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St Paul the First Hermit: Patron for the Year of Prayer

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

“[I] consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him…” (Philippians 3:8-9a).

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this morning in this beautiful Cathedral Parish of Saint Paul the First Hermit, here in San Pablo City, Laguna. For me as your Apostolic Nuncio, it gives me so much joy and happiness to be part of your Parish and Cathedral Fiesta Celebration this year, 2024.

I'm delighted to be here with your Apostolic Administrator, His Excellency the Most Rev. Mylo Hubert C. Vergara. I was very grateful for the invitation that was extended to me by Msgr. Jerry Bitoon, the rector and the parish priest of the cathedral, to join you this morning. Of course, during our Mass this morning, we pray in a special way for the good health of Bishop Buenaventura Famadico, who, as all of you know, resigned his office as Bishop last September. He's with us spiritually at Mass, and we pray for his good health, and his complete recovery.

Year of Prayer, 2024

Brothers and sisters, we celebrate this feast day of Saint Paul the First Hermit, St. Paul the Anchorite, he's also called, or St. Paul of Thebes.

We celebrate this wonderful saint, your patron in this cathedral, which I believe, if I'm not mistaken, is the only cathedral in the entire world dedicated to Saint Paul the First Hermit.

We celebrate this Mass and we celebrate this Fiesta under the patronage of Saint Paul the Hermit during this Year of Prayer. 2024 has been declared by Pope Francis to be a Year of Prayer, which is leading up to the Great Jubilee Year 2025. Which will be next year. Every 25 years or so, the Church Universal celebrates a Jubilee year, in which we call the Gift of Christ and the Gift of Redemption; and the most recent Jubilee year was during the Year of Mercy, not so long ago. Pope Francis has asked us to have another Jubilee Year 2025; and to prepare for that, this year that we're in right now is the Year of Prayer.

Saint Paul the Hermit, an Example of Prayer Life

We couldn't have an example or a patron more appropriate for the Year of Prayer than your patron saint, Saint Paul the Hermit. Let me explain why. Let me tell you first of all that Saint Paul the Hermit, as you probably know, was from Egypt. He lived in the 3rd and 4th centuries. He was born in the year 227, and he died in the year 341. If you do the math, that means he was 113 or 114 years old. He lived a very, very long life. Why is he important for this Year of Prayer? Because he is a bridge. He is a transition figure in the history of the Church.

The first, we can say, 250 years of the Church's history, from the birth of Jesus to about the year 270, were years of fierce and relentless persecution of the Catholic faith: the years of the Roman persecution, which took different forms under different Roman emperors. So during that first, say, 250 or 300 years, the Church was severely persecuted. We have all of those martyrs The early Christian martyrs from that initial period of Church history, that first 250 or 300 years. Wonderful, glorious virgin martyrs: these young girls, young women, who refused to renounce their faith in Jesus and who were martyred for their faith. There's a statue of one of them right next to me here, Saint Cecilia, the early Christian martyr teenage girl who was faithful to Jesus even unto death. Those first 250 years / 300 years of martyrdom: Cecilia, Anastasia, Agnes, Lucy ... so many martyrs. And among the men: martyrs like St. Sebastian. Many martyrs during that period.

But then in the year 313, Christianity was no longer persecuted. Christianity became no longer a crime in the Roman Empire. So in 313 this persecution period ended and a new period began. A new stage of Christian history. We went from the period of the martyrs - the period of persecution, to the period of the monks - the period of prayer.

Why? Because after the time of martyrdom, Christians who wanted to live their life as Christians to the full, who wanted a radical commitment to Jesus, to know Him, to love Him, to follow Him, to count everything as loss because of the supreme good of knowing Jesus. In the first 250 or 300 years that was expressed in martyrdom, then it began to be expressed in the life of prayer, the life of the monks. This is a long way of me explaining to you why your patron is so important, because he is the first in this second period, the first of the hermits, the first of the men and women of prayer who left the cities and went into the deserts of Upper Egypt, to live as desert dwellers in the desert, totally consumed by prayer, praying day in and day out.

Saint Paul is the first hermit.

You know, “hermit”, means a desert dweller, someone who goes to the desert to pray. Saint Paul the Hermit was born in 227. When he was born, the persecution period was still raging against the Church, and maybe he knew martyrs during his youth. Then that ended. He went into the desert to pray, to have his life completely dedicated to prayer as a hermit, as a monk.

Monk, the original word “μόνος” (monos) means to be alone, alone with God, to seek the one thing necessary, to sit at the feet of Jesus in prayer, to listen to His words, to adore Him, to pray to Him, to know Him.

So Saint Paul the Hermit is the perfect patron, the perfect example for the Year of Prayer that we're in right now, 2024.

The Primacy of Prayer

That's one reason why I'm so happy to be with you here in your cathedral for this parish fiesta. Saint Paul, the First Hermit, teaches us the primacy of prayer. That means that all of us as Christians need to put prayer in the first place. We need to be men and women of prayer. Jesus tells us that in the gospel. He asks us to be like children. He says, “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son”, but He says “these things are hidden from the wise and the learned but are revealed to the childlike”.

We need to be childlike in our prayer. We need to be people consumed by prayer if we are going to be Christians in today's world. Maybe in the past, it was possible to live a Christian life with a little bit of prayer; but now, with all the, you can say, opposition to Christian life in the world, we need, like Saint Paul the First Hermit to be men and women of prayer. Otherwise, our Christian life is not going to survive in our hearts.

Childlike Quality in Prayer

We need to have that childlike quality. We have an English, you know those two words, we have “childlike” and we have “childish”. We say parents tell their children “Don't be childish”, right? Childish means the negative qualities of being a child. Childish means being spoiled, or immature, or self-centered. That's childish. Don't be childish, but be childlike. What is childlike? Innocent, trusting, believing. Children believe what they are told by us. That's why it's so important for us to teach them the truth. Children are trusting. And if we want to be men and women of prayer, we need to learn to trust Jesus like a child. Be like a child in front of Him. He says that again and again in the gospel, “Unless you change, become like children, you cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18:3).

Children are trustful. We need to trust Jesus and that trust grows when we pray. When we pray, trust grows in our hearts. We learn to seek the one thing that's necessary in this world. That's to know and to love Jesus. To sit at His feet the way Saint Paul the Hermit did in the deserts of Egypt. To know Jesus, to be childlike in front of Him, to trust Him, to depend on him, to know that He is with us.

If we do that, we will be wise and learned in the most important things. Wise and learned in the sentiments of the heart of Jesus. It's not the intelligent people who go first into the Kingdom of God necessarily. It's the people who have the spirit of prayer, the people who are childlike, not the wise and the learned but those who have a childlike confidence in Jesus.

It doesn't matter whether you are poor or rich, whether you ride in a beautiful automobile or you ride in a tricycle. What's important is that trusting love of the Lord, which we find through prayer. This year of prayer is designed to help us to rediscover the beauty of prayer.

So, brothers and sisters, be men and women of prayer. Have a rule of prayer in your life. What do I mean by a rule? The monks have rules that they follow. They do things at certain points during the day. That's how they keep their life regular, productive, consistent, and constant. We need to have the same thing, a rule of prayer. It should be a simple rule of prayer, a doable rule of prayer. Things that we do every day. Don't make it too exaggerated, too glorious. Make it doable. Make it something you can actually accomplish. Say to the Lord every day “I will pray for five minutes in the morning”, “I will pray before every meal”. Maybe you can say to the Lord “I will pray the rosary every day”, or you can say the Lord “I will make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament even for five minutes or ten minutes every day”.

Make a rule of prayer.

Make one that's doable, make one that's realistic, and then keep to it. Keep to your promise, and make a promise, a rule of prayer during this beautiful Year of Prayer. Then that childlike trust will grow in your heart and you will know God more and more.

A theologian is not necessarily one who reads and writes many books. It's someone who knows Jesus, who knows Jesus. “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son.” Through prayer we move in “knowledge of the Lord, the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord”, as Saint Paul says in his letter to the Philippians.


So, brothers and sisters, for me as your Apostolic Nuncio, it gives me so much joy to begin this Year of Prayer with you, in this wonderful cathedral, for your fiesta under the patronage of Saint Paul the Hermit, a man of prayer, a man who teaches us how to pray.

Of course, when we pray, we always need to pray under the watchful eyes of Our Lady. She is the master of prayer, the teacher of prayer. That's why I said earlier, praying the rosary is such a beautiful way of allowing that childlike trust and confidence in the Lord to grow in our hearts to pray the rosary. It's something that's possible for all of us. For commuting, you can be praying the rosary, kind of silently and surreptitiously in the jeepney, or when you're walking to work. Find time for the rosary. Find time for Mary. Allow Mary to be your Mother and your Queen. Allow her to bless you. Allow her to shower the blessings of God, to intercede for you, to give you the blessings of God in your life.

So, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I wish you a most wonderful fiesta. I ask you to make the most of this Year of Prayer, which has been called by Pope Francis. I ask you to remember Pope Francis in your prayers, as I always do, and remember me also your Apostolic Nuncio.

God bless you and happy parish Fiesta.

Transcribed by Joel V. Ocampo

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