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Christ, A Synodal God: Taken, Blessed, Broken and Shared

Homily of Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, CBCP President on the Closing Mass of the National Synodal Consultation at Carmelite Missionaries Center of Spirituality in Tagaytay City last July 4 -9, 2022

My dear brother bishops and archbishops of the Philippines, dear delegates from all the ecclesiastical jurisdictions of our country, especially our laity, our consecrated persons, and the other ordained ministers of the church, mga minamahal kong kamanlalakbay kay Kristo, magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat!

We did not choose the Gospel for this final day of our National Synodal Consultation. God chose it for us. It contains Jesus’ Mission Discourse in the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 10; a most fitting conclusion after four days of communion and participation, now the mission. We actually read its first part in yesterday’s Gospel reading about the choice of the Twelve Apostles, and the very first instruction that the Sender gave them as He sent them out on a mission. Go! “Go to the lost sheep of the House of Israel” (cf. Mt. 10:6).

Bp. Pablo Virgilio David, CBCP President | Photo from Synod Philippines Facebook Page

I am inclined to believe that this is the text from which Pope Francis had drawn his idea of going out to the existential peripheries. An expression that we heard over and over again from practically every metropolitan synodal synthesis report. People will look back many years from now and recognize the aspiration for greater synodality in the Church, as the main platform of the papacy of Pope Francis. I am sure you have also heard about that pre-conclave speech that Pope Francis allegedly delivered to his fellow Cardinals. When each candidate was asked to deliver a three-minute speech, each, articulating how each cardinal understood the present state of the Catholic Church in the world. Where Jesus wants to lead us and what he expected of the next pope. Those speeches were supposed to be confidential, but there was one pasaway, you know, who leaked out one speech, apparently because he had been so moved by it. He immediately shared it to his diocesan media point person. And so, it circulated in South America, in Spanish. The first time I got it, it was in Spanish, and of all people, it was my brother Randy David who was sharing it to me. He said, “Can you confirm this?” Just reading through it, I said, “I think it's him”.

Pope Francis has neither owned it nor denied it, but one look at it, I knew immediately that it was authentic. I’ve gotten so used, you know, to exegesis. Sort of unpacking a text and you know, determining its vocabulary, it’s a literary themes and sort of confirming who the author might be. Kaya takot yung mga estudyante ko na plagiarist. One look at it, I said, “It was authentic”, and that it was what really got him elected into the papacy; and I do not even think he was campaigning. Why? Because Pope Francis has actually repeated the same thoughts over and over again in most of his homilies, and audiences. Listen to the things that he allegedly said as candidate Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina. He said, “The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only in the geographic sense but also in the existential peripheries.” Sometimes we misunderstand this word. It's not just about the economically poor; but those who might be marginalized for one reason or another, some of them being spiritual, cultural, gender, whatever. He said, “When the Church does not come out of herself to evangelize, she becomes self-referential, and then she gets sick.” That's when he introduced that vocabulary of self-referentiality.

In revelation chapter 3, verse 20, Jesus says that He is standing at the door, knocking. Obviously, the text is referring to Jesus knocking from outside in order to enter. Please take note that this was the year Pope Benedict XVI had declared the Year of Faith, and in his apostolic letter, entitled, “Porta Fidei” (The Door of Faith), Pope Benedict used the image of opening the door of faith to let Christ in. It looked like Bergoglio was reacting to it in his speech. He knew that the opposite was actually the case in most of Europe and in many other parts of the world. How many people in modern societies are already closing their doors to the Christian faith? So, the lines that followed fell like a bombshell on the electing Cardinals when Bergoglio said, “But I think of the times when Jesus is knocking, knocking from inside, so that we will let him come out.” And I think they were stunned. “A church that is self referential tends to keep Jesus Christ within herself and does not let him come out.” He ended his speech with a final paragraph, which was in answer to the question, “What kind of a man do you expect the next Pope to be?” (I wonder if he knew that he was going to be that man.) His answer was, “He must be the kind of man who, drawing from his contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ, and not from any ideology drawing only from his contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ can help the Church come out of herself to the existential peripheries. A man who can help the Church to be the fruitful mother.” And he emphasized the term “mother”, a “fruitful mother who lives from the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing”.

This was the very same message that Pope Francis communicated to us Filipinos when he visited us in 2015. Remember, in the aftermath of that devastating Typhoon Yolanda. And remember how Cardinal Chito Tagle responded to the challenge of Pope Francis, by saying in his final speech, “Holy Father, we will heed your invitation. We will go with you.” And he said, “Not to Rome” (Well Cardinal Tagle went to Rome with him). “We will go with you. Not to Rome but to the peripheries of society.” I do remember that Filipinos who knew English were whispering to each other because it sounded new. The word “peripheries”. “Ano daw?” Binigyan tuloy natin ng Tagalog equivalent and salitang ito mula noon, like “laylayan ng lipunan”.

Well, Pope Francis has been very consistent in challenging Christians to outgrow the tendency to develop that personalistic “me and my Jesus” kind of spirituality. You know, as a young boy, I remember listening to a song being played on a car stereo. That said “Plastic Jesus sitting on the dashboard of my car. In all kinds of stormy weather, me and my Jesus stick together. Sitting on the dashboard of my car.” I think many Christians prefer a plastic Jesus sitting on the dashboard of the car. Do we not often hear this kind of a spirituality? From some fellow Christians in the form of a very aggressive question, “Have you accepted Jesus?” “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and savior?” Or “Have you allowed Jesus to become a part of your life?” Well, it sounds very pious indeed; but I think they are missing something very fundamental about Christian life, that it is the other way around. It is not about us making Jesus a part of our lives, but about Christ making us part of His life and mission, part of His body, the Church, by the grace of baptism. It is the Holy Spirit who will make this possible.

The shift from the individual Christ to the corporate Christ, and a brother Bishop who seems uncomfortable with the term “corporate Christ”, kase, masyado nating ina-aasociate yung word “corporate” with the corporate world. Hindi ba? Sabi niya, “Saan galing iyon?”. Ang sagot ko, “Kay St. Augustine.” The concept of the Totus Christus. Basing his reflection on the Body of Christ, the Church, the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians chapter 12. I recommend that one day you read the reflections of Augustine on the corporate Christ.

Well, this shift is calling for a total change of paradigm, which is what I take metanoia. To me it calls to conversion. It is a call to communion with Christ, our Shepherd, so that we are empowered to participate in His life and mission. And so, shepherding or pastoring becomes a common aspiration, not just of the ordained, but of the whole Church acting as Corporate Christ. You see, the downside of referring exclusively to us, ordained ministers, as your “pastors”, meaning shepherds, is precisely the tendency of the laity to think of themselves as a passive flock. As a mindless herd. Na walang ibang obligasyon kung’di ang sumunod nang sumunod sa pastol. The Gospels narrative about followers who are transitioning from discipleship to apostleship is really about the whole Church, not just the Twelve. Kaya nga kay Luke, hindi lang twelve, seventy-two pa yung apostles eh.

This is what we proclaim in the Apostles Creed about the whole church as “One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic” We are a community of apostles. PCP2 already broke new ground when it spoke of the church as a “community of disciples”, but it never went to the extent of stretching that ecclesiology to also speak of the church as a “community of apostles”. Obviously because, we have also tended to clericalize apostleship. Oh, this is as early as the time of Saint Paul. Si Saint Paul nga hindi siya matawag-tawag na apostle. Because only the “Magic Twelve” were to be regarded as apostles.

I'm saying this in the mood of self-criticism. While bishops are indeed successors of the apostles, this title might make us forget that we succeed the apostles precisely to lead the Church to grow. To grow into a community of missionary disciples. Iyon ang apostle. A missionary disciple. Kase “missionary” and “apostle”, pareho lang iyan. Ang origin ng “apostle” the Greek word “ἀπόστολος” (apóstolos), ang origin ng “missionary” is Latin translation from apóstolos, mission.

Well, we’re call to grow into an apostolic community. A few months ago, we concluded our celebration of the 500th Year of Christianity, with the year of Mission; and we emphasize that mission is not a mandate only of missionary congregations. It is the business of the whole Church, both local and universal. In fact, we can dare say that a Church that is not missionary, is not a church. It may be a club, an exclusive members’ club, but not the Church.

A Church, that practically reduces the priesthood to the ordained ministerial priesthood will never grow into a missionary Church. In that mode of thinking that has practically revived the clericalization of the temple priesthood of the Old Jewish dispensation, the laity will never imagine themselves as part of what the Second Vatican Council calls, “The common priesthood of the faithful.” There's no such thing as common priesthood of the laity. It's common priesthood of all the baptized, including us. That's the most fundamental priesthood that we are a part of, the priesthood that links us together. We are a priestly people. And so, the laity will tend to remain as followers of the clerics, whom they will expect to play the role of alter Christus. As if we had been ordained to substitute for Christ. The most tragic thing that can happen to the Church is when we, bishops and priests also forget that we have been ordained to the ministerial priesthood, precisely to assume the role of nurturing the role of nurturing the rest of the church to grow in the common priesthood of the faithful.

Dapat ba tayong masorpresa kung hanggang ngayon ang tingin ng ating mga laiko, karamihan, ang tingin nila sa simbahan ay yung lugar ng sambahan. Look, even our vocabulary betrays us. Because, kaming mga pari, we define ourselves as the “celebrants” and “the concelebrants” at the Eucharist. The laity will define themselves as the “audience”. Trahedya iyon. The laity will come to Mass in order to “hear Mass”. Iyon ang bokabularyo natin ‘di ba? At most they will say, “I will attend Mass”, but they will never say, “I will celebrate Mass.” Why? Because they presuppose only the clergy will celebrate the Mass.

There's something deeply theologically wrong about it, but we perpetuate it anyway. Saint Augustine expressed it so well. When he said, to the faithful of his diocese, “For you. I am a bishop; but with you, I am a Christian.” It was his way of saying, “I cannot be a good bishop for you if I cannot first and foremost be a good fellow Christian with you.” A fellow member of the Body of Christ. Whenever I “preside”, take note, I would rather use the word “preside”. Not celebrate, I preside. Other bishops and priests can co-preside.

Whenever I preside at Mass, I remind myself that it is Jesus Christ present in His Body, the Church who is reenacting the Paschal Mystery in the Eucharist. And so, it is the whole Church acting in the name of Jesus Christ, who offers it. I am merely tasked as an ordained minister to preside at the celebration in such a manner that Christ becomes genuinely present not just in the sacred species, but most especially in the whole Church that celebrates, in the intimate communion of the body, with its head, and of the members, and the members with one another. We the ordained, are supposed to be facilitators of that communion. That alone can empower the whole body of the faithful ordained, and lay, and consecrated for participation. Full participation in the life of the total Christ, the corporate Christ, and represent Him. Take note, not substitute for Him. Represent Him in our shared mission to witness to the liberating Good News of the Kingdom of God. This will never be realized, if our laity are conditioned to think of themselves permanently as “followers”. Or worse, as “onlookers”. They will never take part in the Church’s corporate mission of shepherding the last the least and the last in this world, the deprived, oppressed, poor, and indigent, and marginalized.

In that kind of a paradigm where we're the shepherds and you're the flock, the laity will tend to clericalized us, put us on pedestals, and expect us to be the evangelizers, the leaders. The ones who will bless them, and to tell them what to do because we call ourselves the “substitute Christ”. There's something almost heretical about it. Then you can imagine, the disillusionment of the laity, when they hear of clerical, administrative, and sexual abuses. As if walang ganyang mga abuses among the laity. Para bang “Kami pwede kaming mang-abuso pero kayo hinde! Substitute Christ kayo eh.” Kayo hinde? Talagang hinde dahil wala namang substitute kay Christ. We're all just called to be representatives. So, mahirap matanggap ang abuses when you, our dear laity realize that we are as human as you are. Hindi ba? Kaya enjoy kayong pagtawanan kami kung hindi kami makasayaw nang mabuti.

In a clericalistic Church, the laity will never think of themselves as part of the Church that Evangelizes, the Church that saves. They will just want to be saved. The Church that leads, or they would just want to be led. A Church that is gifted to give, blessed to be a blessing, a community of disciples in mission, like the salt of the Earth, light of the world, or like a little yeast in a mass of dough. You don't have to be many even just a few can make a difference. You see, mission is about the Christian community, consciously getting out of itself. And did you hear the mandate of Jesus? He said, “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and expelled demons”. Demons lang ang i-eexpell natin, hindi tao. Hindi naman natin kalaban ang sino mang tao, kasi wala namang masamang tao dito sa mundo. Demonyo lang ang nagpapasama sa tao. Iyon ang kalaban natin. So, our mandate is to heal, to give life, to liberate from the Evil One, and to cleanse. In short, to proclaim a Good News that empowers and gives hope. Ayun ang “to evangelize”. All of these we do, never in our name, only in the name of Jesus, and always consciously prioritizing the ones in society whom Jesus himself would prioritize.

When our Lay Catholics volunteer for ministries in the Church, we presuppose that they had been guided to discern the gifts that the Holy Spirit had bestowed on the community through them. And I tell you, it doesn't always happen. There are many misplaced charisms in the church. They serve in various capacities in the Church: worship, formation, social action, but they do this only so that as members of the Servant Church, they will serve society. Parang iyon ang kulang sa atin. Parang you volunteer to serve the church, but do we serve society? Do we serve the world? We build the Church so that we can work for the renewal of the face of the Earth through the spirit at work in us. Only when we go out to the world does the mission begin. If every ministry has no other purpose than for the Church to build herself up, then the Church becomes self-serving, and does not become missionary.

I remember how my late father used to do free legal service for the poor during his weekends. When I entered the seminary. I remember how a formator in the seminary asked us, ilan daw sa amin yung may parents na members daw ng parish mandated organization. Lahat nagtaas ng kamay, except me, and I felt very embarrassed. At yung pari, he even rubbed it in by telling me to talk to my parents and to convey the message that, kung seryoso sila na magkaroon ng isang anak na maglilingkod sa Simbahan bilang pari, dapat ma-involve din sila into serving in the Church. Perhaps by volunteering to be members of mandated organizations. “Baka pwedeng mag CWL ang nanay mo, at mag KoC ang tatay mo.” Nakita ko nagpantig ang tainga ng nanay ko. Assertive si nanay. Heto ang sagot niya, “Ambo, heto ang sabihin mo sa formator mo, ‘God gave me thirteen children, and I have to raise them up into good Catholics and good citizens without the help of housemates. Your father, look at him. He's out there extending free legal service to the poor, on the weekend. Ask your formator if he does not think of this as service to the Church too, then, lumabas ka nalang sa seminaryong iyan.” I did not tell my formator of course.

It was not until later that I realized that that is what indeed makes the Church deteriorate when every form of service or ministry is intended only to serve the Church. We forget the very essence of our mission to go out to witness to the Gospel in the workplace, in the marketplace, in the roads, in the byways, the way Jesus himself did. Jesus never confined His preaching to the synagogues. Ang favorite niya, table fellowship. Palagay ko masarap kumain si Jesus.

It is to work for the renewal of society as part of a Servant Church. So, why do we count as ministries only the tasks of lectoring, altar serving, catechizing, choir singing? Even if all of them are important. We have so parochialized ministries, we have forgotten that these are supposed to be charisms concretized into forms of service or ministries bestowed by the Spirit, precisely to realize the mission of the Church. We often get volunteers, and we assign them to ministries. Sometimes their ministries, they're not even fitted to. We just fill up the ministries like empty boxes in an organizational structure, not knowing that some of them have become totally irrelevant.

How can a pandemic strike the whole world and not force the Church to come up with new ministries aimed at addressing the physical and mental health issues of people? Ako mismo realized this. Noong maraming humihingi ng tulong because of anxiety disorder, depression, and all sorts of mental health issues. Noong maraming nalululong sa droga because of addictions. Nag-appeal ako, “Meron bang pwedeng tumulong sa akin to put up a healthcare ministry, especially mental health care.” Lo and behold, I was so shocked. Iyon palang lector sa amin, presidente siya ng Psychiatric Association of the Philippines; at ang sabi niya, “Salamat bishop. Now you need me. I had always wanted to offer my expertise to the Church, but I never saw any ministry that would make full use of me.” “Hanggang lector nalang ako,” sabi niya. Then, when she made the appeal, lo and behold, mahigit palang labindalawa ang mga psychologist namin, just in the parish. And they helped out in the mental healthcare ministry.

You see, where there is a need and the ministries do not exist, surely the Holy Spirit will give us the audacity to invent them. The same Holy Spirit will give us the common sense to abolish those ministries that have outlived their purpose because of given circumstances. We have Catholic laypeople deployed in secular society and all over the world as service providers as professionals, as artists, as educators, as scientists, etc. Can we not organize and form them consciously to carry out their professions as their vocation to participate in the churches evangelizing mission in the Church? We have all sorts of leagues like Catholic Women's League to serve the Church, but do we put up Catholic politicians leagues or guilds? Formed in the Catholic social teachings, politicians who will serve not their pockets but the common good of society as a vocation. Can you imagine if all our Catholic laity became conscious participants in the Church’s mission to make a little difference in society through the forms of service? That they can do best as farmers, as laborers, as caregivers, as social communicators, as businessmen, etc. Wow. Can you imagine if we consciously prepared our Catholic OFWs to serve as the missionary presence of the Philippine Church in countries where they find themselves deployed as domestic helpers, construction workers, service providers, healthcare workers, etc. Yet, even without such a preparation, Pope Francis is already jokingly calling our OFWs “contrabandistas de fe” (smugglers of the faith). Ill prepared smugglers of the faith.

As a concluding thought. Let me return to the mystery of the Eucharist that we celebrate. The sacrament of God's enduring love in Jesus Christ. Who offers his life, his body and blood as bread and wine, as food, food that heals food, that gives life food that cleanses and liberates us from the virus of evil. Saint Augustine tells us, “This is not the kind of food that you receive so that you can digest it and change it and make it a part of you. No! This is rather the food which when you receive it will change you to become part of Christ.” And as members of the corporate Christ, animated by the same spirit, we also become the food that we eat. We become what we eat. We become ourselves, a body broken for broken people, not an exclusive meal for the righteous. We are a body broken for broken people; and the more broken people are, the more in need they are of the Eucharist. We are taken, blessed, broken and shared in order to heal, to give life, to cleanse and to liberate. We are to learn generosity from Him, who has revealed to us the face of a God who can never be outdone in generosity.

Listen to the tender words of the prophet Hosea, and let me put it in much simpler language. Ang sabi ng Panginoon, “It was I who taught you to walk my child. I took you in my arms. It was I who lovingly wrapped you in swaddling clothes. Everyday I carried you in my arms like a mother who raises her infant to her cheeks and caresses it with sweet kisses. It was I who stooped to breast feed you with my milk” (cf. Hos 11:1-4, 8E-9).

Hosea is the only prophet I know who dared to describe God breastfeeding. “Though I stop to feed my child” he said. That's not a father, it’s a mother breastfeeding her child. “It was I who nurtured you back to health whenever you got sick.” This is what I imagine God doing at each Eucharist. Feeding us with his own body and blood so that we can be sent to do the same. Kaya nga tinawag na “Missa” ang Eukaristiya. Sa dulo ng pagdiriwang isang habilin ang ipinahahayag ng pari o ng diyakono sa wikang Latin: “Ite missa est”. I think the confusion began when a “T” was added to the “ES” and became third person. It became a formula for dismissal: “Go, the Mass is ended.” Missa is the female past participle of “mittere”, the origin of the word “mission”, ibig sabihin, “ipinadala”, “sent”. If you put it rather in the second person without the “T”, what it says is, not “Go I peace, the Mass is ended” but “Go, you are being sent”. Having received Christ, you are now being sent as the corporate Christ.

Dear brother bishops and representatives from all the local Churches in the Philippines, you are hereby being sent to represent the Synodal God in the Body of Christ, that is taken, blessed, broken, and shared in a healing, life-giving, cleansing and liberating kind of communion, participation, and mission. Amen.

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