Homily of Most Rev. Charles John Brown, DD, Nuncio to the Philippines
Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Pontifical Coronation of La Batañguena from Minor Basilica & Parish of the Immaculate Conception, Archdiocesan Shrine of Sto. Niño ng Batangan, Batangas City | December 8, 2022
Your Eminence, Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales. It was a joy to be with you this afternoon. Archbishop Gilbert Garcera of Lipa, thank you so much for having invited me to be the celebrant at this amazing liturgical celebration here in the Basilica Minore de la Immaculada Concepcion, here in Batangas City.
Dear brother bishops who have come to be with us, brother priests, deacons, brothers and sisters in the religious life, consecrated men and women, lay faithful here in the Archdiocese of Lipa, it gives me a lot of joy to be with you in this beautiful and splendid historical Basilica to celebrate the canonical coronation of this image of the Immaculate Conception on this her feast day in the Year of the Lord 2022.
Indeed, it was just this year that your Archbishop Gilbert Garcera led a mass to declare the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception here as also the Archdiocesan Shrine of Santo Nino. And going back historically to 1948, in February of that year, this Basilica became the second church in the Philippines to receive the title of Minor Basilica by the authority of the then reigning pontiff Pope Pius XXII.
This Batangas basilica is the home of this venerated Marian image of La Immaculada Concepcion de la Ciudad de Batangas, which received the honor of an episcopal coronation not long ago and tonight, this afternoon will receive the honor of a pontifical canonical coronation.
There's an old Latin phrase and theology about Our Lady, about Mary. And it goes like this in Latin: De Maria Numquam Satis. What does that mean in English? It means, "about Mary, we can never really say enough." There's always something more to be said about Mary, about the humble virgin, the girl of Nazareth who was chosen by God. The girl, the teenager, by whose "Yes" the history of the cosmos was changed.
We celebrate this woman today. We celebrate her Immaculate Conception, the moment in which Our Lady was conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Anne. Today is nine months away from the birthday of Mary - September 8th. It's the moment today in which Mary came into the world without the stain of original sin in the womb of St. Anne.
And we celebrate her this day. We celebrate the beginning of her existence. Her existence, which is because of the "prevenient" that means the foregoing grace of God, her existence was without the stain of original sin.
God created this masterpiece of humanity which we call Our Lady. He created her to be the mother of her Son. And in our readings for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we go back to the beginning of all history, the beginning way before Our Lady came into the world in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, much more before that, to the very beginning of salvation history, to the book of Genesis, which we heard in our first reading, in which we heard how our first parents Adam and Eve in disobedience to God were deceived by the devil, tricked by the serpent and fell into sin, sadness, and alienation from God.
That terrible moment after the creation of man and woman in their original beauty and dignity in which, because of the deceit of the devil, they fell away from God and fell into sin and disobedience.
And then there's a line at the end of the first reading, which is so important for us as Christians, in which God speaks. And he speaks actually to the serpent, to the devil. And he says, "I will put enmity." What is enmity? Enmity is the condition of being enemies, animosity, or opposition. We can say, "I will put enmity between you and the woman," that meaning Eve, "...between your offspring and hers." So between the offspring of Eve and the offspring of the devil, there will be opposition. Then he says to the devil, "You will strike at his head, you will crush his head, (well) he will strike at your heel. She will crush the head of the serpent." This is a prediction of what would happen later. The offspring of Eve is Our Lady. This new woman who gives birth to Jesus,
who is the offspring also of Eve because of Mary. And it is Jesus, who is given to the world by Mary, who crushes the power of the devil.
There are different interpretations and different translations of those words from Genesis. Some say, "She will crush your head." And we see that often in the image of Our Lady trampling on the head of the serpent in many images of Our Lady.
There's also the translation, "He will crush your head." And that's Jesus. But Jesus and Mary are working together in that work of opposing evil - crushing the head of the serpent. Mary is the one who gives us Jesus. Jesus is the one, ultimately, who is victorious over sin, death, and all the effects of evil which have come into the world because of the deceit of the serpent.
And all of history is really a battle between the offspring of the woman (that means the followers of Jesus) and the serpent. Even if we go to the last book of the Bible (we began with the first book) if it goes to the last book of the Bible, the Book of the Apocalypse, we see the woman fighting the dragon.
In the 12th chapter of the Book of Revelation, it says how the dragon (and that's another image for the serpent) was enraged at the woman. The dragon was furious about the woman, and he waged war against her offspring, her offspring who keep God's commands and hold fast for their testimony about Jesus.
So we see this battle going on between our Lady and the serpent, between the daughter of Eve, the new Eve, Our Lady, and the Ancient Dragon, our enemy. Eve (the first Eve) was defeated by the devil and fell into sin. Mary is victorious over the devil and leads us into paradise through her Son, Jesus.
But what makes Mary so powerful? What makes her powerful is her purity, her obedience, her complete openness to God, her complete transparency to God. Mary is a mirror that images God. And Mary is our protectress. Mary is the one who guards us from the power of the evil one. Mary is the mother of Truth. Jesus is the Truth incarnate. Mary is the mother of Truth, who defeats the father of lies. And all of us are her children, as Catholics, children of Our Lady. All of us can rejoice in having Mary as our protector, our defender, one who fights for us, and who protects us.
That theme of protection is something that we see in the Gospel this evening. I've mentioned a little bit about the first reading about the enmity between the devil and the woman: that opposition, that animosity, which goes throughout all of history. But in the Gospel that we read, we have the sense of God's protection. And it's beautifully imaged in a certain line. And the angel comes to Mary and convinces Our Lady that she will be the mother of God, and the angel Gabriel says to Mary, "the Holy Spirit will come upon you." And then these words, "...the power of the Most High will overshadow you".
This idea of the power of God overshadowing us - a beautiful image of being in the protective shadow of God. That's what Mary is, this protective shadow of God. (I would say this idea of being in the shadow, a protective shadow, which in a culture like our own here in the Philippines, where the sun can be very bright and harsh.) The idea of a protective shadow is a beautiful image of protection, of safety, of refreshment.
We see it even in the image we use for the Basilica. This image of the umbraculum, the umbrella that you have here. It's the umbrella traditionally that was carried over the Pope when the Pope would make his pastoral visits to the churches of Rome. The shadow of the sun, the shadow created by the umbraculum protected the Pope from the harsh reality of the sun.
And every Basilica like your own here, this historic Basilica, in a certain sense, is under the shadow of the Pope, so close to the Pope, in your Basilica, to Pope Francis that you are literally under his shadow, so close to him that you are sharing in the shadow coming from his protective umbraculum, his protective umbrella. So this idea of overshadowing; is such a beautiful and strong image.
And Mary says to the angel," Behold the handmaiden of the Lord; let it be done to me according to thy Word." And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. This idea of Our Lady's protective presence, we see it also in her mantle, this beautiful mantle that Mary wears here, your wonderful image of the Immaculate Conception. So many religious iconographers of the Catholic Church have described us as being under the mantle of Mary, protected by her mantle. This idea of protection which we see in the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, we see in the image of the Basilica, and we see it most of all, in the mantle of Mary.
And let's pray, brothers and sisters, that as we crown Mary today, so many people will come here to seek refuge under her mantle spiritually: to bring their sorrows, their needs, their desires close to Mary, close to her maternal Immaculate Heart and receive her protective shadow, her protective mantle covering over them.
We pray for the protection of Mary, don't we when we pray the famous prayer, sub tuum praesidium, "under your protection" literally, or "under your patronage". "We fly to your protection, to your patronage, Oh Holy Mother of God, despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers. Oh, glorious and blessed Virgin."
That is what it means to be a child of Mary - to see in her your protection, to see in her your model of obedience and fidelity to God's will, to see in her the image of the perfect disciple of her Son, Jesus Christ. This afternoon we have the joy of her canonical coronation. And by doing this coronation, by placing a crown on her head, we are transported in joy to heaven, to the fifth, glorious mystery, the Coronation of Mary, Queen of Heaven and Earth, and we her children still on Earth, participate in the joy of heaven where she has achieved final victory over everything that is evil where she reigns with her Son, Jesus Christ. We crown her this evening. We crown her as an expression of our filial love and our desire for her protection and for her help and comfort in all of our needs.
So this evening, brothers and sisters, let's pray in a special way for all the people who will come here in the future to pray before this image. This now soon to be pontifically crowned image of Mary. Let's pray that they find in Mary those two things. He is the one who conquers evil and the one who protects us, the one who is victorious, the one who is our comforter, our Blessed Virgin Mary.
It fills me with joy to be with you this evening. On behalf of Pope Francis as your Apostolic Nuncio, I ask you, please to pray for Pope Francis. Whenever I come to visit him in Rome, he always asks me to ask you, the pueblo amante de Maria, the people who love Mary here in the Philippines, to pray for Pope Francis. He needs our prayers; he asks for our prayers.
So dear brothers and sisters, congratulations on this canonical coronation. May God bless each and every one of you.
And Viva la Virgen!