Homily of H.E. Most Rev. Charles John Brown, D.D., Apostolic Nuncio To The Philippines,
Welcome Ceremonies of the 5th Philippine Visit
of the Pilgrim Relics of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus
Shrine of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus | January 2, 2023
Gospel: Matthew 18:1-4
“Amen, I say to you, unless you change and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18:3).
Your Excellency, the Most Rev. Oscar Jaime L. Florencio, D.D., Bishop of Military Ordinariate of the Philippines; His Excellency the Most Rev. Ramon C. Arguelles, D.D., Archbishop-Emeritus of Lipa; Her Excellency Michèle Boccoz, Ambassador of the French Republic [to the Philippines]; members of the Armed Services, all uniformed services here in the Philippines, brothers and sisters in Christ:
It gives me so much joy and happiness to be with you this evening for the arrival - the fifth arrival - of the relics of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus here in the Philippines today, on the second day of January 2023, which is precisely the 150th anniversary of the birth of Saint Thérèse in France.
So here on her birthday, she celebrates her birthday, we can say, by joining you, her Filipino devotees: those of you who love Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus. She has come to you, to be with you, to celebrate her birthday. And how beautiful that is.
Saint Thérèse, as we know, is the Saint of the “Little Way”. She writes: “Jesus has chosen to show me the only way which leads to the Divine Furnace of Love”, a burning furnace of love. She said, that way “is the way of childlike self-surrender, the way of a child who sleeps, afraid of nothing, in its father’s arms.”
File photo from Shrine of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus Facebook page
Littleness, the Fastest Way to God
Thérèse, in her life, incarnated the Gospel that we heard this evening: “unless you change and become like little children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.”
Those words are especially eloquent for us this evening because we are still basking in the joy of Christmas; we're still in the Christmas Season. And what is Christmas but the feast of God's closeness, the feast of God's tenderness, the feast of God's littleness, we can say, because we as Christians believe that the God who made the universe, this immense and amazing cosmos, which is so huge and has existed for so long, that God became a child.
Became a baby, the son of Mary; the baby Jesus, the Santo Niño. God has come close to us. God has become a child to be close to us. The Santo Niño, the Child in Bethlehem. God's tenderness, His closeness, His littleness. Those are the themes of Christmas. Those are the themes that we see in our Catholic faith. This amazing closeness of God.
God chose Our Lady, a teenage girl living in the town of Nazareth to be His mother. To bring Him into the world by her “yes.” By her complete surrender to God's plan. God chose Mary. She wasn't in the capital city. She was in the provinces. She wasn't an important person. She was a teenage girl engaged to be married. God chose her in her littleness, to bring God into this world as a child: Jesus.
Think about how Jesus is born. He is born in Bethlehem, in poverty, in the stable. In this scene of poverty, of obscurity, God becomes man in the baby Jesus in the manger. Who are the first people outside of Mary and Joseph who come to adore the closeness of God and the baby Jesus? It's the simple shepherds, the little people, the uneducated people, the men who spent their time with their flocks in the fields, watching them. Uneducated people – they are the first who come to adore God-made-man.
This Sunday, we will celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. When the three Magi, the three kings arrive at Bethlehem to worship the child Jesus. But think about the contrast: the simple shepherds, the uneducated people have a very short journey to visit baby Jesus in Bethlehem, they were close. The intellectuals, the kings, the powerful, the educated Magi have a long journey to make. They come because Jesus is here for all of us. He is God-made-man for each and every one of us: educated or uneducated. But littleness is the fastest way to God.
Greatness in Littleness
That's what Saint Thérèse teaches us:
Littleness, self surrender, humility is the shortcut to God.
Because that was God's shortcut to us in the incarnation. Saint Thérèse shows us this “little way” in every moment of her life because of her greatness as a “saint of littleness”. And we think about the paradox of “her greatness is in her littleness”: she becomes a saint. A saint who is loved throughout the entire world: from France, to the United States of America.
I celebrated Mass here in October of last year, October of 2021, and I told you that my first Mass as a priest was celebrated in the church dedicated to Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus in the state of New York, my parish church dedicated to this wonderful saint. I celebrated my first mass at her altar, back in 1989.
Her greatness is in her littleness; and she's loved throughout the entire world. She's appreciated and venerated throughout the entire world; and we here in the Philippines, continuing that devotion in her fifth pilgrimage here to your beautiful country.
Photo from 5th Visit of the Relics of St. Therese to the Philippines Facebook page
Saint Thérèse and Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI
As we reflect on this “saint of littleness”, and at the time of Christmas, our minds also, and for me obviously as your Papal Nuncio, go to Rome, and these days where the Church has lost a great figure. The figure of Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI. A Pope for whom I worked very closely for many years in Rome. A Pope whom I knew personally very well, who's gone to God two days ago; and let me, as your Apostolic Nuncio, ask all of you in the Philippines to offer prayers now for his speedy entrance into the heavenly Jerusalem above. Pray for Pope-Emeritus Benedict at this moment, as he passes from this world into the life of the world to come.
What an amazing contrast between these two figures: Thérèse who entered the convent when she was 15 years old, a simple girl in the provinces of France, who died of tuberculosis when she was 24; and Pope Benedict, a great intellectual, a great scholar, master of many languages, who knew all of philosophy, who lived on this earth for 95 years. That’s 71 years longer than Thérèse. How different these two figures are, and yet how much the same. Because they had, and I can tell you, the same simple faith in Jesus, that we see in Saint Thérèse, that we see in Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI.
He spoke about Thérèse in April of 2011, in one of his Wednesday audiences. He spoke about her in these words, and let me read them to you. He said, “Thérèse shows us a very simple and hidden life; but she is someone who, after her death and the publication of her writings, became one of the best-known and best-loved saints. ‘Little Thérèse’ has never stopped helping the simplest souls, the little, the poor and the suffering who pray to her.” Then he went on to say that “Thérèse is one of the ‘little’ ones of the Gospel who let themselves be led by God to the depths of his Mystery”.*
“One of the ‘little’ ones of the Gospel who let themselves be led by God to the depths of his Mystery.” The mystery of God’s love. So everything that Pope Benedict XVI preached and wrote about and studied, all of it we see in the faith of Saint Thérèse. This simple girl, this radiant saint.
[…] Pope Benedict XVI was one of the little ones of God who had a simple faith. A faith that he was able to express eloquently and philosophically, and theologically, but a faith that was simple, a faith that was of the little ones. How should we imitate that simplicity? Whoever we are, whatever our accomplishments may be, follow the little way. Be simple. Think of the faith of your grandparents and great grandparents, and their simplicity; and follow that. Because that - as Pope Benedict said about Saint Thérèse - that is the way that leads by God to the depths of his Mystery, in His littleness.
I wish you all a very Happy New Year, a year of blessing and prosperity to all of you here in the Philippines. I ask you once again to pray for Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI in these days.
Let's allow ourselves to be led by Our Lady who is the first to receive the littleness of God in the child Jesus at Christmas. Let's allow her to lead us forward as faithful Catholics in today's world. May God bless you!
Transcribed by Joel V. Ocampo
*Read the full text of the message
of Pope Benedict XVI on St. Therese
of Lisieux HERE.