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Where is the Blessed Virgin Mary?

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

April 14, 2024 | Third Sunday of Easter

Massabielle Grotto, Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, France

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, good morning to all of you!

Magandang umaga po sa lahat ng mga Pilipino na naririto.

Bonjour à tous les Français qui sont ici.

Buenos días a todos los Españoles Castellanos, quiénes están aquí!

I am Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, Bishop of the Diocese of Kalookan. This is my very first time to preside at the Eucharistic Celebration, right here at the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. I am blessed to be presiding at this Eucharist in the company of our priests, deacons, and religious and lay people, who are on a pilgrimage in Marian shrines here in Europe. We started in Fatima, and then we move to Zaragoza (Virgen del Pilar), and then to Our Lady of Montserrat in Barcelona. This is our fourth stop: the Shrine of our Blessed Mother, the Virgin of Lourdes.

Well, for my sharing for today. The title of my homily is “Where is Mary” in the Gospel that you heard. Where is Mama Mary in the story that you heard?

Well, we read from Saint Luke (24:35-48), and I expect Luke to mention her because Luke is very Marian; but I'm disappointed that I don't hear her name. Well, according to the Gospel of John, Mary stood at the foot of the cross (cf. Jn. 19:25). Courageously, she stood at the foot of the cross until Jesus died. The beloved disciple John stood by Mary, whom he regarded, or started to regard as his very own mother from that day on, because Jesus said to him, “Behold your mother”, and to Mama Mary, “Behold your son” (Jn. 19:26-27).

The other disciples we're not there at the cross, except Mary Magdalene and the other women who accompanied the body of Jesus all the way to the tomb (cf. Mk. 15:40-41, 47). There were no other male disciples. Only John and the women. I think the women are usually more courageous. When they buried Him, there was also not a single one of the male disciples who was there, except two influential admirers. They were not exactly disciples, [they were] admirers of Jesus, and maybe we can call them “closet disciples” ― Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, the Pharisee.

The beloved disciple John himself was not there when Jesus was buried. Where was he? Well, I presuppose that John accompanied Mama Mary back to the place that served as their headquarters. That upper room that we call the cenacle where they had the Ultima Cena, the Last Supper.

Saint Luke would make Mary appear again in the narrative, but fast forward to the Acts of the Apostles. He would tell us that Mama Mary stayed with them in that upper room until Pentecost (Acts 1:13ff). So, with regard to this story today of the apparition of Jesus to His disciples in the upper room, my question is, “Where was she when Jesus appeared in that cenacle?” Where was she? To answer the question, I found myself going back to my own experience with my own mother: +Bienvenida Sanchez Siongco.

She was a mother of thirteen children: seven boys, six girls. So, I have six brothers and six sisters. I'm only number 10 from the eldest, but the favorite. When my brothers and sisters hear that, they always say, “That's according to you”. My mother had a very special way of expressing her affection to her thirteen children. Especially to me. The first thing she asked whenever I came home for a visit when I was still a seminarian was, in Tagalog, “Kumain ka na ba?” In English, “Have you eaten already?” In Spanish, “¿Has comido ya?” In French, “Est-ce que tu as déjà mangé?”

“Have you eaten already?”, and always it was in plural. She would say, “Have you guys eaten already?” Because I often drop by our old house without notice. I would just drop by for lunch without notice, in the company of several hungry fellow seminarians; but she was always happy to receive us. She was always ready to serve as food. Even if she had nothing, but a few cans of sardines, or corned beef, which she would sauté and extend with a lot of chopped cabbages and potatoes; and of course, a lot of rice, because we're Filipinos.

Well, today's Gospel doesn't tell us that Mama Mary was there. I think it was because Saint Luke wanted to portray the disciples honestly, but in a negative way. Like I said, unlike Mary and John, the other male disciples did not stand by Jesus at the foot of the cross. They were hiding. They all went in hiding, afraid that they were going to be arrested. They all went hiding. They even locked the doors in that cenacle, in that upper room. They must have been so terrified that they would not even believe either the women, nor the two disciples from Emmaus, who came back to the upper room to tell them that He was resurrected. They would not believe.

That is why Saint Mark, in the longer ending of the same story, is telling the readers explicitly. This is in verse 14 of Mark 16, “He appeared to them, and rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart.” In Tagalog, let’s say, napagalitan sila. They were all reprimanded. Because they had not believed the messengers: Mary Magdalene and the two disciples at Emmaus, who saw Him after He had been raised. Saint Luke doesn't want to include Mama Mary among the unbelievers. So, in the narrative, he reserved the presence of Mama Mary at Pentecost; but I stubbornly saying that I believe that Mama Mary was there in the upper room.

Reading Between the Lines

You know, someone once reacted to me when I said this in a Bible study session. She said, “Bishop Ambo,” (My name is Bishop Pablo, but in the Philippines, me llamo Ambo. They call me Ambo, like the ambo of the church). So, this woman said to me, “Bishop Ambo, how come you read too much in the gospel? I read them myself, but I don't find there some of the things that you're talking about. Are you inventing them?” My common reply is this, I'd say, “I'm sorry, but I was educated by the Jesuits of Manila, who taught me to read the Scriptures by allowing the Holy Spirit to guide my imagination; and to empower me to read between the lines.” But the Jesuits also warned me that I could only do that if I first took the lines very seriously.

You know, reading the Bible is like a test of filling the blanks or connecting the dots. Because you read the story and there are many gaps in between. Storytellers are like that. They will not tell you all the details. They would leave to your imagination the task of putting together the story. That's why if you have no imagination, you cannot appreciate the Gospels very well. 

The rebuke or the reprimand that we read in Saint Mark is also there in Saint Luke; and Saint Luke says, well, when the risen Jesus appeared to them, they were terrified and they thought they were seeing a ghost. They didn't say, “Welcome Jesus!” No. no. no. Jesus had to say, “Calm down, calm down.” You know? “Why are you troubled?” (I would have been troubled myself. The doors were locked, the windows were locked, and suddenly He materialized in front of you. You would probably scream.) Yet Jesus said to them, “Why are you troubled? Why do questions arise in your hearts?”, and He showed His hands. “Look at my hands, and look at my feet”, He said; “and check that it is I myself. Come touch me and see.” I don't think they came. I don't think they approached Him. He said, “But a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I have”, and as He said this, He showed them His hands and His feet.

Who would be most happy to recognize Jesus at that very moment, if not the Blessed Mother in the company of John? I think it was then that Jesus broke the ice. I imagine Jesus before the other disciples who are now reacting with joy. I imagine Jesus coming to His mother who is speechless and shocked herself, and Jesus coming to her, and giving her a kiss, and waiting for the usual question, “My son, are you hungry? Have you eaten already?” Est-ce que tu as mangé déjà ? ¿Has comido ya?

I think it was really then that He broke the ice and made them all laugh. It is laughter that makes us relax. He made them laugh by asking Mama Mary, “Mama, do we have anything to eat? I'm starving”, and I imagine Mama Mary laughing and crying at the same time and embracing Him and saying excitedly, “Oh my son, my son, it's really you. You're alive. Hallelujah.” “Yes. Yes. Please come. I have food. I have food for you. For all of you hungry bums”, and they all laughed. Mama Mary comes out with baked fish and gives it to Jesus who takes it, and eats it hungrily right in front of them.

Eating as Spiritual Bonding

You know, I have always been amazed at the length of time that people in the Mediterranean countries take when they're eating their meals. Sorry, but I really just cannot imagine having lunch at 2:00 in the afternoon, or at 9:00 in the evening for dinner, and lasting until 11:00. Much of it is not eating. The eating has to be an occasion also for bonding, for friendship, for telling stories, for reflecting together for the meaning of life. That's why I beg of you, when you eat, please take away your cell phones. When you eat together, please turn off the television, and turn yourself on before your companions at the table. Talk. Don't just eat. Enjoy the moment. A moment of bonding, of friendship, of telling stories, of reflecting together on the meaning of life. In short, a moment for partaking, not just physical food, but partaking of spiritual food as well.

Oh, my dear brothers and sisters, a lot of people in this world have full stomachs and empty souls; and it is pathetic. When people are satisfied only physically, but are starving spiritually.

Table of the Word and the Table of the Eucharist

Why do people go to the camino? They’re starving. Why would they just walk in silence? They are spiritual people. We're not physical beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a physical experience. We are more essentially spiritual. That's why we need to interact spiritually.

Do you remember that line in the Bible that says “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4)? Look! What we're doing now? You're trying to catch my words. Why are you doing that? What did you come here for? Well, you're not listening to me. You're listening to God. Because when we stand in the ambo, it is God's word that must be heard. We do not stand here to make ourselves popular or noticed by you. We were only representatives. Whenever we celebrate Mass, the presider is Jesus. We are only representing. Not only me, but all of you. We celebrate the Mass together as the body of Christ. That is why we try to catch every word. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” We are gathered together, to break the word of God like bread.

You know, I love the French baguette. You can hit a person with a baguette, you know, and he'll lose consciousness; but you know, when you cut the baguette, it's soft inside. When you dip it in hot cappuccino, even better. Well, we're breaking bread right at this moment; and that bread is God's word in the Scriptures, and God's Word made flesh in Jesus Christ. Did He not say “I am the Bread of life” (Jn. 6:48)?

That is why the Liturgy of the Eucharist is always preceded by the Liturgy of the Word. From both the table of the Word and the table of the Eucharist, we are being fed by God. I am just an instrument right now.

You know what? The ones who are best experts in bringing their children together around the common table, to break the bread and to tell our stories together are our mothers. Mama Mary. Our mothers, our first cooks, our nutritionists. The silent presence whose greatest joy in life is to nourish their loved ones.

This is what the Blessed Mother has been to me as a Bishop. From the time that I was a little boy, I knew I had a physical mother and a spiritual mother. I hope it is the same for all of us priests of the Diocese of Kalookan.

The unmentioned presence whom you have read between the lines with me now, who will constantly ask us at this moment, “My children, have you eaten already?” Est-ce que vous avez déjà mangé ? ¿Habéis comido ya? 

“Come, and break bread with my Son, and He will give you the bread of God's eternal Word that will truly satisfy your hunger, and make you grow into His own brothers and sisters. Into His own fellow sons and daughters of our One and Eternal God. Amen.

Transcribed by Joel V. Ocampo

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