Homily of His Excellency Most Reverend Luis Antonio G. Tagle, DD Metropolitan Archbishop of Manila
My dear friends, sisters and brothers in the Lord,
We are in the holy season of Advent, a time to prepare for the coming of the Messiah through prayer, penance and good works. A few days ago a friend told me that my coming into the Archdiocese of Manila as its 32nd Archbishop is truly Advent. “You are the one who is to come,” he declared. The remark made me laugh. It also made me think. Is this occasion really about me? I know many people are asking “who is this new archbishop of Manila? What is he like? What are his vision and plans?” But like John the Baptist I am inviting you to focus on the One mightier than all of us, Jesus Christ, the Risen One and the True Shepherd of the Church. My Episcopal motto says it plainly, “Dominus Est! It is the Lord!”
This exclamation is drawn from the Risen Christ’s appearance to some of his disciples at the Sea Tiberias as recounted in John 21. In a retreat that I facilitated as a priest, this episode impressed me deeply. Although it tells of a Resurrection appearance, it is indeed an Advent experience. The Risen Lord comes to his disciples. He reveals who he truly is.
Seven disciples went out fishing. Five of them are named: Simon Peter the recognized head of the band of the Twelve who denied Jesus, Thomas who doubted the testimony of his companions about Jesus’ appearance to them, Nathanael who questioned if anything good could come from Nazareth, the sons of Zebedee known for their ambition to get the seats of honour in Jesus’ kingdom, and two who remain unnamed. Doubters and unknowns, they represent the Church at its infancy. Simon Peter planned to go out fishing and the rest joined him. Together they were the fragile Church embarking on its mission. Into the vast waters of mission they traveled together.
But that whole night they caught nothing. Tired and distraught they returned to shore. They probably did not notice the early morning light. It was still night for them. Standing on the shore was a man they did not know. He asked if they had caught anything to eat. That question could sound provocative to a group that had laboured all night without success. If I were one of the disciples, I would have retorted, “Hey don’t you see that our boats are empty? Don’t you see? Are you blind or are you insulting us?” But the disciples were probably so tired to argue with him. Then the stranger issued a surprising command to cast the net over the right side of the boat. He also promised they would find something. They followed him and had a catch so bountiful they could not pull it in. This stranger was not blind after all. He saw where the fishes were. What the disciples of doubters and unknowns did not see, he saw clearly.
At this moment the disciple whom Jesus loved exclaimed, “It is the Lord.” The eyes of the beloved disciple were opened. His stare moved from the catch to the loving presence in their midst. This man is not a stranger. He is the loving Lord. The long dark night is over. Morning has come. It is the Lord!
This simple story teaches me valuable lessons about the missions of the Church and my ministry as a bishop. First of all, the mission of the Church should be wholly directed by the Lord who is always present as Shepherd and guide. Human efforts should continue but unless the Lord directs the catch, we labour in vain. We know that the Lord guards His Church. He keeps watch with us on those long nights of confusion and helplessness in mission. When in spite of our good intentions and efforts there are still multitude of hungry people we cannot feed, homeless people we cannot shelter, battered women and children we cannot protect, cases of corruption and injustice that we cannot remedy, the long night of the disciples in the middle of the sea continues in us. Then we grow in compassion towards our neighbors whose lives seem to be a never ending dark night. But in our weariness the Lord comes. Advent never ends. He is the shepherd promised in the first reading from Ezekiel. He will come to his sheep where they are scattered when it is cloudy and dark. He is near. He is Emmanuel. But we need to hear his voice and to follow hi direction. We need to see realities with His eyes. We need faith. Without faith fueled by love, we cannot truly be a missionary Church of Jesus Christ. It is only by the vision provided by faith that the Church could meaningfully casts its nets in the vast seas of the world and history. They may be murky to human eyes, but the Lord sees where the fishes are. The new evangelization requires putting in the mind and eyes of the Lord again, a transformation coming from prayer. Then we see differently. A child, especially the unborn is no longer seen as a burden but a gift, the youth are not a problem but a promise, women are not objects but persons, labourers are not machines but partners, the poor are not a nuisance but our jewels, and the creation is not an object of manipulation but a sign of God’s sustaining love. These and many more comprise the Church’s miraculous harvest from the seas of mission of only we see with the eyes of Christ. Whenever we see as the Lord does, there is hope!
Secondly, we need to follow the Lord in our mission not singly but together as the disciples did. Mission is an ecclesial event. We will be together in failure, in listening to the Spirit, in beholding the God’s miracles, and in hauling the nets to shore. As it was then, so it is today. The ordained, the religious and the lay faithful, including non-Catholic Christians are called to one mission, though in various states of life and with a diversity of gifts. When we take different boats and even compete against each other to get the better portion of the catch for our own teams, we are not engaging in mission. Divisiveness and destructive competition will only help sink the boat. Let us look to the one Shepherd who gathers his sheep instead of scattering them. It is the Lord!
Finally, let us turn to the beloved disciple, the disciple whom Jesus loved. He was the one who recognized the Lord who had loved them by laying down his life on the cross and now as the Risen On who could turn nights of despair into dawns of hope by the power of His word. We realize that the beloved disciple does not occupy any known rank among the disciples. Peter was clearly the leader and spokesperson of the group. This episode teaches me that merely assuming the position of Archbishop of Manila does not guarantee that I will recognize the Lord. If I am not careful it might even blind me to the Lord and others. It is rather by being a humble disciple content with love of Jesus that I would see the advent of him whose love propels us to mission. Notice that at this moment the beloved disciple taught Peter. Later Jesus would ask Peter three time if he loved him more than the others. Love makes one a true shepherd, not position. I pray that my Episcopal ministry and all ministries in the Church may be rooted in humble and loving discipleship. I tell myself as though it were the Lord telling me, “Chito, do not think you have become great because of your new position. Be great rather in being a beloved and loving disciple of the Lord.”
The narrative we have reflecting on serves as a good description of the mission of the Church: Discerning the Lord’s presence, following his word, celebrating his love and proclaiming “It is the Lord.” The Church cannot stop proclaiming the Word of God as the second reading says. In season and out of season, we direct people to the person of the Lord. Even if it an inconvenient truth that we are proclaiming, it is always the Lord. “Love your enemies” is inconvenient. “Share what you have with the poor” is inconvenient. “Bless your prosecutors” is inconvenient. But through these inconvenient words, the Lord comes. He speaks. He brings true light.
As I embark on my new ministry as Archbishop of Manila, I feel deeply united with the many beloved disciples who have taught me to recognize the Lord: my loving parents Manuel and Milagros and brother Manuel Jr. They have always provided a haven of love and commitment for me; my aunts, uncles, cousins, and clan who never fail to nurture me; my self-less and caring teachers and mentors in St. Andrew’s School, the Ateneo de Manila University, the Loyola School of Theology, the Catholic University of America and San Jose Seminary; the dedicated people of the commissions that I have been a part of in the CBCP, the FABC, and the Vatican; my former students, seminarians, the religious and the poor who have taught me to be more sensitive to the presence of Jesus who calls me to mission. Your love has enabled me to see the Lord. Thank you. I remember in a special way Bishop Artemio Casas, Bishop Felix Perez, Bishop Manuel Sobrevinas, the clergy, the religious, the seminarians and the lay faithful of the Diocese of Imus. You have loved me. You have directed me to the Lord. Please remember me as loving you.
Now I face my new mission in this great Archdiocese of Manila that is rich in tradition, culture, history and religiosity. I tremble before the love that calls me to lead the people to the Lord. But my poor sinful person finds rest in Him who is the Church’s true Shepherd. I am also consoled to know that we would be building on the legacy of loving service of 31 bishops, notably those of the recent past: Archbishop Gabriele Reyes, Cardinal Rufino Santos, Cardinal Jaime Sin and my immediate predecessor, Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales. As I look at the clergy, the religious and lay faithful of the Archdiocese, I feel humbled. There is much that I will learn from you. Teach me. Be patient with me. Let us love one other at all times. Extend your love to all, especially the poor and to the Churches in Asia. As one Church we will journey together even if the night is long and wearisome. We will welcome the ever new dawn who is the Lord, the light and shepherd of the Church. Everyday will be an advent of the Lord.
We are strengthened by the maternal love of Mary who 480 years ago appeared to the lowly Juan Diego in Guadalupe. She is the Advent woman who comes to the poor; she walks with them in dark paths; she brings hope. We rejoice to hear again her words to Juan Diego, as though addressed to us, “Do not let anything afflict you and do not be afraid of any illness or accident or pain. Am I not your mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Do you need anything else? Do I not hold you in the folds of my mantle, there where my arms meet together and I can keep you close?” To you dear Mother I entrust the Church of Manila, the Church in the Philippines, the Churches in Asia, the entire Church and my Episcopal ministry. You come to us, as I have experienced so many times. Bring Jesus to us. Take us to Jesus. In the never ending advent of life and mission, help us to see your Son coming to us as our loving Shepherd to dispel all fear. We hope for the day when the Church and the whole creation would joyfully declare with one voice, “It is the Lord!” Amen.
12 December 2011
Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception
(Manila Cathedral) Intramuros, Manila