4TH SUNDAY OF LENT: LENT AS HOMECOMING

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The Return of the Prodigal Son, a Painting by Rembrandt

In today’s 4th Sunday of Lent we continue to dig deeper into the meaning of the Lenten discipline. For several Sundays now we have pointed out that repentance is a central challenge of the Lenten discipline. In today’s readings we shall come to understand repentance as homecoming.

In the First Reading, the Israelites have finally arrived from Exodus to their homeland–the land flowing with milk and honey, the land that God promised to give them. The sign that the Exodus was over was when they eat the parched grain from the produce of the land and no longer the manna that God provided for them during their journey in the wilderness. The parched grain was the beginning of life in the promised land, where the Israelites found a home. The consoling sweetness of manna came out of the harshness of the conditions of the Exodus. Out of the sorrow of trading manna for parched grain there came the consolation of home.

In the Second Reading, St. Paul implores the Corinthians to return to God, “We implore you, in Christ’s name: be reconciled to God.” To return home to God is to reconcile with God which implies forgiveness, restoring harmony, rectifying the wrong deeds and reunion. 

The Gospel narrates the popular parable of the prodigal son. Luke reminds us that the parable of the prodigal was told to Pharisees who complained about Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners. The parable of the two lost sons (Lk 15:11-32) is Jesus’ self justification for “hosting” sinners at table fellowship (Lk 15:1-2).

For a long time, the focus of the parable, as suggested by its title, is on the younger son who was the prodigal son. He squandered all his inheritance on riotous living in a far away country. The younger son was lost and veered so far away from his home with the Father.  Listening to the whole parable, however, we realize that the younger son is not the only one lost who veered far away from his father. The elder son too was lost. Even if the elder son never left his Father’s home, his heart could not identify with the Father’s compassion for the wretched younger son. Indeed, the parable is about two lost sons in the face of the father’s prodigal love for both of them. 

Applying these readings to Lent, we can say that Lent is a call to return to home. Home is where our Father is. The first step to returning home is the realization of the darkness of our lives. Lent is the blessed season to examine and confront the dark side of our lives. It is to enter into the bottom of whatever hellish pit we have made of our  lives. In this darkness and hellish pit we realized how we veered away from our true home with God, from our fellowship with others and ultimately from our true selves. Like the younger son in the parable, we are prodigal children. We live prodigal lives. We have in many ways squandered our Father’s inheritance. We have wasted many opportunities in pursuit of our own glory. We have abused the love and trust of many people. We have destroyed the abundant and wonderful world God gave us to live in. We poison its air, we pollute its water, we erode its topsoil.

In the midst of the darkness and the bottomness of our pit,  we regain what we have forgotten–who we truly are, and whose we are. We realized once again that we are a redeemed people; we are loved unconditionally by God. This profound remembrance inspires us to do what the younger son did: “I will break away and return to my father, and say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against you.’”

Repentance is not just, however, returning to the Father.  Repentance is not just between me and God. It has social implications. This is what the elder son found it hard to understand. We are called not only to be reconciled with God but to embrace God’s inclusive love for everyone especially the sinners and the rejects. We are called to be compassionate and forgiving just as the Father is compassionate and forgiving.

Thus, Lent as homecoming calls us to a ministry of reconciliation in the world. We live in a world where there is still so much division, brokenness and hatred. Wherever there is injustice in the world something is not reconciled. Lent is a time to ‘pass over,’ to pass from the world of injustice we have created over to a world of reconciliation. It is a time to “turn hatred to love, conflict to peace, death to eternal life.”

The ending of parable is rather abrupt. We are left with many questions. What did the elder son do? Did he join the party to celebrate the homecoming of his wretched brother or did he remain in his own regret that the Father could still love his younger brother after everything he has done? Did the younger son also sought the forgiveness of his elder brother? These are the questions the Pharisees and scribes (see Lk 15:2) and the contemporary believer must answer in their own accord.

What would you do?

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Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord: Christmas in the Middle of Lent

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Today once again we take a break from the Lenten fast as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. This solemnity is associated more with Christmas. It is a preview of Christmas Day, which occurs exactly nine months after March 25. The great mystery of the incarnation begins on this momentous day of the Annunciation. We can say, therefore, that today we celebrate Christmas in the middle of Lent. To highlight the joy of this feast, we sing the Gloria during the Eucharist.

In today’s gospel we hear the angel Gabriel came to Mary and greeted her

“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”

Mary must have been truly alarmed at the words of her unexpected visitor. Contrary to how some may portray her, Mary did not immediately grasp the angel Gabriel’s words. Mary was greatly troubled. We cannot fully understand the annunciation story unless we examine closely the confusion that Mary experienced.

“But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.”

Mary was especially troubled when the angel told her

Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.

Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”

Mary was troubled because of the impossibility of it all. Although she is already betrothed to Joseph, she is not yet married to him. In other words, she is a virgin, how can she become a mother?

The confusion of Mary stemmed from the limitations of the human condition. To understand how she can become pregnant only means that she needs to go beyond the human condition and faculty. She only understood how she can become pregnant when she realized that her pregnancy is of no man but of God. As the angel said, “For nothing is impossible for God.” In other words, this is not a human enterprise but the work of God. The birth of God-becoming-human is God’s undertaking.  God is inviting Mary to participate in the work of God by becoming the bearer of the Son of God.

And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.

Mary surrendered all her doubts and confusions and willfully entered the mystery of God’s mission.  Consequently, by entering into the mystery of God’s mission, it unleash the fullness of her humanity.  She learned to let go of her human pride and self-sufficiency. This also indicates that Mary’s response was far from being passive and submissive.  On the contrary Mary’s yes was a single courageous and proactive act of living.

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”

Mary’s fiat (yes) is a turning point in the history of the world. It is the very moment of Incarnation, when God-the-Word from heaven became flesh and began to live among us as one of us. The world would never be the same again. Jesus will be the unique bridge between God and God’s creation. In a way, this moment of conception is just as important as the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. This very moment is the actual beginning of salvation. As Reformed theologian Willie Jennings says, “Salvation begins with Mary’s yes.”[1]

Mary’s yes represents humanity’s yes par excellence. Cardinal Hans Ur Von Balthasar said, “The Marian fiat has become the archetype, principle and exemplar of the faith response of the entire Church.”[2] Mary became the first of the redeemed and, hence, the prototype of the church.  As Cardinal Schoenborn said, “Mary is the seal of perfect creatureliness; in her is illustrated in advance what God intended for creation.”[3] And as Karl Rahner said, Mary is the most genuine person, “the holiest, most authentic, and happiest human being, to say something of her who is blessed among women.”[4]  As such, she represents most profoundly who we truly are and what we will truly become, Rahner further explains,

She is the noblest of human beings in the community of the redeemed, representative of all who are perfect, and the type or figure that manifests completely the meaning of the Church, and grace, and redemption, and God’s salvation.”[5]

In today’s celebration, the church invites us to take a cue from Mary in observing the Lenten discipline. Today’s celebration highlights for us the Marian character of Lent. Despite all the uncertainties and fears she had, Mary placed her faith in God, and she followed her Son all the way to Calvary, to the foot of the Cross, waiting patiently at the side of her Son as He completed the work of salvation for which He came into this world for.

Mary’s yes inspires us during this Lenten season to proclaim our own yes’s to the new life that God will renew in us through the resurrection of Jesus.

 


 

[1] Willie Jennings in Jason Byassee, “Protestants and Marian Devotion—What about Mary?” Religion Online, 1. Accessed at https://www.religion-online.org/article/protestants-and-marian-devotion-what-about-mary/, 6.

[2] Hans Ur Von Balthasar, Explorations in Theology II Spouse of the Word, essay: “Who is the Church?”, trans. A.V. Littledale (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991), 161.

[3] Christoph Cardinal Schoenborn, O.P., Text translated from German by Joseph Smith, S.J. The original in German appeared in the Melanges offered to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on the occasion of his 60th anniversary [(“Weisheit Gottes-Weisheit der Welt”), EOS, Verlag, St. Ottilien, 1987]. Loyola House of Studies, Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City, Philippines.

[4] Karl Rahner, Mary – Mother of the Lord (Herder and Herder, 1963), 24.

[5] Rahner, Mary – Mother of the Lord, 37.

 

3RD SUNDAY OF LENT: REPENTANCE AS BEARING FRUIT

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Photo courtesy of Ted Aljbe, AFP

Whenever there are man-made tragedies and natural calamities, we hear people say that these calamities are sent by God because of his wrath and punishment for our sins. Calamities, they say, are part of God’s will and God’s plan. We need to be careful, however, that this viewpoint does not give us a convenient way out of our own culpability for the tragedies and calamities like the destruction of nature and exploitation of our fellow humans.  Although, calamities and tragedies may indeed become wake up calls and offer us golden opportunities for the reform of our lives. This should not, however, distort the very nature of God as loving and compassionate. Our Lord Jesus did not come to punish us through the disasters, but came to be one with us, to live amongst us in the midst of despair and destruction and guide us towards transformation and to bear fruit.

In the gospel of today’s 3rd Sunday of Lent, people approached Jesus asking about his view on a tragic incident. Pilate has murdered a number of Galilean people. Worse, Pilate has mixed their blood with that of sacrificed animals. In the highly politically charged atmosphere of Roman-occupied Palestine, this was a trap. If Jesus ignores this event, He will be accused of insensitivity to His people. But if He criticizes Pilate, He will probably be reported to the Roman authorities and be punished by them.

Jesus connected this tragedy to an accident involving construction workers in Siloam. From both events he draws a warning for Israel. What took place in Galilee and at Siloam were not judgments of God but a call to repentanceUnless the nation repents, it too will perish. 

“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way
they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!
Or those eighteen people who were killed
when the tower at Siloam fell on them—
do you think they were more guilty
than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!”

The bottom line here is that we all need to repent. Am I so often focused on the evils to be uprooted that I neglect the need for personal reform as well? Repentance calls all of us at all times of our lives. 

Paul, writing to the Corinthians, in the second reading today, conveys the same note of urgency and necessity for repentance. If the very people who experienced God’s liberating power in the Exodus could lose their sense of the divine presence sustaining and saving them, it requires all of us today not to remain complacent. In our own journey in the wilderness of life, we are subject to our own addictions and idolatries. Paul writes, 

These things happened to them as an example,
and they have been written down as a warning to us,
upon whom the end of the ages has come.
Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure
should take care not to fall.

Luke shows the urgency of repentance in the parable of the fruitless fig tree. In the parable, the tree is symbolic. It stands for all of us who needs to heed Jesus’ call for repentance. Jesus’ call for repentance is our journey from fruitlessness to fruitfulness. In this journey, God constantly guide and transform us.   

The merciful God who guides his people towards transformation is indicated by the name of God as revealed to Moses in the first reading from the book of Exodus. When Moses asked God what shall he call him, God responded, “I am who I am,” or, as many contemporary exegetes interpret it, “He causes to be what comes into existence.”

Moses said to God, “But when I go to the Israelites
and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’
if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?”
God replied, “I am who am.”
Then he added, “This is what you shall tell the Israelites:
I AM sent me to you.”

The unnameable God who is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is the God who intervenes powerfully in human history. God saw the affliction of his people. He “comes down,” that is, intervenes in history out of his transcendence, to deliver them from the slavery of sin and to bring them into the land “flowing with milk and honey.” God called Moses and sent him to lead his people out of Egypt through the wilderness, refreshing them with water from the rock and bringing them into the Promised Land.  Finally he sends his Son, offering his people the fullness of repentance by accepting his salvific and liberating life and mission.

The season of Lent is a most blessed time which calls all of us to a profound repentance. Thus, one of the highlights during Lent, is the celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation. During Lent, the church in many parishes abundantly celebrates the sacrament of reconciliation to give people plenty of opportunity to  experience genuine repentance. Repentance is not just expressing true sorrow for our sins but the eager desire to rebuild anew our lives. Thus, repenting takes hard work that is why it is a discipline. The discipline of Lent entails hard-work repentance which leads to the new life that Easter promises.

 

Solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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Painting by Sr. Bambi Flores, MPS

Today we take a break from the Lenten fast to celebrate the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The liturgical title, “Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary” accords St. Joseph with the highest liturgical ranking conferred on saints and honors his commitment to Mary and dedication as a faithful and devoted husband. Today’s liturgy is one of the only two days that we sing the Gloria during the time of Lent.

In the gospel today, we hear the annunciation story of Joseph. The most famous annunciation story, of course, is that of Mary, whose Solemnity we will celebrate this coming March 25.  

All of us have our own annunciation story. For each of us were chosen by God for a mission in this world. No one is born in this world without a purpose, a mission and a calling. At the end of the day, we will discover that our deepest calling is to participate in God’s mission (Missio Dei), as the annunciations stories of Mary and Joseph have shown us.

So what can we learn from Joseph’s annunciation story?

We don’t hear much about St. Joseph in the Bible. He is simply described as the “husband of Mary,” a “carpenter,” and a “just man” in the Gospel accounts. Neither his age nor his death is ever mentioned in scripture.

Joseph is the silent character in the bible, never said a word, but always did the right thing.  As they say, a man of few words.  Joseph was the perfect example of the saying: Action speaks louder than words.

Joseph was a true gentleman. A true gentleman never leaves his woman. I know of men who so love their woman.  But when their woman got pregnant, suddenly the big burden of responsibility weighs so heavily upon them that they become terribly scared and pathetically, abandon their woman.

Joseph became terribly scared and confused too but he never abandoned Mary. Joseph was faced with a horrific dilemma. He discovered that Mary to whom he is already betrothed but with whom he has not consummated their relationship in marriage, is already pregnant. There could be only one explanation; she had been unfaithful and was having another man’s child. It was a very serious matter and, if brought out into the open, would have made Mary liable to death by stoning.

As a righteous man and devout follower of the Mosaic Law, he would want to break the union with someone who had seriously broken the Law. And yet, because he was such a good man, he did not want to expose Mary to a terrible punishment. Few men would accept such a situation with such calmness and self-restraint. Most would find it a terrible blow to their manhood.

It is at this point that God announced to Joseph the true situation of Mary.  God assured Joseph that no other man is involved, that she has conceived through the power of God’s Spirit. Joseph, without saying a word, accepted God’s explanation. More importantly, Joseph accepted God’s invitation to enter into the Missio Dei and become part of the dream and mission of God for humanity.

Joseph was a dreamer. Joseph had big dreams for himself and Mary.  But when Mary and God’s dream intertwined with his own dream, Joseph did not allow his own dreams to prevail over and above the dream of Mary and the dream of God for him. Joseph the dreamer, found a way to integrate his own dream with God’s dream and Mary’s dream.

What is your dream? How do you see your dream a part of God’s bigger dream for you and for the whole world?

Joseph was the faithful husband and father.  He obeyed the angel’s advice to go to Egypt when Herod decided to kill all newborn male babies in Israel.  And he raised the boy child Jesus through hard work and dedication.

Joseph’s story is that he was able to go beyond his own world. He understood the meaning of his life beyond himself.  He was able to transcend his own needs, his own desires, his own ambitions and connect them with the greater mission that God has in store for him.  And because of this he became great.  If Joseph left Mary and decided not to fulfil the invitation of the angel, he is forgotten forever.

We are called to be the new Joseph’s in our times today.  God is inviting us out of our own small world in order to engage and connect with others for a greater purpose other than our own ambitions, plans and desires.  Like Joseph may we see our lives in the greater interconnection of our lives with the life of God.  Locked in our own world we can achieve little.  But connected with each other and with God we can do great things.

Our Mother of Perpetual Help and Muslims

duyog-Marawi

“And when the angels said, ‘O Mary!
Indeed God has chosen you, and purified you,
and has chosen you above  all other women of the worlds.
O Mary! Be devoutly obedient to your Lord
and prostrate and bow with those bow.’”
– Qur’an 3:42-43

The biggest and most tragic news last week was the carnage of Muslims in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand last March 15, 2019. An Australian gunman with white supremacist background went on a rampage in two mosques, the biggest massacre in New Zealand’s modern history. According to police, 50 people were killed and 50 injured.  The victims were targeted as they gathered at the mosques for Friday prayers.

This tragic incident show that Islamophobia is on the rise and has been for some time. British political commentator, Ayesha Hazarika claims that Muslims have been demonized, dehumanized and scapegoated on an industrial scale by society since 9/11.

In the light of this event, this short essay explores some relevant points about Mary and our devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help and its relationship with the Muslim community and the Islam faith. Through this, the essay hopes to inspire some concrete actions towards dialogue between Catholics and Muslims. Indeed, Mary is key to ecumenism not just with Islam but with other faiths.

Arrival of Muslims at Baclaran

Outside the shrine, there are many Muslim vendors selling all sorts of wares—clothes, electronics, housewares, even Catholic religious articles like rosaries, statutes, novena booklets and other religious materials. Most of these Muslim traders came from the provinces in Mindanao, the island in the south of the Philippines that has the largest Muslim population in the country. The Muslim traders began to arrive in the 1990s. In due course, some Muslim settlers invested in established stalls (puwesto) and matched medium-and-large-scale business enterprises owned by other merchants in the area. A considerable number, however, remained as street vendors due to lack of sufficient capital.[1]

After the trade came the mosques. Four mosques were constructed within 500 meters from the shrine. The earliest mosque is the Masjid Abdullah, built in 1978; the next to be built is Masjid Rajah Sulayman in 1995. Masjid Al-Nur in Brgy. 79 of Pasay City came next in 1998, while Masjid Al-Wasat, located a few meters away from Baclaran Barangay Hall at the shrine’s northern part, was completed in 2009.[2] At present, only three mosques exist. The Masjid Rajah Sulayman which sat on a reclaimed land on Roxas Boulevard just south of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, overlooking Manila Bay was demolished by the government in 2013. The government’s reason for the demolition was the tenants’ lack of legal ownership of the site and an ordinance to widen city streets and prevent pickpocketing and violence in the area.

The shrine has maintained a relationship of peaceful co-existence with the Muslim community in Baclaran in the past. Besides small attempts at reaching out, there was no substantial effort towards dialogue between the shrine and the Muslim community. I do not know why no substantial dialogue between the Baclaran shrine community and Muslim community occurred. The best reason I can offer is that both sides did not know where and how to begin.

Nevertheless, this is a big challenge for both parties now and in the future. Because of the large number of Muslim community, the Baclaran shrine has the potential to become a center for Christian-Muslim dialogue in the country. In this endeavor, Our Mother of Perpetual Help (OMPH) can play a vital part in the dialogue with the Muslims.  OMPH can be a vital part because Mary is also greatly revered by the Muslims.

Muslim-vendor-Baclaran
Photo courtesy of David Madrid, https://www.flickr.com/photos/manilahobo/8207497472

Marian Shrines of Ecumenism

An interesting phenomenon in some countries particularly in Asia where there are shrine for OMPH is non-Christians praying before the Icon of OMPH. This is true in Singapore, India (Bombay), and the Philippines. In the Novena church[3] in Singapore, for example, Singaporean Redemptorist Fr. Gerard Louis reports that 20 to 25% of those who attend the Novena are non-Catholics, people of other faiths—Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims. Among all Catholic churches in Singapore, they only go to the Novena church. They only go for the novena not for the mass and other church sacraments and services.[4]  Some new Catholics, however, have come to faith and Baptism through the Novena Devotions.

Another Marian shrine in Asia is the Shrine of Our Lady of Vailankanni. It is one of the most frequented religious sites in India, where Hindus, Muslims and Christian from all over India congregate in large numbers and worship in harmony. Hundreds of miraculous cures are reported every year. Centuries of devotion to Mother Mary both by Hindus and Christians have evolved an amalgamation of practices borrowing elements from both religions.[5]

Here in Baclaran, there is no exact figure or percentage of how many non-Catholics pray the novena. From time to time, though, the phenomenon has received some admiration from other Christian denomination. For example, Jullian Robin Sibi said that Baclaran is one of those spots where you have to go to even though you are not Catholic.[6] Andy Dierickx, who identifies himself as a Protestant Christian, sincerely admires the devotees’ dedication despite the fact that he does not approve of every practice they do:

Let me preface my comment by saying as a ‘protestant Christian’ (for want of a better label) there are many things I don’t understand about the Roman Catholic Church. Novenas, rosaries, praying to statuary and knee-walking are just some of the things I don’t comprehend. Lately I have been a bit outspoken on the subject and have offended loved ones in the process. On reflection I pray and ask forgiveness for that. I may never understand the rituals and practices, but I cannot question the devotion of the devotees of the OMPH Church. They sit and sweat and kneel and sweat when they could be in SM or home in front of the aircon! If some of my fellow Christians could have half of that fervor it would be amazing. While I could never subscribe to the Catholic precepts and ideology I pay respect to the beautiful folk who gather at Baclaran each Wednesday. Next time I am in town I might just drop in and sweat with you.[7]

Ben Hernandez, a non-Christian, left a comment on the Baclaran FB page in July 2, 2017: “I am not a Christian but, as l have said in my wall post, Baclaran Church truly reflects our Filipino culture, values and heritage.”[8]

Conflict in the Time of Ecumenism

We live at a time where there is a growing movement of dialogue among religions and faiths.  The increasing calls and efforts for interreligious dialogue continue to break down walls of prejudice and intolerance. Fiore describes today’s global world as a world where one in seven people lives outside his/her place of origin; a world where cultures meet, spiritualities compete, and we are left wondering what to do with the faith we have received as an inheritance.[9] The world is heading towards greater openness beyond the religion we have grown into. There is no turning back, as David Tracy contended, “[T]here can be no return to a pre-ecumenical, pre-pluralistic, ahistorical theology.”[10]

The interreligious milieu poses several challenges to the living of one’s religion. First, each one is challenged to have a clearer understanding and deeper living of one’s religion.  As people are exposed to other religions they learn to see more the distinctiveness of their own religion and this help to clarify their religious identity. Alternatively, each one is challenged to learn from the other.  Everyone is challenged to have a wider and deeper understanding of God that goes beyond one’s own religion.  Finally, it provides an opportunity for mutual enrichment about God as each religion reveals a special facet of the truth about God.[11]  In this interreligious milieu, dialogue becomes a necessary attitude, a way of life. It challenges each one to learn the art of listening despite actual differences.

These developments affirm the church’s conviction in recent years towards continuous interreligious dialogue.  Many church documents, especially after Vatican II, have affirmed that the seeds of the Gospel go beyond the Catholic Church. For example, LG says that salvation is possible for all people of goodwill whether they have explicit faith in God or not.[12]  Nostra Aetate declares that other than Christianity, there is a ray of truth that enlightens all men and women.[13]  And Gaudium et Spes affirms that the Holy Spirit in a way known only to God offers every person the possibility of being associated with the paschal mystery.[14]

Despite the climate of pluralism, multiculturalism, and ecumenism there is continuous religious conflicts and the rise of religious intolerance and fundamentalism in the world today. There are those who advocate for a return to exclusion, religious discrimination, religious fundamentalism and, religious extremism. In the Philippines, there is still a perceived mutual prejudice between Muslims, Lumads, and Christians. Many suffer from the continuous war between Muslims and Christians in the south.

Mary in Islam

Vatican II ushered a new attitude towards Islam: “Upon the Muslims, too, the Church looks with esteem.”[15] Nostra Aetate listed several reasons why the Church should respect Islam; it shows parallels between Islamic belief and Christian faith. Among these many common elements, Mary is clearly mentioned: “They also honor Mary, His [Jesus’] virgin mother; at times they call on her, too, with devotion.”[16]

Virgin_Mary_and_Jesus_(old_Persian_miniature)

Love for the Virgin Mary runs deep in Islam. In the Qur’an, Mary’s name (Maryam) appears explicitly thirty-four times; in twenty-four of these references, she is identified as the mother of Jesus (Isa). Mary is mentioned more often by name in the Muslim scripture than in the Christian New Testament. One chapter of the Qur’an (Sura 19) is in fact entitled “Mary” and it narrates the events of the annunciation of Jesus’ birth: Mary is chosen by God and given divine favors; she is immaculately consecrated to God from her mother’s womb; an angel appears to her and announces the miraculous virgin birth of a child; Mary accepts, conceives Isa and gives birth to him.[17] The very story of the birth of Mary, which the feast day commemorates, is found in the Quran 3:35-36.

In the international pilgrimage shrine of Our Lady of Fátima, one aspect that often goes unnoticed is the subtle connection with Islam. The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to the three shepherd children near the city of Fátima, Portugal, a place named after both a Muslim princess and the daughter of Mohammed.[18] As Venerable Fulton Sheen said, “I believe that the Blessed Virgin chose to be known as “Our Lady of Fátima” as a pledge and a sign of hope to the Moslem people, and as an assurance that they, who show her so much respect, will one day accept her Divine Son, too.” Thus, not surprisingly, the shrine at Fátima, Portugal, has also attracted Muslims in great numbers. They go to see the place where the Virgin Mary appeared in a city named after one of their most highly revered women. [19]

Thus, Mary can serve as a bridge between Islam and Christianity: It is certainly true that in her very person there is a meeting point, or at least a stepping stone, between Christianity and Islam. Indeed, as the Qur’an itself says: “To those who believe, God has set an example (“mathalan”) … in Mary, who preserved her chastity …, who put her trust in the words of her Lord and his scriptures and was one of the truly devout” (“Prohibition” LXVI:12).[20]

duyog-Marawi-about

Conclusion

OMPH can be a bridge between communities. Marian devotion can be an avenue for inter-faith dialogue with peoples of other faith traditions. Devotion to OMPH does not harbor biases against people of other faiths or people with different political convictions. The devotion can be an instrument of peace, mutual cooperation among peoples of different faiths towards common fight against poverty and violence.

One of the fruits of a healthy and productive devotion to OMPH is the openness to forge a  relationship and dialogue with other faiths and Christian denomination through Mary and the icon. The icon and Mary can help to reinvigorate our devotion through dialogue with other religions.

In the light of this, Mary and the Icon can be the starting of a dialogue between the Muslim community and the shrine in Baclaran in the future.

 


 

[1] Manuel Victor Sapitula, Marian Piety and Modernity: A Sociological Assessment of Popular Religion in the Philippines, A Thesis Submitted for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy Department of Sociology, National University Of Singapore, 2013, 150. Accessed at https://scholarbank.nus.edu.sg/bitstream/10635/43728/1/SAPITULA%20-%20PhD%20Thesis.pdf

[2] Ustad Samanuddin, personal communication, 2011: Sapitula, Marian Piety and Modernity, 147.

[3] The official name of church is St. Alphonsus but everybody calls it the Novena Church.

[4] Gerard Louis, “OMPH Devotion in a Non-Christian Context: Possibilities for Interfaith Dialogue,” in a Talk Given to the 150th Jubilee International Congress, Baclaran, April 24-27, 2017.

[5] “About Annai Velangkanni,” Velangkanni.com. Accessed at https://velangkanni.com/en/about-annai-velangkanni/

[6] Jullian Robin Sibi, “Kalye Serye Maynila: When in Baclaran,”Blissful Snapshots. Accessed at http://www.blissfulsnapshots.com/2016/11/kalye-serye-maynila-when-in-baclaran.html

[7] Andy Dierickx, “Devotees,” baclaranchurch.org. Accessed at http://www.baclaranchurch.org/devotees.html

[8] https://www.facebook.com/pg/omphbaclaran/reviews/

[9] Fiore, “The Spiritual, Pastoral and Missionary message of the Icon,”22.

[10] David Tracy, “Defending the Public Character of Theology,” Religion Online. Accessed at https://www.religion-online.org/article/defending-the-public-character-of-theology/

[11] Nostra Aetate, 2.

[12] Lumen Gentium, 16.

[13] Nostra Aetate, 2.

[14] Gaudium et Spes, 22.

[15] Nostra Aetate, #3

[16] Nostra Aetate, #3

[17] R.J. McCarthy, “Mary in Islam,” Mary’s Place in Christian Dialogue, ed. Alberic Stacpoole (Slough, England: St. Paul Publications, 1982), 208-211.

[18] Philip Kosloski, “The surprising connection between Our Lady of Fatima and Islam,” Aleteia, May 7, 2017. https://aleteia.org/2017/05/07/the-surprising-connection-between-our-lady-of-fatima-and-islam/

[19] Kosloski, “The surprising connection between Our Lady of Fatima and Islam.”

[20] William Keeler, “How Mary Holds Christians and Muslims in Conversation,” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops USCCB, 3.

2ND SUNDAY OF LENT: TOWARDS RESURRECTION

transfiguration
Photo from the top of Mt. Manalmon

Last Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent, we reflected on the desert as a primary symbol of the Lenten discipline. This second Sunday of Lent, we will reflect on the mountain top as the primary symbol of the goal of Lent. Today’s 2nd Sunday of Lent suggests that the end of Lent is not the suffering and death but the resurrection of Jesus. Lent is the disciplining of our mortal and sinful body and soul in order to partake of the resurrected and transfigured body and soul of Jesus.

If desert was a testing ground, mountains are sacred grounds where God often reveals himself to people, called theophanies in theological terms. In the Bible, the mountains top symbolize the presence of God, since on top of the mountain, people are “closer to God” who dwells in the heavens (as in the sky). Thus, mountains and hills represent a higher level of spiritual consciousness or awareness. Mountain symbolize the transformation that will happen to us at the end of time, a transformation that will happen when we enter into the mode of existence of the resurrected Christ.

The second Sunday of Lent clarifies for us that resurrection is the main goal of Lent. Resurrection is our ultimate way of life not passion and death.   As St. Augustine proclaimed: We are an Easter people! We are children of Easter morn. We are a redeemed people, redeemed by Christ from death and sin. This is our deepest and truest identity as a people.

Many liturgists refer to Lent/Eastertide as “The Great 90 Days,” in Tagalog, pagsisiyamnapo.  Lent is 40 days which is the preparation. Easter is 50 days which is the celebration of resurrection. Easter is longer than Lent because it is the celebration of the resurrection while Lent is shorter because it is just the preparation.

We cannot separate Lent from Easter, in the same way that we cannot separate Easter from Lent.  Together, they compose the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ–Jesus’ Life, Death and Resurrection. The word ‘Paschal’ comes from an ancient Aramaic word, pasha (Hebrew, pesah) meaning ‘Passover’.  Passover is the central event in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). It is the story of of Israel’s liberation by God from slavery in Egypt. On the night of the passover, the Israelites were instructed by God to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a slaughtered spring lamb so that when the spirit of the Lord see this, the spirit will pass over the first-born in these homes, and thus, sparing them from death. As Christians we believe that Jesus has become the true sacrificial Passover “Lamb of God” (John 1:29).  This was fulfilled through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. We celebrate the promise of sharing in the paschal mystery of Christ at our Baptism.

The readings today speak about the radical transformation which God will fulfill for us.

In the first reading, from the book of Genesis, God promised to Abraham that God will transform God’s chosen people–Israel. God will bestow an abundant posterity and land to Israel. God sealed his promise through a covenant which God established with Abraham:

“To your descendants I give this land,
from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates.”

In the Second Reading, St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians, speaks of the change of our earthly existence in the final consummation.

Our citizenship is in heaven,
and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
He will change our lowly body
to conform with his glorified body
by the power that enables him also
to bring all things into subjection to himself.

The term “glorious body,” reflects an apocalyptic hope, that is, the life we hope to achieve at the end of time. According to this hope, the life of the age to come will not be merely a prolongation of this present life but an entirely new, transformed mode of existence. It will be a mode of existence that Christ entered at his resurrection.

Today’s gospel tells the story of the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain. In today’s gospel from Luke, we read

Jesus took Peter, John, and James
and went up the mountain to pray.
While he was praying his face changed in appearance
and his clothing became dazzling white.
And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah,
who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus
that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep,
but becoming fully awake,
they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.

Transfiguration Icon

The Greek word used for transfiguration is metamorphoo—this is the root of the English word, metamorphosis. We use the word metamorphosis more popularly today for the transformation of caterpillar to butterfly, likewise in the transformation of a maggot into an adult fly and the changing of a tadpole into a frog. These are some of the amazing wonders of nature that we can ever witness in our entire lives. It’s almost like a change from one creature to a totally different creature. Who would have imagine that a beautiful butterfly would come out of an ugly caterpillar? Indeed, metamorphosis is a reminder and a symbol from nature that something good can come out even from the messiest and ugliest reality of our lives. Change, even radical change is possible as nature have shown us.

This gives us the greatest hope and joy in anticipation of the transformation that will become of us and of God’s creation in the fullness of time. Jesus’ transfiguration was a foretaste of the metamorphosis that is to become of us at the end of time. This also happens to us everyday. We often have glimpses of glory: in a remarkable sunset, in the shining face of a delighted child, in the radiant joy of new parents. Like the transfiguration, these glimpses of glory encourage and strengthen us to continue the journey of life toward eternal glory.

The divine metamorphosis that occurred to the three disciples on the mountain top during the Transfiguration of the Lord will also happen to us and we will become “God-viewers.” Like them and all the Saints of the ages, God’s light will metamorphose our whole body and soul. We will achieve what is called Theosis (Deification) and shine as luminaries radiating the light of the knowledge of God. We will become partakers of the Divine Grace and communicants of God.

This is also true for our world, Jesus’ resurrection is a symbol of hope for the change that will happen in the world from injustice into integrity, from hatred into kindness and from violence into peace. This gives the utmost hope especially to those who have long been suffering and desperate. But as Jesus showed us, the only way to transfiguration and transformation is through suffering and ultimately dying to ourselves.  Change can only happen at the cost of ourselves.

All these musings call for a reorientation of Lent. Australian Redemptorist Fr. Kevin O’Shea suggests that we take a reverse journey during Lent. We begin in the end—the resurrection:

Suppose we could … do Lent backwards. Suppose, instead of Ash Wednesday, we started with Easter Sunday. Suppose we then thought what we would have liked to have done to make ourselves ready for our share in Jesus’ resurrection. It would be like a reverse Easter vigil, not for one night, but for 40 nights. Backwards.[1]

Lent begins with the profound belief that we are a redeemed people through the resurrection. This victorious reality is what we received from our baptism. Baptism endows our profound identity as a redeemed people through the resurrection of Jesus. That is why from the earliest history of the church, the church has set aside the whole 40 days of Lent as the preparation and training period of candidates for baptism, called catechumens. The catechumens are solemnly baptized at the end of the Lenten season on Easter Vigil. This worthy practice was revived by the church in recent years through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program. Thus, in Lent, we re-evaluate our lives in the light of our baptismal promises and identity. Lent is an academy where once again we relearn the meaning and implications and appreciate the wonder of baptism.

Whilst rituals, penitence, fasting, prayer and almsgiving are important, they are not the primary goal of Lent. As we go through Lent each year, oftentimes, our focus is on the external rituals and acts of penitence.  In so doing, Lent becomes about us—our efforts, discipline, sacrifices and goals no longer about the victory of Jesus. When this happen the whole Lenten discipline becomes superficial, merely obligations that we have to go through but does not bring forth true change. Thus, come Easter, after all the observances in Lent, we become what we call in Tagalog, BSDU: balik sa dating ugali (back to old ways).

By returning to our victorious baptismal identity, Lent becomes a time for examining our participation in the resurrection of Jesus. Lent is pondering what “rising from the dead” means. The resurrection of Jesus gives us hope, that despite all our frailties and failures, our wickedness and weaknesses, God’s grace will redeem us over and over again. There is no human being, however evil or sinful, that is beyond redemption by Jesus’ resurrection. As nature have shown us, change, even radical change, is possible. This too gives us hope in a transformed world, that in the midst of too much suffering in the world around us and the seeming prevalence of evil in our world, goodness will triumph, Jesus will triumph, and we will reach our fullness and life’s fullness in God’s grace.

 


 

[1] Kevin O’ Shea, “Ash Wednesday,” cssr.org. Accessed 22/02/2018 at https://www.cssr.org.au/writings/dsp-default.cfm?loadref=2765

 

The Legacy of St. Clement Hofbauer: Preaching the Gospel Ever Anew

st-clement-hofbauer

Baclaran shrine is a 24/7 church and because of this it has sometimes been called a shrine with a perpetual mission.  This is not the only shrine in the history of the Redemptorist, however, that was identified with a perpetual mission. There was also a church in the 18th century run by the Redemptorists, which experienced a continuous influx of people day and night because of the lively and invigorating services in the church. This was the St. Benno’s church in Warsaw, Poland. The main Redemptorist behind the vibrant activity of this shrine was a Redemptorist who is now a saint. He is St. Clement Hofbauer whose feast we celebrate today. The shrine joins the whole Redemptorist congregation worldwide in thanking God and celebrating the life and legacy of St. Clement on his feast day today.

St. Clement Hofbauer (1751–1820) is often called the second founder of the Redemptorist congregation for bringing the congregation across the Alps in Northern Europe.[1] He is a  model of missionary dynamism and creativity encapsulated in his most famous quote of “preaching the gospel anew.”

St. Clement was born on December 26, 1751, in Tasswitz, Moravia (present day Czechoslovakia) of a poor family with twelve children.  He worked as an apprentice baker before he became a Redemptorist.

St. Clement lived in one of the most difficult and trying times of Central Europe.  The ideas of Enlightenment had pervaded the whole of Europe and the Church was slowly groping for meaning.  “He had to face Josephism, Illuminism, the French Revolution, the Empire of Napoleon I, Protestantism, Free Thought, but he had German Romanticism as an ally”[2]  Hans Scherman describes the impact of these socio-intellectual currents on theology in Clement’s time:  “Theology was searching for new ways of speaking to the intellectual currents of the age only to have its attempts condemned by Rome.”[3]

At the same time, this social milieu provided a good opportunity for Clement to develop a great ecumenical spirit and the formation of a genuine freedom of conscience.  Within his circle of friends he was responsible for many conversions from Protestantism.[4]   He had a “global” perspective which at that time was European.[5]

The Saint, with a deep knowledge of his times, was able to adapt his pastoral work.  When the government at that time forbade the preaching of missions, Clement endeavored to compensate the people for the loss of the occasional mission by conducting a “Perpetual Mission” in the church of St. Benno’s in Warsaw, Poland.

In the midst of these difficulties, Clement would often say that the “Gospel had to be preached anew.” The keyword in this Clementian expression is “anew”.  Josef Heinzmann, in examining the historical context of these famous words, explains:

The famous student of Hofbauer and preacher at the cathedral, Dr. Emmanuel Veith, reports: “I heard him say these splendid and emphatic words very often, yes almost daily: “The Gospel must be preached anew!” And in fact, people have wondered a great deal about this word anew. Does it mean again, or in a new way? What’s the difference?  Both are included in it.”[6]

St. Clement’s distinct legacy of “Preaching the Gospel anew” suggests two important points.  First the gospel must be repeatedly preached at all times, in all places.  Clement, who was always on fire, cannot accept the reality that the gospel cannot be preached because of external repressive conditions. Clement admonishes us that we should not give up preaching the gospel as it is relevant in all times and places. “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Cor 9: 16).  Thus, Clement preached the gospel with utmost persistence and zeal in spite of the political turmoil and persecutions in Europe during his time.

Second, each time the gospel is expressed it is preached in a new way.  Preaching the gospel anew speaks of the newness of both the act and content of preaching.  Every act of preaching and its content is ever anew as the gospel is preached in different places, cultures and times.

Clement’s manner of preaching is marked by utter simplicity and connectedness with the language of the people.  “‘Today I’ll preach a sermon so simple that even the most stupid of you and every little child can understand’—he is supposed to have said, according to a police report.”[7]  Clement did not use elaborate theology and pageantry.  Although Clement was not a gifted rhetorician his sermons made an impact on all walks of life—rich or poor, illiterate, intellectuals and academics alike.  “God’s word must be preached in such a way that everyone understands it: the small and the great, the educated and the uneducated.”[8]

Although Clement manifested exemplary apostolic spirit, he was also known to be ascetic.   Clement’s asceticism was, however, “principally the asceticism arising from an apostolic activism.”[9]  Joseph Oppitz sums it up: “Clement was innovative and daring, an existential opportunist.”[10]

The mission system, which was a creative instrument of evangelization crafted by Alphonsus and appropriated by Clement, however, became fossilized in the nineteenth century for many reasons.  Moran laments this fact: “It is one of the great ironies that Alphonsus dedicated his life to preaching the bounty of God’s mercy available in Jesus Christ, while the Redemptorists later came to be renowned as blistering preachers of hell-fire and brimstone.”[11]

In 2009, the General Chapter of the congregation adopted the theme for the sexennium (2009-2015) from the tradition of St. Clement : “To Preach the Gospel Ever Anew (St. Clement): Renewed Hope, Renewed Hearts, Renewed Structures—For Mission.” The General Chapter recognized the crucial imperative of “preaching the gospel anew” amidst the many challenges of today’s global age.

St. Clement lived the gospel amidst insurmountable personal and social conditions.  He was confronted by the problem of speaking about God amidst the many obstacles of his time. Nevertheless, he upheld that “the gospel must be preached ever anew” in the midst of the intellectual challenges of the Enlightenment, the secularist environment of capitalism and the persecution and suppression of religious houses.   He experienced personal doubts, failures and struggles.  But these negative experiences did not deter him; on the contrary, these emboldened him to proclaim the gospel in the milieu in which he lived.

The Redemptorist congregation throughout its history has always thrived when, in the context of insurmountable challenges, they were open to opportunities for the proclamation of God’s abundant redemption.  They reach the lowest point in their history when their evangelizing ministry has become fossilized and the members become passive and retreat to security and complacency.

May the legacy and example of St. Clement continue to inspire and challenge all Redemptorists and missionaries towards constantly living with fresh vitality in mission, witnessing and community life.

 


 

[1] Louis Vereecke, “The Spirituality of St. Clement Mary Hofbauer,” Readings in Redemptorist Spirituality, Vol. 5, ed. Redemptorist General Council (Rome: Redemptorist General Council, 1991), 37.

[2] Vereecke, “The Spirituality of St. Clement Mary Hofbauer,” 39.

[3] Hans Scherman, “Saint Clement Hofbauer,” Readings in Redemptorist Spirituality, Vol. 5, ed. Rededemptorist General Council (Rome: Rededemptorist General Council, 1991), 13.

[4] Vereecke, “The Spirituality of St. Clement Mary Hofbauer,” 43.

[5] Scherman, “Saint Clement Hofbauer,” 21.

[6] Josef Heinzmann, Preaching the Gospel Anew: Saint Clement Maria Hofbauer, trans. Bernard McGrade

(Liguori, MO: Liguori Publications, 1998), 67.

[7] Scherman, “Saint Clement Hofbauer,” 20.

[8] Heinzmann, “To Be a Redemptorist Today,” 60.

[9] Joseph Oppitz, Alphonsian History and Spirituality (Rome: Private Re­demptorist Publication, 1978), 82.

[10] Oppitz, Alphonsian History and Spirituality, 82.

[11] Moran, “Alphonsus Liguori,” 248.

The First Complete Tagalog Mission

 

market-visitation

In March 1933 the first complete Tagalog Mission was given in Obando, Bulacan. Frs. Edward “Ned” Gallagher and Charles “Charlie” Taylor were the Missioners and this Mission was complete according to the Baclaran Chronicles in all ways including the trimmings. The Mission lasted from March 8th-17th.

This is all contained in one paragraph of the Baclaran Chronicles. But this paragraph contains a big chapter in the lives of these two men. Who were they?

They were born in Australia. They studied in the Redemptorist Seminary in Australia. When the Monastery in Baclaran was almost completed they were among those chosen to be in the first community. They arrived in the Philippines on Feb. 15th 1932 with hardly any knowledge of the Philippines or the Filipino people. Fr. Taylor was 34 years of age and Fr. Gallagher was already 40. Yet in one year they were to give the First complete Redemptorist Mission in Tagalog.

This was not their first work in Tagalog. We read in the Chronicles that less than six weeks after the arrival of the first Baclaran Community they were already serious about learning Tagalog. “After Easter March 27th, Fr. Taylor went to San Jose del Monte Bulacan to learn the language, with the help of the Parish Priest. By July 3rd Sunday Fr. Taylor, who had already preached several times in San Jose del Monte, preached the first Tagalog sermon in the Redemptorist Church on Baclaran.”

And on July 18th we read “Fr Superior, Gallagher, opened a retreat to the children of the Good Shepherd Convent in Sta. Ana, Manila. It will close on the morning of the 22nd. This is the first Tagalog Apostolic work undertaken by any member of the Community since our arrival.” This was only five months after their arrival in a foreign land.

We also read that “from December 18th – 25th, a Mission was given at the request of the Archbishop in Jalajala in Rizal. This Mission was given by Frs. Gallagher and Taylor.” Apparently they were not completely satisfied by this effort because we read in March 1933 the first complete Tagalog Mission was given in Obando, Bulacan.  According to the Baclaran Chronicles “this Mission was complete in all ways, including the trimmings.” So what was the difference?

mission-in-the-market-at-caloocan~-fr-ted-roche-preaching

What comprised a Complete Mission in those days? The regular timetable for a Mission was, Mass, usually at 5.30 a.m. followed by a 15-minute instruction which was followed by another Mass.  The Morning was spent in Home visitation. In the afternoon there could be listing for Baptisms, or Marriage rectifications, (many were only married by the judge). The Baptisms would follow immediately, but the marriages would be done after the Mission at night. Confessions were also available during this time. After supper, there followed the mission proper which was made up of the rosary, notices of coming events, jokes, efforts to urge people to bring their friends and relatives for the next night, then the Mission Sermon, which lasted at least 30 minutes. If the Mission was in the town, there would be Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. This included the ìSinners bellî which was rung during the recital of five “Our fathers”, Five “Hail Marys” and Five “Glorias” for the conversion of all poor sinners. This was followed by Confessions. And in this case the Mission lasted for a week.

Quite an effort for two men who had only been in the country for around one year, and were still struggling with the language.

Obviously God was with them.

Fr. John Maguire, C.Ss.R.