Homily of H.E Archbishop Charles John Brown, D.D., Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines for the 9th Sunday in Ordinary Time, First Day of Novena Masses in honor of San Roque
His Excellency Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, Bishop of the Diocese of Kalookan, Father Jerome Cruz, Rector of the Cathedral, brothers and sisters in Christ:
It gives me so much joy, so much happiness as your Apostolic Nuncio, to be with you this evening for the first day of your parish novena, leading up to its culmination on the Feast day of San Roque on the 16th of August.
This period is a period of joy to your parish, a period in which you renew your happiness, your contentment at being part of this parish family here in Kalookan; and for me as your Nuncio, as I said, it gives me so much happiness to be part of your celebration of San Roque.
San Roque, an Instrument of the Coming of God’s Kingdom
As you know, San Roque was a great saint from the Middle Ages. Born in what is now Southern France in the early 14th Century, a time in which pandemics, plague, and disease, on a massive scale, was afflicting Europe.
As we know from the life of San Roque, after the death of his parents, he gave away all his goods. He gave away everything he had, his entire fortune, and began to live as a pilgrim. We see him beautifully represented here in the sanctuary in this image, with his pilgrim’s staff, showing the way of the pilgrim. Wherever he went in Europe during that time, in all the plague-infested cities, cities facing the pandemic of that time, he miraculously cured citizens with the cross.
Everywhere St. Roch (San Roque) went, the scourge of the plague disappeared. God's power in this saintly man made him famous throughout Europe; and as we know he finally himself died of the plague.
What a beautiful symbol for us as we, God willing, emerge from now more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. What a beautiful image to think on San Roque, “San Rocco” as they say in Italian, Saint Roch in English: this wonderful pilgrim who went through Europe, as an image of a healing Christ, miraculously curing people from the terrible pandemic of that time.
Let us rejoice as we, God willing, come to the end of the COVID pandemic.
Faith, Involved in Looking Forward for God’s Kingdom
Our Gospel this evening is about the Kingdom of God, preceded by our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, in which the author of the letter of the Hebrews speaks about faith, how important faith is. He defines faith, as we heard, as “the realization of what is hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Faith is confidence in what we hope for, and its assurance about things that we do not yet see.
So faith is involved in looking forward to something that is not yet completely visible but that we see signs emerging all around us. Signs of God's presence.
But faith will only be complete at the end when we see Jesus, face to face.
That is what the Gospel is about tonight isn't it? The Gospel tells us to be vigilant, to be watchful, to be prepared, to have the attitude of faith, looking forward, awaiting the return of the Lord. The Gospel gives us two examples of waiting: Servants who are waiting for their master to come home after a wedding feast, his return is delayed, and yet finally he comes, and then he himself waits on his servants and takes care of them. The Gospel also gives us the image of thief and says that if the people who were in the house knew when the people would come, they would not have rested, they would have been watchful.
Two Images of Vigilance
So two images of vigilance: one positive─waiting for the master to return from the wedding feast; one negative─inspiring us to be watchful and to be attentive, just the way we are attentive that our house is not broken into during the night. These two images of waiting and watching makes us think about our own faith in Jesus. We know that Jesus will come back at the end of time. We know that He will restore all things in the Kingdom of God. In fact, we pray for that Kingdom every time we pray the Our Father, we say “Thy Kingdom come…” The Church is the bride of Christ, the spouse-bride of Christ, waiting for the wedding feast. The Church -- all of us -- are part of that bride, waiting for the bridegroom to come in his glory, to return; and all of us crying out, “Marana tha! Come Lord Jesus!”
So, as we heard in the reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, we have assurance about things that we don't yet completely see. We are waiting, we are watching, we are vigilant, we're living our Catholic faith.
But there are signs already now of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is already present in embryonic forms, in small ways.
This World and the Life of the World to Come
Our communist adversaries during the time of communism used to criticize Christians and Christianity for proposing a Kingdom of God in the future, and calling this “the opium of the people” because according to the communists, we said that “everything will be fine in the future so don't worry about the present”.
That, of course, is a complete misrepresentation of the Church’s teaching. Of course, we wait for the Kingdom of God. Of course we cry out, “Come Lord Jesus!” But we are also concerned about the things of this world.
Because, as the Second Vatican Council taught us in that beautiful document Gaudium Et Spes (the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World), the things of this world have importance for the Kingdom of God. Yes, the Kingdom of God is not yet present completely, it only will be present when Jesus returns in his glory so we, as Catholics, we respect and we honor, we try to make a human society as good as it possibly can be, knowing that there will always be imperfection and failure in human efforts yet always waiting for the Kingdom of God which would be in the future.
So we have these two elements: this world and the life of the world to come. We as Catholics hold both together. We don't choose one and say the other is not important. We don't say, “Let's focus on this world and forget about heaven.” Nor do we say “Let's focus on heaven and forget about this world.” Both are important. That's the Catholic way. The Catholic vision is always “both” “and”. It's not either or.
Some of our Protestant brothers and sisters, for whom we have a lot of admiration, have the idea of Sola Scriptura (only scripture) or Sola Gratia (only grace); but for us Catholics it's not really “only” or “sola” anything. Its always “both” “and”. God is one. God is three in the Trinity. Those things seem contradictory yet we as Catholics keep them by intention and in truth. God is one, God is three. Jesus is God, Jesus is man at the same time. Mary is a virgin; Mary is also a mother. Two things that seem to be contradictory (yet) in God's plan are not contradictory.
Our salvation comes to us by means of faith and also by our actions. Faith and good deeds.
The Church values marriage and celibacy. Not one or the other, but “both” “and”. The things of this world are important, and so are the things of the life of the world to come. But “here” is the Catholic message about the things of this world: our political order, our social order, which we always want to improve. We want to see justice, we want to see peace, we want to see war avoided, we want to see the quality and goodness in society; but the secret is, if we focus only on this world and forget about the life of the world to come, it’s very difficult to make this world flourish.
This is the most important point about these two realities: this world and the life of the world to come, which Jesus is talking about in the Gospel tonight. Remember what Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness and all these other things will be added unto you” (Mt. 6:33). So, if we focus on God, we focus on the Kingdom, then this world also, this social world, our political world, will flourish, will be as good as it can be. Always marked with sin and suffering but will be as good as it can be, if we keep our eyes, as we say, “our eyes on the prize”. The prize which is eternal life.
When we look at the history of Europe, for example, the evangelization of Europe, how Europe became so deeply Catholic. It was the Benedictine monks. Men were drawn to monasteries; men made the choice of living for the life of the world to come. Men who were focused on the Kingdom of God. It was through them that society became Christian and was elevated and beautified. And things became so much better because of Christianity in Europe. Because of men who, as Jesus says, “sought first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and everything else will be added unto them.”
Keep God First
In our lives, we need to keep God first and then everything will flourish. Then things will improve. But if we forget God from society, if we banish God from society, we will create nothing but hardship and sadness.
The Kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of heaven are not in contradiction. One is leading to the other; but in order for this world to flourish, our eyes must be focused on the life of the world to come.
Every time we receive the Eucharist, as we do tonight, on this first day of your parish novena, that Kingdom of God is coming into us; and is growing in us by the Eucharist. Those Eucharistic values, which are the values of Jesus, are then spread and disseminated throughout society by we who are Eucharistic people, through the Spirit of the Lord in Holy Mass. So every Mass is an anticipation -- a foretaste -- of the Kingdom of Heaven. All of us wait for the Kingdom of Heaven; all of us wait for the return of Jesus.
We are like a family of Filipino overseas workers who are waiting for their loved ones to come back after many years working abroad. All of us know that experience of waiting and watching, anticipating. We see it at the airport when families greet a family member who's come back after many years working abroad. We as Catholics had the same feeling for Jesus. Waiting for Him to come back in His fullness, and knowing that He is already with us here in the Eucharist, in the Sacraments. Remembering that because of His presence in this world, if we focus on Him, this world will become as beautiful as it possibly can be.
We do all of these things under the watchful eyes of Our Lady, the Mother of Jesus, the Mother who said “yes” to God, who brought God into the world by her “yes”. Mary who loves us. Mama Mary. One of the beautiful things for me as your Nuncio here in the Philippines is witnessing you as the Pueblo Amante de Maria: people who really love Our Lady. Mary is the secret to holiness in that sense. Mary, whose simple “YES” changed human history. She gave herself completely to God, to His Kingdom, and His Kingdom became present in an embryonic form in her womb, in the infant Jesus, born in Bethlehem.
My dear brothers and sisters, on this first day of the parish novena, I wish you all the best for this Fiesta. I thank you, I thank Bishop Ambo, for having invited me. I will be praying for you during your novena. In conclusion, let me ask you to please pray, not only for me, your Papal Nuncio, but also please pray for Pope Francis. I will be going to see him in about a month’s time, and whenever I see him, he always reminds me to ask you to please pray for him. So, please pray for Pope Francis. He had a very important journey to Canada recently, and next month, in September, he will be going to Kazakhstan. We need your prayers. He relies on your prayer. Let us pray for him.
Let us receive Jesus in the Eucharist and allow that Kingdom to begin within us.
Transcribed by Joel V. Ocampo