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Live Interiorly What We See Exteriorly

Homily of H.E. Most Rev. Charles John Brown D.D., Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines

April 19, 2024 | Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Piat, Municipality of Piat, Cagayan


Your Excellency, the Most Rev. Ricardo L. Baccay, D.D., Archbishop of Tuguegarao; fellow bishops, brother bishops who have come from near and far this evening, priests from the Archdiocese of Tuguegarao and from other dioceses, religious women, consecrated persons in religious life, and all of you, the lay faithful here in the Archdiocese of Tuguegarao:


For me, it gives me so much joy and happiness to be with you this evening for this momentous and historic occasion, the Solemn Dedication of your restored, renewed, and resplendent Basilica of Our Lady of Piat, here in Población, Piat in the Province of Cagayan, in the Archdiocese of Tuguegarao. 


Today is an historic day; and for me as the representative of Pope Francis, it gives me, as I said, great joy to be with you today, April 19th, 2024, as I said, the Solemn Dedication of this basilica, after its expansion, as we heard, its renovation, its refurbishment, its preparation to continue in history as a place in which people come to pray to the Mother of God. To pray to Our Lady: Mama Mary, who loves us so much.


History of Our Lady of Piat

As we know from the history, which is recounted beautifully in the stained-glass windows here in the Basilica of Our Lady of Piat. The image, beautiful miraculous image of the Mother of God arrived in Manila, in Intramuros, brought by the Dominican Friars in 1604. That's 420 years ago. Coming from Macau, this beautiful, miraculous image arrived there in Manila, and then after a period of time in Manila, she was brought here in 1620 by the Dominicans, here in Northern Luzon, here in the Cagayan Valley. That means that Our Lady of Piat is one of the oldest images of Our Lady in the entire Philippine archipelago. She's been here for more than 400 years. What we celebrate tonight is 400 years of miracles, 400 years of healings, 400 years of prayers that have been answered. Countless prayers that have been answered here at the feet of Our Lady.


How many of your grandparents, great grandparents, came here to pray to Mary? Came here with perhaps fear and anguish in their hearts. They prayed to the Mother of God, and received consolation and joy from Our Lady. So, more than 400 years of miracles, of prayers answered, of intercession.


Then in December of 1623, she came to this place, as we heard, this sanctuary, this beautiful spot; and she was canonically crowned back in 1954 by one of the nuncios who was here in Manila at the time: †Egidio Cardinal Vagnozzi, who came up here from Manila in June 20, 1954, and crowned Our Lady.


That crowning, that coronation was commemorated by another nuncio in 2004. So, twenty years ago, Archbishop Antonio Franco, he was the nuncio here in the Philippines (1999-2006) before me, came here to honor Mary, to share your love for Our Lady, to honor her with the canonical coronation. A commemoration 50 years later of that coronation.


Then it was Saint John Paul II, who decided in 1997 to make your shrine a minor basilica. That was celebrated here in 1999. A cardinal came from Rome, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship: †Antonio María Cardinal Javierre Ortas, S.D.B., and he was here for that Mass in 1999, in which the shrine became a minor basilica, as it is today.


Like Little Flowers from Her Children

So, we think of all of these honors, all of this recognition, all of this appreciation; and what is it? It's the little way in which we, as a Church, can say thank you to Mary. To show our appreciation to her for all the gifts that she has given us, all the care that she has shown us. All of these things: canonical coronations, elevation to minor basilica, declaration as a shrine, all of these are signs of our love for our Mother.


From Our Lady’s perspective, when she looks at us, she sees us like little children who bring like a little flower to their mother. Every mother, when she receives a flower from her children, she always smiles, even if the flower is very, very humble. In fact, she probably smiles more if the flower is very humble. When a little child gives a gift to his or her mother, it prints joy to her mother's heart. So, all of these honors are in a way, in which we, as the children of Mary, say “Thank you, Mama Mary, for loving us, for caring for us, for hearing our prayers. We are your children, Mama Mary, and we give you all of these honors; but we know that in the eyes of God and in the perspective of eternity, these honors are small things, but the best that we can offer because we love you very much, Our Lady.”


The Church, the House of God 

The liturgy for the dedication of the Church this evening is focused on the idea of the Church as a house. In fact, the opening words which you heard me pray, you heard me say, “Brothers and sisters, we solemnly dedicate this house. Let us humbly call upon the Lord, our God, to bless the water.” Then we blessed the walls of this church with holy water. The idea of a house―the Church is a house. That I see on your parish church, next door, written in Latin it says, “Domus Dei et Porta Caeli”. “Domus Dei” (House of God)―the church is a house.


It's interesting to remember, brothers and sisters, that early Christians didn't build churches for about 200 to 300 years after Christianity began, we didn't build churches, we didn't have churches. There are a number of reasons for that. One was that it was a time of martyrdom and persecution. Catholics were persecuted for their faith. They were martyred for their faith. So, we couldn't have public worship for those first two or three hundred years. We worshiped in homes and houses, house-churches. So, from the beginning, the church is associated with the home.


Of course, the Jews had the Temple in Jerusalem; but that Temple was destroyed in the year 70 C.E. by the Roman soldiers. They destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. Then Christianity begins, but without churches. One because we were persecuted, but also because Christians had the sense that the Lord was coming back soon, and what needed is there to build a church, a building to worship Him, if the Lord is returning this year or next year. That kind of urgency of the Lord's return was powerful in early Christians hearts. We need to rekindle that urgency for the Lord's return in our own time.


We, the Temple of God

For us as Christians, after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans, the new Temple really is the Body of Jesus. The Body of Jesus is the new Temple in which we all enter through the sacraments. Jesus says in the Gospels, and He is criticized, and actually persecuted for saying it. He says, “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up” (cf. Jn. 2:19). They thought He was talking about the physical Temple in Jerusalem, but as the evangelist tells us, He was talking about His Body, that is the Temple of God. We, through baptism and at the Eucharist, we become the Temple of God because Jesus is dwelling in us. So, we are the Temple of God. We are the House of God.


As we heard in our Second Reading this evening (Eph 2:19-22), we are no longer strangers and sojourners, we are fellow citizens with the saints. We are members of the household of God. We are the House of God because Jesus is in us; and He is the Temple of God. Jesus is in us because of our baptism, because of our Eucharist, because of the life of grace in us.


So, the buildings that we now build, in order to pray in, like this beautiful shrine, Basilica of Our Lady of Piat. This shrine gets its name as a church. The word “church” comes from us, the people inside the building. We are the Church in the fundamental sense of the word. We are the Temple of God because Jesus is in us; and we call this building a church because inside this building the Church is worshiping, and we are that church.


When preachers in the Middle Ages would dedicate a church, as we're doing this evening, they'll oftentimes tell the people, as I'm doing this evening, “Think about how beautiful this church is and how you want it to be clean? How you want it to be fragrant with the perfume of incense? How you want it be filled with light?”, as it will be in a moment, and wait for that moment. You want the church to be clean, lighted and fragrant as a building. That should be an image for us personally―that our own souls, our own persons are clean from sin, are filled with light from God's grace, are fragrant with God's love in our own lives. So, there's a parallelism between what we do tonight in this church, in this House of God, and the way we, as the Temples of God, ought to live: filled with light, filled with fragrance, filled with clean and beauty of God.


Our Lady, the House of God

So, in all of these things, we come back to Mary and we think about the Church as the House of God. We think about ourselves as the Temples of God, Jesus dwelling in us. There's no one in the history of the world who has received Jesus more intimately, more closely than Mama Mary, than Our Lady. In fact, when we pray to her, we call her a “house”. We pray the Litany of Loreto, we say to Mary, you are the “House of Gold”. You are the “Ark of the Covenant”.


Why is she a house? Why is she made a symbol of a house? Because in Mary, Jesus dwells. In Mary's womb, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Brothers and sisters, the history of the world, the history of the cosmos, changed 2,000 years ago when a young girl, a teenage girl in Nazareth (Nazareth was not the capital. Nazareth is in the provinces of Israel.) When that girl said “yes” to the Angel Gabriel, everything changed. The Word became flesh, dwelt in her womb, dwelt among us. She became the House of God. She became an image of the Church. She became our Mother, because all of us through Baptism, are united with Christ and become her children. The way Jesus is her Son in an analogous way.


Conclusion

So, all of these themes tonight come together. The Church as the House of God, we as the Temple of God, Mary as the House in which God has dwelled. Mary, who loves us so much, who looks on us with love this evening. We, as I said earlier, like children tonight bringing flowers to our mother. We can be sure that Mary looks at us this evening, and in her loving eyes she smiles at us, because she loves us so much.


So, dear brothers and sisters, as we continue this liturgy, let us ask for the grace to live interiorly what we see exteriorly in the church: to be filled with light, fragrance, and with purity, as we see in this beautiful church, this beautiful building that is dedicated this evening.


For me as the representative of Pope Francis, gives me so much joy to be with you tonight, at this historic moment, the rededication, we can say, of this glorious basilica of Our Lady of Piat.


May God bless you!


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