Entering Holy Week with Our Mother of Perpetual Help

holy-week

Tomorrow we start the Holy Week. Holy Week, the last week of Lent, is the holiest of all weeks of the year simply because it is the week when we commemorate the suffering and death of Jesus that will lead to his resurrection.

Bro. Daniel Korn, C.Ss.R., a Redemptorist brother from the Denver Province, invites us to enter Holy Week with Our Mother of Perpetual Help.  We can do this by contemplating on the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

As we embark on the journey of Holy Week, let us turn our eyes towards the image of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Throughout this Lenten season, the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help has invited us to contemplate the mysteries of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Do you know that the second name of the Icon is the Virgin of the Passion?

Two angels present to us the instruments that were used in the passion and death of Jesus. Center our attention on the Christ child as he looks toward the Angel Gabriel in the icon. We can see how Jesus is straining towards the Angel with the cross and nails by the mark on his neck.

With that clear image, the artist tells us that Jesus is focused with great attention upon his pending pain and death. By the look on Jesus’s face, like the look of his Mother, he is contemplating the meaning of these symbols that foreshadow his passion.

Through our Baptism we were plunged into this very mystery of the dying and rising of Jesus. In our daily actions we are called to show forth the image of Christ, the Redeemer of the world.

Spend time this week often praying with the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Give our attention to Jesus and the angels who present the instruments of the passion. Remember Mary, the Mother of Sorrows, and keep company with her during the days ahead.

May we all have a blessed Holy Week with Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

 

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Finding the Icon

This is the second part of the story when the Redemptorist missionaries returned to Baclaran in April 1945 after they were incarcerated by the Japanese in Los Baños, Laguna during World War II. This story is published to commemorate today’s “Araw ng Kagitingan” (National Heroes Day).

finding-the-icon

When the Baclaran Community were interned during the Japanese occupation, most of the equipment belonging to the Church had been saved. One thing, however, was still missing, the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. It had been left with a family living near La Salle, and when the Japanese raided their house, a number of things had been stolen and the rest, including the house, were burned. Where was the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help? Was it destroyed in the fire? Had the Japanese taken it?

We read in the Chronicles on April 30th 1945:

“A few days before April 30th, 1945 Bro. Athenasius, the Superior of La Salle came to see us. He said that he had been informed that some looted property had been recovered by the U.S. Army and was stored in the old Bilibid Prison. They asked him to come and identify any La Salle property that might be there. While there he noticed a icon which he thought he had seen in our Church and came to tell us. Fr Cosgrave , Rector of Baclaran, sent Fr. Gyger and Bro. Blacid to look at the picture. We (Bro. Placid is the writer) went with Fr. Scheuth a Major in the Engineering corps, who was one of our great helpers, just after we returned to Baclaran. We went in his jeep and on arrival at Bilibid, saw the Major in charge. He looked up his list and said there was no record of such a picture. Fr. Scheuth asked if we might go inside. He would not give his permission and accused us of doubting his word.

Fr Scheuth whispered that there were other ways of getting inside. We went around to a side gate where a Sargent appeared, We told him our story and he unlocked the gate and let us in.

Bro Placid wandered into a bodega and soon reappeared saying the icon was in there. The Sargent immediately handed it over. We asked if we had to sign any receipt but he told us to say nothing about it, as we had been told officially that the icon was not there. We put it in the back of the jeep and brought it home. Fr Scheuth asked us to have a special ceremony to celebrate the homecoming. In those days there was hardly anyone living in Baclaran, but a day was set and Fr. Scheuth was invited to say Mass in the chapel. With this modest celebration Our Lady was reestablished in the Chapel.”

The Chapel has since become the Shrine and the Icon is still above the High Altar.

John Maguire, CSsR

A Shrine of Contemplation

shrine-of-contemplation

[H]er gaze is like the continuation of the Father’s gaze,
the Father who looked at her as a child and made her God’s Mother;
like the Son’s gaze from the cross, from where He made her our mother;
the same gaze with which she looks at us.
– Jorge Mario Bergoglio[1]

Many perceive the shrine as a busy shrine with people constantly coming and going, day and night. The shrine, however, can also become a quiet place and evoke an aura of stillness.  In the midst of the hustle and bustle, the traffic, the noise and pollution of Manila, Baclaran is a place that offers silence, a time to rejuvenate the soul, a venue to unleash the pains and stress of people who daily confront the struggles in life. The shrine is an oasis of prayer in the city as Jo-Me De la Peña Mamić writes, “I’m so glad I had a chance to visit the miraculous church of Baclaran. It is a great feeling and even if it’s crowded I felt peace and silence in my heart.”

To think that the shrine only comes alive on Wednesday, Sundays and special liturgical seasons, underestimate the number of people who come to the shrine on ordinary days. On ordinary days, there is no letup of people entering the shrine most often to pray silently in front of the icon and the tabernacle. While Wednesday is replete with collective prayer such as novena, silent and private prayer from intermittent devotees coming in and out of the shrine characterizes ordinary days.  Being a shrine and not a parish ensured that the shrine is quiet and empty most of the time on days except Wednesday and Sunday. This has contributed to the nurturing of a prayerful atmosphere.

Filipino sociologist Manuel Victor Sapitula interviewed Emily, a devotee, who explained that while she goes to the shrine every Wednesday, she would also come during “less busy” days like Tuesday or Thursday as well because she appreciated the solitude. She explains, “When you ask for something, it is better if you are just alone when talking to her [Virgin Mary]. I think that God can hear my prayers better if I pray by myself,” she claimed. Lastly, she recounted that there were times when she did not finish the novena prayers. At some point, she would stop participating and would pray in her own words. “I prefer that because I can really talk to her.”[2]

Many devotees find the solemn and sacred environment of the shrine uplifting to the spirits. A devotee, Carmen Torres Gutierrez comments on March 25, 2018,

After I attend mass at Baclaran, I would just sit at the edge of one of the pews of the church. Nothing special whatsoever… just so all my worries will disappear, then before I leave, I take a deep breath. I’m fine once again.[3]

Jomar Gabayeron also commented, “A very solemn and sacred church. Has a big space in my heart and plays a big role in my life.”[4] Likewise, Macky Cona commented, “It is a very solemn church which motivates us to pray harder!!!”[5]

Many times, we have been asked: Where is the Blessed Sacrament chapel in the shrine? I always reply that there is no chapel of the Blessed Sacrament because any chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, no matter how big it is, could never fit the constant influx of devotees that come to the shrine outside of the novena and mass hours.  No chapel of the Blessed Sacrament could adequately accommodate the sheer number of people who come and pray at the shrine. Thus, we always reply that the whole shrine is the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.

Gazing

As the icon is positioned at the top of the tabernacle of the shrine, the experience of most devotees about the icon is that OMPH is gazing at them. This is particularly shared by Jhuzel Alarcon in a thanksgiving letter she wrote on August 1, 2015:

During those times when I had problems, it is you who I always come to. As I pray before you, you see everything that happened in my life, all the right and wrong things I have done. For the wrong things I have done I implored you to ask for mercy to the Lord on my behalf. I also ask for your help to guide me in straightening my life. You really straightened me because despite all the wrongs things I have done I graduated from college and was able to take the Board Exam … Thank you very much for your help and for interceding for me to our God. I offer my success to you Mother who have been with me in all the events of my life till now.

shrine-of-contemplation2

At the same time, devotees gazed at the icon, pouring their hearts out. Charmaine writing in May 27, 2015 expressed her profound experience of gazing at the icon of OMPH

It’s been one year since I first gazed on your picture and prayed. In all of my life, that was the only time that I prayed as if there was no more tomorrow. I remembered how my tears flowed while looking at your picture. Now I give you thanks, a never ending gratitude for all the petitions that you granted and will grant in the future. Thank you very much.

For the past eighty-five years, the icon of OMPH enshrined high above the altar, has gazed upon the millions of devotees who visited and prayed at the shrine 24/7. Many devotees found comfort under the loving gaze of OMPH. As Mary gazed at the devotees she points them to Jesus as the path of their true salvation and peace. Mary’s gazing upon the devotees is ultimately to direct them to Jesus. As St. John Paul II states,

Mary lived with her eyes fixed on Christ, treasuring his every word: “She kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19; cf. 2:51). The memories of Jesus, impressed upon her heart, were always with her, leading her to reflect on the various moments of her life at her Son’s side.[6]

Similarly, Pope Francis when he was still Cardinal Bergoglio reflecting on Mary’s gaze connected it with God’s gaze:

Her gaze is like the continuation of the Father’s gaze, the Father who looked at her as a child and made her God’s Mother; like the Son’s gaze from the cross, from where He made her our mother; the same gaze with which she looks at us.

The then-Cardinal further describes the impact of this kind of gaze upon us:

The Virgin’s gaze helps us look at each other in a different way. We learn to be more human, because the Mother looks at us. To have that gaze that seeks to save, accompany and protect. We learn to see ourselves in her motherly gaze.[7]

While OMPH’s gaze is directed at the devotees and the world she points to Jesus whom she holds firmly with her left arm. By contemplating at the icon, devotees learn to ponder the meaning of discipleship in Jesus. This reflects what the CCC said about contemplation:

Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus. “I look at him and he looks at me”: this is what a certain peasant of Ars in the time of his holy curé used to say while praying before the tabernacle. This focus on Jesus is a renunciation of self. His gaze purifies our heart; the light of the countenance of Jesus illumines the eyes of our heart and teaches us to see everything in the light of his truth and his compassion for all men. Contemplation also turns its gaze on the mysteries of the life of Christ. Thus it learns the “interior knowledge of our Lord,” the more to love him and follow him.[8]

Contemplation

Despite the popularity of the novena, I see more and more devotees contemplating before the icon. Contemplation is the most effective way of praying with the Icon. Mary calls her devotees to enter into contemplative prayer as they gaze upon her. 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. It is the same response that Mary made when the Angel Gabriel announced to her that she would be the mother of God, “Let it be done according to your will.” Contemplating the icon of Mary helps devotees to see what God desires of them—what His will is.

This is the experience of many devotees who contemplate before the icon for hours on ordinary days. The devotees reflect the attitude of which the CCC describes of the faithful who enters into contemplative prayer:

Contemplative prayer is the prayer of the child of God, of the forgiven sinner who agrees to welcome the love by which he is loved and who wants to respond to it by loving even more. But he knows that the love he is returning is poured out by the Spirit in his heart, for everything is grace from God. Contemplative prayer is the poor and humble surrender to the loving will of the Father in ever deeper union with his beloved Son.[9]

shrine-of-contemplation3

The rich eastern theology of the icon further gives insights about the significance of contemplation.  In Eastern theology of the icon, before the icon, the viewer or gazer is invited to enter into the mystery or sacrament of the icon.   The object of contemplation is the mystery, the world of the icon, the prototype not the object itself. We focus not on what is seen in the icon, but rather on what is seen through it–the love of God expressed through God’s creatures. Thus, contemplation affords more the experience of praying with the icon rather than just praying to icon.  Icons are not the final object of our prayer but God who invites us to enter into God’s love and participate in God’s love through our love for fellow brothers and sisters and the whole of creation.

In a profound way, contemplating the icon is an event–the encounter between our life on earth and God’s life in heaven. Icon is more than an object of veneration; it is a window to eternity. Icons stand in-between our life here on earth and the life of the saints in heaven. Mary gazes on our life here on earth while we gaze on the life of Mary and the saints in heaven. Thus the icon and Mary helps to awaken an aesthetic, contemplative and doxological attitude—a sense of gratitude, awe and wonder—in the devotees’ life and faith.

Mary as model of contemplation

As devotees enter more and more into the contemplative spirit, they see Mary as a model of contemplation. This is what St. John Paul II underscored in his Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae:

The contemplation of Christ has an incomparable model in Mary. In a unique way the face of the Son belongs to Mary. It was in her womb that Christ was formed, receiving from her a human resemblance which points to an even greater spiritual closeness. No one has ever devoted himself to the contemplation of the face of Christ as faithfully as Mary. The eyes of her heart already turned to him at the Annunciation, when she conceived him by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the months that followed she began to sense his presence and to picture his features. When at last she gave birth to him in Bethlehem, her eyes were able to gaze tenderly on the face of her Son, as she “wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger” (Lk2:7).[10]

The mouth, ears, and nose of Mary in the icon of OMPH symbolize the contemplative attitude of Mary. We see the mouth and the ears of Mary particularly small. The mouth of Mary is small because it is already transformed in its heavenly form; she no longer needs the food that the world gives. Moreover, her mouth is sealed because prayer needs silence and fervent attention on God. 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 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.

An invitation to contemplate one’s own life

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

Moreover, Mary’s gaze enables the devotees to see the mystery of their own life and of life itself. Mary’s enigmatic gaze pierce into the soul of devotees that they could not escape plunging into their conscience and discovering its beauty and lowliness.  Mary’s gaze is an invitation to plunge into God’s Mystery, through the mystery of their own lives. This is the experience of Milton Coyne III aka Bluedreamer:

When I was working in Makati, Baclaran Church has become a normal sight to me. The buses from Cavite will normally stop near the Baclaran while the jeepneys bound to Ayala can be found near the site. Since I usually arrive early, for some reason, I decided to spend at least 5 to 10 minutes praying in front of the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. As time passes by, I realized that my prayers are becoming deeper that I’m starting to find peacefulness every time I kneel down and pray. I even cry and I do not even bother if anyone sees me weeping. It was a sudden change of faith and I started to realize how blessed I am by appreciating those simple things that came to my life unexpectedly.[11]

Milton Coyne’s contemplative experience shows that in contemplating God it is God finding us rather than us finding God. It is not so much how we see God and Mary in the icon but we experience more how God and Mary see our lives. As Polish Redemptorist Maryk Kotinski said,

The icon is first and foremost about God who constantly looks for us. Christianity is, above all, an intervention of God.  It is not so much human’s search for God as a descent of God’s life to the human level. It is God who reveals himself, who manifests himself.[12]

An invitation to contemplate the world

Gazing at the icon also invites the devotees to gaze at the world like Mary.  Contemplating the icon help the devotees to form within themselves the mindset of Mary.

Through contemplation of the sacred image the viewer-believer should raise himself above the flawed world that surrounds him to the very real world of the Divinity, thus producing a bond between the viewer and the image that is not only aesthetical but also mystical.[13]

The icon enshrined in the retable is a silent witness to the many changes in the world during these eighty five years. Many of the devotees who come to the shrine sought guidance and strength in navigating these constantly changing issues. They brought the many concerns and issues that affect their lives in their families, communities, the nation and the world. In the midst of the sweeping changes and the burning issues in the nation and the world, the icon has become an anchor of hope and transformation for the devotees.

Through the Icon of OMPH devotees learned to contemplate the world through the gaze of Mary. In seeking directions for the contemporary challenges, the icon gives the devotees a framework at how to see and navigate the world. The icon offers the devotees a contemplative perspective of life and of the world

An invitation to contemplate Christ

Mary’s gaze is not only a gaze of sorrow and mercy but a gaze of hodegetria; a gaze which gives us a wider vision, a renewed vision of our lives through the world of Jesus. It is a gaze to see their whole life’s involvement in the work of Redemption of Christ.

Mary’s gaze is directed towards contemplation of Christ. Jesus in the icon is looking not at Mary but at the cross, even beyond the cross 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. Mary invites us to learn from her son Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life. The path of Jesus is the cross that will lead us to new life and victory.

Ultimately, the gaze of Mary is a call to mission. Contemplating the icon of OMPH is not just contemplation for contemplation’s sake. Mary’s gaze is a call to become a disciple of Jesus. Having become aware of ourselves and the world in the perspective of Mary and following the path of Jesus, contemplation essentially leads to the mission of Jesus. Contemplation is geared towards participation in the mission of God within ourselves and in the world.

Conclusion

Baclaran is not just a shrine of devotion but also a shrine of contemplation. The atmosphere of the shrine is an invitation for the devotees not just to pray the novena but to enter into a deeper form of prayer–contemplation. Devotion to Mary and prayer to God is not only through words but also silence.

The greatest challenge that devotees received in experiencing the shrine as a shrine of contemplation is how to transform their devotion from petitionary form of devotion to participation in Mary’s life. They need to experience Mary as a model of contemplation—a life of continuous surrender and letting the mystery of God’s mission and plan enter their lives.

(This article is an excerpt from the book Mary of Baclaran: Our Mother of Perpetual Help and Mission Today by Joey Echano, soon to be published)


 

[1]Pope Francis then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Homily of October 10, 1999 in Antonio Fidalgo, C.Ss.R, “To See as OMPH Does,” Scala News, May 8, 2018. Accessed at https://www.cssr.news/2018/05/to-see-as-our-mother-of-perpetual-help-does/

[2] Sapitula, Marian Piety and Modernity, 215.

[3] https://www.facebook.com/pg/omphbaclaran/reviews/

[4] https://www.facebook.com/pg/omphbaclaran/reviews/

[5] https://www.facebook.com/pg/omphbaclaran/reviews/

[6] St. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, #11.

[7] Cardinal George Bergoglio, “Homily of October 10, 1999” (arzbaires.org). See also Homily of September 22, 2013 (vatican.va) in Antonio Fidalgo, C.Ss.R, “To See as OMPH Does.”

[8] Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2715.

[9] Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2712.

[10] St. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, #10.

[11] Milton Coyne III aka Bluedreamer, “How My Faith Changed Me?” Accessed at http://bluedreamer27.com/how-my-faith-changed-me/

[12] Marek Kotynski, Meditations on the Icon of OMPH (Rome: Scala Publications, 2015),

[13] Maria Luisa de Villalobos, in Ulysses da Silva, C.Ss.R., “Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Popular Piety.”

Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Icon of Compassion

 

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 in October 14, 2014, wrote a thanksgiving letter to Our Mother of Perpetual Help which she fondly calls Mama Mary,

Dear Mama Mary,

I cannot stop thanking you for the blessings you have given me. I was jobless and hopeless then. I prayed to You for a job and You found me one in Manila, near your shrine. I tried to make it every Wednesday to attend to the novena asking for a more permanent job so that I can continue to support my children in their college education. You not only given me a regular employment but you restored me to my previous job in my hometown. O Mama Mary, You are really the kindest of all mothers for granting my prayers and giving me this extra gift! I am now working in our place and going back to our home daily and sleeping every night beside my youngest daughter. I can now watch her as she grows up into a lady. Nothing is impossible to you and your generosity is beyond expectation. Thank you, thank you so much Mama Mary. I promise to proclaim Your miraculous intervention in every opportunity that I have. Amen

Mary of Baclaran is the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help enshrined on the altar of the shrine. The original icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help 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, Our Mother of Perpetual Help is an icon of Eastern origin.  Not all devotees know that Our Mother of Perpetual Help is an icon let alone an Eastern icon. Many are unfamiliar that this icon comes from the Eastern Church tradition. This comes to the fore when devotees comment on the beauty of Mary in the icon. Many find Mary in the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help different from the smooth, fair, and beautiful faces of Mary they have been used to in images or statues of Mary of Western origin, like Fatima, Lourdes, or Rosary. This highlight a significant reality that Filipinos’ standard of religious beauty has, for a long time, been conditioned by Western standards, symbolism and spirituality.

The unfamiliarity with the Eastern spirituality and understanding of the icon adds to the mystery of the icon. This is symbolized by the location of the icon at the shrine—enshrined at the top of the altar with no physical access for devotees. Despite the inaccessibility of the icon, however, devotees find creative ways to reach the icon. I remember the story of Fr. Maguire on a one Wednesday when he just finished the blessing of pious objects. A woman approached him and said, “Can I go in and touch the image of the Blessed Mother?” He said, “How do you intend to do that?” He had an image in his mind of her trying to climb the bronze decorations above the Tabernacle to reach the icon. She said simply, however, “I just touch the tabernacle; the icon is connected to it.”

For many devotees, the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help seems to be full of paradoxes: distant yet near, mysterious yet familiar, unattractive yet inviting, and alienating yet fascinating.  Indeed, there is a profound mystery and universal appeal in the icon that transcends the physical and natural as Clement M. Henze suggests,

It appeals to the supernatural within us; to something, therefore, that is wider than the world; to something that is not confined to race, or color, or country; to something that is not determined by artistic theories or artistic values, be they proper to the East or to the West.[1]

Despite all these, Filipinos loved the icon of Mary of Baclaran. How can a strange foreign icon become so popular and well-loved in the Philippines, not to mention in many parts of the world where there is widespread devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help? Brazilian Redemptorist Fr. J. Ulysses da Silva, C.Ss.R. tries to make sense of this enigma,

[W]e are faced with an Icon that in itself does not belong to the Catholic tradition of the Roman Rite, or to western religiosity, as we know it and inherited it with our paintings and devotional images. How was it possible for this Icon to be welcomed in such an amazing way by the devotional world of the west? What process would have had to happen for the mandate of Pius IX to us Redemptorists to have such an international effect and for peoples of different cultures to feel such a strong affection for a typically Byzantine Icon? Or could it be that we have taken an Icon of eastern culture and conferred a new meaning upon it, so that it might penetrate our religious culture?[2]

Appeal of the Icon to our Indigenous Religiosity

There must be something in the icon of Mary Our Mother of Perpetual Help that appeal profoundly to the Filipinos’ sense of religiosity, or as da Silva suggests, Filipino devotees could have conferred a new meaning upon it consonant with their cultural and religious idiosyncrasies. Fr. Nico Perez also ponders on the attraction of the icon to Filipino devotees and posits that it has something to do with the practical advantages of it being an icon.[3] Unlike a statue,  a copy of the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help can be easily placed on their wallets. Thus, the icon is always with them wherever they go. It would be inconvenient doing the same thing to a statue. In other words, Our Mother of Perpetual Help as an icon has the character of accessibility (availability), mobility (transportability) and physicality (presence)—qualities which always appeal to and sustains popular religiosity.

In the previous chapter, we saw how our ancestors also made larauan (icons) made from wood, stone, or ivory which are representation of the invisible society coexisting with their material world. In other words, these larauan served as the bridge to the spiritual world. The icon of OMPH appeals to the devotees because it served as a window to eternity in the same way that their ancestors’ larauan served as bridge to the higher heavens.

Rootedness in the Church Tradition and Teaching on Mary

Before Pope Pius IX entrusted the icon to the Redemptorist in 1866, it took an almost 500 year’s journey from Crete to Rome. The miraculous icon was painted or written in the 14th century in the island of Crete.  The story of the journey of the icon from Crete to Rome is a fascinating one. It is a long journey replete with miraculous anecdotes. One very significant observation is that from the very beginning of the journey of the icon, the protagonists of the veneration have been mostly lay people: the merchant who ‘stole’ the icon, the family who came into possession of it and the girl to whom Our Lady appeared in a dream so as not to be forgotten.[4] Through many ordinary people, sinners even, Mary was directing people where the Icon should go and where it should be enshrined for veneration. This may also hold true in Baclaran.

The story of the icon, however, cannot be traced only from the 14th century as the icon represents the hundreds of years of church’s tradition, teaching and reflection on the role of Mary in God’s mission beginning from the Council of Ephesus in 431, which gave the title to Mary, as Mother of God.  The original Greek word used in this church dogma was theotokos which means God-bearer.  Mary was chosen to be the bearer of God-made-man.

The teachings and faith declarations of the church on Mary, however, was based on the scriptures and witness’ accounts of her actual life here in earth.  Therefore, the icon also bears the actual life of Mary.  To kiss an icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is to show love towards Virgin Mary herself, not just to the wood and paint making up the physical substance of the icon. Veneration of the icon as entirely separate from Mary’s life is inconceivable. Indeed, we can say that the icon is a relic of the living Mary; an icon of a life lived in the fullness of God’s grace: “Hail Mary full of Grace.”

The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, therefore, is more than a work of art.  It is a sacred testament which reveals the church’s profound development in the understanding, belief, and recognition of Mary as the Icon of Trinitarian love. The icon is not mentioned in the scriptures but expressed centuries of church’s traditions and teachings on Mary as well as veneration and devotion of people through the years. In order to understand the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, therefore, we need to understand the theological and spiritual role of Mary as proclaimed by the church through the centuries. As Fr. da Silva reiterates,

The Icon itself is normally not the object of devotion or veneration, as are our pictures and images of saints. It is totally integrated into a broader context, as a sacramental reference to the contemplation of the mystery of Christ and the Trinity. It is an invitation to contemplate the History of Salvation in its mystery dimension, that is, as a fulfillment of the salvific plan of God.[5]

By containing the church’s teachings and traditions, the icon is important means of evangelization. As the document The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God says, “The icon as an instrument for evangelization especially about the life and theology on Mary. Marian shrines in particular provide an authentic school of faith based on Mary’s example and motherly intercession.”[6]

Synthesis of Marian iconography/archetypes

Church’s tradition and teachings on Mary is not only ingrained in the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. The icon is a product of centuries of tradition of iconographic archetypes. Each of these archetype contributed to the final art and meaning of the icon. Ferero states that if we wish to understand the original and overall significance of icons, we must refer back to the iconographic archetypes that produced them.[7]

The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is at the tail end of a long creative, artistic and theological process. [T]he original icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help was written by the iconographer at a time when the Christian art of symbols was reaching the end of its creative process. As a result it becomes a synthesis of the fundamental elements of earlier Marian iconography. Being at the tail end, it gains much of the insights, spirituality and meaning of previous icons.

Let us now examine briefly the iconographic archetypes contained in icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

There are five Marian archetypes that are significantly present in the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. They originally appear in a number of other fundamental iconographic themes or compositions. Ferero enumerates these archetypes as the Virgin Mother, the Mother of God as Empress, the Orant, the Hodegetria and the Eleusa. All other types and models, including the Virgin of the Passion, are derived from these five archetypes.[8]

Virgin Mother

Upon her veil are three stars, which represent her eternal virginity: Mary was “always a virgin, before, during and after the birth of Jesus Christ.”[9]

Mother of God as Empress

Besides Christ, the basis of all iconography, no other subject has been more depicted than Mary, the Theotokos (Greek for “Mother of God”, literally “God-Bearer”). The icon of Theotokos represent the first human being who realized the goal of the Incarnation: the deification of man.

On her left hand the Virgin holds the hand of he who holds the universe in his hand and whom neither heaven nor earth can contain. The words of the Akathistos hymn read as follows:

“He who sits in glory, on the throne of Divinity, Jesus, the Supreme God, came in a veil of cloud, into the arms of the Immaculate, and brought salvation to those who cried out, ‘Glory, 0 Christ, to your power’” (Od. 4).

“Hail to you who bear he who sustains all” (Od. 1). “Hail to you, the seat of God, the Infinite one; hail to you, the portal of the sacred mystery … Hail, to this throne more holy than that of the cherubim; hail seat more beautiful than that of the seraphim” (Od. 15).

Orant

Mary as intercessor. In this type, Mary is shown with arms in ornate position, with Christ enclosed in a circle in her womb. “Of the Sign,” is a reference to the words of Isaiah 7:14, “The Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.”

orant

The Mother of God as one Praying (Orant) is a symbol of the ascension of the soul, through the experience of death, towards the resurrection and participation in the mystical life of Christ. It culminates in the hereafter but we are also called upon to experience it at specific moments of our life on earth, such as times of prayer. This is why the celebrant raises his arms during the Eucharistic prayer and invites the faithful to raise their hearts to God, like Mary as the one Praying and in the scene of the Annunciation, the Ascension and Pentecost.[10]

Eleusa

Eleusa means tender mercy. In this type, the Theotokos holds her Son, who touches his face to hers and wraps at least one arm around her neck or shoulder. This icon type, showing the poignantly intimate relationship between mother and child, is much beloved by Orthodox worshippers, and has been often painted through the centuries

eluesa-icon

The Eleusa does not offer a moving depiction of the relationship between Mother and Son, instead it expresses the most profound experience of the life of the human soul in God, obtained not from a psychical perspective but in the world of the spirit.[11] The Eleusa focuses more on the human and maternal dimension of this Marian attribute.[12]

Hodegetria

Hodegetria depicts Mary as the guide. In this type, the Ever Virgin Mary is holding Christ and pointing toward Him, as a guide to God and salvation.

It is interesting to note that Mary in the Eastern tradition does not give so much emphasis on Mary in her own right. In Byzantine icons, Mary is never depicted by herself, autonomously, separately but always depicted with her divine son—Jesus.

hodegetria-icon

Mary’s right hand is, above all, the Hodegetria hand, that is to say, the hand of she who shows the path to Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Therefore, as in the wedding feast at Cana, she appears to say to believers: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5).[13]

Virgin of the Passion

The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is an example of the Virgin of the Passion type of icon. When we say: Our Mother of Perpetual Succour, we have to include the icon of the Virgin of the Passion and the Marian devotion that has appropriated it.[14]

Da Silva summarized all these iconographical elements in the icon:

Our Lady of Perpetual Help is an iconographic representation of the Theotókos, the Mother of God, in the style of the post-Byzantine school of Crete, between the 15th and 17th centuries. Unlike the Icons that present Mary in a majestic attitude, Our Lady of Perpetual Help bears the same characteristics of serenity, but in a maternal attitude, lovingly holding her son. And while holding him, she presents her Son to whoever is contemplating her. More specifically, Our Lady of Perpetual Help is part of the iconography proper to the Virgin of the Passion, in which the Son glimpses his future sufferings and the serene face of Mary is mixed with something like angst. The child clings to her thumb and one of his sandals is loosened from his foot. The same Archangel Gabriel who announced the Incarnation to her, now with the Archangel Michael shows the Child the instruments of the Passion.[15]

All the theological elements that these iconographic archetypes should be present if we are to develop a healthy and balanced devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. In understanding the meaning of the icon, we need to consider all the iconographic archetypes. In the past, we have stressed so much the intercessory part of Mary but we have neglected the part of the icon where Mary shows the way and Jesus looking beyond the passion. The intercessory dimension of Marian icons is the least powerful part of the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help; the strongest is the gaze and the hand.

What’s in a Name?

The title Our Mother of Perpetual Help also evokes profound appeal that draws the attention of Filipino devotees. The name—Our Mother of Perpetual Help—has also contributed to the phenomenal rise of the devotion in Baclaran.  The title Our Mother of Perpetual Help originated in the text itself accompanying the 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.[16] Let us reflect on each of the name of the title and it’s appeal to the devotees.

Mother

Mother is written in the icon. MP OY = Meter Theou: Mother of God (in the two upper comers of the icon). Our Mother of Perpetual Help is one of the few titles that calls Mary, mother (the only other titles that I can think 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.  Other times, Our Mother of Perpetual Help is also called Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Indeed, Our Mother of Perpetual Help is universal; it appeals to us all of our universal experience with our own mothers. Mother is a more universal title. While others are called by their local names, Our Mother of Perpetual Help transcends the local. 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.[17]

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.[18]

Perpetual

The adjective perpetual (laging) is always active rather than passive. The emphasis is not just on the help but on the active quality of help. This implies that God through the prayers of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is helping us now, as in the past and in the future, in all our predicaments.

Help

Saklolo is almost a desperate cry for help in distress. This is the plea of many devotees: help me, saklolo! Many are desperate, they have no one to turn to; any help will do. Mary under the title of Ina ng Laging Saklolo (Our Mother of Perpetual Help) appeals to the very situation that the thousands of devotees find themselves in real life.

We are all creatures in need as we sought the help of God and of one another through prayer and action.  Those who have freely received blessings are called to freely give and those who have not yet received theirs petitions are encouraged to continue to ask. By expressing our devotion and praying the novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, we accept that the help we ask and receive should be perpetual never to be stopped and disconnected from each other.

touching_icon

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 help and blessings comes from Mary. But Mary is the Mother of perpetual help; if Mary then is the mother of God—Jesus, Jesus then is the perpetual help.

The perpetual help of Our Mother of Perpetual Help ultimately originates from the perpetual generosity and unconditional love of God to everyone through the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

Put differently, understanding the meaning of perpetual help in the context of the whole icon, means the perpetual showing of Mary to the devotees Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life. Thus, the name, Our Mother of Perpetual Help can also be appropriately called, Our Lady of the Way as in the iconographic type of hodegetria.

Rediscovering the Icon

Since the Redemptorists introduced the icon to the Filipinos in 1906, the Redemptorist has been instructing the devotees about the meaning and nature of Our Mother of Perpetual Help as an icon. The missionaries also introduced the history and the meaning of the different parts of the icon. The earliest extant of Novena in 1926 explains and meditates on the different parts of the icon. The second earliest Novena in 1936 also includes an explanation and meditation of the different parts of the icon.

The instructions about the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, focused mainly on the meaning of the parts of the icon and the history of the icon from its origin in Crete to its arrival in the Philippines.

The instructions, however, only mentions the Eastern theology, spirituality and background of the icon in passing.  The division within Christianity between the East and the West may have contributed to a lack of appreciation of the Eastern tradition and theology let alone the Eastern background and spirituality of the icon. The return to Eastern spirituality of the icon was only given a boost after more than 100 years of the mandate of Pope Pius IX. The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is one of the greatest Marian gifts of the Eastern Church to the Western Church. Yet, it was overwhelmed by the explosion of the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

It is essential to understand the background and purpose of Eastern iconography in order to understand the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Instructing about the icon without an understanding of Eastern iconography will only scratch the tip of the iceberg, as Ferero explains,

To truly comprehend the richness of the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help we must do more than give it a simply vague or even pious look. We need to tune in to the theological message it holds through an iconographic, aesthetic and spiritual ‘reading’ of the symbolic elements it employs.[19]

Because it expresses a foreign culture–the Byzantine culture–it is not easy to decipher. As Ferrero admits,

[F]or those who belong to a different culture from that represented in such images, icons are works of art that are not easy to understand or appreciate. As with all works of symbolic character, they require an authentic introduction. It is not possible, in a spontaneous way, to capture the message of which they are bearers and which they set out to convey.[20]

Moreover, because of the cultural and time gap, it is also one of those icons that have been most exposed to iconographic distortion. Without losing its fundamental symbolic elements, artists have adapted it to the aesthetics of each region, reducing it, in many cases, to a simple devotional image.[21] Due to this localized adaptation, the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Succor has acquired its own context (added to those of the past) in the Marian devotion that it now symbolizes. The sanctuary of Crete, in which it was so venerated as the Virgin of the Passion, has been replaced by altars to Our Mother of Perpetual Help that the devotion has created all over the world.[22] In so doing, it’s rootedness to the iconographic elements–theological and artistic–have been lost in the process.

We will discuss more the Eastern spirituality of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in later chapters.

Present Situation

We have seen how the theological and iconographic elements help us retrieve the original meaning of the icon. Iconographic understanding of the icon, however, is only one side of the pole. The other side of the pole is the current concrete life-situation of the devotees.

Thus, each period need a re-reading and re-reception of the icon according to their context. We need to read the icon in the context of the burning issues of the day, the signs of the times, and the lights and shadows.

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 is the encounter between heaven and earth, now and the fullness of time. This is represented in the icon by the interplay between the sad eyes of Mary upon seeing our situation and the golden background of the icon which symbolizes heaven as our future home. Likewise, this is represented in the expression of fear of Jesus as symbolized by his falling sandals upon seeing the cross and the promise of the victory of resurrection.

Icons are doorway, means of access into the age to come. It is a meeting point and a place of encounter with the communion of saints. It makes Mary Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the icon present to us. We participate in the mystery that is depicted. More than an object, the icon is an event.  An icon is a proclamation.

The shrine for the devotees has also become an icon. The shrine has become a channel of passage from the present world to the eternal where Our Mother of Perpetual Help dwell.

Conclusion:

The icon that devotees, venerate, touch and kiss is a dynamic icon; a living icon, not a dead icon.  It carries with it a rich history, spirituality, theology and sacramental efficacy. It is not a magical object which is inertly imbued with vast power and a miraculous object where we bring our petitions but rather a dynamic icon that enters into our life story.  The icon is the story of our faith; the summary of our salvation. We are invited to participate in this story and journey. We are invited to enter into God’s story, into Mary’s story; to join our story with the story and journey of the icon.

Ultimately, the whole icon points to Christ. Jesus Christ is our way, truth and life. Christ is the Word who came down to us so that we can come up to God.

Joey Echano

(This article is an excerpt from the book Mary of Baclaran: Our Mother of Perpetual Help and Mission Today by Joey Echano, soon to be published)


 

[1] Clement M. Henze, 3.

[2] Fr. J. Ulysses da Silva, C.Ss.R., Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Popular Piety, Campo Grande, Brazil, May, 2014. http://www.cssr.news/2017/12/our-lady-of-perpetual-help-and-popular-piety/

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OlxbVy_AcM&index=3&list=TLGGapvNN1caKwIxOTA1MjAxNw

[4]  Fiore, “The spiritual, pastoral and missionary message of the Icon,”21.

[5] Ulysses da Silva, C.Ss.R., Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Popular Piety

[6] The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God

[7] Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 48.

[8] Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 48-49.

[9] Miravalle, Mark (June 2006) [1992]. Introduction to Mary: The Heart of Marian Doctrine and Devotion. Foreword by Édouard Gagnon. Goleta, California: Queenship Publishing. pp. 56–63.

[10] Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 52.

[11] Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 52.

[12] Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 50.

[13] Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 123.

[14] Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 15.

[15]Ulysses da Silva, C.Ss.R., Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Popular Piety, #12.

[16] “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.

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

[18] 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

[19] Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 128.

[20] Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 11.

[21] Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 14.

[22] Ferrero, The story of An Icon, 15.

How to Consecrate the Whole Family to Our Mother of Perpetual Help

family-consecration

Consecrating the whole family to Our Mother of Perpetual Help before praying the novena regularly as a family is always a good thing. It ensures that the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help is not only private and individual but by the whole family. It also strengthens the unity of the family as it gathers the family through prayer. As the saying goes, “The family that prays together, stays together.”

Here are some helpful tips for the family in preparing for it’s consecration to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

  1. Decide a time where as much as possible all members of the family can get together for the consecration.
  2. Prepare an icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help or a copy of the icon and place it on the family altar. Adorn it with candles and some fresh flowers.
  3. Prepare Holy Water. You can get Holy Water from the shrine or from your local parish.
  4. Provide a copy of the rite of consecration to each member of the family.
  5. You can invite your neighbors or friends to witness the consecration. This is optional. The most important is that the whole family is present.
  6. You can invite a priest to lead the consecration. But if there is no priest available, a lay minister or the head of the family can lead the consecration.
  7. After the consecration, have a simple and joyous meal together as a family. 

family-at-prayer

Here is the rite for the consecration:

BLESSING OF A FAMILY AND
CONSECRATION TO 
OUR MOTHER OF PERPETUAL HELP

ORDER OF BLESSING

INTRODUCTORY RITES

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Priest:      The grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

All: And also with you.

Or

(If Lay Minister):   The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all, now and for ever.

  1.   Amen.

Leader:    My dear friends, from the sacrament of marriage the family has received newness of life and the grace of Christ. The family is specially important to the Church and to civil society, for it is the primary life-giving community.

In our celebration today we call down the Lord’s blessing upon you, so that you may continually be instruments of God’s grace to one another and witnesses to faith in all the circumstances of life.

With God as your help you will fulfill your mission by conforming your entire life to the Gospel and so witness to Christ before the world.

READING OF THE WORD OF GOD

Brothers and sisters, listen to the words of the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians12:12-14

We are all one body.

As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. Now the body is not a single part, but many.

The Word of the Lord.

Or:

Brothers and sisters, listen to the words of the apostle Paul to the Ephesians 4:1-6

Bear with one another lovingly.

I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

The Word of the Lord.

Psalm 128

  1. Happy are those who fear the Lord.

Happy are you who fear the LORD, who walk in his ways! For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork; happy shall you be, and favored. R.

Behold, thus is the man blessed who fears the LORD. The LORD bless you from Zion: may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life; May you see your children’s children. R.

INTERCESSIONS

L:    Christ the Lord, the Word coeternal with the Father, lived among us and chose to be part of a family and to enrich it with his blessings. Let us humbly ask for his favor and protection on this family.

  1.   Lord, keep our family in your peace.

L:    Through your own obedience to Mary and Joseph you consecrated family life; make this family holy by your presence. (For this we pray:) R.

L:    Your heart was set on the concerns of your Father; make every home a place where he is worshiped with reverence. (For this we pray:) R.

L:    You made your own family the model of prayer, of love, and of obedience to your Father’s will; by your grace make this family holy and make it rich with your gifts. (For this we pray:) R.

L:    You loved those who were close to you and they returned your love; bind all families together in the bonds of peace and of love for each other. (For this we pray:) R.

L:    At Cana in Galilee, when a new family was beginning, you gladdened it with your first miracle, changing water into wine; alleviate the sorrows and worries of this family and change them into joy. (For this we pray:) R.

L:    In your concern for the integrity of your family you said: “Let no one separate those whom God has bound together”; bind this husband and wife ever more closely together in the bond of your own love. (For this we pray:) R.

Let us pray with confidence to the Father in the words our Savior taught us:

All: Our Father…

PRAYER OF BLESSING

L:    O God, you have created us in love and saved us in mercy, and through the bond of marriage you have established the family and willed that it should become a sign of Christ’s love for his Church.

Shower your blessings on this family gathered here in your name. Enable those who are joined by one love to support one another by their fervor of spirit and devotion to prayer. Make them responsive to the needs of others and witnesses to the faith in all they say or do.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

  1.   Amen.

Or:

L:    We bless your name, O Lord, for sending your own incarnate Son to become part of a family, so that, as he lived its life, he would experience its worries and its joys.

We ask you, Lord, to protect and watch over this family, so that in the strength of your grace its members may enjoy prosperity, possess the priceless gift of your peace, and, as the Church alive in the home, bear witness in this world to your glory.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

  1.   Amen.

Sprinkle the family with holy water.

CONCLUDING RITE

Act of Consecration to Our Mother of Perpetual Help

(To be prayed by all the members of the family)

Immaculate Virgin Mary, * Mother of God and Mother of the Church, * you are also our Mother ever ready to help us. * With hearts full of love for you * we consecrate ourselves to your Immaculate Heart * so that we may be your devoted children. * Obtain for us true sorrow for sins * and fidelity to the promises of our Baptism.

We consecrate our minds and hearts to you * that we always do the Will of our heavenly Father. * We consecrate our lives to you * that we may love God better * and live not for ourselves * but for Christ, your Son * and that we may see Him * and serve Him in others.

By this humble act of consecration, * dear Mother of Perpetual Help, * we pledge to model our lives on you, * the perfect Christian, * so that, consecrated to you in life and in death * we may belong to your Divine Son for all eternity. Amen.

L:    May the Lord Jesus, who lived with his holy family in Nazareth, dwell also with your family, keep it from evil, and make all of you one in heart and mind.

  1.   Amen.

Priest:      And may almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, + and the Holy Spirit.

  1.             Amen.

You can print a copy of this rite of consecration in Tagalog @ http://www.baclaranchurch.org/assets/pagtatalaga-ng-pamilya-sa-omph.pdf

family_shrine

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

Top 10 to do list after Attending the Novena and Mass at the Shrine

 

22

  1. Light a candle at the candle chapel.
  2. Write a letter of petition or thanksgiving
  3. Buy an icon or a novena booklet of OMPH and let it touch the original icon
  4. Attend the blessing of religious articles at the outside corridor on the top left side of the shrine during Wednesdays and Sundays. Bring your icon, rosaries, novena booklets, crucifix, statue and other religious objects to be blessed. You can also ask blessing for yourself.
  5. Offer masses for your petitions and thanksgiving.  All your intentions are offered in the masses celebrated at the shrine and in many dioceses and parishes all over the Philippines.
  6. Relax and enjoy the fresh air at the shrine surroundings. Sit and admire the trees and plants at the garden. Bring your own food and have a picnic underneath the trees.
  7. Visit and appreciate the wall art on the southern wall of the shrine near the candle chapel. It is the longest wall art in a church composed of murals, mosaic and mixed media art.
  8. Make a wish and drop a coin at our wells and fountains around the shrine. All coins and notes dropped at our fountains and wells goes to the box for the poor which funds many projects benefitting the poor all over the Philippines.
  9. Drink coffee at Sinirangan coffee shop. You can enjoy hot or cold coffee, chocolate and smoothies while at the same time helping the poor farmers of Eastern Samar.
  10. Climb to the top of the Carillon Bell Tower. It is a good exercise and you will be rewarded with a beautiful panoramic view of Baclaran, MOA and the bayside reclamation area. You can even bring your coffee at the top, or better still, ask the Sinirangan staff to bring your order at the top. What else can outshine an experience of drinking coffee while watching the famous sunset of Manila Bay?

Mary, Queen of All Creation: Our Mother of Perpetual Help and Integrity of Creation

01

[On Earth Day and as build up to the 150th Jubilee International Congress at Baclaran, here’s some reflections about the Icon and care for creation.]

Lady, full and overflowing with grace, 
all creation receives new life from your abundance.
Virgin, blessed above all creatures,
through your blessing all creation is blessed,
not only creation from its Creator,
but the Creator himself has been blessed by creation.
– St. Anselm[1]

The shrine and its surroundings is an oasis in the city. It is the only green place in Baclaran where the various hard wood and fruit trees around the shrine provide sanctuary and source of food for birds, insects and other animals.  Just recently new appearances of wildlife were sighted in the trees—squirrels, a migratory bird and a Philippine hawk (Lawin).

Nobody knows how the squirrels (sometimes seen as two, other times alone) got into the shrine environment.  Somebody assumed that some guy who loves exotic animals was keeping squirrels in a cage. He/she might have thought that squirrels will be better off in the shrine compound and let it free inside the compound.  The squirrels are very shy though; they spend most of the time hiding in the trees. Occasionally, however, one can see them hopping on tree branches.

narcissus flycatcher
Photo courtesy of Reuel Aguila

In November 2016, a migratory bird called Narcissus Flycatcher from China was spotted in the trees of the shrine compound.  The word spread fast and in no time, many bird photographers and researchers flocked to Baclaran and spent days photographing the special visitor. The narcissus flycatcher (Ficedula narcissina) is a passerine bird in the Old World flycatcher family. It is native to East Asia, from Sakhalin to the north, through Japan across through Korea, mainland China, and Taiwan, wintering in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines and Borneo.[2] It is highly migratory. The bird watchers assumed that the birds chose to stay at the shrine because they found lots of food in the many trees of the compound.

Caring for creation is an important part of the programs and values of the shrine. The shrine, for example, has long been converting its biodegradable waste like food waste, paper waste, dry leaves and twigs into compost.

Care for the environment is also integrated in the liturgy of the shrine. Since 2014, the shrine has been observing the Season of creation. The season of Creation is celebrated during the four Sundays of September that precede the feast of St Francis of Assisi (4th of  October). The season of Creation incorporates into the liturgy, prayers and visual elements celebrating God’s creation.

In 2015, the Redemptorist community began a project called greening of the shrine. The first step undertaken in this project is the banning of smoking within the shrine compound. smoke_freeThe project also involved using recycled materials for the beautification of the garden and wall art. Moreover, the community started vertical gardening on some of the fences of the shrine. This is aimed at showing that growing vegetables even in the city is feasible, and to encourage the devotees to grow their own vegetables right in their own backyard. Seminars on Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical on caring for creation, and some concrete ways to care for the environment like waste management and urban gardening were conducted, in light with this greening campaign.

In 2016, solar panels were installed at the shrine and convent. The shrine and the convent now use free electricity from the sun during the day and revert to Meralco at night. There is also a plan for a water harvesting system to harness the rain.

6

Promotion of the integrity of creation is also incorporated in the novena. In the latest revision of the novena—the 2016 Jubilee edition of the novena—one petition to Our Mother of Perpetual was added for the care of creation: That we may care and protect God’s creation, Loving Mother pray for us.

Disconnection from Creation

It is disheartening to say that in today’s information age of interconnection we have become disconnected with Mother Nature.  This loss of connection with creation is contained in the opening lines of Pope Francis’ first social encyclical Laudato Si: Care for the Common Home. Pope Francis laments,

This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22).

Because of the destruction of the environment, much of our own doing, there is uncertainty of the future. The biggest threat in the future is climate change. The signs are not good and if our present habits and systems continue the worst of our fears will occur. And time is running out.

The twenty-first century has seen the most temperature records broken in recorded history. Last year was the hottest year on record since 1850, and 2015 is set to outstrip 2014. Since the 1950s every continent has warmed substantially, with hot days becoming far more common than cold ones.[3]

Some of our worst fear about climate change is that it could cause the displacement of 250 million people across the world by 2050. Estimates predict that an additional 6 million will have to flee their homes each year if global warming continues at the same rate. Tens of millions of people already have to vacate their homes every year due to natural disasters — which are on the rise. In 2012 alone over 32 million were displaced.[4]

The Earth’s average temperature will continue to rise so long as we continue to produce greenhouse gases. The estimates for how much temperature will increase by 2100 range from 2 degrees Celsius to as much as 6 degrees Celsius.[5]

Contemplatio: Looking through the Icon

What can the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help teach us about caring for the environment? Can the Icon help us develop an ecological spirituality?

Icons in Eastern Orthodox theology always evoke a cosmic outlook. This cosmic mindset is especially represented by the background of icons: While the principal character of an icon is a person, its background often represents an image of the transformed cosmos. In this sense, an icon is cosmic since it shows nature but nature in its eschatological and changed state.[6]

Moreover, icons in Eastern Orthodox theology represent nature not in its worldly appearance but in its cosmic and glorious state:

The icon reflects the eschatological, apokatastatic, redeemed and deified state of nature. The features of a donkey or a horse are, in an icon, as refined as those of a person, and, accordingly, the eyes of animals in icons are human, not those of a donkey or a horse. We see in icons the earth and the sky, trees and grass, the sun and the moon, birds and fish, animals and reptiles yet all are subjected to a single design and constitute a single church in which God reigns.[7]

This perspective can help us understand more the meaning of the golden background of the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. The golden background that occupies the whole icon is a symbol of heaven, where Jesus and Mary and the saints now dwells. The light of heaven which passes through their clothing indicates the heavenly joy which Jesus and Mary bring to the hearts of all the faithful. The cosmic outlook of the icon can deepen our understanding of heaven. Heaven as our final destination is not only the glorification of humanity  but of all creation with God.

The reverse perspective of the icon can help us promote a healthy attitude towards creation. The reverse perspective of the icon implies that before an icon, we the viewer is not the master, center or virtual owner of the world but a participant in God’s creation. With the use of reverse perspective the world of the icon opens up. Most icons have a semi-circle outline, open space—we are part not outside of the icon.

Contemplating the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help reminds us that we are not masters of creation or center of the universe. Creation itself is an icon of the grandeur of God. Human beings are not outside but part of creation. Creation is calling human beings to participate in creation’s calling of giving adoration and glory to God. Nature, cosmos, the entire material universe is a reflection of divine beauty, and this is what the icon is called to reveal. It is possible for the world to participate in divine beauty but only to the extent that it “has not submitted to vanity” and has not lost the ability to sense the presence of God.[8]

Looking at creation through the icon entails what Hans Boersma calls, a participatory or sacramental ontology.  Boersma describes participatory ontology,

Sacramental ontology insists that not only does the created world point to God as its source and “point of reference,” but that it also subsists or participates in God … [B]ecause creation is a sharing in the being of God, our connection with God is a participatory, or real, connection — not just an external, or nominal, connection.[9]

The sacramental worldview of the icon can help us to see in the environment our Creator, the glory of God, and the glory of our destiny. As Gerard Manley Hopkins expressed it: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil.”

Missio: Following Jesus with Mary

Mary is the epitome of God’s new creation. Mary’s assumption represents the hope and final destiny that all of creation will become.  John Janaro articulates,

Mary is also, we might say, an icon of the whole redemption of creation. In her we see already the radical fulfillment of all things, the perfect penetration of divine love into created being. The glorification of Mary in the Assumption is the beginning of the New Creation in which God will “be all, in all” (1 Cor. 15:28), and it reveals the eternal value of every moment in every life, the transcendent significance of each circum­stance in life, because everything comes forth from God and is ordained to his glory.[10]

On the other hand, the Australian Redemptorist Fr. Anthony Kelly sees the life Mary itself as the quintessence of generativity of creation. Mary, the virgin mother of God, is

the paradigmatic instance of creation open to, collaborating with, and transformed by, the creative mystery of God in Christ.  As the Mother of Christ, she symbolises the generativity of creation under the power of the Spirit.  In her, as the Advent antiphon has it, “the earth has been opened to bud forth the Saviour”.[11]

In this way, Mary can be rightly called Queen of all Creation. Pope Francis in Laudato Si meditates on the meaning of Mary, Queen of all Creation and its implications for us:

Mary, the Mother who cared for Jesus, now cares with maternal affection and pain for this wounded world. Just as her pierced heart mourned the death of Jesus, so now she grieves for the suf­ferings of the crucified poor and for the creatures of this world laid waste by human power. Com­pletely transfigured, she now lives with Jesus, and all creatures sing of her fairness. She is the Wom­an, “clothed in the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12:1). Carried up into heaven, she is the Mother and Queen of all creation. In her glori­fied body, together with the Risen Christ, part of creation has reached the fullness of its beauty. She treasures the entire life of Jesus in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19, 51), and now understands the meaning of all things. Hence, we can ask her to enable us to look at this world with eyes of wisdom. (Laudato Si, #241)

St. Anselm in a sermon used in the Roman Office of Readings for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on December 8 calls Mary, gives honor to Mary as Mother of the Re-created World!

The whole universe was created by God, and God was born of Mary. God created all things, and Mary gave birth to God. The God who made all things gave himself form through Mary, and thus he made his own creation. He who could create all things from nothing would not remake his ruined creation without Mary.[12]

God, then, is the Father of the created world and Mary the mother of the re-created world. God is the Father by whom all things were given life, and Mary the mother through whom all things were given new life. For God begot the Son, through whom all things were made, and Mary gave birth to him as the Savior of the world. Without God’s Son, nothing could exist; without Mary’s Son, nothing could be redeemed.[13]

green_shrineCall to Action

Devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help can help us to take action especially for awareness and preparedness for natural calamities. Our devotion Our Mother of Perpetual Help can also be an instrument of making people aware of their possible role in wreaking havoc to the environment and their role of caring for the environment.

I remember when I was stationed in the Bicol mission in Legaspi in 1992, we came up with a project on how to connect devotion to Mary with the care for creation. This happened during the month of October, the month of the rosary. Every day for the whole month of October we prayed the Rosary. Together with meditating on the life of Jesus and Mary in the mysteries of the rosary, we also meditated on the mysteries of creation: Joyful mysteries correspond with the beauty and grandeur of God’s gift of creation, sorrowful mysteries resemble the destruction of creation by our own doing and glorious mysteries relate to our desire and collective action of cooperating with God’s redemption of creation.

The project, however, entailed not just praying the rosary while meditating on the life of Jesus and Mary vis-à-vis the situation and live of the environment. The praying of the rosary inspired the local community to take some concrete action like tree planting, clean-up of each one’s surroundings, recycling and backyard gardening.

What concrete actions can you develop in line with the care of God’s creation as a fruit of your devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help?


[1] Excerpt from a sermon of St. Anselm (Oratio 52; PL 158, 955-956) which is used in the Roman Office of Readings for the Solemnity (Solemn Feast) of the Immaculate Conception on December 8 along with the accompanying biblical reading from Romans 5:12-20.

[2] Narcissus flycatcher, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissus_flycatcher

[3] Cara McGoogan, Climate change cheat sheet: what you need to know, 4 December 2015 http://www.wired.co.uk/article/climate-change-cheat-sheet

[4] Climate change cheat sheet

[5] Climate change cheat sheet

[6] Theology of Icon in the Orthodox Church, 6.

[7] Theology of Icon in the Orthodox Church, 6.

[8] Theology of Icon in the Orthodox Church, 8.

[9] Boersma, Heavenly Participation, 24.

[10] John Janaro, “The Blessed Virgin in the Ecclesial Movement “Communion and Liberation”,” Marian Studies: Vol. 54, Article 12 (2003). Available at: http://ecommons.udayton.edu/m_studies/vol54/iss1/12, 127.

[11] Anthony Kelly, CSsR, The Mystery of Christ and our Mother of Perpetual Help, 2.

[12] St. Anselm, Oratio 52.

[13] St. Anselm, Oratio 52.

Seeking the True, Good and Beautiful in the Age of Memes, Trolls and Selfie

Internet BackgroundThe Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the New Media Age

[As build up to the 150th Jubilee International Congress at Baclaran, I will post here every day some relevant thoughts and reflections about the Icon and the Baclaran phenomenon.]

                                            The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth
   –it is the truth which conceals that there is none.
The simulacrum is true.[1]

In today’s age of digital revolution, which can be described similarly, to what Charles Dickens has said about the French Revolution, “the best of times, the worst of times,”[2] we are propelled into massive transformations—with consequences both good and bad—upon the way we think and act, our values and attitudes. This essay aims to examine critically the place, challenges and significance of the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the new media age.

Media in the Shrine

The National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help at Baclaran has always utilized the media for its broadcasting and evangelization services. In 1950, barely two years after the launching of the novena, the first broadcast of the novena on radio was conducted. The Baclaran chronicles narrates this event,

Early in January a Chinese manufacturer arranged for a weekly Broadcast of the 7.00 p.m. Novena over Station DZPI for the benefit of the sick and those who cannot come to the Church. Far from lessening the crowds, the broadcast has served to increase their numbers. Letters coming in from all over the Philippines show that the Novena broadcast is being followed throughout the Islands.[3]

The Redemptorist community of Baclaran utilized media not just in the shrine but also in the missions. In the 1950s, the missionaries were going around the barrios with their “sound car”, slides and other visual aids.  In those times, when the radio was the most advanced technology in the provinces, these media technologies were already groundbreaking tools in spreading the Gospel. The missionaries, however, eventually faced a stiff competition from the media in getting the attention of the people in the mission. Fr. John Maguire ascertains this, “By 1968 it was becoming clear that Missions in the City were losing their attractive appeal and people, now used to watching television, were not so keen to get up and go to church each evening. Missioners were also changing, and transistors were the in thing.”[4]

In 2003, for the first time video monitors were installed in the shrine. The aim of the monitors was to aid the active participation of the assembly especially in the songs and responses during the masses and novenas.   The monitors were also used for evangelization and catechesis especially on the liturgy and sacraments in between masses and novenas.  Furthermore, the monitors were utilized for disseminating and drumming up support for the many programs and services of the Shrine and the Philippine Church.  It was also envisioned that the monitors will be useful in seminars and talks in the Shrine, for example, Bible, Social Teachings of the Church, etc.

Initial reactions of the people to the monitors were varied from a bit of cynicism to enthusiastic approval. In general, however, most of the reactions were positive as many affirmed the effectiveness of the monitors in their participation and growing appreciation of the liturgy and teachings of the church.

In 2005, the shrine made its first foray into the digital world by launching its website. The shrine’s first online presence was warmly received by netizens. Based on an analytics of the site, visitors to the site came from different parts of the globe, as can be shown from the graph below.  We can just surmise that many of these visitors from other countries are devotees working abroad – Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW’s). If this is the case, this can only show two things, first that the OFW’s are a valuable propagators of the devotion and second, this shows that, indeed, OFW’s are present in almost every country of the world.

website_visitors

In 2012, I made a total redesign of the website integrating interactivity into the site like the ability to post comments on webpages, submitting letters of petition and thanksgiving and yes, making a donation.  The new design also incorporated social media like facebook and youtube into the site.

As I have mentioned, the website became particularly popular among the overseas Filipino workers (OFW). It became a popular source of information and communication for the OFW’s. A comment posted by Zenaida Obciana in September 24, 2014 on the website, expresses this sentiment: “Thank you very much for having this site, even I’m far away in a country with no [C]atholic church, thru your site I feel that I am home. Many thanks and more power to you all. God bless us. I love you Mama Mary.”[5]

The live-streaming of the novena and masses in the site instantly became a popular hit among the OFW’s. This is expressed in a comment posted by Nila Doroteo Simpson on March 5, 2014: “I am so thankful that even [I] am away from the Philippines I [am] still able to say Novena every Wednesday thru livestreaming. Wayback 2003 to 2004 [I] am always in Baclaran church every Wednesday … Thank you MAMA MARY for always [being] there for us.”[6]

The live-streaming afforded the OFW’s the experience of being almost like they are being transported to Baclaran shrine in real time. This evokes deep feelings and precious memories. Robert Sumang articulates this on the facebook page of the shrine:

Everytime [I] watched the live novena mass every Wednesday here abroad, I felt like [I] am embracing once again Our Mother of Perpetual Help. There are so many graces that I received in my whole life, but I also had my share of loneliness and difficulties here in my going abroad. Because of my profound trust and faith to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, she often protects me including my family and even my enemies. There is no place in my heart for vengeance, I pray instead for those who do me wrong. Thank you very much for your continuous effort to upload the live novena and masses through Facebook especially for us OFW’s.

In 2016, the website — http://www.baclaranchurch.org — won the Best Parish Website in the whole country during the 2016 Catholic Social Media Awards.  The Catholic Social Media Awards recognized the shrine’s website for creatively utilizing cyberspace and new media as a tool for online evangelization.

best parish website award

Other media tools that the shrine used for evangelization were: LED Electronic video board which replaced traditional bulletin board in the Shrine, compound and Convent Lobby, the publication of e-newsletter and the video gospel reflection posted on YouTube every Wednesday.

The most recent foray of the shrine into the new media is the Social Media.  The shrine started a Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram account. Through the website and the social media platforms, the devotees were able to inquire, get information about the newest activities of the shrine, pray online, post comment, write letters of thanksgiving and petition, make suggestions, donate to the shrine and interact with shrine team and fellow devotees. These new media platforms allowed for creative interactivity and greater participation of the devotees in the shrine. As of April 21, 2017, the shrine’s facebook page — https://www.facebook.com/omphbaclaran — has garnered 20,940 fans and counting. On April 02, 2017, the page garnered 106,676 total reach. Total reach refers to the number of people who were served any activity from shrine’s facebook page including shrine’s posts, posts to shrine’s page by other people, page like ads, mentions and checkins.[7] In short, total reach refers to the number of fb accounts where the shrine’s page landed on their timeline. Indeed, these numbers reflects the vast potential of social media for evangelization and information dissemination.

On the other hand, there were downsides to these new technologies. Over social media, for example, we have been attacked for hypocrisy and called all sorts of names—bastard priests, demons from hell, members of the yellow cult, rapists and pedophiles, coddlers of drug lords, thieving hypocrites playing the games of politicians, etc. The vitriolic comments comes whenever we make prophetic stand for justice and peace and in defense of the poor, as in the case of the rampant extra-judicial killings because of the anti-drug campaign of the government. This shows that the new media technologies can be utilized in both constructive and destructive ways.

There are also positive comments, however, defending the stance of the shrine, for example, on the issue of extra-judicial killings. Cedrick C. Sagun, for example, expressed his support to the prophetic stance made by the Redemptorist community:

Stay faithful to the Gospel and to the teachings of the Church. Kings and rulers come and go, but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Let no one distract you or prevent you from proclaiming the Truth, even if it leads to persecution and martyrdom. People will say a lot of things, but the only voice you need to hear is the voice of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Mother of Perpetual Help will always be there for you. MAY GOD BLESS THE REDEMPTORISTS![8]

Disconnection in a World of Interconnection

New media technologies have transformed the world into one global interconnected village. The advanced new media technologies enabled utmost information sharing, accessibility, and the democratization of broadcasting. Unfortunately, in this age of interconnection, some new media tools have generated unforeseen destructive consequences.  They have become instruments of disconnection from the true, good, and beautiful. Some popular (notorious) examples of these new media platforms, in this regard, are meme, troll and selfie. The culture of destructive meme, trolls and selfie manifests an aberration of the interconnectedness that new media has purportedly brought about.

A meme is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.”[9] Applied in the internet, an Internet meme is an activity, concept, catchphrase or piece of media, which spreads often as mimicry from person to person via the Internet. Internet meme may take the form of an image (typically an image macro), hyperlink, video, website, or hashtag. It may be just a word or phrase, including an intentional misspelling.[10] Internet meme is the most common form of information that we often share on social media especially Facebook and twitter.

Meme is a great catalyst of creativity and knowledge; unfortunately, it has also intensified so-called post-truth.  Post-truth is the word of the year for 2016 declared by Oxford dictionary. Oxford Dictionary chose post-truth because of the heightening of the phenomenon in 2016 in the context of the EU referendum in the United Kingdom and the presidential election in the United States.[11] This same phenomenon also happened during the Philippine election of Rudy Duterte in 2016. Post-truth relates to or denotes “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Oxford cites, for example, that ‘in this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire’ and ‘some commentators have observed that we are living in a post-truth age’[12]

Post-truth memes has become the source of fake news and so-called alternative facts. Pew research center has found that roughly 62% of U.S. adults get news on social media. Worst, 68% of people don’t trust the news they see or read. Think about that: most people don’t trust REAL news.[13] I think approximately the same percentage applies to the Philippines.

A related term is what we call agnotology. Agnotology (formerly agnatology) is the study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data.[14] A cultural example is the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, where the author George Orwell cast a world in which the state changes historic records daily to fit its propaganda goals of the day.[15]

The availability of large amounts of knowledge in this information age, therefore, may not necessarily be producing a knowledgeable citizenry. Instead, it may be allowing many people to cherry-pick information in blogs or news that reinforces their existing beliefs.[16] In the new media age, everybody becomes an expert. This promotes what Ray Williams refers to as an anti-Intellectualism and “Dumbing Down” culture. He describes this culture as,

The new elite are the angry social media posters, those who can shout loudest and more often, a clique of bullies and malcontents baying together like dogs cornering a fox. Too often it’s a combined elite of the anti-intellectuals and the conspiracy followers – not those who can voice the most cogent, most coherent response. Together they foment a rabid culture of anti-rationalism where every fact is suspect; every shadow holds a secret conspiracy. Rational thought is the enemy. Critical thinking is the devil’s tool. [17]

Google and Facebook are partly to blame for this. They have unwittingly allowed their platforms to be transmitters of fake news and post-truth memes. After several howls of protests, they have taken some measures.[18]

The worst thing to happen, however, is the anesthization and apathy, even the aestheticization of human misery and suffering that have developed because of the post-truth brainwashing.  We have experienced these ourselves just recently when the shrine took a stand against the immoral and unchristian extra-judicial killings because of the anti-drug campaign. Many people have criticized us showing no sympathy at all to the victims of the killings.

The rise of internet trolls is another negative consequence. Who among you here have gone into a fight with trolls? How many have unfollowed people or unfriended friends?  In Internet slang, a troll  is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory,extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal, on-topic discussion, often for the troll’s amusement.[19] Trolls are important vehicles of fake news and alternative facts. Trolls take advantage of the anonymity principle[20] in the internet, for example, when making comments, they use unidentifiable pseudonyms, which are frequently separated and anonymous from the actual author. Freedom of expression is fundamental; however, this can be misinterpreted and lead to less accountability, deception, distortion and withholding the truth about one’s identity. Trolls, therefore, generates a disconnect in identity and raises question between authenticity and anonymity.

Friends selfie at night

Another popular practice that the digital technologies have generated is the selfie. A selfie is a self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a digital camera or camera phone held in the hand or supported by a selfie stick. Selfies are often shared on social networking services such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.[21] Selfie was the word of the year in 2013 by the Oxford English Dictionary. The ubiquity of digital cameras, mobile phones with cameras and the social media has intensified the selfie fad. I must admit I have taken selfie myself. The selfie culture helps to strengthen the postmodern shift to the individual—the self is the basic unit of society, no longer the family or tribe. Some have suggested the relationship between selfie-posting behaviors and narcissism. Though there is yet no direct evidence that links selfie and narcissism, it provides, however, for narcissists a platform to seek social status and attention.  On the other hand, selfie perhaps, is about a profound desire for beauty—that I am beautiful. Selfie as falling in love with the self, however, goes against building connection for which internet was invented in the first place.

Meme, troll, selfie have generated disconnections in an interconnected world.  They are symptomatic, however, of a greater malaise—the alienation from the foundational reality of our being human and society and fixation with replica or representations of reality. Indeed, we live in a hypervisual environment, which amplifies the replica or representations of reality. We are continually bombarded with images, videos, billboards, and ads; we have become a society “where image is everything.” Susan Sontag believes, however, that capitalist societies require images in order to infiltrate the culture of everyday life, legitimize official power, and anaesthetize their subjects through visual spectacles.[22]

Along this line, two concepts worthy of mentioning are the notion of the society of the spectacles by Guy Debord and simulacrum by Jean Baudrillard. Both Debord and Baudrillard wrote before the onset of the digital revolution (Debord in the late 60’s and Baudrillard in the 70’s to 90’s). Their musings, however, is still very much relevant especially in today’s hypermediated world. Both Debord and Baudrillard confronts contemporary society’s penchant for the superficial and consequently creating an illusory world. We are not living on reality but on simulation (imitation or replica) of reality. Media and hyperconsumption or commodity fetishism of neo-liberal capitalism have partnered to create a “simulacraic” and spectacular society. There is a blurring of the lines between the real and the representation. Sometimes we are even convinced that virtual reality is better than the real thing.

Debord traces the development of a modern society in which authentic social life has been replaced with its representation: “In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.”[23] Debord argues that the history of social life can be understood as “the decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing.”[24] This condition, according to Debord, is the “historical moment at which the commodity completes its colonization of social life.”[25]

In his analysis of the spectacular society, Debord notes that quality of life is impoverished, with such lack of authenticity, human perceptions are affected, and there is a degradation of knowledge, with the hindering of critical thought.[26] If Debord were alive today, he would have had a field day calling the virtual communities and superficial connections created by social networks like Facebook and Twitter as characteristically “spectacular”.

Baudrillard built on the theories of Debord with his notion of simulacrum.  A simulacrum (plural: simulacra from Latinsimulacrum, which means “likeness, similarity”) is a representation or imitation of a person or thing.[27] Baudrillard, in his theory of simulacrum, attacks contemporary society, which defines reality through terms of media claims. Baudrillard warns us about the danger of this “hyperreality” where social reality and its ‘simulation’ in media can no longer be distinguished: “It is no longer a question of imitation, nor of reduplication, nor even of parody. It is rather a question of substituting signs of the real for the real.”[28] This blurring of the line between the real and the artificial has reinforced  the seduction of surfaceness. Our world is a world of simulations; experience is a sum total of simulated events. For Baudrillard, the simulacrum becomes the real; reality becomes hyper-reality. What appears on media becomes the real in actual space.

Baudrillard contends that the hyperreal has become more real than real. Hyperreality is what we get from media, advertising and hyperconsumerism. On a daily basis, most of us deal with the superficial and the hyperreal. The superficial has replaced the genuine in the most basic human experiences in the family, neighbourhood, and community relations. Even the experience of the spiritual and the religious has been coopted by the hyperreal, e.g., internet memes such as spiritual images and videos on facebook—which blurs the genuine spiritual experience. In other words, hyperreality is the aesthetization of the shallow, the superficial, and the popular.

Technologization of everyday life has further augmented the disappearance of the real. A byproduct of technologization is the relegation of traditional institution as transmitter of values. Children, for example, have more interaction with iPad, game console, computers and laptops than with parents, siblings and other children.

An offshoot of this entire phenomenon is the question of presence: What is the meaning of presence today? Am I really present? Presence today is having able to navigate both physical and cyberworld. There is a loss of real and physical presence. In a supposedly interconnected world, there is a hunger for real connection because people have been less genuinely present to one another. Virtual presence of cyberspace has sabotaged physical presence.  This further shows the irony of the hyperconnected world: many are connected online, in actual reality, however, are disconnected with their own family, friends, community, and church. Thus, a significant question is: Is technology bringing us together or keeping us apart?

The Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the New Media Age

In the aberrations of the new media age, what is the place, challenges and potentials of the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help?  What can the icon offer to this technologically driven, hypervisual and simulacratic world?

I would like to suggest that what we can learn from the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in today’s new media age could be summed up in the complementary and interdependent dynamic of Contemplatio-Missio. Contemplatio is the contemplative outlook highlighted by the meaning and spirituality of the icon and missio is the missionary orientation enlightened by the life and example of Mary.  Contemplatio-Missio is the life that Mary has shown us. As Sr. Thomas Mary, O.P. said, Mary “personifies and expresses the deepest nature and meaning of the Church—a Church which is both contemplative and missionary.  Mary is the model contemplative and the first missionary.”[29]

20

Contemplatio: Looking through the Icon

For the past eighty-five years, the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help placed on the high altar of the shrine, has witnessed the millions of devotees who have visited and prayed at the shrine. In the midst of the sweeping changes in the world, including the digital revolution, the icon has become a source of hope and transformation for the devotees.

As we contemplate on the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, we are invited to look at the world where everything is a sign of God’s presence. Indeed, we live in a visual world; we are all images.  The icon spirituality promotes an attitude and presents a challenge to be true and to connect with the most fundamental reality and truth about ourselves—that we are made in the image and likeness of God through the Word, Jesus Christ. In short, we are icons of God; we partake in God’s being and mission. As God is profoundly a community, our most fundamental truth also is that we are all interconnected.

There are similarities and dissimilarities between new media and icon. The icon is also an image. The icon, however, is not just a representation but also a sacramental participation in the sacred. In the icon, there is no dichotomy between the real and representation. This understanding of the icon is similar to Baudrillard’s articulation of the first stage of the notion of simulacra. The first stage, which is associated with the premodern period, is a faithful image/copy, where we believe, and it may even be correct, that a sign is a “reflection of a profound reality,” this is a good appearance, in what Baudrillard called “the sacramental order”.[30]

Amidst the noise and superficiality of online transactions, the icon invites us to contemplate our true identity and meaning of life and the world. The icon provides a strong and genuine anchor in new media’s fleeting and copious diversions. In contrast to the hypervisual reality that new media has unfortunately helped to create, in the icon, it is not the image, the replica, the spectacles, the simulacra, that is principal but the original. In the icon, we are all participants in the original interconnectedness of God. Thus, the icon spirituality is a calling to participate in the real. The icon spirituality is a calling to authenticity in the most profound sense. In front of an icon, we are called not to be passive—mere observer, viewer, outsider, art appreciator.  We are called to be active—to participate in the mystery of the Kingdom of God, which the icon represents. We are not outside of the icon; we become part of the icon.

Contemplating the icon especially on the character of Mary can help us to overcome the selfish perspective. Our Mother of Perpetual Help is the perfect contrast and counter image to a selfie culture. The reverse perspective of the Icon implies that we the viewer is not the master, center or virtual owner of the world but a participant in God’s creation.

In a hypervisual and hyperreal world, the icon offers a sacramental worldview. Pope Francis articulates this worldview in his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith), “The awakening of the faith passes through the awakening of a new sacramental sense of human life and of Christian existence, showing how the visible and the material open themselves towards the mystery of the eternal.”[31] The Icon can help us to see truth, goodness and beauty in our world. It inaugurates a different kind of aesthetics, a sort of counter-aesthetics to the superficial beauty celebrated in the hypermediated world. Thus, the icon can serve as a critique to the escapist, addictive, and distractive patterns in cyberspace. It inspires a return to the real and original source of truth, goodness and beauty—the divine Trinity.

The icon awakens us to the deepest bonds and connection that exist between each one of us. We are all interconnected; this interconnectedness reflects the fundamental reality of us and all creations’ partaking of the interconnectedness of God. This is the deepest desire within us for the true, good and beautiful.

Through the sacramental worldview, which the icon fosters, we can conceive of the internet as a spiritual or sacramental space where we can search for meaning and experience God.  Cyberspace can serve as a sacred space, which not only enlightens the mind, but nurture the soul as well.  We are not promoting a utopian outlook on technology; the new media, however, are not necessarily opposed to religion and God. Without being naïve, there are elements of cyberspace that intersects with faith, spirituality and God.

Missio: Following Jesus with Mary

Navigating the new media age is following the path of discipleship of Jesus. In this path, Mary is the first disciple and missionary. She walks with us. Mary showed us how to collaborate and cooperate with God in mission. Mary entered into God’s mission not God entered into Mary’s life. This is the meaning of Mary’s fiat: “Let it be done according to your Word.” Mary’s yes represents humanity’s yes par excellence. This is the reason why Mary is the first missionary. Mary is an icon of God’s Mission.

In the new media milieu, where we long for authenticity, goodness and beauty, Mary is a refreshing example and model. Mary offered us a fresh approach to life—a life genuinely free and fully alive for God and for others! Mary is the most genuine person, as Karl Rahner said, [t]he holiest, most authentic, and happiest human being, to say something of her who is blessed among women.[32]  As such, she represents most profoundly who we truly are and what we will truly become, Rahner explains, “[S]he 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.”[33] This does not, however, make Mary different and distant from us; she is one of us, she is with us. “[S]he belongs entirely with us. She must receive God’s mercy just as we must, for she lives and typifies to perfection what we ourselves are to be in Christ’s sight.”[34]

Mary showed us that being disciple and missionary, first of all, is to be Teotokos[35]—bearer of God in our world. As Mary showed us, missio is entering in God’s mission—Missio Dei—and carrying that mission in the world.  It is not our mission but God’s mission. How can we become Teotokos (God’s bearer) of Missio Dei (God’s mission) in this hypermediated world?

It is essential to understand the nature of new media as areopagus[36] (public square) and agora[37] (marketplace).  New media is an important field for the proclamation of the Gospel. Despite its many defects, God is at work in the new media in many ways that the church needs to discover. Thus, the challenge for the church is how to recognize and nurture the seeds of the Gospel already growing in the Internet and how to weed out the destructive ones. The prophetic pronouncements of Mary in her Magnificat can be a model of proclamation in the internet—God will utilize the new media to overturn the world’s order that has disconnected from God, but will raise up in the end and gather in God’s new social order, those who humbly entered God’s mission—the poor, the hungry, the most abandoned.

Conclusion:

We are still in the early stage of the digital age.  The new media is only three decades old.  As I write now, new information technologies are being developed that will have far more radical consequences than what we are experiencing right now. At this stage, we are still fascinated by the technology. We are not yet mature in using the internet and have not maximized the internet for the real purpose it was invented.

However, it is not just a matter of learning the craft, acquiring the skills and applying the technique of new media but in becoming more aware how new media has changed the world and us. Every new media and communication technology in history has brought great impact upon human culture, consciousness, the way we think and act, our values and attitudes.  Following Marshall McLuhan’s dictum “the medium is the message,”[38] media has engendered not just techne (skill, craft and tool) but also more significantly an ethos (way of life).

As we continue to navigate the new media age, the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help and the life of Mary are essential anchor and guide. Through an attitude of contemplatio-missio, enlightened by the icon and the example of Mary—the first disciple and missionary—Our Mother of Perpetual Help, we can seek the true, good and beautiful in the new media.


[1] Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings, ed. Mark Poster (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 1988), 166.

[2] Paraphrased from the opening lines of Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities set during the time of the French Revolution, 1789—1799.

[3] Baclaran Chronicles, April 7, 1950.

[4] John Maguire, CSsR., To Give Missions to the Filipino People Wherever They Are Needed (Paranaque: Redemptorist Media Center, 2006), 10.

[5] Zenaida Obciana, comment posted at baclaranchurch.org on September 24, 2014. Accessed at http://www.baclaranchurch.org/icon.html

[6] Nila Doroteo Simpson, comment posted at baclaranchurch.org on March 5, 2014. Accessed at http://www.baclaranchurch.org/novena.html.

[7] https://www.facebook.com/omphbaclaran/insights/?section=navReach

[8] Cedrick C. Sagun, facebook, January 31, 2017 accessed at  https://www.facebook.com/omphbaclaran/inbox/?selected_item_id=646908125511183

[9] Meme, Merriam-Webster Dictionary

[10] Internet Meme, Wikipedia, accessed at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_meme#cite_ref-2.

[11] Post-truth, English Oxford Living Dictionaries, accessed at https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/post-truth.

[12] Post-truth, Oxford Living Dictionaries.

[13] Jim VandeHei and Sara Fischer, “How Tech ate the Media and our Minds,” AXIOs, Feb 10, 2017. Accessed at https://www.axios.com/searching-for-information-nirvana-2248588151.html.

[14] Agnotology, Wikipedia, accessed at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnotology.

[15] Post-truth, Wikipedia, accessed at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-truth_politics.

[16] Knobloch-Westerwick (2009). “Study: Americans choose Media Messages that Agree with their Views”. Communication Research, Sage, 36: 426–448. Accessed at http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/poliview.htm

[17] Ray Williams, Anti-Intellectualism and the “Dumbing Down” of America, Waking Times, May 19, 2015 http://www.wakingtimes.com/2015/05/19/anti-intellectualism-and-the-dumbing-down-of-america/

[18] Daisuke Wakabayashi and Mike Isaac, “In Race Against Fake News, Google and Facebook Stroll to the Starting Line,” The New York Times, Jan. 25, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/25/technology/google-facebook-fake-news.html?_r=0.

[19] Internet Troll, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_troll

[20] The American Association for the Advancement of Science’s conference on “Anonymous Communication Policies for the Internet” upholds that “online anonymous communication is morally neutral” and that “it should be considered a strong human and constitutional right.” Anonymity principle makes people more vocal on the internet than in real life. See Teich, A., Frankel, M.S., Kling, R., and Ya-ching, L. Anonymous communication policies for the Internet: Results and recommendations of the AAAS conference. The Information Society 15, 2 (1999).

[21] Selfie, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selfie

[22] Susan Sontag in Henry A. Giroux, “Instants of Truth”: The “Kill Team” Photos and the Depravity of Aesthetics, Afterimage, Vol. 39, No. 1-2, July-October 2011.

[23] Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, trans. by Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York: Zone Books, rev. ed. 1994), Thesis 1.

[24] Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, trans. Fredy Perlman and Jon Supak (Black & Red, 1970; rev. ed. 1977), thesis 17.

[25] Debord, (1994) thesis 42.

[26] Debord, (1977) from thesis 25: “All community and all critical sense are dissolved”

[27] Simulacrum, Google, accessed at https://www.google.com.au/?gfe_rd=cr&ei=1GLUWPXoJe_DXrb4rYAE#q=simulacrum+definition&*

[28] Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Faria Glaser (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994), 2.

[29] Sr. Thomas Mary, O.P., Marian Theology up to Vatican II, 9. Accessed at http://www.christendom-awake.org/pages/mcbride/marian-upto2vat.htm.

[30] Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, 6.

[31] Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei, #40.

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

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

[34] Rahner, Mary – Mother of the Lord, 39.

[35] Teotokos which literally means “God-bearer” is the first dogma of the church on Mary decreed in the Council of Ephesus in 431.

[36] The Areopagus refers the council of elders of the city of Athens, similar to the Roman Senate. Areopagus became prominent in missiology due to remarkable address of St. Pau’s at the Areopagus (Acts 17:24). St. John Paul II identified the “new worlds and new social phenomena” and “cultural sectors — the modern equivalents of the Areopagus”, towards which “the Church’s missionary activity ought to be directed” today. First of these “new worlds” is the new culture emerging in the mass media. Redemptoris Missio, #37.

[37] Greek Agora literally means “gathering place” or “assembly.” Benedict XVI referred to the digital world as agora when he said in his 2013 World Communication Day address: “I wish to consider the development of digital social networks which are helping to create a new “agora”, an open public square in which people share ideas, information and opinions, and in which new relationships and forms of community can come into being.” Benedict XVI, “Social Networks: portals of truth and faith; new spaces for evangelization,” 47th World Communications Day, Vatican, 12 May 2013.

[38] Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore, The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects (Penguin, 1967).