I. A Joyful But Intrepid Faith
A. Thank you for the opportunity to offer this Holy Mass and with you to invoke the beloved saints of your homeland, St. Lorenzo Ruiz and St. Pedro Calungsod. This is a moment for me to thank you, the growing Philippine community of the Archdiocese of Baltimore (and beyond) for your deep faith and devotion as well as your dedication to the Church’s mission.
B. You and your forebears have brought to the shores of this country a rich and beautiful expression of the Catholic faith. Yours is a culture that has been shaped by the faith for nearly 500 years, dating back to the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 and the baptism of King Humabon of Cebu, his wife, the queen. It is a faith that has survived natural disasters, poverty, and human rights violations, challenges from without and challenges from within.
C. As you know, far better than I, the Philippines have two treasures that outlast any and all of the challenges the Islands may face: first, I am told, is your music and the other is your faith. In a recent letter to the laity, the Philippine bishops offered this famous quote from Jesuit Father Horacio de la Costa: “As long as there remains in these islands one mother to sing Nena’s lullaby, one priest to stand at the alter and offer God to God, this nation may be conquered, trampled upon, enslaved, but it cannot perish. Like the sun that dies every evening, it will rise again from the dead.”
D. In a word, you have brought the joy of the Gospel to our shores, a joyful and a courageous faith personified by your intrepid missionary saints, San Lorenzo Ruiz, the first martyr of the Philippines, a layman who brought the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Japan at the cost of his life; San Pedro Calungsod, the 17th century lay missionary catechist who brought the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Gaum and in the process laid down his life for love of Christ. It is their missionary spirit that I wish to encourage and foster among you, their love of Christ and their dedication to spreading the Gospel that is so needed in the culture of the United States where your families have made your homes.
II. Lay Missionaries in a Broken World
A. Let us focus on the fact that San Lorenzo and San Pedro were lay persons. In calling the whole Church to a renewed dedication to spreading the Gospel, Pope St. John Paul II said that it is principally the laity who are will bring the Gospel into the world and allow the truth and love of Christ to transform our culture from within. Similarly, Pope Francis has challenged the whole Church to undergo what he calls a missionary transformation. He is calling upon us all to be true followers of Christ who open our hearts to him and go forth into the world with missionary joy, a going forth that always embraces the poor and vulnerable. As the Pope himself has written: “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness, and loneliness. With Christ, joy is constantly born anew” (EV, no. 1).
B. How important that we have within our hearts the joy of the Gospel as we go forth into a world that is described so well in today’s Scripture readings. The Old Testament prophet, Amos, denounces the complacency of the people who had grown so comfortable with food, drink, and entertainment that they left little or no room in their lives for the service of God and neighbor. “Woe to the complacent in Zion!” he cried. As we listen to the disturbing words of the prophet Amos, are we not reminded that we are charged with bringing the Gospel into a society that is pervaded by consumerism? Consumerism does not refer to the attainment of a decent standard of living but rather to the inner emptiness of a covetous heart caught up in its own interests and its own pursuit of comfort and pleasure. In such a heart, there is no room for God and no room for others. As followers of Jesus and as the agents of his Gospel in the world, how important we not fall prey to the pervasive consumerism all around us. Rather, we must gratefully accept what God has given us while keeping our mind and heart focused on the Lord Jesus Christ, “the King of kings and the Lord of lords” who gave his very life for us and who now reigns in unapproachable light with God the Father in heaven. Or, as St. Paul elsewhere teaches, “If, then, you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:2).
C. Along with consumerism, you are sent as missionaries into a world where there is real poverty, both spiritual and material. Consumerism leads to spiritual poverty for it not only crowds God out of our lives but it also blunts our consciences to the poor who are all around us. This is the picture that Jesus himself paints for us in the Gospel. The rich man, enjoying all the good things of life, knows there is a beggar at his gate but instead of sharing his blessings with the poor man, he ignores him – until, of course, it is too late and the tables are turned: Lazarus is reigning in heaven while the rich man languishes in the nether world. Both in the Philippines and in our community of greater Baltimore, Lazarus is very much with us; he is at our doorstep; he is in our purview. The words of the Philippine bishops apply with equal force in our community as well: “A still vast number of our people are without work and many are forced to live in slum areas and in miserable situations. A vast number of our children [receive] sub-standard education…” The Gospel opens our eyes to the poor who are among us and enables us to see them, as St. Teresa of Calcutta famously said, “as Jesus in his distressing disguises.” So even as we seek renounce consumerism in our lives, we must also be agents of God’s justice, mercy, and charity in our community. Pope St. John Paul II put it this way: [we must engage in] “a charity that evangelizes”.
III. Faith and Life
A. The Lord is calling you, dear friends, to bring the Gospel into a broken world. You are called to bring the Gospel into the world of education and commerce, to the world of politics, science, and medicine – at a time when human dignity and common good are often lost sight of. You are called to build strong and loving Catholic families in a time when family life is in decline. But you are not called to be cultural warriors or pessimists – instead, like the lay missionaries that went forth from your country, you are called to a joyful and courageous faith that is infectious.
B. This requires not only that you be well instructed in the Church’s teaching but also that your faith be an integral part of your daily life. We do not have the luxury of compartmentalizing our faith and our life – professing the faith on Sunday and denying the faith the rest of the week! Rather, we must bring the faith we profess into our homes and places of work. It must be so much a part of who we are that we readily bear witness to it, always by our example and often by the words we speak.
A. So, dear friends, continue to be a strong community of faith. Continue to contribute a strong and loving faith to the parishes to which you belong. Root your lives in the Gospel and in the Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation; ensure that your homes are filled with the light and joy of the Gospel as you strive to hand on the faith to the next generation; be a source of priestly vocations to the Archdiocese of Baltimore and an example of what neighbor-to-neighbor charity toward those in need. Consider what a difference you would make if each one of you brought just one person back to the faith during the year ahead!
B. Through the intercession of Lorenzo Ruize and Pedro Calungsod, and the loving intercession of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage, may God bless you and keep you always in his love!