Last Sunday after lunch with my wife in a Chinese restaurant in Springfield, Virginia we were heading to the door when someone dining with a group stood up and said, "Oh here is a guy from Ateneo." I asked, "How did you know?" and he replied, "From your Ateneo jacket." There were three Ateneans at that table and good conversation ensued about the Ateneo, when we were there, whether in grade school, high school, college, or graduate school, and what degrees we earned there, which Jesuit and lay teachers we had and which other Ateneans we knew, etc.
It is amazing how something one wears can not only identify you but interest others to pause and talk to you because you have something in common, in this case, the school we had attended. I think there is something in a sense of belonging that makes one instinctively do this, especially if they find themselves in another country. Ordinarily, if all were at home, a simple hello or short conversation was all that would happen. But it is another thing if all find themselves in a foreign land where the diversity of cultures makes one happy when finding one's own.
But going back to the way my fellow Ateneo alumni recognized me, I am reminded we are to be careful how we behave even when we expect we are just one among the crowd and no one knows you and you can go about moving and doing what you want to do in your perceived anonymity.
I was also reminded of the story about St. Francis of Assisi who asked a brother in his community to accompany him around town to preach. When they returned to their house, the brother asked: "Brother Francis, I thought you told me we were going to preach in town?" Francis replied: "Yes, we just did. We just did not use words this time." I interpret this in this way: by walking where there were people they were already preaching even if they did not speak, that by showing themselves as people who have embraced a life of poverty for the Lord and aspiring for holiness, they were becoming occasions of people wanting to live good lives as well.
My wearing of the Ateneo jacket revealed my identity as an Ateneo alumnus. Similarly, by virtue of our Baptism, our identity has been as adopted children of God and members of the Church. We were clothed in a baptismal garment which we were expected to preserve unsullied in our lives. As Christians we are expected to act in accordance with the Faith that we have professed through our parents and godparents in Baptism, that is, to act as a prophet proclaiming God's Word, as a priest who can participate in offering Jesus at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and as a king who can manage his life and influence people around him to be loyal to Christ, the King.
But even considering only the ideals of the school Ateneo and what it stands for and what it expects its graduates to be, there is already a lot to be said there. The Ateneo is a school which aims to form men and women to sharpen their intellectual faculty: intense searching for truth and the ability to spread it in the world they will encounter in their lives. But most important of all, the Ateneo aims to instill in its students and graduates the mission to serve their fellowmen, that is, to be men and women for others. To lead in service of their community, to be leaders in sectors of society they are to find themselves in. To be "Lux in Domino." (Light in the Lord)
I never thought my wearing a simple jacket would cause the incident in that Virginia restaurant to happen. I do like wearing that jacket, which has been with me for about seventeen years now. It still looks good but there is something to mend in the lining on the shoulders. My wife tells me why not just order a new one from Ateneo online? I do not think that is necessary. This one is still good and serves its purpose of keeping me warm when I go out in the 50 degree temperature in spring. Like I do not need another Baptism, I do not need another one of the same jacket. What I need to do is live the mission of my Baptism, and as an Atenean the values my school has tried to instill in me.
My experience yesterday in Springfield was something that brightened my day in early spring. My Ateneo jacket taught me something about what it means to treasure an identity. My identity as an Atenean is important to me but the identity that is way more important to me is that of being a child of God, a creature made in His image and likeness, and intensely desired by Him to share in His life forever !#