His Excellency Most Reverend Dennis Villarojo, Bishop of Malolos; dear brother bishops; Reverend Father Proceso Espiritu, our shrine rector and parish priest; brother priests, deacons, men and women in consecrated life; mga ginigíliw kong kapatid kay Kristo.
Sa kagalákan ng araw na ito, pinagkákaisá natin ang ating mga puso sa pasasalámat sa Diyos sa biyáya ng pormál na pagdárangal ng simbáhang ito bílang Pambansáng Dambána ng Mahal na Birheng Maria, ang Birhen ng Salambáw, dito sa Obando. For centuries, thousands of devotees, from all over the Philippines and from different parts of the world, have flocked to this shrine to seek the intercession of Our Lady and to celebrate her maternal love for all of us. And so, the bishops of the Philippines have collectively recognized the depth and strength of your faith in God, as well as the rich history of your intense devotion to Our Lady and to the saints. We, your bishops, have seen that here in Obando, you are truly pueblo amante de Maria. Kítang-kíta namin na kayo ay isang báyang maibígin kay Maria at kaíbig-íbig kay Maria.
The readings for today’s solemn feast of the Annunciation of the Lord reveal to us three characteristics of the presence of God, which can help us foster, purify, and deepen our faith and devotion: God’s presence is enduring, embodied, and empowering.
In the First Reading, the prophet Isaiah consoled King Ahaz of Judah, amid an impending doom. The Lord himself will give a sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us!” Sa gitna ng panganib, sa gitna ng kagipitan, kasama natin ang Diyos, kapiling natin ang Diyos, kaisa natin ang Diyos. At hindi niya tayo pababayáan o iiwánan na mag-isa, kahit na masakít o mahírap ang pinagdádaánan natin. God’s presence is an enduring presence. God’s presence within and around us continues and endures even amid dangers and difficulties.
In her life, Mama Mary also reflected this enduring presence of God. She did not abandon her mission when pain and troubles came. She stayed with Jesus when Herod threatened his life, and she stood at the foot of the cross as he hung upon it. Mary’s faithful and steadfast Fiat signified how God’s love never abandons and never forsakes, but remains and perdures even amid suffering and death. As devotees of Our Lady of Salambaw, may we imitate Mary in reflecting God’s enduring presence. When life becomes hard and heart-breaking, let us remain in Jesus, let us remain in his love; for he is our Emmanuel. And let us accompany our brothers and sisters in their pain and poverty through our acts of charity and solidarity. Let us contemplate and reflect God’s enduring presence.
In the Second Reading, the Letter to the Hebrews teaches us that Jesus Christ, our High Priest, did not offer mere substitute sacrifices like blood and meat of animals. Rather, the Son of God offered himself: his own body, his own flesh, his own blood. Ang iniaálay ni Hesus ay hindi mga proxy na handóg; kundí ang mismong sarili niya, ang sarili niyang dugó, ang sarili niyang lamán, ang sarili niyang katawán. And so, in Jesus, God’s presence is an embodied presence, an incarnate presence. God is with us in the flesh. Not just in the abstract, not just in ideas, not just in rules, but totally in the flesh. God’s presence is not virtual, ideal, or sentimental, but real, concrete, and personal.
Mama Mary also reflected God’s embodied presence in her life. Upon her Fiat, the moment of Divine Incarnation came to be. God’s heavenly presence is received by earthly humankind; Creator is received by creature; the divine Word becomes flesh, dwelling among us. And when she learned that Elizabeth was going through a delicate pregnancy, she brought her the embodied presence of God. She did not just send consoling messages or ayuda; rather, she herself traveled through the hill country of Judea; she herself went to the house of Zechariah; she herself greeted her cousin in need; she herself brought the Emmanuel to her. As devotees of Our Lady of Salambao, may we also imitate Mary in reflecting God’s embodied presence. Let us manifest that God is truly present within and among us. Let us adore and receive the Body of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, so that we may become the Body of Christ in the world. Let our eyes see and our ears hear as the eyes and ears of Jesus in the world. Let our hands work and our feet walk as the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. Let our bodies dance the rhythm of the Spirit of Jesus. Let us contemplate and reflect God’s embodied presence.
Thirdly, in the Gospel, Saint Luke recounts how God sent his angel Gabriel to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin named Mary who was betrothed to Joseph. How inscrutable are the ways of Father! Instead of choosing great cities like Rome, Athens, or Alexandria as the location for the Incarnation, and instead of choosing powerful royal families to host the Son of God, he prefered the little town of Nazareth, and the simple Nazarenes: Mary and Joseph. Kaya rin sigúro, nagpakíta ang Mahal na Birhen sa loob ng isang salambáw, kasama ang mga simpleng isda, sa píling ng mga payák na mangingisda. At mas piníli niyang maipirmí sa Obandó kaysa Navótas, mas maláyo sa yáman at podér ng Maynila ngunit mas malapit sa mga taong payák at dukhâ, at mas malapit sa sangnilikhâ.
Indeed, God’s presence is an empowering presence. As Mama Mary beautifully sang in her Magnificat, God “cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.” God’s presence does not keep us in a perpetual state of injustice, destitution, and sinfulness; rather, he raises us up to the dignity of children of God, beloved and destined for heavenly life. Kaya naman, sa pagparíto nátin úpang magdebosyon sa Mahal na Birhen ng Salambaw, maudyukán din sána táyo na tumayó nang may dangál sa búhay. Talikúran natin ang kasalánan at mamúhay táyo bílang mga anák ng Diyos. Mahal na mahal tayo ng Diyos, hindi niya gusto na nayúyurákan ang ating pagkatáo, ayaw niyang masíra táyo ng kasalánan at kasamaán. At akáyin nátin ang isá’t isá patúngo sa kabanálan at kaunlarán sa búhay. Let us contemplate and reflect God’s empowering presence.
Dear sisters and brothers, in this National Shrine, may our veneration of Mama Mary, the lovely Virgén de Salambáw, truly help us to contemplate and reflect God’s presence within us and around us: the enduring, embodied, and empowering presence of our loving and merciful God. May Our Lady catch us in her net of maternal love and care. May Saint Clare of Assisi and Saint Paschal Baylon pray for us now and forever. Amen. (Photo from Hugot Soccom Facebook Page)