St. Andrew Cathedral
28 March 2013
Reverend Monsignori and Fathers,
Dear consecrated men and women,
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,
1. "Love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12). This is the scriptural theme that underpins our Diocesan Year of the Eucharist, which coincides with the International Year of Faith and the National Year of Integral Faith Formation.
We celebrate the Year of the Eucharist as the second movement of our Decade of New Evangelization in thanksgiving for our ten years as a young Diocese and in preparation for the fifth centenary of the first Eucharist and Baptism in the Philippines in 2021.
In this year’s celebration of Chrism Mass, I wish to share with you a simple reflection on the Eucharist as bread taken and blessed, broken and shared.
2. One of the priests a visit to whom I would find poignant and moving and always grace-filled is Msgr. Danilo Pascual. We were 15 years apart in San Jose Seminary -- he was ordained a priest in 1962, I in 1977. Msgr. Danny was known as one of the more dynamic priests ever produced by our alma mater. He became a monsignor in 1981. He was even considered an "episcopabile" -- we all thought he would become a bishop one day. Tragedy struck, however, when he suffered a heart attack after his silver jubilee in 1987. He became bedridden and totally dependent on continuing care. He could no longer preach, celebrate the Mass or hear confessions. No longer would he be able to administer a parish, organize BECs or manage schools. Everything in his priestly life seemed to fall apart and his many ministries had to be entrusted to other priests. When we celebrated his golden jubilee as a priest in Mary Help of Christians National Shrine last year, he could not even raise his hands or speak the words of consecration. He has been thus for more than 25 years! And yet, my brothers and sisters, for me, he is very much a priest.
What is it that makes a priest? Despite our brokenness, can we glimpse the mystery of vocation, blessing and self-gift that is part of a priest's life everyday? I would say, the priest is called to become Eucharist.
3. While he and his disciples were together at the Last Supper, Jesus took bread. This brings us to the mystery of choosing, the mystery of being chosen. Each one of us has his or her mystery of choosing: we have been chosen not because of any great talent or wealth we possess but because of God's own mercy and goodness.
The Holy Father's motto is especially enlightening for us: miserando atque eligendo, literally meaning "by having mercy and choosing". It is taken from St. Bede the Venerable's homily on St. Matthew's vocation: "Jesus saw the tax collector and by having mercy chose him as an Apostle saying to him: Follow me" (It was, in fact, on the feast of St. Matthew in 1953 that the 17-year old Jorge Mario was touched by God's mercy and felt the call to follow in the footsteps of St. Ignatius of Loyola). Isn't this how many of us felt the call to ministry, whether priestly ministry or lay ministry? Didn't we have to recognize and experience God's merciful love first, before we could truly consecrate ourselves in loving gratitude?
4. For the mystery of blessing let us recall the canonization of St. Pedro Calungsod in the Vatican on 21 October 2012. The young Pedro accompanied Jesuit Fr. Diego Luis de San Vitores in his mission to Guam, which was then called Islas de los Ladrones because, according to Antonio Pigafetta, the natives stole the provisions of the Spanish explorers led by Ferdinand Magellan. Fired by missionary zeal, Pedro and other young people assisted the Jesuits as catechists and sacristans. They were very effective. Pedro, in particular, was joyful, loyal and brave. Offering his life for Christ at the side of his friend Fr. Diego, he was a "buen soldado de Cristo".
Each of us is blessed by having entered into that great "cloud of witnesses" (cf. Hebrews 12:1) through baptism: apostles and martyrs, confessors and catechists, priests and parents who incarnate in their lives the Gospel of true freedom. The saints are our closest relatives in the faith, our best friends in the path of life. They urge us on until we reach our goal and join them in our heavenly homeland.
5. Then Jesus, blessing, broke the bread. Here is another pair of words: benedixit ac fregit. He broke the bread while saying the prayer of blessing. We remember here our brother priests whose bodies and spirits were broken by many years of blessing others. We commend to your prayers our priests who are retired or infirm.
We make special mention of Fr. Boyet Montalbo and Fr. Greg Ramos. Almost half of our clergy health care fund has been spent on their surgeries and therapy. We commend to you also Fr. Ricky Pacoma, Fr. Rodyn de la Torre and Fr. Don Cambe. They are quite young, but illness can strike us at any age. May they recover soon and resume active ministry. We continue to support our retired priests: Fr. Jess Estrada, Msgr. Chito Bernardo, Fr. Rene Frias and Msgr. Manny Sebastian. They edify us by their cheerful disposition and priestly character despite not having any administrative burdens.
6. The mystery of breaking can bring us much pain, especially if it takes the form of distrust, envy and jealousy. But this is not something new. Despite St. Paul's admonition, the Corinthian Christians were still divided during the time of St. Clement I, the third successor of St. Peter. Pope St. Clement I wrote, "Take up the epistle of the blessed Apostle Paul. What did he write to you at the time when the gospel first began to be preached? Truly, under the inspiration of the Spirit, he wrote to you concerning himself, and Cephas, and Apollos, because even then parties had been formed among you... It is disgraceful, beloved, yea, highly disgraceful, and unworthy of your Christian profession... Let us, therefore, with all haste, put an end to this; and let us fall down before the Lord, and beseech Him with tears, that He would mercifully be reconciled to us, and restore us to our former seemly and holy practice of brotherly love" (Letter to the Corinthians, nn. 47-48).
"Brotherly love": this is the blessing that overcomes our brokenness. Pope Francis himself referred to this in his first address to the City of Rome and to the World: "And now, we take up this journey: Bishop and People. This journey of the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches. A journey of fraternity, of love, of trust among us. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world, that there may be a great spirit of fraternity".
7. Finally, giving [the broken bread] to his disciples, Jesus said, Take, eat, this is my body. Giving and saying, This is my body. The Year of the Bible that we celebrated last year and the Year of the Eucharist that we mark this year are meant to flow into the Year of Charity next year. "Walking together under the light of God's Word" and "uniting around Christ's redeeming Cross" should lead us to "transforming communion in the faith into communities at the service of the poor".
The faith that comes from hearing the Word of Christ (cf. Romans 10:17) is nourished by Christ in the Eucharist. But the Word of Christ challenges us to serve Christ in the poor: "Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did it for me" (Matthew 25:40). And Jesus in the Eucharist commits us to the poor. St. John Chrysostom explains just how serious the offense was when the Corinthians neglected the poor despite their celebrating the Eucharist: "You have tasted the Blood of the Lord, yet you do not recognize your brother... God freed you from all your sins and invited you here, but you have not become more merciful" (Homily 27 on 1 Corinthians 27:5, cited in Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 1397). Out of gratitude to the Lord of gifts and out of love for the poor, we affirm and carry out our core value of stewardship: simplicity of lifestyle, proper use and accounting of gifts, sharing of our goods.
8. The CBCP suggests that the year 2015 be "dedicated to committing ourselves more firmly to our vision of becoming truly a Church of the Poor. The new evangelization is also a powerful call from the Lord to follow in His footsteps to be evangelically poor" (Pastoral Exhortation Live Christ, Share Christ on the Era of New Evangelization). Attention to the needs of others, noticing the pain and suffering of one’s brothers, the capacity of giving: these are the distinctive signs of the Lord’s disciple who nourishes himself on the Eucharistic Bread.
The election of the first Pope from the New World, and the first Jesuit, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires (Argentina) signals a new beginning for us all. The world is changing rapidly. Old certainties are either questioned or ignored. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ, with its truth and beauty ever-ancient and ever-new, continues to fascinate us; and the Spirit of the Lord continues to drive us out into the world to bring the Gospel to the poor.
9. Let me end with a short prayer: Lord, pour out your Spirit among us so that we can preach your Gospel to the poor by word and service. Anoint us all, rich and poor, lay, cleric and consecrated so that we may be freed from apathy, anger and pride. For having mercy, you chose us. Blessing, you break us. Giving, you speak through us. O Mary our Mother, Our Lady of Buen Suceso, Mediatrix of All Grace, be with us, your children, and pray for us. Amen.
+ JESSE E. MERCADO, D.D.
Bishop of Parañaque