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The Place Where God Dwells

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

June 20, 2024 | Archdiocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay, Taal, Batangas


“Today salvation has come to this house…” (Lk. 19:9).


Your Excellency, the Most Rev. Gilbert A. Garcera, D.D., Archbishop of Lipa; Rev. Fr. Raul Francisco A. Martinez, Rector of Archdiocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay; brothers and sisters in Christ; government officials; representatives of the National Museum of the Philippines, and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines:


It gives me so much joy and happiness to be with you this morning, here in Taal, for the turnover of this beautifully restored church. When we opened the doors, and I saw the work of the inside for the first time, my breath was quite literally taken away by the beauty of this historical restoration, to bring this church back to its original splendor, in its simplicity, in its integrity, in its nobility that we see in this beautifully done restoration.


History of Caysasay Church

“For today is a day of great joy” here in Taal. As you heard, the director of the National Museum, in his speech to us earlier today, speaks about the first church built here in 1611. So, so long ago: 400 years. A church, probably of bamboo, of nipa hut, something very simple, as a house for Our Lady, a place for the Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Caysasay. Then the first church, this church, was built in 1639. So, so long ago. For all those years, people from this area and beyond have come here to pray to Our Lady. To show their affection for the Mother of God, for the miracle-working Our Lady of Caysasay, who, as we know, was discovered in the river. Since then, she has worked countless miracles. I pray that this newly restored church will be a place where many pilgrims will come and pray to Our Lady, pour out their hearts in front of her image, and receive all the blessings that Our Lady will be able to obtain for them.


This image of Our Lady of Caysasay received the Pontifical Coronation, 70 years ago, on December 8th of 1954, before most of us, even me, was born. 1954, the Pontifical Coronation of Our Lady 70 years ago. What a beautiful image. What a beautiful indication of the love of the Filipino people for Mama Mary, our beautiful Our Lady of Caysasay.


God Coming Close to Us

The Gospel (Luke 19:1-10) is so significant. That’s been chosen for the celebration of the restored church. In that we hear about Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a short guy. He wanted to see Jesus. The crowd was gathered around Jesus, and he really didn't get a chance to see Him. So, he raced ahead down the road, climbed the tree, and there he is, in the tree waiting for Jesus to pass by. Then when Jesus sees him in the tree, calls him down, and has these very symbolic and important words which we want to think about. Jesus says to Zacchaeus, “Today I must stay in your house” (Lk. 19:5). “Today I want to live in your house. I want to come into your house and stay there.” Zacchaeus was amazed, because as we heard in the Gospel, he was chief tax collector, which was someone not known for being very honest or upstanding, and the Lord chose Zacchaeus, and said “I want to live with you. I want to come into your house.”


So, this idea of God coming close to us, dwelling with us. That interesting English word “to dwell”, “to inhabit”, “to live with us”. That's the imagery from the Gospel this morning: God in the form of Jesus, coming to live in our house, in the house of Zacchaeus, who was a sinner, like all of us; but God came into his house.


That is really interesting because when you think about Jesus, and the first Gospel stories of the Lord, when his parents, Mary and Joseph are bringing him to Bethlehem to be born— indeed, when Jesus is just a baby in the womb of Mary, what happens in Bethlehem? To Mary and Joseph, “there was no room for them in the inn” (cf. Lk. 2:7). Right? No room for them, no dwelling place for them, no house for them. So, at the beginning of Jesus's life in the womb of Mary, there's no place for Him; and yet He chooses later on to stay with Zacchaeus. When we think about those words in Bethlehem, “there was no room for them in the inn”. When we meditate on those, we begin to realize that, “Wait a second, there was a place for Jesus. There wasn't a physical house for Jesus in Bethlehem, but there was a spiritual house: Our Lady.”


Our Lady, the House of Gold

When we pray the Litany of Our Lady, the Litany of Loreto, we refer to Our Lady, Mama Mary as Tower of Ivory, House of Gold, Ark of the Covenant. That title: House of Gold, we’re referring to Mary as a House, the House of Gold. Why? Because Mary, the Virgin Mary, is the place where God first dwelt in human form, in her womb. God found a house to stay in Mary, in her womb, because of Mary's purity, because of Mary's life of prayer, because of Mary's openness to God's plan.


God came to live in Mary. We know those words in Latin from the Gospel (Jn. 1:14), “Et Verbum caro factum est, et habitavit in nobis”. (The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.) “Et Verbum caro factum est, et habitavit” (inhabited) “in nobis” (among us); but really, the Word became flesh and dwelt in Our Lady, in her womb. By her “yes” to God, “the Word became flesh”. God found a house in Mary. That's why we call Mary the “House of Gold”. That's why when we think of the church, a beautiful church like this one, we think of Our Lady. That's a beautiful connection between Our Lady of Caysasay, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, and this beautiful restored church.


Of course, for all of us as Catholics, God has come to dwell in us also. Through baptism, and then especially, through what we celebrate this morning, the Holy Eucharist. We receive in the Eucharist, the Body, the Blood, the Soul, the Divinity of Christ. Christ makes His home in us by Holy Communion. That is the principal truth of our faith. God has come to dwell in us. Why? Because without God we are empty; but with God in us, we are filled with His grace, we are filled with His power, we are filled with His life, a life that is living in us through the Eucharist. God dwells in us. We are the House of God. We are the Temple of God. We are the place where God lives, in each and everyone of us, because of the sacraments, especially the sacrament of the Eucharist.


The Place Where God Dwells

It's very interesting. Today, as I've said now a couple times, we rededicate this beautifully restored church. A church is, in a certain sense, the dwelling place of us, we are in the church. The church, the name, the word, “church”, which is the word that we use for the building, in its principal meaning, it means us, means the people inside the building. Those in whom God is dwelling. Those in whom the Holy Spirit is alive. The building of the church, the walls, the roof, it gets its name “church”, because inside the building is the Church which is us. We are the Church. We are the place where God dwells. So, there's this beautiful correspondence between the church as a building, and between us as Christians.


If you notice, this liturgy that we're celebrating this morning, how did it begin? What was the first thing that I did? We blessed everything with holy water, as a symbol of baptism. So, blessing the walls, the altar with holy water. So, just like all of us, the members of the Church come into that life of God through baptism, so too, the building of the church is baptized, we can say, in the water. The baptizing of the church.


Spread the Fragrance of Christ

Then later on, in the liturgy, you will see some beautifully indicative and symbolic elements. You'll see the altar anointed with chrism. What is chrism? It's holy oil, it's been blessed by your Archbishop on Holy Thursday, but oil in which is added perfume. So, it's aromatic, fragrant oil. “Chrism”, which is that oil, is the same word as “Christ”. Jesus is the one who was anointed by the Holy Spirit. Chrism and Christ.


The altar is anointed, we are anointed. When you're baptized, the priest baptizes you with water and anoints you with the holy chrism, which has this fragrance. After this fragrant oil is placed on the altar, then incense is abundantly supplied on the altar, and the church becomes filled with those two fragrances: the fragrance of chrism and the fragrance of the incense.


What is that? That's a symbol of what we need to be as Christians in the world. God is dwelling in us, brothers and sisters, and we need, as Saint Paul says in his Second Letter to the Corinthians (2:15), he says, “We are the sweet fragrance of Christ.” If you are a house, each of us is a House of God, we need to diffuse the spiritual fragrance, the perfume of Christ around us. That's a very interesting image because fragrance, perfume is not something you can turn on and turn off. Once you put it on, it continues to diffuse around you. That's the way we as Christians have to be. We can't turn on and off our Christianity. We have to constantly be like that perfume, that fragrance—spreading the fragrance of Christ around us. As you will see in a few moments, as we spread the fragrance of Christ in this church, through the chrism and the incense.


There's that beautiful image in the Gospel of Saint John (12:1-11) when Jesus goes to the house of Lazarus, Martha and Mary; and Mary anoints the feet of Jesus with expensive perfume, and she dries His feet with her hair. Then there's a line in the Gospel of Saint John, “The whole house was filled with the fragrance” (Jn. 12:3). We will experience that in a few moments. The House of God filled with the fragrance.


When you think about that, think about who you need to be in the world—spreading the perfume of Christ wherever you are: as a student, as a parent, as a worker. Whatever your profession, is not turning on and off your Christianity, but allowing it to be diffused around you.


Conclusion

So, what we're celebrating today is so beautiful, so wonderful, so special. We are all the devotees of Our Lady of Caysasay. We love her very much. We ask her to intercede for all of you this morning, for the Archdiocese of Lipa.


We also ask her to intercede for Pope Francis, whose representative here in the Philippines, I am, and it's my responsibility always to ask you to pray for Pope Francis. Whenever I go to Rome, he always asks me to ask you, his beloved Filipino people. Don't forget to pray for Pope Francis.


Congratulations brothers and sisters, on this day, the 51st anniversary of the elevation of what was then the Diocese of Lipa to the status of an archdiocese. What a wonderful day. No better day to reconsecrate this beautiful church, this House of God, this place where Mama Mary, Our Lady of Caysasay dwells close to us.


May God bless you.



Transcribed by Joel V. Ocampo


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