Homily of Archbishop Charles Brown, Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines
Holy Mass in Celebration of the 67th Annual National Assembly
of Pontifical Mission Societies Diocesan Mission Directors
August 28, 2023 | Sta. Maria Goretti Parish
Your Excellency, the Most Reverend Socrates C. Mesiona, Bishop of Puerto Princesa, Your Excellency Most Reverend Renato Mayugba, Bishop of Laoag, Reverend Monsignor Esteban Lo, National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the Philippines, participating diocesan directors in this your 67th Annual National Assembly of Pontifical Mission Societies, it is a joy, it's a pleasure, and indeed a privilege for me to celebrate this opening mass for your National Assembly.
Many thoughts come to my mind, and I will turn in a moment to the Gospel. But before I say anything else, I want to say to each and every one of you a massive thank you, a massive expression of gratitude for the work that you do. Because for me as your Apostolic Nuncio in my current mission here in Manila, in the Philippines, and in my prior mission in Albania, I see day in and day out the work that you do and the benefits that are brought to the Church universal because of your efforts at raising funds to help the Church in so many ways in the missionary activities. So I want to begin by saying thank you, because I see your work, I see the effects, and I can really appreciate the goodness of everything that you're doing.
We have an amazing contrast this evening in the Gospel and the first reading. In the Gospel, Jesus is rebuking very strongly the scribes and Pharisees. He says,
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men.
You do not enter yourselves,
nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.”
So we have Jesus rebuking, criticizing strongly the Pharisees for this attitude of closure, this attitude of pride, this attitude of self-centeredness, which Jesus very strongly criticizes. And it's interesting for Christ; the attitude must be one of openness. We see that symbolically represented after the resurrection, when the tomb is open, the stone is rolled away, that door is open. It's not locked, it's open. Jesus emerges from the tomb and then passes through all kinds of locked doors where the apostles and disciples are cowering in fear. So that contrast between closure and openness is so strong in our faith. And Jesus criticizes the Pharisees and the scribes for their closure, their closed hearts.
Then we go to our first reading - St. Paul's Letter to the Thessalonians. He says this:
“Knowing, brothers and sisters loved by God, how you were chosen. For our Gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction…you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to await his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus, who delivers us from the coming wrath.”
So this idea, first of all, that we have been chosen. This is so important for us. We have been chosen. Jesus, of course, tells us, “It's not that you chose me, but I chose you to go and bear fruit.” We have been chosen. God has spoken to us in the silence of our hearts. That's why you, men in front of me, are priests because God has spoken to you, God has called you. God has called you to do what? To turn to God, away from idols, to turn to the living and true God. So this idea of turning, idea of conversion, idea of reorienting our life, because we have been chosen. Reorienting our life to God, in and through Jesus. Through Him, with Him, and in Him, we orient our lives to the One who has chosen us to God.
So this idea of conversion, which is so different, right, from the Pharisees, who have no need of conversion? Hearts, closed doors, closed attitude of pride, attitude of aloofness, and yet with the disciples, with the apostles after the resurrection, we see this idea of conversion, of going through the closed doors, opening the doors and going out to proclaim the grace of Christ.
We celebrated one year ago, the beatification of Blessed Pauline Jaricot, who, of course, was really at the foundation of the work that you're involved in, raising money for the missions, raising money in the different pontifical mission societies. And this humble, simple French young woman created what we have now inherited in your work, and she, of course, was beatified in May of 2022 in Lyon, in France.
Pope Francis sent a message with that beatification, in which he touched on some of the themes that I have briefly elucidated: the idea of conversion. He said (these are the words of the Pope),
“First of all, missionary conversion: the goodness of the mission depends on the path of going out of oneself, on the desire to centre one’s life not on oneself, but on Jesus, on Jesus who came to serve and not to be served (cf. Mk 10: 45).
And Pope Francis says,
“In this sense, Pauline Jaricot saw her existence as a response to God’s compassionate and tender mercy…”
The idea of God's choice of Pauline and then this idea of missionary conversion.
“...since her youth she had sought identification with her Lord, including through the sufferings she went through, with the aim of igniting the flame of her love in every person.”
And here, Pope Francis says,
“...lies the wellspring of mission: in the ardor of a faith that does not settle and that, through conversion, day by day becomes imitation, to channel God’s mercy on the roads of the world. But this is possible only through prayer.”
This idea of conversion, this idea of reorientation, this idea that Pope Francis is constantly talking about, about not being closed in oneself, but going out of oneself.
St. Thomas Aquinas, following the teaching of St. Augustine (whose feast we celebrate today). St. Thomas Aquinas meditates on what love does, what the effects of love are. And St. Thomas Aquinas, in the Summa Theologiae says that one of the effects of love is ecstasy. Ecstasy. What is ecstasy? Literally it means "standing out". Exstare - going out, standing out of oneself, going out of oneself. Love, and this is for St. Thomas, really following St. Augustine, draws us out of ourselves, reorients us towards the one whom we love.
Even human love is that way, isn't it? We see when young people are in love, they're preoccupied with the other; they're kind of forgetful of themselves. They want to gaze at the other, and they kind of lose themselves in looking at the other and going out towards the other. That is what the missionary effort of the Church is all about. God's overflowing, ecstatic love for us in Jesus then becomes our conversion in and through that love to our brothers and sisters. And what you do as the national directors of the Pontifical mission societies, make that ecstasy possible. Because our faith is a sacramental faith. We need things like bread and wine to celebrate mass. Bread and wine are things that have to be made, the work of human hands.
The same thing is true for the missionary activity of the Church. It's not simply a spiritual, disincarnate activity. It's an incarnate activity that requires things like financial support, organization, planning, and all those things which you were involved in so beautifully, but all nourished by prayer. All nourished by prayer. Just as in the mass, the work of human hands, the labor of human hands, bread and wine, things that are made. They're not natural things. Jesus didn't choose a piece of fruit and water to be His body and His blood. He chose things we have to make, we have to do, we have to put an effort into. And then, through the power of prayer, it becomes the Body and Blood of Christ through the prayer of the priest celebrant of mass.
The same thing is true for your work: raising money, different strategies, different ideas, different initiatives, different programs, all of these things, it's the work of human hands, which is then sanctified by prayer and becomes the means by which the Church can spread her love throughout the world, the love of Jesus and touch hearts and bring them to the Lord.
So you can tell for me, as your Apostolic Nuncio, I have so much esteem and respect for the work that you do. And I want to support you in every way possible. We ask for the intercession of Pauline Jaricot on this your opening mass for the 67th National Assembly. We ask her to intercede for you, and we especially ask Our Lady, the Mother of God, the Mother of Jesus, the one of course, who, after she received the gift of Jesus in her womb and the incarnation, the first thing she does in the Gospel is she goes out, she goes forth, she goes to Elizabeth, that is part of your work. You are making that going forth possible, and for that, the Church appreciates you and is grateful for everything that you do.
Let me conclude by asking you, as I always do, to pray for Pope Francis. I will be seeing him in less than a month's time in Rome, and I want to assure him of the prayers, especially of you priests and laypeople and dear sisters here in the Philippines praying for our Holy Father, Pope Francis. God bless you for your work. Thank you for inviting me this evening to be part of your opening mass.
Transcribed by Gel Katalbas