Homily of His Excellency Most Rev. Pablo Virgilio S. David, D.D.
Bishop of Kalookan and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines
Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Participation in the Marian Moment of Prayer for the Synodal Process
Theme: With the Blessed Virgin Mary Towards the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops
May 31, 2023 | Antipolo Cathedral
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord:
Magandang gabi po sa inyong lahat!
I'd like to begin by thanking Bishop Francis de Leon, of the first ever International Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage, Antipolo for hosting this event of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) this evening.
A few days ago, we received the news that the Holy Father has appointed a new Bishop for Antipolo in the person of Bishop Ruperto Santos. I therefore wish to take this opportunity to commend Bishop Francis, for his past sixteen years of ministry in Antipolo: nine years as Auxiliary Bishop, and seven years as Bishop.
Bishop Francis, the elevation of this most famous Marian shrine of the Philippines into an international shrine will remain as one of your enduring legacies in the Diocese of Antipolo, as you pass on the pastoral leadership to Bishop Ruperto Santos. Congratulations!
Day of Prayer for the Synod on Synodality
We are gathered together on this Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Mother upon the request of the Holy Father Pope Francis, to offer a day of prayer for the coming Synod on Synodality in Rome. Part one of the Synod will take place in October 2024, and Part two will take place in October 2025. Take note: we need to pray seriously so that this Synod will become a new Pentecost event for the universal Church; and it's not going to be an exclusive Synod of Bishops, because it's going to be about synodality, and there will be representatives from the religious, and the laity as well.
It is very obvious why October has been chosen as the month of synodal gatherings in the universal Church. It is a Marian month. The month in which we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. But why did Pope Francis choose this day, the 31st of May for the day of prayer for the synod? I think it is because he is pairing the Marian month of October with the other Marian month: May. Why May 31? That’s obvious. I also think it's not only because it's the Feast Day of the Visitation of the Blessed Mother but also because it's two days after the Feast of Mary Mother of the Church, and three days after Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit descended upon the community of disciples, in the company of Mary the Blessed Mother; and turned this community of disciples into a community of apostles.
Apostleship is About Mission
I know that will sound a little bit strange to you because we are generally familiar only with the term “community of disciples” that was made popular by the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP2). In general, we tend to restrict the term or the word “apostle” to the Twelve; and we think only of the bishops as successors of the apostles. That is correct; but only partly correct. We are indeed, as bishops, entrusted with the office of the apostles; but only so that we can allow the whole Church to become a community of apostles, not just of disciples. Remember we say that in the Nicene Creed: we believe in “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”. So, we are a “community of apostles.”
Apostleship is about mission; and mission is not only the work of the bishops. It is the work of the whole Church: clergy, religious, and laity together.
When we say “discipleship” we're talking about “following Christ”; but discipleship matures into apostleship when we can be sent to represent Christ in the world, not individually, but as a community. We are not really an Apostolic Church yet until we have become a community of disciples in mission; and that's the essence of apostleship: mission. This is the objective of the coming Synod on Synodality.
For Pope Francis, becoming Church is practically the same as “becoming synodal”. That is the favorite word of the Holy Father. “Becoming synodal”, which he summarizes in the three principles that you now most probably are already aware of: communion, participation, and mission.
We cannot be Church if we're not in communion with one another. Communion has to do with the spiritual bond, the oneness of mind and heart, first with Christ our Lord and Savior; but communion with Christ in the spirit in turn empowers us to work for oneness in mind and heart, not just with fellow disciples with whom we share the common gift of the Holy Spirit, but also with all our other fellow human beings in the spirit of Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue, and with all our fellow creatures in this one planet which we call our common home.
Participation is the grace that naturally flows from communion. The one gift of the spirit which we share empowers us to take part to become participants in the life of the Church, as members, as parts of the one Body of Christ. Our communion builds us into a community of disciples, who discover in Jesus Christ, our True Vine, with ourselves as the branches. Connected to Him, we become more truly connected to one another. We cannot even claim to be connected to Christ, if we are not connected to one another, in such a way that each one's joy becomes our joy, and each one's grief becomes a grief.
Mission is the grace that naturally flows from participation. Because we take part in the life of Christ, we also take part in the creating, redeeming, and sustaining work of God in the world, through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit. That is made possible by the charisms bestowed on each of us by the same Holy Spirit, we are able to live a life of service. I know, our common idea of ministry is “to serve the Church”, and I commend all of you, volunteers to the many commissions and ministries of the Church; but that is not yet what ministry is about.
Pope Francis keeps on reminding us that the Church has a very strong tendency to be turned in on herself. “We must go out” he says. So, ministry is not about serving the Church. It is about serving the world, serving society, as part of a Servant Church. That is why in one of our traditional prayers to the Holy Spirit we say “Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created; and you will renew the face of the earth.” God wants to renew the world through us. That is why we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit for.
Blessed To Be a Blessing
You know? If I summarize this into a slogan, I would put it this way: “Like Mary our Blessed Mother, we are blessed to be a blessing.” Let me repeat that, “Like Mary our Blessed Mother, we are blessed to be a blessing.”
Our Gospel tells us, because the child in her womb “leaped for joy”, Elizabeth cried out, and she uttered the familiar words that had been immortalized into a line in our Catholic prayer: Hail Mary. The line that says, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Elizabeth is saying to Mary, “How blessed are you!” Elizabeth is welcoming the visitation, not just of Mary but of the Messiah in the womb of Mary. The first to recognize the presence of the Messiah in the womb of Mary, is the child in the womb of Elizabeth, who would become the Prophet John the Baptist, and whose only mission in his whole life is to lead people to the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Mary, when she is told how blessed she was, would point to God, and she would say “It's God doing His work.” In effect in the Magnificat, Mary is saying how blessed the world is, that God is blessing her, because He wants to bless the world through her, and the child in her womb. Through the Magnificat, Mary proclaims the reason she is being blessed. That the only reason she's being blessed is so that through her, God can bless the whole world, not just Israel but the rest of humanity.
In a nutshell, this is also what the mission of the Church is all about: to be blessed in order to be a blessing to the world. To be blessed in order to be a blessing to the world.
Live Christ, Share Christ
Dear brothers and sisters: we have no other blessing to share to the world except the blessing that we ourselves have received: Jesus Christ in whose life and mission we have been called to participate. We cannot bring Christ to the world, unless we are united with Him, unless we remain in Him like branches to a vine.
So, as we proceed with this Eucharistic celebration, we remind ourselves of the words of Saint Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians (10:16-17), “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” We gather around the table of the Eucharist so that we can enter into that intimate communion with Christ, by receiving His body and blood. So, that we can become ourselves the Body of Christ, and make Christ present to the world,
We pray therefore, that the coming Synod may become an opportunity for genuine renewal among our laity, our religious, and ordained ministers of the Church. So that we can grow together in greater synodality, into a more participatory Church. That will call for genuine conversion on all of us.
So, today we also commend our synodal journey to the Blessed Mother of Antipolo, who goes by the title “Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage.” Through her intercession, we pray…
Blessed Mother, you were with the Church right at its moment of birth at Pentecost. Accompany us as we prepare to embark on our synodal journey. May it become for us a new Pentecost experience. Amen.
Transcribed by Joel V. Ocampo