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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the end of our contemplation, let us pray,

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

 


 

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

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

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

baclaran-fiesta-2019

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2nd Day of the Novena for the Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Contemplating the Child Jesus

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In preparation for the feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help on June 27, we will be praying the Novena for nine days. The purpose of the novena is not just to bring our needs and aspirations to God through the prayers of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. More importantly, in praying the novena we allow Mary to bring us to Jesus in order to follow him—the true path to God. This is the main message of the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

It would be a great means, therefore, that we do not just pray the novena, but also contemplate on the icon–the meaning of the whole Icon and its parts. Unlike the novena, contemplation is done more in silence gazing at the icon. Contemplation comes from the Latin word contemplari which means “to gaze, observe, behold.”  To contemplate the icon is to be aware and to behold Mary and God’s love and presence. Contemplation is entering into God’s presence where Mary and the saints are now residing. It is placing our lives into the life of God. It is finding our story in God’s story. Contemplation evokes a response of waiting, loving, trusting, and obeying. Ultimately contemplation leads us to live our daily lives and experiences in the example of Mary following the path of Jesus towards true happiness and peace.

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 second day of the Novena we will contemplate on the child Jesus in the icon.

If we look closely at the face of the child Jesus, he does not portray a child’s face but one like a “small adult”; this illustrates both the humanity and divinity of Jesus.

The eyes of Jesus are not looking at Mary but above, even outside of the icon. The eyes of Jesus are looking at God the Father with a mixture of sadness and joyful hope. The cross will bring pain and death but it will also lead to the glory of all humankind in the time to come.

The hands of Jesus lovingly cling to the right hand of Mary. This symbolizes the humanity of Jesus; because of his fear, he placed his life here on earth in the hands of Mary.

The Greek letters IC-XC (Iesus Xristos)at the right of the head of Jesus are the letters for “Jesus Christ.”

Let us now contemplate and gaze on the Child Jesus in silence …

At the end of our contemplation, let us pray,

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

 


 

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

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

1st Day of the Novena for the Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Contemplating the Eyes of Mary

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In preparation for the feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help on June 27, we will be praying the Novena for nine days. 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/.

The purpose of the novena, however, is not just to bring our needs and aspirations to God through the prayers of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. More importantly, in praying the novena we allow Mary to bring us to Jesus in order to follow him—the true path to God. This is the main message of the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

It would be a great means, therefore, that we do not just pray the novena, but also contemplate on the icon–the meaning of the whole Icon and its parts. Unlike the novena, contemplation is done more in silence gazing at the icon. Contemplation comes from the Latin word contemplari which means “to gaze, observe, behold.”  To contemplate the icon is to be aware and to behold Mary and God’s love and presence. Contemplation is entering into God’s presence where Mary and the saints are now residing. It is placing our lives into the life of God. It is finding our story in God’s story. Contemplation evokes a response of waiting, loving, trusting, and obeying. Ultimately contemplation leads us to live our daily lives and experiences in the example of Mary following the path of Jesus towards true happiness and peace.  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/.

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 first day of the Novena we will contemplate on the eyes of Mary in the icon.

  1. First Day: Eyes of Mary

When we gaze at the icon, the first thing we see is Mary because she occupies the largest part of the icon. The biggest thing that gets our attention is Mary looking at us; not to Jesus, not to heaven nor to the angels above her head.  She is looking intently at all of us; she seems to have a very important message for us.  Her eyes are solemn and sad which draws our attention

If we would look at the icon from any angle, the eyes of Mary look on us, inviting us to enter into the mystery of the icon.  The eyes of Mary are the doorway between our lives here on earth and the life of glory in heaven. The eyes of Mary in the icon are the bridge linking our life on earth and the eternal life with God.  Through the eyes of Mary, we are called to be part of the icon, to participate in the icon by imitating her selflessness. The message of Mary in the icon is that we are not the center; we are mere parts of the mission of God.

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

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

At the end of our contemplation, let us pray,

O Mother of Perpetual Help, lead us to Jesus your son, the way, the truth and the life. May we follow your example as a disciple of Jesus by being totally open and cooperative to God’s plan and word in our lives.

Amen.

 


 

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

baclaran-fiesta-2019

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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TRINITY SUNDAY: GOD IS NOT A SELF BUT A RELATION

By Andrei Rublev - From https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54421

It’s Trinity Sunday. This is the most significant feast of our God: One God, three persons. This is the very core and most important mystery of our faith. However, it’s a dreaded day for Catholic preachers who is faced with the daunting task of preaching about the Trinity. Because of its utmost profundity, many preachers utilize analogies in an effort to explain in simple language the Trinity. Sometimes preachers use abstract concepts and devise mind boggling framework to explain the trinity. Despite all these attempts, at the end of the preaching and the celebrations, preachers and the congregation in the pews, more often than not, are left more bewildered that they do not want to talk and hear anything about the Trinity.

Sadly, this has become the trend in recent years. In recent years, there has been less talk about God as Trinity. Indeed, God as Trinity has suffered from an overly abstract appropriation, excessive humanism and rationalism. As American feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson comments, “[Trinity] has been neglected, literalized, treated like a curiosity, or analysed with conceptual acrobatics entirely inappropriate to its meaning.  Consequently, the doctrine has become unintelligible and religiously irrelevant on a wide scale.”[1] The German philosopher Immanuel Kant even came to the conclusion that “absolutely nothing worthwhile for the practical life can be made out of the doctrine of the Trinity taken literally.”[2]

But on Trinity Sunday, of all Sundays, we should not get discouraged nor run away from talking and proclaiming God as Trinity. Because the Trinity as the very core of our faith is also about the meaning of our lives, about who we truly are and our mission in this world.

The main problem, I think, why we do not get the Trinity is that we try to see, understand and talk about God as trinity according to our human categories and language. No human language or categories can ever fully talk about God. God cannot be colonized by any human faculty. We cannot make God in our own image (reverse creation). We cannot, for example, understand the Trinity as three persons if we use our own understanding of persons as an individual centre of consciousness and freedom. The persons in God is not an autonomous self but a relational self.

The persons in God the Trinity is the person that is totally focused on the other, living totally for the other, welcoming totally the other into one’s own, making room totally for the other, and totally loving the other. Because of this, God is one and three persons. Perfect selflessness. Perfect unity in diversity. As the Council of Florence in the fifteenth century declared:

“[T]the Father is entirely in the Son and entirely in the Holy Spirit; the Son is entirely in the Father and entirely in the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is entirely in the Father and entirely in the Son.”

Thus, when God the Father created the cosmos, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit was entirely with God the Father. When God the Son–Jesus Christ–redeemed us on the cross, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit was entirely with God the Son. When God the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles and set them on fire in proclaiming the gospel, God the Father and God the Son was entirely with God the Holy Spirit.

In other words, God is a relationship, God is a community, and God is love. God is ever loving and ever helping each other, ever forgiving and ever welcoming the other, ever relating, ever cooperating and ever communicating with each other. Thus, God is not a noun but a verb. God is not static but dynamic.

I am reminded of South African Anglican cleric and theologian Desmond Tutu’s speech regarding the African philosophy of Ubuntu. Tutu said that Ubuntu is an idea present in African spirituality that says “I am because we are”, or we are all connected, we cannot be ourselves without community, health and faith are always lived out among others, an individual’s well being is caught up in the well being of others. [3]

Our relational God designed us in His own image. Therefore, to be a person is to be related. We are not merely individuals, but persons in community. We were created in the imago Dei to be in relation. As American feminist theologian Catherine LaCugna affirms, we are “meant to exist as persons in communion … not persons in isolation or withdrawal or self- centredness.”[4]  As we are created in God the Trinity, we cannot isolate ourselves, nor become fully autonomous, nor disconnect ourselves from others and God’s creation. “I am because we are!”

As God is a community, relationship and love, we ought to live as a community, opening ourselves always to the other, always relating and cooperating with one another. The Holy Trinity is the model of the family, community, relationships and all collective endeavors.  As God is one and connected to each other, we are also one, we are interconnected to each other; we are not just interconnected to each other but to whole of God’s creation. As God is unity and diversity we should be united even as we open ourselves to diversity and celebrate difference.

Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff even declares the Trinity as the basis of liberation,

“From the communion of the three divine Persons derive impulses to liberation: of each and every human person, of society, of the church … Society offends the Trinity by organising itself on a basis of inequality and honours it the more it favours sharing and communion for all.” [5]

While the British missiologist Leslie Newbigin proclaims that salvation can only be found in the Trinitarian communion,

There can be no salvation for human beings except in relatedness. No one can be made whole except by being restored to the wholeness of that being-in-relatedness for which God made us and the world and which is the image of that being-in- relatedness which is the being of God Himself. [6]

The whole focus of Trinity Sunday really is not what the Trinity is but how God the Trinity lived.  The whole focus of Trinity Sunday is how we experience and participate in the circle of love of the Trinity. The whole focus of Trinity Sunday really is not whether or not to understand the Trinity but how to live and follow the example of God the Trinity. As the Nike ad declares, “just do it!”

 


 

[1] Elizabeth Johnson, “Trinity: To Let the Symbol Sing Again,” Theology Today 34, no. 3 (1997), 299.

[2] Immanuel Kant, Der Streit der Fakultäten, A 50, 57, quoted in Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom of God, trans. Margaret Kohl (London: S.C.M. Press, 1981), p. 6.

[3] Giampiero (October 13, 2007). “Breaking News: Madonna’s Malawian Doc. Is Titled ‘I Am Because We Are'”. DrownedMadonna. Archived from the original on November 9, 2007.

[4] Catherine LaCugna, God For us: The Trinity and Christian Life (San Francisco: Harper-San Francisco, 1973), 383.

[5] Leonardo Boff, Trinity and Society (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2005), 236.

[6] Leslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995., 70.

Remembering the Arrival of the Redemptorist in the Philippines

mission-omph

The month of June is a special month for the Shrine.  On this month we celebrate the feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help on the 27th of June. A nine days novena and mass precede the fiesta. Both the 9 days and the feast are well attended. Many complete the 9 days novena and masses out of panata (promise). During the 9 days novena, the shrine comes alive with daily activities. Often there are concert in honor of OMPH, Karakol which is a religious dance procession held at the eve of the feast day, bazaar or flea market which features products from poor mission areas of the Redemptorist missionaries, games and beautiful decorations inside the shrine and in the whole shrine compound. All these exude a fiesta atmosphere during the month of June.

For Redemptorists, the month of June is also a special month for another reason. It marks the arrival of the Redemptorist in the Philippines, 113 years ago.

On June 30, 1906, seven Redemptorists arrived at Opon on the island of Mactan in the Philippines to begin a new mission. They joined Fr. Andrew Boylan, C.Ss.R. who had already taken up residence in Opon earlier in the year. The arrival of these seven Redemptorist confreres marked the beginning of more than 100 years of the Redemptorist mission and presence in the country where without doubt the Congregation was to play a significant role in both the religious and social life of the people.

This commemoration of the beginnings of the Redemptorist in the Philippines is an opportunity to give thanks first of all to the Lord for leading and guiding the Redemptorists especially in the trying times of missionary growth.  It is also an opportunity to give thanks to the Filipino people especially the poor and ordinary people in the missions who because of their hospitality, courage and ingenuity in embracing the faith and the good news have made Redemptorists realize that they too were evangelized. This is also an opportunity to give thanks to the pioneering Redemptorists, from Ireland, Australia and New Zealand and our own Filipino confreres, most of them have passed away, for their great dedication and sacrifices in learning the language, understanding the culture and living with the people just for the sake of preaching the good news especially to the poor and most abandoned people of the many remote barrios of the country.  It is also an opportunity to give thanks to the many lay partners in the mission areas and in the church who have shared their special gifts and talents in the preaching of the good news and the building of basic Christian communities.  Finally, this is also a special opportunity to give thanks to our Mother of Perpetual Help who has guided the Redemptorists in the missions especially in the spreading of her Son’s abundant redemption to all.

113 years ago, the Redemptorists came to the Philippines in response to the need of the church out of the shortage of priests.  Our country is not much better off than 113 years ago.  The country is still mired in deep poverty and disunity.  There is pervasive indifference and hopelessness amongst our people.   Sadly, the church has been wanting in giving hope and impetus for change.  The same sense of urgency and opportunity beckons upon us all. Thus this commemoration is also a challenge to be open, bold and break new ground to where the Lord is inviting Redemptorist in the Philippines now and in the years ahead.

Our Mother of Perpetual Help pray for the Redemptorists that that they may continue to proclaim the fullness of redemption in Jesus your son.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

PENTECOST SUNDAY: THE BIRTHDAY OF THE CHURCH

pentecost
from https://www.stpeterslutheran.org/2017/06/day-pentecost-sunday-preview/

Birthdays are a wonderful occasion to celebrate and go back to who we truly are, our beginnings and our own unique mission. However messy and crazy our lives have been, despite all the mistakes and failures we have made, birthdays reminds us that life is precious, we are good and God love us so much. A birthday, therefore, is an important and momentous occasion to celebrate, reflect and give thanks.

Today, on Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate the birthday of the Church. Pentecost Sunday reminds us of the foundation the church–the life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We commemorate on Pentecost the formal inauguration of the church through the coming down of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles likes balls of fire. Immediately the spirit-empowered apostles went out of their room into the city square and were on fire in proclaiming the good news. The birthday of the church were spent not inside the church but in the streets, going out to the people, speaking their language that they too may discover the spirit of God actively moving them towards fullness of life in Jesus. Indeed, the birthday of the church depicts a church-in-mission.

The Holy Spirit re-created the disciples. The disciples became bold and daring. Compare the apostles before and after Pentecost, oh what a difference the Spirit makes! From timid they became bold, from lethargic they became energetic  and from fearful they became courageous – all for the sake of the good news of Jesus.

Pentecost reminds us of that our true identity as church is that we are Spirit led. The church is not ultimately led by the Pope, the bishops and the hierarchy of the church. It is the Holy Spirit–sent by the Father and the Son–who leads the church in every generation in its ministry of proclaiming and living the good news of the Kingdom of God.

It is, therefore, fitting and opportune, on this day of Pentecost to reflect on our identity as a Spirit-led Church. American Professor of Theology, Roger Olson, shares some thoughts of what a Spirit-led Church is:

A Spirit-filled and Spirit-led church will be alive, “crackling” with energy and passion, without fanatical extremism that focuses attention on ecstatic experiences rather than on the grace and glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ. Its people will come to worship and other meetings with excited expectation and not out of a sense of duty or with unhealthy fear. In a truly Spirit-filled and Spirit-led church visitors will come to see what God is doing among them. They will testify that “God is busy” (Hauerwas) there. Lives will be transformed in noticeable ways.

Such a church will be open to the “sovereign unpredictability of the Spirit” (Du Plessis) even as it celebrates tradition. This requires risk on the part leadership; leadership will leave space for the Spirit to move and work in ways that transcend traditional forms.

Such a church will lay all decisions before God for guidance and direction and move only through consensus of the spiritually mature people of God within the church. It will not be led by a dictatorial individual or small group that serves his, her or their interests.

Finally, such a church will be outwardly-focused with a strong sense of participation in the mission of God in the world. It will expend much of its energy and resources on meeting the spiritual and material needs of the communities outside the church. [1]

Today the Spirit continues to lead us, the church, to guide us, to shake us out of our complacencies, to disturb us out of our passiveness, to empower us to speak the language of today in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus.  But do we listen? Are we like the early church who always sought the direction of the Holy Spirit, who discerned always where the movement of the Holy Spirit in their lives and work?

In today’s chaotic, hostile and terror stricken world, the temptation for the church is to freeze in fear and be content solely with its own security and self-preservation. Worst is to rely more on our human capacity and wisdom rather than on the surprises and creativity of the Holy Spirit.  This is not the church of Pentecost. Pope Francis has said about the church of Pentecost,

“She is a Church that doesn’t hesitate to go out, meet people, proclaim the message that’s been entrusted to her, even if that message disturbs or unsettles the conscience.”[1]

Despite all its craziness and messiness, God will re-create the world through the Holy Spirit. “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Isaiah 43:18, Isaiah 43:19, Revelation 21:5, Isaiah 65:17, Ephesians 2: 15). We have in need more now of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We need a new Pentecost, as St. John XXIII prayed in preparation for the Second Vatican Council in 1962, “Renew Your wonders, O God, in our day — as in a new Pentecost!”

Let us celebrate the birthday of the church today by being fully open to the promptings of the Spirit. Let us ask the Holy Spirit, to recreate us once again so that we may become creative and brave in proclaiming the gospel in every language, in every avenue of communication, in every culture and in every situation we find ourselves today.

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.”

 


 

[1] Roger Olson, What Is a “Spirit-filled” and “Spirit-led” Church? Pantheos.com. October 23, 2014. Accessed at https://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2014/10/what-is-a-spirit-filled-and-spirit-led-church/

ASCENSION SUNDAY: THE LIMITLESS HORIZON OF CHRISTIAN LIFE

looking at the sky

We celebrate today the Ascension of the Lord Sunday. Luke describes the moment of the Lord’s ascension in today’s 1st reading from the Acts of the Apostles where Jesus “was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.”

The ascension is one of the most misinterpreted and underrated events in Jesus life and belief of our faith. The ascension has often been portrayed in a somewhat mythological way as a gravity-defying form of levitation or the retreat of Jesus from this world to a place up, up and away.

It is significant that Jesus rested in the cloud in the Ascension. In the bible a cloud often depicts the abiding presence of God amongst the people. In the Old Testament, the pillar of cloud was the glory-cloud which indicated God’s presence leading the ransomed people of Israel out of Egypt through the wilderness (Exodus 13:22; 33:9, 10). This pillar preceded the people as they marched, resting on the ark (Exodus 13:21; 40:36). By night it became a pillar of fire (Numbers 9:17-23). By resting on the cloud as Jesus ascended, signifies not Jesus’ departure but his constant accompaniment of his disciples and the community gathered in his name—the church—as they face the challenges and troubles of this world. As Australian Redemptorist Fr. Anthony Kelly, CSsR states,

The ascended Jesus has not disappeared or been dissolved in a celestial ether, but is ever present to the faith of the church in the here-and-now of the community’s life. The ending of his particular kind of terrestrial presence has yielded to a new kind of universal presence, reaching to all places, times, and peoples. (1)

Belief in Christ’s ascension opens for us the experience of faith and the life of the Church as limitless. Kelly adds that the ascension reminds us that the mission of evangelization is unconfined, always moving beyond, upward, outward, in the vitality of the risen Christ who already occupies every dimension of time and space. Properly understood, the ascension is a fundamental aspect of the catholicity of faith and enables us to breathe more deeply in the experience of “the boundless riches of Christ.” As Franciscan Fr. Richard Rohr said, we are already in the presence of God, what is absent is awareness.

Jesus’ ascension is not a departure from his disciples and for all the disciples which forms the church in every generation. Jesus’ ascension was an expression of a new relationship with him, the risen One, that transcends physical barriers. Now, instead of accompanying us here on earth in his ministry, we are “clothed with power from on high” to be his presence and continue his mission.  Jesus empowered us to be “witnesses of these things,” the wonderful things that Jesus did and said about the boundless blessings of God’s kingdom.

 


 

(1) Anthony Kelly, Upward: Faith, Church, and the Ascension of Christ (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2014), 2.

6TH SUNDAY OF EASTER: THE HOLY SPIRIT, GIFT OF THE RISEN CHRIST

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Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

One of the hardest yet rewarding experiences in our lives is having to say goodbye to somebody we love or bidding farewell to a beautiful experience we have become used to. We experience this in the departure of somebody we deeply love whether he/she is going away for a long time or for good. We experience this on our first day at school when we need to say goodbye to the experience of merely playing and staying at home with our folks. We experience this after graduation in High School, when we have to separate ways with our classmates. We experience this when somebody very close to our heart is dying and trying to console and letting him/her go.

Painful as they may be, yet these experiences has helped us to grow and become stronger. Much as we wanted to spend longer time with our loved ones, it just couldn’t be. So we try our best to become the best persons that we are, thinking that they whom we love are not gone and are not separated from us but always with us. Their abiding presence has become an inspiration, advocate, comfort, consolation and help.

In today’s gospel of the 6th Sunday of Easter, Jesus was bidding goodbye to his disciples. Imagine the emotional turmoil inside the disciples; in a short while they will no longer see the face of their master. Perhaps the disciples were asking: What are we going to do without Jesus? Who’s gonna guide us now? Can we continue the mission of Jesus all alone by ourselves?

In this state of emotional distress, Jesus assured them that they are not alone; he will not abandon them and that he will always be with them. How can this be? He and his Father will send them the Holy Spirit.

We remember that in John’s Gospel, the risen Christ conveys the gift of the Spirit to his disciples on Easter Sunday evening. The Spirit is, as in Paul’s letters, the gift of the risen Christ. In the gift of the Spirit, the risen Christ and the Father come and make their home with the disciples. The Spirit will be the continued presence of Jesus on earth after Jesus’ departure to heaven (Jn 14:12, 16). Jesus said,

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.

When the disciples receive and allow the Holy Spirit to make home into their lives, the Spirit will not convey new revelations, but will unfold in ever new understanding, interpretation, and application the once-for-all revelation of Jesus Christ. The Spirit’s work will more than reminisce the exact words of Jesus; it will be a living representation of all that Jesus had spoken to his disciples, a creative remembrance of the gospel.

This ongoing work of the Spirit will give the disciples peace and takes away their fear, because the Spirit is always there as their helper who stands by them especially during the challenging times of persecution and martyrdom.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.

The First Reading shows us an example of the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise of the presence of the Holy Spirit as an Advocate who will teach and remind the community after his departure. This passage is sometimes called the “Council of Jerusalem,” the first council of the church which dealt with the first major crisis of the early Church. In this passage we see how the early church was led by the Holy Spirit in decision-making.

Luke reports that some Judean people came to the Christians at Antioch to tell them that the gentile converts could not be saved unless they were circumcised. The Judaeans were worried that the traditional practices were being altered by the church at Antioch, and they were exercising themselves in behalf of the tradition.

The elders of the church acknowledge that they face a problem for which no extant policy offers a clear solution; so they decided to deal with this as a community by calling a meeting of the leadership (“apostles and presbyters”). They carefully looked back into their experience. Peter rehearses his experience of being drawn into the Gentile mission through the remarkable conversion of Cornelius and his household. Then Paul and Barnabas describe “the signs and wonders God had worked among the Gentiles through them” (Acts 15:12).

The assembly then interprets their experience of God working through them by looking to the longer experience of the community embodied in its Scriptures. This is exemplified by James’ citing a passage from the prophet Amos (Amos 9:11-12; the Greek version), which implies two stages in God’s plan for Israel: (1) the restoration of the people of Israel (“rebuild the fallen hut of David”) and (2) the ingathering of the Gentiles (“so that the rest of humanity may seek out the Lord, even all the Gentiles”).

The conclusion that the Jerusalem council reached was that the mission to the Gentiles is the will of God, and that they ought to do all in their power to cooperate with this divine initiative. The apostles rebuke the Judaeans by telling them what the decision of the Holy Spirit is: circumcision is not required for salvation. The decision about what is required for salvation is the Lord’s.  Thus, the Judaeans were actually opposed to the mind of the Lord. Likewise, they decided on a policy that both honors the tradition and adjusts to changing circumstances; they asked of Gentile converts only that they keep the minimal “rules for resident aliens” indicated in Leviticus (regarding marriages to relatives, food associated with idolatry, and improper slaughtering).

Finally, they boldly spoke of this very human process (reflection on experience and interpretation in the light of tradition) as “the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us.”

Through this experience, we saw how the Spirit of God was at work through the very human processes of decision-making in our Church. This experience taught the church  to take seriously both our present experience and tradition. Our hierarchies, traditions, teachings, and laws all help us remember. The traditions and structures of the church, however, should not lead us to close our eyes to the working of the Spirit in the world and the situation especially of the poor and the needy today. We need to continue to be obedient to the Holy Spirit by not remaining close-in within ourselves. As Pope Francis told catechists gathered in Rome in 2013,

What I want to say now, I have already said many times before, but it comes from my heart … When we Christians are closed in our group, in our movement, in our parish, in our own environment, we remain closed and what happens to us is what happens to whatever remains closed: when a room is closed the odor of humidity gathers. … A Christian … remains closed and becomes ill.

Pope Francis, International Congress on Catechesis, Vatican City, September 28, 2013

Jesus calls us today, to say yes to the Spirit, to go wherever the Spirit blows. By this, we will know that Jesus is with us, just as a sheep know the voice of their shepherd. In knowing Jesus, we will know the presence of the Father.

The risen Christ has not abandoned us, his disciples, the church at all times. The Holy Spirit, the bond of the love of the Father and the Son, continues to lead and guide all peoples and the church towards the final fulfillment of God’s kingdom.