Homily of Papal Nuncio Archbishop Charles John Brown
At the Eucharistic Celebration for the Feast of Mary, Mother of Good Counsel Parish,
Diocese of Parañaque
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ here in Mary Mother of Good Counsel Parish in the Diocese of Paranaque, it gives me so much joy as your Apostolic Nuncio to be with you for this 42nd Parish Fiesta. And I am incredibly grateful to Msgr. Melchor David, your parish priest, for allowing me to come here to your wonderful parish to celebrate this Fiesta with you ... This is my second visit to your parish. My first visit was on the first Sunday of Advent of 2020. I had flown all night actually from New York City from JFK ... I arrived at the airport as your newly appointed Apostolic Nuncio. And at the airport, the first thing I did in the country of the Philippines was to come to your parish. The first thing.
Entrusting My Mission
And why did I do that? I did that because I had been Apostolic Nuncio in the country of Albania, where your beautiful image of Our Lady of Good Counsel has its origins. And so I felt that I wanted to come from a country, Albania, which is dedicated to Our Lady of Good Counsel, to the Philippines and then to entrust my mission as your Apostolic Nuncio to Our Lady, Mother of Good Counsel. And that's why I came here and I was received so graciously by Msgr. Melchor David and all of you on that day, in November 29th of 2020.
And it's been a year and a half since then! I didn't expect when I arrived that day that we'd still be facing the COVID pandemic even now, a year and a half later. But I do feel, I kind of believe, that we're near the end of this story. And soon we will be able to say “The mask is over, go in peace”. But at the moment, we still have our masks on and we are obedient and respectful of all the rules and regulations in order to avoid a recurrence or another surge of the virus.
42nd Parish Fiesta
Your beautiful parish is celebrating the 42nd Parish Fiesta. It was established in May of 1979 by the Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Sin. In October of 1986, the church was solemnly dedicated by Cardinal Sin. Since the establishment of your parish you've had at least 12 priests, parish priests called pastors, one of whom is also with us.
So we celebrate this beautiful feast day today and the gospel that we read is the gospel of the Wedding Feast at Cana in which our Lady gives us her good counsel.
What does good counsel mean? It means good advice. And what does Mary tell us always? “Do whatever He tells you.”
Mary is always pointing us to Jesus. She's always indicating Jesus. In all the icons of Mary, she's always showing us Jesus, her son, God made man. And so we see Mary at the Wedding Feast of Cana. Mary, who is kind of like any good mother, like any loving mother, behind the scenes watching. And she sees a potential embarrassment for this newly married couple that they're going to run out of wine, she notices it. And it's she who then comes to her son and asks him to do something to help.
So Mary is kind of in the background of the gospel, but having an incredible influence, because the first of Jesus' miracles takes place at the request of Mary - at the request of his mother. But she's not pushing herself out in front of everyone. She's not calling attention to herself. She's pointing to Jesus.
(W) hen we become devotees of Mary, when we pray to Mary, when we begin to live with the spirit of Mary, we begin to feel her presence in our lives. And her presence, which is like the presence in the Gospel today, a kind of a presence is in the background - organizing, arranging, protecting, helping. That's the way Mary is for us as her children.
Just like she was in the Wedding Feast of Cana. Protecting us, not putting herself out in front, making a big show, but in a silent way of entry in our hearts and in our lives and arranging things for us for our own good.
So please be faithful devotees of Mary, especially by praying the rosary. Because then Mary begins to operate, we can say, like a good mother in our lives, in this silent maternal way. So the good counsel is: “Do whatever Jesus tells you”. But that good counsel, in my mind, is really the second good counsel that Mary experienced because she tells us: “Do whatever Jesus tells you to do”.
Saying Yes to God
But let's go back 30 years before the wedding feast of Cana. Let's leave Cana in our imaginations and go to a city near Cana called Nazareth, where we see a young girl, certainly a teenager, probably 17,18, 19 years old, who has this amazing experience of the angel - the angel asking her to be the mother of God; the angel asking her to say yes to God. And of course, Mary says, “Let it be done to me according to Thy word”.
But it's very interesting when the angel is speaking to Mary at a certain point, the angel tells Mary about Mary's kinswoman, her cousin Elizabeth, who is too old to have a baby yet is pregnant in a miraculous way. And the angel says to Mary these beautiful words talking about Elizabeth and Elizabeth's miraculous pregnancy; the angel Gabriel says to Mary that nothing will be impossible to God.
And maybe that's the other good counsel that Mary tells us tonight. Nothing is impossible with God. And actually the words that the angel said in the original Greek are: “No word with God will ever fail”.
We translate that into English and Tagalog as “nothing is impossible for God”. And if we stay close to Mary, Mary in her silent way makes us understand what she heard from the angel. That for us, nothing is impossible for God. All things are possible if we have faith, if we pray. Of course God's ways are not always our ways. The things that we want in our lives are not always the things that God knows are best for us. But we know that with God, all things are possible. Everything is possible. And when we entrust ourselves to Mary, that incredible possibility of God becomes possible in our lives also.
So those two good counsels, “Do whatever he tells you” and “Nothing is impossible for God”. Those words “Nothing is impossible for God” makes us think a little bit about the history of this beautiful image of Mary, Mother of Good Counsel.
Rescued by Angels
As I mentioned to you, that image was in a church in the country of Albania. And the tradition is that in 1467, on the day of the Feast of St. Mark, April 25th, this day, 555 years ago, the image as we saw, represented dramatically so wonderfully by the children, was brought by angels across the Adriatic Sea from Albania to Italy, to the town of Genazzano, where the image is today, in Genazzano and where you can see the image.
But the image came from the country of Albania in 1467. And what was the context? What was happening in Albania in 1467? Albania was a Christian country that was being besieged by the Ottoman forces, the Ottoman army, which is a non-Christian army, which was slowly conquering that area of the Balkans. And the armies of the Ottomans were approaching the city where this image was in 1467. The city, as we heard in our presentation, Scutari, in italiano Scutari, but in Albanian it's called Shkodra or Shkodër in Albania. That's what this image was. And the non-Christian forces were slowly encircling the city. And at that point in 1467, the angels came and took the image, rescued the image because 12 years after that, the city of Shkodër fell. It was conquered by the Ottomans. And the church where this beautiful image was, was destroyed, razed to the ground, was completely obliterated. That was in 1479. Just think about that. That's 50 years more or less before the Catholic faith arrived here in the beautiful Philippine Islands. 50 years before Magellan arrived here.
Scutari was conquered by the Ottomans. The church was destroyed but fortunately, the angels had brought the image to safety in Italy, where the image remains today,
The Catholics of Scutari or Shkodër suffered for centuries under a non-Christian domination and many of them slowly left the Christian faith. But some kept faithful during all those centuries and only in 1917, that's 400 years later, did the authorities allow the Christians of Scutari, of Shkodër, to rebuild their church in honor of Mary in honor of the Mother of Good Counsel.
And so they did. In 1917, they rebuilt their church with great joy, after having gone 400 years without the church, an amazing testament to the Albanian people, these wonderful noble people who have kept the Catholic faith in times of great difficulty.
Nothing is Impossible for God
But the difficulty is there and this is why I'm reflecting with you on the history because it shows that nothing is impossible for God. When the Ottomans destroyed their church in 1479, they probably, many of them thought, that's the end of Christianity here. The story is finished, But it wasn't finished.
They kept the faith and they rebuilt their church in 1917. But then you know, brothers and sisters, what happened after that, after the Second World War in the 1940s, the Marxist-Leninists gained control in Albania and they closed the church. And then in the 1960s they destroyed the church again.
So this church that had been built, in which countless people prayed in front of the Mother of Good Counsel was destroyed first by the Ottomans, destroyed a second time by the Marxist-Leninists in the 1960s.
St. John Paul II & St. Mother Teresa
And then in 1993, on this day, April 25th, two saints went to Shkodra. And you can guess who one of them is - St. John Paul II and the other one was an Albanian saint, Mother Teresa of Calcutta. On this day, in 1993, 29 years ago today, they went to Shkodra and they blessed the stone with which they rebuilt for the third time, their church in Shkodra, where it exists today and where I, as Apostolic Nuncio in Albania, this wonderful country of Albania, where I celebrated mass many, many times in which you perhaps on a pilgrimage someday could go and see the original church rebuilt for the third time because brothers and sisters, believe me, nothing is impossible for God.
We should never lose faith in His power. Any darkness, any sin, any opposition is invincible in front of the light of Jesus Christ risen from the dead.
And we are in the Easter season in which we contemplate and rejoice in Jesus resurrected from the dead. Jesus, the conqueror of sin and death. We see that again and again in our history. You've seen it in your own Filipino history in many instances.
So Mary is telling us tonight those two things. Remember always: “Do whatever Jesus tells you’. And remember: “Nothing is impossible for God”. God can work miracles.
So dear brothers and sisters, for me as your Apostolic Nuncio, you can see that I'm very happy to be with you in this beautiful church to celebrate your 42nd Parish Fiesta, to thank God for the gift of our Catholic faith. After 500 years here in the Philippines, a gift that Filipino Catholics are bringing all over the world.
Pope Francis has a great love and affection for the Filipino people. And whenever I'm with him, he always asks me to remind you to pray for him, because he wants you and he asks you and he needs your prayers. So let's pray and especially during our mass tonight, for Pope Francis, who himself has visited Albania early on in his pontificate. In fact, Albania for Pope Francis was the first European country he ever visited. Obviously Italy, he was made Pope in Italy, but after Italy, the first European country he went to see was Albania because of the fidelity of the Albanian Catholics.
So may God bless you! Blessed Fiesta! Thank you for the beautiful presentation before mass. Viva la Virgen!
Transcribed by Gel Katalbas
Photos from Chris M. Cabe