Homily of H.E. Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, DD, Pro-Prefect of Dicastery for Evangelization
on the Episcopal Ordination of H.E. Most Rev. Pablito M. Tagura, SVD, DD
Apostolic Vicar of San Jose in Occidental Mindoro
Diocesan Shrine of Jesus the Divine Word, Christ the King Mission Seminary
February 17, 2023 | Gospel: John 10:11-18
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we thank our loving God who has gathered us as one family, as one community of faith, at this beautiful occasion. We thank “Pabs”, Pablito for showing up this morning. I saw him with Bishop William (Bishop David William V. Antonio) and the clergy of San Jose, Mindoro yesterday, and I reminded him of his ordination today, and please be present, be there. So, and he is here. Thank you. Thank you very much.
The Grace of the Episcopacy
The gift of a new bishop is not only a sign of God's goodness to a particular Church, in this case, the Apostolic Vicariate of San Jose, Mindoro Occidental, but also for the whole Church. For every bishop, yes, is a bishop of a local Church, but also is given by the grace of the episcopacy, a universal responsibility for the universal Church.
Our readings for today, chosen by our new bishop, speak to us, at least they speak to me of his vision of the Episcopal Ministry, which is always rooted in what the Church's Tradition and the Church's Teaching have always affirmed. Bishop: ἐπίσκοπος (episkopos). That's why we call it an “Episcopal Consecration.” Episkopos, we translate it into English as “bishop”.
What does an episkopos do? What on earth is this creature called episkopos? What is his distinctive ministry or contribution to the Church? Well, if we go back to the New Testament, the work or the ministry of the episkopos is ἐπισκοπή (episkopē). I don't think it clarifies much. The work of the episkopos is episkopē. Ah! But episkopē means “having oversight,” “supervision.” It is a form of seeing. It is a form of visioning, which is rooted in reality, in concrete contexts, but at the same time, has this capacity to go beyond, to see above in a sympathetic manner. It is for the sake of helping a community to become a Christian community, and for a Christian community to remain faithful to Jesus. The Jesus whose person, whose teachings, have been witnessed to us by the apostles and the succeeding generations after them, the Apostolic Church. So dear Father Pabs, supervisor, episkopos. We pray for this “sight”, this way of visioning for you.
I'm very happy that you chose these readings. In the First Reading, from the Prophet Isaiah (52:7-10), we hear these wonderful words, “Hark! You watchmen of Israel.” “You watchmen of Israel.” The watchmen of Israel, and maybe even up to now, they have the task of “seeing” so that they could guard properly a community or a property. By seeing, they can defend a community. They give a warning when dangers are approaching. They give a warning when enemies are about to attack a community. In the First Reading, there is one important task also of the watchman. It is to see directly before their eyes, the beauty of God's action in His people: the Lord will restore the people Israel, the Lord will take them home, the Lord will remove their shame and humiliation, the Lord will bear His holy arm; and through the watchman, the one who sees not only the dangers and the shame of the people, but also the salvation by our God, “all the ends of the world of the earth will behold the salvation of our God.” A watchman defends. A watchman also sees and declares the salvific action of God.
We would like to think that an episkopos, who has the ministry of episkopē is quite related to the watchmen of all. Like the prophets, the judges, they were also watchmen.
There were different types of watchmen during the time of Jesus. One set of watchmen were the Scribes, the Pharisees, and the critics of Jesus Christ. They were always looking. Looking. For Jesus posed a danger to them. “Ano na naman ang gagawin nitong anak ng karpinterong ito?” They were watching all the time. Of course, with a good intention. They wanted to preserve the purity of the Law, or at least their interpretation of the Law. What did they see? They did not see, as prescribed by the Prophet Isaiah in the First Reading, they did not see in Jesus someone who was inaugurating through word and action, especially His miraculous deeds, His solidarity with the poor, they did not see God's saving action. They saw only a rebel.
So, before we reach the 10th chapter of St. John's Gospel that we just heard, we witness this constant critique of the Pharisees, and Jesus responds to them. Then we arrive at the 10th chapter where Jesus tries to open their eyes by using a wonderful image: “I am the good, I am the noble, I am the beautiful shepherd.” “You don't see it, but I am. Please see that I am not here working for pay. I am not a hired man. Unlike the other hired persons who are interested only for the pay, about the pay, and have no concern for the sheep. I am different. My concern is for the sheep, because they are mine. Don't you see that? I know them and they know me. We are one, and because we are one, I give my life for them.” “I give my life for them. Because they are not strangers. They're not alien to me. They are the extension of me. So, for them, I will lay down my life ‘freely’. I am not forced to do it.”
Then Jesus gives the motivation for this. He says, “My communion with the sheep is like my communion with the Father. The command I have received from my Father is to love them until the end. So, I am doing this not just a work and as an activity. This is rooted in my obedience to the Father.”
So, Jesus is also a watchman, always watching the Father. Jesus is a close observer of the Father. In the same gospel of Saint John, He says, “I can do nothing, except what I ‘see’ the Father doing. And the words that I proclaimed to you are the words that I have heard from the Father.” This is the shepherd. He becomes a shepherd because He watches the True Shepherd, the Father; and He reflects to the sheep and to the world, how the Father loves. “I will give my life for the sheep, because this is what pleases my Father; and the Father loves me, for doing so.”
A New Creation
I don't know what the Pharisees eventually saw in Jesus after this; but we have in the Second Reading (2 Cor. 5:14-17), someone who “saw”: Saint Paul. He had an experience, a special experience of encountering the Risen Lord; and now he declares to the Corinthians, “the love of Christ impels us,” which is the love between the Father and the Son, and the love that now, Jesus pours unto His own, the sheep. That love has led to the conviction that, since one person has given His life for all, now all of us must have a new order of life. We don't live anymore for ourselves, but for the One who has died for us, and who has been raised up. Seeing Jesus, a new person is born in Saint Paul. Seeing Jesus, His love unto death, according to Saint Paul, we will not look at reality anymore in the same way. We will not look at Jesus in the same way. Whoever beholds Jesus becomes “a new creation”, and behold a new order is coming, the old things have passed away. Behold, new things have come. But who will see that? The watchman, who always looks at Jesus; and who always looks at reality from the optic of Jesus. The watchman.
Please don't blame me huh? You were the one who chose the readings. I just reflected on them, but I hope my reflection is worth the while.
You know? It's good to be here because I see so many former students, among the SVDs, from Mindoro, and also former co-professors and collaborators in Tagaytay. Some of you remain young looking. Some of you are, well, you know... Pabs (Bp. Pablito) was my former student in Philosophy of Theology. That was the time when I really did not know what I was doing, but I think Father Uy just told me, “Teach. Just teach.” I said, “But I don't know much about this topic. They said, “But the seminarians also do not know much about that. So just go. Just go and teach.” So, look! One of the results of the experiment is here before us.
Now Pabs, you have chosen an episcopal motto, which is taken almost literally from the Gospel of today: “I give my life for the sheep.” They're not your words. They're the words of Jesus. So, be watchful. Watch Jesus all the time. Listen to Him. Watch His heart united with the Father. Watch His heart united with the sheep. That from Him, you will know what “giving of one’s life” to the Father, to the sheep, really means.
If you allow yourself to be distracted, and you lose your focus, and you don't watch Jesus anymore, it will be difficult for you to watch over the community. So, watch over yourself; so that you will always watch Jesus. When you are tempted to see in San Jose [Occidental Mindoro], not sheep but “goats”, when that happens, it's a signal: watch Jesus. See how He gives His life for the sheep, and even for those who are outside the flock. For He will also lead them. When you're tired, and maybe even regret that you have accepted this nomination, watch Jesus. For He gives His life for you too. Then like your namesake, San Pablo, you are the “small Pablo,” “Pablito,” we hope seeing the beauty of Jesus’ love. You could declare over and over again, “The old things have passed away. New things have come.” We will regard Jesus and everyone else from a new perspective.
We pray for all of you; and please, watch over Bishop Pablito and the Vicariate [of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro], through our prayer, through our concern, through our support, and most especially, let us together keep watching Jesus Christ. For all of us are asked to be agents also, of the new order, of the new life, the new humanity, that He has come to live for and die for.
Transcribed by Joel V. Ocampo
Photos from Eric Paul Guanlao | Diocese of Cubao Facebook Page