15TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: THE PRODIGAL SOWER

sower

Jesus taught mainly through parables. Parables are stories or analogies drawn from everyday life. The parable of the sower is one of the greatest parables of Jesus.

From a farmer’s point of view, however, there is something wrong with the parable of the sower. Not that I am a farmer but I’ve seen many times, especially during my exposure to farmers during my seminary days, how a farmer would meticulously prepare the field before sowing the seeds. He would plow and rake through the soil to remove the grass and stones until it becomes clean and clear so that all the seeds will fall on good soil. Once these are done, there is no way a seed could fall on thorny soil, rocky soil, not to mention, a pathway, as told in the parable by Jesus. From all indications, the sower in the parable is not our typical farmer; he is either a foolish or wasteful farmer. In Tagalog, we call this kind of farmer, “waldas na magsasaka”.

What could explain for the different types of soil where the seeds fell? It’s either that agriculture was so crude during Jesus’ time or this is deliberate on the part of Jesus. I think the latter is more appropriate as Jesus wanted to emphasize the utter generosity, even to the point of extravagance, of the sower.  After all, the very purpose of the parables is to show a God who is utterly benevolent.  God’s benevolence overturns our greed stricken world, forces us to re-examine our mindset and offers us a fresh perspective in life.

The parable has strong links with today’s First Reading from Isaiah. God’s word is compared to rain and snow falling on the earth and not returning until it has made the soil “fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats”. “So,” says the Lord in Isaiah, “my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” We all know now that the Word of God is Jesus. The abundant goodwill of Jesus the Word of God will bear fruit no matter what and will serve the purpose of his coming—the plentiful redemption of God’s creation.

The extravagance of the sower is highlighted by the fact that the sower never discriminate in his act of sowing. Whether the soil was pathway soil, rocky soil, thorny soil, or good soil, the sower generously sowed his seed equally on all types of soil. Jesus himself explained that these different types of soil symbolizes the different dispositions which hearers receive the word of God. Jesus elaborates,

“The seed sown on the path is the one
who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it,
and the evil one comes and steals away
what was sown in his heart.
The seed sown on rocky ground
is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy.
But he has no root and lasts only for a time.
When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word,
he immediately falls away.
The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word,
but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word
and it bears no fruit.
But the seed sown on rich soil
is the one who hears the word and understands it,
who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

The question we always ask ourselves in this parable is “What kind of soil am I?” Honestly, I think I have been all the four types of soil. There were times in my life that I was the rocky soil during those times when some tribulation made me to fall away from the word. At other times I was the thorny soil when  worldly anxiety and the lure of worldly honor and comfort choke the word in me and I became unproductive. Sometimes I was the pathway soil when I heard the word of the kingdom without understanding it. These weaknesses and failures, however, have taught me to become the good soil. Sometimes it can be said that the different types of soil represents stages in a process of our truly becoming the good soil.

The good news is despite all our shortcomings and infidelity, God will continue to sow generously his  word upon us. He will not give up sowing his seeds on each one of us. This is clearly a message of hope for all of us which may at times be discouraged by our and of our fellow believer’s failures and limitations.

Having experienced God’s generous lavish sowing upon ourselves, we now are also called to be prodigal sowers of the abundant love of the word of God. This is doubly challenging given today’s inhospitable environment.  We are not to keep the word of God, however, in our own privatized religion. We are called to proclaim the good news of Jesus to our brothers and sisters.

May we all continue to become the good soil hearing and making the word of God fruitful in our lives. At the same time, may we share in the generous sowing of the word of God by the prodigal sower even to those who fail and refuse to hear it.

3RD SUNDAY OF EASTER: JESUS WALKING WITH US ON THE ROAD

3rdSundayEater
on the road to the mission area, Cagayan Redemptorist mission 2014

Today’s gospel is my favorite resurrection story in the New Testament. It is a beautiful story full of symbolism and overflowing with meaning.

The gospel story is the story of the risen Jesus’ appearance to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. One of the disciples is named Cleopas while his companion remains unnamed. Emmaus is roughly 10 to 12 km from Jerusalem.

The name Emmaus is derived from the Hebrew form hamma or hammat (חמת) which means “warm spring.”  Emmaus may have been a spa or a resort place; it would be fair to say, the Las Vegas or Pansol in those days. Why are these two disciples going to Emmaus on the afternoon of the day when they were supposed to celebrate because Jesus resurrected? As we can glean from the gospel, they were walking away from the hurt and humiliation in Jerusalem and going to a place which could take the pain away or at least distract them from it.

In other words, the journey to Emmaus was a walking away from Jerusalem which was supposed to be the fulfilment of their dream but has been shattered by the shame and humiliation of the cross. When they entered Jerusalem together with Jesus, they were hoping that Jesus will sit in glory like the kings and emperors. As it turns out, Jesus was an epic failure, dying in the most shameful way. This is too hard to take; feeling dejected, they walked away. Unknown to them, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, as he promised.

Despite the two disciples walking away from the resurrection, the Risen Jesus walks with them as a fellow-traveller. Despite that the disciples betrayed, abandoned, and denied him during the time that he needed them most—in his hour of passion, suffering and death; despite not believing in his words that he will rise up again, Jesus walks and accompanied them in their doubts and frustrations as they walk out of the resurrection.

But why on earth did they not recognize Jesus in spite that Jesus walks side-by-side with them? It is utterly ridiculous not to recognize Jesus whom they have ardently followed and recognized as their Master for the past three years.

We can only conjecture two reasons. First, the humiliation and pain of unfulfilled expectation were so heavy that in spite of Jesus walking with them side by side, their eyes was closed even to the people around them.  Second, perhaps they did not recognize Jesus because the appearance of the resurrected body of Jesus might have been different from the earthly body of Jesus they have followed and interacted with before.

It was on the road that Jesus had to explain to them once again why he had to go through his suffering in order to fulfill the promises that God had told the prophets. The messiah has to go through suffering and death but attains glory and emerge victorious from death in the end. This is a powerful symbol of discipleship–Jesus and the two disciples walking, following and listening to Jesus who is the way.

The story of Emmaus represents the deepest truth of our lives. We have experienced many times in our lives walking away from failures and disillusionments – not recognized for the true worth of our efforts, not getting the job we wanted, not being loved by the one whom we love, not achieving our goals, etc. On the other hand, these experiences have taught us great lessons about life and have made us a stronger and better person.

But the gospel story today points us to the biggest fundamental walking away that we need to hurdle in life – the walking away from following Jesus’ passion, death up to the resurrection in Jerusalem. We can never understand the core meaning of our lives unless we learned not to walk away from our own death and resurrection. The core meaning of life as Jesus showed us is giving up life. Not giving up on life but dying to one’s life. In other words, the core meaning of life, the reason why Jesus gave his life for us on the cross, is love.

The redemption of the story is that the two disciples returned to Jerusalem to announce the good news and never to walk away again from the life-giving vocation that Jesus did in Jerusalem.

But this realization happened to the two disciples not without the Eucharist. The story of Emmaus is also the story of the Eucharist. Eucharist is the celebration of Easter. It is the celebration of the Risen Lord walking with us through life’s journey even if we walk away from resurrection.

In the Eucharist we who are followers on the road gather together and encounter Jesus. First, in the Liturgy of the Word as the Scriptures are broken open and explained, and, second, in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, where what Jesus did for us through his suffering, death and resurrection is remembered with thanksgiving and the bread that is now his Body and the wine that is now his Blood, is shared among those who are the Members of that Body to strengthen their union and their commitment to continuing the work of Jesus.

3RD SUNDAY OF LENT: RETURN TO THE WELL

Baclaran-covid

This week was a heart wrenching week as the Coronavirus pandemic spreads in almost every country around the globe.

The virus caused a radical discruption to the life of many people on the planet as people stock up on groceries, offices closed down, major sports and cultural events are cancelled and people are told to stay home rather than congregate and risk spreading the disease.

Despite the death, illness and other destructive impact of the virus, there might be some opportunities and important lessons that this pandemic might teach us. Dutch trends forecaster Li Edelkoort, for example, said that the virus might even be a grace for the world:

“The virus will slow down everything, We will see an arrest in the making of consumer goods. That is terrible and wonderful because we need to stop producing at such a pace. We need to change our behavior to save the environment. It’s almost as if the virus is an amazing grace for the planet.” [1]

Edelkoort believes we can emerge from the health crisis as more conscientious humans provided that we find new values—values of simple experience, of friendship. “It might just turn the world around for the better.”[2]

Indeed, this pandemic might be a test for us in which, depending upon our response, we can come out for better or for worst.

In the 1st reading of today’s 3rd Sunday of Lent, we hear of the Israelites quarreling with Moses about the lack of water, and Moses rebuking the Israelites for testing Yahweh.

The place was called Massah and Meribah,
because the Israelites quarreled there
and tested the LORD, saying,
“Is the LORD in our midst or not?”

Interestingly Massah, means testing, and Meribah, means quarreling.

In the gospel today we hear of the profoundly meaningful story of the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. The story is a long conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman who came to the well at noon time.  The well became the venue for the Samaritan woman to discover Jesus. Jesus started with the basic human need of thirst leading up to his profound mission of satisfying deep human needs and desires.

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again;
but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst;
the water I shall give will become in him
a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

It was in the well that the Samaritan woman came to true faith, that is, “coming and seeing” fulfilment of her human aspiration in Jesus. This led her to discover her true identity. She was no longer just a Samaritan or a woman but a follower of Jesus who left her old life in favour of a higher form of life in Jesus.

Lent is a journey of encountering Jesus. In the first Sunday of Lent, we encountered Jesus in the desert. In the second Sunday of Lent, we encountered Jesus on the mountain top. In today’s third Sunday of Lent, we encountered Jesus on the well. All these places became the locus where we discover ourselves and God

This pandemic, believe it or not, can be a place where we can encounter Jesus, however tragic it may be. The pandemic has forced us to slow down which providentially gave us an opportunity to take a stock of our lives as inviduals and as a global community. The pandemic helped us to return to the most essential values of our humanity–to live in harmony with nature, with fellow human beings and and the source of everything–God.

When we look at the well, what do we see? We see ourselves. If we look deeper into the reality of this pandemic, we can rediscover our true selves and Jesus in the midst of this tragedy. However, this will entail conversion and giving up of our old ways in order to rebuild and live our lives closer to one another, to nature and to God.

 

 

 

FEAST OF THE PRESENTATION OF OUR LORD: PRESENTING JESUS TODAY

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photo courtesy of Good Shepherd Blog, https://goodshepherdcampus.org/presentation-lord-february-2/

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Presentation of the Lord which occurs forty days after the birth of Jesus and is also known as Candlemas day, since the blessing and procession of candles is included in today’s liturgy.

To present a firstborn child in Jesus’ days meant the purification of the mother, which in turn demanded a sacrifice. The Book of Leviticus gives the prescription for purification: killing of a year-old lamb, or another animal. Poor people such as Joseph and Mary could not afford a first-born lamb, so they were allowed to sacrifice just a pigeon or a turtledove.

The gospel of Luke does not only narrates Mary and Joseph doing what the Mosaic Law required regarding the purification of a new mother and the consecration of a newborn child  but also narrates the prayer and joy of Simeon and Anna upon seeing the baby Jesus.

The prayer that Luke puts into the mouth of Simeon is so full of poetic power that it has long been at the heart of the Church’s night prayer as the canticle called the Nunc Dimittis. The old man speaks for all Israel as he takes the child in his arms and prays to God using words from Isaiah 40:5,

“My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all the peoples” (Luke 2:31).

Drawing on imagery from other parts of that prophetic scroll (Isa 42:6 and 49:6), he celebrates the child as

“a light for the revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel” (Lk 2:32).

Then he addresses Mary,

“Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted” (Lk 2:34),

thereby forecasting what will be elaborated in the rest of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. When he tells Mary,

“(And you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk 2:35),

he is not only speaking of the personal sorrow that lies_ahead for her as mother of a rejected prophet and pilloried enemy of the empire; he is also addressing her as representative of a people that will be painfully divided in its response to this news of the fulfillment of time. At this, the prophetess Anna, representing responsive Israel, joins the shepherds of Christmas night as one of those first non-writing evangelists who, early on, emerge from among the little people.

Like Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna, today’s feast calls us to present Jesus worthily today.  Today’s feast invites us to reflect on our own ‘presentation of the Lord.’

How do we present Jesus Christ to others? Is the Jesus we present to others a convenient cover and justification of our misdeeds and social indifference or do we present him as our Saviour whose gospel values we live individually and collectively? Do we present Jesus to others on such a pedestal that he is so distant and alienated from our daily struggles and suffering  or is he one of us, a brother human whose love of justice and peace can and should be imitated? Is the Jesus we present to others an indictment of them, or is he God’s “saving deed displayed for all the peoples to see,” the Messiah who rescues us from our personal and social sinfulness?

Is the Jesus we present to others a support for our dealings with injustice, violence, corruption, death, wars, abortions, and death penalties, or is he “a lamb without blemish (offered) for the life of the world”? Is the Jesus we present others a special ‘god’ for the privileged, or is he “the light of all peoples,” including people who are weak and outcast?.

To be Christians today is not just going to church every Sunday but presenting Jesus worthily both in word and in deed. Christianity in recent times has gotten a bad name because of our unworthy and hypocritical presentation of Jesus.  The burning task before us now is  returning to the gospel of Jesus and witnessing to the true values that Jesus died for us–unconditional love especially for the sinners, seeking out the lost and defense of the poor and the weak, and the proclamation of God’s kingdom of justice, peace and abundance for all now and in the life to come.

 

3RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: BECOMING GOOD NEWS IN THE MIDST OF BAD NEWS

evacuation-kitchen
Mobile kitchen at Redemptorists Lipa for the evacuees of Taal eruption

Most of the news we heard and saw over the past week were bad news–the enormous suffering and gloom brought about by the eruption of Taal Volcano, bush fires in Australia, the outbreak of the deadly Wuhan coronavirus which has already spread throughout the world–to name only a few.

Behind these sad news, however, there were good news. Most of these good news represent the utter goodwill and generosity of hearts of many people in the midst of calamities–the many people who have generously given help to the evacuees most of them poor and victims themselves of the eruption, the Chinese doctor who gave his life to save others from the deadly corona virus, the three American firefighters killed in plane crash while helping battle the ferocious bush fire in Australia.

In the readings for today’s 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, we hear of the proclamation of the good news amidst the sad news that has engulfed the chosen people of God in biblical times.

In the First Reading, Isaiah proclaimed that a great light has shone upon Israel amidst its dark reality of oppression and subjugation.  

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone.

In the gospel, Jesus announced the good news in the midst of the bad news that John the Baptist was arrested by Herod. For many people, John the Baptist represents hope in the midst of the oppressive occupation of Israel by the Romans. John the Baptist proclaimed the coming of the messiah which would bring back their glory days under God’s rule.

Matthew’s gospel see the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy here. The beginning of the public ministry of  Jesus is the great and glorious ‘light’ that is to shine to those who walk in darkness and the shadow of death.

The Gospel goes on to give us a summary of Jesus’ message: ‘Repent, the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand’. Repent’ for Jesus means something far more than simple sorrow for sins. The Greek word used, metanoia, literally means a ‘change of mind’ – a change not just in an intellectual sense but involving a transformation of attitude at a deep personal level.  This means looking at one’s life and one’s hopes for the future in a totally new way, open and receptive to the – usually surprising – action of God. The Kingdom of God meant this kind of radical change of heart.

It is good to note the kinds of people Jesus chose for Apostles: from the fishermen brothers Simon and Andrew to Matthew and John, they were all flawed yet graced. Leaving their family and their livelihood, they are to become his intimate companions and followers. Life with him, and association with his ministry of healing and proclaiming the Good News, will transform them from being fishers of fish to being fishers, ‘catching’ people for the Kingdom.

The inauguration of the public ministry of Jesus is an ongoing story. We are all called to participate in the inauguration of the Kingdom by Jesus by becoming the Good News, through witnessing the values of God’s kingdom in the midst of the darkness and misery of the world today, and through drawing others constantly (those who ‘live in the darkness and shadow of death’) into the freedom and light that Jesus has brought into the world.

6th Simbang Gabi: Mary as God-Bearer, the first Missionary

The Visitation, James B. Janknegt, 2008
The Visitation, James B. Janknegt, 2008

We are now on our 6th Simbang Gabi or, as I call it, Christmas academy.

I hope our reflections in this Christmas academy continue to deepen your understanding of the original meaning of the Christmas story–the incarnation of Jesus.

We continue the gospel reading from Luke from yesterday’s text. As soon as the Archangel departed from Nazareth, Mary was no longer the same woman as before. She was radically transformed. The first thing that the newly transformed Mary did was to embark on a journey, to go on a mission.  The annunciation experience was too great to bear alone. She couldnt pass on this event not to share the good news. This life-changing event also inspired Mary to serve and be available for her elderly cousin, Elizabeth who despite her old age, was pregnant, likewise, through the grace of God.

The Angel didn’t command Mary to go to help her cousin Elizabeth. He didn’t even suggest that it would be a good thing for her to go. He just stated the fact that Elizabeth was pregnant and that was enough for Mary to spring into action.

Most of us take for granted that the journey Mary took to reach Elizabeth was a long and arduous journey. Many of us only focus on the spiritual side of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth but fail to appreciate the equally significant physical dimension of the visit. Mary’s journey to visit Elizabeth covered a distance of between 128 and 160 kilometers. She took off from Nazareth, a Galilean city west of the Sea of Galilee and travelled to Ein Karem, the Judean village where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived. In Mary’s day, a person traveling by foot could cover about 32 kilometers per day. If Mary walked to Elizabeth’s home, it would have taken her four to five days straight. If she accompanied a caravan, she would have arrived in about three days. Luke does not mention whether Mary may have gone on foot or as part of a caravan. We don’t know if she traveled alone or whether St. Joseph accompanied her, or SS. Anne or Joachim.

map-journey-visitation

In any case, such a journey would have been dangerous, especially for a young girl alone. By embarking on this journey, Mary demonstrated her courage as well as her desire for confirmation of God’s plan. She overcome any fear she may have had about surrendering to God’s call on her life or facing the possible danger involved in confirming his will. Such complete surrender freed her to act in confidence.

At the sight of Elizabeth, Mary’s tiredness were turned to joy and greeted Elizabeth, very likely “shalom,” which means peace in Hebrew. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greetings, three joyful things happened: John the Baptist leaped in her womb, Elizabeth herself was filled with the Holy Spirit, and burst out saying:

“Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?
And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment
of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Mary was able to bring incredible joy to Elizabeth and to the fetal John the Baptist, because she was bringing Christ.  The Holy Spirit inspired Elizabeth to bless Mary among all women because of the blessed fruit of her womb and because of her faith that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled. In other words, she was blessed because of Jesus and because of her faith in her embryonic saviour and son.

In going to Ein Karim, Mary became the first missionary, the first bearer of the Good News–the official term, theotokos–which is the first title accorded to her by mother church. Despite being pregnant with Jesus, the word incarnate (logos), in her womb, she journeys through the hill country to the town of Juda. English theologian John Saward refers to this image of Mary on her journey to Elizabeth as the “Logos carrying Virgin.”[1] In this journey, Mary became the first disciple and missionary of the Logos (Word). Indeed she is the Theotokos—bearer of God in our world.

What is this story telling us about Christmas?

Christmas is not just a celebration but also a call to mission. The incarnation of Jesus overflows with life, joy and goodness that it cannot be kept just to ourselves. Furthermore, the Chrismas spirit should not be lived only at this time of the year. As the song goes, araw-araw ay magiging pasko lagi (everyday will always be Christmas). And another Christmas song goes, at magbuhat ngayon, kahit hindi pasko ay magbigayan (from now on, even though it’s not Chrismas, we should give to one to another).

The Christmas spirit must be lived, shared and proclaimed to others, to the whole world, throughout the year. Like Mary, we are all called to be Theotokos—God-bearers. We need to share the good news of Emmanuel, God is with us, not just with our lips but also with our feet, with all our heart and soul. We need to share the good news that our lives is “impregnated” with God despite all the despair, gloom and hardships, our sinfulness and the messines of our lives.

In response to Elizabeth greetings, Mary, filled with the Spirit, will break out into that wonderful hymn of praise that we call the Magnificat, a hymn that will proclaim the message of liberation Jesus will later deliver by word and action. We will see this tomorrow.

The Christmas story continues … Abangan ang susunod na kabanata, bukas! (watch out for the next chapter tomorrow).

 


 

[1] John Saward, Redeemer in the Womb: Jesus Living in Mary (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1993), 120.

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.

The Shrine as a School of Mary

school-of-Mary

Marian shrines in particular
provide an authentic school of faith
based on Mary’s example and motherly intercession.”[1]

During seminars on the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, we asked the participants: Who is the perpetual help? Immediately they would answer with great conviction, Mary, of course. But then we’ll repeat the question. This time, we’ll rephrase the question: Mary is the Mother of perpetual help, so who is the perpetual help? This time they would think for a while and stare at us intriguingly.

We use this question as a take-off point for a deeper study of the icon. Mary is our Mother of Perpetual Help. Mary is the mother of the source of perpetual help which is her son Jesus. As in the icon, Mary is she who points to the way—Jesus Christ.

This question also becomes the starting point for the study on the life of Mary and the theology of Mary or Mariology. Mary is not just the mother of God but also the first disciple and missionary of Jesus.

Evangelization is one of the major mission of the shrine. Evangelization represents the biggest challenge of the shrine for the renewal of the devotion.  A major expression of this challenge is for the shrine to be a school of Mary.  As the document states, “Marian shrines in particular provide an authentic school of faith based on Mary’s example and motherly intercession.”[2]

Some of the programs of the shrine as school of Mary are catechesis, evangelization and proclamation. The shrine evangelized the devotees primarily through prophetic preaching—by connecting the Word of God and their devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help to their daily issues, struggles, concerns and aspirations. Prophetic preaching challenged the devotion by proclaiming the transformative power of the Word and Mary’s life in the personal lives of devotees. Genesis Toledo Lustre narrates such experience in October 31, 2017.

I was four months pregnant when I set foot at Baclaran Church not knowing why I went there. I was frustrated and depressed during those times. My original plan was to end up my life because of the unbearable pain caused by the predicament I was going through at that time.

I was seated at the side of the church and was thinking why I am in this place. And then I heard the words of the priest: “There is no test the Lord gives which we cannot carry.” Along these lines, I asked God if I am really strong enough for such a test. These thoughts kept echoing on my head.  Then suddenly, I was enlightened and asked any sign from God if I should fight for my husband or not. And God gave me his quick answer. On my way home God showed me the sign to continue fighting for my family.

From then on I often went to this church to pray or sometimes just to light candles and ask God’s help through Mama Mary. From that time on my problems gradually lessened. My situation slowly changed based on my wholehearted petition to God. Today, what I asked of God was fulfilled. There is so much change in my husband and things are fine for all of us. Most of all, we are together now in going to Baclaran Church to pray. I saw the sincerity in my husband’s eyes which made me happy and contented.

Thank you Lord for hearing my prayers. You did not disappoint me for my simple petition.[3]

Redemptorist_preaching

After the explosion of the novena and the influx of thousands of devotees in 1948, the focus of the Redemptorist was the leading of the novena and the administering of the sacraments of the Eucharist and reconciliation. Because of this, the evangelization’s orientation of the shrine at this time was more devotional —focusing on Mary’s privileges and the need to honor her with affection and constant prayer. Undoubtedly, this has encouraged a deeply personal and pietistic devotion.

Beginning in the 60s, the shrine began to preach about the signs of the times in the light of the gospel. The shrine actively promoted justice and peace in preaching and seasonal liturgical celebrations. This heightened the awareness of the devotees to the social dimension of their devotion.

In recent years, the shrine has integrated more the theology and spirituality of the icon in their homilies and catechesis in the shrine. This reflects a shift from introducing the icon merely as a devotional object to an icon with profound spiritual and theological meaning and calling. The restoration of the original icon in Rome in 1995 became an inspiration for the Redemptorists to preach more about the icon—it’s story, meaning, spirituality and theology.

The shrine also stressed the evangelizing power of the life of Mary.  This necessitated a rediscovering of Mary in scriptures and the human Mary. By understanding more about the life and character of Mary, the shrine hope that devotees may be able to emulate her more and identify with her.

The shrine in recent years has also tried to integrate the popular religiosity of the devotees with a genuine sense of mission and active social involvement.  The shrine has also encouraged the devotees to develop their devotion from praying the novena to becoming more active in their respective parishes and communities.

Novena Text

An important tool for evangelization in the shrine is the Novena text. The novena is not just all about petitions to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. The novena has been evangelizing the devotees since the very beginning. The Novena text has always emphasized the life and example of Mary as a disciple of Christ and Mary exhorts all the devotees to follow her son as well. As devotees pray in the novena,

While you were on earth, dear Mother * you willingly shared in the sufferings of your Son.* Strengthened by your faith and confidence * in the fatherly love of God * *you accepted the mysterious designs of His Will.*

We, too, have our crosses and trials.* Sometimes they almost crush us to the ground.* Dearest Mother, * share with us your abundant faith and confidence in God.* Make us aware that God never ceases to love us; * that He answers all our prayers * in the way that is best for us. * Strengthen our hearts to carry the cross * in the footsteps of your Divine Son. Help us to realize * that he who shares the cross of Christ * will certainly share His resurrection.

novena

The shrine in it’s latest version of the novena made several revisions to reflect a healthier theology on Mary. The biggest revision along this line is shifting the focus of the source of help from Mary to Jesus; that the source of help is God–Jesus. Mary intercedes for the devotees so they can receive God’s perpetual help. For example the response to the petitions to Our Mother of Perpetual Help was changed from Help us to Pray for us

1973 Novena

LOVING MOTHER HELP US

2016 Novena

LOVING MOTHER PRAY FOR US

Mary is an intercessor rather than the giver of grace. In the following prayer in the novena, the words powerful help supposedly coming from Mary was changed to compassionate intercession.

1973 Novena

Dearest Mother, help us to avoid sin which separates us from our heavenly Father * and from one another. Full of thrust in you * we place ourselves under the mantle of your maternal protection * and confidently hope for your powerful help.

2016 Novena

Dearest Mother, help us to avoid sin which separates us from our heavenly Father * and from one another. Full of thrust in you * we place ourselves under the mantle of your maternal protection *  and confidently hope for your compassionate intercession

 Similarly, in the prayer below, the source of perpetual help is God. Mary points all devotees to God the giver of all help and graces. Thus, the words addressed to Mary as help us was changed to pray for us. Similarly, the words your powerful help was changed to God’s perpetual help.

1973 Novena

All:

Holy Mary * help us in our needs * pray for all the people of God; * may all experience your perpetual help.

 

2016 Novena

 

All:

Holy Mary pray for us * pray for all the people of God; * may all experience God’s perpetual help.

 

Return to Mary 

The traits and personality of Mary resembles some of the character of the devotees. Many of the values and qualities of devotees resonate with the values and qualities of Mary. The simplicity and humility of Mary, for example, correspond to the warm affection and trust of the thousands of devotees. The devotees emulate some of the simplicity and humility of Mary. No wonder, most of popular devotions are Marian in nature. American journalist Maureen Orth, suggests that one of the reasons for the  popularity of devotion to Mary is because “Mary is often the touchstone of our longing for meaning, a more accessible link to the supernatural than formal church teachings.”[4]

photo-gallery-devotees-raise-hands

Many devotees, however, see Mary primarily as intercessor with God. Many devotees venerate Mary to intercede for them with God, and lesser do they take her as model to imitate because they do not know much about her life and journey during her life on earth. Taking Mary primarily as an intercessor may also be rooted to the indigenous origins of Filipino religiosity deeply embedded among the devotees. Indigenous Filipinos believe in a shaman who enters the supernatural realms or dimensions to obtain solutions to problems afflicting their individual lives and the community. They intercede with the gods to seek solution and bring good results.

They may now see Mary as the new shaman. A big part of the appeal of Mary Our Mother of Perpetual Help is the certainty among  the devotees that their prayers will reach God because Mary is the most powerful intercessor. Mary is closest to God–she is full of grace and most blessed of all human beings that ever lived–therefore God will listen to their prayers because Mary intercedes for them.

Mary, however, goes beyond being a powerful intercessor or shaman. She is a model disciple and missionary of Jesus which all devotees need to emulate. To understand Mary beyond being an intercessor, the shrine has integrated more the life of Mary in the preaching in novenas and masses. In these preaching, the shrine challenged the devotees to return to the life of Mary. The shrine has emphasized the need to unravel more her virtues and reconnect their devotion with the real Mary.

Moreover, Mary is one among us; she is not just sitting on a pedestal. Yes, she is a model of the church, but she is also a member of the church. As American theologian Elizabeth Johnson would say, she is not just our mother but also our sister.[5] Following the example of Mary, each in his or her own way brings forth Christ as Pope Francis explains,

In a way, every Christian is also believed to be a bride of God’s word, a mother of Christ, his daughter and sister, at once virginal and fruitful…  Christ dwelt for nine months in the tabernacle of Mary’s womb.  He dwells until the end of the ages in the tabernacle of the Church’s faith.  He will dwell forever in the knowledge and love of each faithful soul” (EG, #285, 212).[6]

Preaching more about the life of Mary entails a shift in devotion from honoring the privileges and splendors of Mary for their own sake to following more her example; a shift from putting Mary on a pedestal where no one can reach her to remodeling their lives with the life of Mary. Devotion is to be like Mary, to learn from Mary. Yes, Mary recognizes our basic economic needs but there is more to our economic needs. Mary pierces into our souls—Mary sees a more profound need, hunger and thirst within us, that is, existential and eschatological hunger.

It is in this context that Mary becomes an evangelizer in the shrine. As the thousands of devotees see in the icon, while Mary’s eyes gaze intently on us, her right hand points to Jesus. Mary is the Hodegetria—she who points the way, leads people to follow Jesus. In the words of Pope Francis,

Mary is the woman of faith, who lives and advances in faith, and “her exceptional pilgrimage of faith represents a constant point of reference for the Church”. Mary let herself be guided by the Holy Spirit on a journey of faith towards a destiny of service and fruitfulness.[7]

It is in this light that Pope Paul VI proposed that Mary be the model for all evangelizers. He gave Mary the title “Star of Evangelization,”

On the morning of Pentecost she watched over with her prayer the beginning of evangelization prompted by the Holy Spirit: may she be the Star of the evangelization ever renewed which the Church, docile to her Lord’s command, must promote and accomplish, especially in these times which are difficult but full of hope.[8]

Similarly, Pope Francis called Mary as the Mother of Evangelization: “She is the Mother of the Church which evangelizes, and without her we could never truly understand the spirit of the new evangelization.”[9]

In living out a proper and meaningful devotion, they can look up to Mary. Mary is herself a devotee; Mary is the exemplar par excellence of a devotee. She is a devotee they need to look up to for she already experienced what they all long for as a devotee. Mary as a devotee has fully reached out to heavens; has tasted, felt, and touched heaven, the sacred, the mystery and the divine. She has bridged the ordinary and the divine. Mary as a devotee with us, praying with us is expressed by Portia Fidelis C. Legaspi, in a thanksgiving letter she wrote on April 18,2014:

It is always at the darkest and difficult time of my life that I experience your loving presence, giving me hope and strength to survive. And later, witness how through your intercession my human limitations and weaknesses be fortified by your unfailing guidance. I owe you all that I am today. I am a mother of three children, a real estate broker and a law student from 2009 until 2013. During my fourth year in law school last 2012, our family was beset with a painful test. My second child only 15 was charged with a criminal case. I felt devastated. We knew that my child was innocent, and that the charge was meant to extort money from my family. This event challenged my conviction as a mother and as a future lawyer. It came to the point, that I asked God and Mother Mary, to help me look after my child And protect him from all the evil people. That I am willing to stop my studies and career in the law profession if the situation will demand for it. Today, I have passed the 2013 bar exam, and a full fledged lawyer at the end of April 2014. During the times, when my mind and heart went out for my child rather than to my bar review, it was God and Mother Mary that helped me survive each day. It was through her intercession that I surpassed my human weakness and be Strong by having faith. Success is always possible, I and others like me just have to keep our faith to God and Mother Mary. For what I am today, it is God and Mother Mary that lifted me up. Thank you so much.

Return to the Icon

The renewed interest in the Eastern theology of the icon inspired the shrine to return to the Icon as an important vehicle in the school of Mary. In recent years, Redemptorist were preaching more about the iconographical elements of the icon. The Redemptorists were also preaching more about the Eastern theology and spirituality of the icon.

In so doing, devotees saw the icon not just as a devotional object but as a window to the divine, to eternity, an encounter between their mundane existence on earth and the certain promise of a future life with God. Experiencing icon in this way appeals profoundly to the devotees’ rootedness in the indigenous cosmic worldview. If we recall, our ancestors believed in an invisible society coexisting with their material world. This society, they believed, was inhabited by spirits that included dead ancestors, deities, and lesser gods.[10] To represent this society and the spirits residing in this world, our ancestors created anito which are sometimes called larauan (icons) made from wood, stone, or ivory. They served as the bridge to the spiritual world. The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help appeals to the devotees because it served as a window to eternity in the same way that their ancestors’ larauan served as bridge to the higher heavens.

touching-the-icon

The return to the icon also shifted the ultimate focus of devotion from Mary to Jesus. Mary is the Hodegetria—she who points the way. The perpetual help of Mary is centered on Jesus. As Fr. da Silva reiterates,

With her Son in her arms, which expresses at the same time both the Incarnation and the Passion, Mary gives us our plentiful redemption again and again …This is why Mary is our perpetual help, the mediator of all graces. All the other petitions we are accustomed to present in our Novenas should come later, as though integrated into the greatest grace that Mary offers us, that is, her very own Son.[11]

Liturgy

Another important tool of evangelization in the shrine is the liturgy. Many have called our attention that novena is more popular than the Eucharist and sometimes it seems that the Eucharist is just an addendum to the novena. Some of the devotees, after praying the novena, leave the shrine and do not attend the Eucharist anymore. Indeed, in Baclaran, Wednesday—novena day—is more popular than Sunday.

Through these years, the shrine has strengthened its celebration of the Eucharist. The shrine has enhanced the participation of the whole assembly. Efforts have been made in the shrine to harmonize the novena prayer with the liturgy and the liturgical seasons.  Recognizing that liturgy is the most important activity of the shrine, the Redemptorist saw this as a very important undertaking taking into consideration that our shrine is not just an ordinary shrine but a national shrine.  This is also in line with the call for liturgical renewal as envisaged in Vatican II’s Constitution on Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium):

… the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the church is directed; at the same time it is the fount from which all the church’s power flows. For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made children of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of his church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord’s Supper.” –The Constitution on the Liturgy, 10

A perennial question hurled by other Christian denominations at Catholics is: Do Catholics worship Mary?  Devotees’ main attraction is Mary Our Mother of Perpetual Help; their fondness for Mary has often times made her more important than Jesus.

cropped-1stwed2011331.jpg

Ever since ancient times, the church has always reiterated the importance of worship over devotion or veneration. The church has distinguished between latria (worship) and dulia (veneration). This distinction was made as early as Augustine of Hippo and St Jerome. In 787 the Second Council of Nicaea affirmed a three-level hierarchy of latria, hyperdulia and dulia that applies to God, the Virgin Mary and then to the other saints respectively.

Dulia (Greek doulia; Latin servitus), is a theological term signifying the honour paid to the saints, while latria means worship given to God alone, and hyperdulia the veneration offered to the Blessed Virgin Mary.[12] Hyperdulia is not adoration; only God is adored. Devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, therefore, does not amount to worship – which is reserved for God. This distinction implies giving importance to the Eucharist and the sacraments which are celebrations of true worship of God. Moreover, this clarifies for the devotees the importance of the worship of God and the following of Jesus as his disciple over devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. As Ang Mahal na Birhen declares, “all veneration of Mary is to be subordinated to the adoration of the triune God and of Christ who is the Mediator.”[13]

On the other hand, there should be integration between liturgy and devotion. Ulyssys da Silva calls for a stronger unity between the official liturgy and popular piety of the people:

[I]f the sacramental action, celebrated in the Liturgy, does not move toward an encounter with an interior piety, already called forth and nurtured by the Holy Spirit, it becomes ineffective. When both are experienced in parallel, as two distinct realities, without seeking a concrete integration that unites them in a single celebration, we are not being faithful to Jesus, for whom what mattered most was not the “official cult” or the pious customs, but rather, the experience of meeting the Father and the fraternity among his disciples. Therefore, the first purpose of sacramental action is to further enhance the experience of piety, even to the experience of complete union between a human being and God. Only in this way does a creature arrive at perfect conformity to the Will of the Father and undertake in earnest the mission of the Kingdom of His beloved Son. When will we get to the point of having this gospel reality clearly visualized in all our liturgical celebrations and acts of piety?[14]

Debo(Mi)syon

In recent years the shrine has emphasized the unity of devotion and mission. This is encapsulated in what the shrine called debo(Mi)syon: a concatenation of two words: debosyon (devotion) and misyon (mission). This implies that devotion and mission mutually saturate each other. Devotion cannot be confined to devotion but is essentially missional. Mission cannot be confined to mission or action but is essentially devotional.  They are not two separate entities. Fr. Victorino Cueto explains that this is the disposition that pervade the Baclaran phenomenon,

a dis/position that is akin to a journey, a search that lies devotion and mission. It is highly devotion-al as it is filled with zeal and love. The devout is intensely touched by his/her experience glimpsed through the Icon of God. S/He is “consecrated” to the altar of a man-God whom s/he encounters in his/her narrations of prayerful pleas and heartfelt gratitude. In the same regard, it is mission-al in its practiced desire to reach-out and serve others, not in his/her own terms alone but in the service of God’s mission and His/Her Reign.[15]

Translated into evangelization, the aim of debo(Mi)syon is to make devotees become aware that they are missionaries and are partners in the mission of God. Through preaching, retreats, prayers and liturgies, devotees deepen their understanding of their identity as missionaries and by virtue of their baptism, they are sent as missionaries. Through evangelization the shrine has emphasized the identity of Mary as first disciple of Jesus so that as they grow in their devotion to Mary, they grow as disciples of Jesus.  On the other hand, as they become worthier disciples of Jesus, their devotion to Mary grows stronger.

The goal of debo(Mi)syon is for the devotion to become not mere religious piety and ritualistic devotionalism, nor mere supplication and thanksgiving, nor just practical participation in the mission of the church, but more importantly, it is entering into the mystery of the mission of God. Just as the icon calls devotees to participate in the divine mystery of the icon which is the life of glory with God and the saints, debo(Mi)syon calls devotees to see their lives in the life of the divine trinity—a life of mission within the three-persons-one-God and the overflowing of this love to the world, the whole of creation. Debo(Mi)syon is ultimately imitating the life of Mary who is the epitome of an icon of God, the prototype of a redeemed creation and the exemplar par excellence of a disciple of Christ. The shrine becomes the locus of the encounter betwixt and between heaven and earth, of living the present and the eschatological fullness of life.

Conclusion

Evangelization, indeed, is the greatest challenge of the shrine today as in the past. Much remains to be desired in this area. The shrine has to give more emphasis in evangelizing the devotees about the Icon and the life of Mary. The shrine also needs to further promote a holistic evangelization. Evangelization needs to address the many areas of life and piety of devotees that are disconnected from each other.

Joey Echano

(This article is an excerpt from the book Mary of Baclaran: Our Mother of Perpetual Help and Mission Today by Joey Echano, soon to be published)


 

[1] The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God

[2] The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God

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

[4] Maureen Orth, “How the Virgin Mary Became the Most Powerful Woman,” National Geographic, December, 2015, http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2015/12/virgin-mary-text

[5]see Elizabeth  Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints (New York: Continuum, 2003).

[6] Evangelii Gaudium, #285.

[7] Evangelii Gaudium, #287.

[8] Evangelii Nuntiandi, #82.

[9] Evangelii Gaudium, #284.

[10] Almocera, Ruel A., (2005) Popular Filipino Spiritual Beliefs with a proposed Theological Response. in Doing Theology in the Philippines. Suk, John., Ed. Mandaluyong: OMF Literature Inc. Pp 78-98

[11] Ulysses da Silva, C.Ss.R., Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Popular Piety, #48.

[12] Dulia, Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent. Accessed at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05188b.htm

[13] Ang Mahal na Birhen, #80.

[14] Ulysses da Silva, C.Ss.R., Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Popular Piety, #34.

[15] Cueto, DEBO(MI)SYON: Celebrating the Spirit in / of Baclaran, 12.