Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God: How to Start the New Year with Mary

Mary-and-devotees

Welcome, New Year 2021!

January 1 is a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics not because it is New Year ’s Day, but because it is the octave (8th day) of Christmas.  On this Octave of Christmas the church celebrates the Feast of Mary the Mother of God.  It was only in AD 431, 400 years after the birth of the church, that the Council of Ephesus solemnly proclaimed Mary as Mother of God, in the original Greek, Theotokos. “Theotokos” is a Greek word which means “God-bearer.”

As we begin the New Year, we are invited by the church to learn from Mary.  In the midst of the different rituals and practices that the world offers for the New Year, like writing New Year’s resolutions, making noise and exploding firecrackers, the church offers Mary’s example as a fresh approach to beginning the New Year.

What can we learn from Mary as we begin the New Year?

First, like Mary as theotokos, we are called to be God-bearers. Last Christmas, we celebrated the incarnation of God in each one of us. God identified with all our experiences –our joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties. As we begin the New Year, we feel renewed and strengthened that God is with us and accompanies us to a new beginning. Like Mary, as we begin the New Year, we bear God in our lives every step of the way. The challenge for us is to nurture and sustain God’s incarnation all throughout the New Year by our trust and confidence in Christ who dwells in us. By our firm confidence in the Emmanuel we will show others to Christ who is also dwelling in their own lives.

Second, like Mary, we are called to ponder the Good News of Christ dwelling in us and being completely open to its bearing in our lives. In the Gospel today, we read how Mary incessantly pondered on the birth of Jesus throughout her whole life.

And Mary kept all these things,
reflecting on them in her heart.

In the gospel of Luke, Mary represents the ideal believer, for she hears the good news and ponders it in her heart, and fully responds to it. Her heart becomes the place of discovering Jesus, who he truly is. Mary’s entire life focused on that process of pondering who that child now born to us really is. We make a major mistake if we think that from the moment of the Annunciation Mary completely knew, or understood, the full significance of her Son. Mary pondered on who that child would be from her “Yes” at the Annunciation.

I am reminded of a Christmas song which expresses the genuine questions and feelings of Mary about the birth of Jesus. The song is “Mary, Did You Know?” The song has become a modern Christmas classic, being recorded by many artists over the years across multiple genres. It may be helpful to reflect on the lyrics of the song:

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God

Mary did you know, Mary did you know, Mary did you know

The blind will see, the deaf will hear and the dead will live again
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am

Mary did you know, Mary did you know, Mary did you know

Mary spent her life pondering the visible Word of God that was and is her Son. Human as she is, just like each one of us, she had questions and did not fully comprehend the mission of Jesus.  This did not, however, deter her to continuously learn and open herself to the wonders and challenges of Jesus’ mission. She grew in knowing him, in comprehending the mystery of God Incarnate.

As Mary pondered that visible Word, as we begin this New Year, we too are called to continuously ponder the incarnation of Jesus in our lives. In spite of the many obstacles and problems we have to hurdle, like Mary let us become open to the mystery and wonder of Jesus’ incarnation.  Despite all the evil, terror, uncertainty and crisis prevailing in our country today, let us not lose that sense of wonder, that sense of hope, that sense of goodness, that sense of life.  Like Mary we cannot afford to be passive, cynical or fatalistic about this coming year because Jesus is our guide and strength.

As we begin this New Year may we rest our hands on the hand of Mary, Our Mother of Perpetual Help that she will lead us to her Divine Son, Jesus; that she will bring us closer to Jesus, and to all whom Jesus loves—the oppressed, the afflicted, the marginalized, and the Poor of Yahweh.

I end with the Aaronic blessing from the Book of Numbers in the first reading today:

The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon
you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and
give you peace!

Through the prayers of Mary may we be blessed and be a blessing this New Year 2021!

September 8: Feast of the birthday of our Blessed Mother Mary

“She is the flower of the field from whom bloomed the precious lily of the valley.
Through her birth the nature inherited from our first parents is changed.””
—Saint Augustine

Tomorrow, 8th day of September we celebrate the feast of the birthday of our blessed mother Mary.  If not for the pandemic, many devotees will flock to Baclaran, which makes it look like an ordinary Wednesday or Sunday.  The Shrine is packed with devotees the whole day. After each mass, devotees heartily sing “Happy Birthday” to Mary. Many offer flowers to her icon and in the altar. This day is always a happy day for many devotees as they share in the joy of the birth of Mary who is their intercessor and companion in the journey of life full of trials and tribulations.

There is no historical record of the birth of Mary. It might come as a surprise to many, however, that during the time of Mary, as in any other Mediterranean societies of ancient times, the birth of a girl is a non-event inasmuch as the birth of a boy is a call for a big feast and celebration.  Mary lived in a society where women were regarded properties of men and second class citizens. Thus, it would not be farfetched to say that Mary never celebrated her own birthday during her lifetime.  Besides, there is no such thing as a yearly celebration of one’s birthday during Mary’s time.

Today, however, birthdays have become a big deal. Could you imagine not celebrating your own birthday?  This means that if you have no money or any food and drinks, you are so ashamed to let anyone know that it is your birthday lest you would incur the butt of teasing from everyone for not throwing a party or offering anything to nibble on.

As the story of our salvation goes, however, Mary was chosen by God to be the bearer of God’s Son into the world. God chose, of all the people, a poor, unknown and humble handmaid notwithstanding the domination of kings, powerful rulers, mighty warriors, wise judges, rich and influential people during her lifetime. Because of bearing God into the world, she was, indeed, “full of grace” and “blessed among all women/men.” God’s election of Mary which brought forth the savior in the world will be a cause of joy for all generations.  This is the primary reason why we are celebrating today her birthday. This celebration is not so much about herself but about all the wonders and bountiful graces that God has done to her. Mary herself would proclaim this in her song of Magnificat,

From this day all generations will call me blessed,
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

Mary-birthday2

In the liturgy on this day, the primary theme portrayed on this feast day is that the world had been in the darkness and with the arrival of Mary begins a glimmer of light. That light which appears at Mary’s holy birth pre-announces the arrival of Christ, the Light of the World. Her birth is the beginning of a better world.  The antiphon for the Canticle of Zechariah at the Morning Prayer of this day expressed these sentiments in the following way:

“Your birth, O Virgin Mother of God,
proclaims joy to the whole world,
for from you arose the glorious Sun of Justice,
Christ our God;
He freed us from the age-old curse
and filled us with holiness;
he destroyed death and gave us eternal life.”

The birthday of Mary  is a glimmer of light amidst the darkness and uncertainties that we are experiencing because of the pandemic. As we celebrate Mary’s birthday, we express our relentless hope and resilience that we will pass over this great ordeal. Let us continue to ask Mary’s intercession so that someday we would experience the real joy and peace in God’s abundant grace that we have aspired for so long.

Here’s the schedule of Holy masses for the Feast of the Birth of Mary at the shrine. .

Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: The Meaning of the Title

Icona dopo il restauro senza corone
On this feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, I invite you to reflect on the meaning of the title, Our Mother of Perpetual Help (OMPH).
The title OMPH has profound meaning that can help us develop a meaningful and fruitful devotion to Mother Mary. The title originated in the text itself accompanying the original icon in Rome. The Blessed Virgin herself chose this name to serve as an encouragement to us all to have recourse to her with complete confidence in all our needs.[1]
Let us now reflect on each of the word of the title.

Mother

Mother is written in the icon. MP OY = Meter Theou: Mother of God (in the two upper corners of the icon). OMPH is one of the few titles that call Mary, mother (the only other titles that I am aware of are Mother of God and Mother of Mercy). Other titles are mostly called our Lady of _______________ which is oftentimes connected to a particular place. Thus, other times, OMPH is also called Our Lady of Perpetual Help. While others are called by their local names, OMPH transcends the local. Brazilian Redemptorist Fr. Ulysses da Silva expounds,

It is not a title bound to a location (such as Aparecida, Lourdes, Fatima, Medjugorje, etc.), nor to a privilege or accolade of Mary (like Assumption, Mystical Rose, etc.), nor to the Passion event, as would be the original characterization of the Icon. It is an invocation that identifies the maternal attitude of Mary in relation to her Son and to all of us. It is a universal title in relation to time as well as space, whenever or wherever someone is found in need or in danger.[2]

Moreover, Our Lady expresses a more Western sentiment. Mother is a more universal title as it appeals to us all, of our universal experience with our own mothers. Along this line, Pope Francis expressed in his homily on the celebration of the first feast of Mary, Mother of the Church on the 21st of May, 2018 in the Vatican, that Mary is not referred to as “the lady” or “the widow of Joseph,” but is rather called “the mother of Jesus.” He further affirmed that Mary’s motherhood is emphasized throughout the Gospels, from the Annunciation to the foot of the cross.[3]

Perpetual

The adjective perpetual (laging) conveys an attitude that is always active rather than passive. Mary is not just waiting for us to call upon the help of God but she is always accompanying and encouraging us to come to Jesus. Likewise, this also emphasizes the perpetual quality of help. This implies that God through the prayers of OMPH is forever helping us in all our predicaments.

The ever active nature of perpetual can also be seen in the context of how we, the devotees, continue the help of God, through the intercession of OMPH, by helping others. We accept that the help we ask and receive is perpetual; it does not stop within ourselves. Having freely received blessings from God, we are inspired to freely help others even as those who have not yet received theirs petitions are encouraged to continue to ask.

Help

Saklolo (help) is almost a desperate cry in distress. This is the plea of many of us who are her devotees: help me, saklolo! Many of us are desperate, we have no one to turn to and thus, any help will do. Mary under the title of Ina ng Laging Saklolo (OMPH) appeals to the very situation that we find ourselves in real life.

The word Help appeals to all of us, as we are all creatures in need. We constantly seek the help of God and of one another through prayer and action. Consequently, the word Help is also a calling for us to respond always to all those who cry for help. Those who have freely received blessings are called to freely help others and those who have not yet received theirs petitions are encouraged to continue to ask. By expressing our devotion and praying the novena to OMPH, we accept that the help we ask and receive is perpetual; it should never stop and disconnect us from others.

The word help also contains a profound theological truth about the role of Mary in God’s mission. Mary is, first and foremost, a helper of God, (katulong ng Diyos). When the angel Gabriel announced to her that she was chosen by God to be the bearer of God’s son, Mary’s response was: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1: 38). Mary saw her profound identity as a helper and follower of God’s mission. Vatican Council II affirms this, “Mary uttered this fiat in faith. In faith she entrusted herself to God without reserve and ‘devoted herself totally as the handmaid of the Lord to the person and work of her Son’ (Lumen Gentium, #56).” Mary’s “yes” of serving as the mother of the Messiah did not end in her death. She became mother and helper to the whole Church in the name of God’s mission.

In this light, the word Help is not just a call to bring our personal needs to God through Mary’s intercession but like Mary to become God’s helpers in God’s mission.

Jesus is the Perpetual Help

Whenever we show the Icon and ask the people: Who is the perpetual help? Most of them immediately answer: Mary is the perpetual help. Most devotees think that the source of help and blessings is Mary. But Mary is the Mother of perpetual help; if Mary then is the mother of God—Jesus, then Jesus is the source of perpetual help.

The perpetual help of OMPH ultimately originates from the perpetual generosity and unconditional love of God. Mary, OMPH, is the greatest epitome of the perpetual generosity and unconditional love of God. So when we look at Mary we can learn to look at our own lives more profoundly in the spirit of the perpetual generosity and unconditional love of God.

Thus, perpetual help can help us to understand the most profound message of the icon. In the context of the whole icon, perpetual help means the perpetual showing by Mary to Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life. Thus, the name, OMPH can also be appropriately called, Our Lady of the Way.

Let us now pray,

O Virgin Mother of Perpetual Help,
I come before your Sacred Icon,
And with childlike confidence,
invoke your aid.

Show yourself a Mother to me now,
And have pity on me.

O Mother of Perpetual Help,
For the love you bear to Jesus,
Help me in this my necessity.

I leave it all to you in the name of the Father.
I leave it all to you in the name of the Son.
I leave it all to you in the name of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Happy fiesta everyone!

Mary-birthday


[1] “Give this message to your mother and to your grandfather: Holy Mary of Perpetual Help requires that you remove her from your house, if not, you will all soon die”. Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 133.

[2] Ulysses da Silva, C.Ss.R., ““Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Popular Piety,”” #43.

[3] Pope Francis, “The Church, like Mary, is woman and mother,” Vatican News, 21 May 2018. Accessed at https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope-francis/mass-casa-santa-marta/2018-05/pope-francis-mass-santa-marta-mary-church-woman-mother.html

FEAST OF THE PRESENTATION OF OUR LORD: PRESENTING JESUS TODAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then he addresses Mary,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

New Year: The Octave Day of Christmas Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

Vladimir-Theotokos-Icon

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, 2020!

Or shall I say, happy new decade–welcome to a new decade, the 20s of the 21st century.

I noticed that on New Year, nobody greets merry Christmas anymore. Many think that with New Year, Christmas is over.

Not for the church.

New Year always fall on the 8th day or octave of Christmas. New Year is very much a part of Christmas. In fact, it is right at the middle of Christmas. We are still very much in the Christmas season which will last until the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord on the 2nd Sunday of January.

The 8th day of Christmas is specially dedicated as a feast of Mary as Mother of God.  It was in 431 AD, 400 years after the birth of the church, that the Council of Ephesus solemnly proclaimed Mary as Mother of God, in the original Greek word, Theotokos which means “God-bearer.”

The motherhood of Mary is very much at the heart of Christmas. As we have mentioned last Christmas midnight mass, Mary’s fiat (yes) to be the mother of God was a turning point in the Christmas story. The turning point involved the incarnation as God’s coming down from heaven to become human and Mary’s yes which represents humanity’s aspiration of going up to God. Mary’s yes is the prototype of humanity’s yes, or more precisely, Mary’s yes represents humanity’s yes par excellence.

In the midst of the different rituals and practices that the world observes during the New Year, the church offers Mary as a fresh approach to beginning the New Year.  Through this celebration, we are invited by the church to learn from Mary.

What can we learn from Mary as we begin the New Year?

First, like Mary as theotokos, we are called to be God-bearers. In Christmas, we celebrate the incarnation of God in each one of us. God identified with all our experiences –our joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties. As we begin the New Year, we feel renewed and strengthened that God is with us and accompanies us to a new beginning. Like Mary, as we begin the New Year, we bear God in our lives every step of the way. The challenge for us is to nurture and sustain God’s incarnation all throughout the New Year by our trust and confidence in Christ who dwells in us. By our firm confidence in the Emmanuel we will show others to Christ who is also dwelling in their own lives.

Second, like Mary, we are called to ponder the Good News of Christ dwelling in us and being completely open to its bearing in our lives. In the Gospel today, we read how Mary incessantly pondered on the birth of Jesus throughout her whole life.

And Mary kept all these things,
reflecting on them in her heart.

In the gospel of Luke, Mary represents the ideal believer, for she hears the good news and ponders it in her heart, and fully responds to it. Her heart becomes the place of discovering Jesus, who he truly is. Mary’s entire life focused on that process of pondering who that child now born to us really is. We make a major mistake if we think that from the moment of the Annunciation Mary completely knew, or understood, the full significance of her Son. Mary pondered on who that child would be from her “Yes” at the Annunciation.

I am reminded of a Christmas song which expresses the genuine questions and feelings of Mary about the birth of Jesus. The song is “Mary, Did You Know?” The song has become a modern Christmas classic, being recorded by many artists over the years across multiple genres. It may be helpful to reflect on the lyrics of the song:

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God

Mary did you know, Mary did you know, Mary did you know

The blind will see, the deaf will hear and the dead will live again
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am

Mary did you know, Mary did you know, Mary did you know

Mary spent her life pondering the visible Word of God that was and is her Son. Human as she is, just like each one of us, she had questions and did not fully comprehend the mission of Jesus.  This did not, however, deter her to continuously learn and open herself to the wonders and challenges of Jesus’ mission. She grew in knowing him, in comprehending the mystery of God Incarnate.

As we begin this New Year, we too are called to continuously ponder the incarnation of Jesus in our lives. In spite of the many obstacles and problems we have to hurdle, like Mary let us become open to the mystery and wonder of Jesus’ incarnation.  Despite all the evil, terror, uncertainty and crisis prevailing in our country today, let us not lose that sense of wonder, that sense of hope, that sense of goodness, that sense of life.  Like Mary we cannot afford to be passive, cynical or fatalistic about this coming year because Jesus is our guide and strength.

As we begin this New Year may we rest our hands on the hand of Mary, Our Mother of Perpetual Help that she will lead us to her Divine Son, Jesus; that she will bring us closer to Jesus, and to all whom Jesus loves—the oppressed, the afflicted, the marginalized, and the Poor of Yahweh.

I end with the Aaronic blessing from the Book of Numbers in the first reading today:

The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon
you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and
give you peace!

Through the prayers of Mary may we be blessed and be a blessing this New Year 2020!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

map-journey-visitation

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

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

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

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

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

What is this story telling us about Christmas?

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

5th Simbang Gabi: Mary’s Yes

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We are now on our 5th Simbang Gabi or, as I call it, Christmas academy. I hope our reflections in this Christmas academy is helping you deepen your understanding of the meaning of the incarnation of Jesus–the original event of Christmas.

It’s just 5 days before Christmas and today we come to a turning point of the Christmas story.  Today we hear the most famous and most important annunciation story which will change the course of human history.

We have heard this story many times before but it is always good to reflect on it over and over again because of its sheer significance not just to the Christmas story but also to the whole of human history.

In today’s gospel we hear the angel Gabriel came to Mary and greeted her

“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”

Mary must have been truly alarmed at the words of her unexpected visitor. Contrary to how some may portray her, Mary did not immediately grasp the angel Gabriel’s words. Mary was greatly troubled. We cannot fully understand the annunciation story unless we examine closely the confusion that Mary experienced.

“But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.”

Mary was especially troubled when the angel told her

Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.

Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”

Mary was troubled because of the impossibility of it all. Although she is already betrothed to Joseph, she is not yet married to him. In other words, she is a virgin, how can she become a mother?

The confusion of Mary boils down to the limitations of the human condition. To understand how she can become pregnant only means that she needs to go beyond the human condition and faculty. She only understood how she can become pregnant when she realized that her pregnancy is of no man but of God. As the angel said, “For nothing is impossible for God.” In other words, this is not a human enterprise but the work of God. The birth of God-becoming-human is God’s undertaking.  God is inviting Mary to participate in the work of God by becoming the bearer of the Son of God.

And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.

Mary surrendered all her doubts and confusions and willfully entered the mystery of God’s mission.  Consequently, by entering into the mystery of God’s mission, it unleash the fullness of her humanity.  She learned to let go of her human pride and self-sufficiency. This also indicates that Mary’s response was far from being passive and submissive.  On the contrary Mary’s yes was a single courageous and proactive act of living.

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”

Mary’s fiat (yes) is a turning point in the history of the world. It is the very moment of Incarnation, when God-the-Word from heaven became flesh and began to live among us as one of us. The world would never be the same again. Jesus will be the unique bridge between God and God’s creation. In a way, this moment of conception is just as important as the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. This very moment is the actual beginning of salvation. As Reformed theologian Willie Jennings says, “Salvation begins with Mary’s yes.”[1]

The turning point involved the incarnation as God’s coming down from heaven to become human like us and Mary’s yes which represents humanity’s aspiration of going up to God. Christmas, therefore, is not just the celebration of the incarnation of Jesus but Mary’s humble fiat. Christmas is not just the celebration of Jesus coming down to us but Mary’s coming up to God as well. The joy of Christmas is not just God becoming human but also Mary’s acceptance of Jesus being born in her womb. Mary’s fiat is, therefore, the epitome of how to celebrate Christmas most meaningfully. Christmas is an invitation for all of us to follow the example of Mary’s fiat to become the bearer of God.

Mary has become the prototype of the profound impact of the incarnation of Jesus upon a human being as well as the model of acceptance of Jesus’ incarnation in one’s own life. Mary’s yes is the prototype of humanity’s yes, or more precisely, Mary’s yes represents humanity’s yes par excellence. Cardinal Hans Ur Von Balthasar said, “The Marian fiat has become the archetype, principle and exemplar of the faith response of the entire Church.”[2] Mary became the first of the redeemed and, hence, the prototype of the church.  As Cardinal Schoenborn said, “Mary is the seal of perfect creatureliness; in her is illustrated in advance what God intended for creation.”[3] And as Karl Rahner said, Mary is the most genuine person, “the holiest, most authentic, and happiest human being, to say something of her who is blessed among women.”[4]  As such, she represents most profoundly who we truly are and what we will truly become, Rahner further explains,

She is the noblest of human beings in the community of the redeemed, representative of all who are perfect, and the type or figure that manifests completely the meaning of the Church, and grace, and redemption, and God’s salvation.”[5]

To celebrate Christmas, therefore, is to become Marian, to enter into that communion with Mary’s ‘Yes,’ which, ever anew, is giving room for God’s birth. Like Mary, we are  only capable of giving room for God’s birth through God’s grace itself. As Presbyterian theologian Cynthia Rigby said, “We too are ‘virgins’ who are incapable of bearing God,” until God deigns to be born in our ordinariness as in Mary’s.

Like Mary, may we truly say yes to Jesus becoming flesh and dwelling within and among us. Like Mary, may we all become God-bearers. This is the greatest challenge of Christmas and the perfect Christmas spirit.

The Christmas story continues … Abangan ang susunod na kabanata, bukas! (watch out for the next chapter tomorrow). Tomorrow, we will see how Mary in practice became a bearer of God.

 


 

[1] Willie Jennings in Jason Byassee, “Protestants and Marian Devotion—What about Mary?” Religion Online, 1. Accessed at https://www.religion-online.org/article/protestants-and-marian-devotion-what-about-mary/, 6.

[2] Hans Ur Von Balthasar, Explorations in Theology II Spouse of the Word, essay: “Who is the Church?”, trans. A.V. Littledale (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991), 161.

[3] Christoph Cardinal Schoenborn, O.P., Text translated from German by Joseph Smith, S.J. The original in German appeared in the Melanges offered to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on the occasion of his 60th anniversary [(“Weisheit Gottes-Weisheit der Welt”), EOS, Verlag, St. Ottilien, 1987]. Loyola House of Studies, Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City, Philippines.

[4] Karl Rahner, Mary – Mother of the Lord (Herder and Herder, 1963), 24.

[5] Rahner, Mary – Mother of the Lord, 37.

 

Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: The Meaning of the Title

Icona dopo il restauro senza corone

We have come now to the most special day, the feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. During the past 9 days, we did not just pray 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.

On this feast day, we will reflect on the meaning of the title, Our Mother of Perpetual Help (OMPH).

The title OMPH has profound meaning that can help us develop a meaningful and fruitful devotion to Mother Mary. The title originated in the text itself accompanying the original icon. The Blessed Virgin herself chose this name to serve as an encouragement to us all to have recourse to her with complete confidence in all our needs.[1]

Let us now reflect on each of the word of the title.

Mother

Mother is written in the icon. MP OY = Meter Theou: Mother of God (in the two upper corners of the icon). OMPH is one of the few titles that call Mary, mother (the only other titles that I am aware of are Mother of God and Mother of Mercy). Other titles are mostly called our Lady of _______________ which is oftentimes connected to a particular place.  Thus, other times, OMPH is also called Our Lady of Perpetual Help. While others are called by their local names, OMPH transcends the local. Brazilian Redemptorist Fr. Ulysses da Silva expounds,

It is not a title bound to a location (such as Aparecida, Lourdes, Fatima, Medjugorje, etc.), nor to a privilege or accolade of Mary (like Assumption, Mystical Rose, etc.), nor to the Passion event, as would be the original characterization of the Icon. It is an invocation that identifies the maternal attitude of Mary in relation to her Son and to all of us. It is a universal title in relation to time as well as space, whenever or wherever someone is found in need or in danger.[2]

Indeed, Mother is a universal title. OMPH is universal as it appeals to us all of our universal experience with our own mothers.

Similarly, Pope Francis in his homily on the celebration of the first feast of Mary, Mother of the Church on the 21st of May, 2018 in the Vatican, said that Mary is not referred to as “the lady” or “the widow of Joseph,” but is rather called “the mother of Jesus.”  Mary’s motherhood is emphasized throughout the Gospels, from the Annunciation to the foot of the cross.[3]

Perpetual

The adjective perpetual (laging) is always active rather than passive. Mary is not just waiting for us to call upon the help of God but she is always accompanying and encouraging us to come to Jesus. Likewise, this also emphasizes the perpetual quality of help. This implies that God through the prayers of OMPH is forever helping us in all our predicaments.

The ever active nature of perpetual can also be seen in the context of how we, the devotees, continue the help of God, through the intercession of OMPH, by helping others. We accept that the help we ask and receive is perpetual; it does not stop within ourselves. Having freely received blessings from God, we are inspired to freely help others even as those who have not yet received theirs petitions are encouraged to continue to ask.

Help

Saklolo (help) is almost a desperate cry in distress. This is the plea of many of us who are her devotees: help me, saklolo! Many of us are desperate, we have no one to turn to and thus, any help will do. Mary under the title of Ina ng Laging Saklolo (OMPH) appeals to the very situation that we find ourselves in real life. We are all creatures in need as we seek the help of God and of one another through prayer and action.

Perpetual Help

Whenever we show the Icon and ask the people: Who is the perpetual help? Most of them immediately answer: Mary is the perpetual help.  Most devotees think that the source of help and blessings is Mary. But Mary is the Mother of perpetual help; if Mary then is the mother of God—Jesus, then Jesus is the source of perpetual help.

The perpetual help of OMPH ultimately originates from the perpetual generosity and unconditional love of God. Mary, OMPH, is the greatest epitome of the perpetual generosity and unconditional love of God. So when we look at Mary we can learn to look at our own lives more profoundly in the spirit of the perpetual generosity and unconditional love of God.

The meaning of perpetual help can also be understood in the context of the most profound message of the icon. In the context of the whole icon, perpetual help means the perpetual showing by Mary to Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life. Thus, the name, OMPH can also be appropriately called, Our Lady of the Way.

Let us now pray,

O Virgin Mother of Perpetual Help,
I come before your Sacred Icon,
And with childlike confidence,
invoke your aid.

Show yourself a Mother to me now,
And have pity on me.

O Mother of Perpetual Help,
For the love you bear to Jesus,
Help me in this my necessity.

I leave it all to you in the name of the Father.
I leave it all to you in the name of the Son.
I leave it all to you in the name of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Happy fiesta everyone!

Mary-birthday


 

[1] “Give this message to your mother and to your grandfather: Holy Mary of Perpetual Help requires that you remove her from your house, if not, you will all soon die”. Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 133.

[2] Ulysses da Silva, C.Ss.R., ““Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Popular Piety,”” #43.

[3] Pope Francis, “The Church, like Mary, is woman and mother,” Vatican News, 21 May 2018. Accessed at  https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope-francis/mass-casa-santa-marta/2018-05/pope-francis-mass-santa-marta-mary-church-woman-mother.html

9th Day of the Novena for the Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Contemplating the Star on Mary’s Veil

04

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 ninth and last day of our Novena we will contemplate on the star on Mary’s veil.

The eight-pointed star on the forehead of Mary indicates that Mary is the star which always points us to Jesus.  Just like the hand of Mary pointing to Jesus, the star on Mary’s veil reminds us of the star which guided the three wise men to reach the birthplace of Christ in Bethlehem.

Mary is often called Stella Maris which is Latin for “star of the sea,” Just like the stars that guided seafarers and fisherfolk to reach their destination, Mary is the “Star of the Sea” who bears the light of Christ in the midst of the rough and dark world.  Mary as a star guides us to the safe path towards heaven. Indeed, Mary is a star, but not by her own right, but by her constant pointing us to Jesus her son.

Let us contemplate and gaze at the star on Mary’s veil in silence …

At the end of our contemplation, let us pray,

Our Mother of Perpetual Help, you are the dawn and the star which showed us Jesus. In the darkness and turmoil of our lives, be our constant star and guide so we may always follow the way of Jesus your son. 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/.

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

34

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/.