Rev. Fr. Edgar Tubio, OAR, our rector and parish priest; brother priests and assisting deacons; men and women religious; parishioners of the Minor Basilica of San Sebastian and devotees of Nuestra Señora del Carmen; dearly beloved in Christ: Happy Fiesta po sa ating lahat!
We gather today in a special way to commemorate the original feast day of our shrine’s patroness, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Before Rome designated the 16th of July as her liturgical feast, this parish community, by tradition, celebrated her feast in January, near the feast of San Sebastian. In this Mass, we gratefully recall how the Augustinian Recoletos brought the first image of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel to our country, how they spread the devotion to her among the Filipinos, and how she has unceasingly bestowed her maternal care, protection, and favors upon us since then.
On this 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, our gospel features the sermon on the mount where we find Jesus teaching the people the secret for God’s reign to be realized, that is, the beatitudes. Today, let us reflect upon these with Mary, who herself enfleshed the beatitudes and helped usher forth the Kingdom of God. Why should these precepts be our attitudes in our Christian living and how do they help establish the Reign of God?
First of all, the beatitudes teach us to depend on God. Contrary to the opinion that religion rationalizes, justifies, or denies the harsh realities of life, Christianity and the Crucified One do not. We are not taught to downplay or escape the suffering caused either by sin or fidelity to God in the world. The beatitudes, in fact, affirm them. Rather, we are taught the proper way to respond to them, that is, total dependence on God.
Why are the poor, mourning, meek, persecuted, and insulted blessed? Why are those who follow God’s will and seek the values pleasing to him fortunate? In the eyes and standards of the world, they may not be. They may even be despised, frowned at, and looked down upon. But, in truth, they are blessed because they are given the chance to perceive the truth of who they are and who God is. Through their predicament, they are able to unmask the false and empty promises of other gods, the inadequacy of other persons and places of refuge, the illusion of self-sufficiency, and the emptiness of a life apart from God. They are blessed because, in their suffering and humility, they are poised to realize their need of God, that they can take refuge in him, and that they are beloved by him. In fact, our psalm affirms that the anawim — the oppressed, hungry, captives, blind, strangers, widows, and orphans — are first in God’s eyes, and that he himself takes care of them.
Here, we find the inbreaking of God’s reign in our lives. When, given the pain of life’s crosses and the humble admission of our lowliness, we seek God, depend on him, and surrender to him, he begins to become our King once again. We thus heed the invitation of the prophet Zephaniah in the first reading to: “Seek the LORD, all you humble of the earth”. Blessed are we when he recognize, serve, and adhere to the true King.
Secondly, aside from dependence on God, the beatitudes also instruct us to be aware of and exercise solidarity with fellow sufferers in the world. The enumeration of all these categories of people is not only so that we can identify with them personally, but also to relate to them interpersonally. The gospel’s invitation to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be merciful, to be clean of heart, and to be peacemakers are not only personal traits to strive for, but are also oriented for the good and service of others.
Whenever we suffer and go through something in life, we tend to myopically focus on ourselves and our needs. We may fall into self-pity, lick our own wounds, and demand the full attention and care of others. We can excuse ourselves from involvement and isolate ourselves from others in the spirit of self-preservation. In this sense, our sufferings can become obstacles to communion with other fellow sufferers. However, being in touch with our own wounds can actually heighten our sensitivity to and concern for all the other wounded around us. In this manner, our pains can conduct us to each other, and not away from each other. The litany of woes in life should not lead us to self-absorption, but rather, to self-propulsion toward others in need.
The reign of God does not condone our continued suffering. He intends to bring the fullness of life and blessings upon us, and through us. As we concretely act to alleviate the miseries of our brothers and sisters, we make actual the reign of God’s love. We thus follow the exhortation of St. Paul in the second reading to imitate “Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption”. Blessed are we when we help the weak and the wounded because we collaborate in the ongoing project of building up God’s reign on earth
Finally, the beatitudes proclaim the eschatological reversals guaranteed by God’s reign. We find in the gospel the opposites of the circumstances of the faithful in this life and the rewards promised them in some future time. This points, on the one hand, to the variance between the ways of God and the ways of the world; and, on the other hand, asserts how the wisdom and plan of God will ultimately prevail, despite appearances.
We are thus given hope that as we suffer all these on account of his name, somewhere, sometime, somehow, we shall be vindicated for our love. The reign of God is realized in the present through our life witness and confident conviction that everything will make sense and be of value in the fullness of time. Blessed are we when we trust in the will, wisdom, and word of God, against all odds.
We see all these in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Confronted by her seven sorrows, she did not falter in her faith in God. In touch with her own suffering, she showed compassion for her cousin old and pregnant cousin Elizabeth, the couple who ran out of wine at the wedding at Cana, and the fearful apostles waiting for the Holy Spirit in the upper room. At the foot of the cross, she kept standing, solid in her hope in the promise of the beatitudes that she also proclaimed in her Magnificat. In all these, she witnessed to and made actual the reign of God in her life and in those around her.
This is our mission as Church. In the face of life’s troubles, we depend on God and we care for fellow sufferers, always trusting that the faithful shall be ultimately rewarded in God’s reign. As member and mother of the Church, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel teaches and accompanies us along our pilgrim journey to the kingdom. Her traditional dungaw to her Son during the traslacion, and the love, protection, and blessings promised by her brown scapular, tell us of her constant maternal gaze and guidance upon us her children who still walk through the valley of tears. Amen.
Nuestra Señora del Carmen, pray for us. (Photo by Genieve Genuino/RCAM-AOC | Photogallery)