Homily of Archbishop Charles John Brown
Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines
at the Holy Mass for the 125th CBCP Plenary Assembly
January 28, 2023, Memorial of Saint Thomas Aquinas
Live from the Sta. Maria Goretti Parish, Manila
Why are you afraid? Do you not yet have faith? (Mk. 4:40)
My dear brother bishops,
Your Eminence Jose Cardinal Advincula, Archbishop of Manila,
Your Eminence Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, Archbishop-Emeritus of Cotabato,
Your Excellency Most Rev. Pablo David, President of the CBCP, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of the Philippines,
Brother Bishops, one and all:
It is a joy for me to be with you this morning on the Feast - on the Memorial - of Saint Thomas Aquinas; to celebrate this Mass as we begin the official moment of the 125th Plenary Assembly of the CBCP.
Do Not Be Afraid
About six months ago in July of last year, we were together in Tagaytay and the Gospel that morning on which I preached had the words “Do not be afraid” three times in the Gospel. “Do not be afraid.” Three times. Then in today's Gospel, we hear Jesus asking us, “Why are you terrified?” And then He gives us the key to the response: “Do you not yet have faith?” “Why are you fearful?” (Perché hai paura?)
The context of that dialogue is a journey on a lake. A passing from one side of the lake to another, in which a big storm develops and threatens the survival of the boats. The disciples experience fear. The Lord calls them to faith. To faith which overcomes our fear. So all those feelings that each and everyone of us at times, as bishops, experience -- of fear, hesitancy, indecision, reluctance, or uncertainty -- all of those are overcome by faith. By faith in the Lord who is always with us, even when it seems that He is sleeping.
Journey By Faith
There are similar elements in the First Reading (Heb 11:1-2, 8-19) which we heard this morning. This beautiful meditation, again on faith. From the Letter to the Hebrews, concentrating on the figure of Abraham. Saying that Abraham “went out, not knowing where he was to go” (Heb. 11:8); but it was “by faith (that ) he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country” (Heb. 11:9). The author to the Letter of the Hebrews tells us that Abraham was looking for a lasting city, and he journeyed by faith.
So in the Gospels we have a journey by boat; in the First Reading we have a journey on foot. In both, there is this idea of going out, going forth.
In the case of the disciples, the antidote to their fear is faith.
In the case of Abraham, the key to understanding where his journey is actually destined to conclude is faith.
These of course are images for us, of our individual lives of faith, and images of the corporate life of the Church of which we are shepherds.
This theme of “going forth” has been and is central to the Pontificate of Pope Francis, as all of us know. From the first moment of his Pontificate, from the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, published now almost ten years ago, 2013. Pope Francis is telling us,
“Our faith calls us to go forth. Faith is calling us to go out, to go forth, to journey.”
So faith is calling us to go out but where does the power - to journey, to go out, to go forth - where does the power, the ability, the capacity come from?
It comes from Christ.
It comes from love of Christ. As Saint Paul tells us “Caritas Christi Urget Nos.” (2 Cor 5:14). In Italian that beautiful (line) "L’amore di Cristo ci costringe…" Pushes us; the love of Christ is what's pushing us. The love of Christ is that power that gives us the ability to go forth. This idea of love.
Love is Ecstasy
Today is the Feast Day of Saint Thomas Aquinas. We celebrate him and his incredible magisterium - theological, and doctrinal magisterium - today. And in these Prima Secundæ (First Part of the Second Part) of the Summa Theologiae, he has a beautiful reflection on the effects of love. Precisely what we're talking about. He talks about one of the effects of love is ecstasy. Which literally means “to stand out of oneself.” To go out of oneself.
He says in Question 28, Article 3 ... “The one who loves goes out from himself.” I le Qui amat, etra se exit. The one who loves goes forth. He goes out from himself. Because love is ecstatic. Love sends us forth. Faith tells us to go forth. Love, the power of Christ’s love in us gives us the ability to go forth.
Our recently departed Pope Benedict XVI, in his first encyclical talked about this idea of love as ecstasy. Love as going forth. Of course, it is the theme of the pontificate of Pope Francis but it was also present in the pontificate of his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI.
Here's what Pope Benedict XVI said in the encyclical Deus Caritas Est: “Love is indeed ‘ecstasy’, not in the sense of a moment of intoxication, but rather as a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God…” (DCE #6).
Ecstasy. Love going forth. He uses that word “exodus.” Exodus which of course is the book of the Bible describing the Jewish people going forth.
For us in this year, we have a beautiful connection, don't we, when we hear the word “ex hodós” (ἔξ οδος), perhaps we think of another word with “odos”: “sún odos” (σύνοδος) – “synod”, synodal way. “Ex hodós” = going out, “sún odos” = “going with”, “travelling with”. These things go together. Our exodus, our going forth in love is a sunodos. It's a going with. Because love, as I said, is ecstatic but it's also unitive. We go forth together; and that is the key to understanding this synodal process. Going forth in love, in a kind of exodus, but going forth together in a synodal process. Sún odos - ex hodós - sún odos. Because love is communal. It is ecstatic, but it's unitive.
Finally, our Holy Father Pope Francis has just given us the gift of another Apostolic Letter. Actually, published exactly one month ago today, on the 4th centenary of the death of Saint Francis de Sales. In which he concludes, and you will not be surprised when I tell you this, on the theme of “ecstasy”. The final part is about ecstasy. Going out, going forth. Pope Francis says this, actually quoting Francis de Sales, calling us “to live in the world contrary to all the wisdom of the world, and against the tide of this life, by habitual resignation, renunciation, acts of self-abnegation.” He says “this is not to live in ourselves but above and beyond ourselves.” “Not to live in ourselves but above and beyond ourselves,” quoting Saint Francis de Sales. This idea of ecstasy: exodus-sunodos-ecstasy.
We place this 125th Plenary Assembly under the watchful gaze of Our Lady, the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God. The one, who, at the moment in which she receives the gift of the Word-made-flesh in her womb, goes forth, goes out. In her own ecstatic trip and voyage to her cousin Elizabeth. We ask Our Lady to intercede for us. We ask Saint Thomas Aquinas to intercede for us, on his feast day.