13TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: A HIGHER CALLING

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Photo by Mathew Thomas from Pexels

Life is a calling. We are not just born in this world to exist but to live with a purpose, a mission, a calling. There is a word–vocation–which is usually associated with religious vocation but can be applied to all. Vocation comes from the Latin word, vocare, to call. Everybody has a vocation.

Vocation is not only an ambition or a career that we want to pursue in the future. Vocation is a higher calling than ambition or a career. We have seen this in the lives of great people, saints and heroes. They learned to get out of their ordinary lives in response to a higher and more noble cause, a greater good other than their own personal agenda. The source of the call is either God, or country, or justice or a morally right cause which led them to sacrifice their lives for the greater good.

The readings for today’s 13th Sunday in ordinary time are stories of God’s calling certain individuals to go beyond their ordinary existence.

In the First Reading, Elisha is called by the Lord to be the helper and successor of the prophet Elijah. Elisha, however, wanted to kiss his mother and father goodbye first. The prophet Elijah challenged Elisha’s playing for time. In response, Elisha kills all his family’s oxen; then he uses their yokes for firewood to roast the oxen, and he gives the flesh to his servants to eat. Elisha made sure that he can’t go home now. How could he, after what he did to the family oxen and their yokes?

In the Gospel, Jesus called many people along the way to follow him but challenged them to transcend their ordinary plans and ambitions:

To another he said, “Follow me.”
But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.”
But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead.
But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
And another said, “I will follow you, Lord,
but first let me say farewell to my family at home.”
To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow
and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Answering God’s call is in no way contrary to developing our talents and pursuing our creative path. But the highest fulfillment of our gifts and talents is not for ourselves but  for the love of God, our neighbor and ourselves. In other words, if we wish to fulfill our vocation as Christians we must all become selfless servants and lovers. Whenever we are inclined to seek for ourselves wealth, prestige, popularity, and position, it is no longer about vocation but ambition and power.

It is a sad reality that for many of our young people in our country today, the main aspiration is getting out of the vicious cycle of poverty. Many young people, especially in a third world country like the Philippines, dream of freeing their family from the shackles of poverty even if this would mean taking a path that is not what they truly want and aspire. Thus, many in their present work or profession are not happy or something inside of them is saying that this is not the way they would wish to become someday but they have no choice because they need to survive. The economic plight has stifled their creativity and worst of all the very nature of what they want to become.

Another big factor that may inhibit us from pursuing a higher calling is the postmodern culture. Postmodernism has created a “me” society where the interests of the individual takes precedence over the interests of the country or social group or religion. The autonomous individual becomes the measure of all things. The focus is on oneself, one’s own personal development, apart from one’s community and society.

In a world which apparently has no one to follow, it has become tougher to offer a way of life anchored on following Christ. In this age where traditional sources of meaning are being questioned by today’s generation, the very purpose of vocation has become harder to live out and has stirred some inner confusion and emptiness.

These threat and challenges should not, however, deter us from discovering our deepest calling, pursuing our noblest aspirations and achieving our fullest human maturity. The material, commercial and individualist milieu does not invalidate nor diminish the integrity of vocation as living life to the fullest in a life of service and sacrifice.

In a globalized world, the biggest challenge is to continue to proclaim the liberating Gospel which gives us a meaningful way to set people free from the slavery to money, power and fame. In a highly individualized world, the biggest challenge is to continue to proclaim that only in Jesus Christ can we be true individuals, fully human and fully alive. Living out the true meaning of vocation is not to fulfill our calling in isolation but in communion with others and with God.

The First Intervention of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the Philippines

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First Redemptorist Community at Opon, 1907

On June 30, 1906, the first Redemptorist community in the Philippines arrived in Opon (now presently Lapu-lapu City), in the island of Cebu. Those appointed to the Foundation were Fr Leo (at the time Rector of Ballarat, Australia) as Superior, Creagh, O’Sullivan, O’Callaghan, Casin, and Bros. Casimir and Eunan (shown in the picture above).

The settling down in the parish did not go as smooth as the Redemptorists had hoped for. The first community found the parish Priest, Fr. Roa and his 12 houseboys still in possession of the convento. The Bishop of Cebu, Thomas Hendrik, did not make matters clear to Fr. Roa, so that when the Parish Priest finally left, some local lay leaders objected that the parish was being taken over by foreigners and had driven out the Parish Priest.

Indeed, the negative experiences from the Spanish friars were still fresh in the memory of the natives that the local people gave the pioneer Redemptorist from Ireland and Australia a very cold treatment.  Someone even organized a boycott against them and soon even the services in the church were boycotted. The convento had been a meeting place for the President of the Municipio (a classmate of Fr. Roa) and his cronies. The parish was a good one and the annual Fiesta was big business. The Municipio had a stake in this. Because of all of these, the pioneer Redemptorists were too disheartened to initiate anything in the parish.

Added to these woes was the fact that the new Community fresh from the cool air of Ireland found themselves crowded into two rooms and sleeping on the floor.  Their reactions to all this differed. Fr. Leo blamed Fr. Boylan for everything. Fr. Boylan was the Irish Provincial who arrived first in the Philippines to prepare for the establishment of the Foundation. He  joined the incumbent Parish Priest, Fr Roa, in residence in Opon on March 17, 1906. Despite all the pressures, Boylan took them well, putting on frequent celebrations for the community and appealing to holy hope.

Not all people, however, were inimical to the Redemptorists. The wife of the President of the Municipio defied the boycott from the beginning. Three sisters from a nearby barrio smuggled in food supplies, and another convinced her husband, who piloted a launch, to bring in supplies from Cebu. Also some of the priests were very supportive from the day of their arrival, especially the parish Priest of Mandawe Fr. Emiliano Mercado and Fr. Gregorio Reynes who was assigned as curate and language teacher. Filipino Hospitality won out in the end and after six months we read in the chronicles, the people are very friendly towards us.

But the most significant change was about to happen on July 24, 1906.  Fr. Patrick Leo, the superior of the community, erected the icon of our Mother of Perpetual Help (OMPH) in the tribune looking into the Church. We read in the Chronicles of the time: “It is remarkable that on this day the people became notably more friendly towards us.”

Redemptorist historian Fr. Michael Bailey describes this providential event as perhaps the very first intervention of OMPH in the mission of the Redemptorists in the Philippines.[1]

We could just imagine the reaction of the people the first time they saw the picture of OMPH. It was not one of the usual Marian images that the locals were used to. Although they have painted images of the Virgin with Child, this seemed strange for them, as it did not portray the innocence of the Child Jesus like the one cradled by their own Virgen dela Regla.[2] They could have given the strange icon a cold treatment, in the same way that they treated the missionaries who brought them, but they gladly welcomed and embraced the icon in their parish.

With the people’s much needed approval through the maternal intervention of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Opon, the Redemptorists now had the peace of mind to promote devotion to OMPH. The first novena to OMPH in Opon was celebrated on March 17, 1907. The Redemptorists also brought the icon when they began to give missions to the barrios. This is in keeping with the Redemptorist tradition of bringing the icon wherever Redemptorists gave missions. In one of these missions, Bailey recounts the very significant event of the barrio mission that Redemptorists conducted in Compostela, Cebu in 1907 which showed Mary’s already special place in the early mission of the Redemptorists in the Philippines:

The most significant thing about this “missionette” was that the picture of OMPH was placed over the altar, and presided, as it were, over the work. So began the patronage of the Redemptorist apostolate in the Philippines by OMPH that was to bear much fruit in missions and retreats, and later, in the devotion of the Perpetual Novena.[3]

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[1] Michael Baily, C.Ss.R., Small Net in a Big Sea, The Redemptorists in the Philippines, 1905-1929 (Cebu: San Carlos Publications), 19.

[2] Trizer Dale Mansueto, “Make her Known,” How the Devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help Flourished in the Philippines, Our Mother of Perpetual Help Icon and the Philippines: Multidisciplinary Perspectives to a Perpetual Help Spirituality (Manila: Institute for Spirituality in Asia, 2017), 36.

[3] Baily, Small Net in a Big Sea, 20.