Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Graduation Address at Catholic Theological Union, 2006

NB: Đây là bài thuyết trình của tôi trong buổi ra trường tại Trường Thần Học Liên Dòng ở thành phố Chicago, USA tháng 5, năm 2006.

Distinguished guests, professors, family, friends, and fellow graduates, tonight’s event marks the conclusion of an admirable intellectual and spiritual undertaking by all of us. Perhaps in the imagination of esoteric minds, it is difficult to determine whether this ceremony symbolizes the end, the beginning, the end of a beginning, or even the beginning of an end. However, I would like to relate a story that I learned as I began my education in the first grade to make meaning out of something that looks like the end of a long journey and the beginning of perhaps an even longer one.

This is a legend that all Vietnamese first graders learn in school. In around 250 BC, Vietnam was being attacked by foreign invaders. So the king sent messengers everywhere to find someone who could drive the invaders out.

In the village of Phu Dong lived a couple, who had been married for a long time but had no children. One morning, on the way to the rice paddy, the woman saw an unusually large footprint in the soil. Surprised, she put her foot on it. Soon after this she got pregnant and later gave birth to a boy, whom they named Giong. Three years had passed, but he could neither sit up, nor could he say a word.

One day, the king's messenger came to Phu Dong. Hearing the messenger, Giong suddenly sat up and told his parents to invite the messenger in. Giong asked the messenger to tell the king that he needed an iron horse, armor and an iron rod to fight the invaders.

So the king gathered all the blacksmiths in the country together. The villagers brought everything that was iron. And they all worked day and night to make a huge iron horse, a large armor and a long iron rod.

In the meantime Giong said he was hungry and wanted to eat. So his parents brought him all the rice they had. But it didn’t last. The boy ate and ate and ate. As he ate, he began to grow more and more. The villagers had to bring their rice to him, and cooked day and night to feed the boy.

When the iron horse, the armor and the rod were finished, Giong stretched his arms, stood up, and transformed into a giant. He put on the armor, seized the rod, and quickly mounted the iron horse. The horse roared like thunder and breathed fire from its nostrils.

When he saw the enemies, Giong sped forward straight into to the invaders. The fire from the nostrils of the iron horse burned many of them to death. Giong killed the enemies, striking them with his iron rod. When the rod broke, Giong pulled scores of bamboo trees from a nearby forest to fight the enemies.

After defeating the invaders, Giong rode his horse up Socson Mountain, where he removed his armor and disappeared into the heaven. People called him since Thánh Giống, “Thánh” meaning Holy. A temple in his memory can still be found not far from the place where he ascended, and every year there is a festival to honor Giong.

Fellow graduates, tonight, after our names have been called, and the diplomas have been handed out, all of us are ready to embark on the journey to put into action the things we have theorized and debated about from the comfortable seats of our classroom.

Whether we like it or not, the years of being cradled at CTU have come to an end. Countless people have garnered the effort to prepare our horse, armor, and rod. It took the dedication of families and religious communities, superiors and professors, friends and even entire parish communities, to give us our horse and armor. It took the strength of Paul, Peter and John, Aquinas and Bonaventure, Rahner and Ratzinger, and countless others to give us our iron rod. We have been fed and clothed with knowledge, thoughts, traditions, experiences, and emotions of an entire village of grandmothers, farmers, scholars, refugees, immigrant workers, and martyrs.

So we embark on our journey as giants, even if only miniature giants, not through anything we’ve done on our own, but thanks to all that others have done for us. As I remember the story from my childhood, I am reminded of Isaac Newton’s declaration: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” I’d like to think that the giants envisioned by Newton are not only those whose legacies have been safeguarded by the written annals of humanity, but also those whose lives and achievements can only be witnessed by the earth and sky between which they move. Yet their impact upon others was no less profound. I am certain that each of us here can easily recall such figures in our lives if given only seconds to reflect.

And so we march forth, not just tackling the issues and problems of our whim and passions, but confront those things for which we have been prepared and sent. We survived and grew big on the rice of an entire village. So upon crossing the threshold that separates the learning from practice, theory from reality, and what might be from what is, we are responsible for fighting the battles of our martyrs and of our mothers. We fight the battle of scholars who saw a grander vision of how things could be. We fight the battle of farmers who desire nothing more than to till their land. And we fight the battle of refugees who long to find a place to call home. All the while, we are conscious that we are neither the first nor the last to struggle for justice, to preach peace, to proclaim God’s mercy, or even to die for our conviction. And how we engage in our mission is but a measure of all that has gone before us and an indication of what might be after.

What happens when all is done? Returning to the story, we see that our hero Giong galloped up Soc Son Mountain, where he took off his armor and disappeared. He did not come back to Phu Dong Village to obtain his reward, to lead a life of luxury, or to be honored with titles. The last image that anyone saw of this remarkable individual who was fed and armed by the villagers of Phu Dong was his back as he disappeared into the heights of the mountain, leaving behind on the soil only the imprints of the feet of his giant horse.

My fellow graduates, let us set out on our journey to do the things entrusted to us by our people and our God. And when all is done, Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, the God of Ishmael, the God of Ghandhi and the God of all the Asian martyrs. Let us leave behind nothing but distant sounds of our footsteps and the fading traces of our footprints. In the end, all that is left is joy, for how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, proclaiming salvation, and saying to Zion, "Your God is King!"

Thank you and may God bless each and everyone one you!

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