30TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: IN GOD’S LOVE, WE LIVE AND MOVE AND HAVE OUR BEING

St Augustine, in his homily on the First Epistle of John, remarked,

“Love – and do what you like.”[1]

St. Augustine’s tenet expresses the theme of the readings of today’s 30th Sunday in ordinary time. Love is the very core of Christian life and indeed of all human living. To love is not just a command but more a way of life which is patterned to God’s way of life.

In the gospel, once again, Jesus was tested by scholars and Pharisees. The question they put forward to Jesus is what is the greatest of commandments. This seemed to be a trivial question but we need to take note that the Torah (the Law which is the first five books of the Hebrew Bible – Old Testament) contains 613 laws that a faithful Jew should observe. Thus, the question of the scholar can be rephrased as: “We have so many laws. But of these laws, which is the most important?” Jesus response also seemed to reiterate the pretty obvious taking his answer from the ubiquitous Jewish prayer called the Shema (“Hear!”) which every faithful Jew recite every morning and night since ancient times. It is named after the first word of Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which begins,

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. Therefore, you shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”

Jesus then goes beyond the question by quoting what he calls “the second,” which comes from another book of the Law, Leviticus 19:18:

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” .

There is more than meets the eye in this seemingly ordinary exchange between the Pharisees and Jesus. Jesus is trying to make three remarkable points in his response.

First, Jesus’ response was an indirect rebuke to the Pharisees and scholars of the law’s penchant for the minor details of the Jewish hundreds of laws. By reminding them about love as the most important commandment, Jesus is trying to say to them that you are so concerned about the letter of the law but many times you miss the ordinary yet most important law of all—love of God and neighbor. You recite the Shema everyday but in reality you do not practice it. Jesus, therefore, exposes the Pharisees’ narrow-minded and hypocritical adherence to the letter of the law.

Secondly, Jesus expanded the Shema—love of God into love of neighbor and self. To love God is to love our neighbor as ourselves and vice-versa. The love of God cannot be separated from the love of neighbor and self and vice-versa. This is best explained by St. John in his first letter when he said:

“Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (I John 4: 20).

Thirdly, Jesus’ response shows that love is much more than a commandment. To love God and our neighbor are not really commands. For true love is free and spontaneous. Jesus is saying that love is the whole new way of life which a covenant with God requires.

Today’s gospel touches on a lot about our everyday living of the faith. Many times we have so many hangups about so many unimportant details of the laws and commandments of the church that we forget the most important law—love. What happens is law trumps love. We tend to focus more on the law side of the faith rather than on the way of life of the faith which demands radical transformation of our lives.

To see faith more as an obligation and as a set of laws is convenient to many Catholics. Once we fulfilled the obligations and laws we go on with our lives thinking that we have fulfilled our faith. Faith as an obligation or set of commandments sees faith merely as an external and superficial act. It neither touches nor demands meaningful changes in our lives. But even if we have scrupulously followed every law there is, isn’t it that deep inside us we long for a more meaningful living of the faith. Deep in our heart we long for that true and meaningful relationship with God and others.

To be a Christian is not just an obligation or adhering to a set of laws. Essentially, to be a Christian is to live according to the life of God—a live of love. The creation story tells us that we are created in the image and likeness of God. We are created in the love of God which is the life of God. The commandment of love comes from nowhere else other than from God because God is love. When we say God is love, it does not only mean that God loves us but God within Godself is love. God has lived a life of love before loving us in the life amongst themselves in the divine trinity. Each of the person in the Trinity is so focused on the other that one person forgets everything about one’s self.

There is so much focus in recent years about the expression God is love to God loves me without condition. God loves me for whoever I am. This indeed truly reflects God’s love for each one of us. However, we will not fully comprehend the meaning of this expression if we only focus on God’s love for me but fail to appreciate the fact that God has first practiced and lived the love that God has for me. God is love is also an invitation for you and me to participate and live in God’s love from which all of us were created.

Love from the perspective of Trinitarian love goes way beyond the common notion of love as emotional and romantic love. Love is a commitment, an action, a way of life. This kind of love is illustrated for us by the First Reading from the book of Exodus which involves treating every single person especially the most abandoned and the least in society with deep respect, with justice, with compassion.

Thus says the LORD:

“You shall not molest or oppress an alien,
for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.
You shall not wrong any widow or orphan…

“If you lend money to one of your poor neighbors among my people,
you shall not act like an extortioner toward him
by demanding interest from him.
If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge,
you shall return it to him before sunset;
for this cloak of his is the only covering he has for his body.
What else has he to sleep in?
If he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate.”

There is a line from the Preface VI for Sundays in Ordinary Time which says “For in you we live and move and have our being.” This is taken from the Book of Acts, where St. Paul quotes the Stoic philosopher, Epimenides in Act17: 28 when he says ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’  This line can be rephrased in the light of our readings for today as ‘in the love of God we live and move and have our being.’ In essence, we all come from God who is love and we become fully human and fully alive if we live and move daily in God’s love.

May God’s love be with you.


[1] St. Augustine, “Homily 7 on the First Epistle of John,” New Advent. Accessed 28/10/2017 at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/170207.htm

St. John Paul II: First and Only Pope who visited Baclaran

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Today, the Catholic church worldwide celebrates the feast of St. John Paul II.

St. John Paul II when he was pope visited the Baclaran shrine on February 17, 1981. But before he became a pope, St. John Paul II visited the shrine on February 1973. It was a brief stopover, when he was still Kraków Archbishop Karol Józef Cardinal Wojtyla, on his way to Australia to attend the International Eucharistic congress. Although, it was an unofficial one, he was able to celebrate the Eucharist with thousands of devotees in attendance even if it was already late in the evening. The affection of the thousands of devotees to OMPH caught his admiration and created a lasting impression upon him. He mentioned this on his visit to the shrine as Pope. 

I bless the providence of God that has brought me back to Manila, back to this Sanctuary of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, where I once celebrated Mass. I bless the providence of God that has brought me to you, and you to me.

When he became Pope and went to the Philippines on a pastoral visit, Baclaran shrine was his first stop straight from the airport.  His visit to the shrine was held to address the women religious of the Philippines.

Here’s an excerpt from the Chronicles of the Baclaran Community describing that great event:.

Feb 17th, 1981. The great day had come at last. The Lipa Carmelites had arrived the night before and asked permission to stay in the church all night to make sure that they got a good position. The Redemptoristines slept in the house of Mrs. Flor Duran in Pasay and came here before 5.a.m.only to find the church packed with more than four thousand nuns. Our collegians acted as ushers. Since it was an address for Women Religious they were the only ones allowed into the Church. The famous Mother Teresa arrived with a group of about 80 of her sisters. They all had tickets except her. One of the ushers stopped her and when one of her sisters said “But that is Mother Teresa”. The usher replied “Who is Mother Teresa? No one gets in without a ticket”.  (She did get in eventually). The Pope arrived about 9.00 a.m. He entered through the front gate in a beautifully decorated motor float and passed up our front drive, greeting and blessing the people as he came. The vice Provincial read a short address of welcome. Before the Pope’s address he referred to his former visit to Baclaran and his Mass at the high altar. At the end he read a beautiful prayer to the Mother of Perpetual Help, consecrating to her and placing under Her mantle his apostolic tour of the Far East. He then presented the Vice Provincial with a symbolic Candle that came as a gift from St. Mary Major’s in Rome.

The Pope blessed all the Sisters, especially the sick ones who were in the front. It was reported later, though it could not be confirmed by us, that one wheel chair case was actually cured by the Pope’s blessing. The Pope then went up the spiral staircase and passed along the gallery where the Redemptorist confreres and their friends were. The Pope shook hands with each one and when he came to an aspirant with a crutch (now Fr. Caloy Ronquillo) he embraced him. He paused at the front of the Convento on the azotea to address and bless the immense crowd in the parking area and the streets beyond.

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Then he insisted on going to the refectory where he had been entertained eight years before. He even remembered where he had sat. He sat down again and took some refreshments and chatted.

From the refectory he went to the float through the front door. The exit route was the same as the entrance. On the way he stooped down twice to take a small child in his arms to the great delight of the crowd. The Cardinal Secretary of State was found strolling happily around in the garden near the library. He had somehow missed his car and didn’t know that the Pope had already gone. The Community were about to drive him to the Cathedral when Msg. Woods arrived and rescued him.

On the façade of the shrine there is a plaque commemorating the two visits of the saint quoting the saint’s prayer to OMPH on his visit of the shrine in 1981:

Be ready to intercede with every form of help for each human heart and all the peoples … especially for those who have heavy ordeals in life due to suffering, poverty and every form of afflictions… Mother of Perpetual Help, accept this humble offering and place it in the Heart of Your Son.

Fr. Joe English, Redemptorist Missionary who Led the First Novena at the Shrine

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The Baclaran shrine remembers Fr. Joe English, a missionary and minister of the shrine on his 23rd year of passing over to eternal life today.

Father Leo James English, C.Ss.R. is credited with leading the inauguration of the novena in Baclaran in June 23, 1948. He is more known, however, as the compiler and editor of two of the first most widely used bilingual dictionaries in the Philippines namely, the English–Tagalog Dictionary (1965) and the Tagalog–English Dictionary (1986).

Fr. English was an Australian Redemptorist who was born in Melbourne on the 8th, July 1907. He was ordained to the priesthood on 10th, March 1935 and was assigned to the Philippines in 1936 arriving on December 5th. He had been assigned to Lipa City and went there almost immediately. He soon had a working knowledge of the language and joined the Missions in the Lipa Archdiocese. He remained in Lipa until the Japanese occupation, when all the Australian priests and Religious were called to Manila and eventually found themselves in the concentration camp in Los Banos. While interned by the Japanese occupation forces at Los Baňos, Father English started compiling an English-Tagalog dictionary largely in response to a need which he had long felt for a thorough work of this nature.

After the war and a short break in Australia he returned to the Philippines and was stationed in Baclaran until 1950 when he was appointed Superior of the Redemptorist community in Lipa City. During this time he continued to work on the Missions but the dictionary, that he had dreamed of, was never far from his mind. So he continued his work on the dictionary. In the final stages, he secured the assistance of Dr. Jose Villa Panganiban, Director of the Institute of National Language, and Dr. Rufino Alejandro, then Assistant Director of the Institute, as well as many other Filipino friends. It was completed in 1965. When it was published in 1965 he then began the formidable task of producing a  Tagalog -English Dictionary.

The English–Tagalog Dictionary (1965) was published by the Australian Government, and given to the Filipino people as a gift of friendship. In his preface the honorable Paul Hasluck, M.P. Minister of State for External Affairs of the Commonwealth of Australia said:  Australians value very highly their friendly and sympathetic relations with the Philippines.

Fr. English’s dictionary was primarily a fruit of his missionary endeavors in the Philippines. Right at the beginning of his missionary assignment in the Philippines he committed to learning Tagalog. He understood fully well that to become a good missionary, learning the local language is a must. While on mission, he would gather every new Tagalog words. He also shared the words he collected to help his fellow Redemptorist missionaries in learning the language. After many years of going out in the mission and at the same time gathering new Tagalog words, he was able to gather several thousand Tagalog words to put into a dictionary. His efforts was supplemented by a scholarly method. Just like a linguistic anthropologist, he spent time working with language. His work was recognized by the Australian government that it agreed to partly finance it.

Near the end of 1973, he was transferred to Baclaran and from then on spent most of his time working on the second Dictionary. We have to remember that he had no access to a computer in those days and everything had to be typed, corrected and then re-typed. His main assistant was Teresita Castillo who faithfully typed all the manuscripts many times as they were corrected for typographical errors, inaccuracies in translation and accentuation. The second Dictionary was published in 1986.

The dual dictionaries of Fr. English pioneered the launching of many bilingual dictionaries and thesauruses in the Philippines. Fr. English’s dictionaries had been influential in the development and propagation of the Filipino language in the Philippines and abroad.

Until the day he died, he still worked each day looking for ways to improve his knowledge of Tagalog and improving the dictionaries if ever there should be a new revised edition. He died on the 19th, October, 1997 in Baclaran. He was 90 years of age and had spent 60 years in the Philippines. He did many other things during his long life but he will always be remembered as the Priest who wrote the Dictionary.

John Maguire, C.Ss.R.

(This article is an excerpt from the book National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Tips, Trivia and Tribute by John Maguire, Joey Echano, et. al., soon to be published)

29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: GIVE UNTO GOD ALL THAT BELONGS TO GOD

Every now and then in the shrine, we get reactions from some people when our homilies touched on social issues. Some react by saying that they went to the shrine to seek spiritual solace and peace, not to be disturbed by the ugly reality of the country or the world. Some say they came to the shrine to worship, not to become socially aware. Sometimes they invoked the legal concept of separation between church and state, misinterpreting it to mean that the church should not get involved with social issues because it is the domain of the state only (1). They say that the church’s only domain is the spiritual and religious like sacraments, prayers, Bible and doctrines. Sometimes they even quote today’s gospel text:

“Give unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Donald Senior, a prominent Biblical scholar, argues that interpreting this text as a basis for separation between church and state is taking the text too far. In short, it is a misinterpretation of the text. Furthermore, Jesus was regarded as a prophet, and prophets of Israel were always deeply involved in challenging kings, principalities and powers, and the political order, in the name of the higher authority of God. Jesus began his ministry by identifying himself with the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives…to let the oppressed go free.”

Like Christ, an essential part of our Christian faith is to be a prophet denouncing evil and corrupt ways even if this involves the government and other worldly powers.

But let us go back to the beginning of the gospel text. The pharisees and the Herodians (an unholy alliance) put forward the question to Jesus:

“Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”

By challenging Jesus on taxes, they hoped to alienate him either from the masses of oppressed Jewish people or from the Roman authorities. It was a case of “damn if you do, damn if you don’t.” If he said yes, he would look like an apologist for Rome in the eyes of the Jewish nationalists. If he said no he would make himself subject to arrest for violation of Roman law.

But Jesus saw the trap and he was not to be deceived to fall into their trap. Knowing their malice, Jesus said,

“Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?”

And Jesus gave a brilliant answer that turned the question in his favor. Jesus asked for a coin. To understand the significance of this request by Jesus, we need to retrieve Israel’s cultural context. When Jesus asked for the coin (and one is promptly produced), he exposed the hypocrisy of his questioners. For any Jew who was sensitive to the demands of the Mosaic Law would not be carrying a coin embossed with the image of an emperor, pictured as divine. For Jews, there is no power who has authority over them other than God. Therefore, any earthly power who tries to dominate, let alone tax on them, especially a foreign power, should not be followed.

Second, Jesus’ question about whose “image” the coin carries contains an allusion that most of us miss. If an image on something indicates authority and ownership, and Caesar’s image on the coin implies the dominion of the empire, then what is it that bears God’s image, indicating the ownership and dominion of God? Anyone, especially any Jew, knew that human beings are created in the image of God.

“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Jesus’ statement was not just a clever dodge but a confrontation. By these words, Jesus makes it crystal clear that Caesar is not God, and that what’s really important are those things that are God’s, not some coins of foreign oppressors. The world is not divided between Caesar and God. All creation is, first of all, under God’s sovereignty, especially human beings, who as God’s image have a special role in stewarding the goods of creation. All world belongs to God. We are mere stewards or participants in God’s creation.

God, therefore, can use any power for God’s purposes even outside of God’s own people. In the first reading, Isaiah presents the voice of God referring to another head of empire, Cyrus the Great, as his “anointed one.” This pagan emperor of the Persians earns that title because he, albeit unknowingly, has become God’s instrument in the restoration of the exiled Judeans to their homeland. As in the action and words of Jesus in the Gospel, God’s role as Creator of all is very much in the picture.

Indeed, kings, emperors, presidents come and go, dynasties and ideologies rise and fall, but none of them remain till the end. The world belongs to no one, only to God.

Today, Catholic churches all over the world celebrate Mission Sunday. One of the common misunderstanding of Christian life is being one-dimensional. Being Catholic is only in the realm of spiritual and religious. Being Catholic is merely going to church, receiving the sacraments and obeying the ten commandments. If you have fulfilled these, then you have fulfilled your faith as an obligation. Thus, many of us Catholics are “Sunday Catholic,” giving to God maybe an hour per week at Mass and then getting on with life: work, food, television, cars, facebook, vices and money.

In his mission message, Pope Francis declares that mission is at the heart of the Christian faith. We are not just Catholics for one hour inside the church on Sundays but we are Catholics sent on a mission throughout the week to the whole world to share the good news of Jesus Christ. As Catholics sent on mission we are called to saturate the whole world with the gospel values of love, peace, mercy and justice.

In saturating the world with God’s values, there comes a time that what we owe to God can put us in conflict with the civil authority, for example, extra-judicial killing, policy decisions concerning poverty and environment, and conscientious objection to war. Of course we need to obey the laws of the land and respect civilian authority. But in these cases, will it be Caesar or God that we serve?


(1) The 1987 Constitution of the Philippines declares: The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable. (Article II, Section 6), and, No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights. (Article III, Section 5)

October 16: Feast of St. Gerard Majella, Saint of Mothers

Today, October 16th is a special day for the shrine as we celebrate the feast of St. Gerard Majella. All masses today will remember the life and example of St. Gerard. There will also be a distribution of free medals of St. Gerard as well as the blessing of children, mothers and expectant mothers.

St. Gerard was an Italian lay brother of the Redemptorists. He was born in Muro Lucano, Basilicata, Italy in April 6, 1726. Despite being always frail in health, Gerard was very passionate in giving all his time and talents to the poor and in prayer to God.

St. Gerard Majella is the patron saint of pregnant mothers and children. He is popularly known as “the saint of mothers.” Many devotee couples who have not conceived for many years have testified that after they asked the intercession of St. Gerard they were blessed with the gift of a child.

The life of St. Gerard is one of the inspirations for the shrine in establishing the St. Gerard Family Life Ministry. His life and example inspired the Redemptorist community to find ways in responding to the needs and issues that the devotees bring to the shrine regarding their family life. As the shrine has daily confession, many devotees take the opportunity to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation. But there are also times that the devotees share inside the confessional issues and problems in their family like marital infidelity, couple differences, parent-children gap, birth control, abortion, drug addiction, homosexuality, and many others. Because these are serious cases needing more time and attention beyond the confessional, we usually suggest counseling. From this experience, came the need for establishing a counseling center at the shrine. Thus, St. Gerard Family Life Ministry became an extension of Sacrament of Reconciliation thru consultation and counselling.

The shrine formally established St. Gerard Family Life Ministry on Oct 16, 1995, feast of St. Gerard. Through consultation, advisory, and referral services, St. Gerard Family Life Ministry seeks to assist families and individuals in strengthening their family and Christian life. St. Gerard Family Life Ministry offers FREE consultation services: Marriage and Family, Parenting, Human Relationships, Youth, Spirituality, Natural Family Planning, Same Sex Attraction (LGBT) Various Addictions (cyber, gambling, alcoholism, sex, pornography, etc.) Legal Matters, HIV, Migrants and OFWs concerns

Those who avail of the services of the center are church goers, devotees, walk-in clients and referrals from confession, by phone and face to face consultation/counselling. Many devotees who came to the center benefited from the center through the experience of comfort and compassion, healing of broken relationships, healing of broken homes, spiritual nourishment and enhancing of their faith and hope. The ten most common problems devotees bring to the center are:

1) Personal Concerns
2) Marital Problem
3) Family matters
4) Legal matters
5) Man/Woman relationship
6) Job/Financial
7) NFP/Pregnancy
8)Psychological
9) Same Sex Attraction (homosexuality)
10) Spiritual

At the beginning, 5 married couples were selected from volunteers to undergo a series of trainings and seminars to the family life commission archdiocese of manila, Pro-Life Phils, Simbahayan Commission and also which the Diocese of Paranaque. Most of the Mentors are Wounded Healers. Different life experienced stories. In order to enhance their capabilities in counselling, the shrine sponsor their training and study courses about family in UGAT foundation Ateneo de Manila and De la Salle University. There are also practicumers from CEFAM, one priest and one deacon

The  St. Gerard Family Life center also networks closely with the Social Services of the Social Mission of the Shrine, other Family Centers especially those located in Metro Manila, ProLife Phils, of which the center is one of its Pregnancy Crisis Intervention Centers, Government and non-governmental agencies for referral purposes. The center also sponsors from time to time seminars and/or symposia on topics related to family life.

Do you have any problems in the family, marriage, relationships and sexuality? Come to St. Gerard Family Life Center of the shrine and avail of its free services. Here’s the schedule of FREE consultation services of the center:

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For more information please visit our website.

28TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: EVERYONE IS INVITED TO GOD’S TABLE OF PLENTY

Food ready for distribution to feed the hungry during the Covid-19 pandemic at the Baclaran Shrine Perpetual Help Kitchen

The main symbol of our readings for today’s 28th Sunday in ordinary time is feast and banquet. Feast and banquet in the bible is a symbol for what it means to live with God when God finally reigns in our lives. There will be a feast and a banquet of abundant food and drinks in the future when God finally reigns.

A feast and banquet, however, is a significant symbol not just for Christianity but for many cultures and races. The images of wedding and fiesta in the barrios easily come to my mind when I hear of banquet and feast.  Everyone from the barrio is invited to partake of the abundant food and drink in the event.  This experience is a foretaste of the great banquet and feast that God has prepared for us at the end of time. There will be abundant food and drinks and this is open to everyone, whatever race, color, gender, religion and culture we may have belong, as long as we have accepted God’s invitation.

The biblical image of banquet and feast evokes two important characteristic about the Kingdom of God: abundance and inclusiveness. These two are mutually interrelated to each other.  God created an abundance of food that is more than enough for everyone. No one should go hungry and not enjoy the abundant food that comes from God On the other hand, no one has the right to amass the food only for themselves. Food is abundant and available for everyone. There is no place in the banquet of the Lord where food is concentrated only on the few or food is deprived or limited to many. There is no place in the banquet of the Lord where only a few enjoys the prosperity of God’s abundant blessings while many suffer from poverty and deprived of God’s abundant blessings.

Our readings today depict these theme and values. In the First Reading from Isaiah we have a graphic description of the great banquet God prepared for his people.

On this mountain the LORD of hosts
will provide for all peoples
a feast of rich food and choice wines,
juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
the veil that veils all peoples,
the web that is woven over all nations;
he will destroy death forever.
The Lord GOD will wipe away
the tears from every face;
the reproach of his people he will remove
from the whole earth; for the LORD has spoken.

In the Gospel, Jesus described the Kingdom of God as a marriage feast for a king’s son with abundant food and drinks. The king sends out his servants to invite all people to come to the wedding.

“Behold, I have prepared my banquet,
my calves and fattened cattle are killed,
and everything is ready; come to the feast.”’

So God’s banquet is plentiful and God invited everyone. But the problem is few came or no one wants to come. Why? Because one key element that is needed in order to realize God’s future banquet now is change—taking a different path and leaving behind our present attitudes, values and lifestyle.  In the parable we saw that those who did not come were either too involved in their own worldly interests to be bothered. Worst, they seized the king’s messengers, “maltreated them and killed them”.

Or perhaps the ones who refuse the invitation could not believe that the King invited them and a great banquet awaits them. This could not be. Because the banquet that they were used to is a banquet where food and drink is not overflowing and not everyone is invited. The promise of a plentiful banquet open to everyone seemed too preposterous and hard to take.

This is perhaps why the parable ends on a pessimistic note. “For many are called, but few are chosen.” This is a sad fact that although everyone is being called to experience the love of God in their lives, relatively few will take the plunge and really try to taste that experience. The majority take what they regard as the safer path of looking for happiness in making money, building a career, indulging in sexual pleasures, rising in the social scale, surrounding themselves with material abundance…

Banquet and feast is not just an image for God’s future kingdom in Christian tradition but is also the image for the Eucharist. The Eucharist is a banquet and feast that celebrates God’s plentiful blessings and God’s inclusive love for everyone especially the rejects, abandoned, sinners and different. The Eucharist is a counter symbol, even a protest, to the deplorable reality in our society and world today of division, intolerance, discrimination and domination.

God’s abundant banquet that is open to everyone may be hard to take. God’s invitation may be hard to accept as this demands transformation in each of us. But God’s promise is too good to pass.  God proved this with his own life—the life of his own son.

So come now to the Lord’s banquet of plenty!

Fr. John Maguire: Fast in Words and Action

John Maguire

Tomorrow October 11, is the 13th year of Fr. John Maguire’s return to God. Fr. Mags, as we fondly called him, was a friend and a long time missionary at the Baclaran shrine.

Fr. Mags was born on the 19th day of November, 1932 at Leichhardt, New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. His parents were John Thomas Maguire and Ivy May O’Neill. He was professed a Redemptorist on February 11, 1954.

His sister Anne, told Fr. Frank Pidgeon about how Mags practice his faith during his childhood years:[1] 

“John made his First Communion at the age of 6. From that day on, he was never absent from daily Mass. At that early age, he became an altar boy.”

His sister also narrated to Fr. Pidgeon how Mags decided to join the Redemptorists:

“John came down from Sydney to Wagga Wagga with our parents for my profession as a religious sister. Someone had given him a small booklet entitled ‘Van, beloved of God and man’, which told the story of a young American Redemptorist seminarian who died shortly before his ordination. John read that book while he was with us, and afterwards decided to write to the Redemptorists to learn more about their life and work. A short time later, John found himself in the Redemptorist seminary – he was 18 at the time – studying Latin.”

On March 20, 1960, he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop J. O’Collins of the Diocese of Ballarat. A year after his ordination, Fr. Maguire took part in parish mission in New South Wales, Australia until the early months in 1963. In the same year, he was sent to the Philippines. He arrived in Manila on March 3, 1963 at the age of 30.

He spent the best years of his life in the missions and in the shrine ministry in Baclaran. He spent about half of his missionary life in the Philippines in mission and half in the shrine ministry in Baclaran.

The first thing he did upon arriving in the Philippines is to learn Tagalog. He became very fluent in it that he was able to talk in Tagalog very fast. Even in his native English, he doesn’t mince lots of words and could get across his message in simple and few words. More than words he was a man of action. He was a man without pretense, without “airs”; a man who would do you no wrong and who was open to the world.

Besides learning the language, Mags understood the culture and made friends with a lot of people especially from the mission areas. He gave mission mostly in Tagalog provinces especially in Quezon. He also gave missions in Bulacan, Zambales, Nueva Ecija, Cavite as well as many Squatter areas in Manila, like Tondo, Tramo in Pasay, Pandacan, Paranaque, Muntinglupa, Cubao etc.

He had always a genuine interest in people. He was willing to put himself out to anyone who had any special needs especially for the young. He helped a lot of young people in their education and other needs. In recognition of his work for the youth, the shrine named its newly established youth center as John Maguire Youth Center.

Above all, he had a great love for the Baclaran shrine and the many thousands of ordinary people who flock there each Wednesday and Sunday. The wellspring of his love for the shrine and the devotees is his love for Mary. His Rosary was always beside him. He gave flesh and blood to the instruction of Mary to His apostles—“Do whatever (Jesus) tells you.” In generously offering his time and life in service to God and his people in an uncomplaining way, he took his Mother at her word.

Mags was a prolific writer. He was one of the original writer and editor of the shrine’s newsletter, The Icon. In fact, he was the most sought after writer of The Icon with his humorous section—Shrine Trivia and the interesting bit of historical chronicle—Ala-ala ng Kahapon. He also wrote a book, To Give Missions to the Filipino People Wherever they were Needed, an enlightening short book on the missionary endeavors of the Baclaran community since 1932.

In his later years, he was into painting. He painted about the meaning of all he encountered in his lifetime: his hopes and dreams and faith, the suffering of the people he ministered to, their unanswered prayers of yearning and longing for a more beautiful life.

In the last year of his life, Fr. Mags had suffered from both lung and brain cancer. Didoy Fajarda, the man who took care of him during his six months of illness recalled that two days before he died, Father John told him:

“Lahat ng gagawin ay para sa tao, sa mga kabataan, at mga bata. Huwag humingi ng tulong sa iba, tumulong sa kapwa.” (Whatever you do, you do it for others, the people, the youth, the children. Do not seek help from others. Rather give them your help.”

Here two days before he died, John had laid bare his soul. He had revealed with utter clarity the truth about himself. He had made his own the quintessential message of the Gospel: He was prepared, like Jesus, to give his life for others; “to serve and not to be served.[2]

On October 11, 2007, at around 9:20 in the evening in San Juan de Dios Hospital in Manila, Fr. Mags, a true servant of Jesus and Mary, passed over to eternal peace.

Is it allowed to have beer in heaven? I am sure Mags would love one. But more than enjoying beer in heaven, in the presence of a most loving God, he is enjoying the company of ordinary people who have genuinely served God and others.

Joey Echano

(This article is an excerpt from the book National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Tips, Trivia and Tribute by John Maguire, Joey Echano, et. al., soon to be published)


[1] Fr. Frank Pidgeon, CSsR.,  “Fr. John Michael Maguire, CSsR.,” The Icon, November, 2007, Baclaran.

[2] Fr. Frank Pidgeon, CSsR.,  “Fr. John Michael Maguire, CSsR.,” The Icon, November, 2007, Baclaran.

October 7: Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary

rosary_omph

Today the Catholic church celebrates the memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary. Because of this liturgical feast, the Catholic church dedicates the month of October to the Most Holy Rosary. The church instituted this feast to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary in gratitude for the protection that she gives the Church in answer to the praying of the Rosary by the faithful.

The shrine observes the whole month of October as Rosary month. During the whole month, the rosary is recited daily (except Wednesday and Sunday) by various church groups at the shrine. Within the rosary, there is a meditation on the life of Mary especially about the lessons that we can derive from her life for us today.

The Rosary is one of the most popular prayer devotion of Catholics. Legend tells us that the Rosary as a form of prayer was given to St. Dominic (1170-1221) by Mary, the Mother of Our Lord. In the Middle Ages, it became a substitute for the Divine Office for the lay monks and devout lay persons who did not know how to read. Instead of the 150 psalms, they would pray 150 “Our Fathers” counting them on a ring of beads known as the crown or “corona.” Later, with the growth of popularity of Marian devotion in the twelfth century, the “Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary” developed now substituting 150 “Hail Marys” in place of the “Our Fathers.”

It is important to note that the Rosary is primarily a scriptural prayer. As Pope Pius XII (papacy: 1939-1958) stated, the Rosary is ” a compendium of the entire Gospel” (AAS 38 [1946] p. 419). The Rosary draws its mysteries from the New Testament and is centered on the great events of the Incarnation and Redemption.

At the end of October, the shrine culminates the rosary month with a special celebration. The shrine usually organizes a living rosary. The shrine assemble devotees mostly children and youth into the physical form of a Rosary, where each one represents one prayer bead, and the group recites the prayers together.

The Living Rosary reminds us that we are not alone in our prayers. Just like in the praying of novena, our individual prayer can become something much bigger when we join it with the prayers of others. The living rosary also reminds us that the rosary is not just something we pray but more importantly something we live as our partaking in the great redeeming mystery of the life of Jesus and Mary.

The shrine also formulated a rosary of Our Mother of Perpetual Help which combines the meditation of the rosary and contemplation of the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. To read and download a copy of this rosary you can go to: https://baclaranphenomenon.wordpress.com/2019/10/03/the-rosary-of-our-mother-of-perpetual-help/

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Tenants in God’s Vineyard

When I was a seminarian, I had the opportunity to experience immersion among sugar plantation workers in Batangas. They were called kasama‘ (sakada in Bisaya). In my short immersion with the kasama‘, I was exposed to their grim realities especially the oppression they suffered from their landlords. The landlords earned much of the profit while the kasama‘ who did much of the work barely survived from the meager wage they received.

The readings for today’s 27th Sunday in ordinary time, takes the central imagery of agricultural plantation and its workers. But the agricultral imagery of our readings is not a common image for us in the Philippines but in Israel in Biblical times, it is one of the most common sight. It is the image of a vineyard, a plantation of grape-bearing vines, grown mainly for winemaking.

Because of the ubiquity of the vineyard in Israel, the vineyard in the Bible has become the image for the people of God and later, the church. The Jewish people–Israel–had classically referred to themselves as a vineyard planted and nurtured by God.

In the first reading, Isaiah tells about “a friend” who carefully built a vineyard, clearing stones, building a watchtower, planting the choicest vines. He even “hewed out a wine press.” But his vineyard yielded bad grapes. Then in a vivid language, God called the chief priests and elders as this vineyard and that he is going to destroy them and trample them down because they would not let God’s love grow up among them!

This imagery is continued by Jesus in our gospel today. In the parable, the owner of the vineyard planted the vine, dug a winepress, and built a tower. But Jesus went further. He has the owner rent his rich vineyard to tenants. Then he trusts his tenants to raise choice grapes. When in due season he sends servants to collect the yield but the tenants beat or stoned or even killed his servants! Finally the owner sent his own son thinking that the tenants will certainly respect his own son. But the tenants also killed his son.

Our readings teach us two major lessons. First, we are just tenants of God’s vineyard. We don’t own the vineyard, we are just tenants or better still stewards. Second, we need to cooperate in making the vineyard fruitful. The fruitfulness of the vineyard doesn’t mainly come from our work. In both the stories, the owner of the vineyard, who is God, plants the vines, spades the soil, removes the stones, and protects the vineyard. If the vines bear fruit, it is because it is God who worked so hard at the vineyard. It is the fruit of God’s Spirit actively working in the tenants. Fruitfulness therefore means our utter openness to God’s work and mission actively operating in us. Again, it is not our work but God’s work, not our mission but God’s mission.

As tenants we need to listen to the prophets and messengers of God amongst us. Many times we have looked at Jesus parable in the gospel today as God’s taking away from the Jews the original privilege of being chosen people and giving it to us Christians. However, this is not just true to the Jews but to us Christians, as well. As the saying goes, history repeats itself.

Over the centuries, how many prophets in our Christian communities have been rejected, abused and even killed? We think of Joan of Arc, Thomas More, Oliver Plunkett and, in our own times, Bishop Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King, Rudy Romano, and all the countless prophets who were killed, disappeared, tortured and excluded from our community. Prophets disturb our comfortable life, wake us up in our complacencies and dare us to be bold and daring in living the gospel of the Lord even if it goes against the tide of the times.

In terms of fruitfulness we need to examine what grows amongst us in the vineyard: Is it a crop of grapes or wild fruit? In various ways, we have within our community a good share of selfishness, power grabbing, domination and stubbornness. The very same social ills that we see in the world at large can be found right within our own community: oppression, violence, racism, sexism, economic injustice, and marginalization.

To become worthy tenants actively cooperating in the fruitfulness of God’s vineyard, it pays to heed to the words of St. Paul in today’s Second Reading:

Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Let us pray that we become humble tenants producing sweet and juicy grapes in the Lord’s vineyard by the daily witness of our lives.

A Street Kids’ Dog Named Brutus

Brutus with the street kids of Sarnelli Center for Street Children

On October 4th, 2005, we celebrated the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. After the Mass, for the first time, there was a blessing of animals, a couple of dogs, a couple of hamsters, a bird, and six or was it seven turtles. The blessing was only for the animals that were brought along by their owners. No one seemed to remember the other animals, that hang around the shrine compound every day, e.g. Cats, dogs, rats, bats, birds and frogs, not to mention the smaller creatures like the termites, mosquitoes etc;

This reminds me of one animal in particular who is a permanent resident of the Shrine compound especially Sarnelli Center for Street Children. He is or was a dog, now he is more like a Greek god. He is not beautiful and never really was, not even before he started helping the boys finish their meals and sharing their ice cream and cake on Birthdays etc. He was hanging around Sarnelli even before someone introduced the idea that animals are good for street children. It seems that it helps their nurturing abilities or the affective side of their nature or something. Anyway he was there and somewhere along the line he acquired the name of “Brutus”.

When all dogs were banned from the sleeping quarters, Brutus had a way of turning up there without anybody noticing. When he was strictly banned because his hair was inclined to remain anywhere that he had been, the boys would sneak out after “lights out” wrap him in a bed sheet and carry him inside. If caught they could always say, “We forgot to bring in this bed pillow earlier”. They could have even gotten away with it if he had not been so heavy. He actually looks like a pillow and would never betray the boys by making even the smallest sound.

His greatest gift however is as a therapist. Whenever someone is in trouble or has a broken heart they just put their head on Brutus’s chest or stomach or wherever, he doesn’t mind, and tell him all their troubles. In a short time both he and the boy are asleep. He never repeats what anyone told him, and wouldn’t even if he could talk, because most of the time he is asleep anyhow and has no idea what happened. He is a security blanket, a silent friend, and a shoulder to cry on, even a doormat, as long as you don’t disturb his sleep. He does move but very slowly, I guess he would say he moves with dignity, and can wag his tail with great enthusiasm as long as you don’t ask him to move or change positions. If you do you will be greeted by a deep rumbling sound from somewhere down deep, which says clearly “Leave me alone”. Most of all, the boys love him and I’m sure St Francis, the patron saints of animals, would too.

John Maguire, CSsR

(This article is an excerpt from the book National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Tips, Trivia and Tribute by John Maguire, Joey Echano, et. al., soon to be published)

There will be a blessing of animals at the shrine tomorrow, October 4, feast of St. Francis of Assisi, after the 9 AM mass.