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Thanks to God for our Fathers in Faith

Homily delivered by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio G. Tagle during the Mass of thanksgiving for his 55th birth anniversary on June 21, 2012 at the Arzobispado de Manila Chapel.


Yesterday should have been the monthly recollection of the clergy but some suggested that we just move the recollection to today. So this is supposed to be a recollection pero practical na lang daw para isang celebration na lang: the recollection and then someone is celebrating his birthday, who happens to be me, 55 years old. But we also would like to remember today our beloved Jaime Cardinal Sin who returned to the Father seven years ago. Magka-birthday kami, his birthday in heaven and my birthday here on earth. And we also remember the father of Fr. Russell Ocampo who died yesterday, and so we remember them in our prayer. And after a short reflection on the readings I would like also to share with you some reflections on the recently concluded International Eucharistic Congress, held in Dublin. And we all know that the Philippines will host the next congress in 2016 in Cebu. 

The readings for today talk about fathers. In the first reading from the book of Sirach we hear in a poetic way the praises of the fathers and ancestors in faith being sung. We could see how the book of Sirach extols their holiness, extols their being the spokespersons of God, Elijah, Elisha. Sirach sang of the praises of God or marvels through them and the author seems to be reminding the readers or listeners, “Hey you have received a wonderful legacy from your ancestors in faith. You are the children of these great prophets. You are the children and the heirs to their holiness, to their courage, and to the many marvels the Lord has done to His people.” Somehow the question comes to us, “If we have received such a legacy what are we doing about the legacy? If we are the children of Elijah and Elisha and many other fathers and mothers in faith, what has happened to the legacy that they have left with us? And in the Gospel we are brought to the One Father, the source of it all, the source of life, the source of justice, the source of truth, the source of love. The Father in heaven. 

There is one exegete who noticed, I think it is in the version of St. Mark, that Peter asked Jesus, “How about us, what will happen to us? We have left everything to follow you.” And Jesus said, “I assure you those who have left father, mother, brother, sister, home, land for me and the Gospel, you will receive a hundredfold in this life, a hundredfold of mothers, brothers, sisters, homes and lands.” But one commentator said there was no promise of a hundredfold fathers in this life. Darami ang nanay mo, darami ang mga kapatid mo, darami ang tahanan mo, ang lupa mo pero hindi darami ang tatay mo. And that commentator said that was not some sort of typographical error, or something that Mark overlooked. He said it was intended because you only have one Father, the one in heaven. It’s a part of this whole understanding, yes we have many fathers in faith, we have One Father in heaven. 

Jesus teaches us in the Gospel how to relate to this Father, what He calls prayer. It is not so much words measured in words but in the quality of one’s heart that one relates with the Father, in total openness and trust. But as we pray this very simple prayer that we don’t notice anymore because it has become so second nature to us, and maybe some of us like me, because of jet lag you cannot sleep, you pray the Our Father over and over again until you fall asleep. Minsan ganito na lang yung Our Father. But it really teaches us how to be children. If we need this prayer then we don’t really need so many words, our hearts are formed into the hearts of children that the Father deserves. And the more we say this prayer the more we also enter the mind of the Father. We begin to understand what the heart of the Father contains. What this Father intends. We realize that this Father only has one will which is the good and the salvation of all. We learn that this Father takes care of the hungry so we can turn to him for daily bread. We know that this Father is forgiving. We know that this Father will protect us. So the more we learn how to be children of the Father, hopefully we also learn how to be like the Father, especially for us, priests. We are not called Father for nothing. People expect to see in us true children of God and true mirrors of the Father. And so by praying the Our Father, truly, praying it not only with our lips but making it the prayer of our hearts, opening ourselves to the Father and being formed after His character and heart, then, hopefully we will be the Fathers that many people are looking for.

So as we give thanks to God for our fathers in faith and today we remember our beloved Cardinal Sin, one of our fathers. By the way, in Dublin, there was this Irish person who approached me and introduced himself. He is the nephew of the late archbishop of Manila, Michael O’Doherty. He had a book on the life of the late Archbishop with the autograph of Cardinal Rosales, so he said, “You should sign it, too.” Habang buhay daw siya ma-encounter niya yung mga susunod na archbishops, papipirmahin niya. See.. we look back and thank God for the many fathers and mothers in faith, and we, too, have been given a wonderful legacy of being fathers in faith. Let us not waste that legacy and let us learn how to become fathers by going to the real Father, really give, and as we pray, ready to live what our priorities should be and what our hearts and minds should contain. 

Now a bit of sharing on the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin focused on the Eucharist, Communion with Christ and with one another. Many, many beautiful things happen in every Eucharistic Congress. This is just my second and while Quebec was unique, Dublin was also unique. There is practically no point in comparing. There were many good things in Quebec, there were many good things also in Dublin. Some things were quite disappointing in Quebec, and also some things quite disappointing in Dublin. But the heart of it all is the mystery of the Eucharist, and especially in Dublin because the theme was Communion with the Father and with each other, you are brought to this deep core of  mystery  of the Eucharist as communion with Jesus and with one another. We are so used to celebrating the Eucharist in local communities, in a parish, in a chapel, in a school and we experience communion in the Word, in the body and blood of Christ, in the spirit in the different ministries but in very restricted manner. But in a Eucharistic Congress we experience this communion you realize what the universal Church is all about. Songs are sung in different languages; the readings are proclaimed in different languages; prayers are said in different languages. We all say “Amen.” We all say, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.” You all bow; you all genuflect. And you know even if the person seated next to you does not come from your delegation, you know you are beside a brother, you know you are beside a sister. 

Some people question the expense of a Eucharistic Congress. Yes, it’s expensive but it’s priceless, too. It’s priceless for the communion that happens in Christ, in his Word bringing people of different nations, even nations that are at war with one another. You see people from China and the Scarborough shoal does not enter your mind at all. You just see a brother, a sister. You find Indians and Pakistani meeting each other, bumping into each other in the hall but I don’t think they keep in their minds, “this is an enemy,” “this is someone that comes from a country that is an aggressor to us.” And you see goodness and kindness, people willing to help one another. 

On the first day I saw how this Italian woman was having difficulty talking to an Irish volunteer. Her English was quite poor and the accent of the volunteer was so heavy. So what do you do? You come to the rescue, With my poor Italian and my accented English as well, they were able to understand one another. And you say, this is the Eucharist, acts of kindness, bringing us together because of the supreme act of kindness of Jesus. This is my body for you, this is my blood for you. And somehow you experience it across the boundaries of nations, traditions, languages, and at the end of it you know the Eucharist is real, Jesus is real. The spirit is alive; the Church is alive. Yes, I don’t know how the Irish Church will be able to pay the expenses but I am sure a priceless legacy has been felt there, and all of us who attended will bring with us a bit of that priceless legacy. 

At the same time the Congress alerted us, me in particular about a few things. One is the obvious absence of the youth. They were there but in really small numbers. Whether it was in the arena which could seat about 12,000 or the closing mass in Croke park where 80,000 could be accommodated you better see young people, the youth, the children. And then you wonder, how would the legacy be passed on? What will happen to the Church, to the Faith after a few years? But the situation has also changed. During the closing Mass they showed a video of the Eucharistic Congress held also in Dublin in 1932. Naku, how pious the Irish people were in 1932. How they welcomed the papal legate as though he was the Blessed Sacrament also… the respect, the adulation, everything. The Eucharistic procession and the roads now were not present then, mga damu-damuhan lang at mga buhangin, the people were quiet, they were on their knees as the Blessed Sacrament passed. And they said over a million people came. Pinakita pa na nakabarko pa yung iba. But the world has changed. Ireland has changed. A million was not reached, even the projected 80,000 was not reached according to the reports. Siguro mga 70,000. The procession was all right but from where I was—I did not join the bishops—I joined the people following behind… May nagkukuwentuhan, may nagkakainan, may nagkakantahan. At yung mga dinaanan na lugar parang wala namang sumisilip duon sa mga bahay… so what? 

After the opening Mass I went back to the room and I saw a talk show with four women talking about oh many different things, all things under the sun and the Eucharistic congress was one of their topics. One of the women said, “I don’t go to Mass so this Eucharistic Congress does not interest me. Why will I be interested? The Mass means nothing to me.” And another woman confirmed that and said, “Well, I am still a believer but the institutional church does not embody my beliefs. The institution does not capture my faith so I won’t join anything that the institutional church proposes.” The other woman said, “They will probably spend 10 million Euros for this event. Will the tourists, the delegates, be able to infuse more than 10 million Euros to the Irish economy during these days? If not, then this is a losing proposition.” Then the other woman said, “Why is the Pope not present? Rome is very near. He could have flown to Ireland. Of course, he is afraid to face the Irish people. There are so many things to answer for. He is afraid; he is a coward. So he sends us a video instead of being here in person.” And this was being aired on national TV… And you… I have to break myself up… Ireland the bastion of Catholicism, the country of great saints, missioners. 

When I mingled with some bishops and talked to them about the situation, many said, yes, it is a sorry state and it is not just happening in Ireland but in many parts of Western Europe. And they said, maybe this situation would bring a blessing to the Church, too. Whereas before being a Catholic or a Christian was a matter of convention, now you really have to make a decision and think, especially when you know that the Church that you belong to is not anymore accepted by many. When its faith, belief system is being question; when its institutional expression seems to be contrary to what people want to believe, will you still commit, will you still believe. And we cannot be complacent. If these things are happening to staunchly Catholic nations, it can anywhere else, it can happen even to us. 

There was one Irish bishop, I asked him, “How did you end up being like this?” Is it simply because of the sexual abuse of minors now being resurrected. He said, “Yes, but that is not the only cause. For a long time the Church of Ireland was very powerful and in its power it was mostly tied with some government people and their policies, etcetera. And many people resented that power. And with this revelation of the weakness of those who embody the Church then they’ve really gone out full force against it.” I was reflecting on that and said, “Yes. The vocation of the Church is not to be powerful, especially in the worldly sense of the word. The Church is called to humble service and where there is humble service the face of the Lord shines through more clearly. Where there is brute force and power people don’t seem to see the face of the Lord.”  Now we are being called to humble service and humble service is a deterrent to abusive being, for how can I be abusive and at the same time desirous of service. If I want to serve, I will not abuse, I will love. After all, according to experts whatever type of abuse it may be, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, physical abuse or abuse in terms of misuse of money, it is still all about power. Power has corrupted persons or institutions. But we have hope, we have hope, especially in Jesus present in the Eucharist. Jesus continues to speak to us and Jesus who does not get tired in giving His Body and Blood out of love for us. 

I will tell you this story just to give you an idea of how, especially the young, are quite distant from the Church. During the closing liturgy I was seated on the last of the front row of the bishops. And beside me was one of the volunteers who, was like a parent girl… if a bishop wants water she would run, if a bishop collapses, then she could call other volunteers. At the end of the seats or the box are the volunteers. And if this was a very young girl. Nagulat nga ako, may batang volunteer, nakatabi ko pa. We had two hours before the mass and there was a musical presentation. Wonderful music! And interviews, etc. While that was going on some Filipino delegates came, “Bishop, picture naman, picture…” So the bishops, kasi last day na, some of the bishops came from Latin America, from Canada, US, “Oh, Bishop Taygel! (Taygel, taygel na mula ngayon), thank you for your workshop, thank you for your talk, may we have a photo?” This girl asked me, “Who are you? Why do people come to you? Why do people want a photo with you? Who are you?” “Well, I am a bishop of the Philippines and they are my friends.” But she was serious in asking the question and she was not smiling at all. But I felt like she was, ah, she was probably wondering why people would approach a bishop. They should run away from a bishop. They are dangerous people. 

In the forum on sexual abuse in Rome that was raised. In many schools now in Europe, the program for child protection somehow teaches the children not to trust priests and religious. They are dangerous. And they call it child protection programs. Some parents are concerned. So I believe this young girl is caught by that, who are you, why do they come to you? So at one point there was a prayer where we were asked to put our right hand on the shoulder of a person right next to us… but I did it nonetheless, very gently. 

All of these you can bring all of this to the Father in heaven and when the Church asks for forgiveness, when we bring all this to Father ask that our daily bread Jesus be given to us and in the power of the Eucharist we know our mission continues. The mission of humble service. After all, the one who has revealed the Father to us was crucified, the Cross which is the revelation of the love and the peace of the Father.