Homily of His Excellency Most Rev. Pablo Virgilio S. David, D.D.
Bishop of Kalookan and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines
July 15, 2023 | Carmelite Monastery, Angeles City
Mayap a bengi pu keko ngan! Good evening, brothers and sisters.
On this Feast Day of Our Lady of Carmel, which begins already this evening, with this Solemnity Vigil Mass, I invite you to reflect on three things:
first, on Purgatory;
second, on The Carmelite Scapular, and its Relationship to Purgatory; and
third, on The Foundation of the Doctrine of Purgatory and the Unconditional Love of God Through Jesus Christ, and Our Devotion to Our Blessed Mother.
Let's start with the first: on Purgatory. Which is actually, as such, “not in the Bible”. It's a later development in the doctrine of the Catholic Church. It is very often misunderstood by Catholics themselves. It has wrongly been interpreted as an intermediate place in the afterlife, between hell and heaven is supposed to be purgatory. Well, in the first place, neither heaven nor hell are places. Because people who have died, no longer live in time and space. Heaven and hell, are actually descriptions of our state of union with God, that's heaven, or our state of separation from God, that is hell.
To be in heaven, is to be united with God; and that is possible only through Jesus Christ, who integrates us into His body, through baptism. Si Jesus ang ating tulay sa Diyos. He is our covenant. Kasi Diyos Siyang totoo at taong totoo, pero iisang Persona. He carries our humanity before God; and He carries God's divinity before us. Kaya Siya ang ating tulay. Our bridge between heaven and earth, our permanent connection to God.
St. Paul says in Galatians, Chapter 2, “Christian life is about living in Christ” (cf. Gal. 2:19-20). Ang maging Kristiano daw ay ang sabihin mong, “Ang buhay ko ay hindi akin. Ito ay kay Kristo na nabubuhay sa akin.” “My life no longer belongs to me. It belongs to Christ who lives in me. I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and has given up his life for me.”
Christian life is to believe that our source of salvation is not our own goodness or righteousness. Maraming mga tao na ganyan pa rin mag-isip, “Tayo’y maliligtas dahil tayo’y mababait at matuwid.” No. It is not our own goodness or righteousness, but the unconditional love of Christ, through the cross, through His passion and death. Only that will save us. Only through Him who has given up His life for all of us. “All of us”, as in “all”. Pati ang mga kinamumuhian natin. All of us. The offer of salvation is for all. Both righteous and sinners.
Kaya nalulungkot si Pope Francis kapag ang Church ay nagiging exclusive: exclusive company or fellowship of only the Righteous, the saints, and the saintly, or the holy. Sabi niya, “No. No. the Church is a field hospital for the sick, for the broken, and for the sinners.” Ibig sabihin, sa pamamagitan ng grasya ng binyag, si Kristo ay sumasaatin. Maraming beses naman talaga sumasaatin ang Diyos pero madalas, tayo ay hindi sumasakanya. Pwedeng mangyari ito kapag humihiwalay tayo, o lumayo nang kusa sa Diyos, at nabubuhay sa kasalanan. Sino ba ang magtatapon sa atin sa impyerno? Hindi naman ang Diyos. Ewan ko lang kung naniniwala pa rin kayo na itatapon kayo ng Diyos sa impyerno. Hindi totoo ‘yon. That is heresy. Hindi misyon kailanman ng Diyos na parusahan ang tao. Isa lang ang misyon ng Diyos: ang iligtas tayo. Pero pwede talaga tayong mahulog sa impyerno…kung gugustuhin natin. Kung lalayo tayo sa pinagmumulan ng lahat ng buhay. Kapag tayo ay bumukod sa tanging pinagmumulan ng buhay.
Hell is separation from God. Plain and simple. Kapag humiwalay ka sa Diyos, nasa impyerno ka. Separation from God is permanent death, with no hope of resurrection. That is what hell means.
The Carmelite Scapular, and its Relationship to Purgatory
Now we reflect on the scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and its relationship to the doctrine on purgatory. Since the Middle Ages, the scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel has been associated also with Christianity's growing belief in a “temporary hell” kumbaga, or purgatory, and the process of cleansing from sins, that it is still possible after death because of the communion of the Saints. Which can still lead to the hope of reintegration, reunification with God, after some separation.
Purgatory is not an in between or an intermediate place between heaven and hell. Purgatory is hell. It is actually like hell, because there is a state of separation or alienation from God; but it is not permanent hell. It is rather a kind of purification process.
The Book of Wisdom in the Bible is using the image of purification by fire. Kung kayo ay nagsisimba sa mga funeral Mass, you may have noticed that the common first reading is Wisdom Chapter 3. “Like gold that is tested in fire, he proved them” (cf. Wis. 3:6). This is a beautiful image of cleansing. Iyan ang purgatoryo. Nililinis tayo. Because the image is “the gold that is melted in fire”.
‘Yun palang ginto sa una hindi naman dalisay yan. Maraming impurities, at kapag hindi ito purified, mababa ang kilatis. Para tumaas ang halaga, tinutunaw ito. To remove the impurities. Like gold that is tested and purified by fire. A beautiful image of cleansing, that suggests a kind of a temporary hell, if you might call it that. So, purgatory is a beautiful doctrine. It is a radical statement, that holds on to the unconditional love and mercy of God. Whose objective is never to condemn, but to save.
Well, I suggest you read that in John 3:16-17. “For God so loved the world, He gave us His only Son, so that all who believe will not perish, but will have eternal life.” The next verse says. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world.” Very explicit right? Bakit tayo natatakot na Siya mismo ang magtatapon sa atin sa impyerno? God did not send Christ to the world to condemn the world, but to save it. This is a stubborn confession of faith in the God who never gives up on us. That is how much God loves you. He will never give up on us. It's a beautiful thing. Because you can never have faith without first being awakened to how much you are worth, and how much you are valued by God. Then, when you begin to respond to the love of God, that's when you begin to have faith. Because faith is only a response to the love of God.
You know, Saint Paul says it even better. In Romans chapter 8, he says, “Who can separate us from the love of God?” In simple language, “Sino ang tatapon sa atin sa impyerno, o maglalayo sa atin sa pag-ibig ng Diyos?” It is a question that presupposes that we are already united with God, through Jesus Christ by baptism, through the grace of the Holy Spirit who attaches us, connects us permanently to the body of Christ, even as sinners.
So, will it be the end of us if we die in a state of sin? This is the common question people ask. The concept of hell as permanent: na kapag nahulog ka sa impyerno, wala nang pag-asa. The idea that people are beyond salvation after death, if they're separated from God, is not the Christian idea. You know? The Carmelites were among the first to enlighten us about this. That is the meaning of the symbolic statement of the Carmelite Scapular. Hindi po magic yan. It is not a piece of magic that you wear and you are guaranteed instant salvation. Walang ganyan. There is no such thing as instant salvation. Insulto sa Diyos yan. When we wear the scapular, we make a statement. What we're saying is, “Hindi ako hopeless kahit kailan.”
There is always hope for sinners, who have been baptized into Christ. Yes, even for those who have died in a state of sin. Those who might have deliberately chosen their hell, those that might have separated from God. Saint Paul says this eloquently, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.” Why? “Because of Christ Jesus our Lord” (cf. Rm. 8:38). ‘Yan ang Diyos na hindi sumusuko. This is a very radical statement when you say “nothing can separate us from the love of God.” It's declaring that hell is not permanent.
Perhaps we can read our First Reading (1 Kings 18:42-45) that way about Elijah. Elijah was praying for rain at Mount Carmel in a time of droughts. He did not give up. He was stubbornly telling his servant, “Lumabas ka. Tignan mo kung may ulap na.” Bumalik yung servant, “Wala pa ho.” “Bumalik ka ulit. Meron yan. Magkakaroon yan.” Maya-maya sabi nya, “Meron ho, ga-tuldik na ulap.” Then Elijah said, “Bumalik ka ulit at tumingin.” “Look again,” he said; and now what did he see? The sky was full of dark and heavy clouds, ready to pour down the grace of God, and put an end to the curse of drought. That is a message of hope, and it became a symbol of Carmel.
Today's Gospel (John 19:25-27) gives us precisely that hope. That when Jesus said to his mother from the cross, “Behold your son,” and to the beloved disciple, “Behold your mother,” He was asking his mother to treat the disciple as her own son⸺the disciples of Christ as Mary's own sons and daughters. That He was also telling every disciple that through their connection to Him, they also become sons and daughters of Mary. That Mary becomes our mother too.
The Prophet Elijah (left), and the Blessed Virgin Mary at the foot of the Cross (right).
We heard this in our Second Reading (Gal. 4:4-7): “God sent his Son, born of a woman born under the law, to ransom those under the law so that we might receive adoption.” Para tayo ampunin. Tayong mga anak ng tao ay ampunin niya bilang anak ng Diyos. Mary connects us not only with one another in the Church, but most importantly with her Son Jesus Christ, who is the only hope of salvation even for sinners, through the redeeming passion and death of her son. Mary is like the little cloud, who rises like a Star of the Sea (Stella Maris), to bring us the outpouring of the grace of Jesus Christ. Christ, the very outpouring of the grace of God.
The Foundation of the Doctrine of Purgatory on the Unconditional Love of God Through Jesus Christ, and Our Devotion to Our Blessed Mother
Finally, we reflect on God's unconditional love as the foundation of our faith in Purgatory. In the God who came down from heaven and embraced our human condition, our suffering, and our death, we must find our hope. In the cross of Jesus Christ, we must discover our hope for salvation. Please take a close look at the icon of the cross before you. We have so romanticized the cross. Paki tignan n’yo ngang mabuti kung mukhang langit yan? Impyerno ho iyan. It is hell. Can you imagine? Doing only good things for people, and then being condemned like a criminal, and being abandoned even by your closest friends. Being mocked and ridiculed. That is not heaven. It’s hell. But, the cross stands for the readiness of God, because of His unconditional love for us, through Jesus Christ, to go down to hell for us. That opens the hope we call purgatory. The descent of Jesus into hell. He does not throw us into hell. Only we can do that to ourselves. Purgatory is the belief that hell is not permanent. For those who have lived in the Body of Christ, it is temporary. It is a state of cleansing or purification through the redeeming passion of Jesus Christ.
I remember, I once told you about this in a Lenten Recollection. Ginamit ko pa nga as analogy ‘yung awit na “Sana’y Wala Nang Wakas”. Where the lover is saying to the beloved, “Kahit ilang ulit ako'y iyong saktan, hindi kita maaring iwanan.” That is the song of God to you. That is the song of Jesus Christ. In the end, sasabihin niya, “Hindi lamang pag-ibig ko, hindi lamang ang buhay kong ibibigay, sa ngalan nang pag-ibig mo...” Meaning to say, “Yes, even if you choose to go to hell because you choose to, I will be ready to go down to hell for you. Because I will never give you up.”
The source of hope is this: you're not alone. There are always people we love, and people who love us, who remain connected to us spiritually, even after death. That's why we pray for the dead. We may detach from Christ, but through our connection to those who continue to be integrated into Christ, there is hope. I think that statement is what is beautifully expressed in the Scapular of Carmel. Para ba itong lifeline, that is being extended by Mary to us; and that lifeline is that Mary herself. It is only Jesus Christ, her Son, who will never ever give up on us. Jesus Christ will never leave us in hell. His redeeming passion and death, through the Church continues. For as long as we learn to love, with the love of Christ.
With that, I greet you with a Happy Feast of Our Lady of Carmel!
Transcribed by Joel V. Ocampo
Photos by Carmelite Monastery, Angeles City