Homily of His Excellency the Most Rev. Charles John Brown D.D.,
Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines
June 25, 2023 | Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
8th Day of Novena Mass in Honor of Our Mother of Perpetual Help
National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help (Baclaran Church)
“Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Mt. 10:29-31).
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, and fellow devotees of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, for me as your Apostolic Nuncio, it gives me so much joy and happiness this evening to be with you here in this beautiful National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, in this 75th Year of the Baclaran Novena, the Diamond Jubilee of this wonderful expression of Filipino devotion to Our Lady, Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
I am very delighted this evening to be with Rev. Fr. Rico John Bilangel, C.Ss.R., who is the Rector of the Shrine. Also, in a very special way, I'm delighted to be here with the Superior General of the Redemptorists Order, Father Rogério Gomes, C.Ss.R., who is here visiting the Philippines in these days. It's an honor to have you here, Father, and we are certainly grateful for all the work of the Redemptorists here in the Philippines, and indeed throughout the entire world.
So, here we are, celebrating this Eighth Day of the Novena of Our Lady, Our Mother of Perpetual Help, and the emphasis on our liturgy this evening is on the question of being afraid and not being afraid. Jesus tells us in the Gospel (Mt 10:26-33) this evening, “Do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows”.
Our Mother Who Comforts Us
All of us as devotees of Our Lady, all of us come to her, to Mama Mary, Our Mother Perpetual Help with our fears, our concerns, our worries, our petitions, our supplications. We come to her as her children. We come to her with all of the difficulties that we face, knowing that she is our Mother of Perpetual Help.
What does “perpetual” mean in English? It means “always and forever.” “Always and forever.” That's what “perpetual” means. She is the perpetual one who helps us, always and forever. She helps us to overcome our fears because she helps us to recognize and to understand what Jesus tells us in the Gospel this evening: Do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Every single hair on your head is counted by God.
He knows you, He cares for you, and He gives you the gift of Mary, Mama Mary, to be your mother.
In this famous image of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, which has been entrusted to the Redemptorists Order, we have that image of Jesus in the arms of Mary, and He's looking, as we know, at the cross held by the Angel. We can imagine, and many people who have reflected on the iconography of the image of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, have made the interpretation that maybe the baby Jesus has had some kind of intuition, some kind of preview, some kind of foreshadowing, that the cross will be part of His life, and He's afraid. He runs to Mary His mother, His virgin mother.
Some of the interpretations of the image, of the icon, say that He runs so fast that He loses one of His sandals, and that's why one of the sandals on the baby Jesus is hanging by its lace. He runs to Mary and He holds her hand, He holds the hand of Mary, and He is comforted in her arms. Mary comforting the baby Jesus, Mary caring for the baby Jesus, Mary who is our mother, who comforts us.
But you know brothers and sisters? Mary herself, this amazing human being, the one chosen by God, the teenage girl of Nazareth, through whom “the word became flesh,” she herself, at times was afraid. Remember when the Angel Gabriel came to her, in her home in Nazareth, and says “Hail full of grace the Lord is with you!”, and Mary, the Gospel tells us, was deeply troubled (cf. Lk. 1:29). She was worried. She was frightened by the words of the Angel; but the Angel then immediately tells her, “Mary do not be afraid I bring you tidings of great joy” (cf. Lk. 1:30).
So, Mary herself was comforted by God, through the Angel. The Angel brought the comfort of God to Mary when she was nervous and afraid. So, Mary is the one who receives that comfort, receives that help of God by the message of the Angel. Of course, then, she says “yes” to God's plan. “Let it be done to me according to your word.” “Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum” (Lk. 1:38). “Let it be done to me according to your word”, and at that moment, the baby Jesus becomes flesh in her womb. So, Mary is comforted, and then Mary becomes the one, who in the image, is comforting the baby Jesus when He is frightened and He is disturbed.
The Comfort that Comes from God
The same thing is true for us, all of us crowded in Baclaran Church this evening, on this Eighth Day of the Novena. All of us have our fears, don't we? All of us have our concerns and our worries; but we come with great confidence in Mary, in front of her miraculous image. Knowing that this image, this icon has worked miracles. Because it transmits the loving presence of Mary, the loving perpetual help of Mary. The help of Mary which is always and forever. Always helping those who have recourse to her. Jesus receives her help, in the image.
We think about how the gospel begins with Mary, troubled and then comforted. Mary who was afraid, and then received strength, at the beginning of the gospel; but then it's repeated again. The same dynamic, the same story, at the end of the Gospel, in the Garden of Gethsemane. When Jesus is about to be betrayed by Judas, and knows that He is going to the cross. Of course, in the Garden of Gethsemane, He trembles. He's filled with anguish, and He sweats blood in his anguish; but we believe, and we know that God sent the Angel to comfort the Lord, to comfort Jesus at that moment. Kind of fulfilling at that moment in the Garden of Gethsemane, what is perhaps imaged in the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Mary who comforts Jesus when He sees the cross in the distance, when He sees the preview of the cross, and then in Gethsemane, Jesus comforted by the Angel.
Our religion is a religion of truth. We believe, we confess that Jesus is true God and true man. That confession, the fact that we believe, gives us comfort. It gives us strength. It helps us to overcome our fears, because know that we are loved by God. We know that no matter what the circumstances of our life is, “all the hairs on our head have been numbered”. Which shows the infinite love of God for each and every one of His children. We are His children. We are children of God. We've been baptized into the Body of Christ, as Catholic Christians. We are children of Mama Mary. Today we rejoice in that. We rejoice in the comfort that she gives us.
Exhortation to Pray
I, during this Mass, will be praying for all of the intentions, that each and every one of you is bringing to this novena. This experience of nine days of prayer which will come culminate on your feast day on the 27th of June, the glorious Feast Day of Our Lady Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
For me as your Apostolic Nuncio, as I said, it makes me so happy to be with you this evening; but it's also my job to ask you to pray for Pope Francis. Whenever I see Pope Francis, and I will see him in September, he always asks me, to ask you, the Filipino people to pray for him. He needs your prayers. So don't forget to pray for Pope Francis, for his intentions. He relies on your prayers.
So, dear brothers and sisters in Christ: let us remember that we have a Mother of Perpetual Help. A mother who is always there to help us. She is our mother, she loves us, and she transmits to us the love of God. God who has made us, God who knows us, God who has numbered every one of the hairs of our head, God who cares for us.
So, dear brothers and sisters, God bless you on this novena. I pray for your intentions; and please remember to pray for Pope Francis, and also for me as your Papal Nuncio.
Transcribed by Joel V. Ocampo