Wednesday, April 17, 2013



Theme: Vocations as a sign of hope founded in faith

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
On the occasion of the 50th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, to be held on 21 April 2013, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, I want to invite you to reflect on the theme: “Vocations as a sign of hope founded in faith”, which happily occurs during the Year of Faith, the year marking the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. While the Council was in session, the Servant of God, Paul VI, instituted this day of worldwide prayer to God the Father, asking him to continue to send workers for his Church (cf. Mt 9:38). “The problem of having a sufficient number of priests”, as the Pope stated at the time, “has an immediate impact on all of the faithful: not simply because they depend on it for the religious future of Christian society, but also because this problem is the precise and inescapable indicator of the vitality of faith and love of individual parish and diocesan communities, and the evidence of the moral health of Christian families. Wherever numerous vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life are to be found, that is where people are living the Gospel with generosity” (Paul VI, Radio Message, 11 April 1964).
During the intervening decades, the various Christian communities all over the world have gathered each year on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, united in prayer, to ask from God the gift of holy vocations and to propose once again, for the reflection of all, the urgent need to respond to the divine call. Indeed, this significant annual event has fostered a strong commitment to placing the importance of vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life ever more at the centre of the spirituality, prayer and pastoral action of the faithful.
Hope is the expectation of something positive in the future, yet at the same time it must sustain our present existence, which is often marked by dissatisfaction and failures. On what is our hope founded? Looking at the history of the people of Israel, recounted in the Old Testament, we see one element that constantly emerges, especially in times of particular difficulty like the time of the Exile, an element found especially in the writings of the prophets, namely remembrance of God’s promises to the Patriarchs: a remembrance that invites us to imitate the exemplary attitude of Abraham, who, as Saint Paul reminds us, “believed, hoping against hope, that he would become ‘the father of many nations,’ according to what was said, ‘Thus shall your descendants be’" (Rom 4:18). One consoling and enlightening truth which emerges from the whole of salvation history, then, is God’s faithfulness to the covenant that he entered into, renewing it whenever man infringed it through infidelity and sin, from the time of the flood (cf. Gen 8:21-22) to that of the Exodus and the journey through the desert (cf. Dt 9:7). That same faithfulness led him to seal the new and eternal covenant with man, through the blood of his Son, who died and rose again for our salvation.
At every moment, especially the most difficult ones, the Lord’s faithfulness is always the authentic driving force of salvation history, which arouses the hearts of men and women and confirms them in the hope of one day reaching the “promised land”. This is where we find the sure foundation of every hope: God never abandons us and he remains true to his word. For that reason, in every situation, whether positive or negative, we can nourish a firm hope and pray with the psalmist: “Only in God can my soul find rest; my hope comes from him” (Ps 62:6). To have hope, therefore, is the equivalent of trusting in God who is faithful, who keeps the promises of the covenant. Faith and hope, then, are closely related. “Hope” in fact is a key word in biblical faith, to the extent that in certain passages the words “faith” and “hope” seem to be interchangeable. In this way, the Letter to the Hebrews makes a direct connection between the “unwavering profession of hope” (10:23) and the “fullness of faith” (10:22). Similarly, when the First Letter of Saint Peter exhorts the Christians to be always ready to give an account of the “logos” – the meaning and rationale – of their hope (cf. 3:15), “hope” is the equivalent of “faith” (Spe Salvi, 2).
Dear Brothers and Sisters, what exactly is God’s faithfulness, to which we adhere with unwavering hope? It is his love! He, the Father, pours his love into our innermost self through the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 5:5). And this love, fully manifested in Jesus Christ, engages with our existence and demands a response in terms of what each individual wants to do with his or her life, and what he or she is prepared to offer in order to live it to the full. The love of God sometimes follows paths one could never have imagined, but it always reaches those who are willing to be found. Hope is nourished, then, by this certainty: “We ourselves have known and believed in the love that God has for us” (1 Jn 4:16). This deep, demanding love, which penetrates well below the surface, gives us courage; it gives us hope in our life’s journey and in our future; it makes us trust in ourselves, in history and in other people. I want to speak particularly to the young and I say to you once again: “What would your life be without this love? God takes care of men and women from creation to the end of time, when he will bring his plan of salvation to completion. In the Risen Lord we have the certainty of our hope!” (Address to Young People of the Diocese of San Marino-Montefeltro, 19 June 2011).
Just as he did during his earthly existence, so today the risen Jesus walks along the streets of our life and sees us immersed in our activities, with all our desires and our needs. In the midst of our everyday circumstances he continues to speak to us; he calls us to live our life with him, for only he is capable of satisfying our thirst for hope. He lives now among the community of disciples that is the Church, and still today calls people to follow him. The call can come at any moment. Today too, Jesus continues to say, “Come, follow me” (Mk 10:21). Accepting his invitation means no longer choosing our own path. Following him means immersing our own will in the will of Jesus, truly giving him priority, giving him pride of place in every area of our lives: in the family, at work, in our personal interests, in ourselves. It means handing over our very lives to Him, living in profound intimacy with Him, entering through Him into communion with the Father in the Holy Spirit, and consequently with our brothers and sisters. This communion of life with Jesus is the privileged “setting” in which we can experience hope and in which life will be full and free.
Vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life are born out of the experience of a personal encounter with Christ, out of sincere and confident dialogue with him, so as to enter into his will. It is necessary, therefore, to grow in the experience of faith, understood as a profound relationship with Jesus, as inner attentiveness to his voice which is heard deep within us. This process, which enables us to respond positively to God’s call, is possible in Christian communities where the faith is lived intensely, where generous witness is given of adherence to the Gospel, where there is a strong sense of mission which leads people to make the total gift of self for the Kingdom of God, nourished by recourse to the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and by a fervent life of prayer. This latter “must on the one hand be something very personal, an encounter between my intimate self and God, the living God. On the other hand it must be constantly guided and enlightened by the great prayers of the Church and of the saints, by liturgical prayer, in which the Lord teaches us again and again how to pray properly.” (Spe Salvi, 34).
Deep and constant prayer brings about growth in the faith of the Christian community, in the unceasingly renewed certainty that God never abandons his people and that he sustains them by raising up particular vocations – to the priesthood and the consecrated life – so that they can be signs of hope for the world. Indeed, priests and religious are called to give themselves unconditionally to the People of God, in a service of love for the Gospel and the Church, serving that firm hope which can only come from an openness to the divine. By means of the witness of their faith and apostolic zeal, therefore, they can transmit, especially to the younger generations, a strong desire to respond generously and promptly to Christ who calls them to follow him more closely. Whenever a disciple of Jesus accepts the divine call to dedicate himself to the priestly ministry or to the consecrated life, we witness one of the most mature fruits of the Christian community, which helps us to look with particular trust and hope to the future of the Church and to her commitment to evangelization. This constantly requires new workers to preach the Gospel, to celebrate the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. So let there be committed priests, who know how to accompany young people as “companions on the journey”, helping them, on life’s often tortuous and difficult path, to recognize Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life (cf. Jn 14:6), telling them, with Gospel courage, how beautiful it is to serve God, the Christian community, one’s brothers and sisters. Let there be priests who manifest the fruitfulness of an enthusiastic commitment, which gives a sense of completeness to their lives, because it is founded on faith in him who loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19).
Equally, I hope that young people, who are presented with so many superficial and ephemeral options, will be able to cultivate a desire for what is truly worthy, for lofty objectives, radical choices, service to others in imitation of Jesus. Dear young people, do not be afraid to follow him and to walk the demanding and courageous paths of charity and generous commitment! In that way you will be happy to serve, you will be witnesses of a joy that the world cannot give, you will be living flames of an infinite and eternal love, you will learn to “give an account of the hope that is within you” (1 Pt 3:15)!
From the Vatican, 6 October 2012

log: church news

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Young People: Stand firm in Christ! (short version)


Dear People of God in the Philippines,
most especially the youth,

“God has given me the grace of passionately loving the youth”[1].

With the desire to make these words of Blessed John Paul II our own, we, your Bishops, cordially greet you in this CBCP Year of the Youth!  May God’s love, ever fresh, ever young, be with you all, in this special time of blessing![2] Through this pastoral letter, we want to reach out to you, the Filipino youth, and communicate to you regarding this special time of grace, since the year 2011 is also the 25th Anniversary of the Episcopal Commission on Youth (ECY)[3], the commission in our Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) directly attending to you and your concerns.
We call out to all other agents and sectors in our church and nation—parents (first and foremost), government officials, educators, those in civil society and media, and other leaders and stakeholders in the welfare of the youth[4]: Join us in this CBCP Year of the Youth!  Together, let us help the young make their lives meaningful and fruitful not only for tomorrow, but even in the here and now[5].
The fundamental objectives of the CBCP Year of the Youth are to raise awareness about young people and to promote a pastoral ministry to, with, for and by them.  These we hope to achieve with the help of this “triple gaze”—
First, to look back at the past (paglingon): We want to review and assess the Church’s role as sower, nurturer and harvester of the faith to the young[6].
Secondly, to focus on the present (pagdiriwang): We want to appreciate our young people as a gift to the Church, celebrating their protagonism, their boundless creativity and youthful enthusiasm.  We want to give them priority and preference in our ecclesial life[7], recognizing the unique contribution of youth ministry to the Church.
And lastly, to gaze into the future (pagtanaw): We aim at “putting out into the deep”[8] of youth ministry as envisioned by KA-LAKBAY, while accompanying the young to become more responsibly involved in the transformation of the Church and society, in the protection of life and the whole of creation, and in the missionary activity[9] as leading characters in evangelization[10].
Where do we draw the reason for such a special gaze on the young?  Underlying all this is our outlook on the young people themselves, after the manner of God’s preferential love for them.
More than just an interest in what we can do, we see something more in this “preferential option for youth”[11], which is God’s predilection for the “little ones”, a special love for them, something that has been consistently affirmed starting from the Old Testament.  There we observe an unbroken pattern of God’s loving preference for the younger one, who more often than not is also the weaker, the disadvantaged one: Abel, Samuel, David, Jeremiah, Ruth, Judith, Esther, the seven Maccabean brothers, and many others.  All these stories attain their marvelous climax in God’s radical option of choosing Mary, the humble girl from Nazareth, to be the mother of His Only-Begotten Son Jesus.
For us today, this preferential option for the young translates into what has been enshrined in the Decrees of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II): That “youth ministry should be assured of the fullest attention and highest priority in every way by all in the Church”[12].  We reiterate this commitment with even greater conviction; now as before, we do not want it to remain merely on paper; we renew it with greater dedication.  Even as we humbly acknowledge that we have failed in living up to this, we trust that this CBCP Year of the Youth will provide a new impetus and grace from above to pursue our desire as one Church to give a preferential option for our young people.
There is urgency behind this commitment to the young.  There is no denying the existence of sinister forces out there to exploit our youth[13].  To such unscrupulous, malicious individuals and groups, let these very words of our Lord Jesus Christ himself be a warning: “[I]t would be better for anyone who leads astray one of these little ones who believe in me, to be drowned by a millstone around his neck, in the depths of the sea”[14].
However, it might have also happened that, having taken for granted the example of our Lord, and having lost sight of him in our mission, we might have also—although perhaps inadvertently (hindi sinasadya)—allowed ourselves to be co-opted by evil in the corruption of the young.  And we humbly repent of our shortcomings and failures, and ask for forgiveness, resolving as we do to purify our motives and embark on a renewed ministry for and with the young.  In the same vein, we strongly reject the convenient apathy paralyzing us into thinking that all is well in the youth ministry and with our young people when in fact it is hardly true[15].
Just like any other ministry in the Church, youth ministry has its attendant difficulties and problems, but it is also not without strength, for it is “[t]he love of Christ [that] impels us”[16].  Thus, we need to focus on our Lord, for “[u]nless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it”[17].
With the great strides made thus far by the ECY as far as organized structures, programs and activities are concerned, we have several possibilities.  We are thankful that we have the mechanisms and agencies basically in place[18], along with the fundamental awareness in most of us about youth and youth ministry.  Thus, many of the needs of our young people are addressed through this episcopal commission.  More recently the Commission, in coordination with the CBCP Media Office, has launched the website YouthPinoy! ( as a forum for Catholic youth in the internet.  Grateful too to the youth ministries in the dioceses, parishes, basic ecclesial communities (BECs) and other settings, young people in general are aware of, involved in, and dedicated to the mission of the Church and to society.
But without doubt there is still much room for improvement.  The large number of youth still outside the reach of the Church—those who are unaware or have grown indifferent to the faith—remain a deep concern for us[19].  As regards youth ministry, there is the ever-present danger of reducing it into mere activities and events[20].  The integral formation of our young people[21], including those from the grassroots and the marginalized, is of prime importance in the objectives of our youth ministry.  We acknowledge that youth ministry alone cannot do this; hence, the need for an integral and comprehensive ministry, with a developmental formation program for the youth culminating unto servant-leadership[22].
The person, functions, and tasks of the youth minister should also increasingly gain acceptance and recognition as that of a truly professional ministry.
It is in our youth ministry therefore where various people—the volunteer and the professional, the clergy and the laity, the adult mentors and the young people themselves, the parents and their children, and finally the different generations of persons—all happily meet and merge.  The result is a communitarian[23], inter-generational[24] and integrated[25] youth ministry.
For all this, we consider the 2004 publication of KA-LAKBAY, the Directory for Catholic Youth Ministry in the Philippines, as a landmark event in our communal journey.  We continue to heed the principles and directions it has set for us, and we commit to continue in our study and use of this most helpful Church document, and to be guided by its recommendations.  We further look forward to the “YouCat” (Youth Catechesis) which Pope Benedict XVI will give to all the World Youth Day 2011 pilgrims in Madrid.  This document, derived from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but with a “youthful” slant, so to speak, will certainly be a great help in the young people’s growth in their knowledge, love and following of Jesus Christ.
Moreover, we also wish to go beyond our own circles, to “think out of the box” and reach out to other youth who may not necessarily be within the usual network of the ECY[26].  While acknowledging present efforts of special ministries, often involving other episcopal commissions for which we are grateful to these offices, there certainly remains much more to be done.  Strengthening inter-ministerial collaboration[27] becomes an imperative not only because it is needed but also more importantly since we are one Church.  We also need to team up with government and non-government youth organizations; more often than not, we share the same goals and objectives with them.  Finally, ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue should also be actively pursued in our youth ministry.
It is in this spirit of unity and solidarity, of openness and collaboration, and of networking and synergy, that we envision even greater strides in our youth ministry during this CBCP Year of the Youth – and yes, beyond!
Therefore, to conclude, we continue to implore the help of and be guided by the Holy Spirit in a joyful, committed celebration of this special time of grace.  Let us—brother-bishops, priests and deacons, parents, teachers, government officials, religious women and men, and anyone who has a heart for the youth, and above all, you young people—let us all dedicate ourselves to conversion and renewal[28] for the sake of a more relevant, responsive and effective youth ministry.  Let us, in our own different ways but always united in the Spirit of the Lord, give of ourselves to the young in our midst and in our lives—our children, students, siblings, friends, etc.—in order to make them feel that this CBCP Year of the Youth is truly their year.
Dear young people, we need you.  The Church needs you.  Echoing the loving words of Pope Benedict XVI, who today will be celebrating the Closing Mass of World Youth Day 2011 with about half a million young people in Madrid, Spain, we affirm “your lively faith, your creative charity and the energy of your hope.  Your presence renews, rejuvenates and gives new energy to the Church.”[29] In turn, believing in your desire for great things[30], we promise to continue bringing Christ to you through our ministry among you: engaging in dialogue with you, striving to enter your world and journeying with you towards[31] fullness of life in Christ[32].
With the words of St. Paul to the Christians of Corinth, we exhort you too: “Stand firm in the faith… Do all your work in love”[33].  We pray, through the loving intercession of Mary our mother, woman of faith and mother of fair love, that our Lord God, the “eternally young… the Companion and Friend of youth”[34], may “give success to the work of our hands”[35].
Sincerely yours in the Lord
on behalf of the Bishops and Archbishops of the Philippines,
Bishop of Tandag
President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in the Philippines
21 August 2011

[1] Lifted from a translation of the French original: “God gave me the grace – as to so many bishops and priests – to love passionately the youth, certainly different from one country to another, but so similar in their enthusiasm and their disappointments, their aspirations and their generosity!” (John Paul II, Message to the French Youth, 01 June 1980).
2 Cf. Lk 4:19.

3 The Episcopal Commission on Youth (ECY) was created in July 1986.  Before this, the ECY was initially a committee under the Episcopal Commission on Lay Apostolate (ECLA) during the period 1976 -1985.  During the National Conference for Youth Ministers (NCYM) in January 1986 in Tagaytay City, the delegates proposed for the creation of a separate commission specifically for the youth.  The bases for its creation are the following: 1) that majority of the population belongs to the youth; 2) that the ECLA, dominated by lay adults with their own unique needs and concerns, cannot adequately meet the particular demands of ministering to the young; 3) that the youth and youth ministry exhibit unique needs and aspirations—calling for a corresponding response that is concrete, adequate and complete; 4) that the youth deserve fuller and more direct representation and participation in the Philippine Church.  Acknowledging the need for a commission that addresses all youth ministry concerns distinctively, the Bishops, in their CBCP Plenary Assembly in July 1986, unanimously approved the creation of the ECY.

4 “As youth ministry is a ministry within the Ministry, then it espouses and lives out the mystery of communion.  Truly, youth ministry is a mirror of the Church held together as a family of the Father in Jesus through the Spirit” (KA-LAKBAY, p. 87-88).

5 How often do we say that the youth are the future of our nation, of our church, but they are also, and perhaps more so, the present of our nation and church – they who compose more than 50% of our country’s population.

6 “[The youth] must be helped to grow and develop in the faith: this is the first service they should receive from the Church and especially from us Bishops and our priests… If this is to happen, young people must feel loved by the Church and concretely loved by us Bishops and priests” (Benedict XVI, Address to Italian Bishops, 30 May 2005).

7 Cf. Conciliar Document of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, art. 385: “As we in this Council have declared our evangelical love of preference for the poor, so it would appear to us now to declare a preferential apostolate for children and youth.”

8 Cf. Lk 5:4.

[9] “You, the young people, are called above all to become missionaries of this New Evangelization, bearing witness daily to the Word that saves.” (John Paul II, Message for the 10th World Youth Day 1995, no. 3)

10 “Young people are the source of hope for the future, as we have seen during the Tenth ‘World Youth Day’ right here in Manila.  With their enthusiasm and energy, they must be encouraged and trained to become ‘leading characters in evangelization and participants in the renewal of society’.” (John Paul II, Address to the Episcopal Conference of the Philippines, 14 January 1995).

11 From the Third General Conference of Latin American Bishops in Puebla, Mexico, 1979.

12 Decrees of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, article 50, no. 2.

13 “…false teachers of life, also numerous in the modern world, propose goals which not only fail to bring satisfaction but often intensify and exacerbate the thirst that burns in the human heart.  Who then can understand and satisfy our expectations?  Who but the One who is the Author of life can satisfy the expectations that he himself has placed in our hearts?” (John Paul II, Message for the 8th World Youth Day 1993, no. 3).

14 Mt 18:6, NAB.

15 “In school year 2007, about 5M students were enrolled in national high schools… about 1.2M of them will fall by the wayside” (Salesian Missions Inc., The Y Factor, p. 99); “Almost 70% of Filipino youth have tried drinking alcohol” (p. 149); “…3.4M Filipinos are on illegal drugs.  An estimated half of this or 1.8M were from the youth sector” (p. 150); “79% of drug patients were out-of-school youths prior to their admission for treatment” (p. 153); “On the average, male and female youth get initiated to sex at the age of 18.2 and 18.9, respectively” (p. 173).

16 2 Cor 5:14, NAB.

17 Ps 127:1, NAB.

18 As upheld by art. 51-52 of the Decrees of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines.

19 “…youth ministry is not merely for the chosen few, but it is for young people from all walks of life” (KA-LAKBAY, p. 89).

20 “Another cluster of weakness lies around the characteristic of discontinuity, seasonality, transitoriness, and lack of sustainability.  Some programs are merely sporadic” (KA-LAKBAY, p. 31).

21 “The entire activity of the Church is an expression of a love that seeks the integral good of man” (Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est, no. 19).

22 “You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and fittingly enough, for that is what I am.  But if I washed your feet—I who am Teacher and Lord—then you must wash each other’s feet” (Jn 13:13-14, NAB).

23 “This communitarian dimension is very much in line with the vision of the Filipino Catholic Church as a participatory community of disciples, as spelt out in the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II)” (KA-LAKBAY, p. 15).

24 Youth ministry is “…a comprehensive and collaborative effort, carried out by the entire ecclesial community—intergenerational, integrated, and harmonized…” (stet).

25 “Youth ministry takes this opportune time in the life of the individual for total and integral formation that not only focuses on faith but on all other aspects of growth as well” (KA-LAKBAY, p. 84-85).

26 “…an emerging design in youth ministry is also that of welcoming persons who do not fall under the mentioned general characteristics [i.e. single Filipino Catholics from 13 to 29 years old who normally belong to a parish], such as unwed mothers, youth in the streets, members of other Christian denominations or other religions, indigenous youth, and others” (KA-LAKBAY, p. 21).

27 “We also ask you to ensure that our ministry, at all levels, coordinate and synergize with other Church ministries (e.g. Family Life, Human Development, etc.)…” (2nd Bishops’ Institute for the Lay Apostolate on Youth 2007, Final Statement, no. 3).

28 “…we must become new people, abandoning what is old within us, letting ourselves be renewed in depth by the strength of the Spirit of the Lord” (John Paul II, Message for the 10th World Youth Day 1995, no. 5).

29 Benedict XVI, Message for the World Youth Day 2011, no. 6.

30 ”…young people want great things.  They want an end to injustice.  They want inequalities to be overcome and all peoples to have their share in the earth’s goods.  They want freedom for the oppressed.  They want great things, good things.  This is why young people are—you are—once again fully open to Christ.  Christ did not promise an easy life.  Those who desire comforts have dialed the wrong number.  Rather, he shows us the way to great things, the good, towards an authentic human life” (Benedict XVI, Message to German pilgrims, 25 April 2005).

31 From the National Pastoral Consultation on Church Renewal 2001.

32 Cf. Jn 10:10.

33 1 Cor 16:13-14, GNT.

34 Message of the Second Vatican Council to the youth, 07 December 1965.

35 Cf. Ps 90:17.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Pope Francis' Easter Homily

Vatican Basilica
Holy Saturday, 30 March 2013

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. In the Gospel of this radiant night of the Easter Vigil, we first meet the women who go the tomb of Jesus with spices to anoint his body (cf. Lk 24:1-3). They go to perform an act of compassion, a traditional act of affection and love for a dear departed person, just as we would. They had followed Jesus, they had listened to his words, they had felt understood by him in their dignity and they had accompanied him to the very end, to Calvary and to the moment when he was taken down from the cross. We can imagine their feelings as they make their way to the tomb: a certain sadness, sorrow that Jesus had left them, he had died, his life had come to an end. Life would now go on as before. Yet the women continued to feel love, the love for Jesus which now led them to his tomb. But at this point, something completely new and unexpected happens, something which upsets their hearts and their plans, something which will upset their whole life: they see the stone removed from before the tomb, they draw near and they do not find the Lord’s body. It is an event which leaves them perplexed, hesitant, full of questions: “What happened?”, “What is the meaning of all this?” (cf. Lk 24:4). Doesn’t the same thing also happen to us when something completely new occurs in our everyday life? We stop short, we don’t understand, we don’t know what to do. Newness often makes us fearful, including the newness which God brings us, the newness which God asks of us. We are like the Apostles in the Gospel: often we would prefer to hold on to our own security, to stand in front of a tomb, to think about someone who has died, someone who ultimately lives on only as a memory, like the great historical figures from the past. We are afraid of God’s surprises. Dear brothers and sisters, we are afraid of God’s surprises! He always surprises us! The Lord is like that.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us not be closed to the newness that God wants to bring into our lives! Are we often weary, disheartened and sad? Do we feel weighed down by our sins? Do we think that we won’t be able to cope? Let us not close our hearts, let us not lose confidence, let us never give up: there are no situations which God cannot change, there is no sin which he cannot forgive if only we open ourselves to him.

2. But let us return to the Gospel, to the women, and take one step further. They find the tomb empty, the body of Jesus is not there, something new has happened, but all this still doesn’t tell them anything certain: it raises questions; it leaves them confused, without offering an answer. And suddenly there are two men in dazzling clothes who say: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; but has risen” (Lk 24:5-6). What was a simple act, done surely out of love – going to the tomb – has now turned into an event, a truly life-changing event. Nothing remains as it was before, not only in the lives of those women, but also in our own lives and in the history of mankind. Jesus is not dead, he has risen, he is alive! He does not simply return to life; rather, he is life itself, because he is the Son of God, the living God (cf. Num 14:21-28; Deut 5:26; Josh 3:10). Jesus no longer belongs to the past, but lives in the present and is projected towards the future; Jesus is the everlasting “today” of God. This is how the newness of God appears to the women, the disciples and all of us: as victory over sin, evil and death, over everything that crushes life and makes it seem less human. And this is a message meant for me and for you dear sister, for you dear brother. How often does Love have to tell us: Why do you look for the living among the dead? Our daily problems and worries can wrap us up in ourselves, in sadness and bitterness... and that is where death is. That is not the place to look for the One who is alive! Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life! If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk: you won’t be disappointed. If following him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust him, be confident that he is close to you, he is with you and he will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as he would have you do.

3. There is one last little element that I would like to emphasize in the Gospel for this Easter Vigil. The women encounter the newness of God. Jesus has risen, he is alive! But faced with empty tomb and the two men in brilliant clothes, their first reaction is one of fear: “they were terrified and bowed their faced to the ground”, Saint Luke tells us – they didn’t even have courage to look. But when they hear the message of the Resurrection, they accept it in faith. And the two men in dazzling clothes tell them something of crucial importance: remember. “Remember what he told you when he was still in Galilee… And they remembered his words” (Lk 24:6,8). This is the invitation to remember their encounter with Jesus, to remember his words, his actions, his life; and it is precisely this loving remembrance of their experience with the Master that enables the women to master their fear and to bring the message of the Resurrection to the Apostles and all the others (cf. Lk 24:9). To remember what God has done and continues to do for me, for us, to remember the road we have travelled; this is what opens our hearts to hope for the future. May we learn to remember everything that God has done in our lives.

On this radiant night, let us invoke the intercession of the Virgin Mary, who treasured all these events in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19,51) and ask the Lord to give us a share in his Resurrection. May he open us to the newness that transforms, to the beautiful surprises of God. May he make us men and women capable of remembering all that he has done in our own lives and in the history of our world. May he help us to feel his presence as the one who is alive and at work in our midst. And may he teach us each day, dear brothers and sisters, not to look among the dead for the Living One. Amen.


log: Church news

Bishop Mylo ordains OCD priest

Homily during the Presbyteral Ordination of Rev. Wilowyn Noe P. Andaya, OCD
 Of Most Rev. Mylo Hubert C. Vergara, DD, MA, SThD,
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish Shrine, New Manila,  April 2, 2013

You may be wondering why I am here today as the ordaining prelate of Rev. Willow.  Why not a Carmelite bishop or Bishop Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao?  Well, let me briefly explain why. Last February 21, I received a surprising email from our ordinandus.  He wrote: “I’m Rev. Wilowyn Noe P. Andaya, OCD.  My request that you be my ordaining prelate was through Fr. Dan Lim, OCD and through Ms. Tina de Guzman.  We met in 2005 when you gave a talk on St. Teresa of Avila at the OCDS (Tertiary) House of Prayer beside the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Shrine Parish.  In that talk, I was the one who introduced you as speaker.  I introduced you in a unique way because I related your role in my vocation story, i.e. when you were the outgoing chaplain of Greenbelt Chapel and you gave a talk on contemplative prayer using the Interior Castle as your framework.  That led me to read her, then to John of the Cross, then to Therese of the Child Jesus, and the rest is history.”

Believe me, Rev. Willow, since I turned fifty (50) years old last year, I have had a lot of memory lapses or what they call “senior moments” even though I am not yet a senior citizen.  And considering the fact that I have been twenty-three (23) years in priestly ministry, I have forgotten a great number of the many faces of people I have served or ministered to.  It took time for me to recall the instance as well as the time and place I encountered you.  God truly works in mysterious ways.  And I thank God that you reminded me of one significant thing to keep me going in my priesthood, that is, God has and still uses me to bring people close to him.  And particularly for you, God used me to lead you to consider religious life and to consecrate your life in total service to him.

Your priestly ordination falls on Tuesday within the Octave of Easter.  Strikingly, our gospel passage for our liturgy today recounts the resurrection appearance of the Risen Lord before Mary Magdalene.  If there is one line I want us to reflect on in this gospel text, it is what Mary Magdalene announced to the disciples after her encounter with Jesus.  She told them: “I have seen the Lord!” (Jn 20:18)

Rev. Willow, these words reveal significant challenges in your vocation to the priesthood, then, now and as long as you live.  Let us contemplate on what Mary Magdalene saw, what she saw in Jesus, and what you, Rev. Willow, have and will always see in Jesus as you serve him.

First, Mary Magdalene saw the empty tomb and wept.  Yes, she wept because she wanted to see the corpse of Jesus.  She told the two angels sitting where the body of Jesus had been: “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.” (Jn 20:13)  These words speak of the profound loss Mary felt because Jesus was no longer with her.  Of course, she knew that Jesus died. She was still coping with what took place at Calvary and the deep pain of losing someone she loved. Perhaps, she felt that even the sight of the dead body of her Lord would appease her emotional state of grief and mourning.  Finding it difficult to see the dead body of Jesus meant she could not let go of him.  Whether Jesus was alive or dead, what mattered was she would not lose sight of him.  She always wanted to see Jesus.  She wanted to always be with Jesus.

Rev. Willow, like the experience of Mary Magdalene, the priesthood means never losing sight of Jesus, never letting go of him.  I’m sure you have experienced and learned this yourself during your years of formation.  The moment we become preoccupied with things that may distract us from Jesus like lingering idleness or too much work in ministry, or even the drive for attention and popularity in service, we become focused on ourselves and lose sight of Jesus. 

Rev. Willow, you are blessed because your Carmelite formation has taught you how not to lose sight and not to let go of Jesus.  It is prayer.  Take to heart what the Carmelite Doctors of the Church taught you about prayer whether it be in your daily celebration of the Eucharist, your daily adoration before the Blessed Sacrament or your daily recitation of the rosary with the accompaniment of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Second, Mary Magdalene saw the Risen Jesus and called him “Rabbouni” which means Teacher (Jn 20:16).  She recognized Jesus who taught her to let go of the demons that possessed her.  Remember that she was possessed by seven demons and Jesus healed her.  She also recognized Jesus who taught her to have faith that after three days he would rise again.

Rev. Willow, like Mary Magdalene who recognized Jesus as Teacher, the priesthood means recognizing and being anchored in Jesus our Teacher of the Faith, par excellence.  He is the source of our prophetic vocation.  He is the core of our faith whom you are called to propagate.  You are to do this when you preach prepared and substantial homilies to the faithful every time you celebrate mass.  You are to do this when you give catechism to children and adults.  You are to do this when you give recollections and retreats to people who thirst for Jesus.  You are to do this when you practice what you preach.  Yes, your mission is to teach and proclaim Jesus in word and witness, nothing more, nothing less.  It is coincidental that you are ordained within this “Year of Faith”.  In the words of Benedict XVI, one of your crucial tasks is to help the faithful, “…rediscover the content of the faith that is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed, and to reflect on the act of faith…” (Porta Fidei # 9)

Finally, Mary Magdalene saw the dry wounds of Jesus and held on to it.  One characteristic of the resurrection appearances of the Lord is that he showed his wounds to his disciples that made them recognize him.  Just when Mary Magdalene wanted to hold on to Jesus and his wounds, Jesus told her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not ascended to the Father.  But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (Jn 20:17)

I would like to think that Mary Magdalene was not only able to touch the wounds of the Risen Christ but in so doing was in touch with her own woundedness.  Moreover, she was challenged by Jesus to stop holding on to his wounds and even hers, and be in touch with the wounds of others so that she could truly say: “I have seen the Lord!”

Rev. Willow, like Mary Magdalene’s experience, to be a priest challenges us to always contemplate on the wounds of Christ so that we will be in touch with our own wounds, the wounds of those we minister to, and be like Jesus Christ, the Wounded healer.  I am reminded of a so-called legend in the life of St. Teresa of Avila. It is said that one time the devil wanted to fool and tempt the holy saint by disguising himself as Jesus.  St. Teresa was never fooled and immediately knew he was the devil.  Before leaving her, the devil curiously asked how she knew all along.  St. Teresa simply responded: “It was easy.  You have no wound marks on your hands and feet.  Jesus has wounds.”  Perhaps, this is why St. Teresa has taught us: “Fix your gaze on the Crucified One…” (Interior Castle)

Always remember that you are and will always be a wounded servant of Christ.  Only then, can you be in touch with the wounds of the oppressed, the neglected, the sick, and those who have been deeply hurt in life, especially the poor. Let us follow the example of the Carmelite martyr St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross who gave her life for another during World War II, of St. Pedro Calungsod who suffered wounds from a spear and laid down his life for the Jesuit, Fr. Diego de San Vittores and for the faith, of Blessed John Paul II who was in touch with the wounds of the sick and aged when he himself was aging and dying, and of course, our dear Pope Francis who touched the wounds of some young people when he washed their feet in Casal del Marmo Detention Center last Holy Thursday.   Be strengthened by the hope that by the wounds of Christ, we are healed.

Rev. Willow, in a few moments as I lay hands on you, together with the priests present here, and I solemnly utter the prayer of ordination, the Lord will make his presence felt in your life.  Our prayer is that you never lose sight or let go of him; that you see him as your Master and Teacher of the faith you are to proclaim in your life and ministry; and that you always fix your gaze on his wounds of love and touch his wounds in the lives of those you will serve.  And may you always proclaim with deep faith: “I have seen the Lord!” AMEN.

log: Bishop's homily / headline news

Monday, April 1, 2013

Extension of deadline to the 1st Pasig CMMA

We are extending the deadline for all who wish to submit their entries for the first Pasig Catholic Mass Media Awards only this week, up to Saturday, April 6, 2013 at 5 p.m.

For those submitting their websites, save your files in .html.  Any browser should be able to open the files, especially the first or homepage, which is commonly saved as index.html.  Your websites should not have any glitches at the time of the judging.

For the category of Best News / Feature / Opinion article, only those that are published on print shall be accepted as an official entry.  Those written on websites are not qualified.  For those writing Opinions, submit two more articles that reflect the heart and mind of the writer.

God bless!  Be the first one in the history of the Diocese of Pasig to be recognized for media excellence!

Bishop's Easter Message

Are Our Tombs Empty?
Bp. Mylo Hubert C. Vergara

                    A Blessed Easter to all!

            Our gospel today invites us to reflect on the message of the empty tomb witnessed by Mary of Magdala, Simon Peter and the disciple Jesus loved.  The empty tomb manifests the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that on the third day He will rise again.  

            A tomb or a grave where the remains of the dead are buried can be described as an enclosed place in which a dead human body rots or decomposes.  We recall how Jesus used this image to describe the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Scribes: “Alas for you scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You who are like whitewashed tombs that look handsome on the outside, but are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of corruption.” (Matthew 23: 27)  We also note how Martha warned Jesus about the stench of the remains of Lazarus who was already in the tomb for a few days: “Lord, by now he will smell; this is the fourth day.” (John 11:39)  A tomb, then, with a decomposed body inside would not be pleasing to our sense of sight and smell.

            A tomb with a dead, decomposed body inside it could symbolize death and sin. When we are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness like the Pharisees and scribes, we sin and are displeasing in the eyes of God and others.  When we succumb to our selfishness, we allow evil to take over our lives; sin and death have power over us.

            Nevertheless, on this Easter day, the tomb of Jesus Christ is empty.  There are no bones, there is no filth; nothing remains.  He has risen from the dead.  He is victorious over the pangs of suffering and death.  He has triumphed over evil and sin.  In the words of Clarence Hall: “You can put truth in the grave, but it won’t stay there.  You can nail it to the cross… and shut it up in a tomb, but it will rise.” (Mark Link, S.J., Daily Homilies: Seasons and Feasts, p. 158, 1987)
Are our tombs empty?  Have we cleansed our lives of the decomposing effects of sin?  The victory of Christ over sin and death is ours, too. The early morning resurrection scene challenges us to see GLORY after our humiliating experiences, to see JOY after all the painful events of life and to see HOPE amidst all of life’s depressing situations. Like the disciple who saw and believed (John 20:9), we reaffirm our belief in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The resurrection in our lives can be seen only with the eyes of faith through which Christ will constantly tell us: BELIEVE! 

Indeed, for every Good Friday, there is an Easter Sunday! Let us sing Alleluia to the Lord!

(From A Shepherd's Voice: Reflections on the Sunday Gospel , Cycle A, 2007)

log: bishop's message, headline news