Homily of H.E. Most Rev. Pablo Virgilio S. David, D.D.
during the Feast of St. James the Apostle
from the Santiago Apostol Parish, Guagua, Pampanga
Yesterday afternoon, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) started the three-day online conference for grandparents and the elderly. This is from July 24 to July 26, 2022, and tomorrow will be the culmination, during the Memorial of Saints Joachim and Anne, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and grandparent of our Lord Jesus Christ. The second day of the event has a great timing. It happened on the Feast of St. James, whom I call, “St. James the Older”. I think, because we [the people of Betis] celebrate the Feast of St. James, twice every year, we also grew up having two St. James images. One we call the “older” and the other as the “younger”.
Santiago Matamoro (St. James the Moor-slayer)
The younger St. James, the one riding a horse is like a soldier with a sword in his hand, fighting in a battle. For a long time, Spain was under the rule of Muslim Moors. While under the Muslims, the Catholic faith was prohibited. If the Spaniards were not liberated from the Muslims, the Catholic faith will not reach the Philippines. Did you know, for hundreds of years, the churches in Spain became Mosques? It took centuries before the Christians were able to drive the Muslim Moors who conquered them (Reconquista, from 718 to 1492). In the midst of war, the Spanish soldiers allegedly saw a young St. James, riding a white horse, and battling with them to drive the Moors away.
This image is what we wait to see during our Fiesta Procession, during the Traslación of St. James. During December 30, in what they call “Traslación de Santiago de Compostela,” being celebrated until now even in Compostela, Spain. Our elderly people have many stories about the calamities that we Capampangans have encountered. According to them, the presence of St. James, riding a horse was felt during these calamities.
Santiago Peregrino (The Pilgrim St. James)
The second image was the “older St. James”. He looks like an old man wearing a hat, depicting Saint James as a pilgrim. This image is what we wait to see during July 25, the Liturgical Feast of St. James. The “older St. James”, the one who walks, is an ordinary man. He is just like us, he became wise, he became mature as a human, because he followed Christ along the way of life.
Young and Ambitious
The Gospel we heard today is about the younger St. James, an aggressive and ambitious youth, seeking to be great, along with his brother John, the sons of Zebedee. These two apostles were brothers. They even used their mother to come forward and ask favor [to Jesus], maybe because they know that the Lord Jesus Christ have a soft heart for mothers. According to the Gospel, they wanted to be seated one on Jesus’ right and the other on the left, when He seats His throne in the power, in His kingdom. Therefore, Jesus responded to them “You do not know what you are asking” (Mt. 20:22).
We have a saying in English, “Take care what you ask for because you might just get it” and if you get it, what makes you so sure that you’re really going to happy with it? Even our elders, sometimes, when we are so stubborn and keeps on asking for things that they do not want to give, they will say, “See? You get what you want.” Sometimes, when you received what you wanted, or saw what you wished to see, instead of becoming happy, you regret receiving or seeing it. It is true that when we are young, we do not really know what to ask to God. No worries. God is kind. He listens to us all, but He do not give everything that we ask of Him. We thank Him for that. Our common mistake is that we often think that we are higher or greater when we are richer, more popular, or stronger.
To Serve and Not to Be Served
When I became a CBCP President, I received many congratulatory notes saying I was promoted. They thought I received a salary increase, but in reality, the work in the CBCP does not have a compensation. On the other hand, my task as a bishop multiplied by four, but still no compensation, because we do not become priest just for compensation.
Worldly people often think like that. All of us, by nature are worldly, but the Lord kept on changing this attitude of ours. He wants us to understand that He was building different kind of kingdom. Many kingdoms already existed but soon disappeared. Everything that come from this world vanishes, exist only for a short time. As they often say, “It’s like a blink of an eye.”
Desire for What Will Last
Years ago, I was just a boy, assisting our late parish priest; but now, I am already sixty-three years old. Many people already attended Mass in this Church. May people already seated on the pews where you are seated right now. All of them are gone. That may be the reason why at the entrance of our cemetery here in Betis, these words were written, “Aku ngeni, ika bukas.” (Me today, you tomorrow.) It’s a good reminder for all of us. When a young person makes fun or disrespect the elderly, someone must say to him/her, “You will grow old too.” All beauty fades away, so don’t brag of your beauty. All strength, weakens; every sparkle, grows dark. If you live without loving, serving, or have shown compassion here on earth except on yourself, you are still alive but people will already forget about you. Maybe that is the reason why we call good people as “maganaka” in Capampangan (“ma” means “abundant” and “ganaka” or “ganakan” can mean “remember”), because many people remember them, even if they already die.
Look at our Lord Jesus Christ: He lived only for thirty-three years here on earth, but until now, 2,000 years later, we still talk about Him. He is very alive in us. Look at the Apostles, there were just ordinary fishermen, they were not kings, nor emperors, they did not finish higher education, but they are very alive in our memory, we even celebrate their feast. Why? Because while they were here on earth, they desired nothing except the kingdom of God. They were like us when they were still young: they still do not know what to ask or desire. The thing that the Lord is talking about, the treasure that cannot be stolen by anyone should be the one that we desire. Back then, the disciples do not know yet how to find the true greatness in the eyes of God.
Growing Older is to See What Matters Most
This is what “growing old” really mean. Not just advancing in years but becoming wise. To see what matters most: to serve and not to be served, to love as to loved. The one who is truly great is the one who humbles himself. The one who truly live is the one who offers his life for others.
Sometimes, worldly matters or things enters a person’s life, thus, get lost in his/her journey. Not all who journey reaches his/her destination. Other people do not even know their destination.
Until now, in Europe, people who have no goal in life, those who do not see meaning or mission, goes to Santiago de Compostela in Spain to have their pilgrimage. Some walks for a month. You chose: either one month, three weeks, two weeks, or one week, but cheating is not allowed. A pilgrim must not ride a vehicle, rather, one must walk. Of course, the elderly stops every now and then on their journey. They walk, then rest for some time, it’s okey.
Pope Francis popularized the word “synodality”. The simple meaning of the word is “journeying together on the way of the Lord” just like St. James. Accompanying the wayward, seeking the lost, carrying those who fall, helping the victims of robbers along the way.
Do Not Fear Getting Old
My brothers and sisters in Christ: life is short, but a true disciple must not fear growing old. We must not fear advancing in years. Even in the past, many people were already obsessed with obtaining eternal youth. Whether you like it or not, being young will pass. Even if you receive many cosmetic surgeries or operations, you cannot stop becoming old.
Many desired eternal youth, but they were not able to find it, even if they went to different places. The secret on the other hand is very simple. This is the way that St. James is teaching us: the way of life, the way of conversion, is the way of eternal life.
Originally delivered in Pampango (Capampangan)
Transcribed and translated by Joel V. Ocampo