My dear RELIGIOUS MEN AND WOMEN, thank you for coming, and thank you for welcoming me in the Archdiocese of Manila. Your presence here is for me a concrete and tangible gesture of your welcoming spirit. Ramdam ko ang maiinit ninyong pagtanggap sa akin. Taos-puso akong nagpapasalamat sa inyong taos-pusong pagtanggap sa akin bilang inyong abang tagapaglingkod! In the Canticle of Mary antiphon, our Lord Jesus Christ tells His apostles: “Those who welcome you are welcoming me, and those who welcome me are welcoming him who sent me.” By welcoming me, you are actually welcoming our Lord in your midst. This spiritual encounter is made more manifest as we gather together in the spirit of prayer as we pray the Vespers together. For “where two or three are gathered in my name,” Christ assures us, “there I am in their midst.” Each time we pray together, Christ our Lord is truly in our midst. I’m sure you understand that deeply since living together in communion, especially praying together, reflects your vocation and manner of life as religious men and religious women in your respective religious communities.
Our Scriptural reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans opens our minds and hearts to God’s mysterious ways: “Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!” See, we cannot simply fathom God’s mysterious ways on our own, despite our highest educational attainment and the maximum collaboration of our best minds. That is why we need to pray, to unite ourselves in prayer; because in PRAYER we are being disposed to LISTEN ATTENTIVELY TO CHRIST OUR CHIEF SHEPHERD as well as LISTEN GENEROUSLY TO ONE ANOTHER AS MEMBERS OF CHRIST’S FLOCK, i.e., as brothers and sisters to one another in your respective religious communities. In this spirit of prayer and communion, we have, in fact, disposed ourselves to the STIRRINGS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT through whom our Lord speaks to us, OPENING our minds and hearts to Christ and to one another. Our Lord Himself reveals to us in the Gospel (John 15:5): “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” It is our prayer which connects us to Christ, the source of our life and wisdom – especially if we pray together as one.
I know that all of you who are here are not that many as we try to abide faithfully with required health protocols. But you represent the 809 RELIGIOUS WOMEN and 112 RELIGIOUS MEN in the whole Archdiocese of Manila. Considering that there are more than 2.7 million Catholics here in the whole Archdiocese, you certainly are a minority. Although the clergy, where I belong, represents an even smaller minority – about 245 diocesan clergy and 373 religious clergy. But though a minority, it does not at all make your role less indispensable and crucial. Like the clergy and the laity, you too are SHARERS IN THE CHURCH’S SAVING MISSION. As St. Paul proclaims in the Reading earlier, “by virtue of the mercy shown to you,” others “too may receive mercy.” All of us are HERALDS or living instruments of God’s mercy to one another. Such is our saving mission which Christ has entrusted to the Church. As RELIGIOUS, you are “called by God” so that you “may enjoy a special gift of grace in the life of the church and may contribute,” each in your own way, “to its saving mission.” (LG, 43). Ayon nga sa video na nakapost sa FB page ng Manila Cathedral, kayong mga religious men and women ay “katuwang ng Arkidiyosesis ng Manila sa pagsakatuparan ng nakatalagang misyon nito.” In that same video clip, my predecessor, Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales puts it beautifully: “Ang mga RELIHIYOSO’T RELIHIYOSA naman, yan, kayo ay narito sa Maynila, tuwang-tuwa ang simbahan, katulong kayo sa pagpapalaganap ng kabutihan, kabanalan at pagmamahal.” At dagdag pa niya: “[Kayo’y] kasabay namin, hindi nauuna sa amin, hindi nahuhuli sa amin. Kaunabay naming sa pagtahak papunta sa direksyon ng kaganapan ng buhay na aming syang minimithi, mithiin ng Dios.”
My dear RELIGIOUS, your crucial and indispensable share or contribution lies in responding faithfully to the very vocation and way of life God has called you as religious women and religious men. According to Lumen Gentium of the Second Vatican Council, your vocation and way of life bind you to the practice of the three evangelical counsels by vows” (chastity, poverty and obedience), so that you can dedicate yourselves totally to God and “be consecrated more closely to his service” (LG, 44).
My role is to help and lead you in fulfilling your vocation and ministry. As your shepherd, Christ has called me to “feed” you and “to lead you to the richest pastures” (LG, 45). How? By means of regulating by wise laws your “practice of the evangelical counsels whereby the perfect love of God and neighbor is fostered in a unique way” (LG, 45). Through you, “the church may truly and ever more clearly show forth Christ to believers and unbelievers alike – Christ in contemplation on the mountain, or proclaiming the kingdom of god to the crowds, or healing the sick and maimed and converting sinners to a good life, or blessing children and doing good to all, always in obedience to the will of the Father who sent him” (LG, 46). You are Christ’s sheep, not mine; I serve you in behalf of Christ, in His name. This is clear from the words of St. Paul in that same Letter to the Romans: “For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Christ alone is our mediator, the only source and means of our salvation; hence, our only Savior. Everything we do, we do in His name and on His behalf as our Savior. Even the work of shepherding, we do it in His name and on His behalf as our Chief Shepherd. I may be your Archbishop, your shepherd here in the Archdiocese, but I am just here to serve you in Christ’s name and on His behalf; I am here to see to it that as a Church we are doing what Christ our Chief Shepherd tells us to do here in the Archdiocese of Manila. And your greatest sharing and contribution in this saving mission is your “steadfast and humble fidelity” of your consecration and your “generous service of the most varied kinds to all manner of people” (LG, 46). Your perseverance helps the Church to grow in holiness.
For our collaboration to be fruitful and efficacious, we must LEARN HOW TO LISTEN – first of all, listen to CHRIST OUR CHIEF SHEPHERD; and second, to listen to ONE ANOTHER as Christ’s sheep.
MARY, our Blessed Mother, the brightest herald and the most faithful of Christ’s disciples is always there to guide and accompany us, to inspire and strengthen us. She leads us closer to Christ. She teaches us TO LISTEN TO CHRIST ATTENTIVELY AND FAITHFULLY, not only by her words but by her very life – for she listened to God’s will and put her trust in Him totally and unconditionally. Let us learn from our Blessed Mother, our best example of listening to Christ and to one another. May we always find comfort and strength in her maternal embrace.
O Mary, Mother of the Savior and Mother of the Church, pray for us. (Photo by Maricar Santos/RCAM-AOC)