HOMILY TRANSCRIPT | Manila Archbishop Jose F. Cardinal Advincula, Chinese New Year Mass at Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish, Binondo, Manila, January 22, 2023, at 10 a.m.  

Father John Vianney Wang, our dear parish priest, brother priests, the parish community, dearly beloved in Christ, Gong Xi Fa Cai! Happy Chinese New Year to all of you. We thank the Lord for this new year, new beginning and a new opportunity. We look into our readings for this Sunday to guide us and inspire us this throughout this new lunar calendar.

On this Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, our readings prod us to consider the theme of discipleship. Let us sit once again at the feet of our Master to learn from his wisdom and ways. After all, in our gospel, Jesus declares: “Come after me”.

Firstly, it is good to note the context of the gospel passage: Jesus just learns about the arrest of John the Baptist. Believed to be himself a disciple of John, aside from being his cousin, this news must have devastated and discouraged Jesus. It must have been a painful and serious challenge to know the possible consequences of carrying out a prophetic ministry such as John’s. He must have feared for his life and reconsidered his position. However, confronted with this setback, Jesus does not retreat or surrender. Instead of giving up or backing down, he picks himself up and proceeds to continue with the mission. This stumbling block became the steppingstone that propelled him to begin his own public ministry, to leave the comforts of the hidden life, and to foray bravely into the new mission territory of Galilee. While acceptance and success were not guaranteed there, and the threat of rejection and persecution remained, Jesus courageously goes to preach the Kingdom of God in both word and deed.

We are not strangers to problems and challenges – be it in terms of health, resources, interpersonal relationships, organizational issues, external factors, etc. Needless to say, the past three years of the pandemic have certainly tested our activities, plans, organization, and resolve. These difficulties can sometimes be scathing and disheartening. They can dampen our spirits and weaken our zeal. We may even be tempted to throw in the towel, submit to the paralysis, and just lay in our mats. Our Master, however, teaches and encourages us to get up, pick up our mats, and proceed with the mission. Trusting in the guidance and providence of his Spirit, may we continue to power through obstacles and venture into the boundless areas of mission.

Secondly, the setting of the scene is also significant: Capernaum, Galilee of the Gentiles. Jesus may have opted to continue the mission not only out of sheer human courage or due to his filial confidence in God. He may have also embraced the mission because he appreciated the need and urgency for it. The unbelieving context of Capernaum symbolically stands for the dark areas of human existence where the light of Christ is needed. Through his preaching and teaching, people were enlightened about the kingdom of God; through his healing and miracles, they felt its power and warmth. Bringing people to the light, joy, hope, and freedom of God’s reign of love consumed Jesus and defined his day-to-day, to the point of offering his very life for it.

Discerning our current situation, paganism, or unbelief, whether theoretical or practical, abounds. Instead of being a delimited district to conquer, it seems to permeate dominant culture and affect everyone, consciously and unconsciously. Without God in the horizon, ideas, lifestyles, relationships, and moral choices are influenced, leading to personal, interpersonal, and societal darkness, gloom, and death. This is aptly symbolized by the various illnesses that afflicted the people in the gospel.

Instead of just accepting this state of affairs, we are urged by the charity of Christ to evangelize culture and share the light of his life and love. We are invited to expand the scope of our mission, even beyond our comfort zones, even in environments hostile to the faith, to establish the reign of God where the reign of sin prevails. We are prodded to refract the light of Christ and his salvation so that those who could not find their way, those who need the warmth of love, and those who seek meaning and hope in their lives, may do so in Him. Doing so, we help others pick up their own mats and walk.

Finally, carrying out this mission is not done alone. Jesus chooses collaborators to share the load with him. Among others, he calls the brothers Simon and Andrew, James and John. He invites family members to become part of a new family and to share in a new kind of fishing. This strategy is part of Jesus’ kingdom pedagogy: so that the apostles would not be alone in the journey; so that they can complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses; so that they can implement Jesus’ teachings among themselves and, in so doing, catalyze the spread of such loving relationships to bigger society.

When we live out the teachings of Jesus in our families and communities: where the first shall be last, where forgiveness is given seventy-seven times, where life is laid down for one’s friends; the reign of God is actualized. Enkindling Christ’s light in our homes, neighborhood and communities sheds light on other households engulfed by darkness. May our families and communities embrace this evangelizing function in the world.

Confronted with these daunting tasks, it would help to go back to the sound of that very personal and intimate call that we received from Jesus: “Come after Me and I will make you fishers of men”. Go back to the reason why you are here in the first place. Go back to the point when you fell in love with Christ and gave up certain things and persons, a past life, to follow him. This step back is essential to moving forward. It gifts us with energy, perspective, and inspiration. While our failures and shortcomings may consume and discourage us at times, like the defeated apostles after the crucifixion, the risen Christ’s invitation to return to Galilee aims to rejuvenate and restore everything. The love in his call and the trust in his choice of us are words of healing that can help us rise, pick up our mats, and walk.

We journey through this new year with a renewed vigor together with our brothers and sisters. It will not only strengthen our bond as one community but also realize that this journey is not a solitary one. We journey hand in hand with our brothers and sisters. And it is through them that we may be able to grow deeper in holiness.

May our Blessed Mother, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary be our model. As she put her trust in the Lord’s words for her, may we also live out that trust and confidence, knowing that all of us belong to one family with God as our Father.  Amen. (File Photo of RCAM-AOC)

 

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