Feast of Saint Stephen: First Martyr of Christmas

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After all the merry-making, all the festivities, all the food and drinks, all the joyous gatherings we attended yesterday on Christmas day, we celebrate today the feast of St. Stephen, first martyr of the church.

We hear in the liturgy today the bloody death of Stephen, and of Jesus’ warnings of persecution, death, and hatred for his name’s sake. Is the liturgy playing kill joy during this Christmas season?

No, in fact, within 2 days, we will celebrate the feast of the Holy Innocents. The feast of the Holy Innocents commemorates the massacre of young children in Bethlehem by King Herod the Great in his attempt to kill the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:16–18).

On the contrary, the Church’s long tradition of celebrating the memorial of St. Stephen after Christmas does not serve to demote Christmas, but to continue it. The liturgy after Christmas wish to manifest more clearly that when Jesus comes to dwell in our hearts, his incarnation in our lives cannot remain without effect. Jesus was born into this world in order to teach us how to die to the values of the world and live in the values of God’s kingdom. St. Stephen’s faith-filled martyrdom focuses our attention on this truth.

At my reflection last Christmas midnight mass, I mentioned that Christmas is a defiance! The more the world is plunged into senseless impunity of killings and violence, the voice of Christmas shout much louder for peace and justice. The more the world is plunged into hunger and poverty, the aspiration of Christmas for sharing of creation’s resources for all becomes greater and greater. The more the world is plunged into materialism and vanity, the proclamation of the spirit of Christmas which is love, forgiveness and acceptance of all becomes stronger and stronger. As the world is plunged into sadness and misery, the challenge to spread the joy of Christmas all the more become urgent especially among the abandoned, homeless and lonely.

Our times is not much different during the time of St. Stephen. As we spent the past few days in Christmas revelries, many innocent people continue to be arrested, tortured and killed due to their political and religious beliefs and actions in behalf especially of the poor, oppressed and marginalized in society.

The feast St. Stephen in the middle of the Christmas season reminds us that the real Christmas is still far from reality in our world today. Until there are people who are persecuted, tortured, unjustly arrested and killed, we will not stop denouncing the evils in our society and personal lives. As long as there are injustice, oppression and killings, we cannot silence the voice of Christmas proclaiming God who dwelt amongst us especially among the poor, abandoned and persecuted.  

I remember in 2015, around Christmas time, we displayed gruesome photos of the extra-judicial killing around the shrine. The killings were justificed by the government as a collateral result of its bloody war on drugs. Many of the devotees who went to the shrine were shocked when they saw the pictures although many also expressed support to the photo gallery. On social media,  we were called all sorts of names—bastard priests, demons from hell, members of the yellow cult, rapists and pedophiles, coddlers of drug lords, thieving hypocrites playing politics—many of them coming from the devotees. It is utterly distressing that in a Christian country like ours, the killings is tolerated, even supported by a majority of people who are mostly Catholic.

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St. Stephen’s is one the first deacons of the church. As a deacon he had a twofold task. He was assigned to the service of the tables, the “service of love” to the poor, so that the Apostles would have more time for preaching. But since he also the gift of preaching, he should also perform this ministry of truth. And Stephen, trusting in Jesus, devoted himself whole-heartedly to these tasks. He was stoned to death because his preaching of Jesus as the Son of God was considered blasphemy.

But St. Stephen make no compromises concerning the truth. He proclaims the Jesus who revealed himself and whom he had come to know. But he does not proclaim this truth by way of violence or hatred, but in love and in self-giving. Until the last moment he forgives the men who kill him. As Jesus prayed for those who killed him, so St. Stephen prayed, “Lord, do not count this sin against them!” And his witness, his death was fruitful for the Church. The remembrance of this witness, for example, probably helped Saul later to accept Christ’s message, and thereby to become the great Apostle Paul.

The example of St. Stephen shows us that the world needs the witness of the truth in love and in self-giving, despite the violence in the world today. This is an essential implication if we would take seriously the challenge of living out the true spirit of Christmas.

7th Simbang Gabi: Mary’s Christmas Song – the Magnificat

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Inay Maria ng Magnificat (Mother Mary of Magnificat)

Welcome to the 7th Simbang Gabi. 

We are now into the 7th day of our Christmas academy. I hope our reflections in this Christmas academy continue to deepen your understanding of the meaning of the incarnation of Jesus–the original event of Christmas.

In today’s readings we hear words of thanksgivings from both the first reading and the gospel. It is a celebration of thanks to the Lord, who does great things to humble people who trust in God. In the first reading, from the 1st book of Samuel, Hannah gives thanks to God because he has given her a son, Samuel. She dedicates him to God. Samuel will be a very great prophet of the Lord. In the gospel, Mary, a young, humble, unassuming girl boldly sings out her joy and thanks to God who will upset the world’s values through Jesus, the Son to be born from her. With Hannah and Mary we sing out our joy and thanks to God.

Both of these thanksgivings, on the lips of women, mothers, anticipate what God will do through the agency of their sons. Both image God’s saving activity concretely as toppling unjust structures and disarming oppressive regimes. “The bows of the mighty are broken,” declares Hannah, and Mary echoes, “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones.”  “The well-fed hire themselves out for bread,” Hannah says, and Mary answers, “He has filled the hungry with good things.” These are songs of the anawim, the poor who have no recourse or resource of their own and must wait for God to save them.

Indeed, these thanksgivings echoes the Christmas carols of joy and gratitude we hear during this season. The magnificat, the song of Mary, however, expresses more than just gratitude and joy. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian killed by the Nazis for his opposition to Hitler, comments that the magnificat of Mary has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about collapsing thrones and humbled lords of this world, about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind. These are the tones of the women prophets of the Old Testament that now come to life in Mary’s mouth.[1]

In the magnificat, Mary becomes an emblem of hope and a sign of God’s care for the oppressed and downtrodden throughout the world. Through Mary, most virgin and purest of all, stripped of all power, wealth, fame, prestige and position, the power of God was proclaimed in the magnificat.

Mary’s magnificat highlights the social repercussions of Christmas. Christmas cannot be separated from the situation that Mary and Joseph found themselves in at the time of Jesus’ birth. Today it cannot be separated from the real situation in our our own communities and the larger society especially of those who live on the margins. Christmas is not an escapist occasion that numbs us and just let us forget all about the pain and sorrow in this life. The joy of Christmas is not the fleeting joy that serves as an escape from the sad reality of our lives, which sadly has been the scourge for many of our people come every Christmas.

We cannot just ignore the underlying political and social implications of Christmas. The new king wasn’t born in a palace, his birth wasn’t hailed by heralds fanning out to every corner of the empire. Instead, his family were refugees: They couldn’t find room at the inn; Mary gave birth in a stable; and the child had to rest in a manger. The message of Christmas is, inescapably, a message about the poor, about the little ones, about those who are pushed to the margins of society. They are the ones God chooses, the ones He looks to first. It is no wonder that the first people to experience the coming of the savior were shepherds, those lowly, uneducated ones who lived among the animals

It’s been the convention of many Christians to turn Christmas into a safe holiday that asks little of us. But this ignores the prophetic, subversive life of Jesus. Jesus brought the margins to the center and welcomed outcasts to the table.

In a homily he gave on Christmas eve in 1978, the recently canonized saint, St. Oscar Romero, the martyr bishop who was murdered while celebrating mass due to his active defense and solidarity with the poor in El Salvador, proclaimed that we need to become poor in order that we can truly celebrate Christmas:

No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor. The self-sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need even of God—for them there will be no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God. Emmanuel. God-with-us. Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God.

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St. Oscar Romero

In another homily St. Oscar Romero gave on December 3, 1978, he expounds on the social implications of advent, of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ into our lives.

Advent should admonish us to discover
in each brother or sister that we greet,
in each friend whose hand we shake,
in each beggar who asks for bread,
in each worker who wants to use the right to join a union,
in each peasant who looks for work in the coffee groves,
the face of Christ.
Then it would not be possible to rob them,
to cheat them,
to deny them their rights.
They are Christ,
and whatever is done to them
Christ will take as done to himself.
This is what Advent is:
Christ living among us.

The celebration of Christmas is an invitation for us to sing, proclaim and live Mary’s magnificat.  We can truly sing and live the magnificat if like Mary we humble ourselves to the power of God, to allow God to be God. Like Mary we can proclaim the power of God by becoming poor in material and spirit, living in solidarity with the poor and marginalized and our active involvement and participation in the building of God’s new social order which Mary sang in the magnificat.

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

In Dying, We are Born to Eternal Life: Celebrating All Saints and All Souls Day

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If not for the lockdown, many of us will go to the cemetery today until November 2 to visit and gather around the graves of our departed loved ones in felloswship and prayers.  

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

Paradoxically, while we gather around the tomb of our dearly departed loved ones, we could not avoid telling stories about ghost, even of some horrible creatures. This reflects a profound sense of fear of death amongst us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. John Paul II: First and Only Pope who visited Baclaran

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Today, the Catholic church worldwide celebrates the feast of St. John Paul II.

St. John Paul II when he was pope visited the Baclaran shrine on February 17, 1981. But before he became a pope, St. John Paul II visited the shrine on February 1973. It was a brief stopover, when he was still Kraków Archbishop Karol Józef Cardinal Wojtyla, on his way to Australia to attend the International Eucharistic congress. Although, it was an unofficial one, he was able to celebrate the Eucharist with thousands of devotees in attendance even if it was already late in the evening. The affection of the thousands of devotees to OMPH caught his admiration and created a lasting impression upon him. He mentioned this on his visit to the shrine as Pope. 

I bless the providence of God that has brought me back to Manila, back to this Sanctuary of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, where I once celebrated Mass. I bless the providence of God that has brought me to you, and you to me.

When he became Pope and went to the Philippines on a pastoral visit, Baclaran shrine was his first stop straight from the airport.  His visit to the shrine was held to address the women religious of the Philippines.

Here’s an excerpt from the Chronicles of the Baclaran Community describing that great event:.

Feb 17th, 1981. The great day had come at last. The Lipa Carmelites had arrived the night before and asked permission to stay in the church all night to make sure that they got a good position. The Redemptoristines slept in the house of Mrs. Flor Duran in Pasay and came here before 5.a.m.only to find the church packed with more than four thousand nuns. Our collegians acted as ushers. Since it was an address for Women Religious they were the only ones allowed into the Church. The famous Mother Teresa arrived with a group of about 80 of her sisters. They all had tickets except her. One of the ushers stopped her and when one of her sisters said “But that is Mother Teresa”. The usher replied “Who is Mother Teresa? No one gets in without a ticket”.  (She did get in eventually). The Pope arrived about 9.00 a.m. He entered through the front gate in a beautifully decorated motor float and passed up our front drive, greeting and blessing the people as he came. The vice Provincial read a short address of welcome. Before the Pope’s address he referred to his former visit to Baclaran and his Mass at the high altar. At the end he read a beautiful prayer to the Mother of Perpetual Help, consecrating to her and placing under Her mantle his apostolic tour of the Far East. He then presented the Vice Provincial with a symbolic Candle that came as a gift from St. Mary Major’s in Rome.

The Pope blessed all the Sisters, especially the sick ones who were in the front. It was reported later, though it could not be confirmed by us, that one wheel chair case was actually cured by the Pope’s blessing. The Pope then went up the spiral staircase and passed along the gallery where the Redemptorist confreres and their friends were. The Pope shook hands with each one and when he came to an aspirant with a crutch (now Fr. Caloy Ronquillo) he embraced him. He paused at the front of the Convento on the azotea to address and bless the immense crowd in the parking area and the streets beyond.

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Then he insisted on going to the refectory where he had been entertained eight years before. He even remembered where he had sat. He sat down again and took some refreshments and chatted.

From the refectory he went to the float through the front door. The exit route was the same as the entrance. On the way he stooped down twice to take a small child in his arms to the great delight of the crowd. The Cardinal Secretary of State was found strolling happily around in the garden near the library. He had somehow missed his car and didn’t know that the Pope had already gone. The Community were about to drive him to the Cathedral when Msg. Woods arrived and rescued him.

On the façade of the shrine there is a plaque commemorating the two visits of the saint quoting the saint’s prayer to OMPH on his visit of the shrine in 1981:

Be ready to intercede with every form of help for each human heart and all the peoples … especially for those who have heavy ordeals in life due to suffering, poverty and every form of afflictions… Mother of Perpetual Help, accept this humble offering and place it in the Heart of Your Son.

October 16: Feast of St. Gerard Majella, Saint of Mothers

Today, October 16th is a special day for the shrine as we celebrate the feast of St. Gerard Majella. All masses today will remember the life and example of St. Gerard. There will also be a distribution of free medals of St. Gerard as well as the blessing of children, mothers and expectant mothers.

St. Gerard was an Italian lay brother of the Redemptorists. He was born in Muro Lucano, Basilicata, Italy in April 6, 1726. Despite being always frail in health, Gerard was very passionate in giving all his time and talents to the poor and in prayer to God.

St. Gerard Majella is the patron saint of pregnant mothers and children. He is popularly known as “the saint of mothers.” Many devotee couples who have not conceived for many years have testified that after they asked the intercession of St. Gerard they were blessed with the gift of a child.

The life of St. Gerard is one of the inspirations for the shrine in establishing the St. Gerard Family Life Ministry. His life and example inspired the Redemptorist community to find ways in responding to the needs and issues that the devotees bring to the shrine regarding their family life. As the shrine has daily confession, many devotees take the opportunity to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation. But there are also times that the devotees share inside the confessional issues and problems in their family like marital infidelity, couple differences, parent-children gap, birth control, abortion, drug addiction, homosexuality, and many others. Because these are serious cases needing more time and attention beyond the confessional, we usually suggest counseling. From this experience, came the need for establishing a counseling center at the shrine. Thus, St. Gerard Family Life Ministry became an extension of Sacrament of Reconciliation thru consultation and counselling.

The shrine formally established St. Gerard Family Life Ministry on Oct 16, 1995, feast of St. Gerard. Through consultation, advisory, and referral services, St. Gerard Family Life Ministry seeks to assist families and individuals in strengthening their family and Christian life. St. Gerard Family Life Ministry offers FREE consultation services: Marriage and Family, Parenting, Human Relationships, Youth, Spirituality, Natural Family Planning, Same Sex Attraction (LGBT) Various Addictions (cyber, gambling, alcoholism, sex, pornography, etc.) Legal Matters, HIV, Migrants and OFWs concerns

Those who avail of the services of the center are church goers, devotees, walk-in clients and referrals from confession, by phone and face to face consultation/counselling. Many devotees who came to the center benefited from the center through the experience of comfort and compassion, healing of broken relationships, healing of broken homes, spiritual nourishment and enhancing of their faith and hope. The ten most common problems devotees bring to the center are:

1) Personal Concerns
2) Marital Problem
3) Family matters
4) Legal matters
5) Man/Woman relationship
6) Job/Financial
7) NFP/Pregnancy
8)Psychological
9) Same Sex Attraction (homosexuality)
10) Spiritual

At the beginning, 5 married couples were selected from volunteers to undergo a series of trainings and seminars to the family life commission archdiocese of manila, Pro-Life Phils, Simbahayan Commission and also which the Diocese of Paranaque. Most of the Mentors are Wounded Healers. Different life experienced stories. In order to enhance their capabilities in counselling, the shrine sponsor their training and study courses about family in UGAT foundation Ateneo de Manila and De la Salle University. There are also practicumers from CEFAM, one priest and one deacon

The  St. Gerard Family Life center also networks closely with the Social Services of the Social Mission of the Shrine, other Family Centers especially those located in Metro Manila, ProLife Phils, of which the center is one of its Pregnancy Crisis Intervention Centers, Government and non-governmental agencies for referral purposes. The center also sponsors from time to time seminars and/or symposia on topics related to family life.

Do you have any problems in the family, marriage, relationships and sexuality? Come to St. Gerard Family Life Center of the shrine and avail of its free services. Here’s the schedule of FREE consultation services of the center:

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For more information please visit our website.

October at the Shrine

October is a month packed with special celebration for the worldwide church as well as for the shrine.

October begins with the commemoration of St. Thérése of Lisieux and ends with All Hallows Eve, the night of spirits who do not so much haunt streets as inspire hearts.  Spread throughout the month is the feast of: Francis of Assisi, who rebuilt the church and inspired centuries of holy souls; Teresa of Avila, mighty doctor of the church and reformer of the Carmelites; Anthony Claret, missionary, founder, archbishop of Cuba, and chaplain to the Queen of Spain; Simon, Jude, and Luke, apostles and evangelist; Ignatius of Antioch, one of our earliest bishops, a martyr in Rome; Margaret Mary Alacoque, Visitation contemplative, who with her Jesuit friend Claude La Colombière bequeathed the Sacred Heart devotion to the church.

October is also special for the shrine. The shrine celebrates the feast of St. Thérése in a special way since the Monastery and the Church were originally dedicated to St Teresa of the Child Jesus, the patroness of the missions. But as divine providence intervened, Mary Our Mother of Perpetual Help became the patron of the shrine.

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The whole month of October is also special for the shrine as it is Rosary month. During the whole month, the rosary is recited daily at the shrine. During the rosary, there is a meditation on the life of Mary especially about the lessons that we can derive from her life for us today.

On October 4th the shrine celebrates the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.with a blessing of animals. After the morning mass, some devotees bring their beloved pets–dogs, cats, hamsters, bird, turtles and others for the blessing. This began in 2005. Since then it has become a yearly tradition in the shrine.

A big day in October is the celebration of the feast of St. Gerard Majella on October 16th.  St. Gerard was a Redemptorist brother who despite being always frail in health was so passionate in giving all his time and talents to the poor and in prayer to God.  He is the patron of pregnant mothers and children. After the morning mass, there is a blessing of pregnant mothers and children and the distribution of medals of St. Gerard for free.

We are grateful for the shining example and legacy the saints have left us.  In spite of their human weakness and shortcomings, they were able to fully maximize their potentials in service to God and to others.  This offers us hope that we too we can become saints if only we freely open ourselves to God’s power in our lives.  As Matthew Fox said:

“Saint applies to each of us. All who are attempting to imitate the Christ in their lives merit the title of ‘saint.’ Some do it more fully than others and are willing to let go of more to get the job done.”

October, too, is the month where most of the Sundays have a special dedicated celebrations besides its liturgical celebrations. The 2nd Sunday, October 11 this year, is Indigenous Peoples’ Sunday. The 3rd Sunday, October 18, is World Mission Sunday. The 4th Sunday, October 25 is Prison Awareness Sunday.

Renovated Shrine of Sta. Teresita

Fr. ‘Dinny’ Dennis Grogan was the builder of the Baclaran convent who had a fervent devotion to Sta. Teresita. He must be very pleased today as he looks down from heaven to see the renovated Shrine of Sta. Teresita and the many people who, at the moment, are visiting it day and night. I am sure he would be laughing at the antics of the little children trying to get coins from their mothers and grand mothers to drop into the water, which now surrounds the statue.

Fr. Dennis Grogan, CSsR, builder of the Baclaran convent

One child was heard saying “Mama, What will I wish for? What will I wish for?” And another “Nanay, may WISH WATERS sila.” Of course the next sentence was “Nanay, coins, coins, dali”. The fish, that inhabit the water, have also come in for a lot of attention. One child brought his own fish and asked if he could put it with the others.

Since it was a little smaller than the others were, it was suggested that he put it in the smaller pool where the water gathers when it comes from the filter. He agreed and promised (or was it threatened) to come back each day and check on its progress. When asked where he got the money to buy it, he simply said that he sacrificed his ‘Baon’. Since then other children have also brought along their fish.

The renovated Shrine was re-blessed on the Feast of Sta. Teresita on October 1st, 2007. I am sure Sta. Teresita will come up with a few answers to prayer on that day. However I don’t know whether she can make all the wishes come true. I fear some of them may be contradictory, some of the parents may be wishing that the wishes of their children don’t ever come true.

Let’s leave it to Sta. Teresita. According to Fr. Grogan the Monastery and Church would never have been built if it were not for her help.

John Maguire, CSsR

(This article is an excerpt from the book National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Tips, Trivia and Tribute by John Maguire, Joey Echano, et. al., soon to be published)

St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus: The First Patron of the Shrine

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On this 1st day of October, Catholics around the world honor the life of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, or St. Thérèse of Lisieux. She is popularly known as “The Little Flower of Jesus”, or simply “The Little Flower.” Thérèse has been a highly influential model of sanctity for Catholics and for others because of the simplicity and practicality of her approach to the spiritual life. Together with Saint Francis of Assisi, she is one of the most popular saints in the history of the church. Since her death, millions have been inspired by her ‘little way’ of loving God and neighbor.

Did you know that the Baclaran Church was originally dedicated to St Teresa of the Child Jesus. But as divine providence intervened, Mary Our Mother of Perpetual Help, would become the patron of the shrine.

How did St. Thérèse get relegated from primary patroness to secondary patroness of the shrine?

The original intention to dedicate Baclaran church to St. Thérése was engraved in the corner stone of the Monastery on Sept. 13th, 1931 at the beginning of its construction:

At the request of Most Rev. Fr. General Murray and with the approval of His Grace, the Monastery and Church are to be dedicated to St Teresa of the Child Jesus, the patroness of the missions. The secondary Patrons shall be the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Mother of Perpetual Succor, St Joseph, St. Alphonsus, St. Clement and St. Gerard.

After the first Baclaran church was built, the Redemptorist asked for donations from the people in building and adorning the small wooden chapel. The Ynchausti family came, along with friends and benefactors, with the intention of donating a beautiful high altar to the congregation. They had one condition, however, that the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help (OMPH) ought to occupy the high altar. This would conflict with the intention of the pioneer Redemptorists, particularly Fr. Dennis Grogan, the main builder of the church, to have the chapel in honor of St. Thérèse.

Thus, a drama unfolded: Who would get the high altar, St. Thérèse or OMPH? Fr. Grogan unfolds this drama on an entry in the Chronicles dated Feb 1, 1932:

I am preparing the House and Church for the arrival of the Fathers and Brothers from Australia. The new high altar given by Sra. De Ynchausti arrived. It was designed and made by Mr. Maximo Vicente under the guidance of the donor. It became the high altar very providentially. Sta. Teresita being the Patroness should naturally have been there and for the first Mass celebrated in the church she was actually installed but when the donor offered her altar, she expressed the wish that it should be the high altar. I proposed her wish to Father Provincial (Byrne) with a good recommendation and he decided it should be so. The delay in communicating brought us near to the Opening Day and hearing nothing from Australia we gave orders that the plans should be changed and the altar made smaller to suit the aisle, but at that very moment, while the designer was in the house, the mail arrived from Australia and all was changed. Our Lady of Perpetual Succor (Help) was given the High Altar and Sta. Teresita on her right side, with St. Gerard on the left.

As history unfolds, the Redemptorists transferred St. Thérèse’s statue to the grounds in front of the convent. This seems a more fitting place as more people have been able to touch her. This also serves as a providential reminder that the saint once had a brief reign in the shrine, before it was finally dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.

May 1: Labor Day and Feast of St. Joseph the Worker

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St. Joseph the Worker icon by Theophilia

The shrine joins the whole world in celebrating Labor day today. As we celebrate International Workers’ Day or Labor Day, the church honors St. Joseph the worker. St. Joseph adopted Jesus, the son of God as his own beloved son, and taught him how to be a man–a human being and a Jew–how to walk the earth with us.

To the people of Nazareth, Jesus was known as the son of a laborer, the son of the carpenter. Yes, God’s Son was born in a workman’s family. He learned the trade from Saint Joseph and spent his early adult years working side-by-side in Joseph’s carpentry shop before leaving to pursue his ministry as preacher and healer.

The first reading for the liturgy of today’s feast recounts the old Jewish myth of creation–in which God himself is seen as a worker, crafting the Universe in six days.  God gave us–-the human race–-the power to be stewards of God’s creation. This means that we too are to work to fulfil the potential of God creation.

As the Apostle Paul, a tentmaker says, we are all called to be God’s co-workers.  We are all called to be co-creators, using our God given dominion to do God’s work making this world more like heaven, and (now that Christ is ascended back to the Father) being Christ’s Body, doing his work on earth.

Thus, on this Feast of St Joseph the Worker, we acknowledge the importance of work in our lives.  Our church has always asserted the right to hold a productive and rewarding job as a fundamental human right.  Each breadwinner should be able to supply the needs of his family from the earnings of a meaningful job. As St. John Paul II asserted in Laborem Exercens,

The workers’ rights cannot be doomed to be the mere result of economic systems aimed at maximum profits. The thing which must shape the whole economy is respect for the workers’ rights within each country and all through the world’s economy. (Pope John Paul II, On Human Work, 1981, n. 17).

The shrine joins the whole world in giving honor to all the workers. The shrine has continuously upheld the dignity of labor and supported the cause of the workers from just wages to job security. Every Wednesday in the novena, devotees pray for workers and the dignity of work:

That we may proclaim the dignity of work by doing our own work conscientiously,
LOVING MOTHER PRAY FOR US.
That we may work for the just distribution of this world’s goods,
LOVING MOTHER PRAY FOR US.

St. Joseph, pray for all our workers, that they may fulfill their dignity as co-workers in God’s creation. Pray also for us in this time of pandemic especially those who are sick and suffering gravely because of covid-19.

Death Gives Meaning to Our Lives: Celebrating All Saints and All Souls Day

grave

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

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

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

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

mass-grave

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

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

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

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

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

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