Baccalaureate Mass. Photos by Carlo Agdamag

ALS Batch 2015 during the Baccalaureate Mass. Photos by Carlo Agdamag

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