17TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: PRAYER AS PERSISTENCE

persistence in prayer

I just came back from visiting our home in Bicol, Philippines for the celebration of 93rd birthday of my father.  It was just a simple family celebration to give thanks to God for having given my father such a long life. He doesn’t have any major illness but just general weakness and immobility due to old age.

During the mass in celebration for his birthday, we all shared about the legacy of our father. We all agreed that one of the lasting and greatest legacy he has left us is the value of persistent prayer. He taught us to pray daily the Rosary as a family together. He told us, as well as many people, to pray always. As a Legion of Mary diocesan leader, he would tag us along in going house to house exhorting the people to pray always.

Today’s readings of the 17th Sunday in ordinary time, teach us about persistence in prayer. Jesus in the gospel even tells us to be obstinate in asking God for all our needs.

Abraham in the First Reading continuously bargained and negotiated with God to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorah from destruction for the sake of innocent people who lived there. For each of Abraham’s petition, God granted Abrahams prayer.

Jesus recommends the same attitude of persistence in prayer. In the Gospel he tells the famous parable about knocking on the door of a friend late at night to borrow some bread. The friend refuses because he and his family are all in bed. Jesus says, “If he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get out of bed to give him what he needs because of his persistence.”

These readings tell us that prayer is not just mere verbal supplication of our needs but more profoundly a positive and courageous attitude before God. As Pope Francis said, prayer is a courageous “knocking at the heart” of God with a strong unwavering faith that he will respond.

When we pray courageously, the Lord gives us the grace, but he also gives us himself in the grace: the Holy Spirit, that is, himself! Who comes to bring it to me. It’s him. Our prayer, if it is courageous, receives what it asks for, but also that which is more important: the Lord. …

Pope Francis, Vatican City, Oct 10, 2013

In the Baclaran shrine, this persistence in prayer attitude is shown through the letters that devotees write to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.  From the thanksgiving letters we read every Wednesday, one important albeit hard insight that devotees learn is that in prayer they receive may not be the answer which they desire, but the answer which God in his wisdom and love knows to be best. In other words, not all petitions from the devotees were answered by God in the exact way and time that the devotees hoped for.

Even though their prayers were not answered in the way they expected it, Our Mother of Perpetual Help empowers and strengthens them as they continue to hope that God will respond to their prayers in the way that God knows what is best for them.  As the devotees pray in the novena, “Make us aware that God never ceases to love us; that He answers all our prayers in the way that is best for us.” Krystelline Jimenez testifies to this conviction in her thanksgiving letter February 3, 2016,

I have prayed the Novena every Wednesday morning for a couple of years now. Some of my petitions were answered with a “no”, some were “not yet” but most were “YES”. But more than the petitions, the Novena gives me a sense of security, a sense of peace, where nothing could ever go wrong. I thank the Lord and Mama Mary for taking care of me and my family despite my shortcomings. Thank you for my whole life, including the No and Not yets.

There are some devotees where many of their petitions were not even answered. Despite this, they continue to come to the shrine. For them, the warm presence and loving gaze of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is enough as it gives them inner peace and strength. This is the experience of Ritchie Limpin who wrote in July 08, 2014,

For a person who has many concerns like me—a single mom who brings up my children alone, it is only to Our Mother of Perpetual Help that I hold on to. I must admit, there are times that I started to ask myself, what do I get out of coming here besides the profound peace I feel whenever I come to this place? Are there any prayers that she has already heard and come true? Despite all of these, I continue to visit her even though sometimes there is nothing that I can think of anymore to pray for. I just remain sitting or kneeling there and praying the novena.

For the petitions answered, however, they are not just graces coming from God but supplemented by human efforts and cooperation. As the Filipino saying goes, “Nasa Diyos ang awa, nasa tao ang gawa” (Mercy is God’s, action is us) implies that prayer must be complemented by action and action must be supplemented by prayer.

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7th Day of the Novena for the Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Contemplating the Golden Background

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In preparation for the feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help on June 27, we will not just be praying the Novena but also contemplate on the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help–the meaning of the whole Icon and its parts for nine days.

The contemplation of the icon can be done either before or after praying the novena. It would be most appropriate to have an Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help or a copy of the icon in front of you. You can adorn it with candles and some flowers.

For the seventh day of the Novena we will contemplate on the golden background of the icon.

The color gold is the dominant color which occupies the whole icon. Gold is a color which is not normally found in nature. The color gold implies a place which this world cannot give; a place that is bright, peaceful, abundant and joyful. It is already here but we only see a glimpse of it because it is hidden. We will experience the fulfilment and full disclosure of this place at the end of our lives.

The golden background that occupies the whole icon, therefore, is a symbol of heaven, where Jesus and Mary and the saints now dwells. Gold in the icon evokes the life of joy and peace in eternity with God which we are all destined to be at the end of time.

Our Mother of Perpetual Help is the exemplar of the glory and joy that will happen to us at the end of times. Even as the completion of this glory will happen in the end, the icon invites us to open our hearts and mind to the glory of God already unfolding in our daily events—even in the gloomiest days of our lives.

The light of heaven which passes through the clothing of Mary and Jesus indicates the heavenly joy which Jesus and Mary bring to the hearts of all the faithful.  Looking through the icon, therefore, we are invited to see an “it-could-be-otherwise” world. The icon invites us to see behind and beyond their world—with all its sufferings, hardships, hopelessness, injustice, violence, enslavements – in anticipation of a possible world full of possibilities. The icon invites the devotees to contemplate the world in the light of God’s vision and fullness of redemption. “I have come to bring life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10).”

As we contemplate the icon, we experience a creative tension between our present situation and the future life in eternity with God which the icon represents. The icon, therefore, is the encounter between heaven and earth, our present age and the fullness of time. Icons are doorway, a means of access into the age to come. It is a meeting point and a place of encounter with the communion of saints.

Mary calls us to participate in this mystery that is depicted in the icon. Therefore, more than an object, the icon is an event.  It is an event of proclamation and encounter. As an event it calls our active response.

Let us contemplate and gaze at the golden background in silence …

At the end of our contemplation, let us pray,

O Mother of Perpetual Help, you are the exemplar of the glory and joy which will happen to us at the end of times. May we open our hearts and mind always to the glory of God unfolding in the daily events—even in the most mundane and gloomy days of our lives. Amen.


 

To download a copy of the newest 2016 Jubilee version of novena in English, click this link: http://www.baclaranchurch.org/assets/revised-novena-english.pdf. To download a copy of the newest 2016 Jubilee version of the novena in Tagalog, click this link: http://www.baclaranchurch.org/assets/revised-novena-tagalog.pdf. For a guide on how to pray the novena at the shrine, click this link: https://baclaranphenomenon.wordpress.com/2018/04/27/how-to-pray-the-novena-at-the-shrine/.  For a guide on how to pray the novena at home, click this link: .https://baclaranphenomenon.wordpress.com/2018/04/28/how-to-pray-the-novena-at-home/.

For more information on how to contemplate and pray with an icon, click this link: https://aleteia.org/2018/09/12/how-to-pray-with-icons-a-brief-guide/.

5th Day of the Novena for the Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Contemplating the Angels

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In preparation for the feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help on June 27, we will not just be praying the Novena but also contemplate on the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help–the meaning of the whole Icon and its parts for nine days.

The contemplation of the icon can be done either before or after praying the novena. It would be most appropriate to have an Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help or a copy of the icon in front of you. You can adorn it with candles and some flowers.

For the fifth day of the Novena we will contemplate on the Angels Gabriel and Michael.

The angel on the left of the icon is St. Michael who holds the spear and sponge of the bitter fluid; these instruments foretell the coming passion and death of Jesus.

The Greek letters OAM (O Arkanguelos Mikael) above the angel on the left means the Archangel St. Michael.

The angel on the right ride of the icon is St. Gabriel who holds the cross and the nails; these instruments foretell the coming passion and death of Jesus.

The Greek letters OAΓ (O Arkanguelos Gabriel) above the angel on the right means the Archangel St. Gabriel.

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The hands of the angels who hold the instruments of passion and death are covered with veil. This is similar to the veil that priest uses when they raise the Blessed Sacrament during benediction.  This implies that the instruments that the angels are holding are extremely sacred like the Blessed Sacrament during the benediction.

The instruments that the Angels hold, therefore, are instruments not of death and failure but of life and victory. The most sacred event of our salvation is the passion and the offering of Jesus’ life for our redemption.

Let us contemplate and gaze at the Angels in silence …

At the end of our contemplation, let us pray,

O Mother of Perpetual Help, pray for us that we may experience Jesus’ presence and solidarity in the midst of our difficulties and trials in life. Pray for us that we may see the sacredness of his sacrifice and death on the cross for us. May we experience the glory of Jesus in our own pains and sufferings in this world through our sacrifice and giving of our lives for others.


 

To download a copy of the newest 2016 Jubilee version of novena in English, click this link: http://www.baclaranchurch.org/assets/revised-novena-english.pdf. To download a copy of the newest 2016 Jubilee version of the novena in Tagalog, click this link: http://www.baclaranchurch.org/assets/revised-novena-tagalog.pdf. For a guide on how to pray the novena at the shrine, click this link: https://baclaranphenomenon.wordpress.com/2018/04/27/how-to-pray-the-novena-at-the-shrine/.  For a guide on how to pray the novena at home, click this link: .https://baclaranphenomenon.wordpress.com/2018/04/28/how-to-pray-the-novena-at-home/.

For more information on how to contemplate and pray with an icon, click this link: https://aleteia.org/2018/09/12/how-to-pray-with-icons-a-brief-guide/.

Here is the schedule of the Novena and Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help at the Shrine:

baclaran-fiesta-2019

4th Day of the Novena for the Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Contemplating the Hands of Mary

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In preparation for the feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help on June 27, we will not just be praying the Novena but also contemplate on the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help–the meaning of the whole Icon and its parts for nine days.

The contemplation of the icon can be done either before or after praying the novena. It would be most appropriate to have an Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help or a copy of the icon in front of you. You can adorn it with candles and some flowers.

For the fourth day of the Novena we will contemplate on the Hands of Mary.

The right hand of Mary does not hold the hands of Jesus but points to Jesus which says: “Follow him: He is our Redeemer!”

The left hand of Mary holds Jesus in a loving and caring way. The left hand of Mary symbolizes the throne of Jesus where Jesus sits. Mary, therefore, is the seat of Wisdom who is Jesus.

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An important Marian archetypes that is significantly present in the icon of OMPH is the Marian archetype of HodegetriaHodegetria is a Greek word which literally means “She who shows the Way.” It depicts Mary as the guide. In this type, the Ever Virgin Mary is holding Christ and pointing toward Him, as a guide to God and salvation. It is interesting to note that Mary in the Eastern tradition does not give so much emphasis on Mary in her own right. In Byzantine icons, Mary is never depicted by herself, autonomously, separately but always depicted with her divine son—Jesus.

Mary’s right hand is, above all, the Hodegetria hand, that is to say, the hand of she who shows the path to Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Therefore, as in the wedding feast at Cana, she appears to say to believers: “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).

Let us contemplate and gaze at the hands of Mary in silence …

At the end of our contemplation, let us pray,

O Mother of Perpetual Help, your greatest aspiration for us is to follow the way of Jesus when you said, “Do whatever he tells you”. You are the first disciple of Jesus and you showed us the true meaning of discipleship. Pray for us that like you we may become true disciples of Jesus by being totally open and cooperative to God’s plan and word in our lives.

 


 

To download a copy of the newest 2016 Jubilee version of novena in English, click this link: http://www.baclaranchurch.org/assets/revised-novena-english.pdf. To download a copy of the newest 2016 Jubilee version of the novena in Tagalog, click this link: http://www.baclaranchurch.org/assets/revised-novena-tagalog.pdf. For a guide on how to pray the novena at the shrine, click this link: https://baclaranphenomenon.wordpress.com/2018/04/27/how-to-pray-the-novena-at-the-shrine/.  For a guide on how to pray the novena at home, click this link: .https://baclaranphenomenon.wordpress.com/2018/04/28/how-to-pray-the-novena-at-home/.

For more information on how to contemplate and pray with an icon, click this link: https://aleteia.org/2018/09/12/how-to-pray-with-icons-a-brief-guide/.

Here is the schedule of the Novena and Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help at the Shrine:

baclaran-fiesta-2019

3rd Day of the Novena for the Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Contemplating the Face of Mary

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In preparation for the feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help on June 27, we will not just be praying the Novena but also contemplate on the icon–the meaning of the whole Icon and its parts for nine days.

The contemplation of the icon can be done either before or after praying the novena. It would be most appropriate to have an Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help or a copy of the icon in front of you. You can adorn it with candles and some flowers.

For the third day of the Novena we will contemplate on the Face of Mary

The mouth of Mary is small because it is already transformed in its heavenly form; she no longer needs the food our world gives. It is sealed because prayer needs silence and fervent attention on God.

Her nose is long and slender which evokes honor. It is no longer dependent on the aroma of the world but only to Christ and to the life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit.

The ears of Mary are not given much attention and it is almost hidden under her veil. This implies that it is no longer fascinated with the sounds of the world but only to the word and command of God.

Her high forehead indicates the power of the Spirit and wisdom which bows down before the infinite love of God.

The main letters on each side of Mary are the Greek words MP-ΘΥ (Meter Theou) which means “Mother of God.”

Let us contemplate and gaze at the face of Mary, her ears, mouth and nose, in silence …

At the end of our contemplation, let us pray,

O Mother of Perpetual Help, pray for us so that in the midst of our difficulties and trials in life we can discover the beauty, goodness and truth of God’s love. Lead us to Jesus your son, the way, the truth and the life. May we follow your example as a disciple of Jesus by being totally open and cooperative to God’s plan and word in our lives.

 


 

To download a copy of the newest 2016 Jubilee version of novena in English, click this link: http://www.baclaranchurch.org/assets/revised-novena-english.pdf. To download a copy of the newest 2016 Jubilee version of the novena in Tagalog, click this link: http://www.baclaranchurch.org/assets/revised-novena-tagalog.pdf. For a guide on how to pray the novena at the shrine, click this link: https://baclaranphenomenon.wordpress.com/2018/04/27/how-to-pray-the-novena-at-the-shrine/.  For a guide on how to pray the novena at home, click this link: .https://baclaranphenomenon.wordpress.com/2018/04/28/how-to-pray-the-novena-at-home/.

For more information on how to contemplate and pray with an icon, click this link: https://aleteia.org/2018/09/12/how-to-pray-with-icons-a-brief-guide/.

Here is the schedule of the Novena and Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help at the Shrine:

baclaran-fiesta-2019

How to pray with icons: A brief guide — Aleteia — Catholic Spirituality, Lifestyle, World News, and Culture

Our Mother of Perpetual Help (OMPH) is an icon enshrined on the altar of the Baclaran shrine. The original icon of OMPH is enshrined in Rome in the Church of St. Alphonsus Liguori (Chiesa di Sant’Alfonso di Liguori all’Esquilino in Italian). It is a Byzantine (Eastern Orthodox Church) icon painted sometime between 1350 and 1450 AD in the island of Crete by an unknown iconographer (painter of icons).

Unlike other objects of devotions to the Blessed Mother in the Philippines, which are usually images, or statues of Western origin, OMPH is an icon of Eastern origin.  Not all devotees know that OMPH is an icon, let alone an Eastern icon. Many are unfamiliar that this icon comes from the Eastern Church tradition.

To grow in our devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, it is essential to understand and practice praying with icons. This article provides a brief guide on how to pray with icons.

Praying with icons is an ancient practice that can draw a person closer to God.From the very beginning, Christians have created pictorial representations of God and the saints for use during personal and public prayer. It was seen as a way to enhance a person’s prayer, giving a visual medium to meditate on while conversing Read More…

via How to pray with icons: A brief guide — Aleteia — Catholic Spirituality, Lifestyle, World News, and Culture

Official Liturgy for Visiting our Faithful Departed in the Cemetery

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

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

 

 

A Shrine of Contemplation

shrine-of-contemplation

[H]er gaze is like the continuation of the Father’s gaze,
the Father who looked at her as a child and made her God’s Mother;
like the Son’s gaze from the cross, from where He made her our mother;
the same gaze with which she looks at us.
– Jorge Mario Bergoglio[1]

Many perceive the shrine as a busy shrine with people constantly coming and going, day and night. The shrine, however, can also become a quiet place and evoke an aura of stillness.  In the midst of the hustle and bustle, the traffic, the noise and pollution of Manila, Baclaran is a place that offers silence, a time to rejuvenate the soul, a venue to unleash the pains and stress of people who daily confront the struggles in life. The shrine is an oasis of prayer in the city as Jo-Me De la Peña Mamić writes, “I’m so glad I had a chance to visit the miraculous church of Baclaran. It is a great feeling and even if it’s crowded I felt peace and silence in my heart.”

To think that the shrine only comes alive on Wednesday, Sundays and special liturgical seasons, underestimate the number of people who come to the shrine on ordinary days. On ordinary days, there is no letup of people entering the shrine most often to pray silently in front of the icon and the tabernacle. While Wednesday is replete with collective prayer such as novena, silent and private prayer from intermittent devotees coming in and out of the shrine characterizes ordinary days.  Being a shrine and not a parish ensured that the shrine is quiet and empty most of the time on days except Wednesday and Sunday. This has contributed to the nurturing of a prayerful atmosphere.

Filipino sociologist Manuel Victor Sapitula interviewed Emily, a devotee, who explained that while she goes to the shrine every Wednesday, she would also come during “less busy” days like Tuesday or Thursday as well because she appreciated the solitude. She explains, “When you ask for something, it is better if you are just alone when talking to her [Virgin Mary]. I think that God can hear my prayers better if I pray by myself,” she claimed. Lastly, she recounted that there were times when she did not finish the novena prayers. At some point, she would stop participating and would pray in her own words. “I prefer that because I can really talk to her.”[2]

Many devotees find the solemn and sacred environment of the shrine uplifting to the spirits. A devotee, Carmen Torres Gutierrez comments on March 25, 2018,

After I attend mass at Baclaran, I would just sit at the edge of one of the pews of the church. Nothing special whatsoever… just so all my worries will disappear, then before I leave, I take a deep breath. I’m fine once again.[3]

Jomar Gabayeron also commented, “A very solemn and sacred church. Has a big space in my heart and plays a big role in my life.”[4] Likewise, Macky Cona commented, “It is a very solemn church which motivates us to pray harder!!!”[5]

Many times, we have been asked: Where is the Blessed Sacrament chapel in the shrine? I always reply that there is no chapel of the Blessed Sacrament because any chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, no matter how big it is, could never fit the constant influx of devotees that come to the shrine outside of the novena and mass hours.  No chapel of the Blessed Sacrament could adequately accommodate the sheer number of people who come and pray at the shrine. Thus, we always reply that the whole shrine is the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.

Gazing

As the icon is positioned at the top of the tabernacle of the shrine, the experience of most devotees about the icon is that OMPH is gazing at them. This is particularly shared by Jhuzel Alarcon in a thanksgiving letter she wrote on August 1, 2015:

During those times when I had problems, it is you who I always come to. As I pray before you, you see everything that happened in my life, all the right and wrong things I have done. For the wrong things I have done I implored you to ask for mercy to the Lord on my behalf. I also ask for your help to guide me in straightening my life. You really straightened me because despite all the wrongs things I have done I graduated from college and was able to take the Board Exam … Thank you very much for your help and for interceding for me to our God. I offer my success to you Mother who have been with me in all the events of my life till now.

shrine-of-contemplation2

At the same time, devotees gazed at the icon, pouring their hearts out. Charmaine writing in May 27, 2015 expressed her profound experience of gazing at the icon of OMPH

It’s been one year since I first gazed on your picture and prayed. In all of my life, that was the only time that I prayed as if there was no more tomorrow. I remembered how my tears flowed while looking at your picture. Now I give you thanks, a never ending gratitude for all the petitions that you granted and will grant in the future. Thank you very much.

For the past eighty-five years, the icon of OMPH enshrined high above the altar, has gazed upon the millions of devotees who visited and prayed at the shrine 24/7. Many devotees found comfort under the loving gaze of OMPH. As Mary gazed at the devotees she points them to Jesus as the path of their true salvation and peace. Mary’s gazing upon the devotees is ultimately to direct them to Jesus. As St. John Paul II states,

Mary lived with her eyes fixed on Christ, treasuring his every word: “She kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19; cf. 2:51). The memories of Jesus, impressed upon her heart, were always with her, leading her to reflect on the various moments of her life at her Son’s side.[6]

Similarly, Pope Francis when he was still Cardinal Bergoglio reflecting on Mary’s gaze connected it with God’s gaze:

Her gaze is like the continuation of the Father’s gaze, the Father who looked at her as a child and made her God’s Mother; like the Son’s gaze from the cross, from where He made her our mother; the same gaze with which she looks at us.

The then-Cardinal further describes the impact of this kind of gaze upon us:

The Virgin’s gaze helps us look at each other in a different way. We learn to be more human, because the Mother looks at us. To have that gaze that seeks to save, accompany and protect. We learn to see ourselves in her motherly gaze.[7]

While OMPH’s gaze is directed at the devotees and the world she points to Jesus whom she holds firmly with her left arm. By contemplating at the icon, devotees learn to ponder the meaning of discipleship in Jesus. This reflects what the CCC said about contemplation:

Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus. “I look at him and he looks at me”: this is what a certain peasant of Ars in the time of his holy curé used to say while praying before the tabernacle. This focus on Jesus is a renunciation of self. His gaze purifies our heart; the light of the countenance of Jesus illumines the eyes of our heart and teaches us to see everything in the light of his truth and his compassion for all men. Contemplation also turns its gaze on the mysteries of the life of Christ. Thus it learns the “interior knowledge of our Lord,” the more to love him and follow him.[8]

Contemplation

Despite the popularity of the novena, I see more and more devotees contemplating before the icon. Contemplation is the most effective way of praying with the Icon. Mary calls her devotees to enter into contemplative prayer as they gaze upon her. Contemplation comes from the Latin word contemplari which means “to gaze, observe, behold.”  To contemplate the icon is to be aware and to behold Mary and God’s love and presence.

Contemplation is entering into God’s presence where Mary and the saints are now residing. It is placing our lives into the life of God. It is finding our story in God’s story. Contemplation evokes a response of waiting, loving, trusting, and obeying. It is the same response that Mary made when the Angel Gabriel announced to her that she would be the mother of God, “Let it be done according to your will.” Contemplating the icon of Mary helps devotees to see what God desires of them—what His will is.

This is the experience of many devotees who contemplate before the icon for hours on ordinary days. The devotees reflect the attitude of which the CCC describes of the faithful who enters into contemplative prayer:

Contemplative prayer is the prayer of the child of God, of the forgiven sinner who agrees to welcome the love by which he is loved and who wants to respond to it by loving even more. But he knows that the love he is returning is poured out by the Spirit in his heart, for everything is grace from God. Contemplative prayer is the poor and humble surrender to the loving will of the Father in ever deeper union with his beloved Son.[9]

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The rich eastern theology of the icon further gives insights about the significance of contemplation.  In Eastern theology of the icon, before the icon, the viewer or gazer is invited to enter into the mystery or sacrament of the icon.   The object of contemplation is the mystery, the world of the icon, the prototype not the object itself. We focus not on what is seen in the icon, but rather on what is seen through it–the love of God expressed through God’s creatures. Thus, contemplation affords more the experience of praying with the icon rather than just praying to icon.  Icons are not the final object of our prayer but God who invites us to enter into God’s love and participate in God’s love through our love for fellow brothers and sisters and the whole of creation.

In a profound way, contemplating the icon is an event–the encounter between our life on earth and God’s life in heaven. Icon is more than an object of veneration; it is a window to eternity. Icons stand in-between our life here on earth and the life of the saints in heaven. Mary gazes on our life here on earth while we gaze on the life of Mary and the saints in heaven. Thus the icon and Mary helps to awaken an aesthetic, contemplative and doxological attitude—a sense of gratitude, awe and wonder—in the devotees’ life and faith.

Mary as model of contemplation

As devotees enter more and more into the contemplative spirit, they see Mary as a model of contemplation. This is what St. John Paul II underscored in his Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae:

The contemplation of Christ has an incomparable model in Mary. In a unique way the face of the Son belongs to Mary. It was in her womb that Christ was formed, receiving from her a human resemblance which points to an even greater spiritual closeness. No one has ever devoted himself to the contemplation of the face of Christ as faithfully as Mary. The eyes of her heart already turned to him at the Annunciation, when she conceived him by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the months that followed she began to sense his presence and to picture his features. When at last she gave birth to him in Bethlehem, her eyes were able to gaze tenderly on the face of her Son, as she “wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger” (Lk2:7).[10]

The mouth, ears, and nose of Mary in the icon of OMPH symbolize the contemplative attitude of Mary. We see the mouth and the ears of Mary particularly small. The mouth of Mary is small because it is already transformed in its heavenly form; she no longer needs the food that the world gives. Moreover, her mouth is sealed because prayer needs silence and fervent attention on God. The ears of Mary are not given much attention and it is almost hidden under her veil. This implies that it is no longer fascinated with the sounds of the world but only to the word and command of God. Her nose is long and slender which evokes honor. It is no longer dependent on the aroma of the world but only to Christ and to the life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit.

An invitation to contemplate one’s own life

Mary’s gaze upon the devotees is sorrowful because Mary sees our misery here on earth. Mary feels the pain and suffering that we undergo daily. Her gaze, therefore, is a gaze of mercy and compassion.

Moreover, Mary’s gaze enables the devotees to see the mystery of their own life and of life itself. Mary’s enigmatic gaze pierce into the soul of devotees that they could not escape plunging into their conscience and discovering its beauty and lowliness.  Mary’s gaze is an invitation to plunge into God’s Mystery, through the mystery of their own lives. This is the experience of Milton Coyne III aka Bluedreamer:

When I was working in Makati, Baclaran Church has become a normal sight to me. The buses from Cavite will normally stop near the Baclaran while the jeepneys bound to Ayala can be found near the site. Since I usually arrive early, for some reason, I decided to spend at least 5 to 10 minutes praying in front of the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. As time passes by, I realized that my prayers are becoming deeper that I’m starting to find peacefulness every time I kneel down and pray. I even cry and I do not even bother if anyone sees me weeping. It was a sudden change of faith and I started to realize how blessed I am by appreciating those simple things that came to my life unexpectedly.[11]

Milton Coyne’s contemplative experience shows that in contemplating God it is God finding us rather than us finding God. It is not so much how we see God and Mary in the icon but we experience more how God and Mary see our lives. As Polish Redemptorist Maryk Kotinski said,

The icon is first and foremost about God who constantly looks for us. Christianity is, above all, an intervention of God.  It is not so much human’s search for God as a descent of God’s life to the human level. It is God who reveals himself, who manifests himself.[12]

An invitation to contemplate the world

Gazing at the icon also invites the devotees to gaze at the world like Mary.  Contemplating the icon help the devotees to form within themselves the mindset of Mary.

Through contemplation of the sacred image the viewer-believer should raise himself above the flawed world that surrounds him to the very real world of the Divinity, thus producing a bond between the viewer and the image that is not only aesthetical but also mystical.[13]

The icon enshrined in the retable is a silent witness to the many changes in the world during these eighty five years. Many of the devotees who come to the shrine sought guidance and strength in navigating these constantly changing issues. They brought the many concerns and issues that affect their lives in their families, communities, the nation and the world. In the midst of the sweeping changes and the burning issues in the nation and the world, the icon has become an anchor of hope and transformation for the devotees.

Through the Icon of OMPH devotees learned to contemplate the world through the gaze of Mary. In seeking directions for the contemporary challenges, the icon gives the devotees a framework at how to see and navigate the world. The icon offers the devotees a contemplative perspective of life and of the world

An invitation to contemplate Christ

Mary’s gaze is not only a gaze of sorrow and mercy but a gaze of hodegetria; a gaze which gives us a wider vision, a renewed vision of our lives through the world of Jesus. It is a gaze to see their whole life’s involvement in the work of Redemption of Christ.

Mary’s gaze is directed towards contemplation of Christ. Jesus in the icon is looking not at Mary but at the cross, even beyond the cross outside of the icon. The eyes of Jesus are looking at God the Father with a mixture of sadness and joyful hope. The cross will bring pain and death but it will also lead to the glory of all humankind in the time to come. Mary invites us to learn from her son Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life. The path of Jesus is the cross that will lead us to new life and victory.

Ultimately, the gaze of Mary is a call to mission. Contemplating the icon of OMPH is not just contemplation for contemplation’s sake. Mary’s gaze is a call to become a disciple of Jesus. Having become aware of ourselves and the world in the perspective of Mary and following the path of Jesus, contemplation essentially leads to the mission of Jesus. Contemplation is geared towards participation in the mission of God within ourselves and in the world.

Conclusion

Baclaran is not just a shrine of devotion but also a shrine of contemplation. The atmosphere of the shrine is an invitation for the devotees not just to pray the novena but to enter into a deeper form of prayer–contemplation. Devotion to Mary and prayer to God is not only through words but also silence.

The greatest challenge that devotees received in experiencing the shrine as a shrine of contemplation is how to transform their devotion from petitionary form of devotion to participation in Mary’s life. They need to experience Mary as a model of contemplation—a life of continuous surrender and letting the mystery of God’s mission and plan enter their lives.

(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]Pope Francis then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Homily of October 10, 1999 in Antonio Fidalgo, C.Ss.R, “To See as OMPH Does,” Scala News, May 8, 2018. Accessed at https://www.cssr.news/2018/05/to-see-as-our-mother-of-perpetual-help-does/

[2] Sapitula, Marian Piety and Modernity, 215.

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

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

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

[6] St. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, #11.

[7] Cardinal George Bergoglio, “Homily of October 10, 1999” (arzbaires.org). See also Homily of September 22, 2013 (vatican.va) in Antonio Fidalgo, C.Ss.R, “To See as OMPH Does.”

[8] Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2715.

[9] Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2712.

[10] St. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, #10.

[11] Milton Coyne III aka Bluedreamer, “How My Faith Changed Me?” Accessed at http://bluedreamer27.com/how-my-faith-changed-me/

[12] Marek Kotynski, Meditations on the Icon of OMPH (Rome: Scala Publications, 2015),

[13] Maria Luisa de Villalobos, in Ulysses da Silva, C.Ss.R., “Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Popular Piety.”

22ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: A HEART CENTERED ON GOD

devout-prayer

Devotees when entering the Baclaran shrine, typically dip their fingers in the fonts of holy water located near the entrance doors of the shrine then make the sign of the cross. Some devotees used the Holy Water generously washing their whole hands into the Holy Water font or wetting with Holy Water their faces, arms or any other parts of the body especially those with pain. Sam Samantha complained against such practice in June 19, 2017:

May I request that the holy water font should not be used for washing of the hands … How many times have I experienced when I was about to dip my finger into the holy water, somebody would suddenly come in and wash their hands right into the font.

This scenario seemingly show that some devotees see more the external significance of Holy Water as having imbued with some special power which can help them ward off evil powers or assist them in everyday afflictions like physical sickness rather than the internal significance of Holy Water as the symbol of new life which they have received in baptism.

In today’s Gospel of the 22nd Sunday in ordinary time, Jesus and the Pharisees had a public fight about the Jewish tradition of washing hands before meals. The Pharisees were complaining to Jesus why some of his disciples are not washing their hands before eating. This rule was “a tradition of the elders,” to preserve physical health, of course. But Jesus calls out the Pharisees’ obsession with the exterior observance of the law while disregarding the inner meaning of traditions and laws. Jesus was angry at the Pharisees and Scribes because they manipulated exterior laws to feed their own egos.

This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.

In the eyes of Jesus, a pure heart is more important than clean hands. The observance of the Law and tradition is not an end in itself but an indication of where the heart lies. Jesus called the people to the true purpose of the Law: a heart centered on God.

To drive his point home with his disciples, Jesus dares to draw an earthy analogy from their experience of digestion and defecation. The food that comes inside one’s body is clean but when it comes out it is dirty as in feces.

Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person;
but the things that come out from within are what defile.
From within people, from their hearts,
come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder,
adultery, greed, malice, deceit,
licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.
All these evils come from within and they defile.

The theme of the law of God as planted in the hearts of the people is articulated in the other readings today. In the First Reading: Moses’ teaching about the wisdom of the Law reminds the people where the heart of God lies: close to them. The purpose of our observance of the Law is to keep our hearts close to God.

In the second reading, James says the law is planted in each one of us.

Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you
and is able to save your souls.

James understood the meaning of the law of God is not just in devotion and worship but also in caring for the poor and most abandoned,

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this:
to care for orphans and widows in their affliction
and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

The responsorial psalm also expresses James’ social dimension of the law. Observing the Law is not a matter of clinging to what is human tradition but rather of practicing justice:

The one who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.

Any law of the Kingdom of God must emerge from love or else be empty. We don’t ignore the laws and have just inner devotion. But we need pure heart in order to truly observe the laws. A pure heart is a heart centered not on self-preservation but on loving God and loving God in one’s neighbor.

Lord, dwell in our hearts. Let the world know we are your disciples not because our hands are clean but because our hearts are sincere and dedicated in service to God and fellowmen and women.