May 1: Feast of St. Joseph the Worker

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St. Joseph the Worker icon by Theophilia

As we celebrate International Workers’ Day or Labor Day today, 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.

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Solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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Painting by Sr. Bambi Flores, MPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Saints and All Souls Day: Contemplating the Meaning of Death

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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, we actually fear and abhor death.  Every year during these days close to the twin feast days of All Saints and All Souls, 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 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.

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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. Gerard Family Life Center of the Shrine

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October 16th is a special day for the shrine as it celebrates the feast of St. Gerard Majella. There is a concelebrated mass at 9:30 AM in honor of the saint. After the mass there is 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 to establish the St. Gerard Family Life Ministry. Another inspiration is 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. The schedule of FREE consultation services of the center are from Mon-Tue-Thurs-Fri-Sat: 9am to 12noon / 2pm-5pm, Wed: 9am to 12noon 2pm-7pm, and Sunday: 9am to 12noon. Every 1st Monday of the month there is a novena mass of St.Gerard at 930am. After the mass a there is a blessing for all mothers and children especially for expectant mothers and pregnant woman.

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For more information please visit our website.

October at the Shrine

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October is a month of giants in the 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.”