My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it gives me so much joy to be celebrating this mass here in the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
As I said at the beginning of mass, I was delighted to be here with your Bishop Jesse Mercado, with the rector of the shrine, Fr. Cueto, and also caught with my assistant, the counselor of the nunciature, Msgr. Kabore who has come with me from Malate in Manila which is not very far from here. And as we were approaching the shrine, both of us were impressed by how many people there are here this evening. What a beautiful sign of your love for Our Lady, your love for Our Mother of Perpetual Help. The sign of your presence here in this church, underneath her beautiful image, receiving her protection, her motherly care.
As we heard in the Gospel, when Jesus was suffering and dying on the cross, He entrusted Mary to John, to the apostle John saying, “Behold your mother,” or “Here is your mother.” And John took her into his home.
Isn't that true for all of us? Mary is our mother. Jesus says to us tonight, to all of you, “Behold, your mother.” And now let's take Mary into our homes.
I am the representative of Pope Francis here in the Philippines. Pope Francis who has a great love for the Filipino people and a great love for Our Lady. As you know, whenever Pope Francis makes a voyage, a journey, he always goes and prays in front of an icon of Mary before he sets forth on his journey. And then when he comes back, to thank her for her protection, for her maternal protection over him.
He often prays in the Basilica of Mary Major (Maria Majore) in Rome. And it's interesting for us tonight because just across the street, more or less, from the Basilica of Maria Majore is the church the Redemptorist Church of St. Alphonsus in Rome where the original icon is preserved.
Archbishop Charles J Brown at the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
Photo: Lorenzo Atienza
This famous, marvelous, miracle-working icon of Mary, Our Mother of Perpetual Help, which Pope Pius IX entrusted, gave to the Redemptorist Order more than 150 years ago in 1867 which is venerated there in the church in Rome.
Let's think about that image just for a moment. Let's meditate on that image, the icon of Mary, our Mother of Perpetual Help. It's so moving to reflect on this beautiful image.
First of all, we notice Mary's eyes. Mary's gaze. The way Mary looks. She's looking at us from the icon. She's looking at you from the icon. And of course, she's looking at us with so much love. And with her right hand, which is held tight by the two little hands of baby Jesus, Mary is gesturing towards Jesus. She's directing us to Jesus. She's indicating Jesus. She does that just like she did at the wedding feast of Cana when they were running out of wine. And she said to the waiters and people there, “Do whatever Jesus tells you.” And isn't that what that image represents of Mary with her hand, indicating pointing to Jesus, telling us to do what Jesus tells us?
The image of Mary indicating Jesus with her hand is a special style of icon which is quite famous in the Catholic Church and in the Orthodox Church. And it has a special name for this style of icon with Mary pointing and we can say or indicating Jesus. It's called the hodigitria. The hodigitria icon. And the word hodigitria comes from the Greek word hodos which means “The Way”. Mary is the hodigitria who points to the Way - Jesus, Our Way, Our Truth and Our Life.
In the Greek language, the word for way is hodos. And so Mary is the one who points to the hodos. And you know, I can say in parentheses, many of the young men here or not so young, all of you have scooters. And on your scooter, you have a meter that measures how far your scooter has gone in its lifetime. Also my automobiles and cars. And maybe some of you know the word for that in English. It's called the odometer, right? The odometer tells how far your vehicle has gone. That odometer is the same word in Greek as hodos, “the way”. The odometer on your scooter or on your car, or on your tricycle tells you how far on the way your scooter or automobile has gone on the way. And Mary is the one who points to The Way, Our Way, Our Truth, Our Life - Jesus of Nazareth, God made Man. He is the Way that leads us to heaven. He is the Way that leads us to the Father.
This Way has a name and a face: it is Jesus of Nazareth. As Pope Francis likes to tell us, Jesus says in the Gospel, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The Catholic faith is our following that way, that path, that road, which is a person - Jesus of Nazareth. And this is the point that Pope Francis wants us to focus on - the Way, the hodos, which is Jesus - Jesus, the Way of Mercy.
God comes to us in His mercy for us. He becomes a little baby in the arms of Mary because he wants to show us His mercy. He approaches us, He cleanses all of us in mercy when we are baptized. He feeds us with mercy when we receive Holy Communion. And when we sinned, we come to him in a Sacrament of Reconciliation, of confession. And in mercy, he forgives our sins and puts us back on the hodos, back on the way that leads to heaven, that leads to peace and joy.
And the other interesting image in the icon of Our Lady, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Our Mother Perpetual Help of the two angels that approach with the symbols of The Passion. We see one angel there carrying the cross. We see another angel carrying the other instruments of the passion - the sponge which was soaked in vinegar. These are the images of Jesus suffering. So in the image of Our Lady, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, we have first of all her loving gaze, we have her pointing to Jesus as the Way but also the indication of what we celebrate on Good Friday - that Jesus will suffer for us.
Why does He suffer for us? Because He loves us. And by His suffering we are freed. By His suffering we are renewed. By His suffering we are restored to grace and put on the way that leads to eternal joy.
This icon shows us so much about our Catholic faith. It shows us that Jesus is our Way, Jesus is the one who has suffered for us. All of us come together on her feast day, don't we, with all of our petitions? I see so many petitions here before me in this large container which we will bless later on. All of our needs, all of our petitions, we present them to Our Lady. We present them to Our Lady, Our Mother of Perpetual Help. We ask Mary, just as she is holding Jesus in her arms, to take us in her arms and to present us to the Heavenly Father, to protect us the way she protected the little child Jesus, and to give to the Heavenly Father all of our petitions, to ask the Father to grant our petitions.
All of us have intercessions this evening. Intercessions that we've written, intercessions that are only written in the silence of our hearts. I will be offering mass for all of your intentions, all the intentions of people, all of us children of Mary throughout the world who are celebrating this evening, the feast of our Mother of Perpetual Help.
So my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you can see that it's a great joy, a privilege for me as your apostolic nuncio to be with you this evening. I always ask wherever I go in the Philippines for people to pray also for Pope Francis. He asks us always to pray for him. So let's do that also at Mass tonight. Let's pray for Pope Francis asking Our Lady to protect him, to lead him, to guide him, to comfort him.
And in a very special way, we present all of our petitions on this evening to Our Lady's loving care knowing that she is our life, she is our sweetness, she is our hope. And we put our trust in Our Lady. She leads us to Jesus. She says, “do whatever he tells you.” And when we do that, we find a joy and a peace that the world cannot give us - that only faith in God can give us. Let's rejoice in that faith, our Catholic faith this evening, and let’s place all of our petitions in the loving hands of Mary - Mary, our beautiful Mother of Perpetual Help.
Transcribed by Gel Katalbas
Photos by Lorenzo Atienza