Official Liturgy for Visiting our Faithful Departed in the Cemetery

This November 1 and 2, many families, relatives and friends of our faithful departed will visit their graves in the cemetery. It is our firm belief as Christians to pray for our dearly departed not just to visit their graves and offer flower for them. Here’s the official prayer and liturgy of the church for visiting a cemetery. The family, relatives and friends can gather around the grave. Each one may lit a candle.  A member of the family or a lay minister can lead the prayer. Appropriate hymns can be sung at the beginning and end of the prayer. After the prayer, all present may bless the grave with Holy Water.

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Click this link to download a copy of this prayer/liturgy.

 

 

All Saints and All Souls Day: Contemplating the Meaning of Death

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November begins with the twin feast days of All Saints and All Souls. We pay tribute to the lives of the many saints in heaven and we remember our dearly departed loved ones.  By contemplating about death and the saints we can learn more about the true meaning and purpose of our lives.

While many of us head to the cemetery all day and all night on November 1 – 2, we actually fear and abhor death.  Every year during these days close to the twin feast days of All Saints and All Souls, many horror movies are being shown on TV’s and cinemas, about ghosts of dead people, or dead people coming out of their graves, and other gory images of the dead. The fear and bastardization of death is also very much promoted in the celebration of halloween which has become more and more popular in the country, thanks to Western media and commercial establishments cashing in on halloween products. The commercial appropriation and secular co-optation of halloween from its original Christian meaning portrays children wearing costumes of vampires, monsters, ghosts, skeletons, witches, and devils playing trick or treat.  Halloween, also known as Allhalloween, All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve is originally dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows),  martyrs, and all the faithful departed.

Perhaps the most innate reason why we fear death is because it confronts us about our own mortality.  We abhor the idea that our life will end tomorrow, next week, next year or several years from now especially if we are at the height of our career, if we are enjoying the success of our endeavors or if we have plenty of dreams yet unfulfilled.  We hate the thought that our once beautiful bodies will someday turn to dust.

With the vast technology and advances in science, life has immensely improved on earth.  Because of this, many see life here on earth as the ultimate and only reality.  Compared to previous generations, there are lesser people today who believe in eternity.  With death life has ended, nothing more.

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On the other hand, death confronts us with the question of  what lies beyond death.  There is somehow the conviction from the deepest core of our being, that death is not the end.  The closest thing we may have experienced this is at the death of our loved ones.  We refuse to believe that when our loved ones die, they are gone forever.  We continue to feel their presence even in spirit or whatever, albeit constantly close to us and continue to hope that someday we will be reunited once again.

This is precisely the meaning of this twin celebration of All Saints Day and All Souls Day.  Through these celebrations, we bravely proclaim that our life is eternal and “with death life is not ended only changed” (Preface to the Mass for the dead).   Death is the passing over to immortality.  As St. Francis said:  “It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Death is not the end but the bridge to eternity.  This carries plenty of practical implications on how we ought to live our lives here and now.  Our Lord Jesus Christ has constantly reminded us about these especially in the Gospel readings for this month: We need to be wise, we need to plan ahead, we need to be ready, prepared, vigilant always.  In other words we need to make the most out of our lives at all times by doing a good turn daily in loving service of God and neighbor. We need to live everyday as if it is the last day of our life. As the song goes:

Minsan lamang ako daraan sa daigdig na ito (Only once will I pass through this world).
Kaya anuman ang mabuting maa’ring gawin ko ngayon (So whatever good I can do now) .
O anumang kabutihan ang maari kong ipadama? (O whatever kindness I may express).
Itulot ninyong magawa ko ngayon ang mga bagay na ‘to (Allow me to do these now).

As we battle through life making the most out of the gifts that God has given us, our faithful departed is constantly on our side.  This is what the belief of the Church as a communion of saints tells us. By this, we mean that the saints in heaven, the faithful departed in purgatory and we Christians still living on earth form the Church. All are saints because as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to be holy, to be saints. We are a communion because in the Church, there is unity and sharing. By our unity, we stand in loving relationship with the saints in heaven, the faithful departed in purgatory and those still here on earth. Because of this unity among Christ’s followers, there is sharing of goods and graces. The saints in heaven pray for those in purgatory and those on earth. And we who are on earth ask the intercession of the saints in heaven and also pray for the faithful departed in purgatory.

Mary, Our Mother of Perpetual Help, continue to bring us to your Son Jesus who is our constant guide and our hope in our journey towards eternal life!

Dead or Alive? Remembering the Missing

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Come November 1 and 2, the celebration of All Saints Day and All Souls Day respectively, all roads in the Philippines leads to the cemetery.  Millions of Filipinos will visit the tombs and graves of their deceased family members. Families will be reunited  around the graves of their dearly departed ones sharing stories, laughter, food and drinks. Some will even spend the night around their loved ones’ tombs, passing the long hours of the evening by playing card games, eating, drinking, and singing.

But how about those who have died yet have no graves or urns of their ashes where their families could gather around? Where would their families go to? What object can they hold on to to commemorate their dearly departed loved ones?

First of all, this begs the question, why are there dead people who have no graves or ashes? There are people who have disappeared and believed to have died due to an accident, crime, death in a location where their bodies were not found (for example, at sea). There are also those who disappeared because they were forcefully abducted and believed to have been killed by armed elements because of their beliefs and principles. Families of missing persons suffer grievously because they do not know whether their beloved is still alive or dead as his or her location and fate are not known. For many of these families, there is no closure to the pain and sadness they have long endured.

Over 1,600 people were disappeared in the Philippines during the Marcos dictatorship and since. None of them has ever been found. The successive governments that have followed the Marcos regime have failed to bring both light as to the fate of the disappeared, and justice. The families of the disappeared have received neither compensation or redress of any kind. Yet, they continue struggling for truth and justice. Meanwhile, human rights violations persist; people continue to be extra-judicially executed and murdered as well as tortured and imprisoned for political reasons.

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One of the better known among the thousands of desaparecidos–victims of the Marcos dictatorial rule is our very own Redemptorist Fr. Rudy Romano. Fr. Rudy was a Redemptorist assigned in Cebu who was actively involved in struggle against the Marcos dictatorial regime. He courageously spoke out against the abuses under martial law. On July 11, 185 he was abducted by military intelligence agents and since then has not been found. After Marcos was deposed by people power, we heard from sources within the military that he died during interrogation. Until now we still don’t know where they buried him.

The Baclaran shrine has reserved a special place for Fr. Rudy Romano and his fellow desaparecido. At a corner of the shrine lawn fronting Roxas Boulevard, is the monument called Bantayog ng Desaparecido (Memorial for the Disappeared) in memory of Fr. Rudy Romano and many other missing persons during the Marcos regime. The Bantayog lists the names of Fr. Rudy and hundreds of other missing people etched in granite panels. Unveiled in September 2004, the memorial is the refurbished “Flame of Courage Monument,” designed and created by sculptor Lito Mondejar. It features a mother carrying a torch, which symbolizes the courage of those left behind and continuing the struggle for justice. For families and friends of the disappeared, the Bantayog stands as a common ground for remembrance.

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The families of desaparecidos come here every year in November 1 because they have no tomb to visit on All Souls’ Day.  Despite that they do not have any tangible object that remains part of their loved ones, they hold on to to the memories, principles and beliefs their missing beloved have dedicated and died for.

 

30TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: FAITH IS A NEW WAY OF SEEING

Every day we are bombarded by visual and moving images—photos, bumper stickers, posters, billboards, newspapers and magazines not to mention youtube videos, facebook memes, and ads. Increasingly our culture has become a visual culture where “image is everything.” Yet, despite the thousands of images and videos we see daily in this hypervisual digital world, many times, we fail to see the true, good and beautiful. We continue to look but we do not see.

Seeing implies more than just physical eyesight. Many cultures use physical sight as a metaphor for understanding. We do that spontaneously when we suddenly catch on to an explanation and say, “Oh, now I see,” or even, paradoxically, “I see what you’re saying.”

Thus, even if we have eyes with 20/20 vision, we long to learn how to see. Ironically, the best persons who can teach us how to learn to truly see are the blind. I remember when I was assigned in Legaspi many years ago, we had a blind masseur whom we call often especially after coming from the missions for a much relaxing massage.  His name is Bert. Bert does not just give us a relaxing massage; while doing massage on us, he talks about a lot of people we commonly knew. It was amazing how despite his blindness he had a profound understanding of the character of people.

This calls to mind the life of Helen Keller, a famous American blind writer.  Helen Keller, who went blind and deaf at nineteenth months old, once narrated:

‘One day I asked a friend of mine who had just returned from a long walk in the forest what she had seen. She replied, “Nothing in particular.”

How was this possible? I asked myself, when I, who cannot hear or see, find hundreds of things to interest me through mere touch. I feel the delicate shape and design of a leaf.

I pass my hands lovingly over the rough bark of a pine tree. Occasionally, I place my hand quietly on a small tree, and if I’m lucky, feel the happy quiver of a bird in full song.

The greatest calamity that can befall people, is not that they should be born blind, but that they should have eyes, yet fail to see.’

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This important truth is also demonstrated in the Gospel of today’s 30th Sunday of ordinary time. In the gospel, it was the blind Bartimaeus who saw Jesus for who he truly was. This beggar sitting beside the road shows immediately that he “sees” at least as much as Peter when he addresses Jesus with a Messianic title: “Son of David, have pity on me.”

To understand more fully the significance of this encounter between Jesus and the blind Bartimaeus we need to rewind a bit in the gospel of Mark. For two chapters prior to this account, Mark has been presenting Jesus on the road with his disciples. On the way, on three separate occasions, Jesus speaks of his approaching passion, death, and resurrection. Each time one or more of the disciples show some gross failure to comprehend what he has just said. And each time, Jesus takes them aside to teach that following him entails losing one’s life to find it, carrying a cross, becoming the servant of all. This is also sounded in the conversation in the boat, when Jesus asks, “Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?” (Mk 8:18).  In other words, Mark presents us with a picture of the disciples as spiritually blind. They do not really see who Jesus is and what he is about.

In the gospel account today, the disciples who were traveling with Jesus look upon Bartimaeus as an interruption of their missionary journey. Jesus, on the other hand, sees Bartimaeus as the point of the journey. Bartimaeus was a manifestation of why Jesus came: to bring “sight” not only to Bartimaeus but to all.

All four gospels in the New Testament use sight as a symbol for Christian faith. Believing is the deepest kind of “seeing.” The early Church called baptism enlightenment. It is not incidental that the first word out of Jesus’ mouth in the Synoptic Gospels is the word “metanoia” which means a new way of thinking. Faith is believing which inaugurates a new way of seeing and thinking.

Thus, the way the evangelists treat Jesus’ healings from physical blindness are not simply narrations of cures as marvels of the past. In their narratives, the evangelists present these healing from blindness as images of a healing process that happens through interaction between the risen Christ and any Christian.

Jesus, Son of David, have pity on us, as you did blind Bartimaeus. Give us faith as you did
blind Bartimaeus.

29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: THE DIVERGENT WAY OF SERVICE

Last week was a frenzied activity for thousands of wannabes vying for the top national and local positions in the county. Many trooped to the office of the Commission of Elections (COMELEC) around the country, complete with each one’s colorful gimmick  and band of loyal followers, to file their candidacies for the National and Local elections come May 2019. It look like a circus rather than an ordinary and formal submission of form for candidacy. As they say, only in the Philippines, election–its more fun in the Philippines!

And what was the buzzword of most of the candidates? You guessed it right–its service! Each candidate promised that they will serve up to the last breath of their lives. No, they are not after money, power, politics, influence or status, it’s all in the name of service. Can’t help but wonder, if it is really for service and not for the money, power and position, would you think there would be thousands filing their candidacies? I guess not.

In fairness, we cannot judge nor question the thousands of candidates’ desire to serve. There is probably a genuine desire in each of the candidates to serve. Unfortunately this genuine desire is tainted by the distorted and bankrupt values and standards of this world.  Moreover, their notion of service is antithetical to the notion of service that Jesus speaks of in the gospel today.

The liturgical readings for today’s 29th Sunday in ordinary time talks about service–God’s way of service, that is. The First Reading is taken from the fourth servant song of Second Isaiah: the prophet sings of one who “gives his life as an offering”.  This suffering servant would be afflicted, would suffer, and would even bear guilt. No wonder these verses from the fourth Song of the Suffering Servant is also the reading on Good Friday.  It foreshadow the fullness of the servanthood accepted by Jesus on our behalf: he gave his life for us.

In the second reading. the Letter to the Hebrews declares that we have a “great” “high” priest in Jesus who was strangely compassionate, fragile, and subject to the very trials we abhor.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but one who was tempted in every way that we are, yet never sinned.”
(Hebrews 4:14)

In the Gospel, James and John wanted to sit alongside Jesus when he comes to his glory: “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” Jesus teaches them this lesson: “whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all” . “The Way” on which he is leading his disciples is not about earthly glory but about service, even suffering service. This way of relating to others is not the way of the world, where “those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and make their authority over them felt.” The term “lord it over” is a vivid way of describing leadership as raw power.

Jesus’ words for describing service are conveyed by Mark in the humblest words in the Greek language for lowdown menial service. The term “servant,” diakonos, literally means “the one who waits on tables.”

“Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant [dia-konos];
whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave [doulos] of all.”

Jesus finally drives his point home by applying to himself the atonement language of Isaiah’s portrait of the Suffering Servant in the first reading

“For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve
and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

In many ways we are like James and John and the other disciples. Just like James and John we behave as normal citizens of a world where the ordinary view of service is one who lord it over people and make their authority over them felt.

Service is not the normal way of the world. Authority, leadership, ambition is. Service is such a much spoken word but so much lacking in practice. Admit it, when you are in a position, leadership or honor, whether in government, church, business, civic organization, or non-profit organization, the normal tendency in the world is that you are not a servant. You are to be served, you are to be bestowed with honor, you are to be granted privileges. All those talk about servant-leadership, they are beautiful to the ears, but in the real world, whoever is in position, authority and power, their members and their subjects are the ones serving them.

Unless the dominant system of benefiting the poor and powerful prevails, service will remain antithetical to the Christian way of service.  To live the Christian way of service is to go against the strong tide of giving weight to power, authority and wealth in the world.

So how then can we practice service in a world that is antithetical to service? Just like the saying–to err is human, to forgive is divine–authority and leadership is human, service is divine. Service is the way of God towards us and towards God’s inner life.  Service is the relationship of God with each other in the Divine Trinity. Service, therefore, is God’s gift, God’s grace. We cannot do service, without divine grace. We cannot do service without following Jesus–the greatest example of one who came not to be served but to serve.  The cup that Jesus drank, we can drink, and the baptism with which Jesus was baptized, we were baptized, but we can only lived out true service, not on our own, but through Jesus, with Jesus, and in Jesus.

Service is the way of life in the kingdom of God. Service is a prerequisite to entering the kingdom.  We cannot enter the kingdom of God unless we learn how to serve. When we come to God’s kingdom, only then that we can experience the fullness of service. In God’s kingdom, we will be focused on the other, serving each other, just like God.

Despite that the fullness of service will only come at the end, we can already have a foretaste of its fullness here and now, even in a hostile world. In God’s grace.

St. Gerard Family Life Center of the Shrine

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October 16th is a special day for the shrine as it celebrates the feast of St. Gerard Majella. There is a concelebrated mass at 9:30 AM in honor of the saint. After the mass there is 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 to establish the St. Gerard Family Life Ministry. Another inspiration is 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. The schedule of FREE consultation services of the center are from Mon-Tue-Thurs-Fri-Sat: 9am to 12noon / 2pm-5pm, Wed: 9am to 12noon 2pm-7pm, and Sunday: 9am to 12noon. Every 1st Monday of the month there is a novena mass of St.Gerard at 930am. After the mass a there is a blessing for all mothers and children especially for expectant mothers and pregnant woman.

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For more information please visit our website.

28TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: NO POSSESSION IN HEAVEN

Whatever religion you may belong, you may have come across this saying: You can’t take your possessions when you die. Not your house or car or money or camera or book collection. You cannot bring your riches to heaven and eternity.

The gospel of today’s 28th Sunday in ordinary time tells the story of a young man who went to Jesus seeking eternal life. The rich young man thought that he has all it takes to have eternal life: he is rich and he is a law-abiding religious Jew. Unfortunately for the young man, Jesus shatters his illusion. Jesus tells him that neither his riches nor all his good-doing ways will let him into eternal life. The only way he can possess eternal life is to sell all his riches, give it to the poor and come follow him. The rich man goes away very sad, finding Jesus’ words very hard to follow.

Jesus’ words must have also been earth shattering to his own disciples. The astonishment of the disciples shows that Jesus’ saying was indeed a shock.

They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves,
“Then who can be saved?”

Part of the shock derives from the presumption during Jesus’ time that being rich was not a hindrance but rather an advantage for entering the kingdom of God. For wealthy people could build synagogues, help the needy, sponsor Temple sacrifices. If they could not be saved, who else could?

For Jesus, however, attachment to wealth and the Kingdom of God is diametrically opposite. Nevertheless, the rich young man wants to have it both ways: he wants his possessions and he wants everlasting life. You can’t have both, Jesus says. As Jesus says, it is impossible for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.

“How hard it is for those who have wealth
to enter the kingdom of God!”
The disciples were amazed at his words.
So Jesus again said to them in reply,
“Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!
It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle
than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

This opens the way for Jesus’ ultimate point: salvation is not a human achievement but an act of God. The problem with wealth is that wealth brings power and, often, the delusion that one has no need for others, even for God. If one is rich enough, one can begin to think of oneself as the center of the world.

Power, status, fame, and position have the same effect as it makes ourselves the center and isolates us from God and others. They hinder us to give freely of ourselves, our gifts, our talents in service to the Lord. The problem with riches, power, status and fame is that we tend to accumulate them until they become us. They possess us until it is too late to detach from them. What are your riches? What are your attachments?

The renunciation of wealth, however, is not an end in itself but only a precondition for following Jesus. It is the life of discipleship, not the renunciation of wealth per se, that leads to eternal life. Following Jesus demands that we choose not to be possessed by things, but by Jesus himself. To be possessed by Jesus we must even give up our greatest possession of all: our very selves.

Following Jesus is greater than possessions. Such is the way of wisdom. In the first reading, the author of the book of Wisdom was also able to recognize that wisdom is greater than possessions. The author of the book of Wisdom presents rich King Solomon contemplating the human condition and praising the gift of God’s wisdom as greater than silver or gold. Here, wisdom is represented as feminine,

I preferred her [Wisdom] to scepter and throne,
and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her,
nor did I liken any priceless gem to her;
because all gold, in view of her, is a little sand,
and before her, silver is to be accounted mire.
Beyond health and comeliness I loved her,
and I chose to have her rather than the light,
because the splendor of her never yields to sleep.

Another earth-shattering truth Jesus told the crowd and disciples was the almost insignificant role of following the Mosaic Law towards gaining eternal life. This must have been a big shock to the disciples and the crowd who have grown up believing that obeying and doing the Mosaic Law is the sure and certain way to entering heaven. But for Jesus, this is not enough. Simply following the rules, being a good person can’t save you. You may be the nicest guy in the world. You don’t kill, you don’t steal yet you can still be drowned in wealth, power and fame which disables you to give freely of yourself to others and to God.

Lord, we pray, please look at us and love us. Grant us the grace to give freely to the poor everything you have poured upon us. In our giving, Lord let us receive a hundredfold: your life, now and in eternity.

Most Rev. Ireneo Amantillo, CSsR, DD. – First Filipino Redemptorist Bishop

The National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran mourns the death of Most Rev. Ireneo Amantillo, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Tandag. After his retirement as Bishop, he was assigned for a couple of years at the shrine.  His assignment at the shrine even though was short, was a fruitful and memorable one. Many of the shrine volunteers, staff and his own Redemptorist confreres remember him as humble, friendly and funny.  After long years of service in God’s vineyard, Amantillo succumbed to cancer and died in the hands of the Lord in the morning of October 11, 2018. He was 83.

Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace!

Amantillo-memoriam

27TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: WHAT GOD HAS JOINED TOGETHER LET NO ONE SEPARATE

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Preserving the integrity of the family and nurturing the love between husband and wife is one of the biggest challenges that devotees bring to Our Mother of Perpetual Help at the shrine. Many families of devotees have experienced problems and crisis in the family and married life like Sylvia who wrote a thanksgiving letter in December 31, 2014:

Thank you very much for all the blessings that you have bestowed upon our whole family. Thank you God the Father for all the trials that we experienced as a whole family especially our marriage which I thought would collapse. From the bottom of my heart, thank you because you did not allow our marriage to break up. And because of the trials that we have experienced as a couple, we became stronger, our understanding for each other has deepened. Thank you that our family is still whole. It is indeed a big blessing that our family is still one until today.

Keeping the family close together is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. Along with war, poverty, social injustice, violence and climate change, marriage and family breakdown contribute to one of the greatest heart aches of the human race today.  Almost, all of us have known, if not we ourselves, a member of a family or a friend who has experienced the pain and struggles of separation within a family. I myself have one.

Believe it or not, the breakdown of family due to the separation or divorce between husband and wife sadly had been around for centuries, even in ancient times.

In the gospel today,  the Pharisees came to Jesus to ask the question whether it is lawful for a husband to divorce his wife. Even during Moses’ time (1300–1200 BCE?), divorce was a common custom. The divorce statute is contained in the book of Deuteronomy:

When a man, after marrying a woman and having relations with her, is later displeased with her because he finds in her something indecent [erwath dabar], and therefore he writes out a bill of divorce and hands it to her, thus dismissing her from his house. … (Deut 24:1-4)

This statue, however, is heavily favorable to the husband and biased to the wife, understable in a predominantly patriarchal society. In Jewish law, a man could only commit adultery against another man, i.e., if he has relations with the other man’s wife.  He could not commit adultery against his own wife. Jesus, in responding to the Pharisees’ question, revolutionary for his times, explicitly declared that the man definitely has committed a sin “against her” when a man divorces his wife. By declaring this, Jesus elevates the woman to real equality with man.

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another
commits adultery against her;

Jesus’ intention, however, went further beyond raising the dignity of women. Jesus went on to uphold the original dignity of marriage.  Jesus  recited the Genesis’ passage of creation to explain God’s original intention.

But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.

So they are no longer two but one flesh.
Therefore what God has joined together,
no human being must separate.”

Jesus’ reiteration of marriage as a permanent covenant com­mitment comes not as a new stricture but as an affirmation of a rela­tionship built into the original blessing of creation. Marriage is a reflection of God’s unconditional and unbounded love with each other and for us his people. The loving union of a married couple is founded on the love of God within God’s life–one God, three persons.

Despite that we live in a world today where a culture of divorce is prevalent, Jesus’ words in the gospel today can offer hope and inspiration especially to married couples undergoing trials and crisis. Despite that many countries in the world has made divorce legal, a plain admission of the common reality of separation of couples, Jesus’ words remain a valid and sublime vision of family and marriage.

St. Francis and the Love for Animals at the Shrine

Every year on the 4th of October, devotees bring their pets to the Baclaran shrine—dogs, cats, hamsters, birds, turtles and other animal pets—for the blessing of animals. This is in commemoration of the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. It was On October 4th, 2005, that a blessing of animals was held for the first time in the shrine. This began a yearly tradition in the shrine.

Saint Francis is associated with the patronage of animals. Francis’ deep love of God overflowed into love for all God’s creatures—expressed not only in his tender care of lepers and his (unsuccessful) attempt to negotiate peace between Muslims and Christians during the fifth Crusade, but also in his prayers of thanksgiving for creation, his sermons preached to animals, and his insistence that all creatures are brothers and sisters under God.

Because of Francis legacy, it has become customary for Catholic and Anglican churches to carry out animal blessing ceremonies on his feast day of 4 October. The secular world has also recognized Francis’ legacy by celebrating in October 4 the World Animal Day, an annual celebration of international day of action for animal rights and welfare.

Christians worldwide celebrate the Feast of Saint Francis not just with a blessing of animals but also with prayers for creation. Since 2014, the shrine has been observing the Season of creation. The season of Creation is celebrated during the four Sundays of September that precede the feast of St Francis. The season of Creation incorporates into the liturgy, prayers and visual elements celebrating God’s creation.

The shrine in recent years has become sanctuary to many animals. Stray dogs and cats  hang around the shrine and the convent every day not to mention the rats, bats, and the birds which has made the shrine their home ever since the shrine was built. The presence in the shrine of skinny and smelly dogs and cats abandoned by their human owners is a sad reminder of human’s cruelty to animals and of the abdication of our sacred duty as stewards of creation.

stray-cat

Outside the shrine, however, animals of various kinds enjoy the security and food that nature provides. The various hardwood and fruit trees in the shrine compound provide sanctuary for many birds, insects and other animals. Just recently new appearances of wildlife were sighted in the trees—squirrels, a migratory bird and a Philippine hawk (Lawin). Nobody knows how the squirrels (sometimes seen as two, other times alone) got inside the shrine grounds.  We just assumed that someone let loose these exotic animals in the shrine compound thinking that squirrels will be better off running free in the shrine compound rather than confined in cages.  The squirrels are very shy though; they spend most of the time hiding in the trees. Occasionally, however, one can see them hopping on tree branches.

green-shrine

In November 2016, a migratory bird called Narcissus Flycatcher from China was spotted on the trees of the shrine compound.  The word spread fast and in no time, many bird photographers and researchers flocked to Baclaran and spent almost a week photographing the special visitor. The narcissus flycatcher (Ficedula narcissina) is a passerine bird in the Old World flycatcher family. It is native to East Asia, from Sakhalin to the north, through Japan across through Korea, mainland China, and Taiwan, wintering in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines and Borneo.[1] It is highly migratory. The bird watchers surmised that the birds chose to stay at the shrine because they found lots of food in the many trees of the compound.

narcissus-flycatcher

On this feast of St. Francis, we are reminded that care for animals and the promotion of the integrity of creation is an essential expression of our devotion and faith.  In the 2016 Jubilee edition of the novena, the shrine incorporated into the novena a petition that expresses this:

That we may care and protect God’s creation, Loving Mother pray for us.


[1] Narcissus flycatcher, Wikipedia. Accessed at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Narcissus_flycatcher.