Friday, 29 November 2019 09:54

Homily of Bishop Virgilio Pablo David during Red Wednesday Mass

Gospel - Luke 21, 12-19

Homily delivered by Kalookan Bishop Virgilio Pablo David during Red Wednesday Mass at the Manila Cathedral on November 27, 2019, at 6:30 p.m.

This is the third year that the Catholic Church in the Philippines is observing what we now popularly call Red Wednesday.  It is our opportunity to come together to celebrate the Eucharist with two specific intentions:  one, to unite ourselves in spirit with all the persecuted Churches and fellow Christians around the world, and two, to pray also for our persecutors and to unite ourselves in the spiritual battle against the onslaughts of the Evil One.

Kalookan Bishop Virgilio Pablo David
Photo by Rian Francis Salamat/RCAM-AOC

Let’s start with the first intention: what is the best way to UNITE OURSELVES IN PRAYER FOR PERSECUTED FELLOW CHRISTIANS AROUND THE WORLD?  By celebrating the Eucharist, our Sacrament of Love.  When we celebrate the Eucharist and receive Christ in Holy Communion, we enter into communion (a spiritual bond), not just with Christ, but with all our fellow members in the body of Christ throughout the world, especially those who suffer persecution. 

The first time the earliest Christians were persecuted, we are told by St. Luke in Acts 9 that their persecutor, a rather zealous Pharisaical Jew named Saul had pursued them all the way from Jerusalem.  On his way to Damascus, he was struck down by a blinding light and he heard a voice that said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Even after the voice had identified himself to him as Jesus, Saul was puzzled, of course, because he had never met Jesus personally.  And yet there he was, falling on the ground and being confronted personally  by Jesus who was suffering the most from the pain that Paul was inflicting on the early Christians.

No wonder, Paul would later call the Church an organic unity similar to that of the human body in 1 Cor 12.  “Like a body with many parts, so it is with Christ.”  How can one part Of the body get hurt without the rest of the body feeling it? In Tagalog, we would say, “Ang sakit ng kalingkingan ay ramdam ng buong katawan.” Meaning, it is a good sign when we are able to feel the pain of the other parts of the Body of Christ.  What is bad is when we don’t feel it at all, when we remain indifferent about it.  When Christians behave this way, it could only mean that the body is sick, that some parts are probably numb or festering with gangrene. 

The Church is no stranger to persecution because there has never been a time in our history that we did not experience it. For many of our brothers and sisters, persecution has led to martyrdom— the ultimate act of witnessing, exactly as we have heard it in the Gospel:  “They will seize you and persecute you and lead you before governors and princes.  But it will lead to your giving witness.”     Tertullian once said to the persecutors, “We multiply whenever we are mown down by you; the blood of Christians is seed."  And seeds do not mind falling and being buried, do they?  We should know why.

Our faith is founded already on the witnessing of John the Baptist, that bold prophet whose words disturbed many consciences in Israel, and whom the ruling authorities regarded as a serious threat to their worldly interests.  What better way was there for the governor, Herod Antipas, to silence him than to have his head cut off? And yet, for all his heroic martyrdom, John the Baptist called himself a mere precursor to the one he introduced as the Lamb of God, the one whose sandals, he said he was not even worthy to untie.

John had offered his head to a headless society.  His disciples were part of that crowd that would touch the heart of Jesus.  Mark tells us, his heart was moved with compassion for them because they were like sheep without a Shepherd, or like a body without a head. 

The one who humbly immersed himself with sinners in the Jordan would fill up the vacuum.  Not only would Jesus in turn offer his head to a headless community.  He would give his whole life, body and blood, in total oblation on the cross.  Therefore the Cross of Christ has become the ultimate symbol of our faith.  Although the cross is a gruesome instrument of torture and capital punishment, for us Christians, it is not a morbid symbol.  It does not stand for suffering and death.  It stands rather for LOVE, the unconditional love of God, the love that is not afraid to suffer and die for the beloved.  Thus Jesus said at the Last Supper as he held the chalice, “This is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new eternal covenant which will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.” 

That Kenosis, that total emptying of self, that pouring out has never stopped from the day Jesus was martyred on the cross.  We are told that “more Christians were martyred in the 20th century than in all other centuries combined.”  We also know that “around 105,000 Christians are martyred for their faith each year, in North Korea, in Pakistan, in Syria, in Libya, in Nigeria, in China, and in many other countries around the world.” 

St. Paul himself also said in Colossians 1:24  “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church.”  In saying this, he makes us understand that Christ’s work of Redemption goes on.  It was not a one time affair that began and ended on the cross two thousand years ago. It continues to this very day because of our stubborn proclamation that God desires the salvation not just of A few, not just of the righteous and the deserving, but of the sinners and the undeserving as well.  To be able to participate in this redemptive work, we must do our part as members of his body, by being ourselves ever ready to pay the price.

We suffer because we refuse to believe that there are people in this world who are innately evil. We cannot call ourselves Christians if we believe that there are innately evil people, can we? We stubbornly refuse to believe  that God intends only the salvation of the good and the deserving. We believe rather in the God whose essence is to save, not to condemn, and who desires to save all of us— sinners included. Our faith impels us all the time, even as we reject Evil, to always choose the path of nonviolence and forgiveness.

Finally, our second special intention for this Mass is to PRAY FOR OUR PERSECUTORS AND UNITE OURSELVES IN THE SPIRITUAL WARFARE.

Our faith teaches us that although we detest the undeserved suffering that is inflicted on us by those who hate us, we should never learn to hate them in return.  Vengeance has never been the way of Jesus.  We are never to return violence for violence, evil for evil.  Rather, he teaches us to conquer evil with good. 

Did he not say to us, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you and pray for those who persecute you?”  For if we can do good only to those who are good to us, what merit is there for us, he asks.  As gold that is tested by being made to go through the crucible of fire, he teaches us something that is neither easy to accept nor understand:  “Blessed are you when they insult you or curse you or utter every kind of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in heaven.”

And so today, at this Eucharist, as we commune with Christ, we must learn to say to those who hate us, “You may consider us your enemy, but we will never treat you as our enemy.  That is why we pray for you—because you are also our brothers and sisters, fellow creatures in God’s image and likeness, and called to grow into sons and daughters of the same God.   We pray for you that God may allow you to see the light.

We are not at war with you.  As Saint Paul says in Ephesians 6:12-13, 16-17 “For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground... In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all [the] flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

The only battle that we fight is the spiritual battle, following only the standard of Christ. Like our master, we intend the salvation of all, including sinners.  For we believe that it is never God’s business to condemn but to save. But because he does not give up on us even when we are sinners, he is ready to pay the price for our salvation.  That is what we call redemption.  We are to regard even the sufferings that our persecuted brothers and sisters are going through in many parts of the world as participation in Christ’s work of redemption.

In the midst of so much persecution, I cannot think of a more consoling line from Scripture than Romans 8:31.35, where Paul says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?  Who can separate us from the love of God?”  Nothing but God’s love gives Paul the confidence to say,

2 Corinthians 4:8-10. “We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.”

Kaya, sino nga ba ang makapaghihiwalay sa atin sa pagibig ng Diyos?  Wala.  Dahil kay Kristo Hesus na ating Panginoon.  AMEN.


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