Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines Archbishop James Brown's homily in celebration of the Feast of the Sto. Niño
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, as I said at the beginning of mass, for me, as your new nuncio here in the Philippines, gives me lots of joy, lots of happiness to be with you to celebrate this mass as part of the novena for the Sto. Nino.
I was very, very happy when Fr. Sanny wrote to me at the nunciature inviting me to come and celebrate this mass with you. Because as I said at the beginning, I know the story of the destruction of your church because of the terrible fire back on July 10th and I just want to assure you of the closeness of Pope Francis to all of you the parishioners here at Sto. Nino Parish. His closeness to you...
Pope Francis has, all of you know, a special love for the Filipino people, a special closeness. He had his famous visit here six years ago which has remained very close to his heart and for me as his envoy, as his ambassador here in the Philippines, it is my responsibility to convey to you his best wishes for your parish feast day and also to tell you that all of us will do our best to help you as you go forward in the rebuilding of your church.
The gospel today is a gospel that relates a miracle. Jesus is approached by a leper, someone with a terrible skin disease. Someone who because of his disease is shunned by the community, was left abandoned and living in isolation. A terrible thing to have those two afflictions: the physical affliction of sickness, and also the psychological and spiritual affliction of being abandoned and isolated. And he comes to Jesus, and he wants to be healed.
It’s very interesting in the dialogue. The man says to Jesus, the leper says to Jesus, “If you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus responds first by speaking, “I do will it. I do want to. Be made clean.” So we have the words of Jesus: “Be made clean.”
What is interesting, this miracle story, like almost all the miracle stories in the Gospel is not only Jesus’ word that heals but also something else that’s mentioned in the Gospel. Jesus stretched out his hand, touched the leper while he said to him, “I do will it. Be clean.”
So we have those two things. With the touch of Jesus, the physical contact of Jesus touching the leper and by that physical contact, spiritual force, grace, and healing flowed in to the leper and healed him. But also the word of Jesus: “Be made clean.” Word and touch.
The soonest sense, that’s what happens during the holy mass. We listen to the Word of Jesus, his promises to us. We meditate on his words, he speaks to our hearts, and then he touches us in holy communion. Communion, the Holy Eucharist, is the Body, the Blood, the Soul and Divinity of Jesus who touches us, who heals us every time we receive him in the Eucharist.
So what we read in the gospel today is happening in every time we celebrate mass. The Word of Jesus that we listen to in the readings, the Liturgy of the Word, the touch of Jesus as we receive him in the beautiful sacrament of the Eucharist as he comes into our lives.
Interesting, in the same gospel of St. Mark, there’s another story later on in the gospel. We’re reading today from the first chapter of Mark’s gospel but in several weeks we get to the eighth chapter of St. Mark’s gospel where there’s another healing story like this one. It’s a blind man this time, who wants to see and he comes to Jesus and he says I want to see. And Jesus then anoints the man’s eyes with his spit. He actually puts his spittle, his saliva, on his yes. And he says to the man (so we have this very graphic physical touch of the saliva of Jesus anointing his eyes), “Can you see?” And the man blinks and says, “I can see but people look like trees walking.” And then Jesus touches him a second time. And then he is able to see perfectly.
So in that miracle story, Jesus touched the man twice. Whereas in tonight’s miracle story, he only touched the leper once. Why does the Gospel of Mark include this other story? To teach us that we need to be touched by Jesus again and again and again. That our cleansing, our healing is not something that happens only once like in the gospel tonight. But needs to happen again and again as the blind man was touched twice by Jesus and was able to see. Our healing is a progressive healing.
Of course the miracles that we read about in the gospels are physical healings. Physical miracles of people who are sick and who are blind and then were able to see and were liberated from their sickness. But all of those miracle stories are ways of teaching us what happens to us invisibly in a way that we can’t see in our hearts when we receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist and in the sacraments.
All of the physical miracle stories, paralytics, lepers, blind people, all kinds of people afflicted with physical problems, all of these people were truly healed by Jesus. But in order to teach us with the visible example, what his grace does to us in a spiritual way as Catholics, healing us and changing us. Because Jesus wants to give us really the gift of a new heart.
And that is the theme of our responsorial psalm tonight and also of the first reading. “If today you hear his voice harden not your hearts.” Open your hearts to Jesus. Allow him to touch you, allow him to change you, allow him to transform you little by little, step by step as we go forward towards the kingdom of God.
In the first reading we heard, “Take care brothers and sisters that none of you has an evil and unfaithful heart.” Allow your heart to be changed. Allow your heart to be changed, to become partners of Christ. If we hold out to the end with the promise that we have received. So persevering (again this idea) of hearing the Word of Jesus again and again, receiving the touch of Jesus again and again, holding from the beginning the promise that we received all the way to the end.
Perseverance is very important in our spiritual lives. To persevere in receiving the word and the touch of Jesus. You will be tested in your perseverance as you build your new church. I’m sure we have plans and hopes that, I don’t know, within six months we’ll have a gleaming and beautiful church here on this parish grounds. But that’s unlikely. It will probably be a long process, a process requiring sacrifice on the part of everybody.
But little by little by perseverance, a new church will rise here in this beautiful parish.
I’m very happy to see also some of you with your images of the Sto. Nino which we’re going to bless at the end of mass today and over with a special prayer. The Sto. Nino is an image of Jesus as a child showing us the humility of Jesus, showing us the obedience of Jesus to Mary and Joseph at Nazareth. But the child Jesus, the Sto. Nino, is also our God and our Lord - the one who heals us, the one who changes us by his Word, by his touch in the sacraments.
So for me, as you can tell, as your papal nuncio, I’m very delighted to be with you this evening. I want to assure you for the third time of my prayers and my help for you as you rebuild your church.
In the opening prayer we prayed that we would embrace God’s will in all things. Embrace God’s will in all things - that’s the opening prayer for the mass of the Sto. Nino. Receiving God’s will even when things happened that are not according to our plan like the destruction of a beautiful church. We embrace God’s will. We accept it as God’s will and we go forward with faith, hope and love and with perseverance - determined to build and rebuild a beautiful church, the house of the people of God here in this wonderful parish.
So may God bless you. Please pray for Pope Francis, he always asks us to pray for him. Pray for me as your newly arrived nuncio and I certainly will be praying and helping you as you go forward with the reconstruction of your church.
Archbishop Brown receiving a replica of the Sto. Niño de Pandacan ||Photo by Manila Public Information Office