Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Icon of Compassion

Tomorrow, June 18, we begin the 9 days novena for the feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help on June 27. To prepare ourselves for the 9 days novena and the feast of OMPH, I am reposting here my blog on the icon of OMPH. For nine days, beginning tomorrow we will reflect and contemplate on a particular part of the icon of OMPH.

National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help

fiesta-icon Photo credit: A. Lubi, C.Ss.R. | Baclaran | June 2018

“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,”
– St. John Paul II in Baclaran

Filipinos have embraced Mary, Our Mother of Perpetual Help, as their own mother. From the moment that Our Mother of Perpetual Help arrived in the Philippines in 1906, Filipinos took her into their own homes and communities. Many devotees fondly call Our Mother of Perpetual Help “Mama Mary” (Mother Mary). It may sound sentimentalist to some but to many devotees it expresses their deep devotion and childlike dependence on Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Just like Marvin L. Maderas who…

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3RD SUNDAY OF EASTER: LIVING THE RESURRECTION – TENDING GOD’S SHEEP

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Do you love me?

The resurrection of Jesus is also about our own resurrection, when we rise up from our weaknesses, failures and sinfulness to embrace a new and victorious life. This is not much truer than in the case of Jesus’ apostles. From weak, fearful and insecure, the resurrection propelled the apostles to become bold, daring and zealous in proclaiming the good news of Jesus.

In the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter and John are arrested, hauled before the Sanhedrin, and ordered to cease preaching in the name of Jesus. The “Sanhedrin” said to Peter and the apostles, “We gave you strict orders, did we not, to stop teaching in that name”?  In response to this expression of the highest authority in their Jewish lives, they assert boldly, “We must obey God rather than men.” Ever faithful to Jesus’ command to follow him, they even rejoiced that they were able to “suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.” This is a tremendous gesture of defiance that has become an inspiration for the Church especially during the times of persecution.

The resurrection of Jesus provided the greatest opportunity for the apostles to abandon their immature ways and atone for the betrayal they committed to Jesus. This is most especially prominent in Peter’s life.

In the Gospel, the last of the resurrection appearance of Jesus in the gospels, Jesus appears to the disciples while they were catching fish–their old livelihood.  The Gospel scene hints at two failures: the fishermen coming back with no fish and Peter’s denial of Jesus before his death. Yet these failures became occasions for Jesus’ gift of abundance: a large catch of fish, a fuller love that would “glorify God.” Indeed, faithful discipleship is not measured by absence of failure, but by openness to casting one’s lot on Jesus’ commands, a recognition of God’s abundant gifts, and willingness to grow into new life.

John’s Gospel has two charcoal fire scenes. The first, in chapter 18, warms Peter in Caiaphas’ courtyard when, as predicted, he denies his master three times. Today’s Gospel presents the other charcoal fire, near which Jesus invites the denier to atone for his cowardice by confessing his love three times. Peter’s profession of love for Jesus three times is Peter’s atonement for his triple denial of Jesus. Love heals his sins and reunites him to Jesus.

Jesus, however, asks Peter to demonstrate his love for him by service to his people: “Feed my sheep, my lambs.” From love comes deeds, namely feeding and tending Jesus’ lambs and sheep. Loving Jesus is not just a personal relationship with Jesus but essentially overflows into loving and serving others–God’s flock. The lambs and sheep belong to Jesus, not Peter.

Jesus then predicts that Peter’s service will take him where he does not want to go. Peter truly became the kind of man exactly what Jesus envisioned him to be. Love transformed Peter to become the rock of the early church, a fearless proclaimer of the good news and glorifier of God up to his death.

A final paragraph of the gospel contains a prediction of Peter’s martyrdom. This is the earliest reference to that event and its only mention in the New Testament.

Jesus asks us today, like when he asked Peter: “Do you Love me?” Despite our sinfulness, like Peter, may we take the risk to say, “Lord, you know that I love you.” But not just in words but more importantly in action, let us prove our love for Jesus by helping to feed God’s lambs.

 

Baclaran as Summer Getaway

National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help

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On April 7th 1939 of the Chronicles of the Baclaran Community we read:

“Today was a terribly hot day, this afternoon the Archbishop came to enjoy the cool breeze from the bay.”

Can you believe that Baclaran was once a refuge from the heat of Manila?  When the Redemptorists first gave up Malate Parish and began their new Mission house in Baclaran, the Columbans, who took over Malate often walked around the bay to visit the Redemptorists and swim in the clear waters of Baclaran.

In the 60s and early 70s Redemptorists from Iloilo who were teaching in the Juvenate in Iloilo often spent part of their summer break in Baclaran and sat each afternoon on the top verandah of the convento enjoying the cool breeze and watching the sun set. Bro. Charles O’ Brien who lived for many years in Baclaran could be seen at two o’clock in the…

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1ST SUNDAY OF LENT: CONFRONTING THE DEVIL

 

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Photo courtesy of Ted Aljbe, AFP

Sometimes, out of exasperation from the many evil around us and out of pain from so much suffering we are experiencing, we cry to God in protest: If you are a mighty God, why don’t you just remove all the suffering and hunger and make everyone full and prosperous? If you are a caring God why wont you defend and protect those who are oppressed and abused? Why wont you just display your power and eliminate all evil people in the world?

In today’s gospel of the first Sunday of Lent, the devil tempted Jesus to showcase his power and magically ease himself out of suffering. The devil first tempted Jesus to make bread out of stones to appease his hunger after forty days in the desert. Then the devil tempted Jesus to  jump from a pinnacle and rely on angels to break his fall. Finally, the devil tempted Jesus to worship him and forget all about God’s mission in return for all the kingdoms of the world.

The devil said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become bread.”

The devil said to him,
“I shall give to you all this power and glory;
for it has been handed over to me,
and I may give it to whomever I wish.
All this will be yours, if you worship me.”

Then [the devil] led him to Jerusalem,
made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down from here

These temptations are not just the temptations that Jesus encountered in the desert before he began his ministry. These temptations represent the temptations that Israel, the chosen people of God, experienced in the desert (God’s testing of Israel and Israel’s testing of God) as told in the first reading (Deuteronomy 6 through 8) today.

When the devil challenges Jesus to demonstrate his divine sonship by commanding stones to turn into bread, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3, “One does not live on bread alone”—which those who knew their Deuteronomy would complete with the words, “but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” When the devil offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would worship him, Jesus paraphrases Deuteronomy 6:13, “You shall worship the Lord your God; him alone shall you serve.” When the devil shifts from temptations to arrogance to a temptation to presumption (if you are the Son of God, jump from the Temple parapet; God will surely protect you), Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” It becomes clear here that Jesus is pictured as reliving the story of Israel in the wilderness, and getting it right. The parallel (and contrast) extends even to the talk of sonship: “So you must realize that the Lord, your God, disciplines you even as a man disciplines his son” (Deut 8:5).

We too are not immune to temptations. Temptations are a part of our daily living.  The world around us is full of temptations: We are seduced to buy what is not needed, to eat too much, to steal money and things from others, to cheat, to have power over others through sex, to be violent, to take vengeance and many others. Temptations tests the depth and strength of our faith. Temptations are not sins, according to our catechism. They can even serve as an opportunity to hone our skills, deepen and purify our faith by God’s grace. On the other hand, if we fall into them, we are led to sin. We are led to the devil and become separated from God, from others and from ourselves.

Contrary to what temptations will always tell us, neither bread nor magic will save us. It will be only, as St. Paul writes to the Romans in the second reading, by our entry into Christ’s own act of total trust and abandonment, believing in our hearts that therein we ourselves are raised from the dead and delivered.

In this season of Lent, Jesus invites us to confront and defeat evil. Lent is confronting the devil himself. The whole purpose of Lent is to defeat the devil. The goal of Lent is to share in Jesus’ resurrection, his victory over evil and death.

How do we do this? How do we come face-to-face with the devil?

Jesus invites us to enter into the desert.

In the history of the church, Lent has been associated with testing and trial period. In the Bible, the desert is the traditional ground where the people of God is tested. Before they could enter into the promised land, the Israelites had to first wander in the desert for forty years – letting themselves be led by God, undergoing many trials, and swallowing much impatience. A long period of uprooting and frustration preceded the prosperity of the promised land.

All the great spiritual masters and saints have undergone great trials and come face-to-face with the devil. They see the desert as the place where one is exposed to chaos, raw fear, and demons of every kind. In the desert we are exposed, body and soul, made vulnerable to be overwhelmed by chaos and temptations of every kind. But, precisely because we are so stripped of everything we normally rely on, this is also a privileged moment for grace. All the defense mechanisms, support systems, and distractions that we normally surround ourselves with so as to keep chaos and fear at bay work at the same time to keep much of God’s grace at bay.

By stripping ourselves of the things that superficially nourishes and supports us, we become aware of the essentials. We put aside the distraction and the abundance and focus on the essential. We empty ourselves so God can give us just what we need. Similarly, Lent calls us to focus on the essentials in the Christian life: stretching our roots into the life-giving, joy-giving water of Christ. Because it is God who gives us life; things don’t.

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My photo of Dubai Desert

A growing trend in the past few years is minimalism. Its mantra is less is more or going back to basics. It’s about simple living, living with fewer material possessions. An example of this trend are those who chose to live in tiny houses which help them save money that they can use for other things that would truly make them happy.

Lent is the unloading of many spiritual baggages we have accumulated over the years. Lent reminds us once again to focus our time and energy and resources on what matters most. It means removing anything that keeps us from living the full, abundant life that Jesus came to give us which can be possessions, luxuries, addictions, sinful vices or enslaving mindsets. By stripping ourselves of many things and focusing on the essentials, Lent will bring us to a freedom from sin, a freedom to uncover our true selves, and a freedom to unleash our potentials in joyful service to God and to others.

This Lent we are invited to go into the desert. Desert can be literal or metaphorical. It can be a physical, geographical thing or a place in the soul. It can be a place in the soul where we feel most alone, insubstantial, frightened, and fragile. Mostly, it is within ourselves where we come face-to-face with our weaknesses and temptations, the tool of the devil. In the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer “Lead us not into temptation” becomes very real for us as we confront temptation every minute of our lives. We admit that we are weak and cannot defeat the devil by our own efforts alone but by humbly and trustingly relying on God’s grace.

In these 40 days in the desert, let us return to the bare essentials of God’s grace. Like St. Paul, let us place our lives in God’s grace, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So at the end of Lent we can, in a new freedom, recognise the joyful abundance of Easter’s new life.

 

When Manila Bay was in Front of Baclaran Church

Reminiscing the old days when Manila Bay was just in front of the Baclaran shrine.

National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help

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Before World War II, the waters of Manila Bay used to come up to the refectory of the Redemptorist convent in Baclaran during high tide.  After the war it used to lap the shore along Roxas Boulevard. Now the sea is more than a kilometer away from the Church.

The name Baclaran originated from the word “baclad,” which means fishtrap. Baclad is made of rattan used to segregate fingerlings from the bigger fishes during the time when the Baclaran River and the Manila Bay were still used to breed fish. In the early years of the last century, this village was popularly known as “the place of the fishtraps”, thus, people started calling it the “bacladan”, which later became to be known, “Baclaran.” When the Redemptorists settled at Baclaran, the sea was just right at the fence of the compound which today is Roxas Boulevard. In those days, one could still…

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The Epiphany of the Lord: Christ as the Light to all Nations

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“Epiphany” courtesy of the blog “A Secular Priest”

Christmas is the season of the manifestation of the Light.  The light is no other than our Lord, Jesus Christ. On Christmas day, Jesus was born as a sign to the world that God’s promised light had come to earth. This is splendidly pronounced in the prophecy of Isaiah in the first reading during the Christmas midnight mass:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone (Isaiah 9: 1).

Christ as light shines in the midst of darkness in the world. Yes, there is so much darkness in our world today—war, poverty, injustice, violence, terror, sickness, inequality and despair.  Yet, ultimately, darkness will give way to the light of Christ—the light of peace, love, justice, joy, hope, and unity. This is eloquently expressed by Isaiah in the first reading today,

Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come,
the glory of the Lord shines upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples;
but upon you the LORD shines,
and over you appears his glory (Isaiah 60: 1 – 3).

Today, we celebrate the solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord.  The Epiphany of the Lord is the second manifestation of Christ as light during Christmas season. Epiphany means ‘manifestation’ understood particularly as the manifestation of Israel’s Messiah to the Gentile nations. The Gentile nations are all the nations outside of the Jewish nation. They are represented by the three Magi who journeyed from the East to pay homage to Jesus. The magi were guided by the light of the star that pointed to Bethlehem where Jesus was born.

And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them,
until it came and stopped over the place where the child was (Matthew 2: 9).

Epiphany proclaims that the Son of God came for all people, Jews and Gentiles alike. His saving love is available to everyone, everywhere, in whatever state of life they may find themselves. There is no one outside of God’s love.

The feast of the epiphany, therefore, proclaims that the Light of Christ shines even beyond Christianity. Christmas is not just for Christians but for all. Jesus came not just for the Jews or Christians or Catholics, but for all people. The wise men, though were pagans, came to faith in Jesus through the grace of God.

The wise men are represented today by the non-Christians or other religions, those who do not yet know and those who have not yet made that journey to Jesus. They too can be led to the light of Christ. We saw through the story of the wise men that through the grace of God the wise men were led to Jesus. Even though they did not know Jesus they had a desire to meet Jesus. In their own way, with their beliefs, they lived as best they could and this eventually led them to Jesus. As Vatican II says,

“Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.” (Lumen Gentium §16)

This does not mean, however, that the Church does not have to spread the Gospel anymore; just sit back and be lazy. The Church’s primary mission and vocation has always been to proclaim Jesus as savior of all humanity.  Jesus’ last command before his ascension was to baptize all nations, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. God in God’s mysterious ways, however, uses all channels, even beyond the Catholic faith, so that God’s light and love may be proclaimed and experienced by all of God’s creation.

Today’s feast teaches us that for God there are no foreigners, no outsiders.  Epiphany tells us that there is no “Chosen People” whether they be Jews or Christians or Catholics.  All are called—be it the Mother of Jesus, the rich and the poor, the privileged and the lonely, the healthy and the sick, the saints and the sinners to the light—Christ our Lord and Savior.

In closing, we pray with Anne Osdieck,

Lord,
shine your light on us all.
May your star chase away our darkness
and fill us with your radiant love.
Make us your epiphanies
overflowing with
wonderful
care for
each
other.[1]

 


 

[1] Anne Osdieck, Praying Towards Sunday, The Sunday Website at Saint Louis University. Accessed 07/01/2018 at http://liturgy.slu.edu/EpiphanyB010718/prayerpathmain.html

29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: THE DIVERGENT WAY OF SERVICE

Last week was a frenzied activity for thousands of wannabes vying for the top national and local positions in the county. Many trooped to the office of the Commission of Elections (COMELEC) around the country, complete with each one’s colorful gimmick  and band of loyal followers, to file their candidacies for the National and Local elections come May 2019. It look like a circus rather than an ordinary and formal submission of form for candidacy. As they say, only in the Philippines, election–its more fun in the Philippines!

And what was the buzzword of most of the candidates? You guessed it right–its service! Each candidate promised that they will serve up to the last breath of their lives. No, they are not after money, power, politics, influence or status, it’s all in the name of service. Can’t help but wonder, if it is really for service and not for the money, power and position, would you think there would be thousands filing their candidacies? I guess not.

In fairness, we cannot judge nor question the thousands of candidates’ desire to serve. There is probably a genuine desire in each of the candidates to serve. Unfortunately this genuine desire is tainted by the distorted and bankrupt values and standards of this world.  Moreover, their notion of service is antithetical to the notion of service that Jesus speaks of in the gospel today.

The liturgical readings for today’s 29th Sunday in ordinary time talks about service–God’s way of service, that is. The First Reading is taken from the fourth servant song of Second Isaiah: the prophet sings of one who “gives his life as an offering”.  This suffering servant would be afflicted, would suffer, and would even bear guilt. No wonder these verses from the fourth Song of the Suffering Servant is also the reading on Good Friday.  It foreshadow the fullness of the servanthood accepted by Jesus on our behalf: he gave his life for us.

In the second reading. the Letter to the Hebrews declares that we have a “great” “high” priest in Jesus who was strangely compassionate, fragile, and subject to the very trials we abhor.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but one who was tempted in every way that we are, yet never sinned.”
(Hebrews 4:14)

In the Gospel, James and John wanted to sit alongside Jesus when he comes to his glory: “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” Jesus teaches them this lesson: “whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all” . “The Way” on which he is leading his disciples is not about earthly glory but about service, even suffering service. This way of relating to others is not the way of the world, where “those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and make their authority over them felt.” The term “lord it over” is a vivid way of describing leadership as raw power.

Jesus’ words for describing service are conveyed by Mark in the humblest words in the Greek language for lowdown menial service. The term “servant,” diakonos, literally means “the one who waits on tables.”

“Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant [dia-konos];
whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave [doulos] of all.”

Jesus finally drives his point home by applying to himself the atonement language of Isaiah’s portrait of the Suffering Servant in the first reading

“For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve
and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

In many ways we are like James and John and the other disciples. Just like James and John we behave as normal citizens of a world where the ordinary view of service is one who lord it over people and make their authority over them felt.

Service is not the normal way of the world. Authority, leadership, ambition is. Service is such a much spoken word but so much lacking in practice. Admit it, when you are in a position, leadership or honor, whether in government, church, business, civic organization, or non-profit organization, the normal tendency in the world is that you are not a servant. You are to be served, you are to be bestowed with honor, you are to be granted privileges. All those talk about servant-leadership, they are beautiful to the ears, but in the real world, whoever is in position, authority and power, their members and their subjects are the ones serving them.

Unless the dominant system of benefiting the poor and powerful prevails, service will remain antithetical to the Christian way of service.  To live the Christian way of service is to go against the strong tide of giving weight to power, authority and wealth in the world.

So how then can we practice service in a world that is antithetical to service? Just like the saying–to err is human, to forgive is divine–authority and leadership is human, service is divine. Service is the way of God towards us and towards God’s inner life.  Service is the relationship of God with each other in the Divine Trinity. Service, therefore, is God’s gift, God’s grace. We cannot do service, without divine grace. We cannot do service without following Jesus–the greatest example of one who came not to be served but to serve.  The cup that Jesus drank, we can drink, and the baptism with which Jesus was baptized, we were baptized, but we can only lived out true service, not on our own, but through Jesus, with Jesus, and in Jesus.

Service is the way of life in the kingdom of God. Service is a prerequisite to entering the kingdom.  We cannot enter the kingdom of God unless we learn how to serve. When we come to God’s kingdom, only then that we can experience the fullness of service. In God’s kingdom, we will be focused on the other, serving each other, just like God.

Despite that the fullness of service will only come at the end, we can already have a foretaste of its fullness here and now, even in a hostile world. In God’s grace.

Most Rev. Ireneo Amantillo, CSsR, DD. – First Filipino Redemptorist Bishop

The National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran mourns the death of Most Rev. Ireneo Amantillo, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Tandag. After his retirement as Bishop, he was assigned for a couple of years at the shrine.  His assignment at the shrine even though was short, was a fruitful and memorable one. Many of the shrine volunteers, staff and his own Redemptorist confreres remember him as humble, friendly and funny.  After long years of service in God’s vineyard, Amantillo succumbed to cancer and died in the hands of the Lord in the morning of October 11, 2018. He was 83.

Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace!

Amantillo-memoriam